Andrew East catches up with the 1998 Seventh Doctor novel, The Hollow Men...
Superb! Of all the Doctor Who novels I have read as a fan, this one, almost from the outset, shot to the top of my favourites list. The Hollow Men is a horrific, scary, exciting and has Doctor Who stamped through it like a stick of rock.
The Doctor and Ace arrive in Hexen Bridge, a small village with a dark secret under the green. Scarecrows attack, the Doctor is kidnapped by local gangsters and unfinished business from an earlier adventure rears its ugly head.
The Hollow Men is set at the tail end of Season 26; one of the few 7th Doctor novels to be explicitly set during the television series. The majority of 7th Doctor novels are, of course, the New Adventures and the BBC books versions tend to skew towards this era, or are at least set ‘after Survival’. The blurb on the back of the novel states this is set between The Curse of Fenric and Survival (although a small story detail does actually set it after Survival).
Doctor Who fans love a sequel (or so the BBC Books editors and Big Finish producers believe). The Hollow Men wears its influences on its sleeve. There is no escaping the fact that the basic set up of Hexen Bridge is highly reminiscent of The Daemons. Close-knit locals, a village green and a baleful influence. Rather than ignore the similarities, Topping and Day have the Doctor becoming aware of Hexen Bridge’s dark atmosphere whilst investigating the area around Devil’s End after the events of the earlier story. The Curse of Fenric also influences the story with a vicar character and an attack on the church which is highly reminiscent of a similar set piece in Fenric.
But the strongest link is with the 5th Doctor story, The Awakening. The evil beneath the village green is, in fact, a fellow invasion machine to the Malus from that story – known as Jerak. Becoming Jack i’the Green in local folklore, Jerak is forced into hibernation when the 5th Doctor destroyed the Malus – the two machines form the first two stages of a Hakolian invasion, the third being the actual arrival of the Hakolians.
Another, unplanned link is with the new series story, Human Nature/The Family of Blood, which also featured killer scarecrows. That said, the scarecrows in The Hollow Men are horrific – converted humans merged with stick and straw and I found them much scarier than the ones in the new series, even just through the printed word.
The whole novel rattles along at a speedy pace: the Doctor and Ace arrive, attend a reunion and almost immediately the Doctor has been spirited away to Liverpool. Pretty soon, he’s back and solving Hexen Bridge’s problems. A principal baddie is surprisingly killed halfway through the story. Ace plunges from life-threatening situation to life-threatening situation culminating in an incredibly tense scarecrow attack which sees Ace and a local Chinese family holed up in their restaurant.
All of the guest characters are well-rounded and well-written with some nasty pieces of work and some more sympathetic souls. What’s interesting is that few of the ‘nicer’ characters are entirely blameless. For example, Matthew, the Chinese guy Ace joins forces with for much of the novel, is having an affair with a married woman.
The Doctor and Ace are spot on in terms of characterisation and this contributes to the whole story feeling almost like a missing script from Season 26. The only thing which would never make it to screen is the unending torrent of horror. This is a very, very scary book. There are some horrific passages, horrible deaths and spine-chilling concepts.
My only complaint about the book is that one concept is not fully explored. The principal human villain, psychically linked to Jerak, has the power to create violence in people leading to a massacre in a pub. A chemical in the water supply of Liverpool is also supposedly to lead to horrendous scenes all over the city, but in the novel we only see one small incident and then the next time this is referenced the Doctor has apparently sorted it out. It’s the only aspect of the novel which I felt wasn’t properly explored or satisfactorily resolved. But this was a minor issue in a book I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end.
It’s going to take a barnstormer of a novel to topple this one from the top spot. Not only is this the best book I have read in recent years, it is also one of the best Doctor Who books I have read, ever.
A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the
worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed
with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon
is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of
the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the