Justin Richards – Doctor Who: Time Lord Fairy Tales

Doctor Who and fairy tales – two things I love combined in one book? Of course I needed to have it. I discovered this while browsing online and was mostly struck by the cover. It’s much prettier in real life, with the metallic gold bits shining in the light. The content, however, left a little to be desired and felt more like a cheap holiday stunt than properly thought-through fairy stories with the Doctor in them.

time lord fairy talesDOCTOR WHO: TIME LORD FAIRY TALES
by Justin Richards

Published by: BBC Children’s Books, 2015
Hardcover: 261 pages
Short story collection
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, there was a house at the edge of a town.

A stunning illustrated collection of dark and ancient fairy tales from the world of Doctor Who. These captivating stories include mysterious myths and legends about heroes and monsters of all kinds, from every corner of the universe. Originally told to young Time Lords at bedtime, these twisted tales are an enchanting read for Doctor Who fans of all ages. Written by Justin Richards and illustrated by David Wardle.

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As in any good fairy tale collection, you will find a range of well-known stories in here. Justin Richards doesn’t just stick to the Grimm brothers either, but rather delves into lesser known or lesser loved fairy or folk tales. While some are quite wonderful and deliver just what I had hoped for – such as the first story “The Garden of Statues” which features the Weeping Angels – others feel like cheap paint-by-the-numbers merchandise material, put in simply to add some meat to the book.

The Sleeping Beauty tale, for example, “Frozen Beauty”, doesn’t do anything original. Sleeping Beauty is asleep because, well, her space ship landed but the cryogenic chambers/beds didn’t wake up their inhabitants. There is a Doctor Who monster in this story, but other than that, it’s simply Sleeping Beauty in space. With so little originality, I wasn’t very impressed. And this is a trend that continues through many of these stories. Replace horses for space ships, swords for laser guns or sonic screwdrivers – and voilà, Doctor Who fans will eat it up. Except, we’d also like a good story, please.

In some stories, the Doctor himself makes an appearance and I had a lot of fun figuring out which incarnation it was that helped the heroes of each tale. Given each Doctor’s trademark attire, this wasn’t very hard to guess, but a fun little bonus nonetheless. So in “Cinderella and the Magic Box”, the titular box is nothing other than the TARDIS, and the mysterious man coming out of it, helping Cinderella getting to the ball, is – you guessed it – the Doctor. This was one of the more pleasant stories, along with “Little Rose Riding Hood”. These tales diverged a bit more from their source material and dared to just flip things upside down – which is only natural if the Doctor is involved, after all.

time lord fairy tales weeping angels

I also have to mention the illustrations. These woodcut-like black and white drawings were all really beautiful and I was particularly impressed with the way they showed Doctor Who specific aliens and monsters and made them recognisable as such without the use of colors or a lot of detail. The Weeping Angels, the Sontarans, the TARDIS, and anything else clearly labeled Doctor Who is instantly recognisable.

Despite the cool illustrations, Justin Richards’ riff on the Three Little Pigs, “The Three Little Sontarans” was just a play-by-play of the fairy tale, using Sontarans instead of pigs. The fact that this is all I can say about it should tell you how much thought went into the story… The language was nothing to write home about either. A clear case, in my opinion, of an author not trusting his child readers to understand things if he doesn’t talk down to them. Characters are incredibly dumb, solutions come way too easily (such as in the Snow White tale), but at least there are some fun moments to be had, like in “Andiba and the four Slitheen” which was a retelling of Ali Baba.

I did like the last story very much. “Sirgwain and the Green Knight” convinced me through its simplicity. The author stuck to the story and focused more on the main character than on describing some flashy space ship. The message is lovely, most of the characters have no idea they’re in a Doctor Who universe and so the entire story is a more traditional folk tale that works beautifully as a Who-ified fairy tale.

Look, this makes a great gift for hardcore Doctor Who fans or people who read any fairy tale retelling they can get their hands on. But don’t expect original things to happen with the fairy tales, not like the master storytellers currently writing twisted fairy tales. Most of these you could write yourself if you thought about it for a bit, but it’s a fun collection to read when you’re not in the mood for a big novel. Or when you just can’t get enough of the Doctor.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Okay

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