THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
POINT" AND "THE YEAR
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN MAY 2001.
The TARDIS lands in
the sleepy English
village of Marpling,
as calm and peaceful
as any other village
in the 1930s. Or so it
would seem. But the
village is about to
get a rude awakening.
friends discover they
aren't the only time-
travellers in TOWN:
a crack commando
team is prowling the
with recovering a
from the far future -
and they have orders
to destroy the entire
area should anything
the wasps, bringing
terror and death in
equal measure. What
is their purpose? How
can they be stopped?
And who will be their
the horror that has
been unleashed, the
Doctor must outwit
both the temporal
hit squad and the
police, who want
him for murder...
Eater of Wasps
Trevor Baxendale may not be one of my favourite Doctor Who writers, generally speaking, but when he’s on form he is capable of rivalling the best of them. Prior to relatively recent triumphs Something Inside and Prisoner of the Daleks, Eater of Wasps was Baxen-dale’s finest effort by some considerable distance. It combines a redolent rustic setting with a chilling menace, some deft characterisation and temperate flourishes of humour. All that sets it apart from a 1975 Tom Baker four-parter are its mint humbugs and amnesia.
Hands up who likes wasps. That’s right - nobody. People can abide a bee, prefixed as it is with its humbling “bumble” and busy as it is with its commendable honey-making. Wasps, however… Wasps are bastards. I’m particularly adverse to them at the moment as an entire regiment of them recently ruined a perfectly good pint of mine. As insects go, they’re at best infuriating; at worst downright malevolent. As such, the prospect of a tale that sees a swarm of them under the influence of a weapon from the future is one that has instant appeal, and with Baxendale at the helm every ounce of macabre horror is squeezed at of it. Just look at the title - this book isn’t called Attack of the Wasps or Curse of the Wasps; it’s called Eater of Wasps. And believe me, it does what is says on the tin.
What makes this novel such a treasure
though is its quaint setting. The village
of Marpling houses numerous distinct,
if a little clichéd, characters, each of
whom leaves a lasting impression on
the reader. Hilary Pink, for instance,
is an absolute delight: a washed-up,
philandering conchie who constantly
has to be reined in by his brother, the
Squire. Miss Havers is better still – the scene where she watches Fitz, Anji and the Doctor emerge from inside the TARDIS (in that order) and instantly brands them all “gypsies” is simply sublime. Baxendale really makes the reader care about these characters – even those who do little besides aggravate our heroes – making their respective plights all the more harrowing.
The author also handles the regular characters well, particularly the amnesiac Doctor. After the bizarreness of Vanishing Point, the Doctor has a certain spring in his step once again, proffering sweets at every opportunity and flirting unashamedly with his opponent, Kala – a “professional” time traveller with instructions to either recapture the genetic weapon that’s been animating the wasps, or blow up her partner Fatboy, who just happens to be a nuclear bomb. The Doctor also appears to have recovered much of his temporal expertise, if not his actual memories, as he is drawn into a number of well-argued debates concerning cause and effect with his opposite number. I also found it interesting that this novel sees the Doctor return to the 1930s for the first time since he regained his TARDIS - it’s fascinating to hear him waxing lyrical about how his younger self is off sailing the seas and having tattoos done whilst he’s here, trying to save Marpling from bombs and wasps.
Anji, similarly, is effectively portrayed. In a marked contrast to previous writers, Baxendale focuses on Anji in the here and now, as opposed to her ruminations on her old life in London or even her deceased lover. It’s charming to read about her “discovering” time travel for the first time, fretting about where her parents are in this time zone and that sort of thing. Eater
of Wasps is also something of a milestone in terms of her relationship with the Time Lord,
in that it pushes her trust in him to breaking point, only to reaffirm it at the story’s end as she resolves to remain by his side. As a result of Anji’s dominant role in the proceedings, Fitz is afforded far less of the spotlight, nevertheless he’s vibrantly-drawn whenever he does take centre-stage.
All in all, I’m rather fond of Eater of Wasps. It was never going to set the world alight, but as traditional tie-ins go, one couldn’t ask for any more. It has wasps swarming into characters’ mouths and destroying them from the inside-out, sentient bombs called “Fatboy”, and even
a cheeky little bit of breaking and entering. What’s more, it takes the eighth Doctor and his companions and places them in a rural, gothic fantasia that successfully evokes the spirit
of the series’ lauded Philip Hinchliffe and Robert Holmes era. And I’ll tell you what else: had Trevor Baxendale been churning out this stuff in the mid-1970s, then those two would have loved him.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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