For anyone who thought that the adventures of the Doctor - a time travelling renegade Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey - finished in 1989 when the BBC transmitted his final televised adventure as part of the ongoing series, then you have a bit of a shock coming to you.
'What's that?' you say, maybe thinking of the one-off 1996 television movie which introduced Paul McGann as the nation's favourite time traveller. But did you know that DOCTOR WHO, as that film was titled, is now just the tip of the iceberg? Since then, the BBC have been publishing a new novel featuring this incarnation of the Doctor almost every month (barring December which, we suppose, must be a Time Lord's month off).
In these novels he has acquired new companions: currently a teenager from 1996 called Sam Jones (soon to be leaving), and a man from 1963 named Fitz Kreiner. There are more changes imminent however, and, as with the series which provides the bedrock concepts, part of the fun of the novels is watching how the regular characters change and cope with what their travels throw at them.
Also, just like the TV series, there are stories to suit all tastes here. From the affectionate tributes to the show's past (Terrance Dicks' THE EIGHT DOCTORS, Mark Morris' THE BODYSNATCHERS) through visits to fantasy lands (Paul Magrs' THE SCARLET EMPRESS), via science fiction adventures (Christopher Bulis' VANDERDECKEN'S CHILDREN, Jim Mortimore's BELTEMPEST, Trevor Baxendale's THE JANUS CONJUNCTION), historical adventures (David A McIntee's AUTUMN MIST) and character pieces (Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman's SEEING I and UNNATURAL HISTORY). There is action and adventure (John Peel's Dalek stories: WAR OF THE DALEKS and LEGACY OF THE DALEKS), mystery (Justin Richards' DEMONTAGE), and stories which can only be described as a new take on DOCTOR WHO for the nineties, featuring all manner of different views of characters old and new, and presenting the Doctor with situations that explore perhaps more about his past than he is comfortable with (Lawrence Miles' ALIEN BODIES and INTERFERENCE). There are a great many other stories which simply provide old fashioned solid DOCTOR WHO adventures for readers (Peter Anghelides' KURSAAL, Simon Messingham's THE FACE-EATER and Nick Walters' DOMINION amongst them).
The books are not aimed at children, and many feature graphic scenes and concepts in which our heroes are forced to confront fears and horrors only touched upon in psychological thrillers and films. There are often no easy solutions, and the authors are not afraid to dig deep to find the inspiration that the Doctor needs to win through ... but sometimes he doesn't, and this is important.
Unlike some series fiction based on TV shows, where all the characters must remain unchanged by their experiences, with DOCTOR WHO fiction, things can and do change. Companions leave the Doctor; they can be hurt; they can even die. The Doctor too is not immune, he can be changed by what he sees and achieves - or does not achieve. This keeps the books unpredictable, and perhaps more engaging for those readers who keep up to date with them. On the whole, however, there are only one or two titles which would provide a difficult starting point. Generally the range is fresh and original, and any book will provide a great starting point for readers and fans wanting to become acquainted (or re-acquainted as the case may be) with the travels, friends and adventures of the Doctor.
David J Howe
LEGACY OF THE DALEKS by John Peel
LEGACY OF THE DALEKS is an excellent adventure story, one in which the Daleks lurk in the background as an ever-present menace, while the Master lurks in the foreground, representing a more tangible danger.
The novel is set several years after the events of the 1964 TV story THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH with the Doctor's granddaughter Susan and her partner David Campbell undergoing a crisis of their own as David has aged, but Susan has not. This is a logical development of all that we have been told about the Time Lords, and is handled well here. Both the Doctor and Susan are outcasts, not through choice, but through biology, and both must find their niche in the universe.
The Doctor, meanwhile, has 'lost' his companion Sam (to find out how and why you have to read the previous novel LONGEST DAY, but this is not a pre-requisite), and the TARDIS tracks her to Earth (quite why is unclear) so the Doctor decides to pay a visit to Susan, whom he knows to be also there.
This means of getting the Doctor to the action is perhaps the clunkiest aspect of the book. It is very unlikely that Sam would be there, and the coincidence of Susan being there, the timing, the Master's plans, and the Daleks' plans all coming together is a little too much.
Once on Earth, the action comes thick and fast as Susan investigates a Dalek artefact and discovers its secrets, while the Master's plotting, as usual, lands him in more trouble than he can handle. This is the 'Roger Delgado' version of the Master following the events of FRONTIER IN SPACE on TV, and he's very nicely handled. Some of the dialogue rings so true that you can hear Delgado saying it. I even liked the nod to his use of pointless pseudonyms, with the Master here taking the name Estro, apparently Esperanto for 'master'.
LEGACY OF THE DALEKS is an action adventure novel. Pure and simple. It's also a cracking story, well written and containing some strong characters. The themes and ideas are bold and brash, and Peel handles them well, turning in an adventure that is recognisable as being DOCTOR WHO, whilst also exploring other aspects of the Doctor's character, and resolving some hanging series plot threads into the bargain.
This is a great, fun novel, true to the spirit of the show and a good read in its own right. No-one should ask for more.
DREAMSTONE MOON by Paul Leonard
Sam and the Doctor, by different routes as they are still apart, find themselves on a satellite called the Dreamstone Moon. It has come by this name because it is where dreamstone is mined. Dreamstone has properties which allow it to record the dreams of sleepers and then play them back (or something). An artist called Anton finds that the dreamstones only give him nightmares and so determines to go to the moon to find out why.
I was not impressed with any of the characters here. I was convinced that the soldier Cleomides was an android as it was the only way to explain her wooden and stilted dialogue and strange actions (I was wrong) and the only character other than Sam to come out well is an alien Krakenite called Aloisse (a totally inhuman cephalopodic sort of creature).
An excellent sub-plot is the idea that some of the humans cannot see aliens as rational and dependable beings in their own right. This leads to Aloisse being systematically tortured, blinded and seriously wounded as the humans simply can't think of her as a sentient being. This, of course, echoes man's inhumanity to man - especially where race and colour is concerned - and is nicely understated here. The Doctor is probably the only hope they have but as he is an alien, those in charge cannot see how he can help them.
Sam spends her time moving from one disaster area to another, and encountering one hostile environment after another: it's amazing that she survives at all. It's also slightly annoying that she and the Doctor never actually get to meet in the novel, they spend the whole time just missing each other and only actually see each other twice (I think, I wasn't counting!).
The biggest problem with DREAMSTONE MOON, however, is that the action (and there is lots of it) is simply not very well handled. Whereas John Peel can write action so that you feel you are watching it on screen, Leonard's events seem diluted and distant, as if it's someone telling you about something that happened to a friend of theirs some years previously.
DREAMSTONE MOON left me with a feeling of ... blandness. A sense of 'so what'. Maybe it's just a facet of Leonard's writing that I can't latch onto and others will understand and enjoy the work more.
SEEING I by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman
I have very mixed feelings about this book, the second in the BBC range from co-authors Kate Orman and Jonathan Blum.
The first 170 or so of the book's 279 pages drag interminably as Sam and the Doctor spend three years being unable to meet up due to the fact that the Doctor has been locked up in an inescapable prison for the crime of trying to locate his companion using somewhat unorthodox methods. Sam in the meantime becomes a quasi eco-terrorist seeking to undermine the controlling techno-company on the planet. It's this same organisation which holds the Doctor and it isn't until Sam finds his details on a file pirated from the company, that they get to finally meet, after almost three whole books apart.
