Thursday, 28 April 2011

The Infinity Race by Simon Messingham

Plot: Stuck in an alternative universe, manipulated by Sabbath and discovering a ship full of dead crew, the Doctor must uncover the secrets of the famous water planet of Selonart. The trans global regatta is about to begin but beneath the cosmetics there is a completely different race taking place, a race for the power over infinity…

Top Doc: Like the book, he works in places and doesn’t in others. Described as the most annoying person in the galaxy, he is extremely verbose in this adventure and seems to get off on the thrill of adventure (hardly the right attitude to take given the state the universe is in at the moment!). It is impossible to be angry with him when he gives one of his warm smiles (at least according to Anji). Unhinged and joyful, like Willie Wonka. The Gene Wilder one. He panics underwater, feels claustrophobic as the silent ocean cocoons around him. With the Doctor, anything could be true. He is a charmer and it is impossible to not like him. He feels a loathing when he comes into contact with Sabbath; his very existence feels like a violation of the Doctor. Described as randomly picking his way through the universe, sticking plasters over wounds her and there. For the Doctor, the adventure is everything. Does good because it flatters his ego?

Scruffy Git: Bizarrely, The Infinity Race chooses to write sections directly from Fitz and Anji’s POV which gives some insight into what goes through their minds whilst running for their lives. He is the enthusiastic child of the TARDIS and looking good is half the battle with him. He has the disarming cow eyes of the truly stupid (can you guess who is thinking this stuff?). He doesn’t like having his opinions dismissed by the others although by his admission he is the action man and the Doctor and Anji are the thinkers. His friendship with Bloom is very sweet and it is proof that Fitz’s mere presence makes a difference as growing close and earning Bloom’s trust makes the Selonart native step forward and save his life and then jump in at the climax and give the Doctor the power to save the day.

Career Nazi: Whilst she is a little overstated at times, Anji’s sections are the best and easily the funniest. Being trapped in an alternate dimension, she feels as though somebody has vandalised her home and no matter how much she re-decorates, she will never feel safe. She was just getting used to living in the ‘normal’ world again. She is the self appointed headmistress of the TARDIS, admonishing the naughty schoolboys for getting too wrapped up in the adventurous spirit of the race! Her mocking of Fitz’s physical ineptitude is hilarious. She wonders if everything she has ever known will ever be the same again. Anji’s sections are lifted by some brilliantly post modern thoughts (‘It all seems so easy on the telly, doesn’t it? You can just cut to the next scene. In the real world there’s all this tiresome travelling stuff to get through’). She admits towards the end how very tired she is and how much she misses her old life. She is terrified of Sabbath and holds the Doctor back when he tries to rescue him.

Ham Fists: An extraordinary man with a strength in him that is tense and dangerous. He is packed tight with muscles and not as decadent as he would like to appear. Brilliantly, he sits and munches an apple as his associate is slaughtered. A beast pretending to be a man? Amoral, ruthless and utterly egocentric, Sabbath sees himself as a crusader. Described as humanity’s final enemy. He still has it in his head that he can crush reality into one definitive timeline, one that he can mould and control, uncluttered and free. He understands violence, its necessity and its glamour but it still was not pleasant to him, such a small concept as it is. He is thought of as a formidable opponent, insane, ambitious, even ridiculous but still a marvel. A man of brutal grace.

Twists: The warlock attacking the Doctor on the yacht is excitingly written; in fact much of their exploration of the dead ship is pretty creepy. The TARDIS is lost to the ocean. The warlocks turn out to be a colonisation crew who were infected by the cancer that is soaked into the bones of the planet Demigest. The scenes underwater are arresting, especially when the sub and Warner start being divided by the crystals. The sailors are split by their infinitives (omigod can you believe he got away with that?), alternate versions all grouping together rather than branching off into a separate timeline. Far scarier than the main plot is the abrupt end to the race, which leads to scenes of vicious, competitive capitalists on the rampage. It transpires that in this universe the Service (of which Sabbath was once a member) still exists and they have a contract out on Sabbath’s life. Horribly, the natives are butchered in from of Anji’s eyes. Selonart was built to help its natives transcend death, to know everything, to join directly with the universe and yet retain a sense of self. That is what Bloom goes through in this book, becoming one with infinity. The Doctor slides the Jonah’s windows open and allows the ocean and the timeberg to blast them. Fitz is killed, his throat slashed open by a Warlock but thanks to Bloom’s help in choosing the variety of paths one can take, he goes back to before his death and changes events. Sabbath is kidnapped by the Warlocks and made to suffer for his actions. The Doctor takes it upon himself to remove the Warlocks’ stain from the universe at the end of the story.

Embarrassing bits: The switching narratives are extremely distracting throughout, especially when Fitz and Anji talk directly to somebody (saying funky things like “Hey folks its Fitz again!”)…who the hell are these fictional characters talking to…us? What’s even weirder is when Messingham starts addressing us too (We return to the Governor much more relaxed than of late…)!!! Bloom’s fractured speech is pretty annoying in places. Anji admits that she is NOT used to death in her adventures when she said the exact opposite in the last book. Sabbath really is a bit of a dunce not to realise he is now in an alternative reality.

