Monday, 19 December 2011

Prisoner of the Daleks written by Trevor Baxendale

Plot: When the TARDIS jumps a time track lands back in the height of the Dalek Empire, the Doctor has to use all of his wits to prevent his greatest enemies from using time travel to turn the tide of Dalek history and irrevocably change the events of the Time War…

Mockney Wanderer: A huge glob of spit in the eye for all those people that dismiss the NSAs as having poor or no characterisation of the Doctor. Not only does Trevor Baxendale perfectly capture David Tennant’s wide-eyed Mockney Doctor but he also manages to scare us with the Doctor’s uncontrollable terror of the Daleks. There are some beautiful observations about the relationship between the Doctor and Daleks and the humans behave in equally obscene ways to the point where the Doctor begins to feel sympathy for one of the tortured creatures. It’s a remarkably intense portrayal of the Doctor and one of his best in print. Exceptionally good.

At the beginning of the book the Doctor and the TARDIS are having something of a domestic and she refuses to take him anywhere interesting anymore. I loved the observation that the Doctor has gotten on the wrong side of enough spiders in his time to keep well clear. It is noted that he wears a very tight fitting suit (ummm). His escape method is to tap out a morse code with a teaspoon! When he sees something of Martha and Donna in Stella the Doctor feels a longing for her to go with him. He never truly understands what happens to people when they die. He has too many bad memories, too many nightmares about the Daleks to feel anything but revulsion for them. He understands the creatures implacably, ‘They want to drag you into a long drawn out war because that’s what they like. Destruction, killing, slaughter, extermination. It’s what they do.’ The Doctor gets angry when he sees the remains of Auros; he finds it a stupid waste to destroy the planet since a self-inflicted wound of this intensity saves the Daleks from bothering. It’s the Doctor’s cold, quiet terror of the Daleks that makes them so frightening. His violent, suicidal rant at Bowman is genuinely disturbing. When the humans start tormenting the Dalek mutant the Doctor questions whether the Daleks have already won, losing their humanity. When the Dalek lets rip its first agonising scream the Doctor sinks to his knees in the corridor – this is some remarkably vivid characterisation. He longs for his companions of old, somebody who understands. He understands perfectly when Koral admits she is the last of her kind and if she dies there is nothing left of her civilisation. The Dalek prisoner thinks the Doctor has come to gloat at the end of its life. He tells the creature that their reign of destruction will end in burning and that there is a storm coming. In a rare moment of levity the Doctor is thrilled at the very notion that he is seeing something new that he has never seen before when they land on Arkheon. Apparently he hates name dropping (yeah, right) and is deeply embarrassed that he has to tell the Daleks who he is! It’s a great moment, he whispers his name to a Dalek and its headlamps flash involuntarily and its gun stick twitches. The Doctor is clearly revered within the Dalek echelons since the meeting between him and the Inquisitor General is made with a shivering thrill. The Doctor likes impossible. Dalek X sums up the Doctor as having above average intelligence, continually changing his appearance to avoid detection and relying on fortuity. He hates continuity (yay!). I loved Bowman’s comment, ‘Don’t cry, you’ll set the Doctor off, you know what a wimp he is.’ Its great to see the relationship between the Doctor and Bowman, how he is forced into respecting the Time Lord by his sheer drive of positivity and determination to survive. He insults, abuses and generally distrusts the Doctor throughout but before the end of the book they exchange slight smiles. There is a great image of the unrelenting tenth Doctor visiting Dalek X trapped beneath the surface of Arkheon never to be discovered and telling him that the Daleks always lose because they never learn, because everybody in the universe is better than them. I questioned the logic of having the Doctor travelling alone for the last of the Tennant books but Prisoner of the Daleks totally justifies the idea. He is a lonely force of nature and absolutely riveting to read about.

Foreboding: The Time War is mentioned several times. It must be tempting for the Doctor to tweak events whilst he has managed impossibly skip back before the War and change things in the Time Lords favour.

Twists: That’s a fantastic cover; it had me practically salivating when I first saw it! There is a delicious Nation-esque beginning set in a macho location with the doctor falling into a logic trap like a fly caught in honey. The mention of the Dalek heartbeat and the awesome comic strip Dalek font caused a fan boy thrill to ripple through me. Stella has a piece of exploded fuel tank jutting from her thigh and bleeds profusely before being exterminated; this is one book that does not respect its nice characters. What about the image of the icy Dalek, dripping with icicles. Dalek armour learns and adapts. Bounty hunters receive a bonus for every Dalek eyestalk they bring back. The Dalek Generation are orphans who have lost their parents in the Dalek War with the Earth Empire. There are enough self-destruct explosives inside a Dalek to keep a bomb disposal squad busy for a month. Spooks are Earth military intelligence agents. We are greeted by Auros on fire, the planet burning and breaking apart. The Osterhagen Principle is to detonate warheads to stop the enemy getting hold of the planet. In an inevitable moment of mass slaughter the Daleks surround the Auron fleet and destroy the lead ship as an example of why they should surrender. Page 78 features a truly spine chilling revelation about the Daleks, that they can blast a human to death in a split second but they deliberately turn down their weapons when exterminating their victims to make sure it hurts and lasts. The Dalek mutant is described as ‘something pale and wet moved like a slug amongst the exposed machinery.’ They gouge the mutant free of its housing like an oyster from a shell and its accompanied by a foul stench of pure wrongness. The dying Dalek is a ‘distended brain sac lying like a rotten melon, squid like arms coiled around the carcass.’ The Arkheon Threshold is a tear in time and space at the heart of a planet torn asunder by the Daleks. A pale, wraith like world, shrouded in mists and shimmering ice with one half of the planet a glowing molten core exposed to space like a luminous scab. The Dalek planet splitters are like hitting an apple with an axe. Imagine reaching the mist shrouded molten rock at the edge of a planet? The exposed molten core of Arkheon broils and spits cauldrons of fire into space. Daleks love prisoners; humiliation, torment and slavery are their thing. The Dalek experimentation facility is called the Black Hole because once you go in you never come out. How scary is the thought of Daleks with surgical instruments instead of suckers? The Wayfarer is blown up in front of Bowman and its remains scars the snow for hundreds of metres. The truth is that the Daleks are losing and they want to use the Arkheon Threshold to change time and turn things in their favour. Anger is something that every Dalek knows. One truly magnificent scene sees a Dalek crushed by an invisible magnetic fist and the creature inside is forced through the splits in the metal armour! The story ends on a fantastic planet-bursting explosion, which ruptures and disembowels the most devastating Dalek warship.

Funny Bits: Tenten 10 is the decimal planet!
‘Between them an your lot, it’s a wonder there are any planets left in the galaxy!’
Apparently the TARDIS is designed to blend in and come and go like a whisper in the night…what went wrong?

Result: A fantastic read. Unexpectedly adult and graphic with some devastating psychological moments, this is a cut way above your average NSA. What I really loved about this story was the mention of the mock sixties things like ‘Space Major’ and some of the more Saward-esque macho dialogue, it’s a real love letter to the Dalekmania that spread through the classic series whilst never forgetting the fantastic innovations of the new series. The Doctor is really put through the wringer and makes some fascinating observations about the Daleks and we learn so many new and wonderful things about the creatures beyond their ability to exterminate. Add to all of this Trevor Baxendale’s most accomplished prose to date, some stunning imagery and a cracking final scene and you have a book which scores very highly on every count. I wouldn’t want every book to be this intense but it makes for a gripping change of pace: 10/10

Friday, 16 December 2011

Spiral Scratch written by Gary Russell

Plot: Lampreys, Doctor’s and Mel’s…oh my! The sixth Doctor has to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the whole of space and time, over and over and over and over and over and over…

Theatrical Traveller: Gary Russell has always been able to capture the sixth Doctor really well. I think he has a definitive image of this much criticised incarnation, one that is far fluffier and cuddlier than the guy we saw on the television. He pushed him in that direction with Big Finish but Colin Baker was still on hand there to give the Doctor some bite and he has really let this far more pleasant Doctor flourish in his novels and yet he still can’t resist leaking in some of his more theatrical and annoying extremes. They are part and parcel of the character no matter how much you try and dress him up as something more approachable. This is perhaps the ultimate sixth Doctor novel (don’t mistake that with the best), a multi Doctor story that finally has the guts to be about various assortments of the same Doctor and we are introduced to some intriguing alternatives. I could bang about the problems with this novel as long as you want to hear them I still couldn’t deny that Spiral Scratch leads up to a moment of self sacrifice with emotional consequences rarely seen in the books and with a final chapter that beautifully explores how much we have come to love the sixth Doctor. It may contradict Head Games (who cares?) but this is a very worthy final end for my favourite Doctor.

The Doctor always won arguments. What on Earth was he wearing? The Doctor has a nice smile even if his fashion sense borders on the disastrous. When he beams it is easy to feel warm and comfortable around him. One of the alternate Doctors is black cloaked with a scar on his face and comes from a universe where England is still an Empire with Empress Magararita is on the throne. The Doctor has a Tigger look and curly hair like Diana Ross! He can be a big baby sometimes. He threatens to punch Rummas on the nose for all of his interference. Sophisticated, elegant and remarkable or a blowfish with an over inflated sense of self importance. The Doctor would happily sacrifice himself, use himself as bait. I love the myriad of sixth Doctor’s from alternative realities – a little touch of magic when we see the Doctor and Evelyn and the Doctor and Frobisher. I know some people get upset when writes suggest these different ranges exist in different universes but as an excuse to bring together all these wonderful sixth Doctor’s we have been privy to I can think of worse storytelling techniques. All of them are sacrificing themselves to save reality – what a guy. Each an every sixth Doctor is giving his life to ensure that his personal timeline will live on. Looking at the stars he has saved the Doctor thinks his sacrifice was worth it. He feels he has had a good innings and cannot complain this time.

Screaming Violet: Its really odd that Gary Russell, champion of Melanie Bush in the Doctor Who novels should get her so totally wrong in her last book. The Mel we saw on TV was a bubbly, perky, melodramatic fitness freak with a lust for adventure and totally in love with both of her Doctor’s. The Mel of Spiral Scratch is a depressed, downbeat, miserable, bitchy, swearing, moaning sort of girl who argues with everything the Doctor says. It’s the worst thing about the book by far and a real shame because had this been corrected Spiral Scratch would have scored even higher. Russell tries to fill in a lot of the gaps in Mel’s life but a lot of it doesn’t ring very true (the Shag Palace!!!).

Described as a wrapped up boiled sweet, Mel is wearing her pink and white puffed up costume from Time and the Rani which should give you a clue as to where this is leading. With Mel its all black and white unlike the Doctor who can really spin a yarn. Lately Mel has had a pang for Sussex and her parents, a comfortable living room at Christmas, dates, walnuts and figgy pudding. She’s also have odd memories of a troublesome sister… Oddly whilst Helen Lamprey is being friend Mel’s only thought are to punch her lights out and thinks lovely thoughts like ‘die bitch die!’ When they first moved South Mel’s mum always threw impressive dinner parties to try and fit in. I rather like Melina the slave, its an intriguing take on the Doctor/Mel dynamic. There’s a lovely scene where we think we are with our Mel and the Doctor but it transpires it is Melanie Baal the Silurian! Mel sneakily tries to find out about her own future. Does Mel have a sister called Anabel that she knows nothing about? For Mel Pease Pottage is the home that says love and the TARDIS is the home that says friendship. Mel broke her eighteen month sister like a biscuit? She isn’t sure what happened to Peri and she isn’t sure the Doctor knows either. I really liked it when Mel, Melanie Baal and Melina all join forces to save the Doctor – the madness starts to cohere. The Doctor is a father figure to Mel, they needed each other.

