Friday, 29 January 2010

Human Nature by Paul Cornell

Plot: Recovering from their experiences in war torn France, the Doctor and Bernice recuperate in England 1914. Tired and frightened of what he has become the Doctor chooses to live the life of a human being for a few months. Bernice builds a life for herself whilst John Smith falls in love with teacher Joan Redfern…

Master Manipulator: We follow the best Benny book with the best seventh Doctor book. This novel lives and breathes his character, despite the fact he only appears at the beginning and the end. John Smith is such a terrific invention and his slow realisation of what he really is takes the reader on an incredible journey to discovering who the Doctor is and why he behaves the way he does. Moments of this book touch on utter perfection when handling his character.

John Smith is a delightful character, absent minded, cheeky, emotional, witty, frantic and terrific fun to be around. He interferes in other teachers lessons; he couldn’t help but laugh when Mrs Denman stated Darwin’s theories were unproven. His banter with Joan Redfern is delightful and they banter together like children. Joan is so full of life she makes Smith want to write. Hilariously Smith thinks Joan doesn’t like him because she always beats him at whist and wants to cook him dinner to show off! He practices kissing on a tree! Their first kiss, leaning in as they both tickle Wolsey’s belly is just wonderful. Bernice thinks he did it for a change, to take a holiday from being him. Smith and Joan hold hands in a sunny meadow, eyes closed and listen to birdsong. Smith would rather change his ideals than make Joan change hers. Blackberry jam and marriage, the pair of teachers are blissfully happy together (their talk of marriage and cocoa is, for once, a delightful fan touch). He hunts obsessively for an umbrella but cannot think why. He desperately wants Joan to stay the night but knows it is a dangerous though. He wishes he wasn’t so odd, oblivious to the fact that that is one of the reasons she adores him. The crux of the novel comes when Smith with Benny at one shoulder calling him ‘Doctor’ and Joan at the other calling him ‘John’ has to choose between the gun and the umbrella. ‘I know he’s real’ he admits of the Doctor ‘He wouldn’t kill them, would he?’ Smith just starts getting used to the idea of being the ‘universal righter of wrongs and protector of cats’ when he discovers the Doctor has two hearts but no capacity to love. He decides to give the Aubertides the biopod. Smith clutches at a memory of a mentor sitting alone on a mountainside. He admits to Joan: ‘I’ve gained so much being human, I know I have. Because I have you. And the Doctor didn’t.’ Gleefully they pretend they are already married. The Doctor is like Smith, only inhuman and dangerous. He loves greatly but not small-y. When Smith decides to sacrifice the Doctor for Joan it is such a big gesture it makes him, in her emotions, every inch her husband. After Smith is shown a vision of Gallifrey where the Aubertides have invaded and are murdering the population for the secrets of the Matrix, he declares; ‘It’s too big for me to care about. I can’t care about everything!’ Smith realises being the Doctor is about not being cruel and not being afraid. He loves Joan so much he becomes the Doctor again to save her, sacrificing their love for her life. The Doctor admits to Joan he dreams of one day ending his travels and allowing himself to experience dangerous love. Joan gives him Wolsey to look after him. Alone in the console room, Wolsey spots the Doctor weeping for his lost love.

In the most beautiful moment of the entire range we discover why the Doctor has become human: ‘I found I was hurting people terribly. I’d climbed back on the wheel. Become a bully. Which is why I decided to stop.’ How could you not fall in love with the man after this admission. Astonishing characterisation.

Boozy Babe: Bernice works so beautifully as the seventh Doctor’s sole companion, doesn’t she? What a shame they didn’t have any more time alone together as they are clearly made for each other. She opens the book trying to recover from her heartache surrounding Guy but the Doctor is acting sad when she needs him to be happy. She had long ago made the decision to sacrifice any chance of trim thighs to enjoy beer. Through the eyes of Bernice on her bicycle, Cornell manages to populate Farringham economically but vividly. She has spent so much of her life alone. Alexander comforts Bernice: ‘Just because you and I have lost our sweethearts, don’t lets get bitter, eh?’ Benny hates combat and hated people who played it for a living and got close to enjoying it. She wouldn’t change one lovely inch of herself (and neither would we). As Hutchinson and his gang close in on Greeneye, Lord of the Flies style, Bernice throws herself on him and declares ‘Nobody else dies!’ When Smith admits he wants to save Joan as himself and not the Doctor, Benny kisses him on the head and admits, ‘You’re beautiful.’ With both of their hearts broken, the Doctor and Bernice relish the warmth of their friendship and close the book closer than ever, walking into town for tea and crumpets. The way Benny does not force the Smith to become the Doctor not matter how much she wants him back says so much about her character.

Twists: So much of this book is based on character twists as listed above but here goes… Greeneye pretends to be the Tenth Doctor (oh the irony!) to trick Benny into telling him where the biopod is. Benny being pursued through the woods by the red balloon is a disturbing image. Tim’s character arc is very revealing, from bullied worm to a strong objector, the biopod whispers intriguing secrets about the Doctor’s character to him. Smith’s children story features an inventor who creates the planet of Gallifrey but gets bored and runs away from the people there. The scene where Tim is hung out the window made my breath stop, the gift of a respiratory bypass system from the biopod a fabulously unexpected moment. Alexander looks into the history machine and sees his lover choking to death on poison gas. The Aubetides can eat anything organic and duplicate the matter. From one cell they can take on the memory of what they eat. The Aubertides want the attributes of a Time Lord, 13 lives to have children and let the family grow until they can take on entire worlds. Time Lords often long for different lives and the Doctor walk straight into their trap. With great sadness on his shoulders he wanted to become human. They granted his wish and planned on picking up the biopod full of Time Lord biology. Rocastle is a deeply conflicted character, occasionally uncomfortable to read about. The Aubrtides besiege the grand Hall in a top dramatic moment. In a gory moment Phipps head explodes. Aphasia is killed and consumed by the family. The Aubertides release a fusion bomb which devastates the town. The TARDIS is described as magic in the corner of a cold world.

Funny bits: Smith pulls out a pink fluffy slipper to administer a beating to Tim.
Okay it’s not in the book but the first time I typed Aubertides it tried to turn it in Aubergines!

