Thursday, 12 June 2008

"Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Crystal Snare" by Richard Dungworth

The second set of Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny books begins with The Crystal Snare, the series' fifth book, written by its only good author so far, Richard Dungworth. And right from the outset he's created another triumph -- the first Decide Your Destiny book brave enough to travel to somewhere that isn't the future! Hurrah! It's back to Victorian Britain, to attend the Great Exhibition. "People from all over the world were amazed at the exhibits on display at the Great Exhibition [exhibits at an exhibition? Whatever next!] - and they didn't even see the alien visitors! Help the Doctor and Martha put a stop to the aliens' plans, before they wreak havoc on humankind..." Ooh, ominous.

The Crystal Snare has something to live up to, as the first historical of the range, and it uses its setting well. At the start, you explore a bit of the Exhibition, with the Doctor telling you all sorts of interesting things. There's a choice of routes, of course, so the reader can see different exhibits on each read. It's not too long before the monsters turn up though, nanobot-things that can take the form of other creatures, including humans. The aliens' plan -- using these remote-controlled bots to collect and analyse a planet's life, then crafting a virus specifically to destroy them all before invading -- is certainly a clever one, but somewhat disappointing in that once the Doctor defeats the robots he doesn't bother going after the aliens who sent them. Surely they have more bots to send? This is also a 'celebrity historical', in the vein of The Unquiet Dead and Tooth and Claw (both also with a Victorian setting, incidentally). The choice -- engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel -- is entirely appropriate, but also underused by the story (at least in the version I read), turning up late and disappearing just as quickly.

Gameplay isn't bad this time round, though doesn't feel as exceptional as in Alien Arena. Pleasingly, the basic story is the same but with variances in experience. The four endings (I should've counted the number in the other books really) offer different resolutions, but none that contradict each other -- for example, in two the Doctor disrupts the signal to the nanobots, while in the other two he destroys their individual processors. Dungworth isn't afraid to write sections that run to several pages if he needs to convey that much information (the opening is five pages, all the climaxes three), which is a much better way of doing things than Davey Moore's forceful page-turning.

The Crystal Snare isn't quite as much fun as the same author's range highlight, Alien Arena, but the historical setting makes a nice change, the gameplay is more appropriate than Colin Brake's entries, and the plot less bogged-down in linearity and technicalities than Moore's book. All in, it's a worthwhile addition to the series.

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