The Internet has given us some truly nasty and disgusting things. It’s a place where conspiracy theories are rife, and so are tales of horror. It’s home to social media and comments sections and columns on the Daily Mail. But look into Slender Man – –
No, actually, don’t. It’s scary. Really creepy. It began life in 2009 as a meme, a long Silence-esque figure dressed in a black suit and shown without any facial features, typically linked to the disappearance of children. It was inspired by supernatural horrors from H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and shadow people; it wasn’t meant to take on a life of its own or incite actual panic.
Still, ideas take leave of their creators and walk in the shadows of the mind. This modern-day Spring-Heeled Jack, perpetuated by the Internet, seemingly gave life to The Shining Man, the most recent Twelfth Doctor novel in the New Series Adventures range. There’s talk of Shining Men, disturbing figures dressed in black but with blazing lights erupting from their eyes. They stand on street corners gazing back and forth, eyes illuminating the road like the lights on an ambulance; they stalk the night; they attack people.
Obviously, not all of these creatures are actually creatures. Some are humans who think it’s smart to scare the living daylights out of people. Nonetheless, there’s an element of truth, as Sammy Holland finds out. In a truly unsettling prologue, she goes to confront a Shining Man after her son is terrorised by one – and she disappears, leaving her children alone at home with terrors watching in the dark.
This is very much a novel of the bright and the pitch blackness, often at the same time. Its themes are thoroughly chilling, and even when its setting is psychedelic and colourful, there’s still something dark about it, symbolically at least. It explores the unseen and finds that, actually, there are some things we can’t see because we shouldn’t. The novel splits much of its time between Earth and another dimension, one which is a sensory overload to humans, to the point of torture.
I never expected to find something so grim in The Shining Man, so it’s a brave venture, and I’m pleased such a step has been taken. Similarly, I never dreamed in a million years that Doctor Who would take up a plot point from the Torchwood Series 1 episode, Small Worlds. That story was a bleak but fascinating one, tinging the seemingly-childish tales of magic with something really dark.
That’s not to say The Shining Man is a deeply depressing experience. This is the first book written by Cavan Scott to feature Peter Capaldi’s incarnation of the Time Lord, and Pearl Mackie’s Bill Potts, and the pair are really nicely depicted; indeed, they’re a real highlight of the title. Bill gets enough to do, without this turning into the companion’s tale – she gets to expand as she has to deal with children fearful they’re mum won’t return, and without the Doctor there to help her out – but the Doctor is really at the heart of it all.
The supporting characters are particularly good. Cavan really nails the children, their concern and courage shining through. Often, you find yourself looking forward to their portion of the narrative more than time spent with even the Doctor! That’s testament to how likeable these one-off creations are.
Despite spot-on characterisations of the leads, plus nods to several stories including Terror of the Zygons and The Return of Doctor Mysterio (just as the previous novels have done), this book feels like it’s harking back to another era, but it’s difficult to exactly lock onto which. With plenty of haunting imagery, it owes something to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, so natural parallels can be drawn to Philip Hinchcliffe’s tenure as producer.
Still, the reason it’s so hard to relate to other Doctor Who stories is because it appears so unusual. It’s a meld of magic and science with an off-the-wall denouement. It opens up new worlds to explore, but they’re perhaps not ones you’d care to spend much time in…
The Shining Man is undoubtedly one of the darkest stories from the New Series Adventures novels (alongside The Feast of the Drowned, Forever Autumn, The Story of Martha, Dead of Winter, and Hunter’s Moon), and for that alone, it deserves a place on your bookshelf.
Doctor Who: The Shining Man by Cavan Scott is available now from Amazon for £5.59.