Result: What a run of form for the New Adventures. Human Nature is adored by a certain group of fandom and I have to join them, after the bleakness of so many of these Virgin novels Human Nature reads like a heart-warming and deliciously told fairytale. It is a book which cherishes life and explores love and identity in incredibly profound ways. It gives us John Smith, a delightfully eccentric and wonderful man and explores his touching and witty romance with Joan Redfern. The TV episodes and Father Time (both similarly excellent) have provoked comparisons but this was the first time anything like this had been attempted and it is a total success. Cornell has never been about plot and once we are a third into the novel it rattles along in one evening for the rest of the book but which gives the second half an incredible sense of pace and urgency. The accomplished prose sings and at moments the dialogue gave me goose bumps. With Sanctuary this forms a peak of quality the rest of the series would have to live up to, the team of the Doctor and Bernice once again proving to be the highlight of the range. I read this in one morning, unable to put it down as Smith faced up to fact that he cannot hide from who he really is. I don’t give a stuff about canon, this and the TV version are completely different beasts and they are both fabulous: 10/10

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Burning by Justin Richards

Plot: Things are changing in the run down town called Middletown. The clapped out mine is re-opening and a new substance is being mined. A substance which has the ability to remember its form, to transform into creatures of fire, to consume everything that gets in its path…it takes a lost, lonely man who stumbles into town with no memory of his past to stand up to its evil plans…

Top Doc: Welcome to the beginning of the eighth Doctor’s novel adventures. This is where it all begins folks; forget about that chirpy, goofy, useless shit we have been travelling with for the past 37 books. He was a momentary (yeah right) aberration, a glitch in the Doctor’s otherwise glorious personality. The Doctor has now lost his memory and past thanks to the events in The Ancestor Cell and he is a far more interesting, less predictable sort of guy. He is described as having a laugh full of life and the sort of man who lives a life full of interesting things to do and interesting people to meet. He states: “Doing nothing tires me.” He has no idea what the black cube in his pocket is (The TARDIS, recuperating from events in the last book). He manages to insinuate himself into peoples company with deceptive ease, expertly making people believe he is a friend of the next person in a crowd. He is contemplative at points and very quickly irritated at others (“Perhaps it would be best if I gave up and left you all to your fate!”). He exudes experience and confidence and can be extremely callous at times (a huge difference to the old eighth Doctor…his reaction to a man’s horrifying death in this book is, “Interesting, isn’t it?”). He likes to pour on the atmosphere (“There is evil all around us…”). When Dobbs is murdered he is shocked (nice to know he still has some feelings) but is sensible enough to put his personal shock aside and deal with the crisis at hand. He has moments of explosive anger and a lack of feeling for others emotions (“Yes you should have” he says to Stobbold when his daughter dies and he contemplates her life trapped with him, “but its too late now.”).

  Most importantly it proves the Doctor does not need a companion to work. He is pretty sinister here, but a tragic figure too. The last act he performs to really prove he is a changed man comes at the climax where he kicks Nepath into the river, effectively killing him. It is one of those fantastic moments when the Doctor really shocks you and proves this will be an interesting ride with this unpredictable character. The last scene of him leaving Middletown, in search of answers about his life, is genuinely touching.

Foreboding: The black cube transforms into a bare blue rectangular box, the TARDIS slowly taking back its old form. The answers to how the creatures in this book came about is hardly needed but for those who are willing to hang about enjoy these adventures will be rewarded with a surprise twist at the end of Justin Richard’s Time Zero, a book which, with The Burning, effectively boxes in what I consider to be one of the best runs of Doctor Who books there is.

Twists: The fissure cracks open the ground of Middletown in a wonderfully ominous opening. Paranormal investigators Dobbs and Stobbold are a great pair, an 18th Century Mulder and Scully! The triple cheat of making us think the Doctor has arrived in the book is fun, especially when he turns up at dinner without anyone noticing! Gaddis’ death isn’t that memorable, but Dobbs’ reaction certainly is. The Doctor and Dobbs’ midnight sojourn to Urton’s house is wonderfully nailbiting, they discover the burnt remains of Patience and are attacked by the tenants from the darkness with glowing eyes… Considering this is Doctor Who going back to its simple, effective roots there is a lovely parallel between Stobbold and his daughter and the first Doctor and Susan, in both cases they have become young women who stay with their relatives out of loyalty and protection. When the fire creatures emerged from the wall in the mine and murdered Dobbs I was very upset. Betty bursts into flames, the moor land erupts with lava and men of crackling fire emerge from the mine to kill the population…its all happening at the climax! The scene where Patience comes back to life is brill. I loved it when the military attempted to fight back and their guns exploded, made out of the same material as the fire creatures and the remains start to reshape into more monsters… The ending feels genuinely apocalyptic and I was awash with excitement when the Dam burst open and washed out all of the evil. The Doctor’s savage kick, killing Nepath, is a real shocker. Stobbold’s reunion with his daughter broke my heart.

Funny bits: The Doctor delights in winding Nepath up, calling his trinkets bric-a-brac and going as far as snoring through Nepath’s auction of his interesting and unusual artefacts.

Embarrassing bits: “How will we defeat this evil” says Stobbold. “We need a great load of water!” says the Doctor. “Where are we going to get that from?” says Stobbold. Oh wait, there just happens to be a handy dam nearby…

Result: Glorious, a book that looks to the future (offering us a fantastic new take on the eighth Doctor) and looks back to the past (giving us a traditional Doctor Who story with ALL the trimmings) in all the best ways. This is Justin Richards’ most surprising book, predictable as hell (which he rarely is) but containing some truly atmospheric prose (which he rarely is either!). The characterisation is fantastic and the book is packed full of memorable moments, the enemy is vivid and terrifying and there are a number of deaths that really shock you. This is exactly how the eighth Doctor books should have originally started, with a genuinely unsettling Doctor, some delicious scares and lots of intelligent detail. I really couldn’t put this down. A re-format that works on every level, and leaves you hungry for the next instalment: 9/10

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Sanctuary by David A. McIntee

Plot: The Doctor and Bernice are stranded in medieval France, the Church inflicting savage brutalities on what they consider to be heretics. They hole up in a besieged fortress and while the Doctor begins a murder investigation Bernice finds herself drawn to an embittered mercenary who has made the heretics fight his own. History is about to teach the archaeology professor a very uncomfortable lesson…

Master Manipulator: ‘With the whole universe full of troubles and turmoil’s I sometimes wonder what difference can one man make?’ Tempus Fugit is the Doctor’s restaurant. He boasts that he can tell what planet he is on as soon as he steps on it (we know better, Doc). He is described as a scholar, an explorer, that sort of thing. He sneakily tricks a torturer into thinking the prisoner is dead (he is really unconscious) and helps him to escape when it gets dark. He quotes: ‘Battle not with monsters, lest a monster you become.’ In a truly astonishing moment the Doctor creeps into Louis’ bedchamber and reaches for his dagger but only upon discovering he is sharing his bed with a woman does he withdraw. That scene is shocking in its implications. He watches darkly as Bernice and Guy get close. The Doctor is like an owl (really, because that has never been mentioned before), comfortable in the darkness as they are and equally as adept at hunting down prey in cold blood. In an unexpected moment of pathos for his companion the Doctor offers to let Guy come with them.

Boozy Babe: This is probably the ultimate Bernice New Adventure before she inherited her own series. David A. McIntee deserves kudos for getting her character so absolutely perfect throughout, highlighting so many of her strengths (and a few of her weaknesses) but always making her utterly lovable and thoroughly believable. It has been said that her relationship with Guy is far more emotional and believable than any of Ace’s flings and for once that reputation is correct. This is not about lust although they clearly fancy the pants off each other but mutual respect and compassion. It’s about love.

