BBC Books
Grimm Reality

Authors Simon Bucher-Jones and Kelly Hale Cover image
ISBN 0 563 53841 4
Published 2001

Synopsis: In the world of wishes, anything can come true. But the world has rules of its own and doesn't care that a certain Doctor Know-All and his friends don't know them.


A Review by Finn Clark 30/10/01

This review contains no spoilers, so is safe for all to read.

Well, that was... different. Comparisons with The Scarlet Empress are probably inevitable, though also with Christopher Bulis's Sorceror's Apprentice. (Warning: I loved both of those books.) The former took the Doctor into magical realism and Arabian Nights style storytelling for the first time, while the latter dumped the Hartnell TARDIS crew gleefully into a Tolkeinesque elves-n-dragons fantasy epic. Grimm Reality plays similar games, except this time we're delving into the dark and somewhat disturbing recesses of European folk and fairy tales.

Some of you may be sniggering at this point. If so, you're wrong. Trust me, there's some really sick stuff out there if you're prepared to search through what our ancestors were telling each other every night a century or two ago. I have a copy of Neil Philip's Penguin Book of English Folktales on my bookshelf and lurid, strange stuff it is too - hangings, stranglings, wishes, wicked old giants, cannibalism and everything coming in threes. I'd heartily recommend it to anyone looking to freak out their kiddies at bedtime.

However it does have certain effects on a book based upon such tales. For much of its length Grimm Reality appears to have even less plot than The Scarlet Empress. (In fact it eventually turns out to have a fair bit, but you're near the end by the time you discover this.) Sorceror's Apprentice was based on all those post-Tolkein fantasy epics, so had plenty of narrative structure on which to hang its hat. The Scarlet Empress was episodic and joyfully random, but at least it too had a sort of quest structure. Folk tales, however, are often not more than a couple of pages long - handed down exclusively through oral tradition rather than anything more literary. This isn't something that lends itself naturally to the novel form.

Again like the Sorceror's Apprentice, we have an SF culture to clash and contrast with the fantastical magics. It's more sophisticated and specific than Bulis's, though at times I wasn't entirely sure whether that was a good thing. Bulis's tendency to work in, er, archetypes really helped a book which dealt very cleverly in precisely that. Here we have two completely different alien races with their own needs and motivations, plus human space-traders. It makes for a pretty rich mix.

So all that said, what did I think of the book?

I loved it.

I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, to be honest, but it's all done so well. The writing is lovely. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji are settling down into the kind of TARDIS crew we've been crying out for ever since the 8DAs began, a team who bring their adventures alive instead of dragging them down like the pre-amnesia Eighth Doctor and Sam. The magic is never allowed to get airy-fairy, not with Fitz calling a bastard a bastard and the narrative's outrageous wonders turning out to be blood-slathered deathtraps more often than not.

I don't know what this would be like consumed in one gulp; I suspect it might be a tad indigestible. I read this in chunks over a few days and relished every word. You could almost read it to the kiddies at bedtime over a month or so, each chapter presenting a new assemblage of wonders. I really think it's exciting to have the Doctor Who books exploring this kind of ground, experimenting with literary forms and traditions. We've had Scarlet Empress and Tomb of Valdemar... now also Grimm Reality.

Buy it and read it. Slowly. It's delicious.

What the hell was that? by Joe Ford 1/12/01

I was ready to be gripped by this book, after all I love the fantasy side to the genre, the wide leaps of imagination and after falling in love with the current TARDIS line up I opened the first page with unusual excitement.

I'd like to write the book off as an abject failure but I can't do that as there were snippets that made me chuckle and odd scenes that reminded me why Justin Richards is such a fab editor but I cannot forgive the trash sub-plot that accompanied the main story, the Vuim story which frankly bored me to tears and after a while I stopped paying attention to it!

Skip instead to the wonderful charaterisation of The Doctor, Fitz and Anji! Anji in particular shone in her wonderfully bitchy competition with Christina. The adventurous Doctor was also another highlight, especially his antics at the giants house! The wibblestone scene is a moment of Doc genius.

Unfortunately these magical moments can't compensate for a redundant plot which seems to be a high comedy for the first two thirds, a trippy experience of twisted fairy tales but the writers clearly wanted to give the book a dramatic climax and it's sudden planet in danger stuff that detracts from the fun stuff!

Still points for trying something different, for keeping a great deal of humour in the range and not letting the ensemble get stale.

Top moments: the TARDIS key turning up in the fish, Anji pushing her sentence forward a week and the bitches pushing it back one! Classy...