It's not explained quite how Sam knows this is the Doctor (presumably there was a photo) as he was going under the name of Doctor Bowman, but within a few pages she manages to break into the prison and rescue him. Bang. All over in a flash.
Then the rest of the plot kicks in. The company have been using eye implant technology which the Doctor has realised is alien to this culture at this time. The trouble is traced to a Gallifreyan mind control device which is supplying power to the company. Furthermore, this device has been 'seeded' on the planet by an insectoid race of aliens called the I so that they may come along later and harvest whatever use the indigenous population have made of the technology.
Seeing I is a curious mixture of well written character pieces and a paper-thin plot designed only to achieve the objective of forcing the characters to develop. The authors have decided to push against the general trend of the BBC's range, and to present a work which only just manages to stand alone in its own right.
If you like talk, internal angst and uncertainty as opposed to action, plot and adventure, then this novel is doubtless going to please you. For those who prefer a more traditional WHO yarn, then you'd be better off starting elsewhere.
PLACEBO EFFECT by Gary Russell
PLACEBO EFFECT has at its heart an interesting idea; that of the insectoid Wirrrn (from the 1975 story THE ARK IN SPACE, with spelling taken from Ian Marter's Target novelisation of that same story) wanting to use athletes visiting an artificial planetoid for the 3999 Olympic Games to carry their spawn out to other worlds. What confused me was how long the Wirrrn had been inside the planetoid in the first place, and how they managed to develop pills which, in the first part of the book, are meant to inhibit full conversion into a Wirrrn larva, but which, in the latter stages, seem to do exactly the opposite (humans touched by Wirrrn larvae turn into Wirrrn themselves). Maybe they had human operatives working with them all along, but there's no sign of them, and in any case, how did they avoid detection when there would have been no way to prevent infected humans from turning into Wirrrn too quickly?
In addition to the Wirrrn/Olympics plot, there is also a lot of material about Foamasi operatives (from the 1980 story THE LEISURE HIVE)and their various Lodges which seems to have been imported from another novel entirely as it has little or nothing to do with the main Wirrrn plot.
On top of all this, there are some Teknix (from 1965/66's THE DALEKS' MASTER PLAN) roaming about, not to mention Stacey and Ssard from the Paul McGann RADIO TIMES comic strip of 1996, and a cornucopia of alien races lifted from the pages of TV COMIC, the DOCTOR WHO annuals and several of the Virgin novels. If there's one thing Gary Russell likes, it's continuity. Add to this strange mix some operatives from the SSS, a bizarrely over-the-top ruler of Auckland and her foppish attendants, and you have a book buried under its own ideas, with the plot - what there is of it - struggling to surface.
I did enjoy PLACEBO EFFECT, just. The enthusiasm of the writing carries it along, and, aside from a period of tedium in the middle of the book, it's all good fun.
The book climaxes with a riot of randomly exploding athletes, and a hasty conclusion with no-one knowing quite whether the others are human, alien, Foamasi pretending to be human, Wirrrn pretending to be human, or even Wirrrn pretending to be Foamasi pretending to be human.
Not a wonderful novel, just an average one. Strangely enjoyable though.
VANDERDEKEN'S CHILDREN by Christopher Bulis
For the first time reading an original DOCTOR WHO novel, I have truly wished that the story could be seen and not simply read. I loved VANDERDEKEN'S CHILDREN with a passion. Christopher Bulis has taken some of the best elements of science fiction and blended them with a dash of horror to create a story that resonates with clever plotting and beautiful visuals.
Two starships from the rival systems of Nimos and Emindar find themselves facing off around a huge and unknown alien space craft. This craft is being claimed for salvage by both systems and neither is prepared to back down. The Doctor arrives unexpectedly and, when things start to get difficult, offers his and Sam's help to the Emindar captain. They head off down to the alien ship and discover ...
But to say more would perhaps spoil this brilliant tale of time travel, rivalry and big dumb objects hanging in space.
Bulis' alien ship does nothing but exist, but in doing so it provides the basis for almost every aspect of the novel. As events move on, so we discover more about the ship and its horrific inhabitants, and the imagination that Bulis has applied here is nothing short of superb. The ship is a brooding character (as such it is) and its alienness is emphasised well. From the strange pipe-like patterning on its surface, to mysteriously coded hatchways and a vast, apparently empty interior it dominates the story.
VANDERDEKEN'S CHILDREN is a novel that I wanted to read again immediately after finishing it, and I can't say that about any of the previous BBC DOCTOR WHO books. It's an exciting and gripping story, full of good characters and an excellent premise. If nothing else it's perhaps the way DOCTOR WHO ought to be for the nineties. Get it filmed now.
THE SCARLET EMPRESS by Paul Magrs
I'm really not sure what I think about Paul Magrs debut novel in the DOCTOR WHO range. On the one hand, THE SCARLET EMPRESS is a good yarn, the sort of story that is spun after a good dinner, or around the campfire. As the telling progresses, so the events and characters become more and more colourful and incredible and whatever tenuous grasp on reality that the story might once have had slips away entirely.
On the other hand, it really isn't a DOCTOR WHO story at all. It does not follow any of the normal narrative practices that have been set up in the novels, and the Doctor and Sam take a back seat to the characters they find themselves travelling with. There is even some first-person narrative from the Doctor, previously a no-go-area within the novels.
THE SCARLET EMPRESS is a quest book, typical of the fantasy genre. The heroes have to travel across a hostile and varied world in order to gain certain artefacts (or, in this case, people) in order to defeat a Great Evil That Is Adversely Affecting The World. The Doctor and Sam join elderly Time Lord Iris Wildthyme - who has a crush on the Doctor and who has claimed many of his adventures as her own - in the hunt for an alligator man called Gila, a bearded blind woman and a cybernetic humanoid called the Duchess. On their way they encounter a giant intelligent spider, get locked in jungle-filled rooms, visit a city where everyone riots once a year to release their pent up emotions, are swallowed by a whale, get captured by pirates ... it's just one thing after another.
On top of all this incredible questing is a largely unobtrusive layer of DOCTOR WHO continuity references, for the most part taken from the TV series, but with occasional nods to the Virgin range of novels, as well as the earlier BBC books. In the context of this book, this did not overly bother me as, for a start I recognised the majority of them (there's nothing worse than a blatant reference to a previous adventure that you don't recognise because it was mentioned once in a Virgin novel three years ago!), and, far more importantly, they were in no way a major part of the plot.
THE SCARLET EMPRESS is certainly an enjoyable read, but the Doctor and Sam suffer at the expense of Iris, who starts off magnificently, but then seems to slip further and further into the background as she grows sick and eventually falls comatose. The quest to return to defeat the Scarlet Empress herself becomes a race to save Iris, although no-one seems too concerned by this, and the Doctor's trip to a hive of bicycle-sized bees to obtain honey with which to cure her - well, I said the book got incredible - is carried out almost as an afterthought.
THE SCARLET EMPRESS is a fantasy novel and it is good to see a return to this area of fiction for the Doctor. It's not a place that I would want to see the range spend a lot of time in, but the beauty of DOCTOR WHO is that the series can be anything and everything ... and that's certainly what Paul Magrs gives us.
THE JANUS CONJUNCTION by Trevor Baxendale
The Doctor and Sam arrive on the planet Janus Prime after the TARDIS malfunctions. The planet is certainly one of the strangest they have visited: it has a single moon which is permanently eclipsing the sun, and its sandy surface constantly glows with a blue radioactive luminescence. It's also the home of a race of eight foot tall spiders which have been put to good use by a visiting group of mercenaries. They have been systematically converting the spiders into cyborgs and using them as guard dogs.
