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The return of Doctor Who to our screens in 2005 meant an end to fifteen years of ongoing literary adventures for the Time Lord. Though the novels spawned during that period were always technically "TV tie-in," they seemed to push the boundaries of the program. When the New Series Adventures started up, it seemed to very much be an end to an era. And yet, from time to time, writers from that period have returned to the Who literary fold. One such example is Lance Parkin and his 2008 Tenth Doctor adventure The Eyeless.
In many ways, The Eyeless feels like it could have been a TV story from this Doctor's era. The Doctor, traveling on his own arrives in the ruined city of Arcopolis. There both a group of survivors are scratching out an existence some fifteen years after the alien Fortress appeared and killed all other life on the planet. The Fortress has remained behind, a dangerous weapon, and one which the Doctor intends to disarm once and for all. That is if he can get inside and the arrival of the Eyeless doesn't stop him first.
The feeling oozing from Parkin's prose is one that brings to mind various episodes of the David Tennant era. There are strong echoes of "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" from Series 4 with its tale of a deserted planet and characters running around inside a vast, mysterious interior. The Eyeless, the titular villains, are also very much the sort of villains that the RTD era was fond of - disconcerting, strange, and without much given away about them. The supporting cast of characters is also neatly drawn in the Davies style, further adding to the flavor of the piece.
Nothing adds to that as much as Parkin's characterization of the Tenth Doctor. Traveling on his own (exactly when isn't clear) this isn't quite the happy-go-lucky Tenth Doctor. Oh, there are moments when he comes through. For the most part, however, the Tenth Doctor of The Eyeless is the darker, guilt-ridden one glimpsed throughout his era. There is a genuine sense of a man still trying to deal with the horrors of the past, made to confront them by what's happened here and the Fortress that looms over the landscape. Indeed, Parkin hints that it could well be a leftover weapon from the Time War which makes a particular moment where the Doctor confronts the "ghosts" of the city's inhabitants all the more powerful. If like me, you've craved a darker take on the Tenth Doctor, this is a must-read.
And yet, I can't quite bring myself to give this book a five-star rating. As odd as it might be to say, the book feels very contained compared to Parkin's earlier Who writing. After all, he gave an expansive Ice Warrior invasion of Britain in The Dying Days and wrote one of the greatest Gallifrey stories ever told in The Infinity Doctors. I've heard it said by those who read the Wilderness Era novels and came to the New Series books that literary Who lost its bite to an extent in the handover. In reading The Eyeless, I think there's some truth to that. But in reading reviews of the book, especially on Goodreads from those who have only read books from New Who, I also think it's easy to overstate that. The Eyeless is by far the darkest of the books I've encountered from the New Series Adventures, something that isn't a bad thing.
Though I have some reservations about it, The Eyeless stands for me as the best book I've yet read from the range. Indeed, while it isn't quite a return to form for Doctor Who on the page, it's a reminder of what they can do when given a chance to shine. For that, and its darker Tenth Doctor characterization, it's well worth seeking out.