The Bodysnatchers opens on a smoggy, misty London night in 1894. A factory owner ('Mr. Seers') is employing two local ruffians to take bodies from graves for his own presumably nefarious purposes. Even one of the ruffians thinks there's something odd about him.
The prose during these opening sections is excellent, giving us a description of industrial London so atmospherically grimy we can almost taste it. One good example would be:
"A widening shiver of fear on the dark skin of the Thames."
As the plot unfolds, the richly textured paragraphs become fewer in number, but the odd sentence here and there reminds us of the effort put into describing the setting.
Some people would call The Bodysnatchers fanwank. The Zygons are probably the most wished for monster return (of monsters featured in only one TV story) by fans, while Litefoot is the typical 'return of the excellent supporting character from a previous highly regarded adventure.'
But who cares? Not me. If characters and monsters returning works within the boundaries of the story, then I have no problem with their return. In Bodysnatchers, they work rather well. Litefoot provides us with an interesting view from a 'man of the times', and thankfully (in part due to his previous experiences) isn't an annoying sceptic who has to have everything explained to him. In fact, he works some of it out for himself.
The 8th Doctor still seems to be the excitable romantic of his TV Movie and Vampire Science beginnings, rushing from situation to situation with barely contained childish glee. His interplay with Sam ranges from an amusing 'partners in crime' relationship to that of a worried older brother looking out for his headstrong younger sister, wrapped up in her own self-belief. Sam thinks that she should try to be as unflappable as the Doctor, concealing emotions and putting on a brave face, but the Doctor tries to encourage her to embrace her humanity and that his ability to be above it all isn't necessarily a good thing.
The plot itself is your typical 'aliens' homeworld destroyed, crash landed on Earth' effort, although it's interesting to note that the Zygons' priorities change slightly when their leader realises he could use the TARDIS to warn his people about the Xaranti attack before it happens. Having said that, he still wants to wipe out humanity, because Zygons take the 'my word is my bond' saying to the extreme.
There's a little too much to-ing and fro-ing from the factory to the Zygon ship (submerged in the Thames) for my liking, although the earlier scenes do feature a wide variety of locations.
The Zygons get a nice helping of back-story, although their credibility as a threat is curtailed a little too soon, due to the Doctor's actions. The baton then passes to the Skarasen, as without control, they rampage through London. Somehow, Doctor Vs dumb animal just doesn't seem fair on the dumb animal. Still, the humans torn apart by their teeth or flattened by their bulk might take a different viewpoint.
One issue I have with the novel, having not seen Terror or the Zygons, was that the Skarasen weren't particularly well described. I knew what a Zygon looked like, but the Skarasen came across as a sort of cyborg nessie. Whether that's correct or not, I'm not sure. I think Mark Morris automatically assumed that everyone knows what a Skarasen looks like and therefore scrimped on the description somewhat.
Two stand out moments for me; when someone we shall refer to as 'person x' turned out to not be 'person x' after all; and when the Doctor accidentally wiped out most of the Zygons. Accidentally! This is in stark contrast to the 7th Doctor, who was occasionally forced to exterminate species, worlds, solar systems and even an alternate universe, but never did it by accident.
In essence, this is what is known as 'meat and potatoes Who', much in the same vein as Horror of Fang Rock. It doesn't expand your mind or bring an amazing new concept to the Doctor Who mythology, but what it does do is tell an exciting story in a convincing manner.
Review by Tom Hey