Reviewed: In The Blood by Jenny T. Colgan

Back in days of yore, if you wanted to find a troll you would have to head under a bridge and bait one with a pointed stick. These days however, a trip to the bottom half of the internet is all it takes to find one in their natural habitat; there, you’ll be sure to find someone firing out a bubbling geyser of white hot invective.

Gender, race, body size: if there’s a way to make someone feel bad, it’s almost certain that someone has hurled it at an unseeing victim from the heavily fortified battlements of anonymity. However, anonymity doesn’t entirely remove the person; underneath all the bile you can, almost accidentally see, buried between the lines of text, someone’s husband, father, son, mother, daughter hidden away in the choice of target, the origin of their frustration exposed for all to see.

It would be easy to be reductive, and, you might argue, somewhat just too – to reduce someone down to a type, to shave all the edges off and leave a caricature of an over-sensitive, cowardly mommy’s boy chained to his keyboard 24/7 in a masochistic relationship with the internet but the Tenth Doctor never takes the easy way out and neither does In the Blood.

Jenny T. Colgan doesn’t have time to delve into the why; her and the Doctor’s concern isn’t exploring the origins of hate – it’s wisely kept in the background. You get a glimpse of the squalor, the misery and neglect that one such troll lives in – there’s a brilliant little exchange between the Doctor and a rubber-necking neighbour who goes from fake concern to flirting with the Tenth Doctor in less time it took to unfurl the police tape – but there’s never any attempt to justify the why in the whine.

in the blood

Colgan elicits empathy purely by the genuinely unnerving way that one such troll meets his end –  they are guilty of poor judgement and that’s never forgotten but they are human too and the Doctor understands that.

There are some board stereotypes – the ‘mommy’s boy’ example above – but, and this is crucial for the threat to feel credible, there are also other characters not written with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

No, instead what we get is a smart, contemporary thriller wherein a virus hidden in the internet is infecting literally anyone logging in with hyper-aggression, before killing its victim with what feels like icy fingers tightening around their heart.

Like the best of Russell T. Davies’ episodes, there’s a broad satirical edge underneath all the japes – sometimes it can feel a little incongruous; the book is set towards the end of Series 4, but the target feels contemporary both in theme and in the technology involved. The confrontation with some very self-righteous hipsters over ownership of the TARDIS feels like a target beyond the 2008 setting.

However, the big concept is matched in similar blockbuster scope. While the press for the novel cited the Jason Bourne movies as a touchstone, its often more like a road movie via James Bond; the story literally goes from a hijacked plane, a tense scuffle on board a runaway train and then briefly to an automobile in the Doctor and Donna’s quest to hunt down the origin of the international threat.

But the book’s biggest strength is how it manages to capture the magic of the DoctorDonna relationship. Colgan starts strong with a wonderful exchange on board the TARDIS about a broken mechanical masseuse that in just an ellipsis and the occasional italicised word nails Catherine Tate’s performance as Donna Noble.

Colgan does a great job of tying the events of In The Blood into Donna’s timeline, giving us another facet to what felt like a complete story. Plus there’s the always welcome addition of Wilf to liven things up too.

Oh and speaking of complete stories, you may want to check out Colgan’s Tenth Doctor adventure, Time Reaver as a certain development ties these two tales together.

While the plot doesn’t entirely hang together – the third act suffers from a lack of clear motivation (although I’m a sucker for any alien whose motivations are purely mercenary) – the rollicking pace, great characterisation, and genuine sense of fun make In The Blood well worth a read if you want more good times with the Doctor and Donna.

In the Blood is available in the UK now from Amazon.