The framing device for the first Decalog was one of the most middle of the road things for a Doctor Who book, and honestly not necessary for selling readers on a short story collection featuring the Doctor in all seven incarnations. Especially since it would be the only new original fiction for the first six Doctors since Virgin began publishing Doctor Who books, the Virgin Missing Adventures range only coming three months later. It is then surprising in hindsight to see an author’s note in Decalog 2: Lost Property where editors Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker come across as surprised that the first one did well and that they would only do a single sequel. Of course, this installment would be the second of five, with only the fifth having no substantial connection to the Doctor Who universe bar one story with Bernice Summerfield. Decalog 2: Lost Property does away with the framing device, instead Stammers and Walker commission authors with stories based around the theme of property in the universe that the Doctor has owned. That means that each of the ten stories have incredibly varied settings and can follow infinite possibilities, only having to include some sort of property, meaning that this is more experimental a volume than the previous Decalog.
Decalog 2: Lost Property opens with “Vortex of Fear” and the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe being trapped in a hotel in the Time Vortex. The story opens with this genius sequence where an insane man called Brachinnen is convinced that the Doctor is coming to rescue him with a spare key. Gareth Roberts sets out with an atmosphere of an unreliable narrator, at least until the Doctor actually appears, as Brachinnen’s insanity is justified. It makes “Vortex of Fear” not be as interesting as perhaps Roberts intended, focusing the perspective onto the Doctor and his companions, Zoe especially getting a large part of the development here seeing the universe for the first time. Roberts clearly has an affinity for the 1960s era of the show and he characterizes the regulars excellently, delving into what makes Zoe tick and why she really is travelling with the Doctor, close to the end of the line as this is set after The Seeds of Death. The setting is really what outshines everything else here: a hotel suspended in the Time Vortex where an Agency sends people for a way to deal with their tax schemes. It’s a very over the top story, as to expect from Roberts, but it doesn’t quite set the tone for Decalog 2: Lost Property instead being a perfectly enjoyable short story, though I understand if it might be skipped due to who this story is authored by. 7/10.
The second story of Decalog 2: Lost Property reminds me quite a bit of Red Dawn by Justin Richards. “Crimson Dawn” is a story where the Fourth Doctor and Leela are spending some time on a houseboat the Doctor owns on the planet Mars after human colonization. The Ice Warriors have long abandoned their planet and the Ares Corporation has come swooping in to terraform the planet and essentially make it an over the top façade of the actual Martian culture. Tim Robins attempts to do a story about cultural appropriation and what happens when it is done by colonizers, however, unlike his brilliant story in Decalog, “Crimson Dawn” doesn’t actually know what it wants to be and tries to do too much in the short story format. This is a story where the Ares Corporation itself is the villain, taking Martian culture and blending it with several science fiction references from Earth’s twentieth century. There is also elements of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds in here that don’t actually quite mix very well. Robins feels like he is commenting on trends like odd spellings of names and the overabundance of choice, however, there isn’t really anything here that those statements add up to. The Fourth Doctor and Leela are excellent here, however. The Fourth Doctor is indignant throughout at what Mars has become outside of his houseboat and Robins understands what placing a hunter like Leela into a situation like this would entail. Leela trying to order food at a restaurant is also hilarious in its own right and her interactions with Dr. Ginger Corvette (an example of the let’s make people’s names references and not actually spelled that way of course) are worth it. 5/10.
Andy Lane’s contribution, “Where the Heart Is”, is a standout story here dealing with some of the most complex themes that short stories can actually uncover. The lost property here is UNIT during the Third Doctor’s exile, an obvious choice to represent that era in this volume. UNIT’s headquarters are at risk of becoming literal lost property as after The Time Monster the powers that be have decided that UNIT isn’t really necessary. The Brigadier’s plotline in this story is literally trying to make arrangements while the Doctor does not make any of these things possible through his attitude of superiority. Lane writes Lethbridge-Stewart with this real sense of desperation, trying to keep the organization he helped establish from being torn out from under him. This is a character who has built up his colleagues as his own new family, and the thought of losing them scares the Brigadier to no end. Sure the Brigadier would still technically have Doris to go back to, and indeed Doris does cross his mind throughout, but it would be tearing away most of the family he has built throughout the years at UNIT. He also has the issue of trying to convince his superiors that destruction may not always be the answer: “Where the Heart Is” has an alien threat where simply destroying the story’s “villain” would plunge the Earth back in development in ways that Geneva simply cannot see. Meanwhile the Doctor and Jo are investigating several mysterious deaths and find an alien surgeon has been killing them, all luring them to his clinic because they are rich, have no family, and are dying from terminal illnesses anyway. Lane doesn’t include the Master which is a stroke of genius, having Dr. Dantalion be a different alien whose culture is one where her actions are completely justified. The moral dilemma, of course, comes from the fact that Dantalion’s people would gladly give themselves up in their twilight years for the name of science. Jo is quite disgusted, while the Doctor is conflicted. The Doctor and Jo here are characterized incredibly well with Andy Lane allowing Jo to swoop in to save the day at one point and the pair are clearly working as a team making “Where the Heart Is” a story that readers will not forget for it’s brilliant prose and questions about life. 10/10.
