Thursday, 14 July 2011

Sometime Never… by Justin Richards

Plot: The stage is set for the Doctor to finally meet the creatures who have been plaguing his adventures for many years. A crystal skeleton is being unearthed, an impossible palace in the Vortex discovered, Time Agents nudging history in the right direction and Sabbath admitting he has been on the wrong side…what on Earth could connect these disparate events. As events draw to a climax the Doctor realises that the entire history of Earth is at stake for the survival of his enemies...

Top Doc: What is fascinating about this book is how the enemies view the Doctor as the villain of the piece and they are just struggling to survive. He is the Rogue Element, he infects everything and everyone he touches making them unpredictable…he needs to be removed from Time like the cancer that he is. It is captivating to see him from the point of view of a desperate race trying to survive.

The truth of the matter is, of course, quite different. The Doctor is tired and fed of living his life on the run (and the last half dozen adventures I can’t say I blame him!) and he wishes there was time to sit and talk and make friends and be happy. He uses wit to cover his deeper emotions and anger. He admits there are such things as happy co-incidences, although he doesn’t trust them. Turns out when the Doctor’s heart withered and blackened it was because the Council of Eight had tried to control him but his heart rejected their control. He is reunited with his daughter here and is not afraid to show his intimacy with her in front of other people. There share an extremely tender moment where he tells her he loves her and she makes him promise that he will not let them use her against him when it comes to the fate of the universe or her daughter. Poignantly, the Doctor just holds her and cries. He grows homicidally angry when she is threatened (“Harm her in the slightest you’ll be the one screaming forever!”/ “If you harm her in the slightest I will surely kill you.”) and tries to deal with her death internally (considering there is so much going on…the death of history and all that) but cannot manage (“You killed my daughter…for nothing!”). His relationship with Sabbath is hilarious; especially now Sabbath is humbled and apologetic although the Doctor seems to have some genuine affection for him, trying to talk him out of killing himself. Even better is his chat with the Master at the story’s close, where he tiredly admits to saving the universe again but is sick of the cost involved.

Scruffy Git: Resident thicko whose talent for the stating the obvious borders on genius. It’s an annoying habit brought about by his inability to grasp the basic principles. After all this time, he still cannot predict the Doctor’s actions. A real pro, according to himself. Hilariously he attempts to gatecrash a party Trix has organised! When time freezes he invents his own time technology…a scrunched up hankie…which he throws ahead of himself to see if time is frozen there (you’ve gotta love him haven’t you?). He thrives on danger, he admits, whilst trying to duck out of joining the Doctor in entering the villain’s lair. He admits it was a mistake leaving the Doctor alone for a century and dreads to think what he got up to in that time (I’ll lend him the Caught on Earth arc!). Fitz is the proof that not everything alive has a purpose.

Identity Tricks: Once again Trix is extremely resourceful, successfully infiltrating the Middle Ages to discover the source of the emission. Her scenes with the Princes in the Tower are very necessary, not only because it is the first time we have seen Trix selflessly trying to make somebody feel better, but it winds up saving their lives in the climax when Octan attempts to arm them and tells them to kill her and the Doctor. Sweetly, she is honest with them and admits that happy ever after doesn’t exist and that their Uncle was killed. She admits in a quiet moment that she is concerned about her mother. During a particularly dangerous moment the Doctor has to bribe her to risk her life for others! Cruelly she gives Fleetward Anji’s name, as a friend for the boys he is adopting.

Ham Fists: What strikes me most about Sabbath’s final story is how much am going to miss him. He has become part of the furniture with the EDAs and there will be a noticeable absence with his departure. At his best (Adventuress, Anachrophobia, History 101, Camera Obscura, The Last Resort, Timeless…) he was a fascinaitng creation and a worthy foe of the Doctor’s.

He is described as the opposite to the Doctor, ultimately predictable. Every moment of his treachery is mapped out. He admits he doesn’t actually want to kill the Doctor. He has grown fond of the guy and had developed a respect for his abilities and talents and is prepared to tolerate his associates. To this end he shoots the Time Agent and saves their lives. He believed everything he has been doing has been for the best. He has been flattered and played to, lied and betrayed by the Council of Eight. He is self assured and confident in his own abilities. Octan tells him he has been gloriously irrelevant, just there to keep the Doctor on the sidelines. We soon realise this is to anger the chap and force him into a decision that could mean the end of all history. Its delightful that it all comes down to Sabbath, that his very survival is proof of his destiny (because, brilliantly, Octan only sends the Time Agent to save Sabbath from his initiation under the Thames at the end of Sometime Never…!) and that the fate of the universe is in his hands. Laughing at foxing their plans and negating their existence, Sabbath puts the gun to his head and blows his brains out. It’s a memorable end for a memorable character.

Foreboding: Miranda’s death has ramifications in the next book (Halflife). The Master is still stored in the TARDIS (The Gallifrey Chronicles). The Daleks are watching the Doctor’s adventures in the vortex (The Gallifrey Chronicles).

