‘The Legends Of Ashildr’ is a very quick and clever way to cash in on the interests around this character Ashildr, created for series 9 of the new ‘Doctor Who’ TV series. If this sounds cynical, it isn’t as anything that encourages people to read is fine by me and there is nothing bad in this book which contains four longish stories that fill the 219 pages. It is not a long read but there is something quite satisfying about each of the stories which use themes from the TV series and also echo other wider references.
The first by James Goss, himself an old hand at ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Torchwood’ stories for novels and Big Finish audios is a cheeky reference to the ‘Arabian Nights’ or ‘1001 Nights’. In this version , ‘The Arabian Knightmare’ we know it is Ashildr who tells the stories and commands not only the attention of the king but also of us who feel we have extended knowledge about her. The whole story that brings in many of the themes of ‘Arabian Nights’ is an extended tease and it’s great fun with a good finish.
‘The Fortunate Isles’ by David Llewellyn wrong foots us and then brings in some more familiar ideas. Ashildr is on a voyage to the Fortunate Isles, smuggling a precious jewel and thinks that for once she is on a straightforward journey. Shipwrecked, she and her fellow crew find they are imperilled in an unimaginable way. With tropes from ‘Doctor Moreau’, this proves to be much more than we too might have imagined.
‘The Triple Knife’ by Jenny T. Colgan is a story that picks up a comment in the TV series and shows us the true heartbreak of eternal life and just why the woman eventually known as Me will grow to hate the Doctor. It is the time of the plague and Ashildr has fled to London with her children but there is no escape and death follows her. Most of this I read with a lump in my throat and this, above all the stories, looks at the human condition and how we try to rise above it.
Finally, ‘The Ghosts Of Branscombe Wood’ by Justin Richards is more of a mystery story and something that touches the heart of Ashildr again. This story felt more like ‘Doctor Who’ and there are definite elements that remind me of a Fifth Doctor adventure. Here Ashildr feels like a substitute Doctor but still overall a satisfying tale.
I enjoyed this compilation despite being unimpressed with her appearance in the series. She’s more acceptable on the page than on screen. Its an entertaining read with no big revelations but offers a little more rounding to the character who came across as rather one-dimensional onscreen.
(pub: BBC Books/Ebury Publishing/Random House, 2015. 219 page small hardback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK), $12.99 (US), $16.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-785-94057-6)
check out website: www.eburypublishing.co.uk