Also on Janus Prime is the Link, a hyperspatial fold in space/time which emerges on the planet Menda, diametrically on the other side of the red sun. The Mendans have been using the Link to cross between the worlds and minor skirmishes with the troops on Janus Prime have broken out. But what is the secret behind the twin planets? Why are there strange obelisk-like alien artefacts in both places? What is the significance of the spider-creatures, and can the Doctor save both himself, the planets, and Sam as she contracts a nasty and fatal liquefying dose of Janus radiation?
The answers are revealed within this gripping and exciting novel. I loved the way that the relationship between the Doctor and Sam was handled. I loved the unravelling mystery, the handling of the radiation-scarred troops and the horrific deaths that awaited them. The settings were excellently defined, and the solutions, when they came, were not obvious.
In fact, I have only one main criticism, and that is that I would have liked more explanation right at the end when the Doctor tries to save Sam. I can't say more without spoiling the build-up of the book, and some of the deliberate shocks that it has for the reader.
This is a novel which takes the concepts of DOCTOR WHO and makes something special out of them. A wholly satisfying read, and a superb addition to the range. More please.
BELTEMPEST by Jim Mortimore
After a run of above-average books, I suppose the law of averages states that sooner or later something must fall by the wayside, and I'm afraid that for me BELTEMPEST was that book.
DOCTOR WHO has generally been about the small stories. Individual acts of heroism and courage which make life better for the majority. Only occasionally does the Doctor have to make one of those impossible decisions where he must sacrifice the lives of the few in order to save the lives of many.
One of the problems I had with BELTEMPEST is the immense loss of life which is simply glossed over. The Doctor and other characters are simply onlookers as entire planets are torn apart, as space craft are wrecked, their occupants dying instantly. I suspect that this story has the highest death-count in a DOCTOR WHO novel, and yet it all seems so cold and unemotional.
There are other problems as well: the Doctor seems at odds with previous characterisations and for the first time I struggled to see him as the 8th Doctor at all. Sam also undergoes some strange developments, even becoming immortal at one point.
The plot is another interplanetary adventure involving suns not behaving quite how they should, and I suspect that this more overtly science fiction approach is part of the problem. If the Doctor is going to get involved in this sort of adventure, then the lives of millions of humanoids do become insignificant compared to the events unfolding around them. Do construction workers worry about the lives of ants as they cover their nests with concrete in order to build? Are humans concerned about the death of microscopic bacteria every time they clean the kitchen?
This is the dilemma here. Jim Mortimore has painted his canvas too large, and any human interest has been shunted to one side in favour of the incredible science fiction concepts he is describing.
I can't say I enjoyed BELTEMPEST. I felt it could just as easily have been a story told through the eyes of Captain Kirk/Picard/Janeway and crews, or something encountered by the assorted folks on Babylon 5. It lacked that hard-to-define DOCTOR WHO-ness.
THE FACE-EATER by Simon Messingham
Horror has always been an important part of the DOCTOR WHO mix. The show was never purely a science fiction series, which was its great strength, and where writers remember this, the novels are all the richer. In THE FACE-EATER the Doctor encounters three races: humans who have colonised an apparently 'available' planet; the Proximans, rodent-like natives of said planet who are mysteriously dying out; and another, more powerful resident, the nameless 'face-eater', whose description is disconcertingly the same in both Proximan and English. This latter being is the cause of all the fuss, and is a classic monster straight from the pages of a Ramsey Campbell novel. Horrible, powerful, ruthless and devious, it lurks in the background and is only revealed at the appropriate moments. Simon Messingham makes the most of this, and the book contains some excellent moments of tension and excitement which helps to keep the whole thing rolling along.
THE FACE-EATER is a great read, and takes the Doctor back into the territory of body-horror which made TV stories like THE ARK IN SPACE so effective. When you can never be sure who is human, and who is simply masquerading as human, then the tension can be wound as tight as you like.
Two words about the cover: absolutely excellent. The BBC range keeps going from strength to strength and is managing to maintain a series of connected-and-yet-discrete titles which do not alienate a casual reader by being too insular and ham-strung by internal continuity, and yet which contain enough to keep those who have read all of them entertained.
THE TAINT by Michael Collier
Disappointing is the word that comes to mind with regards to THE TAINT. There are some nice ideas in the book, but unfortunately the writing never manages to rise above the level of competent, and the plot gets a little submerged under a surfeit of characters.
Michael Collier's previous book, LONGEST DAY, featured some good characters (especially the inspired Nashaad) and an interesting alien in the Kusk. With THE TAINT all we get is very confused indeed as a group of inadequately described loonies take over the asylum. I lost track of who was who early on and so at the end was effectively at a loss to know who lived or died.
The idea of alien mind parasites is nice if unoriginal, and the two robotic guardian-types were also neat, but their function in the novel was lost to me.
I didn't enjoy reading the book much, it was such a struggle to overcome the plodding narrative. The new companion character, Fitz remains something of an enigma, although he does have some nice moments and some interesting defining characteristics. Shame I can't picture him at all though.
Overall, a disappointing novel, especially after the excellence of THE JANUS CONJUNCTION, VANDERDECKEN'S CHILDREN and THE FACE-EATER.
DEMONTAGE by Justin Richards
In DEMONTAGE, Justin Richards has managed to capture the essence of a great DOCTOR WHO tale, and in the process has defined Sam and Fitz better than perhaps any other author. Even the Doctor sang for me.
The plot, involving various deceptions and double-double-crosses in a space casino is both simple and intriguing, and, despite a couple of plot holes you can drive a bus through - for example how the famed painter managed to capture people on canvas without their knowledge when the process involves scanning the subject into a computer is beyond me - I was swept along by the narrative and these holes almost seemed not to matter.
Fitz fares especially well, falling into the role of a quasi-James Bond spy with ease. I liked his scenes and felt that Richards managed to do him proud.
Like all too few of the BBC range so far, I really want to see this story on screen. It cries out for that sort of treatment, even though some of the surprises it has in store may be unachievable as a result (it's easy to mask a character in a novel, less so when you can see them).
A great addition to the range, then, and a superb step forward for Richards who is improving in leaps and bounds. I look forward to more in the future.
REVOLUTION MAN by Paul Leonard
I don't really know what I think about REVOLUTION MAN. I have said before that I am not a great fan of Paul Leonard's work, and I think this biased me somewhat. This is probably the best of his novels for me, but even then I had a lot of problems with it.
For a start there was far too much leaping about in the TARDIS for my liking, and the plot was sporadically followed. I don't know what all the business of Fitz being in China was all about, and from this novel I received little idea that he had been brainwashed or whatever - maybe I missed a crucial line or two somewhere along the way.
Sam is OK, though, and I liked the relationship between Fitz and Maddie, which made far more sense than most other things in this book.
In the latter stages, a genuine sense of urgency comes across, but Leonard has presented the Doctor with such an all-powerful opponent that there really was only one solution all along.
An average novel. Nothing desperately wrong with it, but not outstanding either.
DOMINION by Nick Walters
I seriously loved this novel. Nick Walters has taken all the elements which made DOCTOR WHO great on television and has crafted a novel which rattles along at breakneck speed, features some brilliant characters, some seriously well realised alien settings and which also allows us insights into Fitz and Sam - and even the Doctor - along the way.
