The novel “Shining Darkness” by Mark Michalowski was published for the first time in 2008.
The Tenth Doctor brings Donna Noble to the Andromeda galaxy, where the two travelers go to visit an art gallery. When Donna ends up in the range of a transmat that also beams away one of the exhibits, the Doctor is forced to find a way to follow her. Soon, he realizes that the theft had a purpose that goes far beyond art.
The Doctor chases the spaceship that transports Donna on another spaceship with a crew of sentient machines – mechanicals – and discovers that they’re chasing a group belonging to an anti-machine organization. For centuries in the Andromeda galaxy organic beings and mechanicals have been coexisting peacefully but the Cult of Shining Darkness would radically change the situation.
“Shining Darkness” 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.
Set during the fourth season of “Doctor Who” new series, “Shining Darkness” begins with what looks like a quiet vacation for the Doctor and Donna but such a situation can’t last long. The two travelers get soon separated and the Doctor is forced to find a way to reunite with his companion but it’s exactly this parallel journey of the two protagonists that allows Mark Michalowski to develop a sophisticated plot.
For most of the novel, the Doctor travels with a group of mechanical beings while Donna travels with a group of organic beings who are part of the Cult of Shining Darkness, an anti-machine organization that’s been carrying out a plan to overturn the situation of cohabitation existing in the Andromeda galaxy. The allegory behind “Shining Darkness” is obvious: the Cult of Shining Darkness is a xenophobic organization that sees mechanical beings as enemies and aims to establish an organic supremacy, a possible equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan in the Andromeda galaxy.
Mark Michalowski alternates the story of the two protagonists and in particular their conversations with the crew members of the spaceships on which they travel. Slowly, this allows the reader to get to know these characters, their positions and the motivations behind their actions. The development of the characters is definitely above average for “Doctor Who” novels contributing to the story’s strength.
For the Doctor the term “human” has a very broad meaning and for this reason he has no problem with the mechanical beings he travels with. One of them, Mother, used to be a war robot and is the one shown on the book’s cover but the Doctor sees far beyond her appearance. Donna on the other hand knows the limited Earth’s robots and had bad experiences with other more sophisticated robots such as the Santa robots she met in “The Runaway Bride”. For this reason, initially Donna is quite rude to the mechanicals she meets when she and the Doctor arrive at the art gallery.
The underlying theme of “Shining Darkness” is very serious but the novel is full of humorous moments. A part of the plot takes place on a planet inhabited by a technologically primitive species and the members of the Cult of Shining Darkness pretend to be deities to get their help but things don’t go exactly as planned and Donna ends up trying to pass as the Ginger Goddess. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark Michalowski got inspired by Douglas Adams for that part.
In my opinion the author managed to mix well the various elements of the novel alternating serious and humorous, action and reflection, creating a sophisticated story despite the length limitations existing in this series of books. For these reasons, “Shining Darkness” seemed to me one of the best novels “Doctor Who” new series novels so I recommend reading it.