What annoys me most is how wonderful Simon Messingham's PDAs are and yet how underwhleming his EDAs turn out to be. This and The Face Eater hardly seem to be by the same writer of the superlative Tomb of Valdemar and The Indestructible Man. Messingham can clearly deliver the goods so what is it about writing for the eighth Doctor that leaves him so lacking?

Funny bits: They say cockroaches are likely to be the most successful survivors of a holocaust but I’m sure junk mail is up there! Anji taking the piss out of Fitz is always funny (“What Fitz did next was excellent…as far as I can tell he made to leap out after me, launched himself forward and smashed his head into the doorframe.”) Marius’ idea of diplomacy is hilarious (“Look tell me what you were doing or I’ll blow your brains out all over this desk!”).

Result: 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

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Feast of the Drowned written by Stephen Cole

What’s it about: Returning to Earth, the Doctor and Rose discover that the recently departed crew members of the Ascendant are returning to haunt their families and to tempt them to take part in the feast of the drowned…

Mockney Dude: I always get the impression that Steve Cole is trying a little too hard to emphasise the already over the top qualities of the new series Doctor’s. His characterisation was always at its best when he was dealing with the original, unpredictable eighth Doctor because he could push him as far as he liked. The tenth Doctor of these New Series Adventures at this point was just there to drive the plots along – it wasn’t until later in the run that they really starting exploring the character. As such the Doctor of The Feast of the Drowned is passable but unmemorable except when he is cracking appalling puns or acting uber hyper active – both of which were pretty irritating. What’s more the smug, exclusive invitation only relationship that he had with Rose during series two is in full effect here and just as annoying as ever. He is pretty indescribable and prone to verbal execrations! He is eager to escape the remnants of Rose’s life but she clings on regardless. The Doctor picks up his assistants on the job and they usually turn out to be very handy. When you meet the Doctor you just go on paying.

Chavvy Chick: I’ve got to give Cole some credit for capturing Billie Piper’s mannerisms and speech patterns perfectly, you can literally hear Piper saying the dialogue that Rose is given in this tale (‘he never!’). He highlights the sheer mundanity of Rose’s life before she joined the Doctor and how much she has changed since travelling with him. All we need the Doctor to do now is to take every single chav from England on a spin in the TARDIS and we might have a productive society once again! Keisha is one of Rose’s clubbing crowd; the wildest, loudest and craziest of the lot. Rose used to have a crush on her brother when she was fourteen but so much has happened since then. Rose is worried that she has become hardened by death and although she has been with the Doctor for some time she still cannot judge his moods. Rose was attracted to Mickey because of his easygoing attitude, his gorgeous smile, his dark skin and playful eyes. These days Mickey digs up stuff he thinks they might be interested in, hoping to make Rose drop in. When Rose went vanishing Keisha pushed things through Mickey’s letterbox and got her mates to beat a confession out of him. Waiting all week for a Friday night to go clubbing is the sort of time travel the Doctor could never understand and yet that all seemed so distant to her now. She was only nineteen but travelling with the Doctor was making her grow up so fast – or was that grow old so fast? Rose remembers how she felt when she discovered how many nightmares skulked in the shadows of her familiar world. Rose feels a horrible sense of wrongness when she discovers that Mickey has been with one of her mates. Swanning about on other planets Rose had thought she had outgrown her former life but this little home truth grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and dumped her right back in the old days. Mickey loves Rose whoever she has become but Keisha cannot forgive her for abandoning her. Rose believes Mickey and apologises for what she put him through when she left. She changed everything so fast with that one decision to leave and they were different people back then…but some things always remain the same like how much they love each other. She even forgives Keisha for lying and wishes her well in her life before well and truly turning her back on her.

Foreboding: Did Russell T Davies like the sound of some of these ideas? You’ve got people being haunted by a dangerous source (Army of Ghosts) and monsters that have water gushing from their mouths (Waters of Mars). ‘We’re going to need Torchwood’ says one soldier.

Twists: They found the Ascendant on the seabed carved up into slices like a Sunday roast. When Rose pushed off Mickey and Keisha drowned their sorrows together and woke up in bed together the next morning – although he cannot remember anything nefarious. People are throwing themselves into the Thames and vanishing. I was so glad when the Doctor crashed the tugboat because the book had been running on the spot for 50 pages repeating the returning ghosts scenario over and over. Huntley’s death is pleasingly graphic, a strong touch of horror for the NSAs. Keisha is characterised as a selfish, self pitying liar and it’s almost as if Steve Cole has met my sister! Its rather wonderful when Vida turns on the Doctor and Rose and their accusatory, pious attitude towards everything. ‘Any scientific technique can become a weapon when there’s a will for it’ – I wish the book had more of that kind of philosophy about it. They are fighting something that has an affinity with water, can harness it and adapt it to suit a purpose and even borrow it from human beings in the vicinity. Pearls are created when oysters are in pain – I never knew that! Crayshaw is 250 years old and he was infected in 1759 when his ship went down. Figures made of water attack and if you escape their grasp they slosh down into a wave and sweep you away! Rose is dragged beneath the Thames and returns to haunt the Doctor and Mickey. It turns out nothing happened between Mickey and Keisha, he rejected her when he was drunk and because getting boys is the one thing she can do she made it all up – wow this really is my sister!

