Shiny Shelf

Iris Wildthyme and the Celestial Omnibus

By Abigail Twitch on 11 June 2009

In the dark days of the late 90s, when official ‘Doctor Who’ fiction lurched uncertainly between po-faced continuity and half-baked space opera, Paul Magrs let in a gin-scented breath of air in the form of Iris Wildthyme: time traveller, adventuress and meddlesome metafictional old baggage, often found drunk in charge of a narrative.

The joy of picking through this short story collection is exemplified by the variety. We get the anarchic carnival spirit of Iris on an adventure in stories that are light and bright and sparkling. Particular mention goes to ‘A Gamble with Wildthyme’ for a Bulldog Drummond story with actual dogs, and the excellent ‘Future Legend’, in which Panda finally gets his say in a series of emails which I couldn’t help but hearing in the voice of a posh Kenneth Williams.

Other writers see Iris tripping more giddily between adventure and high camp. Steven Wickham’s ‘And Not a Drop to Drink’, Jonathan Dennis’s ‘Why? Because We Like You’ and Mark Wright and Cavan Scott’s ‘The Unhappy Medium’ contain cracking one-liners while the adventure comes as an afterthought. However, Paul Magrs ably demonstrates how to do both with an expert weaving of scary vampires and the jaw-dropping revelation of Jenny‘s Time ‘Ring’.

However, the story selection also provides quinine to cut through the Bombay Sapphire. We get marvellous tales from Mags L Halliday and Stewart Sheargold of friendship and the redeeming power of love, using Cornish legends and Russian fairy tales to suggest a tender and more contemplative side to Iris. While to my mind Steve Cole’s story doesn’t quite unite apocalyptic horror and a highly annoying teenage narrator, the darker side of the carnival is excellently evoked in the ingenious use by Cody Schell of the Mexican lucha libre and by Phillip Purser-Hallard in “Battleship Anathema”, where we see Iris’s horror at revisiting a world where the party was followed by twenty years of total war. However, unlike 21st century ‘Doctor Who’s own louche time-travelling cocktail sipping dilettante, Iris never allows dwelling on guilt and misery to lose the sense of fun that made us
love her.

What is there left to say about Iris Wildthyme? Plenty, and the ‘Celestial Omnibus’ shows Iris at her typical best, with brilliant episodes of a charming, maddening and entirely contradictory life.

You can buy Iris’ latest hardback adventures for £10.99 plus P+P here.

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By Abigail Twitch

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