Doctor Who: The Last Dodo by Jacqueline Rayner (2007)

TheLastDodoCover blurb

The Doctor and Martha go in search of a real live dodo, and are transported by the TADRIS to the mysterious Museum of the Last Ones. There, in the Earth section, they discover every extinct creature up to the present day, all still alive and in suspended animation.

Preservation is the museum’s only job – collecting the last of every endangered species from all over the universe. But exhibits are going missing…

Can the Doctor solve the mystery before the museum’s curator adds the last of the Time Lords to her collection?

My thoughts

I’ve dropped enough hints throughout this blog for any readers to have guessed I’m a Doctor Who fan. For any Americans who have no idea what I’m talking about, Doctor Who is a long-running BBC science fiction series about a mysterious “Time Lord” called the Doctor who travels in a time machine that can take him to any point in time and space. He always takes along one or two human companions wherever he goes. Despite having a time machine, the Doctor has never bothered visiting the prehistoric past during the course of the series. There were a couple memorable episodes based on the idea that intelligent reptiles had evolved early in the planet’s history, those being “The Silurians” and “The Sea Devils”, but the show’s tiny budget pretty much kept dinosaurs off-screen. The one episode that did feature the reptiles, “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, was a special effects disaster.

The Doctor finally stumbles across dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures in the novel The Last Dodo, but by accident. His most recent companion, Martha Jones, tells him she would like to see a dodo after noticing that the Doctor is using a dodo feather for a bookmark. He plops the feather into the console of his TARDIS – the time machine – intending to use its DNA to hone in on the species in the past and visit it. The TARDIS instead lands in a natural history museum the size of a planet, where the last dodo is kept in suspended animation along with every other animal species that has ever lived, from Earth and countless other worlds. (Extinct plants seemed to have been snubbed.) The two soon learn that several preserved earth species have gone missing, and they set out to solve the mystery. However, the Doctor faces a bigger threat when the curator, Eve, learns that he is the last of his species.

The first thing that should be said is the plot of The Last Dodo has an uncanny resemblance to a 1996 episode of Superman: The Animated Series, with an alien “preserver” trying to collect Superman because he is the last of his kind. I’m not into conspiracy theories, so I’m betting it is just a coincidence. And, anyway, a planet-sized natural history museum with living specimens is an interesting setting. Unfortunately, Rayner never realizes its full potential, and the plot is rather unwieldy and unfocused, as if the author couldn’t figure what the story should be about. Rayner makes too many leaps of logic to get the characters out of sticky situations, although this always has been a weakness of the TV series. Also, the main villain’s motivation and final defeat are ripped straight from “Ghost Light”, a TV episode where evolution was the central theme.

The characterization of the Doctor is spot-on, although readers not acquainted with the most recent incarnation of the TV show may be taken aback by his goofiness. Martha is a different matter. The novel alternates between Martha’s first-person point of view and a third-person point of view. Mostly the first-person point of view is used when Rayner wants to cover large spans of time in a few pages. But these passages, which read like the diary of a pop-savvy teen, don’t fit the intelligent, doctoral student of the show. They remind me more of the Doctor’s former companion, Rose, and my suspicions were confirmed when I saw on Wikipedia that The Last Dodo was originally supposed to feature Rose. The author and publisher just threw in a few references to Martha and plugged in her name wherever Rose appeared.

The Last Dodo is now available as a small hardback, the only reason being so the BBC can get a few more dollars out of readers than if it issued a paperback. Still, I admit I wish more hardbacks came in its handy, easy-to-hold size rather than the backbreaking tomes lining shelves today.

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