I believe we're on the cusp of a new golden age of fan fiction, at least in the worlds of Doctor Who. After a few years when professional and semi-pro unofficial fiction all but dried up, there has been a resurgence in this area lately, and some of the projects have been excellent. The latest such project, from Pseudoscope Publishing, is perhaps the best in a recent run of impressive publications.
Time Shadows sees an impressive group of new and established writers come together to raise funds for the Enable Community Foundation; a charity dedicated to providing needy communities with access to the latest technology and techniques to provide replacement limbs and prostheses. It's a remarkable organisation, supported by a remarkable book.
Time Shadows gives us a wide variety of story styles and themes, although a number of them revolve around a concept of time becoming twisted or undone. The stories are of a very high standard. It's a cliché to call these collections a mixed bag, but it's true. Inevitably some stories are better than others, or, at least, better suit a particular reader's taste. However, Time Shadows is the most consistently well-written collection I've read in a long time. There's only one story in the book that I didn't particularly enjoy, and even then, I can see that it would likely suit another reader. In terms of quality, this is a huge achievement.
Going through every story, one by one, would make this a very long spoilerish review, so I'll be content to pick out some of my favourite stories. “Time's Shadow,” by Simon Blake, not only sets the overall feel of the book with its tale of time out of joint, but provides an unsettling and entertaining story from the very beginning of Doctor Who's history: that dilapidated junkyard back in '63. Also tied in with the earliest elements of the series is David McLain's story, “Indigo,” a fun diversion for the first Doctor with a fun punchline.
One of my favourite stories of the collection, “The Godfather,” has nothing to do with Mario Puzo. Rather, it's a quiet, rather beautiful story by John Davies, about the difficulties of growing up, that gives us a glimpse into the later life of two of the Doctor's companions. “The Neither,” by Ian Howden, is a very effective little adventure for Mike Yates and Sarah Jane Smith. They make such a fine pair in this story that they could have had their own spin-off series together.
There are two Cyberman stories that are particularly noteworthy for their very different approaches to the fifty-year-old monsters. “Iron Joe,” by Abel Diaz, sees the sixth Doctor and Peri encounter a Cyberman in the old West, an arresting and unlikely combination of images that make for quite an adventure. Andrew Blair's story, “Confirmation Bias,” is an absolutely devastating story that looks at the Cybermen from the opposite angle, focusing on the unbearable reality of becoming a Cyberman.
Christopher Colley manages to create both the funniest story of the collection, and one of the most affecting. “After the Ball Was Over” begins as light-hearted, frothy, almost Hitchhikers-esque romp before veering into an tale of guilt, that goes exists to explain the huge change in the fourth Doctor's demeanour between seasons seventeen and eighteen. “The Redemption of Vequazon,” by Nick Walters, has an outlandish fantasy title but delivers quite a powerful tale of morality and deliverance.
As with many collections of this nature, Time Shadows has a framing story. However, while most such stories are contrived and often quite ineffective, “A Torch in the Darkness” is one of the best Doctor Who stories I've read in a long time. Dale Smith, David N. Smith, Violet Addison, and Christopher Colley work together on this overarching tale, that brings the twelfth Doctor and Clara on a voyage throughout time, from the days of classical myth to the end of the universe itself. As well as capturing the Twelve/Clara relationship down to a tee, this five-part story sees the Doctor's own history explored. The stories throughout the collection are explicitly referenced as newly created events - intrusions into the Doctor's past. Indeed, isn't that what all these missing adventures are? New elements that we've fashioned to make our favourite character's life even more packed full of incident. “A Torch in the Darkness” also riffs on the same ideas as Listen, but takes it further and to a more powerful conclusion. In a collection that features all thirteen Doctors (and more besides), it's the crowning achievement. Exceptional.
Purchase Time Shadows in print or as download here.