The way Bernice takes on a whole gang of bandits with her akido is so cool. Guy thinks Bernice is beautiful and her smile is infectious. She is revealed as being very humane, volunteering to accompany Guy on a dangerous reconnaissance mission in case her medical services are required. Guy tries to keep himself busy so not to be distracted by her beauty. He loves that she understands him but doesn’t use that knowledge to manipulate him. When Guy admits that he is trying to court, Bernice is dumbfounded. Ace might have been the brief fling type but most certainly was not, no matter how cute he might be! She is an oddly independent woman. Benny’s birthplace is Vandor prime in the Gamma Delphinus system which was besieged by the Daleks, bombarded night and day. They killed her mother as she watched. With a skeleton dead for centuries Benny is a wonderful detective but talking to suspects was another matter altogether. She volunteers to be the first person on a night watch in case Guy decides not to wake her out of chivalry…ironically she does not wake him for his shift! She asks him: ‘Do you still say a man who believes in anything is a fool?’ ‘I believe in you.’ Bernice’s wit, wisdom and compassion, though sometimes distant, were at least always refreshingly honest. She had wondered on occasion what it would take to drive her to be like Ace. Killing Jeanne in cold blood would be too Daleky for her so she tells her of the coming massacre and the flames that will consume her. It is a shockingly unforgiving moment for Benny. Guy realises he will never have a peaceful life and to pursue a relationship with Benny risked exposing her to dangers and despair and the only way to avoid this happening was for them to stay apart. ‘She is but one woman. There will be others to be sure’ he tells himself but does not believe a word of it. After Benny is dragged into the TARDIS and forced to leave Guy to die the Doctor wraps her in blankets as shock takes hold and she shakes uncontrollably. She hadn’t realised that it was possible to feel so cold and lonely, with no other emotions intruding. She felt she’d never really leave this place behind, not inside.

Benny’s romance with Guy works so well because they are both written with such honesty and warmth. Their playful courtship is charming and her powerful reaction at the conclusion (‘We have to go back! I can’t let him die!’) is heartbreaking because they were so close to the sanctuary of the TARDIS. You feel for Benny far more than you ever did with Ace because her reactions are so much more believable, she doesn’t attempt to claw the Doctor’s eyes out for looking out for her, she calmly asks to be taken as far away from this place so she can rest and try and recover.

Foreboding: The events of this story lead to the recuperation in the next story, Human Nature…

Twists: Chapter One is a delicious historical bloodbath described with relish the way only McIntee can with action. The Jade Pagoda is the TARDIS life raft. Guy’s reaction to the Church about to burn down a Church with women and children inside as they believe they are heretics appals him. ‘We cannot interfere…’ Page 73 sees the burning of a heretic. Whilst aiding Benny’s escape the Doctor witnesses a man being strangled to death. Pages 144-147 are a thorough walk through the mind of arrogant and religious bigot Louis and his casual disregard of human life, offering heretics salvation in death, is horrifying. With Girard’s death the book becomes a murder mystery, not unwelcomingly. This is followed by the shock moment when the Doctor and Benny discover the Castellan hung. The Doctor’s investigation in the library, uncovering treasures considered heresy because they are produced by other philosophies than Christianity, is excellent reading. Guy running his sword through Phillipe’s head is enough to make Bernice throw up. Girard was hiding a human skull that he believed was Jesus Christ’s but in reality he was tricked into acquiring it by Louis and Guzman to prove the heretics were trying to discredit the Church. Robert the Apocathery is revealed as the spy for the Church, an underwhelming twist I thought until it revealed that Jeanne was the killer…she wanted the money from the skull to provide a better life for her children. In the blood soaked and adrenalin charged conclusion Guy fights his way to Bernice to ensure she reaches the safety of the TARDIS. In a bitter twist she convinces him they can escape in the blue hut the soldiers manage to separate them. As the soldiers start to carve up Guy the Doctor drags Benny into the TARDIS. The image of Jeanne screaming in her locked jail cell as the flames consume her is haunting. Guzman flinging his arms wide to God as people are being burnt and slaughtered around him is a potent image proving that the good guys do not always win.

Funny bits: ‘No man challenges the great God Qui Quae Quod!’ the Doctor bellows brandishing the sonic screwdriver but they charge towards him anyway. He activates the screwdriver and the horses flinch and throw all the riders!

Embarrassing bits: The first three pages constitute an abuse of the English language. The excuses to strip the Doctor and Bernice of the TARDIS are hideous. Far too much bizarre technobabble for a pure historical novel.

Result: A real winner, despite the appalling first 50 pages which flounder and feature some atrocious writing. As soon as the book reaches Roc it grabbed my attention and never let go until the shocking conclusion. McIntee plays to all of his strengths, lavishing attention on a fascinating historical locale, enjoying a number of deliciously bloody sword fights and punching us in the gut with another of his excellently paced and built up twists. The inhabitants of Roc really come to life and each one has a distinctive personality, so much so that the ever lingering massacre at the climax really winds you. The Doctor stands on the morally ambiguous lines of history whilst showing off some formidable detective skills. But this book is really about Bernice who has rarely been this well observed. Her romance with Guy de Carnac is beautifully explored and without any sleazy moments to spoil their charming courtship it remains one of the most successful love affairs the series has presented. The last fifty pages are absolutely nail biting and with powerful imagery lingering in your mind and your emotions exhausted, it succeeds as one of the best examples of its genre. One of the very few times I will not let the few niggling flaws of a book affect my judgement: 10/10

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Stephen Cole highlights...

Now I have reached the end of the Stephen Cole period of the EDAs lets take a look at some of the best he offered us...

