Reviewed: Diamond Dogs by Mike Tucker

I’ve a close affinity to the New Series Adventures novel range. When I first became a fan, I hungrily devoured the first books in the series, The Clockwise Man, The Monsters Inside, and Winner Takes All, and have kept up to date with all subsequent releases.

But they dried up. There was a lull between 2011’s Borrowed Time, and 2013’s Plague of the Cybermen – a couple of years might not seem long, but it felt like a drought following a time when there were between six and nine published a year. Similarly, Diamond Dogs is the first Twelfth Doctor fiction from the range since September 2015’s Deep Time.

There’s something especially pleasing about these three new novels (Plague City and The Shining Man, alongside Diamond Dogs), particularly in their parallels with the 2005 Ninth Doctor books that kickstarted the series. Notably, they’re released as the main show is back on TV, so you can plough into them after watching The Pilot, Smile, Thin Ice, et al.; but also, they feel very fresh.

Of course, this is due to the dynamic between the Twelfth Doctor and Bill Potts, a very pleasing pairing, captured wonderfully in Diamond Dogs.

This is Mike Tucker’s fourth book for the NSA range, not including Quick Reads, and even though I liked his previous efforts immensely (Snowglobe 7 being a particular favourite), it’s also his most enjoyable. Everything about it just works beautifully – from the setting to its style, its monsters to its emulation of Series 10’s tone.

The TARDIS lands on Kollo-Zarnista Mining Facility 27, a station harvesting the diamonds raining from the pressured atmosphere of Saturn; naturally, the Doctor and Bill are accused of theft (something the Doctor’s not entirely innocent of) and sabotage. It’s a typical set-up in a very unfamiliar setting: nothing can live on Saturn, and yet something does. Such an idea might justifiably remind you of The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit (2006) or Midnight (2008), but because it’s closer to home, there’s an added layer of tension. Could undetectable aliens be lurking in our very own solar system, unseen by us purely because we can’t factor in ideas of life that doesn’t abide by our strict definitions?

When one of the mining crew is snatched, the Doctor volunteers to rescue him, partly to show he’s trustworthy and otherwise to investigate the impossible. This Doctor has a Series 8-like edge, still calling people “pudding brains”, but he’s nonetheless kind and filled with the wonder that seems to drive him in Series 10. Indeed, Diamond Dogs is firmly rooted in the present run of episodes: to start with, we learn how he pays for his stays on Earth, including for Nardole’s services.

It’s also a slower book, brooding yet exciting in its depictions of the planet and its brief sojourns into unexplored territory. That fits with the pace of The Pilot and Smile, although its tone feels generally closer to Oxygen. Tucker enforces that this really is a dangerous environment, and you truly get the feeling that crew members (as well as the Doctor and Bill) might be killed at any moment.

Actually, this is a rare novel in which the crew could turn on the Doctor and Bill on every page. Their position is certainly precarious, however much the Doctor tries to win their trust.

Space appears to be an enemy here; so too is physics, as scenes involving the dangers of the environment demonstrate. But Mike also reflects the wonder and joy of interstellar travel as seen in Series 10, this time through the eyes of security officer, Laura Palmer. She opens the novel and is a strong presence throughout – in fact, she’s one of the few characters who really warms to the Doctor. If it weren’t for Bill, she’d be seen as the identification figure. Her sheer amazement and obsession with Saturn is a fantastic thing, and makes for an unusual but very pleasing prologue.

Not all of the characters are as well defined as her, but they don’t really need to be in order to tell an engaging and enjoyable tale. Humans aren’t the only species on Kollo-Zarnista: they needed the expertise of the Cancri to overcome the odds against them mining the diamond rainfall. The race isn’t fully fleshed out, and if it weren’t for the alien name, you’d likely forget Jenloz isn’t from Earth.

Still, I like this uneasy partnership, and there’s a point to it; the alliance is for profit, not for peace.

Better realised is the Ba-El Cratt, the menace at the heart of Diamond Dogs, and a fantastic idea borne from the harsh conditions of space. A visit to their ship is especially interesting, and makes for some great visuals.

And you really can picture everything. Tucker excels at giving you plenty to think about, plenty to look at in your mind’s eye. You’d perhaps expect this from the man behind the Model Unit.

Mike also scatters lots of references to other stories, a lovely added layer for hardcore fans that won’t exclude any newcomers either. Aside from nods to Bill’s early adventures in the TARDIS, there are further allusions to classic stories like The Caves of Androzani and The Invisible Enemy. What’s more, the Ba-El Cratt are immediately reminiscent of the titular misunderstood monsters from The Ambassadors of Death, confined to spacesuits by necessity. Again, this lends to some creepy images and wonderful ideas.

It seems like ages since the previous New Series Adventures novels, but as one of the best instalments so far, perfectly emulating the tone of the current series and Doctor-companion relationship, Mike Tucker’s Diamond Dogs is worth the wait.

Doctor Who: Diamond Dogs by Mike Tucker is available to buy now for £5.59 from Amazon.