When the Time Lord visits Earth in Doctor Who, he tends to favor locales in and around the United Kingdom. This is convenient for the Doctor, as he is colloquially known, as there’s a time rift in Cardiff which lets him refuel the TARDIS, his trusty time- and space-traveling ship. It’s also convenient for the BBC, as most of the production of Who just so happens to be located in Cardiff. But, in addition to the planets Skaro, Mars, or even other dimensions, the Doctor does occasionally visit an even rarer destination: America!
A new book from Puffin (Penguin Random House UK) focuses exclusively on the 12th Doctor’s exploits in America. Appropriately titled Doctor Who: The American Adventures, the book is a collection of six short stories in which the Doctor is all on his own, visiting different time periods and locations in America. From the subway tunnels of New York in 1902 to New Orleans in 1812 and even a future Florida of 2017, the Doctor visits more of the U.S. than he probably ever has on he show. To be fair, as tie-in fiction goes, Doctor Who books and comics usually stay well outside of the “real” continuity of the show, but still make use of the image of the incumbent actor. In short, The American Adventures already has something going for it, because though it’s written by Justin Richards, its “star” is easily an on-the-page prose simulacrum of Peter Capaldi.
Richards does a fantastic job of capturing the voice of Capaldi’s irascible 12th Doctor without actually having him be rude or tell anyone to “shut up.” He’s had a long time to perfect the tricky tone of the series, as he has been writing Doctor Who books since 1993.
With The American Adventures, you get something here you wouldn’t get on the show: a close third-person point of view of what the Doctor thinks and feels throughout an adventure. “I hope the books are an extension of the show,” Justin Richards told Inverse. “But they do allow us to delve deeper into characters — including the Doctor — and learn more about them from the inside, as it were.”
A diehard fan could read these adventures as being a bridge between last season’s finale — when Clara was erased from the Doctor’s memory in “Hell Bent” — and the future of the show. But Richards said he thinks the adventures could also occur when the Doctor still remembers her. “I think the stories take place while Clara is still around,” he said. “But the Doctor is off on his own, leaving her to get on with some teaching.”
In addition to the total authenticity of the Doctor’s voice throughout the stories of The American Adventures, these exploits are also decidedly kid-friendly. But then again, technically, so is all of Doctor Who. While it might seem strange to think of Doctor Who as a “children’s show,” it certainly began life that way back in 1963. The historical locations in the classic show were seen as a kind of history lesson device for children; it’s the Mr. Peabody and Sherman of cooky live-action science fiction. The Doctor’s first companions, Barbara and Ian, were also high school teachers, teaching at the very same school where Clara Oswald worked: Coal Hill.
“The series was once described in the press as the children’s show which adults adore. But I don’t think it’s that simple,” Richards said. “I think actually it’s a series that appeals to both children and adults. It works on multiple levels exciting stories with monsters for the kids, and some deeper meaning and characterization for the adults to appreciate as well. I guess it comes down to the talent of the TV writers who got it right from the very beginning.”
The tone of the stories in The American Adventures is low on violence and high on historical settings juxtaposed with quirky sci-fi plots. Here, ghosts aren’t really ghosts, but rather a security system on a submerged ancient starship. If Doctor Who fans are looking for some answers to hardcore continuity questions about the show, this book won’t contain them. But it does contain something that is probably even better: bite-sized Doctor Who adventures that you can take with you anywhere. Like the Doctor’s dimension-defying time machine, the stories in this book are a little bigger on the inside than they might seem at first glance.
Doctor Who: The American Adventures is available now from Puffin.
Photos via BBC