REVIEW: "The Hollow Men" Doctor Who Novel

By Zepo
28 June 1999

Keith Topping and Martin Day, _Doctor Who: The Hollow Men_, (London:
BBC, 1998).

[Image of Book]

RATING: 6 (of 10)


     Fresh off reading the new BBC novel "Players" I decided to
tackle another one of the new offerings in the line of missing
adventure stories put forth by Auntie's publishing arm.  Why not
attempt a Seventh Doctor novel?  So I picked up one of my most
recent purchases and started to tear into the words under the
cover. Keith Topping and Martin Day's "The Hollow Men" seemed
intriguing as I had just seen the excellent independent horror
film "The Blair Witch Project" which featured, amongst other
things, wooden and straw men effigies and was produced by the
film company Hexen Films.  Reading the back, this book revealed
that the story took place in the village of Hexen Bridge and
also featured stalking scarecrows.  My mood was one of horror
and I hoped that this story would deliver.
     The story seemed to almost identically follow the story set
forward found at the website of the film "The Blair Witch
Project" (http://www.blairwitch.com/).  In an age gone by there are
horrible murders and then years later something goes wrong as
investigators try to discover more information about it all. 
Simply because the film had been so strong did I get such a
strong and moody feeling of horror as I read this book.  But as
it turns out, this offering is not quite so strong. 
     The book follows the adventures of the Doctor and Ace as he 
returns to Hexen Bridge to investigate a feeling he had when he was 
the Third Doctor (apparently no BBC novel is complete without a
gratuitous self-reference to the Doctor's past).  As he and Ace
investigate the Doctor finds himself kidnaped and Ace must
explore the village for the next few days alone.  Few days? 
Yes.  Ace is delivered to a near future (some time early in the
next decade) and never gets worried once when the Doctor
disappears for a number of days.  If I don't hear from a friend
I'm traveling with for even one day I start to get a bit worried
and nervous.  
     The mood of the book is strong and ominous.  Topping and Day 
create an environment that seems quite claustrophobic in the village 
of Hexen Bridge, but as the book opens up to the larger city of 
Liverpool, and the Doctors experiences as he is kidnaped, the book 
loses some of its steam. The plot hangs together as we mysteriously 
discover that the villagers of Hexen Bridge are all interrelated and 
for some reason they become sterile if they leave their home town. 
Likewise the people of the town all fear the village's evil
spirit known as Jack in the Green.  A compelling weaving together
of the events seems quite strong as the book progresses. 
     With such a strong start, and an even stronger go in the straight 
away, the book lets down near the end of the read as the reader 
discovers that "The Hollow Men" is nothing more than a more violent 
sequel to the televised adventure "The Awakening."  Yet again BBC 
books finds its adventures doing nothing but rehashing the past and 
being overly self-referential for the casual reader to grasp 
completely.  With references to the Fifth Doctor's adventure as well 
as numerous untelevised adventures the writers invent, the book seems 
to lose all of the originality that it seemed to deliver for the 
first 3 parts. 
     There are some interesting cultural references introduced in 
this book that reveal a little about our common culture and the
authors.  For example, Chapter 9 is entitled "Twisted Firestarter" a 
reference to the song "Firestarter" by the Industrial Techno band The
Prodigy.  The band is also mentioned in text on page 181. 
Likewise Chapter 10 is titled "The St.Anthony's Estate Chinese
Takeaway Massacre" which fits the story but in another sense
presumably reveals Topping and Day's dissatisfaction with the 
revisionist camp of Doctor Who authors who have retitled stories.  
(Of course, this camp has renamed the story "The Massacre" to be "The
Massacre of St. Bartholemew's Day Eve).  Topping and Day's hidden
mocking follows their expressed dissatisfaction with all of this
as first witnessed in their book "The Dis-Continuity Guide."  In
a sense, "The Hollow Men" is a stronger piece of cultural
evidence for what is happening is our culture and in the
sub-culture of Doctor Who fandom than an original fictional
narrative. 
     I shouldn't be too hard on the authors.  In fact they
often show moments of literary brilliance.  A scene involving the
reunion of the police chief of Liverpool and his daughter at the
police station after the Doctor's interrogation caught me by
surprise and actually evoked true emotion.  Other scenes in the
book also became reality in my mind's eye. 
     However, the book's reliance on already existing Doctor Who 
elements brought it down a notch in my mind.  This story would have 
been strong without a tie in to a previous televised adventure.  
Likewise, involving Western theological elements at the climax of the 
story without quite having the Doctor press hard for a scientific 
explanation left too much of a non-Who feel in me as I closed the 
book.  I was enthralled for over 200 pages of this read, but the 
authors wove an ending that just didn't quite sit well with me.  
     Maybe it was the atmosphere that the story gave me.  Perhaps it 
was because I had seen an excellent horror film with a similar bent. 
I still feel I should recommend this book.  Doctor Who fans are
always sure that the show is ready to come back.  But if every
adventure that is produced in the various mediums always become 
overly self-referential I don't believe the time has come for the 
return of a televised Doctor.

(c) copyright Zepo, 1999.



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