Doctor Who: The Highest Science by Gareth Roberts

The eleventh of the Doctor Who New Adventures novels is actually a fairly standard Doctor Who storyline. This is a little unusual for this line of books, which tended to try and experiment more and push the boundaries of what can be done with Doctor Who. Some of my favourite Doctor Who stories come from the innovations of this novel range, but on the other hand, this made for some duds sometimes too (e.g. Transit).

In a sense, though, a standard adventure was kind of necessary, because the new companion, Bernice Summerfield, hadn’t had any regular adventures yet at this point. She’d had her introduction in Love and War (an incredible novel), and then been involved in Transit, but spent most of the novel under an alien influence, so we didn’t get much of a chance to get used to the new TARDIS dynamic. Admittedly, she spends a large portion of this novel under the influence of mind-altering drugs, but we still get to see more of her as herself (and she has a really cool scene that opens the novel), which helped make me appreciate her more as the new companion.

As for the storyline itself, it sees a train full of people plucked out of space and dropped on a distant alien planet where a nearby army of Chelonians (turtle-like aliens) are preparing to exterminate them. The Seventh Doctor and Benny also arrive on the scene and have to sort things out for everyone. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because the same writer loosely recycled the storyline for the TV episode Planet of the Dead.

One thing that I quite appreciated about this book was that it didn’t make the Chelonians a generic race of evil aliens. Several chapters are done from the Chelonians’ perspective, and this does a lot to ‘humanise’ them. Even though they’re doing awful things, it makes it clear that it’s largely out of ignorance and that they have the capacity to be decent people, just like anyone does. It’s a level of nuance I wish they’d have in television Doctor Who more often.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the introduction of something called a “fortean flicker” which causes reality to bend and shift in strange, unusual ways that create huge coincidences. To some extent, you could say that this was just introduced as an excuse to make the set-up of the train stranded on an alien planet, but as it goes on, it becomes more and more relevant. It also ties in to the legendary “highest science” which was supposedly some powerful knowledge held by a civilisation that lived on the planet long ago.

All in all, I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat as I read this book. It was good, sure, and the Doctor and Benny were both well written in it, but it was just a regular old Doctor Who adventure. If you’re an obsessive fan like me who wants to read them all, then go ahead, I’m sure you’ll have a good time with it, but if you only want to read the books that do something really clever or interesting, then this is probably going to be one to skip.

Rating: 7.8/10

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