Embarrassing Bits: ‘Take me to your Vida!’ – I hope that wasn’t chosen as her name just so Cole could include this horrendous pun! There are pages and pages of the Doctor trying to be endlessly witty with Vida which should have been pruned down because most of it is cringeworthy. Sometimes there is so much dialogue and so little description you would be perfectly within in your right to think that perhaps you were reading a script. The conclusion of the book is actually extremely dull, what could have been an awesome water army tearing across the city and dehydrating the population is instead the Doctor dumping some scientific nonsense into the water

Funny Bits: ‘H2Omigod!’

Result: Disappointing because I know that Stephen Cole is capable of producing much better than this, The Feast of the Drowned scores in its handling of Rose but as an adventure tale in its own right it is perhaps the epitome of average. There are a number of intriguing ideas (which are stolen by the TV series and handled with far more aplomb) but ultimately the story is little more than a run-around with an unmemorable foe and a technobabble fuelled conclusion. There is plenty of action but the writing is lacking, there is little to make the pace of this story exciting and we keep stopping to ponder on whether Mickey is a whore or not which holds up the action. This was the wrong time to have a period of vanilla for the books but Cole writes two unmemorable books around this period and encourages more people to desert the range. Such a shame because with the arrival of Martha things are about to improve considerably: 5/10

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Fear of the Dark by Trevor Baxendale

Plot: Terrifying happenings when the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa are lured to the barren moon of Akoshemon. A creature from beyond our universe is attempting to manifest itself in ours, making very good use of the fear of the dark…

Fair Fellow: Shudder! Gasp! Run to the hills…it’s the end of civilisation! It’s a fairly decent rendition of the character of the fifth Doctor as portrayed by Peter Davison! I would have thought it an impossibility. Had he genuinely been written for in this style in season 20 I would be over the moon and possibly find my feelings towards his incarnation swinging in a positive direction. As it is it took the Big Finish adventures before I would even accept that it was a good decision hiring him in the first place.

Sometimes it can be exhilarating riding on his coat tails and sometimes it can be infuriating. He is a strangely inspirational figure. Being with the Doctor means you are going to be scared. He doesn’t fear the Daleks, the Cybermen, etc…but he does fear the harm they intend and the fear and misery and destruction they cause. He also fears being out for a duck! This fifth Doctor has a bit of an edge to him that I like without losing any of his gentle politeness. You’ve got to love how he threatens to hold Oldeman’s medication – threatening the guy with brain damage to extract information from him…and when he cocks and points the gun at himself to prove how pointless it is! His worst fear is losing another companion like he did Adric. In a moment of total despair the Doctor prepares to kill himself and Stoker rather than letting it take over their minds. The Doctor doesn’t fight the future; he fights for the future and protects it from things that thrive in the unknown. Fear. Hostility. Cruelty. Injustice. Adric’s death was still the sharpest thorn in the Doctor’s memory; he could not bear the thought of having to suffer another loss again. Alone he could take necessary risks. Most importantly Fear of the Dark allows us to see the Doctor scared and it doesn’t diminish his character one iota.

Alien Orphan: Nyssa sometimes dreams of Traken but the dream always tipped over into a nightmare. When Traken had been destroyed it had left her the sole remaining survivor. She felt so very alone. She wonders what it must be like to be held very close. Nyssa is made to realise her instincts are every bit as important as her intelligence. Since Tegan has appeared on the scene again the Doctor has shown less interest in Nyssa. There had been a time when it had been a pleasure showing her the complicated control console – she could read star charts and plot a course.

Mouth on Legs: I have a confession to make. Tegan actually comes across (for me) much better in the books than she did on the telly. She is written in the same style but because we get to go beyond surface characterisation there is some motivation and justification for why she is so grumpy. It makes her much more appealing.

Soon after Tegan had blundered into the TARDIS she had despaired of ever seeing the 1980’s again. When she returned she had lost her job and suffered terrible nightmares and depression. The simple truth was when she was with the Doctor she had never felt more alive, she was a practically woman and she liked to help, she loved the chance to make a difference. She wanted to do something with her life. It was an uncomfortable thought that the Doctor and Nyssa were off having adventures without her. Tegan feels a trickle of envy. She realises with a pang of guilt that she has forgotten about Adric. The Doctor admits in a moment of weakness that Tegan has been a problem ever since she entered the TARDIS. It is seriously freaky when Tegan’s childhood fears come back to haunt her when she is trapped in the coffin like stasis chamber.

Foreboding: The Doctor talks of teaching the girls to read the star charts at the end of the book, which leads to their trip to Manussa in Snakedance.