Vampire Science by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman
What's it all about?
The Doctor returns to San Francisco with freshman adventurer Sam to discover a gang of Vampires have been sighted. Some want to co-exist with humans but others want to see their days out in a blaze of glory, provoking a war as devastating as the one between the Vampires and the Time Lords. The Doctor has to use all his wits to negotiate with the creatures and makes a deadly bargain with one of their number, a bargain that could see his new body come to a blood-curdling climax...
Why is it so great? This is a book that lives and breathes America and for a show that primarily focuses on Britain for its alien invasions it is a welcome breath of fresh air. Characterisation is strong throughout with the guest characters coming into a league of their own. Carolyn was so popular at the time there were some fans that wished she could travel with the Doctor instead of Sam and in truth she works brilliantly against him. Through her eyes we get to witness the magic and the horror that the Doctor can bring to people's lives. Her husband James comes across as genuine, wanting to scarper as soon as things get edgy. Kramer is the new face of UNIT and she makes an excellent hardened career woman but is gentle enough to warn Sam away from the dangers that travelling with the Doctor will expose her too. Orman and Blum effortlessly write the book between them, their prose style is so seamless it could be just the one of them behind the typewriter. I really enjoyed experiencing Sam's terrifying experiences, she is such a cocky character it was wise to introduce her to the real life nightmares she would be facing. Her experiences in the nightclub are haunting. The book doesn't take the easy way out either, despite flirting with a naive Doctor who thinks he can solve everybody's problems. People die. The Doctor wins the final battle but there are casualties. It is an important lesson he would learn again and again throughout his run, this isn't Time's Champion anymore...
Triumphant lines:
"That didn't change the effect he had on the world around him. He was magic" "It's stupid, that's what it is. He takes so many foolish risks with people like you. Just ordinary people who don't have the training to walk around war zones... " "I just want you to know you have a choice. You don't have to go with him... " - Adrienne Kramer
"Different Vampires. Different rules. Adrienne you must listen to me. Start a war now and it could expand to engulf the Earth - and beyond." - The Doctor
"The Doctor did something Sam had never seen before. He screamed. She stumbled back from him in shock. He threw his arms in front of his eyes, desperate. The sun came up."
"I'm just a boarder. I could leave any time" - Sam
"I can tear down everything you care for, leave you alone and hunted, and all the while make sure they never kill you." - The Doctor
"They're all killers. I don't see why they should live." - Sam
"They're not dead. Not while there is still hope for them." - The Doctor
"This one would be a live kill. Give him the full sensory experience. She rasped her tongue on the man's neck, tasting dirt and skin. He whimpered, bewildered. I can't make you feel what you just made me feel, Doctor. But this will hurt you."
"Vampire Crack Squirrels, James thought, and wished he hadn't."
"Without someone to scare, someone to hurt, someone to kill, someone to feel superior to... what are you? Nothing? You're nothing, Slake!" - the Doctor.
People who say it far better than me...
Bloody Marvellous by Peter Anghelides ("The whole opening chapter is so well-constructed, I think it could stand as a short story in its own right.")
A review by Finn Clark ("If all the BBC Books had been this good, we'd now have a new novel coming out each week and American distributors beating down the BBC's door for the right to carry Doctor Who books.")

Alien Bodies by Lawrence Miles
What’s it all about? There is a building that does not exist where an auction in progress that should not take place. A guest list of oddballs are bargaining for the ultimate prize, the body of a Time lord. The Doctor is shocked to discover the Daleks are on their way…before he learns the body for sale is his own!
Why is it so great? Whoever said less is more? The books have always prided themselves as having a bigger canvas than the TV series, being able to produce the spectacle and realise the imagination in a way that a BBC designer could only dream of (head forward to Miles’ Interference for a good example of this). Where a TV production can shut a few good actors into one set with a good script and produce magic Miles works that trick into a novel, locking together the most impressive cast of characters we have yet seen in the novels. And yet in limiting the cast to one location transcends this and we get glimpses into the past, the future, other realities as we glimpses at these people’s lives. There is an incredibly exciting feeling of the Doctor Who universe being expanded with the introduction of the creepy and unnerving Faction Paradox, the glimpses of a Time War, the humanoid TARDISes, Sam’s dual timeline, the diabolical Celestis, the existential Mr Shift and more importantly the Doctor’s death. The possibilities feel endless. What’s more Miles has an excellent grasp of character and dialogue and makes this a ridiculously entertaining book whilst he is scaring us all to death with some very macabre ideas. This is the book that turned the EDAs from a tidy book series to risk taking engine of storytelling. Alien Bodies is about as good as Doctor Who literature comes; it is shocking, daring and imaginative, Lawrence Miles produces such an accomplished piece you don’t bat an eyelid that he has forgotten to include a narrative.
Triumphant lines:
‘Who Qixotl? Whose body is it?’ ‘Look I know you’re upset…’ ‘Whose body?’ ‘Yours,’ he squeaked. ‘Sorry.’
‘If you’re so determined to put the whole universe in jeopardy why didn’t you just go the whole hog? Why didn’t you just invite the Daleks?’ Pause. ‘You didn’t?’ At least Qixotl tried to look apologetic.
‘It means the Daleks you may have invited are a no show. The Krotons have come to take their place.’
‘Yup. Listen if it helps you’re not going to snuff it until…’
‘Who am I?’ Sam asked, ‘Who am I meant to be?’
People who say it better than me:
Universe in a Bottle by Mike Morris:
(“What is the premise of Alien Bodies then? Simple. A bunch of people meet up in a mysterious building in a forest, we find out their individual stories, and by so doing the tapestry of their universe unfolds before our eyes. And so, while one might think Alien Bodies is revolutionary, it's actually reminiscent of a very traditional type of story. Forget The Deadly Assassin; it's actually a SF descendant of The Canterbury Tales, or even more so The Castle Of Crossed Destinies. This is something which hasn't been done in Doctor Who before or since, largely because this type of book requires an amazing level of invention. Its purpose is to squeeze an entire universe into a single building and the stories of a few people, which is a hell of a trick to pull off, and Lawrence Miles does it so well that we don't even notice.”)
Wow by Robert Smith? (“In summary, this is a book that is simply a must read for DW fans everywhere. It reconfigures the Whoniverse, provides lots and lots of hints about what is to come in many of the important elements of the DW universe and is basically a fascinating read. It feels like everything that made DW good is back after an enforced absence. I certainly wouldn't want a book like this every month and I hope there are a number of completely separate story arcs waiting to be developed for the eighth Doctor line, but this is a first step in the right direction and it's a very good first step. This book isn't simply recommended, it's firmly placed on the 'required reading' list for any students of the DW universe.”)

