Doctor Who Borrowed Time by Naomi A. Alderman review
It wasn’t so long ago that BBC Books scored a coup by publishing a Michael Moorcock Doctor Who novel, The Coming of the Terraphiles. That was an okay book, but I was even more delighted when the latest load of Doctor Who review copies arrived, as one of the authors’ names really leapt out at me. Could ‘Naomi A. Alderman’ be the ‘Naomi Alderman’ who won the Orange Prize for New Writers with her debut novel Disobedience in 2007? A quick scan of the accompanying press release revealed that it was indeed so. Naomi Alderman was also named by Waterstones as one of their Writers for the Future in 2007. I find it really exciting that BBC Books are able to commission authors of such extraordinary calibre, following the lead of the TV show, which has recently called on the talents of Richard Curtis and Neil Gaiman. Could Doctor Who be in danger of becoming part of the literary establishment? I certainly hope so. To make things even more stellar, Borrowed Time is partly dedicated to Naomi Alderman’s cousin, Samuel West, who may or may not be the well-regarded actor of the same name who incredibly appeared in the lamentable Doctor Who/EastEnders crossover Dimensions in Time for Children in Need in 1993 only a couple of years after starring in Howards End, and who also played the Time Lord Morbius in a Big Finish audio adventure. Needless to say, all this pedigree allowed Borrowed Time to jump quite a few places on my to-read list!
It takes Naomi Alderman a couple of chapters to get going, but once she does, she really hits the ground running. Her characterisation of the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are spot on. The henchmen Symington and Blenkinsop appear to have stepped right out of The Matrix (the Wachowski movie, rather than the Time Lord databank), especially when they become ‘duplicated’ and start hunting down the Doctor and his friends as a horde. However, Mr Symington and Mr Blenkinsop turn out to be quite literally loan ‘sharks’, with the added propensity of biting chunks out of anyone that gets in their way, and they’re a great example of how Naomi Alderman takes a simple idea to its logical (and somewhat surreal) extremes. The main plot is just as clever, featuring several employees of Lexington International Bank who have borrowed just a bit too much time from the aforementioned henchmen as they attempt to get at least one step ahead of their colleagues. Since time is the commodity that’s being traded, it’s not long before the Doctor becomes embroiled in the events at Lexington Bank. However, despite the fact that Amy knows the Doctor abhors dodgy dealings with time travel, she can’t help but take Symington and Blenkinsop up on their offer to allow her a rare opportunity of visiting her parents. Since the novel’s set in 2007, one would have thought that she’d run the risk of bumping into herself, but fortunately, the ‘real’ Amy appears to have spent a great deal of time away from home in Leadworth in 2007. It’s just as well that Symington & Blenkinsop’s watch has a Blinovitch Limitation Limitation though.
In some places, especially with regards to the explanation of compound interest, Borrowed Time comes dangerously close to following Doctor Who‘s original remit of being educational, to the extent that even a financial market is brought vividly to life (albeit a temporal one). Yet Alderman’s novel is also very much a thriller, and her well-thought-out plot will have keep you royally entertained as you rapidly flick through its pages. Borrowed Time is also very funny, and it’s very evident that Naomi Alderman knows her Doctor Who lore. As she writes in the acknowledgements, Naomi Alderman’s first exposure to Doctor Who was a video of The Robots of Death, and you can’t really go wrong with an introduction like that. To my delight, Naomi Alderman also utilises the vworp, vworp noise to representation the landing of the TARDIS, something she’s borrowed from the Doctor Who comic strips (if only the subtitles for the TV show would do the same!) Borrowed Time is a very clever satire on both our current 24 hours a day culture, and the 2007 banking crisis, since the novel’s events are set just before the beginnings of this calamity. Indeed, in my opinion, Borrowed Time could very well be the best novel written yet on the banking crisis!
- Matthew Kilburn on Doctor Who Shada by Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts