From the 1980 adventure State of Decay, vampires have been a major part of Doctor Who lore. In the televised story, the Fourth Doctor explained that the Time Lords have a sworn responsibility to eliminate all vampires as part of his people’s war with the creatures many centuries ago. That said, it is surprising that there are so few stories on TV in which the Doctor faces this moral conundrum. Happily there are quite a few novels.
Following up on the rather challenging novel, The Eight Doctors, Vampire Science is an enthralling adventure which challenges the intelligence of the Eighth Doctor as well as his nerve. In the opening chapter it appears that the Doctor has embarked on an all-out war against the vampires, cornering one in an alley and stabbing it in the chest. A young woman named Caroline witnesses the whole affair and it has such an impact that years later she has a scrapbook of vampire stories in the news and follows any clues when she is not busy trying to cure cancer.
The Doctor and his companion Sam rejoin Caroline after her boyfriend becomes kidnapped by a clan of vampires and finally the Doctor shows his hand. He has no intention of wiping out his enemies. He intends to cure them, or at least create a food substitute to prevent them from preying on the living. To accomplish this he must walk a very fine line and risk the trust that his followers have in him. He must also try to reduce casualties as much as possible and escape death himself.
The vampires operate out of a kink nightclub (which strangely serves coffee and salad) and has strata of social structures. The old guard are barely cognizant of their surroundings while the ‘youngsters’ (turned in 1957) are wild and dramatic, led by a charismatic grandstander Slake, who is more than happy to borrow from pop culture vampire myths. But the young gang is far more deadly than they appear while the old guard is led by a brilliant woman named Harris with hundreds of years of medical knowledge who has secret controversial plans for their future.
When Harris and the Doctor pool more than their resources, they become entangled in blood. Harris has the challenge of convincing her people that they can trust a Time Lord, a mythical being who should be sworn to exterminate the vampires. And the Doctor has the soldiers of U.N.I.T. chomping at the bit to charge in guns blazing. Yet the Doctor is determined to find a solution that does not include genocide and instead a promising future of hope.
The new companion Sam Jones has a spotty rep with fans. A seventeen year old who is very passionate and fiery while also being quite mopey and catty… she’s a perfect teenager. Early on Sam is attacked by a vampire and spends much of the book seething with revenge. She is also very jealous of Caroline who moons over the Doctor. She struggles to find common ground with the Doctor who, in her opinion, has sided with murderous creatures who suck the life out of innocents. At the same time, she tries to take the high road and extend compassion to her enemies no matter their undead status. That said, she’s not above taking matters into her own hands and getting them very dirty. I’m not sure where the negative reaction comes from for Sam, but so far I quite like her.
Vampire Science is a very dense book filled with twists and turns and plenty of nerve-wracking moments. The Doctor is also still coming to terms with his new incarnation and is oblivious to the impact his attractive new face has on others. His added responsibility for Caroline is especially trying as she becomes enthralled by the appeal of a dreamy bachelor who travels through space and time (Russell T Davies was obviously paying close attention to this. There are some lovely scenes in the TARDIS in which he shows Caroline a room filled with butterflies which flutter in his hair as he welcomes it all. This is a romantic Doctor, no longer the scheming manipulative 7th incarnation. This Doctor lives in the moment and is far more impulsive than previous personas.
After the slog that was The Eight Doctors, Vampire Science was a welcome change. Filled with drama, action, horror and even humor it is a grand start to the new Doctor.