Seeing I by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman
What is it all about?
Sam is homeless on the colony world of Ha'olam and trying to come to terms with the recent drama between her and the Doctor. The Doctor is trying to find her and for his efforts is soon confined to a hellish prison where everybody is nice. INC has acquired mysterious eye implants from an unknown alien source, a presence that is waiting in the shadows watching their progress. Can the Doctor and Sam rebuild their life together? Will they live to find each other and defeat the I... ?
Why is it so great? A plethora of reasons. It is a compliment to the skill of Orman and Blum's writing that I have skipped from their last novel to this and here they overcame the hurdle of co-writing a novel together but cutting the plot in two and each having a bloody good stab. After a string of novels that feels as though the Doctor and Sam are trapped in a childish soap OrmanBlum decide to deal with their rocky relationship with maturity and intelligence. Within the confines of Seeing I Sam is the BEST companion for the Eighth Doctor, accept no imitations because their separation proves (once and for all) how much they yearn to be a part of each other's lives and how much they love each other. The essential wrongness of their separation screams from every page and the trials they go through (Sam having to build up a new life on an alien planet, the Doctor experiencing psychological hell in prison) to reunite are convincing enough to make their relationship at the end of the novel far more interesting and balanced than it was before. It should be mentioned that the book takes a detour into SF land in the last third which completely shifts the story away from the regulars' personal lives but for the most part this is an outstanding straight drama unlike anything we have ever seen before or since. The Doctor has never come up against a greater adversary than his own isolation. In some memorably disturbing scenes his three years in prison almost drive him mad.
Triumphant lines...
"She can't be the first one who's had to build a life after being with the Doctor - hell, she'd already met a bunch of his ex-friends who had gone on fighting for what they'd believed in. If she had to damn well change everything about herself, she'd do it, and by the end of it she'd have a nice real job and a real place to live and a real her."
"Of course you realise this means war" - the Doctor.
"She realised she didn't really like the way he snored, and he got irritated when he had to tell her for the third time what his favourite colour was, and they both found themselves noticing the pauses in their conversations more and more" - in an incredible chapter of Sam's life she falls in and out of love, written in such a beautiful fashion it could only come from a writer who has experienced such pain.
"After a while the hunger stopped bothering me. I just switched it off. But the boredom... you can't switch that off. All the memories and meditations and word games simply dry up after a while. And you're left aware of every moment that passes. Every second. One after the other." - the Doctor sums up his imprisonment.
"Finally" - the Doctor's quiet admission when he is finally attacked in prison, at last he has something to fight.
"Three years of nothing" - the Doctor admits his horror in prison to Sam.
"And she planted an almighty smooch on his lips. When she broke away, she noted with some satisfaction that she felt absolutely no compunction to do it again." - to the relief of everyone, Sam is finally over the Doctor.
People who say it far better than me...
A review by Andrew McCaffrey ("There was one moment while in Seeing I where I cheered out loud. It was the passage in which Sam Jones (having run out on the Doctor in an earlier book) gets fed up with her boring, routine, desk-bound, nine-to-five job and quits to try to make a life for herself that means something. And this portion demonstrates the strength of this book. No longer is Sam merely Generic Companion #1, but a thinking, living, human character who's forced to deal with life after her first series of travels in the TARDIS.")
"Doctor, I love you" by Joe Ford ("This book comes close to being the perfect Doctor Who story without ever being a Doctor Who story at all. It is so far removed from anything I would recognise as Doctor Who and yet embodies so much of what I love about the show, and the book series in particular.")

The Scarlet Empress by Paul Magrs
What's it all about? The Doctor and Sam team up with the unforgettable Iris Wildthyme on Hyspero, a planet of impossible magic. They embark on a quest across deserts, mountains, forests and oceans to reunite the Four and overthrow the tyrant Scarlet Empress...
Why is it so great? The ultimate Doctor Who fantasy written by an author who wants to take the novel line away from human angst and remind you of the glorious enchantment of Doctor Who. It is Paul Magrs' best book for the BBC because of the density of the prose. Pick any page at random and you will find a glorious description or a priceless line of dialogue. He takes the reader on journey through a very alien world and involves his three central characters in some hilarious and dangerous situations. It is impossible to skip over the influence of the mighty Iris Wildthyme; the anti-Doctor in many ways (female, reckless and selfish) but so like him in others (an adventuress, heroic and fun to be around). Her debut is stunning, allowing the normally bland eighth Doctor to lock horns with this emotional Time Lady. If the Doctor were to fall in love with anybody, it would have to be Iris. Enjoy the spirits, djinns, alligator men and golden bears... this is a wild magic trip.
Triumphant lines...
"It happened to me. Seven of me were taken to the Death Zone on Gallifrey. Someone had reactivated the Games, they used to play there. Each of my selves, present, past and future, was given a relevant companion and playmate, and we were forced to battle our separate, and then collective ways, past Ice Warriors, Ogrons, Sea Devils, Zarbi, Mechanoids and Quarks, to get to the Dark Tower. Good job we only got the rubbishy monsters to battle, eh? It was that rogue Morbius behind it all. The rogue was after Rassilon's gift of immortality!" - one of several of Iris' story stealing from the Doctor. Paul Magrs pokes fun at the TV series and an army of anal fans brew up a storm.
"You've never been put on trial, exiled, summoned to carry out ridiculous tasks, dragged back to your ancestral home to atone for sins that weren't even yours... I think I rather envy you Iris. You've had, in many ways, the life I wanted for myself." - the Doctor.
"The storm chose this moment to break, and unleash a great, dark torrent upon Fortalice. Rain crashed on to the shabby rooftops and cascaded in the streets, creating instant floods which, gathering speed, seemed to be sluicing the townspeople away. The lightning cracked open the dense sky and was followed by the inevitable, bronchial mutter of thunder." - Magrs' formidable skill of description at work.
"You sound a mite like that last incarnation of yours. A portentous little feller, swaggering around, thinking he's got all the world's darkest secrets under his hat. Defending the secrets of time, indeed. Guardian of Forever. Time's Champion, my arse. You were a pretentious old thing then, Doctor, and you got on my nerves, frankly." - Iris sums up the seventh Doctor, rather brilliantly.
"A spider, a little larger than the original spider, fashioned entirely from silver and glass. Its brittle legs hissed and snapped and sparkled as it tested them out, as if it was a newborn creature. The ten eyes of the Duchess surmounted the original faceted eyes of the spider like a cluster of bright jewels studding the pommel of a sword. Those vastly improved eyes drank in the light" - wow.
People who say it better than me...
A review by Finn Clark ("A TARDIS journey for the first time is truly magical. This book is wonderful, in the strictest sense of the word. It's full of wonders.")
A review by Terrence Keenan ("Magrs is out to mess with readers' minds, fanboys' minds and give everyone and everything a V-sign/middle finger and boot in the rear. He does all this to get reactions, which is what challenging writers do... So, in The Scarlet Empress, Magrs is on a mission to play games with continuity, storytelling and anything else he can get away with. And this time, he succeeds.")

