James Goss, et. al. Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks (BBC Books, 2014)
Doctor Who: Tales of Trenzalore (BBC Books, 2014)
George Mann, Doctor Who: Engines of War (BBC Books, 2014)
Like the show itself, “Doctor Who” spin-off books are a mixed bag which you try to keep up with from a sense of duty. The Shakespeare Notebooks appealed because of the obvious conceit that both the Doctor and the Bard of Avon are figures who have a massive appeal but whose personality and inner character you cannot really touch. The book itself is a mixed bag among mixed bags, an “edited account” of collisions between the Doctor and Shakespeare with rather too many jokes along the lines of discovering that some of the great speeches were actually written by the Doctor. We get some interesting bits of Shakesperiana (such as a reminder that there was nothing underhand about the willing of his “second-best bed” to his wife). But there are also things that were probably a good idea in the pub, such as the retelling of the very first Who episode in Shakespearian verse. And Ben Jonson’s name is usually spelled without the “h”.
Yet in there is also a rather good version of Macbeth told as an episode of Doctor Who (is it an actual script which went the rounds? It is certainly far better that the last episode I watched at time of writing –for the record, the very bad “Robot of Sherwood”.) The Doctor and two companions stumble upon Macbeth and Banquo on a “blasted heath” and as they blurt out who they’ve actually come across they are taken for the “three witches” and inadvertently set up the “prophecies” that fuel the play. So they spend the rest of the play in various guises as minor characters as they try to sort it all out. Of course, there is a character called “The Doctor” in Macbeth, so oo-ee, it could all be true!
That would have made a very good episode (far better than most of the current season, which started with high hopes and has ended up what Who so rarely has been: not just bad in a gloriously tacky way, but DULL); much of the rest is at various stages of “amusing”. The “Tales” and the novel by George Mann featuring the John Hurt “War Doctor” pass the time well enough. The whole “tiny town of Christmas” is too twee for my tastes, but Engines of War fleshes out the outline we know from the series and tells you more about the “War Doctor’s” motivations. However, no great surprises and in each we have annoyingly similar incidents of situations being set up then a character is cracked across the head “and it all goes black”. Maybe reading several spin-off novels in succession is a bad idea.