Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
In honor of the upcoming 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the BBC special that will probably spawn enough debate to get us through to Eleven’s final Christmas special, Puffin is releasing a series of eBook stories featuring each of the eleven Doctors so far. “Tip of the Tongue” chronicles an adventure of the Fifth Doctor, accompanied by the ever-helpful Nyssa. As described on Amazon.com,
“In 1945, a strange new craze for Truth Tellers is sweeping the kids of small-town America. The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa soon arrive to investigate the phenomenon, only to discover that the actual truth behind the Truth Tellers is far more sinister than anyone could have imagined…”
As a convert to Doctor Who via the 2005 reboot and only just beginning to delve into Classic Who, I knew next to nothing about Five beyond the decorative vegetable that he wore in his lapel. So, in preparation for this review, I watched the Five serial entitled “The Visitation,” featuring companions Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric. The episodes gave me a clear enough impression of the Doctor under Peter Davison, but the trio of companions didn’t allow too great a focus on Nyssa for me to develop any particularly clear characterization. Hopefully, I’d thought, “Tip of the Tongue” would help with that.
The story features two original alien races, both of which are fairly simple. As the entire tale is more or less an allegory of the evils of xenophobia, the new races were very clearly constructed with moral extremes in mind. They are well enough detailed, however, that you may be more inclined to gag at one (as I nearly did) or laugh at the other (as I actually did) rather than roll your eyes at the morality lesson.
“Tip of the Tongue” is actually a very solid little tale. Novelist Patrick Ness adapts excellently to the restricted format of the short story, and the abruptness that has characterized certain aspects of others in the Puffin Who series is largely absent from Ness’s plot. Unfortunately, also largely absent from “Tip of the Tongue” are the Doctor and Nyssa. Despite the misleading description, Five and his companion appear more as secondary characters to teenagers Jonny and Nettie than as actual protagonists. The Doctor has some distinctive moments in which he is absolutely Five, but Nyssa could have been just about any other female character. As presented, her most significant traits appear to be compassion and the wearing of pants.
Despite the surprising lack of the Doctor in this Doctor Who short story, the two lead characters are well-established, and anyone who was ever a teenager with a crush on the wrong person at the wrong time will relate to at least one of the story’s original characters. Ness chose his time period well; although he presents yet another story based on Earth, the World War II setting is basically universally appealing. The era is present without overwhelming, and the running scandalized note of Nyssa’s lack of skirt is a light counter to the cultural implications of both Jonny’s and Nettie’s ostracisms.
If Five is your Doctor or if you’ve been missing Nyssa ever since she walked out of the TARDIS for the last time, “Tip of the Tongue” might not be for you. Still, it is a well-written short story, and Ness’s use of language and description are entertaining enough to a compensate for shortage of nominal lead characters.
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