Supplement, 11/12/02:

I now know what the biggest problem with Grimm Reality is (or at least what my biggest problem about it is!). You see I've always thought of fairly-tales in such child like terms, the evil witch, the scary ogre, the trusty stead... they are such magical ideas when you are a child. Grimm Reality uses all of these concepts heavily but writes them all from an adults point of view. There's such a pessimism about this world of wonder that it starts to drag you down after a bit. Its all very well Fitz and Anji having tasks to perform (he's lackey to a pair of royal arseholes and she's slave to a bunch of bitch ugly sisters!) but they are written as though they are incapable of enjoying the wonder of everything around them! And what what with Fitz swearing in every other sentence and Anji always trying to disect the world of magic it does somewhat pollute the dreamy-child like quality the book should have.

But it's not just that. The Vuim plot starts out promisingly (I completly dismissed it last time) but then proceeds to contrast so starkly with the plots on the planet it is any wonder why they are in the same book. You can't have scenes like the Doctor and friends running away from a Giant and being gobbled up next to a sterile scene in some lab talking about science. It jarred continually throughout the book.

Worst still the characterisation is so light that the characters that do get some development like Christina are lost amongst the tidal wave of stories and subplots going on. There is a twist about the abank that I'm sure is meant to be a surprise... it was to me too, I wondered why the hell they bothered!

However its not all bad. It has a nice line in what I like to call "Oh shit!" humour which provides the book with its few glittering moments. You know, when a character is going about his merry way then all fo a sudden he's being eaten by a house/forced to spin sis dresses/inside a Giant's mouth... delete as applicable! It was these moments of shock that impress the most.

The Doctor is quite well characterised actually, his Doctor Know-All guise is a stroke of genius and a lot of his scenes with Inex work. The key down the drain gag is a treat (although it has been done before) and as I said before the wibble-stone scene is hysterical!

It's just the tone of the story is so badly mis-judged, with all the imagination of a fairytale (which is commendable) but all the cynicism of real life (which is unforgivable). As such it's the weakest book since The Slow Empire and there hasn't been one as weak since. Grimm Reality is the only MAJOR disapointment in an otherwise great run for the EDA's.

Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 13/2/02

The nature of Doctor Who is such that the more traditional fantasy elements do not fit in, there are no giants, no goblins, no wishing upon a star. However, in Grimm Reality, there are. In this book the crew of the TARDIS are planted firmly in the world of the Bothers Grimm, where huts can be made of cake and the old crone most likely is a witch in disguise. Unfortunately, the seams show.

The TARDIS crew are quickly split up so that each person is in their own narrative, but even the circumstances of how that comes about is rather forced. Anji makes a decision that's so out of character there is a hastily contrived reason stuck in to try to make it believable. Fitz is involved mainly because he has nothing else to do. Yes, the reasons the Doctor and companions get mixed up events are largely contrived at times, but this is one of the worst cases I have come across.

Fortunately, once the story is under way, the mythical nature of the surroundings helps to move the stories along nicely, and the various takes on the fairy stories of old are interesting to see. Being a long time Terry Pratchett reader, I am well used to spotting tenuous connections to source material, but most of it is plain to see, and in many ways Grimm Reality revels in playing with fairy tales in its own way.

The Doctor leaps into the world feet first, and takes on the non de plume of Doctor Know-All, although he is surprised when the world embraces this persona rather more strongly that he does. There is one point where the Doctor is not fully convinced of the fantasy nature of the world, and thus meeting the giant (as it about to happen) will either prove or disprove its nature. However, this isn't followed up when the meeting actually takes place, so what could be an interesting clash of the scientific-based Doctor Who and the fantastical world is never fully explored.

As mentioned, Anji's story starts off badly, and while her story was amusing enough, I couldn't help but feel that is was entirely forced because the authors wanted to do it, more than it flowed naturally from the events of the world and the people in it.

Fitz's story is also fun, but I noticed that when it came to Fitz interacting with the world on the world's terms, the book switched (as it does in other places) to a more story-book telling narrative form, which in fact distanced the story of Fitz from the events he was supposed to be dealing with. It worked within the format of the book, but gave the feeling that the authors couldn't handle Fitz properly either.

As for the rest of the characters, they came across as rather one-dimensional people, no more than extras really, despite them being involved in the narrative for extended periods of time. This feeling was more heightened when I realised that the story line of the people on the Bonaventure was more real than the events on the world, despite the small role it played in the book. Although a big plus for giving us a race of hippopotami.

