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We’re back! And hopefully we’ll stay caught up now! Last time, we looked at #28 in the Virgin New Adventures series of Seventh Doctor novels, Blood Harvest. Today we’re examining #29, Simon Messingham’s only contribution to the line: August 1994’s Strange England. Judging by that cover, it’s going to live up to its name—so, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, skip ahead to the dividing line below.
Anytime the TARDIS takes its crew to a peaceful place, you can rest assured that trouble is on the way. This newest destination, a Victorian manor in the country, is no exception. Almost immediately, the first person the Doctor, Ace, and Benny meet—a young girl named Victoria (no connection to the former companion of the same name)—is killed by a large, vicious insect lodging itself in her throat. Other deaths are happening elsewhere among the household staff: the groundskeeper is killed by a tree, the gardener by his roses. Ace goes to find help, and the Doctor and Benny carry Victoria back to the house, where they meet another resident, Victoria’s sister Charlotte, as well as the housekeeper. Along the way, Benny sees a man by the lake, smoke spewing from his body.
It quickly becomes apparent that the household have no concept of time, of death, of change–as though they live in a sort of stasis. They’ll learn soon enough, though, as the deaths begin to mount. Meanwhile, Ace finds herself in a village, where she encounters Arthur, another member of the household, who is very unwell. The pair run afoul of Dr. Stephen Rix and his thugs, though Ace finds an unexpected ally in future author Richard Aickland, whose books she once read. She finds Rix to be a sadistic, focused psychopath, determined to punish God Himself for perceived slights against him; when he fails to use Arthur and his burgeoning powers for that purpose, he sets out to find the rest of Arthur’s household and accomplish his aims.
While the Doctor tries to solve the mystery of the house and its inhabitants, he sends Benny and Charlotte—who is now rapidly aging—to investigate the smoking man. Thus they discover another piece of the puzzle: the figure calling himself the Quack, who claims a relationship to the Doctor via the Doctor’s dreams. The Quack invades the house, causing it to begin to tear itself apart; and Benny is struck down by one of the insects that killed Victoria.
But all of this has a familiar ring to the Doctor. As the threads of this story converge—and, fortunately, Benny is saved from an untimely death—the Doctor at last pieces it together: The world of the house, and all its people, is not the real world at all. It’s the manipulated interior of a TARDIS. And not just any TARDIS: this one belongs to an old acquaintance of the Doctor. Her name is Galah, and she is dying.
Galah has a bone to pick with the Doctor, dating all the way back to her school days—and now that her life is ending (prematurely, it seems—something went wrong with her regenerative process), she’s come back to make her final point. While the Doctor has always believed that good and evil are choices we make, an act we carry out, Galah believes them to be a state of being. To prove her point, she has linked her dying mind to her TARDIS, and used its architecture system to create the artificial world of the house, linked to a corresponding spot on Earth like an anchor. It’s static, benign, and good—and it’s utterly failing.
But before the Doctor and his friends can do anything about that, there are Rix and the Quack to deal with. The problem of Rix solves itself; when Rix comes face to face with the Quack, who is now a monstrous and vengeful creature, he is overwhelmed, and kills himself. However, his death becomes the key to the Quack’s power; the Quack is a facet of the TARDIS, and is attempting to absorb everyone inside. Because Rix died before being absorbed, his consciousness is not assimilated, and in death he—now merged with the Quack—gains control of the interior of the TARDIS, cordoning Galah off into a corner.
The Doctor, Benny and Ace escape in their own TARDIS, using it to approach Galah’s from the outside, and entering the control room, where Galah’s dying body sleeps. The Doctor connects himself to the TARDIS, joining her on the inside, while Benny and Ace take a different route in to try to rescue Charlotte and Aickland, the only survivors from the house. They defend Charlotte and Aickland from Rix’s torture; meanwhile, the Doctor manages to rouse Galah to help him, and together, they erase Rix from the TARDIS’s protyon core, destroying him forever.
Galah at last admits that the Doctor was right: Good is a choice, as is evil—a life that one leads, not what one is by definition. She is dying; but at the Doctor’s suggestion, she uses the last of her energy to change Charlotte and make her real, so that she can survive outside the TARDIS. The Doctor takes Charlotte and Aickland back to Earth, the real Earth; they will later marry, and Aickland will write the books of ghost stories by which Ace knew him.