Interference (Books one and two) by Lawrence Miles
What's it all about? The Doctor investigates the Cold, a new weapon which makes people disappear instantly. Sam is kidnapped and taken to Anathema, home of the Remote, an offshoot of Faction Paradox. Fitz is frozen and woken up in the 26th century where the Faction kidnaps him. The third Doctor visits Dust after a conference with his eighth self, warning him that there could be possible interference in their time stream. What is the truth behind the deadly Cold? Who is the mysterious IM Foreman and what relevance does he have on the Doctor's life? And what is the fate of Fitz, trapped in the future and in the Factions grasp? And is this the end of Sam?
Why is it so good? It has scope like no other Doctor Who story, before or since. It takes a handful of characters and takes them down unpredictable, fascinating paths. The joy of the eighth Doctor line is its continuing story, which allows for terrific evolution for the characters. Interference goes one further by daring to mess around with previously written continuity, paradoxically killing the third Doctor and thus spreading an infection through his timeline until it reaches the eighth and he becomes a fully fledged member of the Faction. And what shocks! Sam leaves, befriending Sarah Jane (who makes a welcome return, written to perfection). The real Fitz is twisted into Father Kreiner, a Faction agent who hates the Doctor for his fate and the Fitz we leave the book with is merely a remembered version of the real thing. After two years of yawn-inducing adventures somebody has decided to shake up the regulars in a spectacularly dramatic fashion and it works a treat. Lawrence Miles writes like no other, his book full of twisted observations, hilarious dialogue, intelligent discussions and imaginative ways of telling a scene (scripting scenes, telling a chapter from each of the character's POVs). This is an incredibly brave book for the eighth Doctor range to put out, with consequences that change the series for the better. Packed full of clever, imaginative ideas and stunning characterisation, you can almost forget this is two hundred pages too long but nothing can take away from the power of the finished result.
Triumphant lines...
"The roundels were all turning pink as if the blood had been building up behind the walls, trying to burst through the access panels." - the third Doctor and Sarah face the console room filling with blood, a sure sign that they are moving from the innocent adventuring of old to the grimmer nightmares of the eighth Doctor's life.
"I feel as if I've walked into the middle of someone else's adventure." The third Doctor confirms our suspicions.
"I love you," said Sam. The Doctor looked up at the ceiling again. "Do you know, I know exactly what you mean by that" - the Doctor and Sam say goodbye.
"You're going to say I can't kill him. If I kill him now then his future selves will never have existed. But I don't care. I was with the Faction. I'm not going to let a Paradox get in my way." - Fitz wants to kill the Doctor, whatever body he is wearing, for abandoning him to the Faction.
"This is wrong" - the third Doctor's last line before he dies on Dust.
People who say it better than me...
Deconstructing the Doctor by Marcus Salisbury ("Interference renewed my fascination with a series I've watched, on and off, since the mid-1970s. This is Doctor Who truly holding its own with the greats of science fiction, and there really is no higher praise.")
It's so bloody big by Mike Morris ("It's impossible for me to go into specifics without giving the game away. But this book is wonderful, completely fucks around with continuity and leaves you re-evaluating the series, and completely fucks up your head while you're at it. You can get annoyed about this if you like, but why bother? Why not just enjoy what you're reading, and dump as many preconceptions about Doctor Who as you can?")

The Shadows of Avalon by Paul Cornell
What's it all about? The Brigadier's wife, Doris, is dead and he joins the TARDIS crew in Avalon, an other-dimensional kingdom. The TARDIS has been destroyed and the Doctor is marooned and caught in the crossfire as the British Army arrives in force to explore the Land of Dreams. Gallifreyan agents wreck havoc during the negotiations and before anybody realises it war breaks out. Can the Doctor save the world, his best friend and himself?
Why is it so great? Paul Cornell said he hated this book in a recent DWM, which I find hard to swallow because it has always been one of my favourites. He is the angst king, he puts his characters through real emotional turmoil and he has a fine target here in the Brigadier. Grieving for his wife, it is possibly the best exploration of this character in print to date with some scenes (carrying the wounded soldier to safety) enough to bring tears to your eyes. The central plot is fascinating and explores humanity in a very negative light as we bring our guns and bombs to the Land of Dreams. The eighth Doctor gets one of his best interpretations to date, an engaging mix of boyish charm and hidden aggression as he is stripped of everything he holds dear. Some of the scenes between him and the Brigadier bristle with emotion. It is a real treat to return to Gallifrey and the regenerated Romana, the black haired bitch, is now the enemy. Shocking developments with Compassion as she unexpectedly becomes a TARDIS and bringing the series full circle as the Doctor is once again on the run from his own people. A beautiful story of loss and life, written in Cornell's trademark style.
Triumphant lines...
"The TARDIS exploded into a ball of flame and matter" - gasp!
"So you dare to do this in the Land of Dreams?" the Doctor whispered. "Such arrogance. Such interference. There's bound to be a war you know?" - the Doctor condemns the invasion of Avalon.
"You never used to be a hypocrite Alistair. Whatever's happened to you, this regeneration doesn't suit you."
"Finally he nodded to himself. He was finished here. 'Sorry to keep you waiting dear.' He started to squeeze the trigger." - the Brigadier on the brink of suicide.
The Brigadier squatted beside him. 'Don't be ridiculous, Private. If I got killed...' And the thought suddenly struck him that what he was about to say was true. That, incredibly it must have been true when he started this walk. He found himself smiling at how ridiculous it was that he had come all this way to discover that. 'If I got killed then I couldn't get you home'" - a life-affirming message as the Brigadier realises there are still reasons to live.
"'You can't fight history,' she said, quite calmly 'We'll catch up with you. We'll take back the type 102 and have our new race of time capsules. There's nowhere in the universe you can hide from us'" - Romana issues her threat as the Doctor escapes in his spanking new Compassion TARDIS.
People who say it better than me...
A review by Mike Morris ("On this point, something else became clear to me as I read the book. The Eighth Doctor is no longer McGann. When reading, say, a PDA, the ultimate test of whether the Doctor is well written or not is whether you can visualise the actor saying the words. Not here, not any more. The Eighth Doctor has fully evolved into a print-Doctor, free from the tyranny of our TV-sodden minds. And the writers recently seem to be revelling in this.")
When did the EDAs become good? by Robert Smith? ("For the first time in a very long time, the EDAs are interesting. I'm left desperately wondering where things are going from here and that's a very nice feeling indeed. A feeling I haven't felt since the NAs.")

The Banquo Legacy by Andy Lane and Justin Richards
What's it all about? Scientist Richard Harries is preparing to push the boundaries of science further, this time the science of the mind. He is attempting an experiment to share thoughts with his sister. The equipment overloads and Richard is tragically killed. But foul play is apparent when his corpse staggers to his feet and starts attacking the gathered guests at Banquo Manor... The Doctor is concerned, Compassion is under attack, a Time Lord agent has tracked them down and it is perfectly obvious that their time on the run is coming to an end...
Why is it do great? One of the most atmospheric Doctor Who books written, thanks to the perfectly captured period details and the spine-chilling horror of the situation. It is a welcome return of Andy Lane to the novel line, easily one of the most accomplished novelists and teaming up with one of the current greats. Together they create a fabulous murder mystery, told from the first person of two very different characters. Suspicion is rife in the house and with a killer on the loose and a Time Lord agent to uncover, the sense of paranoia is palpable. The last third takes a lurch into zombie territory but does so with such aplomb it is hard not to applaud the authors for their From Dusk Till Dawn -style genre twist. Some of the scenes with the blackened, bloody Richard Harries terrorising the Doctor and his friends are memorably scary and the uncovering of his sister as the culprit is a stroke of genius. The climax is also superbly judged with time running out for the Doctor, the Time Lords finally know where he is...
Triumphant lines...
"'The control is not subconscious. We know exactly what we are doing. We have always known.' Baker's mouth dropped open, and with the immaculate timing of melodrama and the precision of the commedia dell'arte, Richard Harries' bloodied form stepped into the doorway beside his sister..." - my favourite moment of the book. A real "oh shit" scene.
"The light gleamed greasily from the exposed of the skull, and the line of his teeth was a malicious smile matched in his one remaining eye." - ewww. "The broken, blackened face of Richard Harries stared down at us from the window, his own single remaining eye catching the moonlight and blazing as if it were again burning, melting, dripping like its twin from its socket." - double ewww.
"As we plunged back into the woodland I saw Harries' dead face watching us from the shattered window of the shed, framed by splintered glass." - I could keep quoting these nightmarish images all day!
People who say it better than me...
Superb stuff by Robert Smith? ("The murder mystery style of the book works far, far better than Yet Another Horror Novel, as I thought we'd be getting. The clues are very nicely presented and the plot twists and turns sublimely. The search through the house, with chapters lasting less than a page, is astonishingly gripping stuff.")
Totally brilliant by Richard Radcliffe ("From its macabre cover, to the personal reminisces of Stratford and Hopkinson - this is gothic Dr Who at its very best. Lane and Richards have taken all the aspects of gothic Who and grafted it into a story rich in interest and excitement.")