“The Trials of Tara”, or to call it by its full name The Trials of Tara or Would That It Were: The Comedie of Count Grendel, The Master of Gracht With The Life and Death of his New Executioner, is by far the funniest and possibly the best story in this Decalog. Paul Cornell writes the story as a four act Shakesperean farce where the Doctor and Benny return to the planet Tara to find that Prince Reynart is gone, Strella needs to remarry, Count Grendel is scheming, and the Kandyman from The Happiness Patrol crash lands and causes havoc. There are cases of mistaken identity, crossdressing, murder, resurrection, and bloody battles with every character coming across as a character in a Shakesperean comedy. It’s almost as if Macbeth, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear, Twelfth Night, and The Comedy of Errors were all shredded and it was up to Paul Cornell to put them together again with a copy of Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara, The Happiness Patrol, and The Also People (which has fallen through a time warp back to where Cornell was writing). Honestly, as this is a play written in iambic pentameter, it is one that needs to be performed somehow with a full cast, and probably has enough material for a full-length play. Oh and the Doctor owns land on Tara tying it into the theme. 10/10.
When David A. McIntee does a story outside of a historical setting and dealing with characters he clearly has a fondness for, he often writes some of his most enjoyable efforts. “Housewarming” is one such effort, being the single story for Decalog 2: Lost Property that does not feature the Doctor, instead following Sarah Jane Smith investigating a home the Doctor owns with K9 Mark III and getting some help from Mike Yates. Apparently Mike Yates has set up a group of paranormal investigators, and of course this house isn’t actually haunted, it’s just one that was built over a time fissure explaining just how there are ghosts here in this mysterious house. McIntee writes “Housewarming” like a horror story where there is secretly a villain pulling all of the strings, and careful readers will understand just who the Count is when he is described by McIntee. The Count is such a fun character and such a fun reveal as the true antagonist of the short story. McIntee clearly liked the idea of K9 and Company as it is referenced several times throughout the story, with Sarah Jane in particular being characterized really well as a narrator. Sarah Jane, even here, has the potential to build up an entire story on her own while K9 provides some nice comic relief at points throughout this story. It’s not the best story, and it has two very tough acts to follow, but it is really a lot of fun. 7/10.
Seeing the early work of an author after knowing what they would go onto accomplish is an odd thing, which is what happens when looking at “The Nine-Day Queen” by Matthew Jones. Jones would eventually write Bad Therapy and Beyond the Sun before providing The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and Dead Man Walking for the revived series and Torchwood, respectively. While his scripts are characterized as highly emotional and generally all about humanity, “The Nine-Day Queen” feels more like a prototype and is different from everything else he has written. This is a story with the First Doctor, Ian, and Barbara sent back into history after Barbara had been possessed by a Vrij, a parasitic alien which caused aggression and feeds on anger. When the TARDIS lands and the doors open it is let loose on Earth in late 1553, meaning that this is a First Doctor pseudo-historical story, something that feels anachronistic for this particular TARDIS team. The title refers to Jane Grey, the historic Nine-Day Queen of England whose reign ended in execution. Jones manages to avoid going into the trap of some human tragedy was caused by aliens all along, instead giving some great introspection into Barbara Wright’s character. The Doctor is absent from the start of the story giving Ian and Barbara a real chance to shine on their own. The Doctor taking a post as Jane’s tutor is also a lot of fun and really makes you feel Hartnell in Jones’ prose. It does, however, pale in comparison to the novels and television scripts which Jones has contributed, really feeling like this story is a prototype for just what he would do in his other projects. 7/10.