Strange England is the story of a world that never changes—until it does. On the surface, it’s a normal Victorian manor and village; but when did Doctor Who ever stop at the surface? And things are not what they seem here. As the situation deteriorates, things become progressively more bizarre, until the Doctor reaches the core of things—and takes a trip down memory lane, all the way back to his academy days.
We’ve met the Doctor’s old schoolmates before. The Rani, the Master, others—it’s a group of misfits worthy of any adventure. Galah, though, strikes me as a bit of a misfit even with that group—she’s the bookworm among the jocks, the Luna Lovegood among Harry, Ron, and Hermione. She’s a late arrival in the story—we get her name early, but we find out nothing about her until the final third of the book. I feel some affinity for her—I was a nerdy bookworm myself in school, at a time when being a nerd would still get you beaten up. And we get hints that the Doctor himself didn’t treat her well in the Academy—imagine that, the First Doctor being rude!—but he seems to regret it now.
I struggled with this book, I will admit. It was a very slow starter. It redeems itself in that final third, but you have to wade through a lot of meandering to get there. It’s not very surprising to learn that the author himself doesn’t think highly of this book; he’s even gone on record as saying that he hates the ending, and would change it. I should point out that the ending, as he is referring to it, is everything about the character of Galah; originally he wanted the Doctor to conclude that he was responsible for the problems in the House, and simply be forced to walk away, the “ultimate anti-climax”, as Messingham put it.
But that, as it turns out, leaves me with mixed feelings—because Galah and the ending are the best things about this story. I can agree with Messingham that the book isn’t great; but the part about which he is the least happy, is the part that went the furthest toward redeeming the book, in my opinion. There’s something to be said for having these characters live in the shadow of what is essentially their high school drama; to see what happens when someone just can’t let go and move on, and see the tragedy that results.
Oh well; can’t win ‘em all, I guess.
Messingham would not write for the New Adventures again. He would, however, go on to write several Doctor Who novels in other lines, all the way up to the Tenth Doctor Adventures. I have yet to read any of his other works, but I hope to get there eventually, at least with his Eighth Doctor Adventures contributions, and see how far he may have come.
The other major issue that bears addressing here is the use of TARDISes (and I’ll try not to spoil the punchline for those who didn’t read the summary above). It’s not the first time we’ve seen a situation like this—Ace even makes reference to the rather bizarre events of Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, which are admittedly far more extreme than what we see here. However, I find the situation in this novel to be much closer to the depiction of the TARDIS’s architectural capabilities as displayed in the revived television series, and it’s a nice little bit of unintentional foreshadowing. (Still no protyon cores in the new series, though!)
This story, in my opinion, isn’t particularly groundbreaking for any of our protagonists. Messingham did try to subvert some of the usual tropes: the Doctor runs from a desperate situation (temporarily) instead of helping; Ace gets her fingers broken (temporarily) and thus can’t fight; Benny dies (temporarily) instead of getting captured…okay, she’s also captured, sort of, so never mind that. But, overall, the focus here is much more on the strange situation than on the characterization. It does work, sort of; it’s just that the story takes so long to come together, and so the full effect of that situation is diluted.
Continuity references: Not too many, this time, and some of these are a bit thin. The Doctor believes evil to be a force (The Guardians of Prophecy). Benny mentions the events of Birthright; Ace mentions those of Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible and Timewyrm: Revelation. The Matrix gets mentioned, but this isn’t the Gallifreyan Matrix; rather, it’s the Matrix in a TARDIS, the data system that makes up its programming and personality (The Doctor’s Wife). Bernice recalls the Land of Fiction (Conundrum). Ace reiterates that she’s had enough of Victorian England and angels (Ghost Light). The Architectural Configuration Program is mentioned (Castrovalva, and in the future, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS). The Doctor plays the spoons (Time and the Rani). Benny thinks of the planets Heaven (Love and War) and Lucifer (Lucifer Rising). The Doctor thinks of Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith.
Overall: Well, that was…something, anyway. I don’t hate it—it’s no The Pit—but it’s hardly a top-of-the-line entry. It did pick up near the end, and Galah makes the whole story poignantly tragic; I wish we’d had more of that, and less of the wandering aimlessly. But, if you’re into the foibles and secrets of TARDISes, you might still want to check this one out.
