REVIEW: Twelve Angels Weeping Expands the Whoverse Without the Doctor

Twelve Angels Weeping Cover. Penguin Group UK. October 2020

In Twelve Weeping Angels, we explore the heroes, villains, companions, and passersby of the Doctor Who universe, with one recurring theme throughout the book: Christmas. Encompassing a variety of genres—including horror, war, drama, adventure, and noir—this collection of short stories shows us how the Doctor changes the people and places they encounter.

Twelve Angels Weeping

Dave Rudden (Writer), Alexis Snell (Artist)
Penguin Group UK
October 11, 2018

Twelve Angels Weeping Cover. Penguin Group UK. October 2020

I’m not a Whovian by any stretch of the imagination. I came into the series with the 13th Doctor, and particularly the episode ‘Demons of the Punjab’. Representation matters, people. Since that episode, I’ve tuned in to catch Jodie Whittaker‘s very fun and enthusiastic Doctor and her diverse companions. But I’ve also tried to read more Whoverse comics and books, which led me to take on Twelve Angels Weeping.

There’s another reason I wanted to read this book—I love the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who. ‘Blink’ is a great episode and a fantastic introduction for a villain. I can’t get enough of these creepy, nightmarish beings. Is it any wonder I picked up a title featuring them?

And the first story in Twelve Weeping Angels—‘Weeping Angels – Grey Matter’—is a great pay off for any Angel fan. But before I tell you why, I feel a content warning for this story would have been appreciated, because it features a pandemic.

Since we’ve been living in an apocalypse, I’ve become more sensitive to discussions of plagues. The opening story hit me hard and I needed a moment to logically think through why someone would write a plague story now. Obviously, this book was written and edited a while before the pandemic struck but that’s hard to wrap your head around when things are so awful. I do hope that the published version includes a warning or disclaimer to readers because it makes for uncomfortable reading.

Having said all that, ‘Grey Matter’ is fantastic—it’s full of suspense and filled me with a kind of trepidation I haven’t experienced with a horror story in a while. I was both eager and terrified to get to the next page to find out more. That is the kind of horror I absolutely love, and I was completely hooked from story one.

However, the next few stories in Twelve Weeping Angels didn’t live up to the intensity and rhythm of the opener. While well-written, they didn’t have the gravitas and world-building of the first instalment.

I found the gladiatorial setting of ‘Ice Warrriors – Red Planet’ to be too familiar. It’s a rehashed tale and arena that we’ve seen so often in genre fiction. Reading this after rewatching Thor: Ragnarok probably made it feel even more stale than it really is but the ‘protagonists have to fight people to death’ trope really has been done to, well, death.

However, Leela, the 4th Doctor’s companion, was excellent company (pardon the pun). A badass warrior woman who helps save the day? Yes, please! I haven’t seen the old Doctor Who series so any encounter with characters from that era is refreshing and fun to read.

I think my major disappointment in Twelve Weeping Angels occurred around story three, ‘Time Lords – Celestial Intervention – A Gallifreyan Noir’, when I realized that, despite the name of the book, not every story would feature the Weeping Angels. I’ve got to say, I was a little crushed. I realize this is essentially a Christmas book, despite my reading it during Halloween, and the introduction did mention that readers would be encountering a multitude of aliens. But that didn’t alleviate my disappointment. Partly because the opening story was so good and because I just needed more of the Angels!

Once I’d realized that the Angels were off the cards, I settled in to read Twelve Weeping Angels as a Whoverse short story book. Because of my unfamiliarity with the previous Doctors’ exploits, I had to do some research. I didn’t know who the Sontaran were, and they feature prominently in a couple of stories. I enjoyed ‘Sontarans – A Soldier’s Education’, about a Sontaran being birthed and sent off to war. Not only do we learn a great deal about the people, but we get to see the Whoverse from their very unique and hilarious perspective.

I learned about Madame Vastra in ‘Silurians – The Red-Eyed League’. Vastra, a Silurian living in Victorian times, has helped the Doctor on occasion in the show. Vastra and her wife, Jenny Flint, are the only queer rep in this book. They’re an interesting couple but they weren’t fleshed out at all and didn’t really come across as a couple unless the text told us.

The story was also not well-written. I felt like it jumped away from the action too often, leaving me bewildered about what had actually happened. I understand it was a stylistic choice, but the author didn’t write any of the other stories in Twelve Weeping Angels that way so I’m not sure why he went with this approach for this story.

One of my favourite stories in Twelve Weeping Angels features the 13th Doctor (no surprises there). She’s barely in ‘Judoon – The Rhino of Twenty-Three Strand Street’, but the tale is powerful, relatable, and made me angry and sad in equal measure.

The story follows Patricia, a 10 year old in 1966 who finds a young Judoon in her late-neighbour’s abandoned home. She befriends the Judoon but her attempts to help are thwarted by the fact that everyone around her, particularly her parents and the nuns at her school, are trying to stop her from being anything more than a housewife in the making.

Considering how many women have had to give up their jobs because of the pandemic as opposed to men, this story hit hard. And the Doctor’s message at the end of the story just makes me love her more. I love how the author captures 13’s voice and inflections. I’m also thrilled that 13 featured in this book at all. I’ve read other Doctor Who anthologies that stop at 12, which is annoying for someone who came into the universe through 13.

Another favourite was ‘Zygons – The King in Glass’, or as I like to call it, the Rory story. I know about Rory Williams, mainly because Arthur Darvill was Rip Hunter on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and because Karen Gillan, who played Amy Pond in Doctor Who, is the wonderfully complex Nebula in the MCU.

There are a couple of reasons why I loved ‘The King in Glass’. For one, the descriptions are superb. I could see the glass city and palace in my mind’s eye. And secondly, yhe friendship between Rory and the Prince, which grows in the matter of hours, is so sweet that it actually made me quite teary.

The Master also features in one of the stories—but I won’t tell you which one. The story ended up being a bit of a shock to read because of the author’s sleight of hand. I found myself feeling confused as I read it until I finally realized what was going on. I don’t want to spoil it but it’s quite the story and the scheme is so typical of the Master.

I think my favourite aspect of Twelve Weeping Angels was that the Doctor didn’t feature much in it. We got to see the universe from so many different perspectives, and it made the stories richer and more immersive.

I loved Alexis Snell’s illustrations that accompanied each story. They give you a hint of what is to come without spoiling the story.

There were some misses as one would expect in a short story collection but for the most part, Twelve Weeping Angels was a great read and expanded my knowledge and enjoyment of the Whoverse immensely.

Louis Skye

Louis Skye

A writer at heart with a fondness for well-told stories, Louis Skye is always looking for a way to escape the planet, whether through comic books, films, television, books or video games. She always has an eye out for the subversive and champions diversity in media.

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