Twists: Minimalist it might be but I actually quite like the cover; I love how the stars slip away into darkness…very in tune with the book. Captain Stoker’s cover story of being archaeologists backfires on them when they discover a lab buried in the moon with five bodies drained of blood. A scientists tried to combine Akoshemon material with human and a creature was born with an insatiable appetite for blood. Jim’s death at the hands of the Bloodhunter is very bloody. Pages 145-147 is a true cliffhanging moment, Bunny’s bloody death comes as a great shock just pages after the first attempt on his life. Stoker is quite surprising as a character, initially a walking cliché but as the book progresses and she loses everything she deepens. In the heart of the planet the Doctor and Nyssa discover a pit of darkness, the Bloodhunter stops at its edge and vomits up all the blood he has collected, feeding the darkness life itself. The Bloodhunter slits Oldeman’s throat and blood gushes into the pit, unleashing an unspeakable horror. The spreading darkness chasing them from the caves is a brilliant idea (and would be so easy to achieve on screen!) – the Doctor’s panic adding much tension. Caldwell wasn’t trying to resurrect the Dark; he was trying to destroy it! The Dark is all that remains of the Void that existed before the Big Bang, the cavity in Time and Space before those forces were first spawned. The Dark was shredded by the forces that created our universe but not destroyed. It managed to reform itself – coalesce amid primal matter that became the planet Akoshemon. Oldeman was influenced by the Dark’s mind and created the Bloodhunter to provide for its master. The Dark takes over Lawrence and as the Admantium takes off he fires his gun into the navigational systems and dramatically the ship crashes into the moon (‘The Admantium was torn wide open and the ships guts were hanging open, loose cabling and chunks of smouldering machinery, flames bleeding from the wound’). The Dark sensed the Doctor in the TARDIS, drew him to the planet and tore thought everything to get to him, his mere presence signing the death warrant of everybody on the moon. The Dark manifests itself with all the strengths and weaknesses of those whose blood it has taken, including Oldeman’s addiction to neuro-electrin. The Doctor pumps the remainder into the Bloodhunter and master and beast feed off each other. It weakens enough for Stoker to shoot it with a Dark Star gun.

Funny Bits: Jim Boyd is looking for a synthetic skin patch big enough to cover Tegan’s mouth!
After suffering a split lip at the hands of Caldwell’s fists the Doctor comments, “I’ve just been beaten up” in disbelief. That really tickled me.

Result: Underated, this is an exciting and well-paced novel. Admittedly it starts off waving the trad banner with a little too much enthusiasm but once the Bloodhunter is wheeled out things pick up immeasurably. Trevor Baxendale writes with such an unpretentious adventurous spirit I cannot bring myself to criticise, this reads like a Terrance Dicks novel with better descriptive prose. It helps that the regulars are characterised with some dignity, far more than they were getting during this televised period. It might be packed with clichés (an evil from another dimension, a starship crew, mining rights, blood sucking creatures) but all of these features are pleasingly subverted (the Dark manifests in shadows, the ship crashes with spectacular results, the Bloodhunter manages to surprise its victim and the reader with regularity). Given its less than stellar reputation (admittedly it doesn’t match up to his superior EDAs…except possibly Coldheart) I was impressed and if this is the sort of novel that is considered a failure then we are in much better shape than the past twenty or so PDAs: 7/10

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Time Zero by Justin Richards

Plot: The whole fabric of reality is threatened when Maxwell Curtis sets us his research outpost in Siberia to try and cure his unusual malady. Soon everybody is on their way there; Fitz as a part of an expedition in 1894, Anji being head hunted by the CIA, the SAS, Sabbath, the Doctor…all in time to see what could be the end of the universe as we know it…

Top Doc: After dropping his companions of to the relevant places, he springs straight back into action, admitting it is far better to be out there, doing something, achieving anything. He is pretty chirpy throughout, using his apparent goofiness to hide his real intentions. When he is around, everything is suddenly, irrationally all right. Where there’s trouble, that’s where he goes. He enjoys Trix’s company and yet bluntly refuses to take her with him at the end. He now has two hearts beating in his chest again. As usual, it is Sabbath who brings out the best in the Doctor and he goes absolutely ape-**** when old ham fists ridicules him, saying that he has no idea what he is doing. He then perversely proves the way Sabbath looks at the universe is wrong and laughs in his face. He says, “There’s nothing creative about killing. Have you ever thought of how much harder it is to preserve and save lives?” He admits he is terrified when Curtis, fully developing into a black hole, comes after them.

Scruffy Git: The quintessential Fitz book. Ever wondered why Fitz is so popular and long lasting, read Time Zero. Anji considers him a real friend, trusts him and has enjoyed their time together and will miss him. Fitz wants to have done something for himself, that’s why he is off to Siberia. He hugs Anji like she is his sister and chokes up as he tries to explain how he feels. Described as inexperienced, unqualified and unable to hammer in a tent peg! He is the stalwart advocate of sarcastic wit. As usual, Fitz is far more capable of looking after himself than people give him credit (Anji says as he needs someone to look after him) and hold his own well on the expedition, fighting off accusations of murder and terrifying dinosaurs. When George tells him he is a decent honest person who would do anything to help if he thought it was for the best and never hurt anyone, that he was dependable and brave and the best friend a man could have…we know it is all true. Sadistically, the book plays on the readers feeling for Fitz, offering several scenes where he could very well have perished.

Career Nazi: Anji has beautifully come full circle, finally returned home and seen coping with life without the Doctor and Fitz. She slowly starts putting Dave’s stuff into boxes and out of sight. Going back to work she realises how much she has changed while everyone else has stayed the same, shallow and pointless…and the biggest shock comes when she realises that her work, which used to be her life and soul…is just work. Her experiences with the Doctor have sharpened her instincts and given her the confidence to make brave decisions. All she ever wanted to do was return home and she realises with a heavy heart that her home is now the TARDIS. She cries for hours when she realises Fitz is dead. She has been back at home for 18 months when she is head hunted by Hartford. Her quick wits allow her to trick the soldiers into thinking she has jumped off the plane. She feels numbed to think of the Doctor or Fitz’s mortality, she is used to death during their adventures but she will never accept it. At the stories climax it becomes clear that the Doctor cannot take Anji home despite her wishes he does so and she and Fitz can barely hide their delight at this.