Next time: We’ll head back to a more modern (well, 1950s modern) Earth in David A. McIntee’s First Frontier! See you there.
A prelude to Strange England was published in DWM 125, and can be read here.
The Virgin New Adventures series is out of print, but may be purchased from many resellers.
We’re back! And finally caught up! Today we’re looking at the twenty-eighth entry in the New Adventures series: Blood Harvest by Terrance Dicks. Published in July, 1994, this entry features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny (I know I say that a lot, but eventually companions will be swapped out, so bear with me), and serves as one of several sequels to the Fourth Doctor serial State of Decay. Not at all coincidentally, it’s also a prequel (of sorts) to the Fifth Doctor novel Goth Opera (because this is Doctor Who, and who said sequels have to come in order?). That novel is the first in the then-newly-launched Past Doctor Adventures line, and though I have read it, I haven’t covered it; but I may try to do so soon, just for continuity’s sake. (I don’t plan to start regular coverage of that line just yet; I’d like to finish the VNAs and the EDAs first.)
At any rate, Terrance Dicks never truly disappoints, and this is no exception—so, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the line divider below.
Chicago, 1929. Old-school gangland at its finest, and maybe worst. Infamous (but oh so polite) mobster Al Capone runs most of the city, and wages occasional war on rival gang leaders, all under the shadow of Prohibition. Tom Dekker is a private eye, but he may be in over his head when Capone himself hires him to investigate a new speakeasy and its owner, a strange little man called “Doc”…
For “Doc”, Chicago isn’t a playground—but it is deadly. Doc would like nothing more than to see the mobs stop killing each other, and with the help of a gun-toting woman named Ace, he plans to do exactly that—even if it means helping Capone. But something is wrong: every time Doc and Capone get a handle on the situation, something sends it off the rails. It’s as though someone is sabotaging their work—and that someone may not be human.
Far from Chicago, Earth, and even the known universe, Professor Bernice Summerfield is investigating a quiet backwater planet. Its feudal society seems peaceful enough, beyond the parochial struggles between the peasants and the nobility—but the locals tell stories of long-slain Lords with a taste for blood. It doesn’t take Bernice long to find out just how true the stories are. She’ll soon learn that events here in E-space have an unexpected connection to 1920s Chicago—and that someone is pulling all the strings on two worlds, laying a trap for the Doctor. And that’s not even counting the problem of the vampires themselves!
I mentioned in passing a few days ago that this novel was a real page-turner for me, and it was; I finished it in two nights, most of it in one. It’s not that it’s the best novel in the series so far—I’m not sure which that would be, but I’d make a vote for Timewyrm: Revelation–it’s just that it’s like good comfort food. For one thing, I’ve been a fan of Terrance Dicks’s work very nearly my entire life. I grew up reading novelisations of Doctor Who even more than I watched the series, and Dicks wrote most of them (or rather, most of the ones I had access to—he wrote about a third of the novelisations of the classic series). He is almost certainly the only DW author whose name I knew prior to the modern era. Recently I saw a video review of Timewyrm: Exodus, Dicks’s first contribution to the VNAs, and the reviewer commented that, although Dicks was more than willing to write the book, he wasn’t very familiar with the Seventh Doctor at this point. Consequently he defaulted to the Doctor’s core characteristics as he understood them, rather than the personality specific to the Seventh Doctor. I think that’s a fair argument; but I mention it to say that things have changed by now! Blood Harvest’s Seven is much more himself—you can almost hear his accent in his dialogue.
For a second point in favor, this book follows closely on the heels of State of Decay, which is one of my favorite stories. Of course, for the Doctor, it’s been three regenerations and who knows how many years; but for the residents of the vampire planet, it’s been no more than perhaps a decade (characters who were elderly in State of Decay are still alive and active). Romana makes her first of half a dozen appearances in the VNAs; she’s still in E-space at this point, not exactly trapped, but here by choice. This book marks a turning point for her; she makes her return to Gallifrey. (K-9 is conspicuously absent; Romana mentions that he is serving as Lord High Administrator to Biroc, the Tharil leader, as the Tharils become a spacefaring species again. He will, however, rejoin Romana on Gallifrey at some point, possibly offscreen.)