We open in Sweden with a great teaser, and then the questions: where have the people gone? What is taking great chunks out of houses and forest? Where are the apparently alien creatures coming from? We are introduced to Kerstin, a kind-of Sam replacement for the first half of the book, and who is an excellent personality in her own right. This is necessary as Sam is enjoying adventures of her own in an alien environment which really had me hooked. Walters leaves none of the five senses unaffected in his ability to depict the alien place in which Sam finds herself. It's thought provoking stuff, and through all this action and adventure emerges a classic DOCTOR WHO tale of scientists dabbling in things they shouldn't, people in danger (and dying - I was impressed with the death of Kerstin's boyfriend Johan, very gruesome and somewhat unexpected), companions coming through, and the Doctor managing to appear ever more vulnerable and human while just about maintaining the upper hand.
The contrast between the verdant forests of Sweden and the alien landscape of the T'hiili's world works especially well, and the characters are so well defined and described that you never lose track of who is meant to be who along the way.
I heartily recommend this novel. It is spot on in characterisation and plot, and there are no loose ends (as far as I could tell). I especially liked the ending, which had the rare distinction of bringing a real lump to my throat.
A brilliant, brilliant novel, and an excellent slice of what nineties DOCTOR WHO is all about. More please.
UNNATURAL HISTORY by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman
After the exhilaration of DOMINION, in UNNATURAL HISTORY we are treated to a tired and unimaginative plod through a bunch of re-hashed ideas all of which worked better in previous novels and stories. Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman do their usual trick of trying to be too clever, and adding stuff to the 'mythos', rather than concentrating on where it matters - original plot and character. Obviously they haven't yet realised that DOCTOR WHO on television all went pear-shaped when it started to draw too much on itself rather than being original, and with this novel, the BBC range does the same thing. Worst of all, though, is that I found this book boring and unengaging.
For a start, Sam is not Sam at all, but some dark-haired variant hinted at in Lawrence Miles' ALIEN BODIES. In Miles' hands, this was an interesting idea, a brief anomaly to be pondered over. In Blum and Orman's hands, however, she comes over *exactly* like the 'older, wiser, more experienced' Sam they tried to create in SEEING I. Dark-haired Sam is unfortunately tedious and predictable. Fitz suffers in the same way ... and I could not believe what I was reading when he and D-H Sam got it together. Good grief! How pointless.
Fitz changes from a slightly insecure but likeable male into some sort of obsessed shag-monster, alternating between dying for a smoke and lusting after anything female on two legs. While D-H Sam - what with snogging the Doctor, sleeping with Fitz, and agonising over her past and future - is a typical unstable, neurotic, angst-ridden female all too familiar from Orman's other novels. The TARDIS too is made to suffer - like the reader - and the whole plot element about an alien collector of species and his TARDIS-like specimen cabinet seemed to have been imported from another novel entirely. Add to this loads of techno-nonsense about bio-data and mythical creatures roaming San Francisco and you have a novel which goes nowhere, does nothing, and ultimately bores the reader through too many disconnected pieces of information being thrown together.
A tremendous disappointment after the excellence of DOMINION and DEMONTAGE. Let's have more books with single word titles that start with the letter 'D'!
AUTUMN MIST by David A McIntee
Set in the Second World War, this first eighth Doctor novel from David McIntee effectively captures the relentlessly grim nature of the War, as well as containing numerous scenes of bloody carnage.
I think my mind said 'enough' when Sam is sprayed by blood, brain and bits of skull from a hapless driver when their transport is ambushed. An awful lot of people die in this novel. They die in horrible ways, mutilated by German and Allied forces (depending on which side you're on), shot in the head, chest and back, and generally not given a nice ride at all.
In amidst this real life horror is a more science fictional element whereby the dead start vanishing in a strange mist, and some of those in charge seem to know more about what's going on than others. And then there's a mysterious prisoner captured by the Germans and kept in an electrified cage ...
Whilst I admire McIntee's tying together of a brutal war with the Philadelphia Experiment (involving a vanishing ship) and a parallel dimension occupied by the faerie hoards led by Titania, Oberon et al, the end result just doesn't work. The juxtaposition of brutal death with alien faerie folk clashes, and the splitting up of Sam, Fitz and the Doctor serves no useful purpose aside from following one of the tropes from the series.
As a novel which brings home the horrific pointlessness of war, AUTUMN MIST works really well. However as something which stands as a DOCTOR WHO adventure, it just doesn't feel right. Once again Sam gets all the interesting stuff, Fitz stands around doing nothing, and the Doctor tries to get away with a minimum of blood on his hands.
INTERFERENCE BOOK ONE by Lawrence Miles
Lawrence Miles was behind the superb 1997 BBC book ALIEN BODIES (in which a group of intergalactic representatives, including the Doctor, bid for ownership of the Doctor's body, while a group of mysterious Time Lord-like cultists, the Faction Paradox, mess around with time streams) and in INTERFERENCE he fleshes out the Faction Paradox and introduces a new group of beings called the Remote.
These are perhaps the most interesting aliens to have appeared in the BBC range to date. Their culture is based on that of electronic transmissions which they receive from whichever planet they find themselves on. The people are totally free to interpret these signals as they will. They believe they are given direction and meaning by the signals, and are, on the whole, fairly happy with their lot.
In the first novel, we are introduced to I M Foreman, a mystery woman sitting on a hill. (This is also the name printed on the junkyard doors in Totters' Lane, London, 1963, where we first met the Doctor ... hopefully this will be explained in Book Two) The Doctor joins her and they settle down to discuss what happened on Earth. But what did happen? Sam is there, keeping an eye on an international arms conference when she becomes captured by the Remote. Sarah Jane Smith (ex-companion of the third and fourth Doctors) is also there, along with K9, doing pretty much the same thing. The Remote are trying to sell advanced alien arms to various powers, and using brutish alien Ogrons as bodyguards. Fitz meanwhile has been swallowed up in 1996 by a weapon called the Cold, and does not emerge until 2593 where he joins a Faction Paradox cult. Meanwhile the eighth Doctor is apparently locked in a cell where he and his cell mate are irregularly and viciously tortured with electric shock batons.
Where all this leads I don't know, as it's not resolved in this book. The mysterious I M Foreman remains an enigma, aside from the fact that, as a man, she might have been running a travelling circus of freaks on the planet Dust which was once visited by the third Doctor and Sarah.
All this confusion and loose ends left me reeling and puzzled. It starts really well indeed, with Miles building up an apocalyptic feel with the individual plot elements. It's when the story becomes dominated by Sarah Jane Smith (posing as Sarah Bland, and never was a surname better chosen) that the book grinds to a crawl. She's just not interesting and doesn't rise above the printed page. Fitz and the Doctor might as well not be there (well, they're actually *not* there for 90 per cent of it), and Sam gets to see all the interesting stuff as usual - which here includes appearing in scenes presented as though from a film or television script. This is a nice idea and works surprisingly well.
The book ends at an apparently arbitrary point, but readers who have bought both volumes, can continue straight on ...
INTERFERENCE BOOK TWO
Lawrence Miles continues the story started in Book One, and immediately things start to make a little more sense. Sam is absorbed into the Remote's Media and her ideas and thoughts are broadcast out to any who would tune in, Fitz finds himself becoming more and more Faction Paradox-like, meanwhile the eighth Doctor warns the third Doctor about future events, and the business with the travelling circus of freaks becomes a lot more interesting and we discover what I M Foreman has to do with it all.