Anyone who claims the EDAs feature no character development are obviously reading a very different range to me. Compare these three in Earthworld to Time Zero, they just aren’t the same people anymore. The Doctor is far more confident of his abilities and has found an extended family, Fitz has decided he needs to sort his life out and Anji has softened considerably. I think they’re fab.

Identity Tricks: Beatrice Macmillan is introduced in this book, a master of disguise who helps Sabbath manipulate Curtis to fulfil his plans. Loves money but not danger, she wishes she had just grabbed her payment and run. She has honey blond hair and green, catlike eyes. The Doctor follows her to a retirement home where she is using her mother’s clothes to help her disguise. She is very intrigued by the Doctor and asks if she can come with him at the end.

Foreboding: Anji’s friend Mitch has moved up to Edinburgh and invites her to visit (The Domino Effect). Sabbath cuts his hand and wipes it on the Doctor’s handkerchief (Sometime Never…). Sabbath leaves the Doctor a parting gift with the hint, “a race against infinity” (The Infinity Race). The Doctor leaves the TARDIS door open and gives Trix the perfect chance to stow away (Timeless). The Quantum universes have been messed up, they are now overlapping, intersecting, merging, vying for dominance (The Infinity Race-Timeless). The Doctor and co must get the journal back to 1938 in the right universe or the Doctor would not have read it and be on hand to stop Curtis destroying the universe (Timeless).

Twists: The opening scene, featuring Fluppy the puppy having his skull caved in by the Blue Peter totaliser is very memorable. I found the parting of the Doctor, Fitz and Anji poignant. Turns out Compassion wrote the Meet me in St Louis note. Hartford gets involved in the adventure when soldiers flying over Siberia experience lost time, omitting Hawking radiation, allowing Control at CIA to build a time traveller detector, which leads them to Anji and they make her an offer of a job in Siberia. Galloway on Fitz’s expedition is found dead with a tent peg in his head. In several wonderfully tense sequences, Anji discovers she is on a military plane to Siberia, filled with guns and bombs and pretends she has jumped ship. In one of the best “Oh crap!” twists in Doctor Who history she realises the soldiers have jumped after her and have left her alone on the plane, which (as she stares out of the cockpit window) is heading straight for a range of mountains. Fitz and co discovers a portal to another world, and attracts the attention of monsters from the other side. In lots of adrenalin filled scenes worthy of Jurassic Park they are hunted by several ferocious dinosaurs. Hartford proves himself a sadistic bully, determined that there is time travel experiments going on in Siberia (because his sniffer has detected Anji) and shoots lots of people down in cold blood. Schrondinger’s Cat is brilliantly used to expose the Doctor and Sabbath’s view of reality. The Doctor believes in indeterminism, the cat could be either dead or alive…whilst Sabbath believes in certainties, a set timeline where the cat’s fate is always known. Curtis is revealed to be a walking black hole, an absurd idea until it tries to suck you into the event horizon. Sabbath is revealed as the one who set up the research outpost in the first place, manipulating Curtis so he can travel back in time to the Big Bang and have his black hole energy released forwards in time to
create one single, definitive timeline. Proof that his plan is to fail and that Curtis travelling back in time is destabilising reality, the TARDIS is discovered as a ghost inside the glacier, proving that the multiverse is collapsing, existing as a yes, no and maybe…all of these possibilities existing at the same time, in the same universe. Fitz survives because reality is offering up every possibility and the Doctor and Anji refuse to admit he is dead. The Doctor eventually proves that they are living in a single universe…Curtis becoming a black hole at Time Zero is what attracts the light from the O-region to create the time machine…but Curtis cannot get back in time until the time machine is created…a paradox which cannot exist in a set timeline because one of these would always write the other out. The story reaches a dramatic climax as every action ever taken place in every place starts overlapping each other. Touchingly, we realise that George Williamson is the time machine that allows Curtis to travel back to destroy the universe…and in order to stop him George will have to sacrifice himself. The final, wrenching twist comes when we realise the Doctor has quite saved the day at the end and a new timeline has shoved ours out of the way and is currently existing as the ‘real’ reality.

Embarrassing bits: The second Holiday appears and knows the Doctor’s name it is obvious who he is. As I have said, the idea of a man turning into a black hole is absurd but somehow, Justin Richards makes it positively terrifying to witness. That said, the idea is still a bit silly. The murderer of Galloway is really, really obvious. Because she is a new companion (well not yet) Trix is dragged along to Siberia with everyone else but beyond her role as Grand Duchess to fool Curtis, she is redundant to the plot.

Funny bits: The way the Doctor just walks into a murder investigation and takes over is very funny. As is Lionel Correll’s sigh of relief when the Doctor loses the bid for the journal, having upped the stakes to £50,000!