If I have any complaint about this novel at all, it’s that its two storylines seem forced together. Either story could have stood alone, and there’s no good reason for them to be connected. The insertion of the villain that ties them together feels like exactly that—an insertion. I’m willing to overlook it, because both stories are good; the Chicago story ends a bit abruptly, but that has more to do with the historical events described (the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the other killings surrounding it) than the Doctor’s involvement.
You can probably imagine that this is a particularly bloody story. There’s a great deal of killing in the Chicago sequences, consistent with real world history (and maybe a bit more—that’s the point of the story). But there’s also events on the vampire planet, from exsanguinated bodies to large tanks of collected blood to a rather savage battle between humans and vampires. Doctor Who is known for the deaths of incidental characters, but it’s taken up a notch here; besides the large number of deaths, the deaths are graphic and visceral. I can’t see it having ever getting made for television in the classic series, which is a pity, because it’s a decent coda to State of Decay.
Continuity references: In addition to the obvious callbacks to State of Decay, the Fourth Doctor and K-9 make an appearance in a flashback to the end of Warrior’s Gate; the Doctor mentions Adric as well. The PI Dekker will reappear in Players, meeting a younger Doctor (the Sixth) and Peri. The Doctor has both a Reichinspektor General’s badge and Castellan Spandrell’s Gallifreyan Army Knife (Timewyrm: Exodus). Borusa is freed from imprisonment in the Tomb of Rasillon (The Five Doctors); this account will later be contradicted by another release in The Eight Doctors. (That event occurs earlier; it’s possible, given the way he behaves in this story, that he felt he hadn’t served his time yet, and returned voluntarily, to be released again here.) The character of the Time Lady Ruathadvorophrenaltid (Ruatha or Ruath for short) appears briefly at the end; she is a pivotal character in Goth Opera. The Doctor quotes himself from Timewyrm: Exodus (“In an authoritarian society, people obey the voice of authority”). Agonal may be an Eternal (this is suggested in Goth Opera, but that novel is tied tightly to this one), as seen in Enlightenment. Flavia is president of Gallifrey (The Five Doctors), and Spandrell is Castellan (The Deadly Assassin). The Doctor receives a dose of the Elixir of Life (The Brain of Morbius, Night of the Doctor). One of the Gallifreyan Committee of Three is the younger brother (or possibly cousin) of Goth (The Deadly Assassin). Benny mentions Metebelis III (Planet of the Spiders), Ellerycorp Foundation (Love and War), Draconians (Frontier in Space, et al.), and Dulkis (The Dominators). Omega (The Three Doctors, Arc of Infinity), the Shobogans (The Invasion of Time), and a Drashig (Carnival of Monsters) all get a mention. It’s also worth mentioning that State of Decay stated that there was only the one village on the planet, whereas this novel states there are many others (not established in the interim, but always present).
Overall: Eh, I’ve already said I liked it. If you want a good, comfortable Doctor Who story—with a little more violence thrown in for spice—this is your book. Things will no doubt pick up again soon, so enjoy the break while you have it.
Next time (if I can manage to finish it): Simon Messingham’s Strange England! See you there.
A prelude to this novel can be found here.
The New Adventures series is out of print, but may be purchased from Ebay and other resellers.
We’re back! Almost caught up now. Today we’re looking at the twenty-seventh entry in the New Adventures novel series: Andy Lane’s All-Consuming Fire. Published in June 1994, and featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny, this novel takes a turn even further into fiction with an appearance by none other than Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson! That should be interesting. So, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the line divider, below.
In 1887, a secret and most interesting library stands in London: the Library of St John the Beheaded, visited only by those in the know. And, despite its most impressive security, it has been robbed. Several rare and important books have been stolen—books which, if properly used, may lead to another world. A case of such import deserves the best; and so, at the behest of none other than the Pope, Sherlock Holmes and his partner, John Watson, take the case.
They are not alone in their efforts. Also at work is a strange and mysterious figure, one who has been associated with the library under various faces: A man calling himself The Doctor. There’s one problem: The Doctor himself was the last to read the books—and thus, he himself is a suspect!