The second volume is much better than the first, but you *have* to have read the first for it to make any sense at all. There are some neat ideas in here, and I especially liked the paradoxes that time travel can throw up. Revelations as to the 'true' identities of characters mentioned or appearing in the first book are also unexpected and effectively handled, and overall the book comes to a fairly satisfying conclusion.
One aspect that I feel was totally mishandled was Sam's exit. At first I thought she was going to stay absorbed by the Media and for her thoughts and essential Sam-ness to become a part of the Remote - great idea. But no. She is recovered from the Media and instead ... well, you'll have to read the book.
What Miles has done here is to take a lot of ideas - both DOCTOR WHO and other - and to mix them up with gusto. It's not the characters who matter here (it could have been *any* Doctor and companion, he's not what's important) but the audacity of the ideas and the deft way they are pulled off. INTERFERENCE is a little like one of those big budget films, where, at the end, you remember the spectacular effects sequences, and maybe some of the plot revelations, but you just can't recall the names of any of the characters.
Overall INTERFERENCE was a worthy experiment. Something to stir up the mix a little, and to add a dash of spice to the Doctor's universe. Miles is simply brilliant at this sort of plotting and writing, and the range would be poorer without his talents.
THE BLUE ANGEL
THE BLUE ANGEL is perhaps the most self indulgent book in the DOCTOR WHO range to date and I wonder whether it would have got past the initial selection criteria had it been from any other author.
I really disliked THE BLUE ANGEL. I found the authors' use of the first person annoying and intrusive - especially as it is written from numerous first person viewpoints and it's hard to know who is speaking at any given time. I also disliked the scatter-shot plotting, and the inclusion of characters who smack of cliqueish indulgence on the part of the authors rather than being there because the story demands it. I finished the book because I had to rather than because I wanted to.
The ideas are intentionally a pastiche on old DOCTOR WHO and STAR TREK tropes - the Glass Men of Valcea being a sort of Dalek hybrid for example - and the inclusion of Paul Magrs' favourite Time Lady Iris Wildthyme (who was introduced in THE SCARLET EMPRESS) as a Barbarella-like skin-tight latex cat-suited, high-booted character is at odds with anything that DOCTOR WHO would normally feature. The main problem I have with this character is that her history seems so intertwined with the Doctor's past that, if one were looking at general DOCTOR WHO continuity at all, one would wonder why she had never been mentioned in the TV adventures. By all means introduce a new and strong character for the 8th Doctor to spar with, but the suggestion that she is an integral part of *all* the Doctor's incarnations and adventures is an aspect of the indulgence that I so dislike here.
The main plot is actually quite good, and features a group of poorly disguised STAR TREK characters on a five year mission. The Glass Men are ruled by Dedalus an intelligent green elephant-like creature, who wants to cause a war within his pocket universe in order to spread chaos everywhere. To this end he goads Captain Blandish (ho ho, nice joke) of the starship Nepotist, into destroying the Glass City. The Doctor, Fitz, new companion Compassion, Iris and a couple of drudgy women who have adopted Dedalus' son Icarus (who is the blue angel of the title - just how a green elephant can have a son who looks like a human with wings is something that's not explained) are also thrown into the melee and the end result is fairly entertaining if you can get past the obtuse prose style.
Alongside all this is a totally unexplained strand of interludes which seem to suggest that the Doctor lives in an English house with Fitz and Compassion and that all his adventures are flights of fancy written up by his friend Sally, who has a dog called Canine and an elderly neighbour called Iris. The Doctor is also on pills for his delusions (apparently prescribed by his doctor who sounds like the Doctor in his third incarnation). I don't know why this is even in the book. It adds nothing to the plot, and seems to be an attempt by the authors to further confuse and muddy the Doctor's background.
Enough already! Let's have less of the Doctor's past, and more adventures in Time and Space.
THE TAKING OF PLANET 5
After the interesting but somewhat convoluted INTERFERENCE and the appallingly self-indulgent and scattershot THE BLUE ANGEL comes what is probably the worst book in the BBC's range so far. THE TAKING OF PLANET 5 achieves the distinction of being badly written and boring, while at the same time featuring an incomprehensible plot and paper thin characters.
The fifth planet in our Solar system, as any viewers of the TV series with eidetic memories will know, was time-looped by the Time Lords in order to trap the Fendahl. This obscure piece of information forms the background to this hopeless novel, and the rest of the plot reads like some piece of half-baked amateur fan fiction - which is what this book most resembles. The Time Lords have travelled back into Earth's past having disguised themselves as members of H P Lovecraft's Old Ones, or Shoggoths - kind of multi-eyed monsters with tentacles - in order to replace the actual race of Shoggoths and then use their underground base as somewhere to grow baby TARDISes. One of these TARDISes is found in 1999 by a group of archaeologists who are somewhat startled when a girl is unexpectedly vomited out of the screaming creature. (This leads to the first of several pieces of bad writing: when the girl arrives she is unconscious, and yet we have her described as 'dark eyed' as she is carried off to the medical centre ...).
The Doctor, together with Fitz and Compassion arrive on the base in the past having found out about the Shoggoths through a visit to an intergalactic museum of things that never existed (the creature in question had just been removed from display). Meanwhile, two agents from the Celestis - apparently what the Celesitial Intervention Agency (another piece of continuity from the TV series) turn into - are also struggling to infiltrate the base for reasons of their own. Mixed in with all this is more technobabble than the mind can stand, numerous references to DOCTOR WHO adventures on TV, in the Virgin books, and in past BBC books, several in-jokes (the worst is the convoluted way in which the line 'reversed polarity of the neutrino flow' is arrived at) and a total lack of any proper characterisation. As in THE BLUE ANGEL, Fitz and Compassion are treated as non-entities, and the Doctor is not recognisable as anyone specific, and spends a lot of time doing not very much. At one point and with no outside assistance, he breaks his own left wrist to attract the attention of a young TARDIS, the body of which he is swimming through, and all the authors can say about this impossible feat is that it was 'quite hard to do'!
The convoluted two-time-zone plot is badly handled and structured, and, by the time I had reached the end, I no longer knew nor cared what anyone was trying to do. Explanations are found in the most amazing paragraphs of utter nonsense, and I'm still not sure how or why creatures from the pen of an early twentieth Century writer came to exist in the past, nor why the Time Lords didn't know they were fictional in the first place.
For once I can't actually find anything that I like (apart from the cover which is gorgeous) in this book. It simply doesn't work either as a coherent work of fiction or as a segment in a wider story arc (which it apparently is, but the arc is so obscure as to be non-existent as far as I can see). With the two books of INTERFERENCE, THE BLUE ANGEL and now THE TAKING OF PLANET 5, we've had a series of continuity-based novels which are hard to read in isolation and which serve only to alienate any general readership. I hope this ends soon and we get back to recognisable DOCTOR WHO and enjoyable stand alone novels.
Hoorah for Peter Angelides! FRONTIER WORLDS is a magnificent adventure yarn. Engrossing and very, very enjoyable. It starts with a bang - almost like a James Bond film in fact - as the Doctor escapes from a freezing mountain-top by sliding down a cable-car cable and being rescued by Fitz before being pursued across a snow-covered terrain by thugs and narrowly escaping capture by the officials of the shady Frontier Worlds corporation.
