The Monsters Inside (2005) by Stephen Cole is the second in the Doctor Who New Series Adventures novels, and takes The Ninth Doctor and his companion Rose to the Justicia System, a huge 26th Century prison system spread over six planets that houses prisoners from Earth’s colonies.
Upon landing on the planet, The Doctor and Rose are immediately taken into custody and separated, and they spend the rest of the book trying to find each other. Rose is taken to a human-only youth detention centre that is frequently described as a “borstal” and her time spent there is very much Orange Is the New Black but with a sinister twist — some of the warders are not who they say they are and, in what is supposed to be a secure facility, kids are going missing seemingly at random. Meanwhile, The Doctor is taken to a for-profit scientific labour camp called the SCAT-house (dodgy name, I know — it stands for Species-led Creative and Advanced Technologies) and put to work on solving major scientific problems. Although he isn’t willing to help at first, he eventually reveals himself to be the brains of the bunch and has a scientific breakthrough, unwittingly advancing the plans of Justicia’s secret rulers. (Minor spoilers below.)
I really enjoyed this book – much more than its predecessor The Clockwise Man. I found that the characterisations of The Doctor and Rose were far more accurate to their on-screen appearences and, being separated from The Doctor for most of the story, Rose in particular was given a chance to really show her strength. I was also delighted to “see” some decidedly non-humanaoid aliens interacting with The Doctor, which isn’t something we often get in Doctor Who (due to budgetary constraints, I suppose). These included a wooly-mammoth-type being with four trunks, a large reptile, and a creature that seemed to be made entirely out of sugar, as well as old favourites the Slitheen.
It was great to be able to learn more about the Slitheen and the Blathereen (another Raxacoricofallapatorian family), and where they ended up around five thousand years after we last saw them. I think Racacoricofallapatorians really thrive in written form as we’re not constantly being distracted by the sheer ridiculousness of their appearence (which is…giant green babies with claws). As much as I know they’re criminals and that their family business is literally blowing up planets and using them for fuel, I was glad that Dram Fel-Fotch and Ecktosa Fel-Fotch got a happy ending after all they had been through!
I also found this novel to be an interesting (but perhaps unintentional?) look at today’s global prison-industrial complex: I’m not a massive fan of the “humans can do no wrong” trope in sci-fi, but it was still sad to see that — almost five thousand years in the future — humans are still imprisoning people for petty crimes, exploiting them for labour and performing experiments on them without consent. But looking at how things are now, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is where we, as a species, end up. At the end of the book, The Doctor says:
“When they hear how so many people were held on trumped-up charges and what the real Executive was getting away with… They’ll never let that happen again.”
I feel like maybe this is a bit naïve of the author considering how prevalent the commercialisation of prisons is (and was in 2005) around the world, and how many prison-related atrocities still happen to this day. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the Earth society that sanctioned these experiments and labour camps in the first place to convince me that what The Doctor said is true, but that is perhaps a bit much for a short children’s novel!
Overall, I think this was an exciting read and a great addition to the Doctor Who canon. It even managed to squeeze in the obligatory “Bad Wolf” mention, which was great! I’d give it four out of five stars.