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TEN LITTLE ALIENS by Stephen Cole
Wow. It's a real book.
It's not that all the BBC Doctor Who books are bad, exactly. Or even most of them. It's that the ones that are just plain good books, ones you'd happily read even without the words Doctor Who on on the cover don't exactly take up a lot of shelf space. Ten Little Aliens, though, is one of them.
The book's loosely based on Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, with each chapter named after an Agatha Christie novel. We were worried it was going to be too similar to the Christie original, but Steve Cole does a nice rework job, although if you're familiar with the original it does make the mystery easier to unravel.
In some ways, Ten Little Aliens is familiar material: bunch of soldiers, cramped location, something wicked this way comes, yadda yadda. But Steve Cole never makes this well-worn ground less than interesting, and he manages this via a method we really wish some of the other BBC authors could master. The plot concepts are interesting enough, but where Ten Little Aliens really stands out is where so many other BBC books miss horribly - the characterisation.
It's incredibly rare for us to care anything at all about the non-TARDIS crew characters, but Cole brings them to life brilliantly. We know this shouldn't be an exotic and miraculous occurrence, but it is: they actually sound like real people. And that's enough to hang a whole book on. The TARDIS crew are also very well done. Ben and Polly are authentically irritating (sorry, our little prejudices peeping through there) and the Doctor is superb. Cole gets his familiar fussy side, but he also very effectively manages to show the power beneath the worn-out old man facade.
There's a Write Your Own Adventure flip-back-and-forth bit in there that's refreshing in concept, if a bit annoying in reality. Apart from that, though, Ten Little Aliens is a pretty trad adventure. It's not one of those books that makes you gasp at the originality of the ideas; it's just a very well-cast tale, well told. We love it.