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Ancestor Cell by Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole

Plot: Has the Doctor finally succumbed to Faction Paradox? Is Gallifrey finally about to face its terrifying Enemy? Will Compassion be force bred into a new race of slave TARDISes? And will Fitz finally come face to face with the REAL Fitz Kreiner…?

Top Doc: You really cannot fault the Doctor’s portrayal here, especially his vicious condemnation of his own people, which feels perfect (“Why don’t you just do something?” he screams at their impotence). His disgust at hearing Romana’s title as War Queen was brilliant. He still has a morbid fear of hospitals. Is described as acquiring companions by dragging them into fearful situations and turning them into sheep. Sweetly, he kisses Compassion on the cheek when he thinks she is dead (and that he has failed her). His reaction at seeing the full horror of the coming War is terrifying. In book that is chock a block full of scenes full of the Doctor being forced to face up to his responsibilities, his reaction to the fate of the real Fitz is haunting. He allows Ressadraind to die rather than changing the past. The climax sees the Doctor at his improvising best, pretending to have succumbed to the Faction virus and grappling with Grandfather Paradox. His final option, destroying Gallifrey rather than allowing all of time and space descend into chaos, is utterly ruthless.

Scruffy Git: A universal roadie for a Time Lord who saves planets. “My friends call me Fitz so you can call me Mr Kreiner” (Sorry, I just loved that bit). He has it in him to be a great man and goes some way of proving it, recognising the fact that he is only a copy of his former self. The delicious moment when he is brought face to face with the real Fitz is pure drama, Father Kreiner spitting into his face that he is a fake to which Fitz responds, “You’ve forgotten what it is to be the real Fitz Kreiner’. His chemistry with Romana is beautiful, she cannot stand him but unfortunately he is useful. He is the one who realises it was the Faction who really destroyed Gallifrey.

Stroppy Redhead: She has weapons, which she deploys mercilessly upon the War TARDISes that try and kidnap her. Described as the most precious weapon. She forces the Doctor to see the horrifying War he must prevent. When she is forced to shack up with other TARDISes she is confused and angry, alone among inferior machines. She tells Romana that she will never belong to her and that she feels like killing her for the pain she has put her through. She gets a glorious last scene though, after dropping off a war torn Doctor on Earth we see her laughing with delight at her freedom in the vortex, with her new companion (Nivet) inside her.

Foreboding: The climax of the book sees the destruction of Gallifrey, which will be a fixture of the series for some considerable time. The Doctor is left to recuperate on Earth where he will spend the next hundred years (and the next six books) whilst the TARDIS reforms itself. Compassion would return to the series in an age from now (Halflife) and Fitz will not be back for another five books.

Twists: Oh sweet Jesus where do I start. Compassion is surrounded by War TARDISes in the gripping opening. The Time Lords have become paranoid and fearful, creating nine replicas of their home planet to acts as decoys in the coming War and are utilises a Klien bottle universe as a possible escape route. The Edifice hanging over Gallifrey in the shape of a Gallifreyan flower of Remembrance is causing anomalies in the timelines. It actually turns out to be the Doctor’s TARDIS, in the shape of the flower to symbolise the third Doctor’s paradoxical death (in Interference). The TARDIS has taken it upon itself to store the poisoned timeline the Faction created and prevent the Doctor becoming a Faction agent but the resulting efforts to caused it to explode (The Shadows of Avalon). We find out that the Obverse (The Blue Angel) is created as a direct result of the events in Interference, space time degenerating into chaos, warping into rival universes that are linked by time corridors. Father Kreiner is snatched back from the bottle universe, to confront the Doctor and the fake Fitz and take his revenge but thankfully we soon realise there is still the old Fitz in there as he aids the Doctor at the climax. However a devastating scenes see him beg the Doctor to return to when they first met and prevent him from travelling with him in the TARDIS. The Enemy is revealed at last and it turns out they were created by the Time Lords in the first place! Spawned Ancestor Cells, super evolved by a leaking Klein bottle (which the Time Lords stole from Foreman’s World as an escape route) combined with chronon decay (caused by the Time Lords time travel over the millennia) mutated them into active beings inimical to life. It is horrifying to hear the Factions plan, using Greyjan (an ex President with access to the Matrix) and the Enemy (their first attack on Gallifrey causing enough energy for the Faction to utilise for their plans…) to gain a foothold on Gallifrey. This leads to open warfare on Gallifrey between the Chancellory Guards and the Faction and the materialisation of the Shadow Parliament in the Council Chamber. Romana has a Slaughterhouse set up containing weapons from a thousand War worlds. She has designed a sick weapon which force regenerates young Time Lords and uses the energy from that to attack the Enemy. Father Kreiner is shot in the stomach. Tarra is skewered by a Spider. The final wrenching twist comes when the Doctor is forced to accept the lesser of two evils. The Faction has control of Gallifrey, already the population is being tortured and killed, we have already seen plenty of demonstrations of their love of chaos in the timelines. To spare the universe of their evil, the Doctor wipes out Gallifrey, taking the Faction, their War Fleet and all their temporal jiggery pokery with it.

Funny bits: When the Doctor hears all of Romana’s many titles he hopes she has badge big enough to fit them all on.

Embarrassing bits: The Faction wanabees are desperately sad. There are few places in the book where it gets so bogged down in complicated explanations there is little room for any actual events.

Result: A chaotic book, needlessly complex but full of fabulous ideas and ridiculously entertaining throughout. Considering what it has to achieve, it dovetails loads of stray plotlines together really well and nothing seems to have been forgotten and for a long term reader there is much here that is rewarding. I loved the pace of the book and found many scenes to be exhilarating and dramatic. Saying that it threatens to lose the reader under too much continuity in spots and the ending does feel like things have gotten out of control for the writers and they wanted to sweep the whole lot under the rug. The writing itself is pretty basic but the dialogue is scorching and many long awaited character confrontations are as electrifying as they should be. It needs one more draft to make it truly excellent (there are some bizarre plotting choices, hopping from one location to another, from one plotline to another) but I have to admit I raced through it in less than a day and found my excitement mounting exponentially towards the climax. A fascinating end to an uneven era, which encapsulates the best and the worst of its period: 8/10

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Set Piece by Kate Orman

Plot: Ship travels through time seeking out people to absorb into its memory. The Doctor, Ace and Benny are scattered through time, alone and having to cope with the horrors of the past. Who is responsible for these dangers…who has unleashed a time machine which rips holes in the fabric of space and time…?