Once again, when the scientific explanation comes (as it always must) it clashes with the fantastic nature of events, and sticks out like a sore thumb.

Aside from several flaws of a narrative nature, Grimm Reality is an entertaining read.

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 28/2/02

Grimm Reality starts off incredibly well. So well, in fact, that I'd rate the prologue of this book as one of the best that the range has produced. It's sharp, it's slightly surreal, and it does a wonderful job at conveying the mood and feeling of the rest of the book. Unfortunately, the remainder of the story fails to live up to this fantastic opening, as the plot starts off dragging and then explodes into incoherence, and the characters consistently fail to impress.

The plot starts off slowly, and for the first two hundred pages or so, it never seems to get out of first gear. It feels like a one-trick pony, where we are repeatedly shown the regulars put into different generic fairy tale stories. This generates a lot of amusement and hilarity at first, but it quickly becomes stale when the characters act like fools and simply repeat the fairy tale conventions rather than subverting them or doing anything interesting with them. Rather than becoming a part of the fairy-tale and bringing their own personalities into the old stories, it felt as though the regulars were shoehorned into the tales and weren't given the chance to act as their own person.

After that page two hundred mark, the story takes a turn for the worse. Given the excuse, suddenly random events start to occur that are given little justification and little reason. It feels as though it is being strange just for the sake of being strange and not for any other motivation. It's a shame that the ending of the book took this form, as there should have been some interesting ways to deal with the events of the beginning and middle.

Very few of the characters seem to be fully fleshed out and they all feel more like caricatures than characters. This made perfect sense as far as the fairy tale characters are concerned; after all, one doesn't expect stunning realism when dealing with wicked stepmothers and archetypal princes. But unfortunately this sloppiness extended into the entire cast, including the outsiders to the fairy-tale world and even to the regulars themselves. The exchanges (and the inner thoughts that were interspersed throughout those sequences) between Anji and the female starship commander were so cliched and banal, that I had to wonder if there was some joke that I was missing.

With all that said, it's a shame that the book doesn't hold together so well, because there are several individual standout moments that border on excellence. The prologue is delicious, and does a great job of setting the stage for the book as well as being a superb piece of writing in its own right. This is one of the best openings to a Doctor Who book that I've read in a long time, and probably rests as one of my favourite ever openings in the series. Several of the jokes sprinkled throughout are rather quite funny, and when the book does try to amuse, it usually succeeds. Also of note is Anji's Cinderella subplot, which for the most part is quite enjoyable, although it becomes less endearing the longer it progresses. I also enjoyed many of the passages that were written in the same form as the old fairy-tales. It's a pity that the whole book couldn't have been written in this manner, as the prose really sparkled.

To sum up, I found Grimm Reality to be a disappointment. It had a great premise and failed to capitalize on it. By the time one gets to the end, one notices that there have been too many threads that were never tied together. The whole enterprise just feels like a letdown to what should have been a great story. The different portions just never seem to completely mesh together, and it feels rather disjointed. A few minor problems with the narrative at the beginning don't help. Sadly, not one of the more enjoyable EDAs.

Great idea, shame about the book by Robert Smith? 22/4/02

First off, let me say that I'm sure the authors are very nice people, kind to animals and no doubt fine upstanding members of their respective communities. I know that many other people loved this book and The Taking of Planet 5 is hovering somewhere near the top of the rankings for reasons I've never understood, so I'm prepared to concede that it might just be me. Because I hated this book.

Okay, maybe that's a bit strong. It's not a bad book, per se. Nothing goes disastrously wrong and I can tick off a list of criteria that would make it acceptable to lots of people. But this rubbed me completely the wrong way.

Some of the Doctor Who novels, sadly, are so poor you wonder why they get commissioned at all. Even the editor's worst nightmares about the slushpiles, with submissions written in crayon suggesting that it's about time the Cybermen and the Daleks had a war, can't be any worse than The King of Terror or Divided Loyalties. Grimm Reality is different; an established author and a central concept that must have sounded perfect in the pitching. How could you go wrong?

It is no exaggeration to say that I have never, ever seen such a great idea carried off so poorly. Putting the Doctor, Fitz and Anji into fairy tales is sheer brilliance. After all, what is Doctor Who anyway except a modern day fairy tale, under a thin veneer of technobabble to fool everyone into thinking it's science fiction?

The first page leads us in beautifully - this is the last you'll see of regular prose and storytelling, prepare yourselves to be submerged in the gloriously skewed world of fairy tales, as Anji's reading of the book leads us to something truly magical...