One thing is sure: this case won’t be easy. It will take Holmes, Watson, and the Doctor to places they never expected to go—from a séance in a rundown brothel, to the rugged and hot provinces of central India, to a world called Ry’leh that is populated with monstrosities, to perhaps the strangest place of all: San Francisco (!). Moreover, the case will prove to be personal for Holmes, much more so than even the great detective ever anticipated. The only question remaining is, will any of them survive?
One of the great things about the VNAs is the capacity for experimentation. Typically that means more sex, profanity, and violence than television would allow; but sometimes there’s experimentation with other conventions as well. Here, we have experimentation with the format itself. This novel takes the form of a book within a book. The frame of the story consists of the Doctor, Benny, and Ace discussing their adventure with Holmes and Watson (which are pen names for the real individuals; their real names are not given). The Doctor hands Benny a book by Arthur Conan Doyle, titled The Strange Case of the All-Consuming Fire (or, more fully, “All-Consuming Fire: Being a Reprint From the Reminiscences of Doctor John Watson As Edited by Arthur Conan Doyle”), which is Doyle’s (and by extension, Watson’s) take on their adventures. (Benny isn’t particular impressed; she implies that it took liberties with the real events.) The rest of the book, in the middle, is the text of Doyle’s book; therefore, as with most of Doyle’s works, it is presented in first person from Watson’s perspective (with occasional excerpts from Benny’s diary, as provided by her to Watson).
And now, confession time: I have never read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s one of those things that has perpetually been “on the list”, but I’ve never made it to them yet. I’m familiar with some of them through highly abridged junior versions from my school days, or from various adaptations, but I haven’t read the original works. Therefore, as much as I’d like to, I can’t comment on how convincing the presentation is (given that it purports to be a Doyle book). On the bright side, that left me with no preconceptions about it; and I will say that Lane does a convincing job of making it seem period-appropriate. That’s good enough for me!
Not emphasized is the H.P. Lovecraft influence on this story. Given that the story takes place three years before Lovecraft’s birth, it’s no wonder his name is never referenced—but his work forms the entire foundation of the book. And while I’m not particularly familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories, I am an unabashed Lovecraft fan (well, except for the racism and all—I like his work, not the man himself as much). So there’s reference here to several features of the Cthulhu Mythos, including Cthulhu himself (in a reference back to the events of White Darkness). This story’s ultimate villain, Azathoth, is a Lovecraft reference; it is a being that became a major figure in the mythos after Lovecraft’s death, although he himself died before he could give it more than a passing reference in the short story of the same name. Both Cthulhu and Azathoth—along with Hastur the Unspeakable (aka Fenric), Lloigor (aka the Animus, from the planet Vortis), Dagon, Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth (possibly the Great Intelligence, by the Doctor’s implication), and the Gods of Ragnarok—are Great Old Ones, that collective group of beings from the universe prior to our own. The planet Ry’leh is undoubtedly a reference to R’lyeh (slightly different spelling), the island city from The Call of Cthulhu. It’s a bit strange to see all of these references and not have them called out as such; it almost makes them into a part of the background. The Doctor, of course, takes it all in stride, as do Ace and Benny—this is nothing new for them—but even Watson’s reactions are more subdued than I would have expected. Holmes is the only one who is rattled by the entire situation; but Watson explains that that is because, on Ry’leh, all of the familiar conventions that Holmes relies on for his famous deductions, are not present. He’s perhaps more adrift than anyone, simply because on Earth he’s more grounded than most.
As if tracking the Doctor’s course isn’t difficult enough, there’s a short time skip at the end, at least for him. The Doctor, Holmes and Watson, and Ace and Benny, end up stranded in San Francisco in 1906—two decades after the time from which they departed. Watson briefly thinks about whether they’ll get back home; but in the moment, the Doctor excuses himself, and next thing anyone knows, the TARDIS is materializing to take them all back. The Doctor admits that he left them and spent three months traveling back to London to retrieve the TARDIS, then traveled back to the same moment to retrieve them. It’s a fairly minor point (and exactly the kind of thing the series usually avoids, because if the Doctor can do this sort of thing, why doesn’t he always do it?). I mention it, though, because I’ve noticed throughout the VNAs that the Seventh Doctor is very good at piloting the TARDIS where he wants it to go. Previous incarnations were never so good. This is consistent throughout his time, as well (or at least as much of it as I’ve experienced); it’s a minor plot point in television serials as well, for example Delta and the Bannermen, which was during Mel’s time as a companion. I had always assumed this was something that developed during the Time War, and that we didn’t see it until the new series, but apparently not. This matters, though, because some sources imply that the yet-to-be-born Seventh Doctor took control of the Sixth Doctor’s body and flew the TARDIS into the path of the Rani’s weapons in order to bring about the Sixth Doctor’s deaths. (We’ll get to that in a later novel, but it’s worth mentioning now.) The fact that he has this degree of skill would add weight to that theory.
