GRIMM REALITY By Simon Bucher-Jones and Kelly Hale

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This could have been a great book. It should have been a great book. But the problem with aiming too high is that when you fall, it's with such a resounding thud.

Overall, the book smacks of an author (or two) who had a Big Idea, got very excited about it then spent their entire writing time attempting to force the prose to fit. The fairytale planet's certainly a big concept and has some wonderful moments, but overall, it just doesn't come off. The writers are so in love with the concept that it overtakes everything else, including plot and, even more sadly, characterisation.

The first half of the book is particularly typical of this. The TARDIS crew are repeatedly crammed into different fairytales, but nothing is actually done with this that's of any interest. Look, there's Anji talking to an ogre! Tee hee, Fitz is wearing a wolfskin cloak! Look at the Doctor playing Jack and the Beanstalk! And it never gets beyond this level: the stories aren't developed or subverted, they're just there to look at.

And of course, the fact that the TARDIS crew are simply substituted in the stories for the original characters leaves them no space at all to behave like themselves. Anji's behaviour is utterly unlikely, Fitz is unrecognisable, and as for the Doctorů well, let's just say that this book suffered greatly by following on the heels of Lloyd Rose's superb characterisation of him in The City Of The Dead. The Doctor does improve towards the end of the book, but it's too late then.

As for the other characters, it's too packed a book for them to have a lot of depth. The stereotypical fairytale characters are exactly what you'd expect. We quite liked Christina, who seemed like the most real character except for her absurdly retro catfighting with Anji. Alex tried very hard but never quite made it, and the gnome was way too cute for our insulin levels.

The more trad SF plot that accompanies the fairytales is an awkward fit, markedly different in tone. It's far from a seamless collaboration: in fact, it's more like a cut-and-shut. The white hole stuff's not without interest, but it's sadly underdeveloped, leaving it all feeling pretty spurious.

The last part of the book turns to tying the plot together, and here, mired in a swamp of overly pretentious waffle, we fell asleep. We just didn't care about the resolution, and that's not a good look.

Despite our criticisms, we found the first two-thirds of the book to be a relatively entertaining read. There was a much better book in there trying to get out, and sometimes that came to the surface in good writing and vivid description. If there had been more development of the fairytale side instead of simple transcription; if the two plots had worked together better with more room for the SF side of things; if it hadn't attempted to force in known characters without much respect for who they are, this probably would have been pretty magical. As it is, we'd class it as an honourable failure.

Buy this Dr Who novel: UK Buy Doctor Who novel at US: not available