Foreboding: Lakertya is on the edge of this system. Turns out the Doctor was dying all along when the Rani’s tractor beam buffers the TARDIS!

Twists: Chapter one is surreal but it certainly peaked my interest. The story of Dominique and Julien is lovely, a fairytale of two green children who turned up in a village to cure its ills. I could have read a whole book in this vein. Several versions of the Doctor turn up in the console room to warn him of the Lamprey. Chapter four is actually a very beautiful piece of writing, probably the best thing Russell had written to date as Mel’s parents say goodbye to her dead sister before moving away. Rummas obtained a TARDIS and nips into burning buildings and saves books that would otherwise be lost. Lots of dead Rummas’ and dead Doctor’s? There are temporal shenanigans centring on the library on Carsus, a pan dimensional rip, a scratch right through the groove of the vortex spiral causing jumps and gashes. When a Lamprey snatches away somebody time makes adjustments and installs a new person to take their place and fiddles with the details to make sure everybody thinks that has always been the case. Maddeningly (but also quite fun) you can’t tell if you are reading about the same character from scene to scene or one from a different universe! In one universe we visit Utopiana City wrecked by the Lamprey, chewing up concrete towers and spitting out the rubble to crush the inhabitants. Chapter seven is a moonlit flit through various realities whilst the lamprey devours the best of each reality. Cleverly the story crosses through interstitial time and tells the same narrative with different versions of the Doctor and Mel. The lamprey devour time, extinguishing entire multiverse of realities just to fed. It needs a focus, someone to home in on and break through into that reality and they seek out time sensitives and use them as an anchor when they arrive. Rummas has stolen a Spiral Chamber from Gallifrey. I like how Russell plays the same scenes over from the POV of the opposing characters – pages 137-139 are the same as 41-43. If the Spiral were to become damaged and allow leakage within realties all creation could descend into chaos and only the Lampreys would survive. Monica is the green girl from the opening chapters, the female Lamprey. Sir Bertrand is also a Lamprey who blocked his memories so he could forget who he is. Chapter sixteen features Helen’s party again but this time its told on a space station rather than a country manor house – these parallels are boggling! Rummas caused the moment where chaos was unleashed upon creation. Every action he has taken to go back and prevent what he has caused has been anticipated and negated by the Lampreys. This filth is going to destroy everything, past, present and future just to its bloated existence. The chronon energy the Doctors have built up tears free and kills all of the sixth Doctor’s and the Lampreys.

Embarrassing Bits: A cover more garish than the sixth Doctor’s coat, Simon walked into the bathroom whilst I was reading this in a steamy bath and asked why I was reading a murray mint! Why doesn’t Russell learn from the mistakes of his previous books, like Instruments of Darkness come chapter three there are too many characters and choppy scenes with no momentum. Sometimes the prose is just…yuck (page 100 –‘clearly facing the same treacle effect’). The Last Resort did rather a better job of playing the trick of shifting to a different universe from scene to scene and built up t a spectacularly surreal and exciting climax but then I simply think Paul Leonard’s prose is superior which automatically makes things easier. The Earth Empire, the evil Nazi’s and their space conquering Fuhrer were finally destroyed – given the imagination he displays here surely this is the least imaginative alternative universe imaginable? 117,863 Mel’s – the mind boggles! Oh come on…Mel used to live in ‘the shag palace’ when she was at university and whilst she pretended to be prim and proper she secretly loved it! Mel saying ‘Screw you. Bitch!’ is just plain wrong and following that up with a right hook is even worse! ‘Why are you so pissy all the time?’ is a another horrible Mel line.

Funny Bits:
· We get to read an extract of Benny’s view of the Time Lords – ‘Time Lords are like that. Gits. Pompous gits of the highest order. No one likes them very much. Because they’re gits. Big, fat smelly ones.’ The Doctor mentions it is ‘written I believe by some grumpy Professor or other.’ Mel likes her which is ironic consider she would hate her in Head Games!
· The Doctor wrote ‘The History of Gumblejack fishing in the eighth galaxy’, did signings, dinner speeches and made a fortune and donated it to charities the universe over! He became known as the Great Benefactor! This might be a lie.
· ‘Sometimes you can be infuriating!’ ‘Only sometimes? I’m slipping…’
· Page 153: ‘I’m waiting thirty minutes for your response and using software to speed up your words so I can understand them.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘That wasn’t worth waiting for!’
· ‘It’s alright I always get a twinge when I discover myself dead. I think its times way of telling me to watch myself.’

Result: Ignore the odd horrendous Russell turn of phrase, this book is a kaleidoscope of wacky imagination and clever ideas. There are problems for sure but considering this range has already flogged the alternative universe angle to death Russell manages to find lots more interesting things to do with the premise including a multi Doctor story with the same Doctor, some delicious end of the universe action which feels genuinely apocalyptic and a truly climatic finale with a deeply moving finale chapter. The story is not especially well structured, each chapter feels like a short story in an anthology with some being rather good and others not so but astonishingly there is the odd dribble but on the whole a distinct lack of fan wank. ‘It’s very complicated’ says Mel – too complicated, you could happily snip a handful of characters, dodge a few pointless revelations and make this story a smoother ride. Spiral Scratch is ambitious and brave and even if the author doesn’t quite have the skill to pull off the insanity of the ideas coherently there is still a great deal of fun to be had here: 7/10

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Sleep of Reason by Martin Day

Plot: Caroline is a perfectly healthy young girl, except she takes a razor to her wrists with alarming regularity. She dreams of a sinister house and to her surprise finds herself admitted to it, the Retreat, a home for the mentally ill. There she finds herself under the scrutiny of the mysterious Dr Smith and his two assistants…

Top Doc: I always applaud experiments and here Martin Day surpasses himself, writing the book entirely from the POV of the guest characters. It affords a unique view from the outsiders POV of the Doctor and his friends and their crazy adventures.

He is described as two parts Lord Byron and one part Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen. He is brilliant one moment and almost an idiot savant the next. He seems trouble when asked if he has ever been married (Mary, Debbie) but merely states that he is an observer of such things and watches from afar. He has no ear for gossip. The Doctor cannot bear to be in the same place for more than five minutes. With the Doctor days can feel like weeks and months can pass by in the blink of an eye. The Doctor hates labels (Jungian, Freudian) because they limit potential, ring fence freedom and stamp out individuality. One morning he can believe one thing, the evening something completely different. He believes in truth – justice and prejudice, freedom and slavery, good and evil. He is intimately familiar with people but powerless without permission to proceed. You could never imagine him doing anything as mundane as sleeping, eating or scratching his balls. He tries not to dream because he has nightmares. His touch is not sexual or abusive but more sensual and powerful. He is attracted to weird things which he tries to put right, has power but he chooses to turn away from evil. The Doctor, the man who is most human of all is not human at all. The Doctor is very protective towards the time continuum. He attracts the Sholem-Luz because of all the pain and anguish he has carried over the years. He might be odd and distant at times, but he is full of marvellous insight and irrepressible energy.

Best of all of this marvellous insight into his character is his admission that his time in the Retreat will probably amount to very little but sometimes all you can do is make a difference to a few lives. For too long now he has been focussing on the ‘bigger picture’ and the details are just as important. People are as fundamental to him as anything. After his universe ending escapades in the alt universe arc, this is some real development for his character…as he was gagging to just spend some time with people in Sometime Never… but he had other, more important priorities. This follows nicely into the next book where he goes all domestic and sets up home and helps out just one family…

Scruffy Git: Described as the dopey bloke and uncombed hair and 5’oclock shadow. Fitz is scared if he goes into therapy (after all the screwing around with his brain!) he might never come out! He is learning from the Doctor, being influenced by him. Unquestioningly loyal and uncomplicatedly honest (that just about sums him up!). When facing death, Fitz is still thinking about sex (I love this guy). You could forgive him anything. Seeing Fitz from other peoples POV makes him seem something of a drop out and totally obedient to the Doctor’s commands.

Identity Tricks: Whilst I don’t agree with wasting Trix’s scarce page space by putting her in the books background it is fascinating how sinister and bullying she seems when seen from other people’s perspective. Described as the bitchy blonde. Terrible things hide behind her eyes. She is as fresh as a daisy and much sexier. Her interests differ from the Doctor and Fitz but they look out for each other. She has many diverse faults but as an agent of intrigue and stealth, Trix cannot be faulted. She is from the bull in the china shop school of tact.

Twists: The first scene featuring the Doctor (?) locked up in a mental asylum are intriguing to say the least. Caroline’s introduction is featured in the first chapter which is shockingly brutal and real, slicing her wrists open, the slice of metal throbbing with possibility, able to berth her into a more adult world. The scenes from Laska’s POV with the Doctor are excellent as she tries to work out the rules of their mental battles. Laska’s dream in the bath of the hound trying to naw through the bathroom door and waking up with vicious red bite marks, is hypnotically scary. Terrifying mental struggles ensue with Miss Thorne as she recounts having her child taken from her, externalising her frustration and anger by having a row with her lost child. Equally disturbing is Fern kicking Mary Jones until she cannot speak, pinning her down between her breasts with his boot and bashing her skull open with a rock whilst spouting religious dogma. Tracy Wade has her car flipped over and is savaged by the death hound. Dr Christie, doused with oil, glistening like a newborn phantasm of evil, plans to set fire to himself, the bodies and all of Masoulus House. The Sholem-Luz are attracted to the insane, creating tunnels through the fabric of time and space, obeying their biological imperative. They infected a lower species (in this case a dog) who bites one of the asylum workers….who sets about burning the bodies of dead, producing more seeds to scatter on the time winds and infect other places and times. We discover Lis was the one who helped Laska’s father die in a mercy killing. She catches her husband straddling one of the nurses and kicks him in the nuts! Ms Thorne turns out to be Laska’s great, great grandmother and we witness her passing away in Dr Christie’s arms over her father’s grave in a very moving scene. In the busy climax Fits and Trix are trapped in the basement with the patients whilst James (the Sholem-Luz infected host) threatens to feed them to the flames. The Doctor uses his dark memories to attract the Sholem Luz after him into the past and they die in the fire of their own making in Masoulus House. Brilliantly we discover the Doctor was responsible for saving the lives of Christie, Macksay and Torby, the very journal we have been reading throughout is infected with his presence. To avoid waiting another century to see his friends (again!) he sleeps in a sarcophagus in the basement and makes a superb entrance (“How is anyone supposed to sleep through all this racket?”) in the climax! I loved Laska’s last line, when you realise she joined the Retreat a year ago as Laska but is going home Caroline, the Doctor having touched her life in a most profound way.

Funny bits: Finally somebody points out how hideous Fitz and Trix’s names are!

