REVIEW: Doctor Who – The Clockwise Man (2005)

A book by Justin Richards

In 2005 I started buying this series of Doctor Who books based on the new (at the time) BBC TV adventures starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper. I recall enjoying them a lot, but with it being a minimum of sixteen years ago, the finer details of the plots are entirely lost on me in 2022. I have decided to go back through some of these and review them, and perhaps see how they stack up with some more recent material I have been consuming. It’s funny that I decided to re-read this particular book considering my recent fascination with World War I history, considering this book takes place slightly after that conflict and has The Russian Revolution and the death of the Romanovs as a principle plot point, the timing could not be more perfect.

“In 1920s London the Doctor and Rose find themselves caught up in the hunt for a mysterious murderer. But not everything is what it seems. Secrets lie behind locked doors and inhuman killers roam the streets. Who is the Painted Lady and why is she so interested in the Doctor? How can a cat return from the dead? Can anyone be trusted to tell – or even to know – the truth? With the faceless killers closings in, the Doctor and Rose must solve the mystery of the Clockwise Man before London itself is destroyed…”

What I imagined Melissa Heart looked like

This book is pretty interesting considering the fact that it likely had to be written concurrently with the show without the benefit of any filmed material to based characterization on. For the most part, I feel like Justin Richards does a fine job in capturing the essence of Rose and the Ninth Doctor, with handful of weird moments that seemed off, but aren’t really worth mentioning.

The star of this book (for me at least) is the setting of the story. The Tardis Crew stumbles across a clandestine organization meeting at a club for London-based nobility attempting to arrange a coup or counter-revolution on Bolshevik power in Russia. The reason – it seems that a sickly young boy is the heir apparent to the throne by way of being a cousin to Tsar Nicholas II, and many wealthy Londoners would like to have Russia returned to it’s former imperial glory. This plotting somewhat fades away as the sci-fi elements start to really click into place, and I really wish the more historical side of things could have gone just a bit longer. That is the norm with Doctor Who during this era, having the setting be more of a background for the wild alien stuff going on – sometimes I wish it would be more relaxed.

One of the more interesting things in the plot is the mystery surrounding a country that may or may not exist at all. At one point we are introduced to a couple of members of this “Imperial Club” that claim a man named Repple is the deposed leader of a far away land called Dastaria. Noting the fact that nobody has ever heard of such a country, it seems like something is afoot, which causes a crazy wave of intrigue and red herrings as the readers tries to figure out what is going on. In true Doctor Who fashion, the antagonists for about half the book turn out to be something else entirely, with a crazy action-packed climax that reads just like one of the TV episodes thrills to the very end.

Overall, I enjoyed The Clockwise Man by Justin Richards, although the first half of the book is far superior to the second. While the theme of empire and colonization runs through the entire narrative, bookended by comparisons between Russia and the UK and finally the Villain of the piece (which I won’t spoil), a lot of that gives way to your typical mustache-twirling supervillain plot by the final quarter. I’m not disappointed as most “Modern Who” is structured this way, and one gets used to it after a while, but it could have been so much more. With that in mind, I disagree with some reviewers that think this didn’t feel like the TV show, as the second half very much felt like a Russel T. Davies era production. I’m glad I went back and read this again, it brings back memories, and makes me want to see how far behind I got on this series.

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