The novel “The Resurrection Casket” by Justin Richards was published for the first time in 2006.
The Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler are traveling in the Tardis when they’re forced to land by a strange anomaly that knocks out the Tardis systems. The two travelers find themselves on the planet Starfall, where no modern technology works and must wait until the Tardis fixes its own systems to be able to leave.
The Doctor and Rose discover a world whose inhabitants are in search of a legendary treasure and where steam technology was developed so much as to create robots with personality. There they get involved in the agenda of Drel McCavity, who owns the planet and is a collector of local artifacts.
“The Resurrection Casket” is part of a series of novels connected to the new “Doctor Who” series. They’re targeted to a wide audience by being linear enough to be appreciated even by very young readers but sophisticated enough to interest more mature readers.
Justin Richards draws heavily on the novel “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson revisiting the story in a sci-fi version setting it on the planet Starfall. In particular, the author uses steampunk elements given that on Starfall only steam engines works and they are developed to the point that there are cyborgs with mechanical parts and even very sophisticated robots.
When the Doctor and Rose are forced to land on Starfall after the Tardis systems are affected by the anomaly that exists in that area, they look for other means to leave the planet. In this case the science fiction element is the existence of sailing ships traveling in space.
During their attempts to leave the planet, the Doctor and Rose end up involved in the search for a legendary treasure but that’s just the beginning. A legend about a machine that can bring people back to life becomes more and more central to the novel.
In this situation, the Doctor and Rose face a series of problems and possible threats, including a monster. The villains of the story have their own agendas and their motivations with secrets that are revealed gradually in the course of the novel. Despite its limited length, these elements form a complex plot.
What left me cold in “The Resurrection Casket” is above all the tone, which for my taste is all too farcical, also for the reproduction of the elements of “Treasure Island.” Kevin, the monster who is forced to kill when is actually good, is the perfect example of this problem.
I think the basic issue is the lack of a good balance between drama and humor. The result is a story in which the dramatic elements lose effect because the humorous ones are over the top. Maybe Justin Richards wrote this novel thinking especially about younger readers eventually using corny humor.
It’s a shame because I think Justin Richards reproduced really well especially the Tenth Doctor. He also created a well developed villain such as Drel McCavity, who becomes disturbing as his obsessions and his secrets are revealed. Not all the characters are developed but having the Doctor and a strong antagonist is positive. Precisely for this reason I think the result would have been better if the author had better exploited the story’s dramatic elements.
I must say that personally steampunk is not among my favorite subgenres. In “The Resurrection Casket” it’s even worse because it seems that highly sophisticated robots have the size of human beings while based on a very rough technology. On the other hand in “Doctor Who” science fiction often becomes close to fantasy so that’s the lesser problem.
This set of characteristics ended up giving me mixed feeling. Unfortunately for the set of strengths, weaknesses and personal tastes “The Resurrection Casket” seemed to me altogether not very interesting. It may appeal to those who appreciate light-hearted novels with that kind of setting and themes.