Result: 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 would love this book just for the stuff with Anji on the plane: 9/10

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Ressurection Casket by Justin Richards

Plot: Climb aboard me hearties for a tale of treasure and cutthroat pirates in the space ways! There’s treasure to found, dangers to be unearthed and more murder and mayhem than you could possibly want! There’s even a buxom blonde called Rose to feast your eyes on…

Mockney Dude: For a second I thought I wasn’t going to like Richard’s take on the tenth Doctor…but only for a second. In the prologue the Doctor is fist clenchingly irritating and has the verbal runs like never before, its like someone has taken everything that is annoying about this man and slapped it down on paper! However the second we’re out of the TARDIS and involved in a good old-fashioned pirate adventure the tenth Doctor is revealed to be at the top of his game…

The Doctor has everlasting matches that grow at the same rate they are consumed by fire. He doesn’t run away, he negotiates from a position of strength. The Doctor is such a devious bastard, he knows that there is no treasure to find but he heads out under the pretence of finding it because he has to get the TARDIS out of the zeg. His anger and frustration at visiting the TARDIS each day and being denied access forces him into a sulky rant where he promises to fix the engines and get them out of the zeg quicker. The only thing that gives them an edge and advantage is the Doctor. He refuses to shield Jimm from the dangers they are facing; in fact he shoves them right into his face to show the real horrors of space travel. When McCavity wont listen to reason the Doctor throws the mans feelings aside and really goes in for the kill: ‘She’s gone. For ever. She’d dead. And you killed her.’ He doesn’t know if the lockers are airtight before shoving his friends in them and tossing them into space but thinks it’s going to be exciting and amusing to find out! He gives the robots the option to let everybody live but when they refuse he shrugs and kills them all horribly. The Doctor has an annoying habit of blowing things up the first few times he meets you, your work, the sun, your ship…

Chavvy Chick: Rose is utterly gullible, she really likes Sally when the robot thinks she is a daft bitch!

Great ideas: That is a fine cover with both regulars looking hot under the collar good and a pirate ship gliding through the stars with a ghostly skull and crossbones behind – awesome! The Black Shadow is a curse, a threat, a sentence of death. The opening promises danger and death; eyes burning from the darkness, claws glinting like knifes and a body bleeding in the gutter. What an attractive location – a space port with steam punk technology, half steam ship, half space shuttle! Riveted and jointed robots walk about, puffs of steam blowing from their rods and pistons, the hiss of changing pressure…humanoid steam technology! As a gadgets man this is irresistible. The zeg is a blanket of electromagnetic gravitation that covers the whole system and you need a steamship to get out to the Outreaches. Captain Lockhart was covered in boiling lead after holding out against Hamlek Glint for 17 hours. Glint’s crew were all robots, gleaming, metallic, angular and lethal! There’s Salvo 7-50, broad, short with an arm ending in a vicious looking blade and a face like a skull. Cannon-K was a mark three battle robot. Elvis had flared metal trousers and painted eyebrows. Dusty was an oil drum with machete tipped arms! Stubbs has caterpillar tracks and an electronic eye in the chest. Octo has segmented arms with different attachments. Smithers is a respectable looking metal man leaking dark fluid down his trunk. I love robots! Glint sold his robots to a droid dealer to be melted down as scrap. ‘Hamlek Glint didn’t value life. And I don’t want Jimm growing up with that attitude’ – nicely done. Bobb’s fake treasure is made out of tin cans and metal foil but the Doctor’s reaction suggests something more… Krarks are space sharks that can store oxygen and compress so it can go for months without a fresh supply. It blows out tiny amounts under enormous pressure so it can push itself through space. Sally had repaired herself with bits of people she has murdered, she sees the face of the girl she killed everyday because she is wearing it! The Doctor’s Krark plan depends on his friends being loaded into the escape pod with the TARDIS inside, then he can disengage the pod and when they are out of the zeg and they can fly away. Oh dear, they put them in the other one. A spaceship graveyard of pleasure cruisers and cargo carriers, ships lost to the zeg before it was properly mapped. Larissa spills out of the chest, a blackened fragile skeleton, sightless skull eyes and a bullet hole drilled into her brain. The Captain she had an affair with was burned to death with molten lead and put up as a sculpture! Kevin doesn’t need oxygen, it’s a luxury, like sudoku, it passes the time but he can manage without it. Kevin being set free is really rather poignant. The Ressurection Casket discards the old body and clones a new one – when Glint fell inside he emerge as a baby…Jimm! Sally is torn about by Krarks and McCavity is transformed into a little baby, and lets hope he has a better upbringing next time!

Embarrassing Bits: Kenny, King and Jonesy are so obviously Cannon-K, Elvis and Smithers but Richards doesn’t even bother with the pretence for a whole chapter.

Funny Bits:
· ‘This blaster might look old and rusty and naff but I assure you its in perfect working order!’ the Doctor cries, brandishing his weapon. After he fires and it singularly fails to do anything spectacular: ‘Oh zeg! Zegging hell!’
· ‘Rip you apart, yeah, I mean that’s what I have to do. But I can’t be doing with mess and damage and needless vandalism.’ Kevin the shaggy monster would rather read his stack of books or do another degree than main and murder but jobs a job.
· Dugg, McCavity’s bodyguard furiously scribbles notes taking inspiration from the danger they are in for his novel. Big help.
· ‘Let us claim what’s ours and we’ll leave you in pieces’ ‘Doesn’t she mean peace?’
· Monsters hiding behind the sofa? You see it all in this life!
· ‘Balls!’ Rose and Jimm tear up the snooker table to make a catapult and decapitate Cannon-K with the black! ‘Well that’s just great’ says his disembodied head from the floor.
· ‘Turn every switch, push every lever, press every button and ford every stream. Follow every rainbow until…sorry I got a bit confused there.’ ‘The cells are alive!’ ‘With the sound of music?’ The dialogue is witty and wonderful.
· Rose realises that by hugging Kevin as she does she is in fact clutching his buttocks!