From this nail-biting start, the novel gathers pace as we see things from Fitz' point of view for once. Angelides has managed to do what none of the previous authors have managed, and this is to make Fitz and Compassion come startlingly to life. Fitz' narrative paints him as a normal human, struggling to infiltrate the Frontier Worlds complex with Compassion posing as his sister - the names they choose: Frank and Nancy Sinatra; point to Fitz' love of espionage movies of his time and to his need to 'act' as a character in order to survive on an alien planet. Compassion's affinity with computers and her understated attachment to Fitz and the Doctor are so well drawn that I felt sad that Angelides was not writing the next few books, as I so much wanted to stay in their company.
What really made this aspect of the book for me, however, was the way Fitz' attachment to Alura was handled. Alura being a girlfriend he acquired while undercover on the planet. The emotional aspects of this relationship were so well handled, that the eventual outcome left me reeling with surprise and horror. It really is so well written.
While all this character building is going on, the Doctor is trying to find out what Frontier Worlds is all about: mysterious chairmen who shed their skin to become younger; employees who suffer strange debilitating illnesses ... What the Doctor discovers forms the core of the novel, and, while bearing similarities with something the Doctor previously encountered on TV, is handled here in a somewhat different manner.
I was disappointed to come to the end of FRONTIER WORLDS as I had enjoyed it so much. I felt that I had come to understand Fitz and especially Compassion a lot more, and that their travels with the Doctor - who is also extremely well written and defined - had some meaning and purpose after all.
It's a brilliant novel and a fine return to form for the range.
We're straight into the action in PARALLEL 59: the Doctor, Compassion and Fitz are hurrying to get themselves into escape capsules to get away from a space station. Fitz takes one capsule while the Doctor and Compassion take another. Compassion manages to use a psychic link of some form to steer their capsule down onto the planet Skale where the military promptly arrest them as spies and try to find out how much they know.
Fitz meanwhile finds himself in a place called Mechta, a kind of hospital city where citizens from 'homeworld' are sent to recuperate until they are summoned to return. On Mechta everyone is equal and Fitz is given a house and a job, and before long has two girlfriends but no cigarettes.
The people on Skale are hostile, suspicious and brutal. People are routinely experimented on and tortured, and the Doctor finds it hard to find anyone who will listen to him. Compassion on the other hand manages to escape and joins forces with a group of rebels intent on overthrowing the governors. On Mechta, Fitz joins up with some dissidents who are trying to discover the truth about their city and the bureaucrats to appear to run it.
It's when the reader learns what and where Mechta is and how it relates to the events on Skale that the book starts to get interesting. Up until that point, however, it is a very 'black' and 'white' read. Characters all have very singular motivations, and the oppressive regime on Skale serves to render most of the people there as somewhat one-dimensional.
Despite this, Dalliere and Cole have crafted an interesting story, one with moral dimensions as well as plenty of action and excitement. There's also not a continuity reference in sight (aside from occasional non-intrusive references to past events in Fitz and Compassion's lives) which is always refreshing. The book continues the idea started in the previous book FRONTIER WORLDS of having some parts written from the point of view of Fitz (via a diary which comes over a little contrived) but Compassion is unfortunately back to her red-headed enigmatic self. It's a shame that most authors don't seem to be able to imbue her with a proper character, one which might make the reader like her a little more.
For once we have a DOCTOR WHO adventure in which the Doctor does not have all the answers and in which a lot of people die, indirectly due to the Doctor's intervention. At the end, the people of Scale are seen to have learned something from their experiences, but it's all very bleak and the Doctor, Fitz and Compassion hopping off in the TARDIS at the end seems at odds with this somehow.
It's an enjoyable book, though, easy to read and undemanding.
THE SHADOWS OF AVALON
From the start we know we're in a Paul Cornell novel: the Brigadier is back: angst-ridden and torn over the death of his wife Doris; and Compassion has been left on Earth by the Doctor in order to 'experience humanity'. We first meet her in a house she shares with five or six blokes - one of them is in love with her and she didn't help matters by snogging him extensively. She also has a cat - which she has somewhat bizarrely named Cheese. All these things are typical Cornell, and, unfortunately, given the lack of character development of Compassion in previous books, do not ring true at all. If Compassion had a cat, she'd call it 'Cat'. No way would she snog a human, and given that she has agonised over the lack of 'input' when away from the TARDIS, I can't see her willingly agreeing to an enforced stay, on her own, on Earth.
We then launch into an uneasy plot in which a vortex opens up between Earth and Avalon (the land of Faeries) and the Doctor, Fitz, Compassion and the Brigadier find themselves involved in a war between Humans and those in Avalon (which number include Silurians as regular DOCTOR WHO readers will realise). There's also a sleeping King (whose dream has created Avalon), brutal Gallifreyan Interventionists sent by President Romana to ensure a certain outcome and lots of tactical battles, explosions, and death.
Overall it's a bit of a mess, although it is quite an easy read. Cornell drags the reader along with him through a multitude of confusion until we reach the revelations at the end.
And it's the end which really makes this book. Over the last few titles, those in the know realised that there was a kind of story arc going on. Personally, although I knew this was supposedly the case, I could not detect its presence. With this book it all comes to a head, and results in one of the greatest innovations that DOCTOR WHO in novel form has yet delivered. I wish I could talk about it, but to do so would rob readers of the pleasure of finding out for themselves.
What this outcome really proved, however, was how Compassion really needed to be more defined and likable to the readers beforehand. As it is, some of the power of what happens is muted as you never really knew or liked her in the first place. I wish that Peter Angelides - the only author in recent time to have really understood the characters - had written this book.
All credit to author Lawrence Miles, apparently, for this outcome, which has been in the offing since Compassion joined in INTERFERENCE. Maybe now knowing what the outcome is, re-reading those books might shed more clues ... I don't know and, ultimately, it really doesn't matter as I'd far rather we had a series of stand-alone books which are connected by near-invisible threads, than a series which you have to read and remember all for any to make sense.
I'm looking forward to the next book in the range to see what happens next. I hope the potential of the ideas finally revealed in THE SHADOWS OF AVALON are not lost, and that we see further progression, through stand-alone adventures, along these paths.
THE FALL OF YQUATINE
As the first book subsequent to the groundbreaking events of SHADOWS OF AVALON, THE FALL OF YQUATINE has it's work cut out.
Before I go any further, I warn readers now that out of necessity there are spoilers in this review, so if you don't want to know what happens in SHADOWS OF AVALON, then stop reading now.
Although Nick Walters has a great writing style, and the personality he manages to bring to his characters is nothing short of breathtaking, the biggest problem I had with this book was with the Doctor's action which sets the plot in motion in the first place.
We have seen the Doctor's relationship with Compassion grow and change over a number of novels, and with her transformation into a next-generation TARDIS now complete, what is the first thing that the Doctor does? He fits her with a jerry-rigged organic randomiser. The fact that he does this without even talking to her about it first seems totally out of character. It is also very unlike the Doctor not to consider the consequences of this action: if Compassion has no control over where she materialises next, and is still in the early stages of coming to terms with her abilities, then the possibility of her dematerialising by accident (maybe to avoid danger, maybe by accident as happened in SHADOWS OF AVALON) is very high - and this would leave the Doctor without a TARDIS once more.
Indeed, the whole of Walters' brilliantly convoluted plot hangs on this point: that Compassion cannot come charging (or materialising) to the rescue of Fitz or the Doctor.