Result: The second of two back-to-back classics and firm proof that the EDAs aren’t going to go out quietly. The Sleep of Reason is my idea of an adult book, one that deals with serious and disturbing issues with sensitivity and emotion and looks at its characters deeply, allowing the reader to get under their skin and understand what makes them tick. It is a dark and mature piece that grips you with the quality of the characterisation and the density of the prose. The characters feel like real people, nothing is sensationalised and the feelings brewed up are painfully real. Refusing to allow us access to the regulars thoughts is another superb plus point, allowing some unexpected and delightful characterisation (especially the Doctor who has rarely been as glowing). A dark, mature and frightening book and a winner in every sense of the term: 10/10

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Story of Martha by Dan Abnett (with short stories by David Roden, Steve Lockley & Paul Lewis, Robert Shearman and Simon Jowett)

Plot: One year. Martha Jones is on the run from the psychotic despot that has murdered one tenth of the world’s population. She has a mission. This is her story…

The Story of Martha bridges the gap between The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords and thus potentially makes this the most important NSA yet. You could also throw in the reverse argument that because the entire invasion is unwound at the end of the series three this is the least important book because for everybody except Martha none of these events ever took place! Personally I think it is fascinating to see what happened to Martha during her year on the run. I have never made any secret of the fact that I think Russell T Davies is the ultimate build up storyteller, he can get you more excited than practically any other writer and I found The Sound of Drums utterly spellbinding. Alas Davies is also the absolute worst writer when it comes to concluding his stories and he very often uses narrative cheats such as the deadly Voyager reset button (as he did with the conclusion of this three parter). I am extremely grateful that The Story of Martha was written because not only were people taking the books seriously again but it gives the duff concept of the people of the Earth turning the Doctor back into his usual self with the power of hope some real weight. Given what we see here the Earth is a truly haunting place to live and the stories that Martha tells really are uplifting and heart-warming. Congratulations to Dan Abnett for taking something that was fudged in the TV series and making it work in the novels.

Mockney Dude: Considering he only appears in one paragraph in the main storyline the Doctor makes a massive impression on this book. Martha is out there telling wonderful stories of her life with the Doctor and his name is used as a badge of hope. Its one of the best examples of his impact on the Earth, the fact that the mere mention of his name means salvation, can raise a smile and suggest that things will one day get better. Telling this story through Martha’s eyes who clearly adores him far more than she should allows people to fall in love with him the way she does. The Doctor never pays attention to warnings; paying attention is for cats and he’s more the golden retriever type blundering in all happy and excited! He passes through eternity with no end in sight. The comings, goings and losses fade somehow. He hides it. Once it was a struggle to remember. He had family once but they were lost to the inferno. The Doctor always finds the cleverest way to fight and its never with guns and bombs. I love the sequence where the nameless snowy wraiths want to feed on the Doctor’s hopes and desires and where he has explored and he tells them ‘if you want a feast, you better be hungry.’ Rob Shearman really understands the Doctor and sums him up beautifully in his short story; on his planet, maps never said here there be dragons because his people had been everywhere and explored everything. When he was a child he wanted to be an explorer but there was nowhere left to discover and they told him what was the point? He’d found a point. And whenever he’d forgot it he’d close his eyes and dream again and there it would be. Fantastic stuff.

Delicious Doctor: Along with The Last Dodo this is Martha’s best book. Here we experience her resource, intelligence, skill, warmth and determination. If there was any doubt that Martha Jones could hold up a book on her own this is a bop on the nose to any doubters. Her characterisation speaks for itself. Whatever this books merits are in the literally sense it is an awesome coming of age story for Martha because although everybody else has their mind wiped of these awful events, she remembers. This is what makes the woman that would go on to command forces in UNIT, be left with the responsibility of the entire planet and face down the Daleks.

Martha had acquired an extraordinary amount of fame that really bothered her. People treated her like a saint and would willingly lay down their lives for her. Leo had been an enthusiast of Commando comic so Martha knew all about Dunkirk. This year hangs on her like a dead weight and she wishes she could cast it off. Martha considers Jack’s teleport bracelet one of the top five most painful ways to die. Martha never ran from a fight but she knew when a fight was lost. She’s proper easy on the eyes. Being on the run from armed thugs felt unpleasantly real. She almost hates the Doctor for asking so much of her. Martha is totally, strangely focussed when she is in the most danger. Weatcher tells Martha that the Doctor is ‘not the one.’ Telling the stories reminded Martha of what really mattered. Rob Shearman also aces Martha and the first two pages of The Frozen Wastes say more about her character than anything else I have read. When she was younger Leo pushed her too hard and she fell to the ground with a sharp crack. She was too excited for tears, she was visiting the hospital and it was an adventure. Martha was confused by her x-ray, her arm so strange and ghostly, she wasn’t facing the pain bravely, she was genuinely curious about this secret world underneath her skin. Her mum thought her obsession with the human body was a bit grisly but she kept studying and thinking about the Doctor she would be one day. Martha underestimated the Master’s venom and for the first time in a year she breaks down watching the islands of Japan burn to death.

Great Ideas: Probably my favourite cover, both the Doctor and Martha look edible and the Toclafane (great design) hang over the Earth setting it alight. There is some great world building that really sells the apocalypse; it’s the one book where they can take things as far as they like. The islands of Japan are set on fire, New York is in ruins, the Caspian is poisoned, the Nile frozen and what was once Russia is now Shipyard One. Six billion cybernetic globes were singing childish songs of murder and malice. Planet Earth was dying, one tenth of the population exterminated. The human race are being turned into slaves. The United Containment Forces are the Master’s executors of martial law. Griffin shoots six people dead just to make an impression. He is the man in charge of bring down Martha Jones. He pets a dog and shoots it dead. 20 people are shot down in a flash market in a sports centre. Effigies of the Master dominated the world; he had even carved himself into Mount Rushmore. Packs of feral, hungry dos roam the streets. Abnett manages to trick Griffin into thinking he will catch Martha and trick the reader into thinking we will see the Brigadier! The Master treats the human race with violence and oppression and expects them to react in a similar way. Martha plans to use the Archangel network against him, it was how he got his grip on the planet and it would also be the thing that would punch him away. The Aka labour camp consists of thousands of men and women packed into a caged city, bloody and scarred and overworked, tiny bunks to sleep on, sore and scabbed, nothing but a number. You are shot down if you make a wrong move. Griffin turning up in the workhouse is highly suspicious. The Seague is an artificially produced tear in the fabric of space-time, like a bolt of lightning moving in slow motion. The Drast Speculation Initiative Fourteen were conducting a clandestine assessment of the Earth, charged to initiate economic takeover when the Master’s invasion taskforce arrived. It’s a long complex operation that leads to their running of an entire world without anyone noticing. When the Master took control we were already being invaded – that is a genius idea! The Earth’s suffering will be over soon when the Drast open the Seague and disintegrate the planet! As soon as the Master learns that the Drast are at work in Japan he orders in the Toclafane to deliver laser death. The islands burn a horrible death. Griffin is sliced apart by the Toclafane.

Agaleos is a forgotten, majestic, empty city swept into a corner gathering snow. Shimmering aurora borealis in the sky, shooting stars, ion cascades and delicate colours painting the heavens. One of the furthest outposts of the Second and Great Bountiful Human Empire. The lighthouse beacon was set up to warn people from coming. The wormhole has irradiated the people, infected them with thousands of types of DNA and evolved them into feral creatures. Weatcher chooses to change and be with his people. A hot air balloon over the snowy wastes of the Artic, what a magical idea. White above, white blow, white everywhere. It distorts time, running the same seconds back over and over and over. Literally frozen in them, the perfect larder, the meat stays fresh and never runs out. Hundreds of balloons, a whole flotilla of the same balloon blotting out the sky. Pierre repeating his attempt to conquer the Artic, the being feeding from human ambition. Sometimes the destination isn’t half as interesting as to ambition to get there. The Breed are vat-grown clones for ship wide maintenance but the mass produced drones have become individuals and given themselves names. Artificials are forbidden to fall in love with colonists; the Steering Council believe genetic purity must be preserved. When the cryosystem failed, the shock killed most of the colonists outright, The Pilot System downloaded the colonists personality prints into Artificials.

The Wasting has a lovely mournful tone and an uplifting ending even if it is slightly predictable. Breathing Space is the weakest of the four, little more than an archetypal Doctor Who alien takeover run-around with no time for any thoughtful characterisation but I really like the ending – the aliens didn’t completely clear the atmosphere but they have given the human race some breathing space so use it. The Frozen Wastes is gorgeously written; elegant, thoughtful and smartly characterised. Star Crossed has more than a hint of The Doctor’s Daughter about it with two factions in conflict, the Doctor with one side and Martha with the other and both trying to find a device that will bring it all to an end. It’s a lot more fun and brief than TDD and manages to tell its pleasant story very economically.

Embarrassing Bits: My one complaint (aside from Breathing Space) would be that the ending is really rushed and the destruction of Japan, Martha’s escape and Griffin’s death is skipped over in a few paragraphs when I would have liked to have seen all three explored in a lot more detail considering the build up. It really does feel like Abnett was so excited with the story he was telling…and ran out of space.

Result: Very nice. The Story of Martha is not what a lot of people thought it was but I thought it filled its gap between two unforgettable television episodes with some confidence and gusto. Its unremittedly grim and violent, relieved only by Martha’s tales of her travels with the Doctor. I really like the world of horror that Dan Abnett creates, he doesn’t skimp on detail and really drives home the idea that Martha is on the run for her life. Ms Jones gets some awesome characterisation and is really pushed to the limit, exhausted, pursued, battered, beaten and worked to death, she really shows what she made of here. The short stories were a neat touch and the hit rate is good, from my point of view there’s one excellent tale, two good ones and only one which lets the side down (unfortunately its right in the middle of the book, not ideally placed). This book was billed as something a bit special and I’m not sure if it is out of the ordinary enough to really grab peoples attention but as a slice of apocalyptic drama with some pleasing moments of levity I rushed through this little delight in two days: 8/10

Friday, 26 August 2011

World Game written by Terrance Dicks

Plot: Those dastardly Players are back and this time they are fiddling about with the lives of Napoleon, Wellington and Nelson to ensure a devastating future for the planet Earth and a game that will play on until the entire human race is plunged into war.

Oh My Giddy Aunt: The characterisation of Troughton’s Doctor is as good as you would expect from the script editor of his last season and the co-writer of his last story. What Dicks achieves here is nothing short of a miracle; he is no longer a renegade, not yet and exile, the Doctor is an unwitting agent of the CIA on Gallifrey You have got to admire the gall of the man, literally having his own cake and eating it, weaving together his own continuity from The War Games and his and Robert Holmes’ blatant disregard for it in The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors. Here he manages to open out a whole new series of adventures for the second Doctor, one where he has no ties, a functioning Type 97 TARDIS and is kept on a leash by the Time Lords. Frankly the possibilities are endless and whilst he has the Doctor head off to Space Station Camera to visit Dastari at the end of World Game it is a real shame the Past Doctor Adventures ended when they did because I could imagine a few more stories of this ilk chronically his post Trial, pre exile escapades!