Result: A pirate story! Woohoo! The tone of The Ressurection Casket is perfect, gung ho and full of fun with some space for some delightful innovations and details. It’s gorgeously plotted with some twists you will guess straight away and others that will wind you right up and its great fun seeing if your predictions are right. Any story that juggles up exquisite steam punk technology, cut throat robotic pirates, a polite ravaging monster and a matricidal lunatic is doing something right in my book! The prose is like ice cream, sweet and light and really fun to devour and the dialogue is packed full of fun gags. Some people will tell you that Justin Richards cannot write a fun comedic slice of Doctor Who and this novel is two confident fingers up at them: 8/10

Friday, 8 April 2011

Heritage by Dale Smith

Plot: Nobody visits Heritage. A failed mining colony too stupid to realise its already dead. Secrets have a way of unearthing themselves when the Doctor’s around and there is a bloody secret waiting for him at the heart of Heritage. A secret that will change his life forever…

Master Manipulator: Possibly the best evocation of the seventh Doctor in print. If you ever wanted to get inside the head of this complex and unfathomable incarnation of the Doctor Heritage is the book for you. It gives you scope and depth not often seen in the books and penetrates the thoughts of the seventh Doctor in a way that the New Adventures only rarely touched upon this effectively. Not only that but Heritage provides an ideal bridge between the playful Doctor of the BBC novels and the master manipulator of the Virgin novels. In a dramatic scene the Doctor reveals why he did not want to find out the dark secret at Heritage’s heart: “Something’s coming Ace, something I might not be able to plan for. I was starting to think that perhaps someone else might be better suited to deal with it. Someone who wasn’t me. Sometimes all I want to do is play the spoons in a jazz band, and pull ferrets from my trousers and make children smile. Mel knew that. But Mel isn’t here anymore. Professor Wakeling took that away from me, perhaps forever. And as he did that he reminded me of something else. He reminded me what evil is, and he reminded me that it has to be fought. No matter what the consequences. Evil cannot prevail.” The Doctor from the beginning of Heritage is moody and completive, disturbed after discovering the truth about Ace’s corpse in Prime Time. Was he considering giving up this lark to protect her? Events from this book reveal that he cannot hide away from the nasty truths in the universe…that he has to play his part in things. After trying to fight himself, the master manipulator takes his first few steps in the universe…and it took the needless death of a friend to give birth to him. What a great idea…

The Doctor’s cold, slate grey eyes hit you before his smile. Who hides themselves behind a title instead of a name? Someone with a guilty past? The Doctor has the air of somebody who knew that all problems could not be solved. He radiated guilt for things he hadn’t done. He is a man of contradictions and had never been able to resist a game. A day could not go by without him treating Ace like a child. The Doctor was not like Ace, but not in a way that other adults weren’t like her. He was alien and there was no way to guess what he would do next. He had lied to her many times, made her cry, stopped her from being Ace…all for a good so great even she had to admit there was no other way. Was he an avenging function of history? Nothing else mattered but setting things right, regardless of casualties. The Doctor could take over the world in a night if that was what he wanted. He’s starting to think he has been getting far too involved in other peoples business. Meddling and tinkering until he has botched the situation to suit his mood. Ace trusted the Doctor to do what needed to be done. If you couldn’t see why that was because you weren’t looking in the same place he was. He likes humans but he doesn’t always trust them. It did Ace good to remember the Doctor wasn’t perfect. There’s a great description of the Doctor on page 268: “He looked so ridiculous, so comical; he was like a clown, a performer escaped from some circus just waiting to twirl his battered umbrella and spin his hat along his arm until it came to rest- satisfied – back on his wiry hair again. And yet…and yet…His words drew blood.”

Oh Wicked: Take what I said about the Doctor at the beginning of his section and repeat for Ace. Heritage is the ultimate examination of Ace, years after her initial conception and after the several billion stories featuring her (this is only a slight exaggeration) we are still seeing new shades to this character. Whilst I do genuinely feel there are more neglected companions that deserve further exploration (Mel herself, Dodo…even Adric…what a line up!) it thrills me to see Ace written for so well here. Anyone who is following my two threads will realise I am writing both a New Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures review thread and it pains me to say the range which occasionally features Ace is doing a far better job of dealing with the character’s evolution than the range that is stuck with her in every novel. For some bizarre reason the New Adventures just cannot get a handle on this character…turning her into a nasty, violent, angst ridden bully as though that would make her appeal to us. Obviously the PDAs have the benefit of hindsight but the Ace of The Hollow Men, Matrix, Relative Dementias, Heritage, The Algebra of Ice and Atom Bomb Blues just rocks. Damage limitation is being performed on the character. And not before time.

