Friday, 24 July 2009

City at World’s End by Christopher Bulis

Plot: The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara arrive on the planet Sarath, which is on the brink of destruction. The moon is going to crash into the planet and wipe out the inhabitants but the people of Arkhaven have put all their resources and manpower into building a ship that will carry away all their people at the time of destruction. The Doctor soon realises there has been a terrible deception…

Hmmm: This is very much the first Doctor of season one and easily matches Bulis previous dealing with his character in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There are so many layers to his characterisation, I am not sure that Bulis is the best person to start digging but he has a fair go here, revealing a fiercely intelligent man, capable of moments of great humanity but also of terrifying anger too. And even more seriously, he is aware of the deception behind the Ship from a very early stage and doesn’t say a word until after the Eighty-odd thousand have been killed. He is a rationalist and a realist and realises that he may never escape with his granddaughter if he causes mass panic on this planet.

Ian wonders how the Doctor can love Susan so much and still send her into such danger. The Doctor is a sly old devil, having nothing to bargain for information he threatens to tell the camp leaders that a man is trying to escape as blackmail (hilariously, it turns out that he is right!). He freely admits he is an alien and promises to look into the problem of only having two keys for the TARDIS (a problem that causes them endless trouble!). He is an old romantic at heart and revels in the attention of being thought of as a celebrity. He gets angry when he makes mistakes with his calculations and is something of an expert in spaceship design and atomic engineering.

Schoolteachers in Love: City at World’s End focuses far more on the Doctor and Susan than Ian and Barbara but as usual their page space is filled with great moments. There is something special about this first set of regulars that has been unmatched ever since, the sense of family and needing each other, particularly Ian and Barbara, is extremely palpable.

This books proves how much Ian has softened towards the Doctor, he realises how guilty the old man must be feeling when his curiosity leads to them losing the girls (to possible injury or death) and refuses to make him feel guilty about it (compare this to his attack on him in The Daleks). The death of an individual Ian can understand but the death of a world…he could accept it intellectually but not in his heart. Poor old Barbara spends most of the book trapped under rubble, crawling along filthy underground walkways and being forced to work in a labour camp. To his credit Ian cannot sleep or eat whilst she is missing, worried sick about her for the novels entire length.

Unearthly Child: To outward appearances and some mannerisms Susan is still a teenage girl but Ian sensed a personality of great strength and boldness developing in her. She knows there is a way to heal herself but it was a skill she had never used before. It shows something of Susan’s strength of character that her duplicate (who has all of her memories and feelings) is willing to sacrifice herself to launch the Lander into space and save the remaining survivors on Sarath.

Twists: The magnificent city, dwarfed by the huge colony saving spaceship is a great image and captured to perfection on the striking cover, easily the best one of the PDA range to date. Fire rains down on the city in huge burning meteorites, the roof deck of the building containing the TARDIS crashes down into its hollow interior, burying Barbara. Why are there dummies driving the cars and hollow buildings? Sarath’s moon is going to hit and crack the planet open like an egg. Chapter Four is excellent, a really claustrophobic piece of writing as Barbara tries to escape from the ruins of the tower (after just seeing World Trade Center this was even more stifling). In a truly eerie sequence fugitives discover dummies on trains and robots on the streets, society pretending as though everything is normal. Before the war there were over 5 million people but afterwards there was fewer than 80,000 and to boost morale and fool the enemy they tried to make the city look alive. Barbara is washed away when the dam bursts, just seconds away from reaching Ian. She finds Susan but then both of them are eaten by the ravenous Creeper! The people of Sarath are revealed to be descendants of Earth. Susan is re-captured by shot and the Doctor realises she is an android duplicate! The core of the moon explodes with spectacular style, splitting the body into two halves, the smaller of which will hit the surface of Sarath in 8 hours! The Taklarians are planning to raid the ship and breed with the Akavians and start a new colony on Mirath. The prisoners are going to be poisoned. The Ship is revealed to be a monstrous deception, the people are taken aboard and anaesthetised and then killed when the ship explodes in a massive explosion. When they realised they couldn’t save everybody it was decided to make sure their last moments were filled with hope, to continue to build the ship and let the people feel as though they would escape, it was considered more humane than letting them know they would all die. A second project was secretly organised with a much smaller ship, a Lander, this is where all the missing NC2’s have vanished to, shipped off for slave labour. Monitor turns on Draad because he too wants to survive, he figures with everybody going to Mirath they will have to lower their technological dependence to survive. The duplicates were created by Monitor as his own personal army when the time was needed. Captain Lant is revealed to be a duplicate, the last of a barrage of great twists. The Doctor uses a small cube, a portion of folded space; to get the NC2’s onto the Lander without increasing their payload. The Susan android is immortalised as ‘the Pilot’ in New Arkhaven City.

Embarrassing Bits: Are the people on this planet thick? There are three massive deceptions in this book, admittedly they all pay off beautifully in the text but they just serve to make the people of Arkhaven come across as totally, utterly thick.

Result: Far better than anything we ever have come to expect from Christopher Bulis, this is an all plot mystery book which actually gets better as it goes along, climaxing in a final 50 pages that are unputdownable and full of great shocks. I have always loved the original TARDIS team and whilst this story hardly utilises them at their best they are captured well, and allow the story to branch of in several interesting directions, the plot attaching one twist to each of their plotlines. The book is full of some lovely images and even some good action sequences and the pace never really lets up. Bulis might not have a firm grasp of characterisation but there are some nice secondary characters featured (all with their secrets) and a book full of such intruiging mysteries and powered by a theme as strong as this (planet on edge of destruction…) is worthy of our attention: 7/10

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