He never stole the TARDIS, he just borrowed it. The Doctor is a person of great intelligence, courage and ability with a soft and gentle face. The Doctor blames the eighth incarnation for convincing him to contact the Time Lords that leads to his capture (The Eight Doctors). One of his motives for leaving Gallifrey was to escape the endless intrigue, back stabbing and double crossing. Serena is from one of the oldest and most respected family’s on Gallifrey and he objects to her presence on his mission. Cheekily he plans to steal the TARDIS and strand Serena at the first opportunity, figuring that a contract made under sentence of death cannot be morally binding. Brilliantly he is described as shooting into a room as if fired from a canon! He prefers his perpetual TARDIS without the functioning chameleon circuit as it would extremely embarrassing to lose your ship because you have forgotten what it looks like! He finds humans fascinating because you can never tell what they are capable of. I love it when he guzzles down champagne because he has never been on an expense account before! He treats Serena to shopping and dining and she is worried by his incorrigible frivolity! The Doctor is reckless and insanely brave and in this novel he manages add saving Wellington, Napoleon and Nelson to his CV. A mysterious wizard with dark knowledge at his fingertips? The Doctor is often tempted to use his fore knowledge of the future to save lives. There are scenes between the Doctor and Napoleon that I would have loved to have seen on screen where they circle each other like a pair of wary dogs. It is lovely hoe he comes to value Serena’s companionship as they dine and share tales of their pasts. He adores tinkering with the submarine. I love how he is written very much in the post War Games mould, this is a Doctor who has got nothing to lose any more so he leaps forward to a month after Waterloo to see if they succeed in stopping the Countess and even more frivolously he takes Tallyrand well into to the future to show him what will become of the Earth if they do not stop her. The Doctor’s furious anger at Serena’s death matches the readers own and the way he handles his grief, sitting on a stone bench throughout the night as the city prepares for war around him, is very moving. I adored the moment when with surprising and worrying ease the Doctor crushes his conscience and doesn’t step forward to help Serena’s killer. His suicidal plan to impersonate Napoleon on the battlefield and confuse the French troops is priceless! He ponders as to why he can never truly hate who he is supposed to or like those he should look up to. I love his wily ways, bargaining with the CIA to ensure a formal tribute is made for Serena, her death publicly acknowledged and memorialised and her name added to the Gallifreyan Roll of Honour. Just go back and read this paragraph again, that is some fine characterisation. Where has this Terrance Dicks been hiding since Players?

Foreboding: The Doctor asks for his TARDIS back and seeks out his own companion, Jamie, and asks for him to have his memory altered so he thinks they have left Victoria studying graphology which leads very nicely into The Two Doctors. A Time Ring is mentioned but he wouldn’t get to use one until Genesis of the Daleks. World Game is blissfully confident with how it handles its continuity and throws in a Raston Warrior Robot (The Five Doctors), mentions of the Eighth Doctor (The Eight Doctors), the Players (who the sixth and Eighth Doctor’s would come up against in Players and Endgame) and he even finds time to introduce the Doctor’s psychic paper for the very first time (2005 NuWho). Oh and the Doctor keeps his Napoleon ensemble…which he puts on again in Time and the Rani! He cuts and splices all this continuity together in a way only somebody who is intimately involved in the series could do and by shamelessly making his points and not labouring them.

Twists: That is a truly memorable wrap around cover – Troughton dressed up like Napoleon – finally a good use of photoshop! An Oubliette is a superior Time Lord cell for important prisoners. Temporal dissolution is to never have existed at all. I loved the description of the Revolution devouring its children, many a head rolling due to fake charges. The Countess attempts to assassinate Wellington and Nelson during the one time that they met and thus altering the events of Trafalgar and Waterloo. She then attempts to build a submarine and offer it to Napoleon to sink the British fleet. I loved the scenes with the Raston Warrior Robot – it fires so many javelins into a barrel it looks like a hedgehog, fires one straight through a soldiers heart and extends its arm into a blade, Terminator 2 style, and decapitates a character! The Doctor manages to blow it up from one of the submarine torpedoes but being indestructible as it is it simply reforms like quicksilver. We get to visit a world where the Countess has one, it is an apocalyptic ruin with the whole world firing rockets at each other. The Grand Design is to mastermind the Earth into a chess game of war with the countries as the different species. That’s pretty obscene actually. He killed Serena…I cannot believe that Dicks had the courage to kill off a character that we were starting to grow fond off! Anybody who is used to his sugary nostalgia trip novels will be aware that this is not the sort of underhanded shock that he deploys and this subversion of his usual storytelling provides the best shock in one of his novels for many a year. The Historical Notes are a lovely, thoughtful touch, a coda that allows us to see these historical figures to their deaths.

Funny Bits: Serena snootily tells the Doctor that she will be his supervisor. You can imagine his reaction.
The spanking new Type 97 is apparently a massive improvement on the Doctor’s old relic!
‘I was saved by Napoleon’s chicken pies!’
Luco the traitor is dragged away down the corridor and we here ‘No! No! Not the Mind Probe!’ floating back. You have to love how Dicks takes the piss out of his own work!

Embarrassing Bits: Did we really need to pop back to The War Games and meet up with Lady Jennifer and Carstairs again? The Players seem to pluck dangers from the Doctor’s mind to use against him and fortunately they seem to have been watching a few Terrance Dicks stories too! The Vampire and the Raston Warrior Robot both seemed like a step to far into self plagiarism and yet the former is handled with a great gag (see funny bits) the latter features in some of the books best scenes. Go figure.

Result: An extremely entertaining and quick read returning to us the Terrance Dicks who wrote Target books that we used to wrap ourselves up in our duvets to devour. This is far and away his best book for the BBC and matches his best work for Virgin as well, it’s a gorgeous trip through some very rich history that brings to life some great mythic figures and leaves you gasping at how fabulous this would have been on the telly. Dicks’ prose is as light as champagne and its effect is just as effervescent, it is deliriously enjoyable. He manages to tell a fast paced traditional Doctor Who story within an innovative new life for the second Doctor. This is my Terrance Dicks writing Doctor Who books again; efficiently plotted, well characterised and pleasingly educational. A joy to read: 8/10

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Tomorrow Windows by Jonathan Morris

Plot: Alien auctions for planets, Tate Modern blown up, nuclear blasts, God worship, sinister lava lams, killer cars, politics, ghostly apparitions, crappy effects, mind reading, deep freezed superstars, pirate cities, Dalek and Cybermen knock offs….this book has it all. And a chapter set in Lewisham.

Top Doc: He has really found the fun since sorting out the trouble with the broken down universe hasn’t he? This marks as real development because the Doctor has come through his trauma with a brand new lust for life and it is extremely infectious. It is wonderful to see him having fun with some of his confused memories and he is utterly delighted to be told that he defeated the Yeti’s in the Underground, the shop window dummies at Ealing and the Dinosaurs in St James’ Park! His relationship with the Kendroid ('Ken we had a deal, I defeat the aliens from outer space, you get the buses running on time!') is really gigglesome. However he has lost none of his bite and he is extremely sarcastic and edgy at times ('Mankind will learn and it can’t do that if it can flick to the back of the book and look up the answers'). His philosophy: 'Why waste time when you can do it all in a mad rush?' His anger at feeling powerless to stop a planet being destroyed is extremely palpable ('You stupid, stupid fools!'). Saving planets never makes up for the ones he has lost. He has a nagging feeling he is in deficit, that he is seeking redemption. He feels there is always a way and when one doesn’t present itself he gets very angry. The Doctor’s favourite place to be lost is his thoughts. He condemns Prubert for introducing the selfish memes ('Do you have any idea what this idiot has done?'). He is never cruel and he cares for all. He and Trix finally bridge their differences, he realises how Martin has violated her and kisses her, stroking her hair and comforting her.

Scruffy Git: Fitz is still going super strong even after all this time. He looks into a Tomorrow Window and sees a toothless old man…then it shifts to a handsome chap with an olive skinned bride. It gets him thinking about the future and he is very unsure. He has been living in the moment for so long he has forgotten to think beyond it. He’s scared if he leaves the Doctor he will regret what he has left behind. One day, maybe soon he will get a life. He doesn’t know where he belongs, he has no family, no career, no way of determining his life. His adventures being hypnotised by a car would be patently absurd if it was written with such frightening conviction. His Poirot scene (more on that later) is truly excellent and easily the best Fitz moment in his entire run until this point, displaying his wit, his intelligence and his physical ability. Oh and its hilarious too!

Identity Tricks: What started out as a one trick wonder is slowly developing into one of the more interesting companions the eighth Doctor has ever travelled with. What I love about Trix is that she is clearly so vulnerable underneath her bravado, it is very appealing, especially because you only see it when her guard is down such as it is in the latter stages of this novel. Saving planets is what she does. Delightfully (and imaginatively…when you find out the reason why) the book adopts a first person narrative for Trix’s scenes, which allows us to get closer to her than ever before. She is confronted with a cot full of mutilated babies about to be slaughtered and tries desperately to grasp a persona who can deal with the horror, further proof she is hiding from reality in these acts of hers. She cannot remember which story she is supposed to tell, she has spent so long trying not to remember that sometimes she can almost forget (which later transpires to be a deadly secret about her father, who was rushed to hospital after a confrontation, Trix angry and ashamed at what she had done). Annoyingly the Doctor can see through all of her disguises (even the Trix Macmillan one, which we later discover is genuinely an act and not who she really is) and see her, the real her. When it transpires that Martin has been reading her thoughts throughout, getting off her secrets Trix feels sick to the stomach that her privacy has once again been abused (after this and Reo she feels a girl cannot call her mind her own anymore!). She isn’t even sure if she remembers her past anymore because she has spent so long trying to bury it. In her best scene to date she manages to convince Martin that he is the most gorgeous bloke in the universe (with her thoughts alone) just long enough to get close to him and kick him in the nuts.

Foreboding: The Doctor looks into the Tomorrow Window and sees many possible futures but the image finally settles on…Christopher Eccleston!!! Trix’s confrontation with her father will return to haunt her in The Gallifrey Chronicles.

Twists: The Tomorrow Windows have been set up in Tate Modern to give people the ‘Gist of Things to Come’. Brilliantly when the Doctor looks into one it shows him several ‘possible’ futures (including Rowan Atkinson, Alan Davies, Eddie Izzard, Michael Jayston) and also some events (the Daleks/ the Time War?, the Nimon (Seasons of Fear). After making a speech Ken Livingstone’s head splits to reveal an electron bomb (leading to the brilliant line, 'The Mayor of London is about to explode!') and Tate Modern is reduced to rubble (hurrah!). The tribal war dance on Valuensis is brilliant. I love the ‘only God can save us now’ situation because all the jokes become suddenly, terrifyingly real and you realise these people are really willing to destroy their entire planet for one more glimpse at their God and that the Doctor can do nothing to prevent it. I love the Ceccecs, what a fabulously scary idea. All the auctioneers are marvellous creations and they all get a funny (in the spirit of taking the piss…Alien Bodies also gets ribbed!) introductory chapter (my favourite was Question Intonation: ‘Why have the creatures chosen to name themselves after a mode of speech. It is my firmly held belief that they do it to be annoying.'). The visit to Welwyn’s Gaia Sphere is brief but memorable, especially when he realises it has reached puberty! The Aztales are very memorable, their never neding conflict and their pretense of humanity is frightening. The Astral Flower, one of the natural wonders of the universe, is beautifully depicted in print and it destruction is tragic but similarly beautiful. The cause of all these planets having their populations wiped out is all down to the loathsome Martin, who is 14,000 years old and (basically) wants a load of cash to settle down (with Trix!). He wants to sell all the planets on the Galactic Heritage list but the troublesome populations need to be dealt with first so he employed Prubert Gastridge to pretend to be the God of these worlds and introduce selfish memes into their meme pools that will ultimately bring about their destruction. Then Dittero Shandy can take the auctioneers on a tour of the galaxy and get the bidding rolling! Gotta love Fitz’s Poirot sequence; proving peoples innocence ('I’m sorry Vorshagg, as much as you’d like to be I’m afraid you are not the murderer'), someone pointing out absurdities ('What would a lava lamp want with a planet?') and revealing the murderer to be Dittero himself ('I had to get the highest possible price by any mean necessary! I am an estate agent!'). Absolute genius. The pain Trix goes through is horrible but her revenge ('Well Mr Mind Reader, listen to this, you disgusting, effluent creep. I would rather die than kiss you. I can think of nothing more revolting then you, your face and your body. You sick, nasty pervert. I think I’ll kick you again') is very sweet. Martin fulfils Astrabel’s prophecy that he will die on Gadrahadrahon and shoots him but Charlton is there to show the younger Astrabel his notes.