Other than this point, which, unfortunately is quite significant, I thought the novel was great. Fitz seems to have this habit of falling in love with every female he meets which is becoming a little tiresome, but the counterplay of having the action happen in two timezones works well, and the Doctor's part in the events is nicely handled. I liked Arielle and her anguish at being the most anatomically and facially beautiful woman alive, and the young president's jealousy and hot headedness are also well described. The action comes thick and fast, and the breakdown of an interplanetary alliance when faced with a greater threat is worryingly believable.
Overall the book is not quite on a par with Walters' superb DOMINION, but it is a great read. The only concern I was left with at the end, is that unless they're careful, the BBC series of novels may find itself faced with 'the K9 syndrome' - the inclusion of a sentient, powerful TARDIS, with a fully operational chameleon circuit that can go anywhere and become anything makes a lot of stories redundant (or at the very least easily resolvable) unless increasingly contrived ways are introduced - like a randomiser for example - to limit its abilities.
Hopefully the Powers That Be at BBC Books have thought of this, and we're in for an increasingly entertaining series of imaginative adventures in Time and Space rather than a dreary angst-filled soap opera about one handsome Time Lord and his gorgeous, pouting, sulky TARDIS ...
One of the delights of Trevor Baxendale's first Doctor Who title was the sense of fun found within. Coldheart continues this trend. The Doctor, Compassion and Fitz find themselves on a planet which, despite its baking hot exterior, has a frozen interior. Before long, they are up to their elbows in death, horror and intrigue.
It's great stuff, and Baxendale manages to juggle everything well. Unfortunately Compassion again ends up as being a little too all-powerful, and, strangely does not make the most of her shape changing ability: when falling from a great height with an unfortunate native, she tries to save his life by shielding him from the impact - all she had to do was turn into a giant air cushion! And towards the end, when she finds herself underwater, surely a submarine or submersible would be a suitable form rather than retaining her human exterior.
Aside from these slightly contrived dramatic convienences, the characters all fare well, and the ultimate scenes of destruction are nicely written. However I would question the final outcome: for a planet as parched and sun-beaten as Eskon, any seas which may be called into existance would not last all that long, thus making the future of the inhabitants very much less than certain. Baxendale does not dwell on the implications, however, and the time-travellers vanish off to their next adventure.
It's a good, fun adventure. Undemanding and very enjoyable. Just one question: what is that on the cover? More please.
THE BANQUO LEGACY
Doctor Who has always been about diversity. This is a Doctor Who remix of an Agatha Christie or Hercule Poirot mystery. Unfortunately it more resembles a BBC period drama directed by George Romero than a slice of genuine Who.
The book, aside from a brief prologue setting up what follows and an afterword setting the scene for events to come, is narrated by two of its protagonists, Inspector Ian Stratford, sent in 1898 by the Met to investigate the death of Gordon Seavers, philanthopist and scientist, and lawyer John Hopkinson, a friend of Seavers, invited to his home along with a motley group of others only to find their host dead. Before long there is another death, that of Richard Harries, another scientist, which seems to be the result of someone tampering with an electrical experiment. Then there's the butler Simpson who seems to know more than he should, and the unexpected arrival of two observers: Herr Kreiner and Doctor Friedlander.
Of course Herr Kreiner and Doctor Friedlander are Fitz and the Doctor, and Compassion, through a massive plot contrivance, has had to merge her outer shell with one of the humans - Susan Seymour, coveted by both Stratford and Hopkinson - meaning that she cannot help the time travellers to escape. The scene is set ...
The most disappointing aspect of the book is the sidelining of the Doctor, Fitz, and especially Compassion. As the book ia told wholly from the viewpoints of Stratford and Hopkinson, we get slightly different versions of the same events, and, strangely, the Doctor and Fitz's occasional technobabble discussions related accurately. The plot, what there is of it, is quite neat, if simplistic, and the book seems designed to pass some time before the Time Lords catch up with Compassion following the events of several books back.
It is a shame that Compassion has been effectively written out for two books in a row, and that her developing character has been so severely curtailed. This, though, is the problem with introducing an all-powerful element into any series of fiction - the writers have to come up with ever more imaginative ways to nullify or prevent the powers from being used. The end of this Compassion-into-TARDIS plot arc is in sight, however, and I hope that it fulfils the promise of the initial books.
As for The Banquo Legacy, it's very much an experimental book, neither wholly engrossing or particularly entertaining, but which contains some graphic descriptions, and a memorable zombie.
THE ANCESTOR CELL
So here it is. The end of a massive twelve book 'arc': a year's-worth of novels and the literary equivalent of a television Who like The Trial Of A Time Lord or The Key To Time. And was it all worth it? Not really.
Cole and Anghelides have made a game attempt to tie up all the loose ends, to explain all the unexplained ideas and to somehow bring the Who range back on track again. Unfortunately in doing so they forget that a novel needs a good plot, and all that they offer is a bunch of Time Lords running around being killed by spiders made from bone, and the Faction Paradox generally slaughtering anyone who stands in their way.
There are some nice ideas - the origin of the mysterious bone edifice which appears in Gallifrey's skies was a surprise, and the initial characterisation of Tarra and her revelation as one of the Faction's prime movers in the plot was well handled - but overall it's all been done before: Gallifrey being invaded ... the Doctor being 'taken over' by the enemy ...Time Lord presidents vying for power.
If anything could have been learned from the Trial and Key To Time sequences on television, it should have been that if you don't know what your ending will be, then don't start. This is the trap this book falls into. It is a desperate attempt to explain what's been happening (when this should have been done in the earlier novels themselves) wrapped around a rather mundane plot to invade Gallifrey. Characterisation of the regular characters is once more non-existent with Compassion criminally sidelined for most of the time, and the Doctor unrecognisable as the Paul McGann incarnation.
Disappointing and not the book it could and should have been.
And so the BBC's Doctor Who range embarks in a new direction of adventures having sorted out all the continuity-bound mess of the last year or so in the preceeding title (The Ancestor Cell). And what a great 'new beginning' this is. The Doctor is trapped on Earth in the 1800s, and, with no-one quite knowing at what point he will appear, author Justin Richards takes great pleasure in introducing each new character in such a way that they could be the Doctor, and then dispelling any illusions a little further on. This literary misdirection is superb, and it's only a shame it has to end when the Doctor himself finally appears.
The plot concerns the plans of the mysterious Roger Nepath to harness an elemental force of sorts which lives beneath the Earth's crust in order to gain eternal life and power for himself and his sister. It's quite basic fare, but as usual in Richards' hands it all comes to life, and the book rattles along to an enjoyable and suitably fiery climax.
Richards is by far the most consistently enjoyable and talented writers to work on the Doctor Who book series, and the fact that he is also now the range's editor bodes well for the future. The Burning is a great stepping on point for any readers who have so far steered clear of the BBC's novels. It's a classic Doctor Who adventure, but with a 21st century buzz, great characters, an evil villain, and a monstrous foe. Who could ask for more?
