There is a real joy to Doctor Who charity anthologies. Minus a few thematic elements to bind the book together, they are largely free of restrictions of both what can be televised (both conveniently and legally) and what can and can’t be done within the set plot structure. It enables writers to toy with crossovers, returns to characters the series proper might have no desire to revisit, and even bits of canon that the show itself may never want to write. There’s a beautiful freedom there, both as a writer and as a reader who knows that this is just one of many fan imaginings that can be enjoyed for itself without wondering about its influence on the show’s legacy.
Time Shadows is one of the latest additions to the run of Doctor Who fanthologies, written to raise money for the Enable Community Foundation. Edited by Matt Grady and Samuel Gibb with a foreword by Gary Russell, it is a collection of new stories spanning the entirety of the televised series’s run. As is potentially guessable by the cover image, there is an especial focus on our incumbent Doctor, by way of a frame story featuring him and Clara Oswald.
What makes Time Shadows truly unique is the way it plays with the anthology format. We have a variety of writers pitching in a variety of stories — a young boy befriending an uncased Dalek, the Sixth Doctor and Peri encountering a Wild West Cyberman, and the Eighth Doctor’s run-in with Daleks and the Meddling Monk all at once, for example — which, in and of itself, is par for the course. But it’s the frame story, the overarching adventure of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara hunting down a mysterious time machine known as the Alpha TARDIS, that brings the threads together. How? Why? Where does it lead? That’s best discovered on its own. But it’s an ingenious use of the anthology format, and a brilliant way of tying together the works of a variety of authors that makes the patchwork of eras not only cohesive, but actually necessary to the plot.
As happens with a fanthology, the quality of the stories is all over the map. None of the stories truly fails as a Doctor Who story, but the writing quality itself varies person to person. Overall, there are far more hits than misses, and many of my misses may well be other people’s hits. It is important to bear in mind, though, that when picking up a fanthology, you’re not picking up a squeaky-clean, picked-over, BBC-polished product. You’re picking up a labour of love — and even if a particular writer’s voice may not be as strong as the ones around it, their passion for the show and characters still shines through in the inventiveness they bring to the concept.
So far, Time Shadows has raised more than $700 for the ECF, but there’s still a ways to go. Even leaving aside that it’s for a good cause, this anthology is definitely worth your money. It brings a degree of cleverness to the collaborative anthology format that, while present in other books, is exercised in a truly ingenious way here. There’s also a great deal of love shown for both 20th and 21st century Who, so no matter what your era, you will find something to enjoy.
Time Shadows is available to buy from the Pseudoscope Website, where you can also make donations to the ECF.