Funny bits: Zoberly Chesterfield’s breasts seem to be forming an escape attempt from her brassiere. Prubert Gastridge is a hilarious reminder of all those ex-Doctor Who actors…once famous and now relegated to doing panto at seaside resorts and voice work! When it comes to saving planets from spooky alien tentacles stuff the Doctor is so 'da man!' 'What sort of person leaves a nuclear bomb unguarded? I mean its just shoddy, what is the universe coming to?' / 'God has excellent time managing skills.' / 'Any sudden moves and its hors d’oevres!' All the chatter about Earth is hilarious, especially, 'No other planet in the universe has produced a Rolf Harris!' and 'Ooh a moon…what do they call it?' 'They call it "the moon".' The line, 'The people get the government they deserve' is marvellously apt. One chapter is called The Tomorrow Peephole. The running joke about Gallifrey is perhaps the funniest thing in a book full of laugh out loud jokes…talk about taking the p*ss in style!

Result: Screaming with imagination, excitement, fantastic jokes and with a sense of whimsy that is impossible to dislike, this is one of those rare Doctor Who books that deserves its chart topping position. Every page has gags, dialogue and plot revelations that sparkled and the sheer number of ideas thrown at you is breathtaking. It is deceptively simple to read but contains a lot to think about when you are done rolling about on the floor with laughter, much of the humour having a touch of horror about it. The regulars gleam with interest, especially Trix who (again) is treated to some fascinating developments. Johnny Morris is one of my top three Doctor Who authors, he makes his novels look so effortless and yet clearly a lot of work has been put in here. Sublime humour (“None may sup the sacred soup!”) and a twisty turny plot make this a ruthlessly entertaining book. A top five (of all ranges) book: 10/10

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Pirate Loop by Simon Guerrier

Plot: The Doctor and Martha decided to unravel the mystery of the Starship Brilliant and during the course of their investigations they discover that death is the best deterrent to war and upon learning that they both lose their lives…

Mockney Wanderer: You have got to love the Doctor’s track record these days, only four hours after landing at Milky Pink City (love that name!) he has broken the robots programming, incited civil war and brokered a peace through the power of Mika. What a guy! Martha finds his wide grin and enthusiasm infectious. He is really disappointed that he solved the mystery of the Brilliant in five minutes, after all a good mystery should take at least an hour. Everything was brilliant with him. He’s something of a rogue vigilante for the missing Time Lords these days, he claims if they had access to the time vortex he would have to stop them. He loves fixing things. He’s always going on about being the last of the Time Lords but on this occasion he just about manages to stop himself in time. He normally needs other people to point out that he is rude. Upon learning that Martha had been killed his thoughts turn darkly to how he feels duty bound to find her body and take her home to Francine and face the family’s tide of grief and anger. Once it never would have occurred to him to brave something like that if he could avoid it. Authority types trusted the Doctor because he was so useful. The transmat was so painful the Doctor has to check to see if he has regenerated. Stepping over the TARDIS threshold always put him at ease.

Doctor in Training: Some really nice characterisation of Martha in this novel, even if at times her empathy with the underdog is turned up to extremes. However even that is subverted when she is stabbed in the gut by the very creature she was cooing over. That’ll learn yer. Martha can remember some miserable family holidays and Tish the Tart chatting up the creeps. This novel is set after Human Nature and Martha has come to accept that the Doctor does not feel the same way about her even if he does give her the odd look to suggest otherwise. Francine’s house smells of strong to and cleanliness. She remembers playing late poker with the porters at the hospital. She hates being pushed in front of other people, her mum used to do that at functions and declare her ‘the middle one.’ The Doctor likes it when she shows initiative. Martha is a real Doctor even if the Doctor isn’t and she feels the need to help people even if the precious laws of time say otherwise. She hates being the centre of attention, especially at parties, she prefers to be invisible. The Doctor thinks she is clever and able and has got lovely hair! Tish had taught Martha the art of torturing boys and making them wait. Thinking her dead the Doctor says she always made things better and was going to do brilliant things. Her Dad told her not to worry about things you can’t control, the other stuff would happy regardless. Now she has met the Doctor she cannot sit idle.

Foreboding: Martha ponders leaving the Doctor soon, for her own sake.

Twists: There is a lovely bit of nonsense at the beginning of the book before things get fatalistic where the Doctor and Martha liberate a colony of robots built to amuse. Its worthy of a Roger Langridge comic. The Starship Brilliant vanished on the cusp of a galactic war. There are mouthless slaves in the engine room who can take instructions and not answer back. The Brilliant travels impossibly, skimming like a stone across the time vortex, travelling huge areas and missing the distance! Time weed is the stuff that lives in the gaps between moments. The Badger Pirates are quite scary simply because they act like idiot kids that hang outside the co-op at night, children playing at murder. Martha stabbed in the gut is a shocking moment even when you are expecting it. I loved all the discussion about cheesy pineapple sticks because it manages to comment on the class system just as Mick Lewis’ Rags did but without the flaying and eviscerations. You know there is something wrong when Mrs Wingworth antagonises the terrorists until she is murdered and as though she has won the class war she looks down on them as they shoot her. I loved the image of the pirate ship being a huge spiky peach whose spikes were invading shuttles that shot away like arrows and pierced the belly of the ships they were looting. Brilliantly once the badgers realised that they couldn’t die and that their bodies would be discreetly returned they see this as a lucrative opportunity and murder each other endlessly to replicate their gold earrings! The Brilliant has a rough idea of how things are supposed to be and ensure it fixes all problems, even death. They are sand banked in time, the bridge crew in another time zone, only four minutes after the attack. If you take the transmat you would be torn between two separate time zones! The badgers were genetically created to be slaves under the name of nature preservation. Ironically whilst they are killing each other over and over they have discovered the perfect recipe for peace ‘If they can’t kill each other they might as well get on!’ In an exciting moment Martha is almost sucked into space and thinks that the badgers are going spare some lives, when they slip their ship from the gut of the ship and let them get ejected into space. The Doctor commits suicide hoping that the loop will start again and he will be brought back to life! He extends the loop around the pirate ship and the story ends beautifully with an agonising choice. Escape the loop and be free in a galaxy at war or stay, trapped and safe inside the loop where the party never ends.

Funny Bits: ‘Humans doing what you do, daring to be brown and blue and violet sky!’
You can have a drink inside an ‘immature Mim!’
When Martha goes to shake hands she is asked ‘Is there something wrong with your paw?’
‘I don’t mean to be rude but didn’t I see you die?’
‘Its good that we’re such a close family really, it makes it much easier to hand out the subpoenas.’

Result: A small chunk of loveliness, The Pirate Loop handles some pretty weighty science fiction ideas but manages to keep the story bubbly and manageable. Once you have finished the book you realise this book has about as much death as the average Jim Mortimore and two of the best moments feature both the Doctor and Martha meeting their end. The story stays in one location and you could see how this could be realised on screen with lots of timey wimey cleverness. I love how Guerrier comments on slavery, the class system and mortality whilst still managing to make you laugh at the ironic tragedy of the situation. The ending is especially good, leaving the reader with some quiet thoughts about what they would do in the same situation. A real winner, bursting with intelligence: 8/10

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Eighth Doctor Adventures

Revolution Man: A mature piece of work and Paul Leonard’s best novel yet. Basing a book on drug taking was always going to be risky but Leonard pulls it off with real style, mainly because his prose has always had that sort of trippy, hypnotic feel to it that makes the scenes here of people intoxicated so powerful. The regulars are divine and it is astonishing to think it has taken this long to get them this right, but all three of them are vivid and used to drive the story along. The heavily bashed conclusion where the Doctor shoots Ed Hill is anything but disappointing, it’s the sort of sting in the tail these books should all have. Only the relative shortness of the book works against it, this is a storyline that deserves more time to let it breathe. All told, fantastic: 9/10

Full Review here:

Dominion: Sporadically brilliant and dull. If you can get past the first terminally dull 50 pages things improve radically with some lovely gruesome set pieces, marvellous characterisation (you have a pair of excellent wannabe companions in Kerstin and Nagle, both competing for the position of replacement for Sam) and a great exploration of the Doctor’s character. Unfortunately the scenes set in the Dominion are mostly boring, a little too weird for my tastes and not giving you enough to care about. The prose is faultless but not risky enough (plain English…emphasis on the PLAIN) but for a debut novel this shows a lot of imagination and fresh ideas and marks Nick Walters as one to watch out for in the future: 6/10

Full Review Here:

Unnatural History: There are lots of plot threads, some good (the Faction stuff), some not so good (Griffin and his technobabble hell) and it feels really disjointed because for once in a OrmanBlum book the plot rivals the character stuff for importance. The threats are not intertwined; rather they are like a check list that is ticked off one by one. There are the usual genuine character moments that typify this author’s work but considering they usually torture the Doctor and his companions in horrific ways the three of them get off pretty lightly here, the book unwilling to take the appropriate risks. Dark Sam is a huge let down after so much build up, I was expecting something horrible but instead she just a slightly rougher version of the Sam we usually hang with. I once called this book actively bad and whilst that might have been a bit ingenuous it certainly isn’t good by any means and it is by far the weakest novel to be churned out by the great OrmanBlum machine. Awkward: 4/10

Full Review Here:

Autumn Mist: Bland, clichéd characterisation and sluggish, awkward prose combine with a woefully inadequate plot to make this one of the weakest EDAs yet. It tries to mix the militaristic and the magical but the writer doesn’t have the skill to pull it off (weird because he does so wonderfully in The Eleventh Tiger) and the result is deathly shallow and worse, boring. This was coming out when McIntee was churning out book after book and his natural storytelling capability was bleeding dry, he doesn’t even get the regulars right here which is usually a given in his books. I cannot remember being excited once during this read: 2/10

Full Review Here:

