Sunday, 8 June 2008

"Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Spaceship Graveyard" by Colin Brake

I used to love Decide Your Destiny-style books when I was younger. You know the ones -- you read a page of action featuring 'you' as the main character, then make a choice at the end which sends you off to another page, usually hidden in a completely different section of the book, where you read a bit more before making another choice, and so on til you reach one of the story's endings (or, sometimes, you just went round in circles). I suppose it's a simpler, more childish version of role-playing, but helpfully it's one that doesn't require a selection of other massively devoted friends.

So when I heard there was going to be a range of Doctor Who ones, I was faced with a bit of a dilemma: would they still interest me as (ostensibly) a grown-up? They have the massive advantage of being Doctor Who related, of course -- I've reverted to buying toys thanks to Doctor Who -- but was that enough? Would I read them? And if I did, would I enjoy them? At £4.99 RRP for such slim volumes, I decided against it... until The Book People offered the complete set of 12 for just £9.99. I found it was an offer I couldn't refuse. And now I'm actually going to read them, one by one (obviously), and report my thoughts.

First up in the numbered range is The Spaceship Graveyard, featuring the (10th) Doctor and Martha, written by Colin Brake. To quote the blurb: "When the TARDIS engines fail, you find yourselves on a planet littered with abandoned spaceships. But where are the crews? And why has the TARDIS crashed there, too? Explore the spaceship graveyard to find out..." Ooh, intriguing.

Unfortunately, the experience is flawed. But let's start with the good points. The prose is simple but descriptive, entirely appropriate for the level of these books. The main character (i.e. you) is sensibly considered to be a young boy (or possibly just human, but I assumed boy), which to some degree put me in that mindset and possibly helped me enjoy the book more. Brake captures the 10th Doctor well for the most part, though Martha has a disturbing tendency to keep winking at the reader... The plot isn't a bad idea, though it disappointingly doesn't all come together. One of the problems with constructing a book like this, I suppose, but I landed on a Draconian ship that, the Doctor informed me, had helped stop an Earth-Draconian war when it disappeared. Intriguing! But completely irrelevant to the rest of the plot.

This isn't the book's biggest problem, however. The real problem is that all of the decisions you make (at the end of each page, generally, though sometimes it stretches to two) are aimed at the reader and not the character. If that's not clear, I'll clarify: in my opinion, for books like this to truly draw you in, you need to be making decisions as the character. For example (these created by me): "To go left down the corridor turn to page 45, to go right turn to page 9", or "To shoot the alien turn to page 87, to talk to him turn to page 35", and so on. Instead, The Spaceship Graveyard is mostly (possibly entirely) made up of questions that direct the story but that the character you 'play' has no say in. For example (to paraphrase real ones from the novel): "If you meet an alien, go to page 78, if you meet a human go to page 3", or "If you find yourself on the bridge go to page 67, if you find yourself in the hold go to page 43". It's disappointing because you have no control over your actions, meaning you're left to guess what might make the most exciting story. And, flicking through the rest of the book while writing this review, some of the options I missed sound a lot more exciting.

On the plus side, this last point is somewhat reassuring -- there are clearly a variety of adventures to be had here (though, I'd wager, along similar lines), which clearly adds to replay value if one can remember enough to know to make different choices. But it's a huge shame that you're controlling the story and not your character's actions. I hope other books in the series manage the latter.

Talking of other books, this one begins with the Doctor picking you up, but ends with your adventures in time and space continuing. As I'm reading the books in order as a series, I hope they don't all begin with me getting picked up. I hardly expect any kind of character development or arc plot across all 12 (though it's theoretically possible to do something like that without impinging on the quality or stand-alone-ness of the books, so if they'd managed to work one in I'd be very impressed), but it would be nice if they were at least a bit connected in that respect, especially as they're clearly numbered.

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