Spaceships, alien plots, clueless humans and one mysterious man in black: These are the things that we expect when we hear the name Doctor Who, and that’s what we get in six small bites in the new book Doctor Who: The American Adventure. This is not the first Doctor Who book, nor will it be the last, but this is one that would probably be best appreciated by the Doctor’s younger fans or those who simply must have all they can get of the Time Lord. For the uninitiated, some history.
More than a decade ago the classic British TV show Doctor Who rebooted after a hiatus of nearly two decades. Whereas the series was a cultural phenomenon in the UK, sending generations of children to hide behind sofas and watch with one eye closed, the show had been largely unknown in the United States. Prior to the new series, the old series played on some PBS outlets throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. Other than an only moderately successful film in the 1990s, the franchise was, for the most part, a thing of the past.
That all changed in 2003 when the BBC decided to regenerate the series, which gained massive popularity thanks to showrunner Russell T. Davies’ innovative new premises, a tall, dark and handsome ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, and spunky new companion played by popular UK singer Billie Piper.
Though Eccleston only stayed on for one series, his replacement, David Tennant, cemented the new incarnation’s place in pop culture. Fans in the United States found ways of watching for three series before the show was finally picked up by the SyFy Channel, and now it’s broadcast simultaneously in the UK and in the US on BBC America. We are now on the twelfth Doctor — or thirteenth depending on who you ask — and the show is even more popular stateside than in its home country. Thus it makes sense that the newest Who publication tells a handful of short stories about The Doctor solving problems in the contiguous 48.
There are six new stories in this new children’s collection, three from the Doctor’s perspective and three from the POV of the human witnesses. The witness stories come first in the collection, but they’re not a great start. The stories are quite basic, short, and without the kind of emotional depth that keeps viewers hooked. In order to make it easy enough for kids to understand, I suppose, the stories lack the kind of unfolding thought processes that make the show so enjoyable. In short, they contain a character we love but don’t really capture what it is about that character that makes us love them.
This first trio of shorts take place in the 1800s and very early 1900s in places that could amuse younger readers or get them to ask questions about the Oregon Trail or Gold Rush prospecting. Sadly, there is no companion role, which is how the show connects emotionally with its audience. The humans in these stories aren’t too involved. They accept what’s happening without an intermediate to grease the psychological wheels or make the Doctor see things from the human perspective. They are simple, being as they’re written for kids, but oftentimes kids can be more perceptive and deep-thinking than we give them credit for. It’s entirely possible they could do with a little more than what The America Adventures has on offer.
In the second trio the Doctor is the main character, meaning they’re a little more inline with what we could expect from the franchise. In these we do get the Doctor’s perspective, get to understand Why he’s doing what he’s doing, even if we don’t ever get to understand the How of it. These stories still lack in the emotional side, but they’re certainly enough story to appeal to those youngsters who may be a little too young for the show but want to know what’s up with that show their older siblings or parents are watching.
The book isn’t a beginner’s guide because there are some things a reader needs to know in advance, like the fact that the Doctor has two hearts and only makes it to all of these different places and times thanks to his (surprisingly underrepresented) TARDIS time machine/space ship. That’s something that the aforementioned parents or siblings would do well to explain to young readers. For adults, The American Adventures isn’t essential reading, but for the young and curious it will be a fun diversion and excursion into the wide and wild universe of Doctor Who.
Doctor Who: The American Adventure
By Justin Richards