CASUALTIES OF WAR
They say that one of the first casualties of war is the truth, but in the case of this novel, it seems to be the plot. New Doctor Who author Steve Emmerson piles on the atmosphere in this tale of mysterious happenings around a hospital for men mentally wounded by the First World War back in 1918, but sadly once we have the basic ingredients - the Doctor doesn't know what's happening (and we're never sure why he's there in the first place); various other characters are included to be confused or killed or both; horrific WWI zombie soldiers undertaking unexplained manouvers at night; the head of the hospital acting strangely; and a tree full of macabre 'trophies' - there's nothing much else here. The Doctor spouts off some nonsense about psychic bullets and the mental energy of the hospital inmates being stored up, and the book ends with a rather weak showdown in a psychically generated battlefield simulation. To be honest it's a bit of a yawn, and even the inclusion of some potential love interest for the Doctor seems mis-timed and falls flat. The Awakening on TV contained more depth and complexity than this novel. After the superlative The Burning this is a great disappointment.
THE TURING TEST
It's a shame that this title follows immediately on from CASUALTIES OF WAR as it shares some similarities. Both are set during a war, in this case World War Two, and both are, unfortunately, not blessed with much of a plot.
The Turing Test is so plot-free in fact, that it's not even easy to summarise it. The book is split into three sections. The first is as written by Alan Turing, the famed code-cracker, who meets up with the Doctor, falls in love with him, and travels with him to Dresden in search of some mysterious message-sending beings who may or may not be aliens. The second section is as written by novelist and spy Graham Greene, and relates some of the events described by Turing in overlap, and shows how Greene fitted into the overall picture. The third and final section is as written by American novelist Joseph Heller (he of Catch 22 fame) - a bomber pilot in the War who transports the Doctor and Turing to Dresden. Along the way there is much pontificating on the War, on who is 'right' and who is 'wrong', on what the Doctor's involvement actually is, and on who these mysterious singing maybe-alien beings are. Some of the characters turn out to be androids/aliens, and at the end the beings leave Earth and the Doctor behind, much to his annoyance.
There's really not much more to it than this, which is a shame. The book is well written, although others would have to vouch for the veracity of the language and writing style of Turing, Greene and Heller, but the main problem is that nothing happens and the Doctor, so brilliantly reinvented by Justin Richards in The Burning two books previously, is criminally wasted here. If the other characters had been of similar interest and depth then maybe this would have worked, but unfortunately they are not. A novel for those who like war and espionage fiction perhaps.
In this, the third war-related book in as many months, Terrance Dicks concentrates on the Cold War with Russia. But he does more than that and brings in as characters the colourful Kim Philby and Guy Burgess as well as painting a vivid picture of governments who don't trust each other and single, double and triple agents. Because this is also a Doctor Who novel, the Doctor becomes embroiled, and, while everyone assumes he's working for them, uncovers a plot by some mysterious characters to brainwash selected individuals, with their ultimate aim being the US President, in order to instigate a full blown war.
Despite the clipped and clear writing, the novel somehow fails to satisfy, as everything seems almost too easy and pat. The people behind the plot to brainwash the president turn out to be alien games players, who take delight in using the Earth and the humans on it as their pawns. It seems that the Doctor has met them before (in Dicks' novel Players, a 5th Doctor adventure) but if you have not read that book (as I haven't), then this one is a little puzzling. I am told that the earlier book actually doesn't add that much more, and that they are deliberately mysterious. However I felt that I was missing something important, and wished that Dicks had given a little more information about who and what they were, and what their motivations were.
As it is, the Doctor manages, through simply talking to one of them, to get the entire threat nullified. Whether this is a sly dig at the nature of the Cold War - that talking and diplomacy is the only way to resolve troubles - or that it was an easy and cop-out way of getting the book to a conclusion, is unclear.
I can't say I was wholly engrossed by Endgame. The historical backdrop works well, and the inclusion of real-life characters is nice, but the book fell a little flat.
There is a big problem with Father Time. It ends.
I came to the book with no real expectations. I'd not read The Infinity Doctors but had enjoyed Lance Parkin's eighth Doctor book for Virgin. The back-cover blurb for Father Time did not encourage me... aliens invading Earth, UFOs, the Doctor having a daughter! I'd also not really enjoyed the last three books in the BBC's range: wartime stories (whether they be WW1, WW2 or the Cold War) don't excite me. I was in for a surprise.
Father Time is an exceptional novel. I became engrossed by the characters and their struggles. With deft strokes, Parkin introduces Miranda, a young girl who has two hearts and who is being hunted as the last of her race. Primary school teacher Deborah Castle stumbles upon the Doctor's house in the snow in scenes reminiscent of David Whitaker's novelisation of the first Dalek story, and the Doctor, still without companions, memory or TARDIS finds himself drawn into a plot to kill Miranda.
Parkin makes you care about his characters, they come alive off the page, and their trials and suffering are all the more affecting because of it. Miranda is adopted by the Doctor when her previous adoptive parents are killed and their love for each other seems natural and believable. This is a side of the Doctor I liked: as father and protector. That lonely Deborah is attracted to the Doctor is a side issue, and the villains' single-mindedness is a counterpoint to the complexity of the Doctor and Miranda's relationship.
The novel splits into three segments: early eighties, mid eighties and late eighties, and the transitions mostly work. The one area which for me didn't work, was the alien killer Ferran falling in love with a teenaged Miranda in the second act rather than killing her which was his main reason for existing. Aside from this, the bad guys are suitably bad, the good guys struggle through (though not without losses and tears) and the Doctor is inventive and maddeningly human/alien in a way which suits him down to the ground. I even loved the Blackadder joke.
I really enjoyed this book. The writing, plot, characterisation and emotional impact are all spot on, and even brought a tear to this hardened reader's eye in the closing pages. A beautiful tribute to the potential of the Doctor Who series, written with love and care and an eye for the detail of what life should be all about.
DOCTOR WHO: ESCAPE VELOCITY is by former EastEnders script editor Colin Brake and reads at times more like a script breakdown than a story. The Doctor, wandering TARDIS-less on Earth for the last few hundred years finally meets up with Fitz, deposited on Earth just days before by the TARDIS-like Compassion. Of course the Doctor and Fitz end up involved with a bland bunch of aliens who are helping two independent rocket scientists to develop the means to get into space. There are two opposing factions in the alien camp: one just wants to get home while the other wants to invade Earth and make it their home. Into this melee comes Anji and Dave: Dave ends up kidnapped and incubating alien DNA while Anji joins forces with the Doctor and Fitz to try and sort things out. The end result is unsatisfying and the main characters are under-developed, especially Anji as she is destined to continue to travel with the Doctor at the end. "Random aliens try to invade Earth" is not the greatest plot to explore, and ultimately it's all a little simplistic.
New author Jacqueline Rayner makes a brave attempt to be different in DOCTOR WHO: EARTHWORLD and presents a novel, literally, from the perspectives of the various characters. The end result, complete with 'ums' and 'errs' and other colloquialisms relevant to the characters in the main narrative is a quirky and fragmented read. The plot seems drug-inspired with androids running amok in a New-Jupiter theme park as three stuck-up triplet princesses (or android replicas of them) indulge their love for torture and dismemberment among the inhabitants of the park after having been driven insane by the death (maybe at their hands) of their mother, who also seems to have been an android, and eventually forcing Fitz to spar with Elvis Presley in a celebrity deathmatch special. Whew. Scenes arrive scattershot and events and explanations are obscurely revealed when you least expect them. Anji is mulling on her life to date, missing her dead boyfriend Dave (and writing e-mails to him), which is strange in itself as in the previous book she'd pretty much decided she'd had enough of him anyway, and generally experiencing angst and concern at every turn - she at times comes over as an archetypal neurotic Bridget Jones-type. This is a hard book to read, demanding a lot from the reader and unfortunately not delivering much by way of return.