Ace is somewhere between plain and good-looking but is different and new which meant she was something of a Goddess on Heritage. She still had a problem with the law. She doesn’t know how to handle being disgusted by the Doctor. Ace is all energy and excitement, fascinating and terrifying in one. The old Ace would have lashed out when she got angry but these days she was more sociable. She wonders if perhaps the Doctor has finally had enough of her and the next trip will be Perivale. Perhaps somewhere a part of her actually wanted that. When angry, Ace snarls like a cat and Lee could believe she became a monster herself in battle. Ace only met Mel briefly and didn’t really get to know her – she was the ex, the previous, the one he would always compare her to. She knew Mel had left…just as she would leave, but when she decided. She would make a decision and step out of the Doctor’s life. Is there something in her always looking for a father figure? Perhaps there was too much past for her to ever shake off and become a new person. The Doctor had slapped her around the face and opened her eyes to the universe – he’d shown her beauty and fun and what injustice really was. He had saved her. She loved him for that. For giving her a chance when no one else had. Go and read pages 201-202…has there ever been a better description of how Ace’s mind works? By killing Mel, they had taken Ace’s invulnerability away, made her think what if it was me?

{Excuse me Mr Heritage, this is the continuity police, can you step out of the car and lay bare all your revisions…

…The fate of Melanie Bush was already dealt with in Steve Lyons’ Head Games, a potent novel that brought Mel into the world of the New Adventures and horrified her at what she saw, particularly the manipulative Doctor and his gun toting companions. So did the Doctor know all about Mel’s death during that adventure? Unlikely…but the blame for this bizarre oversight can be explained somewhat by the Eighth Doctor alternative reality arc. Yes, it gets its dirty paws everywhere, doesn’t it?

In Sometime Never…, the climatic adventure when the Doctor comes face to face with the diabolical Council of Eight who have been chasing his tail for a hell of a time. They have been manipulating the timelines and attempting to surgically remove any actions taken by the Doctor…and anybody he may have touched during his adventures. During a very Sapphire and Steel sequence a young boy is shown through a room full of hourglasses that represent the lives of the Doctor’s companions that they have attempted to snip from the timelines:

“Take this as an example” he said. “It belonged to a lady called Melanie. I say belonged” he told me “as although we are ourselves outside of the normal ebb and flow of time while we are in this station, this ‘Vortex Palace’ if you like, the hourglasses are anchored in real time. And at that point in the relative time of Melanie, her life has been cut short. Ended. The timeline is broken.” He told me about Melanie. “She was tainted. She had a plague, an infection that needed rooting out. There have been so many that he has touched and tainted, we cannot hope to find them all.”

At the end of Sometime Never… the Doctor managed to release a myriad of alternative universe back into existence, defeating the Council of Eight. It is never explicitly stated that Melanie lived or died but it does give an explanation of how both timelines can have existed, if only for a time.

In the end of the day take your pick…do you prefer Heritage’s explanation or Head Games? I’ll go with the former, simply because it provides such a fantastic shoe in for the darker seventh Doctor. Or maybe that nasty Doctor chose not to tell Mel what he knew in store for her future…]

Twists: Prime Time’s revelation that the Ace is going to die soon has clearly had a profound effect on the Doctor. Pages 50-53 contain a breathtaking piece of prose from a crow’s eye view of Heritage. I love the atmosphere of conspiracy, the feeling of dark secrets being hidden. Lee’s reminiscing about Ryan is heartbreaking. Ace creeping around the Heyworth’s burnt out house is seriously creepy. The revelation of Mel’s death is very satisfying after all the build-up and a real shock to Ace and the reader. The Fussy city is such a cute idea. Sweetness is revealed to be Mel’s daughter (oh come on…look at that cover!). Chapter twenty is absolutely astonishing, like a self-contained story of its own. The writing is startlingly mature and the answers that spill – that Wakeling murdered Mel and convinced the town to kill her husband so he could continue doing his research and save the town – are shocking and raw. Ryan killed himself because Lee helped the town to murder Ben. The Doctor discovers the shuttle crew dead, Wakeling trying desperately to stop the Doctor escaping and spilling the planets bloody secrets. Pages 234-236 make you realise just how pathetic Bernard is and how much you feel for him. Mel was going through the menopause and desperately wanted a child – Wakeling cloned her but that was not what she wanted and when she confronted him about it he smashed her skull in with a surgical instrument. He was only interested in the science, not her feelings. The final confrontation with Wakeling is very dramatic, he falls into the mines and the Doctor attempts to pull him up but Sweetness appears at the lip of the hole and throws at him the instrument of her mothers murder, sending him to his death.

Result: Astonishingly adult, both in tone and its mature prose. I have been far too hard on Heritage in the past and have missed the manifest of treasures it buries beneath its simplistic surface. It’s a stunning examination of what makes the Doctor and Ace tick and provides an excellent crossing between the BBC and Virgin seventh Doctor adventures. The central mystery is intriguing, beautifully plotted to surprise and then disgust you as you go deeper into the past and realise just how dirty a game this colony has played. And the characterisation is phenomenal; you will remember Cole and Sheriff, Bernard and Lee long after the last page is turned. It isn’t perfect, all this reflection and introspection means the book moves really slowly and you will need to be patient to get your answers and at times it feels as though the characters cannot actually do anything without thinking through the consequences first. A mature reader will find much to applaud, the death of Mel is shocking and the Doctor’s cold anger towards her murderer provides some truly dramatic moments: 8/10