Except that it doesn't, not really. Instead the book seems to want to have its cake and eat it too, for no good reason that I can fathom. There are some fairy tale conventions, true, but instead of immersing the TARDIS crew in them, the book keeps struggling to keep them removed from the world of wishes. Rather than having the crew be integral parts of this world, they're constantly trying to figure out how things work. This completely strips the book of the magic it so desperately needs to convey, because suddenly we're not dealing with a world of wishes, we're dealing with weird alien stuff disguised as a world of wishes that's scientific underneath it all, honest guv!

It gets worse though, because there's a whole spaceship of scientists who are interested in the same thing (including a disgruntled space miner, who's probably the only interesting character in the book and who gets a big built-up introduction... but is then mysteriously left behind on the ship for no good reason at all). This means we get lots of scenes of various people and aliens in laboratories running scientific tests on apparently magical substances.

I think I've figured out what's wrong here. Quite frankly, science is boring. Don't get me wrong, like every other resident of the western world in the twenty-first century I think science is great, but it's just not that interesting to read about. Especially in Doctor Who. Doctor Who isn't science fiction, and aside maybe from season 18 (except for the big talking cactus) it never was. Oh, it handwaves its way into making people believe it is, but it only needs the barest minimum of technobabble to convince and then it gets on with more interesting things, like characterisation and drama and thrills and being magical.

Like The Quantum Archangel, Grimm Reality makes the fundamental mistake of trying to show us where the rabbits are hidden and in doing so it robs itself of its power. This book is leaden, where it should sparkle. The entire novel should be told in the style of a fairy tale, instead of being too scared to abandon the altar of scientific justification for the fantastic setup it's given us. The ship's attempts to analyse the magical substances should be a place to ridicule such an attempt, not have it as a challenge that must be overcome.

Can you imagine The Scarlet Empress if Paul Magrs had spent 200 pages trying to justify why magic worked on Hyspero instead of simply accepting it and telling one of the boldest and most ambitious stories ever seen in Doctor Who? I mean really, what's the point? Grimm Reality is like the novel version of Sliders: one astonishingly brilliant idea at its core and then a complete hash made of that idea at every turn.

Okay, with all that out of my system, I did like the three races equally commanding the ship. The sections with Fitz as the wolfman (in italics) were quite good, and really the way the whole novel should have been written (all right, maybe it's not out of my system after all). The way the rules keep changing on the Duke was enjoyable. The Doctor's illness was quite intriguing. I also like that the vuim get a fairy-tale ending, which would be cheesy in any other book, but works here.

Grimm Reality is a frustrating book. With a central concept that allows the authors astounding flexibility and the chance to show us exactly how magical Doctor Who is and can be, the book instead confines itself to tediously trying to explain just how it is that such a scenario can come to be, while exploring precious little of its potential. It honestly feels like the authors dreamt up a fantastic idea, but then got cold feet and spent the bulk of the writing process desperately trying to keep it mediocre, in case there was an outcry or something. Instead of being a light and fantastical fairy tale, Grimm Reality is plodding and dull. A sad waste.

A Review by Brett Walther 13/11/03

The only way I managed to finish Grimm Reality was by drawing upon my sense of loyalty. Not a loyalty to Doctor Who, mind you, but a loyalty to any poor, unsuspecting fan who might contemplate reading this abominable load of garbage.

The alternate title for this Grimm Reality, as the inside cover reads, is "The Marvellous Adventures of Doctor Know-All". In place of that title, I would recommend perhaps, "Aimless Wanderings Through Highly Uninvolving Set Pieces", which is much more indicative of the contents of this book.

Fitz wanders about, lost. He sleeps in a carnivorous hut. Then, he wanders some more.

Someone who calls himself "The Doctor", who completely fails to resemble the character of the same name that we know and love, wanders about. He explores a giant's castle. Then, he wanders some more.

No more than fifty pages into this drivel, and I was so frustrated with the thing that I couldn't have been happier if the next chapter ended, "...and then the Daleks appeared and blew the entire planet up." It probably would've made more sense than what followed.

