The Clockwise Man (2005) by Justin Richards is the first of the Doctor Who New Series Adventures novels that were initially released alongside the reboot of Doctor Who in 2005. The Ninth Doctor and Rose land in 1924 to visit the British Empire Exhibition in London, and instead find themselves running (as always) headfirst into danger, on the hunt for a mysterious assassin. After a case of mistaken identity — and multiple run-ins with a zombie cat — the plot thickens as they learn that some of their new friends may be lying to them. But which ones, and why? (Minor spoilers below.)
As the first in the series, I thought this was pretty good! I read this in more or less one sitting, so it was certainly a page turner. I think this book was definitely the inspiration for the clockwork robots seen in the series two episode The Girl in the Fireplace, and I can understand why — they’re terrifying! And they’re also a perfect way for an advanced being to get away with using robots in a society that doesn’t yet have computers. On top of this, I think this may have also inspired a plot element in another series two episode, Tooth and Claw, although I won’t give it away here as it would spoil one of the twists. And, of course, there was the obligatory Bad Wolf mention, just to tie everything back into the main TV series, which was unexpected and wonderful.
I loved the steampunk-like setting, and the trip that we got to take up the inside of Big Ben (apparently Justin Richards asked his MP to organise a tour), which is honestly something that I’ve never wanted to see until now! I found the characters of Repple and Aske to be something of a comedy duo, and I did enjoy discovering their backstories as well as those of Mr Wyse, the Painted Lady and, of course, young Freddie.
The main thing that trips me up about this book, though, is how different the characters of The Doctor and Rose seem to be compared to their on-screen selves. There were moments that completely took me out of the story and made me think about whether these were the characters I knew at all due to their strange behaviour. The Doctor, for example, seemed far less compassionate than we’ve seen him on TV, almost bordering on deliberately insensitive, and he also managed to forget basic words like “syllable” which didn’t really make sense to me. Rose was even more out of character and just seemed…like a different girl entirely. At one point she brutally slams an animal against the wall(!), and at that point in the story she absolutely believes it to be a living being. I just can’t see Rose Tyler ever doing something so disturbing.
Overall, I’d give this book four out of five stars for its fast-paced and rapidly twisting plot, realistic setting, and interesting characters. However, the strange characterisation of The Doctor and Rose did affect my enjoyment of the book, as I went into it expecting the characters that I already knew and loved, but instead found strangers. While I can forgive Justin Richards for writing them this way as he likely hadn’t even seen the finished scripts for season 1 before writing this, I’ll have to amend my rating to three out of five stars to reflect this.