Continuity References: I’ve mentioned several already, but in addition: The Library of St John the Beheaded was mentioned in Theatre of War and will show up again several times. The Gods of Ragnarok are a reference to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. The Doctor mentions the Raston Warrior Robot (The Five Doctors). The Seventh Doctor’s fob watch is the same one carried by the First Doctor (it’s unclear if it’s also the same as the Tenth Doctor’s watch from Human Nature/The Family of Blood). Holmes and Watson will show up in other stories, most notably in Happy Endings (but then, everyone shows up in Happy Endings…); not all stories will treat them as real people, unfortunately. Ace says her smart missiles—perhaps a little too smart—deserted her on Peladon to form a union with mining machinery (Legacy). Silurians are mentioned (The Silurians, et al.) Benny mentions the planet Terserus (several stories, but probably most famously from The Curse of Fatal Death). The Doctor’s pants are still dirty from Menaxus (Theatre of War; seriously, do your laundry, Doctor). The Third Doctor briefly appears in the Diogenes Club; the Seventh Doctor gets him kicked out. The Doctor leaves the TARDIS with George Litefoot (The Talons of Weng-Chiang, many others). The Doctor reads Adventures Amongst the Abominable Snowmen by Redvers Fenn-Cooper (Ghost Light; completely by coincidence, I happened to rewatch Ghost Light while I was reading this book, so seeing the name pop up again was an unexpected treat). A cult of Shobogans is mentioned (The Deadly Assassin). Shlangii mercenaries appear here; they were first mentioned in The Ribos Operation. Holmes says “sleep is for tortoises”, a line previously said by the Fourth Doctor (The Talons of Weng-Chiang). Not a DW reference, but a Holmes reference: The giant rat of Sumatra is implied to have been from Ry’leh. The library contains a copy of Love’s Labours Wonne (Theatre of War, The Shakespeare Code) and documents about the Loch Ness Monster (Terror of the Zygons). Sabalom Glitz is mentioned (Dragonfire; it’s implied that Ace may have lost her virginity to Glitz). The Doctor and Benny also make a number of quick, offhand references to various stories, too many to list here (I’ve already gone on too long); for a full list, see the Discontinuity Guide for this story.
Overall: This one is pretty good. Not quite the page-turner that I found the next entry to be, but that’s just personal preference; you will probably enjoy this one too. It’s refreshingly different, and in a good way (we’ll get a bad example of “different” soon).
Next time: We’ll revisit E-Space (and gangland Chicago!) in Terrance Dicks’s Blood Harvest. See you there!
The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.
We’re back! Today we’re looking at the twenty-sixth volume of the New Adventures series of Seventh Doctor novels: Theatre of War, by Justin Richards. Published in May 1994, and featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny, this novel remains one of my favorites from the New Adventures (so far, anyway). Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the line divider below.
It’s not often an empire is founded by actors, but that is exactly what happened on Heletia. Its colonists turned their love of theatre into a drive to conquer the stars, and for awhile, they were successful. Now, though, they are being driven back toward their homeworld by the Rippeareans; and between them and their enemies lies the disputed world of Menaxus. But Menaxus may hold a secret: the ruins of a civilization that loved the theatre as much as the Heletians. Five years ago, an expedition to Menaxus was aborted by tragedy. Now, Bernice Summerfield—in the right place at the right time, at the storied Braxiatel Collection—is joining a second expedition to Menaxus. But with the enemy encroaching, time is short, and things are more dangerous than they seem.