Interference Book I: A book that feels really important, that is adult, intelligent and covers a lot of ground. Lawrence Miles is an ideas genius but once again he forgets to write plot around his massive concepts. It’s all set up and no pay off, 300 pages of character/ideas introductions with little happening but finding out more about them. It does get a little dry in places but the prose is mostly excellent with some excellent narrative devices there to make the journey easier (you’ve got lip reading binoculars, scripting, Sarah’s notes, an omnipresent narrator, one scene told from six POVs). Sam is dealt with very maturely, Sarah is amazingly written and it is worth reading just to find out what happens to poor Fitz. It’s a book that cleverly demands that you read the second half and really feels as if it is entering dangerous territory. It isn’t perfect but after a small lull in the EDAs it feels like a massive step in the right direction: 8/10

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Interference Book Two: A very satisfying wrapping up of the zillion clever ideas already set up in book one. The developments for the characters and the EDAs are astonishing, going beyond anything Virgin ever gave us in the ‘Oh my God I cannot believe that just happened to…’ stakes. Fitz’s story is horrible but brilliantly compelling and all the other characters get sparkling moments. The way the third and eighth Doctor’s life melts together is jaw dropping and the amount of surprises is unbeaten by any Doctor Who book to this point. I still have some reservations about the books length (it could have been a 400 page book with some of its flabbiness cut away) but for the sheer breadth of ideas (Miles is confirmed as the ultimate risk taker) this is one of the best Doctor Who novels ever written. A twisted, dangerous masterwork, which was severely underrated at the time and makes for impulsive reading in the twilight of the EDAs: 9/10

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The Blue Angel: Sheer genius from the first page to last, I adored every second of this complex, challenging slice of whimsy. Half of it refuses to make sense, it denies you a satisfying ending and in places it seems to be going off on tangents just for the hell of it but these are reasons to celebrate the book, as it takes risks with its narration and wins through with superb style. All the (brilliant) threads converge in the packed climax and then the whole thing stops, leaving the reader as gobsmacked as the Doctor at how the writers could be so cruel. I have rarely been as eager to find out what happened next or been as happy to be refused that knowledge, I pieced together my own ending with the wickedly playful twenty questions at the end. It is so nice to see the EDAs having some fun; this book is gorgeously written with some stunning set pieces and an infectious sense of adventure. Delightful: 10/10

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The Taking of Planet Five: Great set pieces, terrible narrative, this is a book of a thousand wonderful ideas bound up in near-impenetrable prose. It took me two weeks to read this because it required so much concentration (my average time to read a book is two days) and in places I really struggled to go on. Saying that the best parts of this book are extremely brave, clever and rewarding. I’m sure with some tighter editing this would have been a lot more accessible but it wouldn’t feel half as risky or as unique as it does. This is a bold experiment in a time when the books were finally exploring exciting new ground; it reminds me of the best and the worst of Virgin’s output, challenging work but not recognisably Doctor Who. Maybe that’s a good thing though, I certainly don’t regret polishing this off and I may return to it again one day to see just how daring the books could be: 7/10

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Frontier Worlds: A huge step up from Kursaal, this is an entirely character driven book and on that level it is brilliant, with the regulars being fleshed out with some considerable skill. It is long past time the EDAs had a line up of regulars as good as this, kicking the ass of the Virgin ones because they are not lumbered with soppy Chris Cwej and hard bitch Ace. The plot is made up of lots of gripping and entertaining set pieces which ensure the piece roars by in fine style. It is a fun piece with loads of cool bits (if you get bored just read a few more pages and something enjoyable will happen) and the prose itself is pretty wholesome. Compassion and the axe is so cool it deserves mentioning again: 8/10

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Parallel 59: A massively undervalued book. For once an EDA bothers to have an equal amount of solid characterisation AND plot and both prove to be quite surprising in places (Anya’s heartbreaking attempts to get Fitz’s attention, the sudden appearance of the ship from Haltiel). The book is a little flabby in the middle, having set up an intriguing mystery it runs on the spot for a little while offering hints and scraps at what is to come. I never felt this was the work of two separate writers and the prose is very readable, made even simpler by those friendly short chapters (48 in a 282 page book!). The regulars are handled very well and the last 80 pages rocket by effortlessly, full of excitement and great twists. Even the ending is perfect, tragic (the loss of life) and yet strangely uplifting (the loss of the militaristic regime and the suggestions of humility, rebuilding and reunion). I devoured this in a day, aware of a few problems but pretty impressed by the end result: 7/10

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The Shadows of Avalon: It might be a bit awkward in spots but that doesn’t matter at all as this is one of the few EDAs to this point to be touched by a sense of magnificence. For a start the prose is beautiful, rich with magical sights and dripping with emotion and the characterisation is the best we have seen in this series (outside of a Kate Orman novel) with the reader going through every stage of the Brigadier’s tragic road to recovery. The EDAs get a wonderful kick up the ass and it is so joyous to reach the last page (that is meant as a compliment) because I was desperate to know what happened next. It is the novel where the eighth Doctor is finally nailed, as a people person who saves the day by getting close to people and the dawning realisation that this fascinating character can actually work in print is the icing on the cake. Very encouraging: 9/10

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The Fall of Yquatine: Another winner in what is turning out to be a great little run of EDAs. Fitz and Compassion take centre stage again and rarely have book companions been this fascinating, powering their separate plotlines with real style. The set up of having to experience the attack on Yquatine twice is exploited for all the drama its worth and the book never wastes a page in getting into its characters heads and revealing new colours. You can feel how much Nick Walters has improved since Dominion, his plot and characterisation much sharper and clutches of prose that whip the mat from under your feet. It is only the odd cartoonish moment that lets this book down and some moments of overplayed drama. I gobbled this down in a day, it is a remarkably easy book to read and will definitely surprise you at least once. Another confident, well plotted entry and a book that not only exploits the treasures unearthed in The Shadows of Avalon but actually improves them: 8/10

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Coldheart: Predictable and safe and yet somehow strangely likable, despite the feeling of laziness in the plotting and content it ticks all the right boxes for a ‘classic’ Doctor Who TV adventure (and lets face it, that’s what got us into this lark in the first place!). It is barely endowed with innovation and you can guess pretty much every single twist that’s coming, characterisation is pretty sketchy and the prose is nothing to shout home about but Trevor Baxendale clearly LOVES Doctor Who and his enthusiasm for his material is quite infectious. From no-where the last fifty pages are genuinely excellent, the book kicks into high gear, the deaths are extremely memorable and the plot is tied up very nicely. It is the weakest book for an age, which goes to show how good they have been lately because regardless of its unimaginativeness it is still enjoyable and passes the time: 6/10

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The Space Age: Oh. My. God. This rubbed me up the wrong from the first scene and coming from the usually reliable pen of Steve Lyons it is a double shock. The premise is ridiculous and the book is full of stupid, illogical twists, the characterisation is poor (The Sandra/Alec thing could really have been exploited but it felt really unnatural) and the regulars barely register. There were a few moments where I perked up, mostly when Compassion turned up, even muted as she is here she pisses over all the other characters. This should have thrown in the slag heap the second it hit Steve Lyons desk, the prose is basic, storyline prosaic and considering its placing (in a pretty decent run of books) it sticks out like a sore thumb. Something could have been made of the Makers but not attached to this plot. One of the weakest EDAs I have read yet: 1/10

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The Banquo Legacy: I’m so glad this came along when it did, a complex and compelling read, the penultimate book of the Stephen Cole edited era and helping to round it off with some real style. It reminds me of one of those rare TV Doctor Who stories where everything comes together… and not a foot is placed wrong here from the mix of authors, the choice of narrative device, the pace, the setting, the plot, the gorgeous descriptive prose…it is a pleasure to read from the very first page. The amount of detail is extraordinary and the 18th Century is brewed up with atmospheric ease, I loved every single one of the characters and the horror content lives up to its name beautifully. The first two thirds are like the best Agatha Christie story ever written and the last third is pure Doctor Who madness done with real verve and nastiness. And the fact that it segues into the ongoing EDA arc unobtrusively but pushing along the plot and leaving you desperate to read the next book is the icing on the cake: 10/10

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The Ancestor Cell: 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

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The Burning: 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

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Casualties of War: A debut novel to be proud of and a book which continues the Doctor’s 100 year exile with something very special. The story has a quartet of characters (Mary, Cromby, Briggs and Banham) who feel so real they bring the story alive with their thoughts and feelings. It’s a horror story with some real scares, potent moments that will leave you terrified to turn the light out and it isn’t afraid to examine the war with some psychological depth. The prose is gorgeous throughout and the setting comes alive in vivid detail. The real heart behind the book is the Doctor/Mary relationship which is in turns playful, awkward and heart-warming. It is a little light on plot but after some of the complex plotting of the Faction Paradox arc that comes as a most refreshing change. This is a novel about people and on that lever it is a total success: 9/10

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Wolfsbane: One of the sparkling diamonds in the rough of an extremely inconsistent year for Doctor Who fiction (2003), this is one of those stories, which reminds you perfectly of why you fell in love with this silly show in the first place. It is blisteringly entertaining with lots well observed comedy moments but that never gets in the way of what is essentially a touching horror story about a lone werewolf. Some moments are astonishingly dark (especially when Sarah gets buried alive…) and Jacqueline Rayner’s descriptive prose is at its peak, immersed in nature and magic. The potentially catastrophic idea of pairing up the eighth Doctor with Harry is pulled off like a dream and they read like they were made for each other. The dual plotlines add suspense to the tale, Sarah discovering more and more horrors just ahead of us experiencing them! Top it all of with fantastic dialogue all around and you have a little gem which rightfully belongs in this (so far) astonishing Earth arc: 9/10

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The Turing Test: Easily the best eighth Doctor book to this point and perhaps (in terms of literary achievement) the best Doctor Who novel of all time. It comes as a shock that something this good comes from the pen of Paul Leonard, not because he is a bad author (far from it) but because he is usually such a strong plot writer rather than a character man and the reason this book works so fantastically is because it examines its characters in such complex and probing ways. Leonard captures three distinct voices beautifully and the dialogue and observations they make take this book into a world of its own. The Doctor has never been more prominent or fascinating and his comeuppance at the climax is both poignant and rewarding. The plot starts off slow but builds to an incredibly memorable finish and the atmosphere of the second world war is captured more atmospherically than any other Doctor Who book I can remember. The eighth Doctor adventures have struck a pot of gold with the Caught on Earth Arc and this is the pinnacle of a five-book stretch of wonderful stories. Stark, brutal and unexpectedly emotional, I love this novel to pieces and ask myself what you are doing reading this silly thread when you could be immersed in its pages. In a way I’m very pleased Uncle Terry is up next because I’m running out of superlatives: 10/10

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Endgame: And it was going so well…but I suppose we had to be brought back to Earth sooner or later and be reminded that this is a Doctor Who book series where childish, patronising storytelling runs free. This is a quick read if you are after nothing more than fluff but the Earth Arc to this point have been so much more than that. Terrance barely injects any effort into this; it feels as though he reeled it off in a day or two with his standard descriptions and plot mechanics. There is some fun to be had seeing the Doctor meeting up with so many historical figures but much of their characterisation is piss poor, especially compared to the depth of the previous book. The Players are hardly the most fascinating villains to begin with and their worldwide struggle could have been far more interesting than this cartoonish game they play here. A huge misstep for the range, shallow and uninvolving for the most part and wasting time when there is clearly so much more to the Doctor’s exile to explore: 3/10

