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22 May 2024

Doctor Who: The Quality of Leadership by Keith R.A. DeCandido (ed.)

Doctor Who: Short Trips #24: The Quality Of Leadership
edited by Keith R A DeCandido
based on a concept by John S. Drew

I bought this direct from the editor at a convention back in July 2008. A few months later, I think he asked me on LiveJournal when I was going to review it—early reviews being very helpful to the early sales of books. I told him I would read it when I got to it on my reading list, and he seemed a bit peeved.

Published: 2008
Acquired: July 2008
Read: March 2024

He was probably right to be peeved, as it's over fifteen years later, and my review cannot be of any use to him, as the book is long out-of-print. But anyway, I've finally got to it. The book is an unusual Short Trips installment, as editor Keith R. A. DeCandido is American, and thus has a different set of contacts than your usual Short Trips editor, many culled from the world of Star Trek tie-in fiction; you will not find your obligatory Justin Richards or Stephen Cole story here. Instead the volume features Star Trek novel luminaries Peter David and Diane Duane, and also a lot of people who worked with Keith on the Corps of Engineers ebooks, like Terri Osborne and Richard C. White. It even features the first Doctor Who fiction of Una McCormack, who would later become a prolific contributor to the Doctor Who audio and novel lines.

The anthology has an interesting premise, of the Doctor's encounters with various leaders, but the way the premise is implemented makes it less effective than it could be. The anthology has a frame story, about a dying ruler of an alien world who met the Doctor at the beginning of his reign; the Doctor told him stories about leadership to inspire him. Unfortunately, though there are many stories here about leaders, few seem to have anything to do with leadership. The very first one he tells, for example, Peter David's "One Fateful Knight," is supposedly about King Arthur... but it's more a story that King Arthur is in than a story about King Arthur. Mostly it's a pretty poorly thought out prequel/sequel to Battlefield, which is one of my favorite seventh Doctor tv stories, and which this tie-in totally fails to get. It does have a couple okay jokes, but it's a big misfire to lead off with.

Other stories seem to have similar problems: the Doctor's companion Romana replaces Boudica in "Good Queen, Bad Queen, I Queen, You Queen," but the complications of this, the leadership lessons of this, seem largely skipped over. Like, could the original Romana really replace a warrior queen? I think we need more than we get here. Plus there's a wacky twist I did not see the point of. Along those lines, I felt we got little of King Theodoric's leadership in Diane Duane's "Goths and Robbers" (though she does good Tegan) or Martin Luther's in Richard White's "The Price of Conviction" or King Henry VIII's in Linnea Dodson's "God Send Me Well to Keep." These stories weren't bad, but I couldn't imagine the Doctor choosing to tell them to inspire a young prince to greatness. 

One of only a few to really hit the theme right was Kathleen O. David's "On a Pedestal," where the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria meet William Wallace (the Braveheart guy), though bits of it were pretty rushed. Some didn't fit the theme terribly well but got away with it; I'm not convinced that Plato counts as a "leader," but Allyn Gibson's "The Spindle of Necessity" is an interestingly written story with a good grasp of the sixth Doctor's voice and a neat conclusion, so who cares.

You might imagine the premise lends itself to "historicals," and you'd be right. Mostly this is fine, but many of them have to contrive reasons for the Doctor to be there, and they don't always convince. There are just three stories about fictional leaders; two are really tedious sci-fi tales where I wasn't even sure who the "leader" character was supposed to be.

One, though, was my favorite story in the book, James Swallow's "Clean-up on Aisle Two," about a night manager at a 24/7 market. More than any other story in the book, it actually has something to say about leadership, plus it has a strong sense of voice and a well-characterized seventh Doctor. (Several of the stories in the book suffer, I think, from being written by Americans trying to do British.) In moving away from an actual leader, it seemed to me that Swallow was the one who came the closest to what I thought the book was actually going to be about.

Every three months, I read the unread Doctor Who book I've owned the longest. Next up in sequence: Doctor Who in an exciting adventure with the Daleks

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