The Doctor has never been characterized as poorly as he is here. Miles away from "Doctor Know-All", as his self-imposed moniker would suggest, he is a complete buffoon. The Doctor is too busy having fun on this planet (which is odd, 'cos it's one of the most irritating planets ever conceived in print) to bother asking people questions about their motives, or in fact, what's going on. Although we're told that he's constantly worried about the fate of his companions, his actions certainly don't suggest that he's in any great hurry to track them down. Instead, he spends his time giving complete strangers the TARDIS key, and exchanging bland "witty" banter with his travelling companion, a sprite named Inexplicable, who the authors seem to find absolutely hilarious. He, and Anji, in particular, are shoe-horned into the roles of complete idiots in order to justify their involvement in the plight of the planet. You will find yourself screaming at the stupidity of Anji as she enters into a deal with a character that's very obviously a wicked witch... Even more bizarre is the bit on page 250 in which the Doctor collapses into a heap and starts crying like a spoiled brat because he can't get into the princess' tower.

Comparisons between Grimm Reality and Christopher Bulis' somewhat less banal Missing Adventure, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, are inevitable. Both involve a fairy tale world coming to life, and both explain the existence of their fantasy-lands in an equally unimaginative fashion. Whereas Bulis' world was the creation of billions of nanobots, the world in Grimm Reality -- referred to once or twice for some reason as "Albert", though the reason why is never explained -- is the product of junk spewed out of a white hole. This premise has frankly been done to death, and Grimm Reality adds nothing to the concept whatsoever, being basically plotless.

Yes, I know it's a quest, but since most of the characters aren't even aware of what they're searching for, and do little once they've arrived at their destinations, the entire endeavour seems rather pointless. About two-thirds through the novel, Anji, Fitz and the Doctor finally meet up at the Castle of Sighs. But instead of seeing some progression in the storyline, what does our trio do? Immediately jump on horseback and set off on yet another journey...

What I've always found annoying about "lands of fantasy" is that the authors tend to abuse the freedom inherent in such an idea. Inexplicable things happen because they CAN. Quantum physics rears its ugly head again, and as in The Quantum Archangel, it's mentioned because it's the wonderful be-all and end-all of explanations of inexplicable phenomena. "What's that? The prince has just turned into a toad? Oh, it must be those damn quantum mechanics again!"

The worst thing about this ill-conceived book is the prose. It seems almost as if entire sections are presented out of order. Conversations are jumpy: characters' responses very rarely have anything to do with the questions they've been asked, making for a very difficult read. What's worse is that chapters tend to begin by attributing dialogue and thought processes to a "he" or "she", without identifying exactly who that "he" or "she" is until a page or two afterwards. The atrocious editing doesn't help readability, either, as "its" is frequently used instead of "it's".

Nitpicking, I know, but indicative of a very sloppy production, and one with very few redeeming features.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 15/12/03

Fantasy is something that Doctor Who has always been. I get tired of labels placed on Doctor Who. Science Fiction/Science Fantasy/TV tie-in/Fantasy - whatever. Doctor Who is all these - never has there been so flexible a format - and this is one of the key reasons I like it so much.

At this particularly time of fantasy boom (October 2001) this novel is totally topical. With the Wonderful Harry Potter, and the Classic Lord of the Rings on the horizon at the Flicks, this was the perfect time to release Grimm Reality - Doctor Who in Fantasy-land.

It is written in a classic fairy-tale style. There are a series of fantastic encounters with enchanting creatures and places. It is very much an anthology of smaller stories, all set in a strange land. Nothing is too fantastic, nothing is too surreal for Fantasy - and the Doctor and companions encounter dozens of magical situations throughout the novel.

The Doctor, Anji and Fitz all benefit from this approach, they are split up quite soon, and are allowed their own story. Of especial note is Anji's turn as Cinderella, Fitz's turn as a Musketeer, and the Doctor's turn as a travelling salesman - dealing out advice on everything conceivable. All these characters work, and are very likeable.

Credit to the writers for letting their imaginations run wild. It took me back to the marvellous fairy-tales of my childhood, and also reminded me of the great Fantasy literature I have read (Terry Brooks, Tolkien). Anything goes in fairy tales. Whether it be moving forests or Sleeping Beauties it is all valid. Let your imagination loose, and see what you can conjure up. I do get tired of the Science Fiction/techno-heavy stories, so it is refreshing change.

The only problem with Grimm Reality though, is its anthology style - lots of little stories making up the narrative. It was an easy book to put down, and pick up later. For this reason it took me a long time to read - there was little overall purpose for the isolated incidents. No treasure at the end of the quest.

Grimm Reality thrives on its Fantasy background. Some escapades are a resounding hit, but some I was wishing for the chapter to end, quickly. Like most short story collections Grimm Reality is only partially successful, for this reason. A mostly entertaining read, if somewhat a mixed bag. 7/10