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Father Time: Powerful, deep, beautifully written and populated with characters so real you feel as if you know them, this is something very special indeed. It is full of elements that feel traditionally Doctor Who (the alien dictator/rebels conflict, robots, lasers, spaceships…) and yet there is so much here that is fresh and interesting (the heartfelt relationships, Miranda’s coming of age, setting the book over a decade of history) and the mix is quite intoxicating. Peppered with beautiful moments (the rose petal tower, the hover discs rising over the snowy village), genuine emotion (I defy you not to feel something when Debbie is killed!) and cracking dialogue throughout (“The gun works…but it is useless”), this is how good every Doctor Who book should be. This is the EDA equivalent of Human Nature, it feels absolutely right in every respect. I adore it: 10/10

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Escape Velocity: Oh. My. God. Who on Earth thought closing one of the best arcs in any novel range with this ****e? Lance Parkin showed us how traditional Doctor could be done in the novel series with his beautiful Father Time and now Colin Brake demonstrates perfectly why the books shouldn’t mimic the TV series too much. This is bland muck; written so a six year old would feel insulted, with some seriously shallow characterisation, a yawnathon plot, some tedious aliens and a climax that is awful it has to be read to be believed. As an introduction to Anji it sucks (and probably has much to do with her reputation) because it is so poor and she reads as nothing more than a character profile. I cringed with embarrassment throughout most of this book, wanting for it to be over so I could move on to something more interesting. A serious error of judgement, ending the arc on this one, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth after all that sweetness: 2/10

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Earthworld: Jac Rayner is clearly finding her feet as an author but there is so much here that is good it is clear she will go on to great things. Her treatment of the regulars is exemplary and she manages to update the new readers about the Doctor and Fitz and re-introduces (as a real person) Anji with effortless ease. She does this without resorting to cheap tricks, getting us close to these people and their insecurities and allowing us to see how much they have lost but how much they gained by finding each other. The book is blissfully funny in places and the main plot regarding the trips is well worth sticking with for the heartbreaking conclusion. The only criticism I have is the prose, which is far too chatty for its own good and the plot, which is thin but made up for by the top-notch characterisation. The end result is an extremely entertaining book, one that clears up a lot of backstory for the regulars and sets them forward for some fab adventures. I found it pretty addictive, especially in the excellent second half and fell in love with Anji all over again: 8/10

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Fear Itself: One of the best Doctor Who books. A rock superbly plotted thriller, which is loaded with twist after twist that will leave you reeling at its conclusion. There are loads of exciting set pieces, a cast of guest characters that come alive like you wouldn’t believe, a host of fantastic, imaginative ideas, suspense and drama. All this and there is still room to take three fascinating regulars, put them through hell, get up close and personal, and see them emerge stronger and more interesting than they were. The amount of detail that has gone into writing this is rare for a Doctor Who book, the three time zones come alive with astonishing clarity and the prose itself is full of great observations, strong descriptions and a terrifying pace. It really is one of the best Doctor Who books you are likely to read and the one I would personally recommend to non fans who love science fiction. A blistering read: 10/10

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Vanishing Point: Reading much fan opinion (stupid me) I expected this to be terrible so imagine my delight at discovering how good it was! My only real complaints surface at the end when you think through some of the answers that were given and realise how underdeveloped they were but considering all the other treats on offer that is hardly the greatest sin. It is surprisingly sensitive in places with some lovely character work that really draws you close to these people and starts to exploit the great potential in the engaging Doctor/Fitz/Anji team. The Doctor has rarely been this fascinating in print. There is much intelligent dialogue too, religious debate that really gets you thinking and some world building that proves quite detailed when seen through the eyes of Etty and Dark, two thoroughly convincing, flawed (in a good way!) characters. The pace of the book is great and there are some wonderfully fun set pieces. Stephen Cole might not be the most sophisticated writer on the planet but by God he can spin a good yarn and ensure that there is never a dull moment and some gob smackingly good ones allow the way: 8/10

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Eater of Wasps: A thoroughly engaging read and packed full of grisly moments that make you go “eugh!” Probably the most traditional Doctor Who story the EDAs have offered up yet but it doesn’t suffer in the way others in this vain have because Trevor Baxendale has latched onto the two elements that make it work, a terrifying possession and an unpredictable Doctor. Lets face it the (guest) characterisation is pretty basic and the location is straight out of the Barry Letts book of Who but those things just don’t matter because the wasps are the star of this book and they are just plain terrifying. There is an abundance of sickly moments that made me squirm and the action never lets up, not for one moment, piling problem after problem. Trevor’s prose is much improved and Rigby’s horrific transformation is described in disgusting detail. The time travellers add another dimension to the book and offer tantalising glimpse into the future. Its so nice to have a book this unpretentious, one that isn’t trying to prove a point or make you go ‘ooh isn’t that clever’ symptomatic of so many EDAs, this is just a bloody good read from cover to cover. Enough said: 9/10

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The Year of Intelligent Tigers: What an amazing book this is. Kate Orman effortlessly breathes music into her story and creates a world that comes alive in so many ways, more than making up for the fact that we have stuck on Earth for so long. The book is peppered with beautiful descriptions, evocative locations and startling emotion. The regulars are defined magnificently, especially the Doctor who is such a far cry from his earlier persona (for the better) it is impossible to reconcile the two. His negotiations between two explosive camps and his despair at their violent reactions is riveting to read. The Tigers, an idea that could have been so naff, turn out to be one of the best ‘alien’ races we have ever met and the mystery surrounding their origins is well worth sticking around for. I read this in half a day, unable to put it down, captivated by the striking narration and vivid characterisation. It’s a unique piece, nuanced and sensitive, slow and sensual. My favourite Kate Orman book by miles: 10/10

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The Slow Empire: I just don’t know what to say. It is not good. There are flashes of imagination and the some cracking jokes but this doesn’t make up for 240 odd pages of nonsense we have to endure. There are some great ideas in here but they are wasted on a slooooow plot and writer who is so far up his own arse he thinks he can get away with prevaricating with pointless asides over and over and over and treat characters as a bunch of random observations. I was waiting for a revelation that would tie this altogether and make it all make sense (in that it isn’t just a bunch of random observations shoved in between two covers…the front one of which is utterly hideous too!) but it never happened and the answers we do get are pretty lame considering the everlasting wait for them. Saying all that, Dave Stone has a mastery over language which verges on the genius with lots of horrifically complicated words cropping up…its just a shame he didn’t bother to use them to write a plot with characters and a point. A huge let down for the range, Stone’s unique view of Doctor Who can be a breathless, invigorating experience but this isn’t going to please either camp, it is neither brilliantly camp and insane or purely traditional and functional…its just sort of there. Achieving nothing: 2/10

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Dark Progeny: The two problems with Dark Progeny are that after the arresting opening chapter nothing happens until the climax AND it writes out its regulars for 2/3rds of the action, two huge errors that leave the middle sections of this book a real slog. A shame because the plot concerning the alien children is genuinely involving and the characterisation of the Doctor is once again fabulous. Emmerson’s guest characters hold up most of the book, especially Josef and Veta who get a sub plot that deserved much more attention. Some scenes are gorgeously written (such as the telepathic Anji hearing Fitz and the Doctor’s thoughts) which annoys because there is so little plot to get your teeth into but with some major tightening up this could have been superb. There are some wonderful concepts introduced at the end that could have done with exploring further too (the Gaia planet). All in all, a bit of struggle to enjoy because you can see clearly how it could be done so much better: 5/10

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The City of the Dead: Easily one of the best eighth Doctor book to this point and strong contender for the best original Doctor Who book, this is everything you could want from a novel and more. Lloyd Rose’s prose is a revelation, intelligent, sensual, evocative and risky…she brings New Orleans to life with a real sense of beauty and detail, the city of the dead opens up around you within this books pages. She plants the Doctor at the centre of the novel and allows us closer to him than ever before, his characterisation is absolutely phenomenal throughout and it is clear that although he leaps over this particular hurdle there are still more horrors to come. The plotting is airtight; the characters (even the smaller ones like Flood, Thales and Pierre Bal) come alive in unexpected ways and the levels of emotion the book expresses is extremely potent. Half the time it doesn’t read like Doctor Who at all and that can only be a good thing, this is a stunning novel that restores absolute faith in the range after a couple of clunkers: 10/10

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Grimm Reality: Imaginative, with a real sense of dark whimsy, I’m glad I gave this book another chance because I have been far too hard on it in the past. It takes a while to figure out Albert but when you do there is a lot of fun to be had here, especially being able to see these dirty fairytales, kids stories seen from the POV of adults is fascinating. The regulars are captured beautifully and get loads to do and the plot is full of memorable sights, challenges and riddles. Against that the book keeps reverting to an interminably boring sub plot on a merchants ship that takes you away from all the fun on the planet and the separate voices of two authors can be easily discerned as the book pulls you in far too many directions to be entirely coherent. Packed with laughs and creativity though, I would still give it a thumbs up and I adored the sections of the plot that lapsed into fairytale style prose: 8/10

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The Adventuress of Henrietta Street: Terrifying (in terms of its content and in terms of its content) and unforgettable, this is the ultimate eighth Doctor experience. Defining the exciting, unpredictable new universe the Doctor has found himself in (delightful because Miles has clearly put some real thought into what horrors might lie in a universe without the Time Lords) like no other; this is the sort of book that has been crafted, not written. Packed with sickening images, detailed historical atmosphere, adult relationships and amazing developments, this is my favourite Doctor Who book. Bar none. This is Lawrence Miles’ true masterpiece and the highest level of sophistication the EDAs have ever reached. Challenging and intelligent, it doesn’t get much better than this: 10/10

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Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Delightfully funny and extremely comfortable with its own campness, this is a marvellously brisk read after the fairly torturous Adventuress. You can’t really take any of it seriously but that’s not what we’re here for, Paul Magrs knows how to show you a good time better than any other Doctor Who writer and I haven’t giggled this much in a long time. The regulars are at their all time loosest and we really get to see enjoying themselves and the guest characters (especially the marvellous Flossie and the Noel Coward) all contribute much entertainment. There is quite a complex little plot rattling along here when you dig beneath the candyfloss surface, which ties up beautifully at the end. It isn’t as richly written as The Scarlet Empress or as experimental and risky as The Blue Angel but it is far funnier and easier to read than either of them, making it Magrs’ most accessible book. As long as you can accept the poodles… Another corker in what is turning out to be another very good little run of books: 9/10

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Hope: Clearly the work of an author trying to impress on his debut solo novel, there are loads of great ideas in here and the plot never stops developing. Hope itself is a beautifully well thought out Doctor Who location full of danger and atmosphere, a deadly setting for this tale of betrayal and conquest. It’s almost a shame that Silver has to become such a predictable villain in the end because he is such a memorable character and for once there is a character that matches the charisma and intelligence of the Doctor. The prose is a little choppy in places and the plot does hop about a bit but none of these matters because the character work is brilliant. Anji is finally treated to a novel that pushes her centre stage and she is every bit as compelling and thoughtful as I new she would be, Mark Clapham should be extremely proud of taking this much loathed character and making her seem more real and complex than any other writer. Her plot brought tears to my eyes at the end. All in all, a compelling read, not an absolute classic (there’s a bit too much going on and with an extended page count it could be explored more thoroughly) but a confident, intelligent read with plenty to admire and enjoy: 8/10

