The TARDIS materialises aboard a derelict ship adrift upon
a vast ocean on an alien world. When the derelict is sunk,
Peri drowns. Meanwhile the Doctor finds himself washed up
on a beach with only intelligent crabs and a shell-shocked
war veteran for company...
have been many great tales told of the sea, as John Cleese
once boldly proclaimed in Monty Python's Flying Circus.
And others, like this one, only marginally connected with
it. In fact this is the third Doctor Who novella, after
Ghost Ship and Rip Tide, to be concerned with
the sea and/or the coast.
title of this piece, together with the presence of sentient
crabs, might have led you to expect a light-hearted spoof
(set in the Crab Nebula no doubt). Certainly there are a fair
few puns, as you would expect from a Sixth Doctor book ("a
word in your shell-like", says the Time Lord at one point),
while the "sinister sponge" that is encountered by Peri might
refer to one of the wackier titled stories from the 1976 Doctor
this book is predominantly concerned with the serious topics
of wounds and the healing process, in terms of the body, the
mind and the landscape. The island upon which the Doctor finds
himself has been scarred by a devastating war, while the shell-shocked
recluse Ranger is battle-damaged in his own tragic way. Even
Peri bears some surprising emotional scars from her childhood,
which bring a new and disturbing interpretation to her sleep-talking
scene in Planet of Fire.
my review of the author's first Who novel - Drift,
for BBC Books - I commented upon Forward's offbeat writing
style, which offered up some particularly idiosyncratic metaphors
and similes. That style, which made Drift slow going
at times, is perfectly suited to the shorter medium of the
novella. Here we have the Doctor treading gingerly, "as if
he had trodden on a Fabergé egg". When a crab called Scrounger
clings to a fragile hope, it is, appropriately enough for
a creature of the sea, "a hope built of sand".
Forward keeps us guessing throughout much of the book, even
when we think we know what is going on. For a time, for instance,
it seems as though Scrounger was the one who caused the derelict
to sink, which disturbs us because he seems like such a nice
character. And what happens to Peri is just plain weird.
in all, this is a very readable book, and it runs to just
about the right length. Telos has yet to produce a Who
novella that matches the excellence of its first one, Time
and Relative, but Shell Shock is definitely my
second favourite to date. If you don't like this, you must
be very crabby indeed.