Twists: Lets start with the cover, which is excellent, one of the best the range has ever offered. The crystals that were spread throughout all time (in Timeless) were transmitters (thanks Fitz), transmitting to a structure within the Vortex (and again Fitz). Inside are the Council of Eight, a race made of crystal who mapping out every moment in history. They admit to have driven out the clock monsters from the Vortex (Anachrophobia). The clever plotting is immediately apparent with new emissions starting up and swamping all the other data (2004 being the exact sum of these emissions put together, building up over several years). Which turns out to be a parts of a skeleton, scattered over the world, which the Doctor and Professor Fleetward start assembling over years (and complete for display in 2004). The creature weighing the precise amount of snow to cause an avalanche (and kill Louis Vogues and his premature theories of evolution) is super cool. Crystal Devine does not exist (the Doctor tells Trix “It should be well within your capabilities”, a great clue but we don’t realise its her until much later!). A time agent plants an article of Patterson (which we later discover is Octan in disguise). Early in the book Sabbath’s hourglass (they are linked to peoples lives, the grains falling like heartbeats) is nearly empty, pre-empting his death. We discover the Council of Eight are simply trying to survive, and if they prediction events wrong they could very well cease to exist. The complete skeleton breaks from its case and lunges after them! The book astonishing grabs the PDAs surrounding and inserts them effortlessly into the story, the Council having cut out the Doctor’s tainted companions from time…Mel her life cut short early (Heritage), Harry killed by a warewolf (Wolfsbane), Sarah shot in Hong Kong (Bullet Time), Ace shot and dumped into a river (Loving the Alien), Sam Jones dying of an overdose (Interference), Jo kidnapped from the Brazilian rainforest (The Green Death) and placing them in Schrondinger cells (they power the Vortex station, the potential lives of these people unfulfilled and the energy of those lives to be harnessed) to blackmail him. The Council of Eight wanted the multiverse collapsed into a single timeline so that a certain event that will ensure their survival is inescapable (Time Zero, The Infinity Race, The Domino Effect, Reckless Engineering, The Last Resort, Timeless). The Council kidnapped Miranda and her daughter to use against the Doctor but Zezanne drops out into time early because the Doctor miscalibrated and as he tries to open the portal to get rid of the time agent Miranda appears (clever, clever…). The eternity corridor is another fab idea, distance stretched out beyond infinity so no matter how far you run you wont get anywhere! As is the Vortex gun (hurled screaming forever in the Vortex, to be tortured for all eternity, aged and re-aged, never dying, never alive). The Council are deriving energy from predicting events throughout time, you harness the energy before the event takes place and if it doesn’t you have to pay it back (with interest). The Council think that the end of the universe is enough of a prediction to provide the energy they need to slip out of existence and set up shop in the Vortex but the universe ends with a whimper, not a bang. The real plan is to predict the death of history itself (Octan planning to use a star killer to ignite the Earth’s sun before man ever has a chance to evolve), the only event big enough to provide the energy for them to push them into the vortex. The fuel this prediction will bring is unimaginable and will be enough for them to bring all their people to the Vortex (“With that power we shall become the Lords of Time!”). The star killer is powered by Sabbath’s choice, kill the Doctor or Octan. Alas he kills himself and the star killer is never powered, thus causing the chain of causality to unravel and the Vortex stations begins to fall apart. They have brought about their own deaths, if only the multiverse was still active they would have survived somewhere, in some universe (hahahaha). There is a lovely image of the Doctor walking through the Vortex station, debris falling, destruction roaring and none of it touching him. Miranda is killed, sacrificing herself to save the Doctor from exceeding to blackmail. It turns out the crystal skeleton was Octan, trying to warn his younger self of the destruction of his people…he is blasted to pieces as his plan falls apart and tumbles into the vortex to be discovered and pieced together by the Doctor and Fleetward (at the beginning of the book…oh my ive gone cross eyed…isn’t this complicated and devilishly clever!!!). The Doctor gives Soul his structure and form to survive but he only takes his first identity, the image of the 1st Doctor (and earlier in the book, brilliantly pre-empting this development he says to the Council, “We spend our lives gathering information, observing and predicting but never actually doing or achieving!”). The hourglass of Soul (‘1’) and Zezanne falls into void as the palace is destroyed and they find themselves on the Jonah, ready to start their adventures together. He thinks his names is the Doctor and she is Susan, a beguilingly brilliant way of explaining how the Doctor can still survive in a Gallifrey-less universe (although to keep the fan boys from dropping dead of revisionist continuity…it is described as taking place in one of the many universe that have now sprung back into existence!). The Daleks are revealed at the end, watching the star killer (Remembrance of the Daleks). And the Master is revealed to be inside the TARDIS, although the Doctor has no clue who he is.

Funny bits: Taking the piss out of Fitz in the TARDIS is gigglesome, he’s so dense he doesn’t realise they are doing it. Fitz attempting to infiltrate the part as Horatio Sponge when he could just have said Fitz Kreiner is hilarious. Trix’s attempts to flirt and manipulative the stupid and burping Lord Scrote raised a laugh. Sam dies, what a pity, well I laughed…what’s more everyone else is returned to life here but The Gallifrey Chronicles reveals…Sam is still dead! Ha bloody ha! After Sabbath’s impassioned speech the Doctor turns on him and says, “That’s a very long winded way of saying you were right and I was wrong.”

Embarrassing bits: No it isn’t the Daleks who were behind everything and yes it is disappointing but thank the Nation Estate for that. The destruction of the Universe is depicted here and it is a shockingly anti climatic event (although that is supposed to be the point!). Just opening a door…not sure if that is an especially satisfying way of restoring the multiverse to life…not after all the hell we’ve been through with it already. But the idea of the Doctor (the first Doctor at that) restoring chaos to the universe is just amazing. Miranda’s appearance is striking but she is totally wasted (in every way!)

Result: 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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