Image Credit: BBC Books (Fair Use)
Image Description: The cover of Joyride
By James Ashworth
Back in the heady days of 2016, Class was the next big thing. After the ends of The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood (at least on screen), Doctor Who fans were without a spinoff to tide them through the downtime between series, and Class was touted as the next in this noble lineage. As you well know, a variety of factors put paid to that, and so it joined K9 and Company as one of the what-could-have-beens of spinoffs. During its limited run, however, three novels were released to tie in with the series, of which Joyride, by Guy Adams, was the first. Having a quick background read before writing this review, it turns out that other reviewers really liked it. So, with that disclaimer in place, here’s why I really didn’t…
With a blurb already noting that this novel would feature car crashes and murder, one would think that a certain degree of sensitivity would need to be exercised. I’m not quite sure that happened here. The aforementioned reviewers praised the novel’s black humour, but to me it seemed like immaturity instead. The novel delights in describing gory scenes in detail, or the debauched antics of the possessed, yet all in a superficial manner that doesn’t dig to anything deeper. It reminds me of some of the early Virgin New Adventures, where the prospect of making Doctor Who ‘adult’ saw the liberal sprinkling of sex, nudity and death into plot lines for no particular reason than that they could. The only plotline that gets a bit more digging into it, that of O’Donnell, a repressed gay man exploring his sexuality using the bodies of others, including Ram’s, produces some interesting points, but gets cast by the wayside once the main cast get more involved. This novel has some really interesting ideas that it could choose to explore, be they musings on morality or transhumanism, but seems content to go in for shock tactics instead. It probably doesn’t help that another spinoff novel (albeit for Torchwood), Another Life by Peter Anghelides, operates along similar lines and does a better job at exploring some of the issues it raises.
On the other hand, this novel is essentially Ram’s. As such, his character gets a bit more development than the series offered. This Ram is still getting used to his new leg, and on finding himself in the ageing, rotund body of O’Donnell, he is forced to confront his concept of self-worth from an entirely new perspective. With the exception of Quill, who remains awesome, the other characters don’t end up doing much, with time either spent with Ram, or with someone else in their driving seat. Apart from some exposition about the impacts of the body-swapping on Coal Hill Academy, they are essentially cameos for much of the novel until they finally get together at the end.
So while it may be that I have missed its point entirely, I would not recommend this novel. It wants to be grown up, but feels somewhat more like the literary equivalent of two children standing on each other’s shoulders in a long coat. I haven’t read the other Class tie-ins, and am unlikely to after this introduction, but it’s still a shame that there won’t be any more. With a bit more planning, along with a better feel of what the series should be, these novels could have developed into something challenging and exciting.