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Anachrophobia: The most ingenious use of time travel yet, this is a hugely imaginative and terrifying tale which recaptures all the shadowy horror of those Troughton base under siege stories with an extra dash of gore that makes all the more scary. The book is brilliantly written with a well thought out plot, some marvellously spine tingling moments and spot characterisation of the regulars. The shift of location at the climax is well placed and the Doctor’s final solution is excellent. It is a little hard going in places because the tone is unremittingly grim but I refuse to criticise a book on the grounds that it sticks to its guns (to frighten) and doesn’t try to add any superfluous ‘entertaining’ moments. The last two pages provide a final, electrifying shock and top a nourishing read, full of graphic imagery and a terrorizing atmosphere. It says something about Jonathan Morris' writing that this is the weakest of his three Doctor Who books and its still bloody excellent: 9/10

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Trading Futures: About as deep as a very tiny puddle, this is the perfect holiday Who novel. There is a fast paced, easily digestible plot, marvellous switches of location, witty lines and some damn good world building. I skipped through it in less than a day, at a loss at how wonderful the team of the Doctor, Fitz and Anji are these days. One thing niggled me, I’m not the greatest Bond fan (which this book is heavily based on) but that is a matter of personal preference rather than a comment on the books quality. Lots of action for those who enjoy it, some cool hardware on display and a great world encompassing war being brewed…its pleasing to note this is one Bond story with a bit of brains, with Anji dissecting the conflict and the players motivations. Enjoyable and funny, although the space Rhino’s were perhaps one joke too many: 7/10

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The Book of the Still: How can a book imbued with this much energy have such a mundane first half? The drug-induced prose guides you through effortlessly but it contains nothing but a number of protracted chase sequences! Once the Unnoticed arrives, so does the plot and the second half is excellent, filled with amazing scenes that will make you laugh, cry and tear your head out with the sheer madness of it! This feels like Dave Stone for a more accessible audience and has all the humour, imagination and mind boggling moments that made the former author so popular but connects to its audience with a real sense of heart too, which makes all the difference. Forget the confusing climax and get high on the wealth of memorable moments and hair raising writing style: 8/10

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The Crooked World: The last time I reviewed a Steve Lyons book in the mighty eighth Doctor marathon I considered the worst Doctor Who book I had ever read so how odd that his next entry should be such an amazing piece of writing. Its one of the all time classic Doctor Who books, such a fantastic idea and pulled off with such incredible style. The writing is extremely adult without ever being patronising but still manages to thrill the child in you, with loads of laugh out loud hilarious scenes. The regulars are vital to the plot and each contribute much to the story and characterised (once again) with supreme confidence and the secondary characters all transcend their stereotypes to become living, breathing people who it is impossible not to fall in love with (even the villains). It shares some themes with the film Pleasantville and is just as touching and magical, coming of age never seemed so frightening and delightful. I am extremely pleased with the imagination and humour the range is displaying at the moment, this is another little masterpiece in a consistently excellent run of books: 10/10

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History 101: A book which is not afraid of flaunting its intelligence and will leave those behind who wont put the right amount of effort. Saying that, the rewards a manifold; a complex and fascinating plot, some startling ideas, a brilliantly original way of going about exploring a historical event, another excellent use of the regulars… Following hot on the heels of a book that couldn’t be more different, this is an equally thoughtful book which prefers to contemplate rather than thrill and succeeds in intimately exploring the many viewpoints of the Spanish Civil War and continue the eighth Doctor arc plot with Sabbath proving as elusive and dangerous as ever. People say the book has a dry edge to it with documental rather than sensual prose but isn’t that rather the point? By allowing us to see history from so many viewpoints the plot does veer off in far too many directions but I doubt it would be as interesting without this unusual technique. It is a striking debut, layered with meaning and educational, I took my time with it and found it revealing experience: 8/10

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Camera Obscura: A magnificent novel, one of the best Doctor Who books published and a really tasty historical with so many memorable passages I would be recounting much of the book to list them all. After you have finished it you realise that the plot is actually quite thin, nothing more than a protracted chase after a time machine but how the book works its way into the running arc of the EDAs turns it into so much more. This book succeeds on the astonishing strength of characterisation and brutally thoughtful moments. The Doctor and Sabbath are explored in considerable depth and any scene featuring the pair is instantly classic, bouncing off each other beautifully. The prose is stimulating, the sheer beauty of the writing results in an effortless read. It the pinnacle of a great run of books, matching Rose’s debut step for step and being the all round best achiever of the ranger since Adventuress. Powerful and involving, read this now: 10/10

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Time Zero: Shockingly brutal and gripping, this novel has three equally good action plots wrapping around each other beautifully. Written by the range editor, the regulars are every bit as fulfilling as you would expect and given a healthy dose of development. The tone is certainly dramatic, helped enormously by the reverse numbered chapters, which give the constant impression the book is building up to something. Some people complain about the heavy science in the last third but to be honest that was my favourite part, with some mind-expanding concepts being used to strengthen the character drama. The plotting is flawless and the content very adult and the whole thing is enhanced by that superb, almost photographic, cover. Easily the best thing Justin Richards has written to date; I love this book just for the stuff with Anji on the plane: 9/10

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The Infinity Race: The Infinity Race has the unfortunate feeling of being made up as it goes along, the author has sections where he is full of ideas and others where he is bored tit-less and can’t wait to finish the thing off. Consequently the resulting novel is hilarious, boring, imaginative and slow. The switching narrative is distinctive but annoying and it feels like Messingham is trying to be too clever for his own good. Compared to the drama of the last four books this is distinctly substandard with huge stretches of nothing happening to prolong the (admittedly) dramatic climax. I cannot bring myself to loathe the book as individual scenes are pretty good (such as the nasty rich folk riot and the native hunt) but as a whole they just don’t gel as well as they should. Sabbath has lots of great descriptions but this is the first time he has really come across as a pantomime villain. In true season eight fashion, you know he will be back in the next story: 4/10

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The Domino Effect: Illogical, unsubtle and so stupid in places it defies logic; this has to be one of the sloppiest Doctor Who books ever written. A fascist state, altered reality, history re-written; clichés all and yet the setting is the strongest thing about the book and its unflinching brutality is quite engrossing in places. The characterisation is weaker than my boyfriend’s tea (yuck) and the prose hardly deserves the term, it is practically the transcript of an untransmitted script! Marvel at the banal dialogue, gasp at the inexplicable climax (how the hell does killing one man destroy an entire reality?) and remind yourself that Doctor Who books are just for really stupid kids after all. Almost so bad its good in places, this continues the shocking decline started in The Infinity Race and proves that this whole altered universe idea was really misconceived: 3/10

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Reckless Engineering: A massive improvement on the last two books, this is a deftly written piece that takes the alternative reality idea by the horns and shakes so hard lots of interesting ideas and dilemmas pop out. The setting is amazing, a cruel and stark post apocalyptic Bristol lovingly described by Nick Walters in some atmospheric passages. The first half is a strong character piece with some terrifying set pieces and the second, whilst not quite as gripping, is a fascinating trip into temporal madness. The regulars really get put through the wringer here and it is nice to see Fitz given some healthy development, although the dangerous Doctor is a great improvement on the last two books too. The only really annoying aspect is the ending, which is inexplicable and insultingly easy. Despite this, I will still champion this book for its strong prose, excellent dialogue and cleverly crafted plot. This is the book which should have come directly after Time Zero: 8/10

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The Last Resort: The trouble with The Last Resort is that it refuses to conform to standard narrative…you don’t follow characters along a linear storyline. What you have to acccept is that from one scene to the next you might not just be reading about the same character, but a different version of the same character. A fascinating device, confusing as hell, but brilliantly exploiting the alternative universe concept. What makes this book so special is what makes it so impenetrable, if you don’t dissect this hardcore puzzle book completely you’ll miss out on all the rewards. A wealth of brain bursting ideas, a satisfying fractured plot (of which the threads link together beautifully) and a genuine adrenaline rush of tragedy, sacrifice and hopelessness. The stakes have never been this high before and it is pleasing to see some real pay off from this misguided arc. The last third is my favourite, packed with imagination and shocking images. Breathtakingly experimental: 9/10

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Timeless: Just as the NAs worked when they concentrated on building their own version of the future, the EDAs do their best work on Earth in domestic settings (Vampire Science, Revolution Man The Banquo Legacy, The Burning, Casualties of War, The Turing Test, Father Time, City of the Dead, Advenuress, Camera Obscura, The Sleep of Reason, The Deadstone Memorial and The Gallifrey Chronicles are some the best this range has produced). The Doctor has a cast of wonderfully trendy twenty-somethings here backing him up (Anji, Fitz, Trix, Stacey and Guy work astonishingly well together) and the urban surroundings add a touch of reality to a range, which was slowly going SF crazy (or possibly just crazy). It is another richly plotted story, Timeless has lovely clues planted everywhere and plot threads dovetail together effortlessly. Finally this mighty eighth Doctor arc is building up to its conclusion and the second half of the book is one energetic twist after another (The Time Lords! Sabbath’s plan!). Add to this mix some sizzling dialogue, interesting characterisation (for her last story Anji gets to shine) and lots of moments that remind you how marvellous the central character can be (the Doctor on the boat), this is a confident and stylish piece of storytelling and about as far from the tired hackneyed range as is reputed: 9/10

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Emotional Chemistry: It pains me to punish an author for effort but there is far too much going on in Emotional Chemistry, with a flourish of characters, settings and events that command the readers attention and Forward (agonisingly) injects sumptuous detail into each of them. I just could not concentrate so hard on everything with equal vigour and lost myself in a few places. This is a fascinating experiment with many great, great moments and another excellent plot, which weaves brilliantly through (and justifies) its three time zones. The prose is extremely imaginative and thoughtful, so noticeably colourful that it adds an extra layer of polish to the book. The characterisation rocks and there isn’t one person who rings false (if only there weren’t so bloody many of them!) and the regulars all shine apart from each other, especially Trix who has the ability to convince in all three time periods. Thick with incident, this is a flawed but worthwhile attempt at capturing the feel of Russian literature, unfairly placed between two arc novels and well worth taking your time with: 7/10

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Sometime Never…: Just because its written by Justin Richards that doesn’t make it a bad thing and whilst the grand baddies who have been plaguing the universe these few years or so are revealed to be a bunch of old crystal men who are hardly thrill a minute, that is perhaps the only major disappointment in this otherwise brilliantly climatic novel. It is perhaps the best-plotted Doctor Who book I have ever read, re-reading it proves how not a scene is wasted, every moment is vital to the overall story. The settings here might be small scale but the amount of Doctor Who fiction this encompasses is extraordinary, dragging in plot points from years back (and PDAs too) and turning the entire range into a cohesive whole. The ideas are mind blowing and the revelations in the last third reward the reader for being so patient with this arc and the range(s) in general. Sabbath gets the exit he fully deserves, the Doctor doesn’t escape scott free and there is a real surprise waiting in the last scene (which could potentially annoy but I found it charming). The prose and characterisation is not the best the EDAs can offer (both were better in Emotional Chemistry) but I am willing skip over them because this book got me so damn excited and involved. As a lover of deconstructing narrative, the way everything falls into place is quite, quite stunning: 9/10

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