Daniel Blythe is a Doctor Who author who keeps appearing in the books that are reviewed, and none of his stories have ever been really good. There’s usually some sort of an interesting idea, even if that idea belongs to another author. “Lonely Days” is perhaps the best story from Blythe and it still feels like a letdown. It is a Fifth Doctor and Nyssa story set after Time-Flight and essentially plays around with the ideas Steven Moffat would use in the second act of Listen. Sebastian Musgrove is stuck on an outpost on a planet which the Doctor happens to own and the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa arrive just kind of to visit. Sebastian is perhaps the best part, though the nervous disposition is essentially a one note character trait. Blythe wants to create some sort of mystery with why this base is under attack and how anything could be on this apparently empty planet, but it really doesn’t do much. It’s the shortest story in Decalog 2: Lost Property and you can tell that Blythe loves the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, even if their characterization is quite bland. They could be swapped out with really any other Doctor and Companion team without any real issue, you’d just have to remove some references to the end of Earthshock and Tegan’s departure in Time-Flight. It may be the best of Blythe, but it’s still entirely skippable. 4/10.
The Doctor owning a land where he allows an indigenous culture to survive and thrive on a distant planet sounds like an interesting one: it could easily explore themes of colonialism and the idea of a white man savior trope as the Doctor is an aristocrat at heart. “People of the Trees” by Pam Baddeley tries to explore that idea, but it doesn’t actually cast the Doctor as a villain and kind of makes what he’s done something that is meant to be a good thing. In a way you can see it as a good thing: there is a people who have been hunted and discriminated against, and giving them their land back, even if the Doctor still technically owns it, should be great, but it is that ownership that really muddies the waters and makes this story leave a bad taste in your mouth. It’s also apparently something the First Doctor did with Susan after leaving Gallifrey which is just a weird thing and doesn’t quite fit with the First Doctor. “People of the Trees” at least is a Fourth Doctor and Leela story, both characters whom Baddeley understands and writes well, but this is one simply where the message makes it lose points and honestly a bland writing style doesn’t help. 4/10.
And just as Decalog 2: Lost Property was taking a turn for the worst, Vanessa Bishop returns with “Timeshare”, a Sixth Doctor and Peri story which takes a fascinating concept and runs with it to its conclusion. Bishop is an author who should have been given the chance to write a full novel as this and “The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back” show, she completely understands how to write a good Doctor Who story. “Timeshare” basically has the Doctor have bought a week at a timeshare, a single week in history which he is able to spend at this house, alone for a vacation. When the Doctor and Peri arrive, they find that the people before them have not left due to an illness. The Doctor isn’t going to let a sick woman be left out on their own of course, but he cannot leave as he accidentally paid without knowing that Godfrey and Camilla have already paid for them, so the technology of the timeshare is causing strange things to happen and the Doctor and Peri must stay to ensure that this place doesn’t get destroyed. Bishop employs one final twist at the end of the story when a Time Lord detects the interference and shows up, giving the reader one real comedic kick with the Doctor getting egg on his face. The Sixth Doctor and Peri are also brilliantly characterized. The story is all from Peri’s perspective so you really get to see how she feels about the constant bickering between the two, and eventually she is able to get one over on them. It’s always nice to have a story where the fate of the world isn’t really in danger and it’s all down to a misunderstanding. “Timeshare” brings Decalog 2: Lost Property right back to the quality that it should have been all along. 8/10.
The final story is from another “new” pair of authors, Robert Perry and Mike Tucker, and unlike the other new authors of the Decalog books who have a tendency to never continue, this pair would become prolific in the Past Doctor Adventures for continuing the Seventh Doctor books with a sense of class. “Question Mark Pyjamas” shows just how the pair can come together and write a story with the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny, essentially celebrating everything that the VNAs had to offer, especially as Decalog 2: Lost Property was published after Set Piece and Ace’s exit from the TARDIS. This is the property that deals with the House on Allen Road, which for some mysterious reason is on an asteroid that the TARDIS has landed on. A man called Garpol has taken the house along with other significant houses for the selfish desire of creating what is essentially a museum of lost property. He then forces the Doctor, Ace, and Benny to essentially play house which kind of plays out like a parody, though a loving one, of the Virgin New Adventures, showing that the tongue can be planted firmly in the cheek. Ace and Benny living together is also a hilarious situation that readers will enjoy and the title does refer to something the Doctor will wear. It ends Decalog 2: Lost Property on such a high note and shows promise for what these writers will accomplish in the future. 10/10.
Overall, Decalog 2: Lost Property is a book that only came about because readers bought the first Decalog and liked it so much. Like the first, there are new authors who are given their chance to shine and the best of these would go on to write great stories, so seeing their beginnings here are great. While it doesn’t go quite as low as Decalog, Decalog 2: Lost Property does seem to lag a little behind the first in just how much of a range of stories it can include. It is a book that is highly recommended simply for how different each story can be and what it does for Doctor Who. 7.2/10.