AL Kennedy takes TV’s Timelord fore a Scottish spin on the golf course
The Drosten’s Curse
by AL Kennedy
BBC Books, 368pp, £16.99
Crikey, you don’t half turn up some interesting stuff when you’re on the trail of Doctor Who. I was researching Patrick Troughton, who was my second Doctor but, much more significantly, AL Kennedy’s first.
The author of 15 books and major Whovian remembers this actor having to run on the spot to convey actual sprinting and, even at a young age, being disappointed with the stagecraft.
Well, I wonder what she would make of what was reputedly Troughton’s last physical activity before he died – sex with a fan he met at a Doctor Who convention in Columbus, Georgia. Or, for that matter, his habit when golfing of peeing on the greens.
Maybe we should move on to Kennedy’s Doctor Who adventure, a long-held ambition of hers, set not in her native Dundee but just up the A92 in Arbroath, home of the Arbroath Smokie, Arbroath 36 Bon Accord 0… and a real hazard out on the golf course: man-eating bunkers. Not a moment too soon, the Timelord has arrived at the town’s most exclusive spa hotel and I assume it to be a good Dundee joke that Arbroath would have such a thing.
But the Doctor Kennedy draws is not Troughton. “He appeared to have been dressed by a committee, possibly a drunk committee… rather more teeth than one person should have… an immense and disreputable scarf with a life of its own.” Tom Baker was the Doc who began her long love affair with the show and it is hotel receptionist Bryony who gets to swoon at the cosmic and charismatic visitor in the manner that she once did: “He seemed somehow like her oldest friend, like a wonderful relative she’d heard about but never met.”
Adventure is just what Bryony needs. Her boss belittles her and the golfers are sexist. The Doctor thought he was headed for Chicago but over-shot, or perhaps under-shot: “As his good friend Robert Louis Stevenson had often told him,” writes Kennedy, “there did usually need to be an extremely pressing reason for someone to be in Arbroath.” Little wonder, then, that Bryony views the prospect of “horrible and increasing danger” as “lovely”.
Kennedy goes at the story with gusto, relishing the opportunities for terrible punnery almost as much as she does those for space jargon and horrible death. Well, not really horrible, more to the point. You can be reduced to a full stop by this thing lurking under Arbroath or flattened into a playing card or indeed a golfer’s scorecard.
And being eaten by a bunker is almost pleasant, thanks to sedatives which spread through the victim’s body. Death as a spa treatment, if you like.
The author has terrific fun wheeling in some of the Doctor’s most dastardly foes, including a Wirrn, an Auton, a Sontaran, Davros, creator of the Daleks, and a Cyberman. This is a kind of Mearns monster megamix – Arbroath is just outside the Mearns but I can’t resist the alliteration – and you imagine that Kennedy couldn’t resist this fiendish procession. She has, though, resisted using her description of the Cybermen from a few years ago when she was mentioning her enthusiasm for writing a Doctor Who story at every opportunity: “Like members of an embarrassing gay boyband.”
The Drosten’s Curse is, despite much slimy gruesomeness, a very human book. The battle is with a monster which is alien and carnivorous for sure but also “emotionally-sensitive”. The Drosten Stone comes to life but in a way suggesting “it was shy and trying to say hello”.
There’s a sweet, almost-romance between Bryony and a bounty-hunter who has a “massively-underused heart”. I particularly liked the moment when the bedraggled heroes, together with the Doctor and his ridiculous scarf, are challenged on the fairways: “What on earth are you dressed as? Are you some kind of joke?”
This from a man in lemon yellow slacks and a powder pink shirt.