One of the noticeable oddities about Doctor Who as a franchise is the tendency to use and reference historical personalities. Vincent van Gogh, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and any number of royal figures have appeared on the television series. Many more characters have appeared in the various books, comics and audio dramas featuring the the Doctor. The short story collection Doctor Who: Star Tales represents an interesting attempt to push this aspect to the fore by dealing exclusively in stories of the famous throughout history, and how their experiences and lives crossed with those of the Doctor. The celebrities range from actors to scientists, and from the recent past to the ancient.
“Chasing the Dawn ” by Jenny T. Colgan represents an example of the use of both a past and present Doctor. In particular, there is a framing device in which the Thirteenth Doctor helps Taz, a companion, deal with her time of the month, which leads into a discussion and a story of the Eleventh Doctor and Amelia Earhart. The Earhart story is the larger part of the text, with the Taz element leading in and out as well as providing sporadic interruptions. On its own the story of the aviatrix would be enjoyable and fitting, including such elements as trying to tow a plane with a hammock, which one expects of the 11th doctor era’s sillier moments.
Yet the decision to use the story the way they did means the addition of the framing device which helps to reinforce the fact that gender as it is observed has an effect upon human interaction. As a result, the story gives added significance to the resistance Amelia gives to the idea of help with her trip. All the same, one of the story’s great flaws could be seen in that Ms. Earhart seems to think she has accomplished little, even though she was already a big name before her disappearance.
The second tale, Paul Magrs’ “That’s All Right, Mama” focuses on Elvis Presley. It features at least four incarnations of the Doctor, although the Thirteenth is the one who gets the majority of time in the tale, and the one for who the plot really kicks in. The Doctor sees famed moments in Elvis’ life, and leaves a pair of peculiar objects behind, failing to properly recover them. What follows is a touching break from history which details the love between a mother and child, and how good counsel can make all the difference. Many of the real Elvis’ more lamentable actions and traits are not mentioned, however this can be at least partly attributed to the facts of the story itself. Indeed the whole story would fail to work if details were not glossed over in some places and outright wrong in others. At its core, however, this is above all else is a story of the love between a parent and child.
The final tale in the collection features Audrey Hepburn, and focuses on interesting aspects of celebrity. Mike Tucker’s “Mission of KaaDok” is about the Doctor taking Graham and the gang to meet his favorite celebrity as she films Breakfast at Tiffany’s and finding a strange little alien creature already there with a scanning device. The Doctor gets between the device and Ms. Hepburn and in the process learn that the alien wanted a brain scan to create an animated wax dummy, to be among other celebrity reproductions, because his species enjoys Earth broadcasts and is curious about certain famous figures.
The question of the price of fame is indeed a small aspect in each of these three tales, as is the harm it can do. Fame contributes to the drives all of these celebrities possess, but also to the troubles, both real and science fictional, which appear in their stories. Gender plays a role most largely in the tale of Amelia Earhart, although one could argue that any of the stories in which a character has to deal with the Doctor being a woman rather than an expected previous incarnation could be seen as dealing in similar themes. Family often plays a large role, with stories featuring Elvis, Pythagoras, Einstein, and arguably Houdini featuring family as a major element. Really, if such material had been worked into the stories on Amelia Earhart and Audrey Hepburn it would have made the whole collection cohere into something slightly more special.
The cover is very nice, a wraparound focusing on the doctor and the TARDIS, with small pictures of the various celebrities involved in the book. The image of the Doctor chosen hearkens to the current Blu-ray collections of the classic series of Doctor Who, and works quite well. While slightly static, Lee Binding, the graphic designer, has produced a very nice effect.
Overall the collection is quite effective. The fact that Elvis gets the more emotionally moving story and Audrey Hepburn the more humorous is a slight surprise, but not an unwelcome one. A fun little volume that is easy to get through and easy to recommend to fans.
(BBC Books 2019)