Master Manipulator: I don’t know how Kate Orman does it but she seems to understand the seventh Doctor better than practically any other author. She can focus on all of the aspects of his personality that really make me grind my teeth and pull them off almost casually and effortlessly. In her very capable hands he is manipulative, dangerous and callous but he is also gentle, impish and adorable. It pleases me to see her name in the range another four times before the end of this range. Here his companions think he is a total bastard…but they love him anyway and it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

How dare someone muck about with his universe? He is unstoppable and unkillable. The only way he would die is if he planned it himself. Sometimes it was pleasant to let things take their own course, to not plan every minute. Normally he only slept one hour in every 48. Time is a Mandelbrot Set with the Doctor’s name on it. It is suggested to Benny that perhaps the reason he hurts Ace is to give him some control. She fights back saying he doesn’t hurt anybody because he wants to. He always sees the best thing to do – the right answer. So he doesn’t have any choice. How can you have free will when you know the future? For an ageing hippy the Doctor has know a lot of soldiers. He admits: ‘I put things right. When someone comes from outside history and tries to derail it, I put it back on course.’

Boozy Babe: Benny has become part of the invention of archaeology! She holds onto the Doctor’s battered fedora, claiming: ‘It’s all I’ve got left.’ She had never had a proper goodbye from her father. He had gone away and never told her if he was alive or dead. She travels with the Doctor because she wants to see the universe. She promises to look after him and not let him manipulate her.

Oh Wicked: The best showcase for Ace in the novel range, appropriately so for her last book as a regular companion. I have never made me distaste for Ace in the New Adventures remain a secret but I can tell you if she was written as well as this for the last 40 odd books I wouldn’t have had a single complaint. My biggest hurdle was the inconsistency in her character. During the ‘Time Meddler’ arc (or whatever it might be called) she was just a joke, full of hate and anger, hurting people physically and emotionally and doing it with a smile. This was supposedly wrapped up in No Future but it didn’t really feel as though the Doctor and Benny were Ace’s friends still. Their chemistry was non existent and from book to book Ace went from being kinda nice (Theatre of War) to being a Ripley-esque bully (All Consuming Fire). The last three books have seen an improvement but then the horrors that are inflicted on the three of them in Falls the Shadow, Parasite and Warlock would make companions of anybody. Kate Orman has totally control over the character here, and perhaps it is because she is being written by a woman but she manages to make her burst from the pages as a rounded, opinionated and yet sensual and emotionally character. I would have loved to have seen more of this Ace. The range has desperately needed to move on from the TV series for a long time so her departure here shows a massive step in the right direction. This book should have taken place about 20 books ago, that’s all.

In ancient Egypt Ace becomes one of Sedjet’s bodyguards. She has come to realize that hurting people to prove you are capable is childish (I cried with delight at this line!). She wants to know why it doesn’t hurt when she believes the Doctor is dead. Ace also works as a waitress for a while, mirroring her old jobs. Ace was always dependant on the Doctor and he could make her do what he wanted. She can’t move without him. What is the point of love if it isn’t forever? With her father, Jan and now the Doctor dead Ace realizes she is finally free of love and surrenders herself to fighting. She was going to be history. She is described as an unsheathed knife. There is the most extraordinary moment when the Doctor and Ace are reunited when Ace hug close to the Doctor and she breaks down in front of both Benny and the Doctor, a rare moment of weakness. They have a pillow fight that has to be read to be believed. The Doctor tells Ace: ‘You’re old enough; you’ve experienced enough to make your own decisions. I’m just glad you’re on my side.’ Ace is starting to see the patterns in time the way the Doctor does. She has killed 399 sentient individuals. Page 220 where Ace has to decide whether to kill the Doctor or not is nail bitingly good and reminds of the history between these two characters. Ace and the Doctor hold hands while they sleep once the adventure is over. She wants to leave the TARDIS to fight for a cause she believes in. She wants to marry someone like the Doctor, only more handsome. In her most adult moment yet, Ace corrects Benny: ‘It’s Dorothy actually.’

Twists: The first chapter is astonishing – a ship hijacked in hyperspace by a flying ant farm. The ship is organic but populated by metal ants. The ants are stealing people’s minds, trying to get to the Doctor’s but he is faking a catatonic state, constantly trying to escape. The ants are just the ships hands. ‘And bit her spinal chord in two’ – the arresting opening ends on a shocking note, subverting everything we have already read. The cafĂ© – a single space time event, repeated over and over – something has punched a hole in space time. The culprit: Kadiatu and her cobbled together time machine. Sedjet’s plane is invaded by ants in a tense moment. Ship is from far in the future – an Earth colony was destroyed and they decided to leave before it happened. Their bodies were dying and only their minds could be salvaged, stored in the gestalt of the ships computer. All Ship knows how to do is assimilate people and Kadiatu’s time travelling has opened portals to further material to be processed. It will not stop until it has processed everybody in time. The Doctor is kidnapped and taken to Ship for conversion but he manages to cause the ships nervous system to collapse.

Funny Bits: Ace thinks it is hilarious when she discovers the Daleks have been to the Pyramids! She admits: ‘I’m too well known. I’ve lost the element of surprise. And I’ve lost my novelty’ – possibly echoing the sentiments of many readers!
Hilariously I was getting fed up with all of the dream sequences in this book (especially for such a short book) and during a dream sequence Benny asks: ‘Couldn’t we just get on with the story?’ which is followed up with the brilliant: ‘Space/time broken like a sheet of safety glass, full of cracks. Dreams can trickle through those breaks.’
Page 165 – the note Ace leaves Benny – is lovely. That’s the sort of thing the NAs would do that the EDAs wouldn’t.
Benny: ‘I flatly refuse to throw up. I deny all nausea. Otherwise I’m going to be useless for the rest of this adventure.’ After the dangers of the previous three novels, that really tickled me.

Embarrassing Bits:
What is up with that awful cover?

Result: Beautifully written, Ace could not have asked for a better swansong. It is so nice to get back to the character dynamics that should be driving this series and the exploration of the three regulars makes this a very powerful novel. The plot is driven by some meaty ideas and the scale of the book is huge, crossing both time and space to bring the Doctor, Ace and Benny together again. Things I have wanted discussed for a long time are finally brought to light (the Doctor’s manipulation, Ace’s anger) and Orman deals with them eloquently and with much insight. What it boils down to is Ace’s understanding of the universe the way the Doctor sees it and I cannot think of more touching way to end their relationship. The first thirty pages are brilliantly disorienting and the last chapters really choked me up. Ace was overused and ridiculously manhandled in places but she exits the series with a lot of dignity and maturity: 9/10