When Bernice is nearly killed by an assailant who seems to be a ghost—unbelievable as that may seem—she summons the Doctor and Ace. As one by one the expedition members are picked off, the Rippeareans arrive in the system; Ace holds them off, nearly at the cost of her own life. Meanwhile the Doctor and Benny race to figure out just what the truth is about Menaxus—and about the war between Heletia and the Rippeareans. Now, if only they can manage to survive until the curtain comes down on this performance…
For what may be the first time in the New Adventures, we have a story that strongly focuses on Bernice Summerfield, and in a positive way! Oh, she still has a near miss or two—she does nearly get killed by a ghost—but for now, she’s not there simply to get tied up/drugged/turned into a zombie/etc. This is, quite simply, her show. (And yes, I know, eventually she will be THE star of the New Adventures after the Doctor Who license is lost, but no one knew that at this point, so the point still stands.) Because, frankly, the series hasn’t been kind to Benny so far. I’ve only completed a few more books past this point, but so far, this book seems to mark an uptick in events for her; she plays a more pivotal role in books to come.
The story picks up three months after the events of Legacy. Bernice, burnt out on the insanity of traveling with the Doctor and Ace, left at the end of that story to join an archaeological expedition to Phaester Osiris. The vacation has done a world of good for her, and now she is bringing the results of the expedition to the Braxiatel Collection, which sponsored the trip. And here we get the introduction of another character who will become a major figure of the Whoniverse: Irving Braxiatel, the owner of the Collection that bears his name. Consider the Collection an asteroid-sized museum with entirely too much money and fingers in too many pies. The TARDIS wiki says that Braxiatel’s first appearance was in Legacy, but I don’t recall him appearing there; I expect it was just a mention at the end. (The Braxiatel Collection was first mentioned all the way back in City of Death, in a throwaway line by Romana in Part One.) That makes Theatre of War his first appearance of any substance. At any rate, this story is Benny’s first meeting with him (although not his first meeting with her; see continuity, below). Whether it’s the start of a beautiful friendship remains to be seen. (It’s also noted that he has a connection to the Doctor, but I won’t get into that now—it isn’t spelled out, and there will be other stories that dig into it.)
The story is fascinating to me, as well, because it’s perhaps the first story where the Seventh Doctor is truly outplayed. I won’t spoil who manages it, or how, but suffice to say that it’s not a bad ending; it’s simply not the ending the Doctor wanted.
It seems strange to say it this way, but I feel like this version of the TARDIS team seems to work together better when they’re separated. That is, each person has an assignment to carry out, and their own relevant story thread; but those threads together display a degree of teamwork that was missing for a long time. Some of that was probably deliberate; Ace, Benny, and the Doctor couldn’t get along for their first dozen or so adventures together, and had to learn to not only work together, but to tolerate each other. They seem to have finally hurdled that obstacle—there will be occasional misunderstandings going forward, but no actual fights in the immediate future. Indeed, most upcoming books will scatter the characters out before bringing them back together to solve the issue of the day.
Continuity references (in addition to those mentioned above): Braxiatel’s first meeting with Benny, from his perspective, is documented in Dragon’s Wrath and Disassembled; his connection to the Doctor is revealed in Tears of the Oracle. The Doctor mentions the Eye of Orion (The Five Doctors); the Black Hole of Tartarus (Terror of the Vervoids), the events of The Chase; meeting Kublai Khan (Marco Polo); Metebelis III (The Green Death, Planet of the Spiders, et al.); the experiential grid on Argolis (The Leisure Hive), and the Eternals in their yachts (Enlightenment). The projector in the Menaxan theatre contains a performance of Love’s Labour’s Won (The Shakespeare Code); we will see the print version make an appearance in the next novel, All-Consuming Fire. (Incidentally, I love when the new series picks up on tiny bits of trivia like this and turns them into foreshadowing; the play is the entire point of The Shakespeare Code.) Braxiatel also has a blotter referring to him as “Custodian of the Library of St John the Beheaded”; we’ll see that library in great detail in All-Consuming Fire. The expedition to Telos is mentioned (Tomb of the Cybermen). Benny’s locator is tracked via the TARDIS’s Time Path Indicator (The Chase). The Collection contains statues of Lavithian Graffs (The Ribos Operation). Phaester Osiris is the homeworld of Sutekh, and was destroyed (though not completely, just in the sense of civilization) by him (Pyramids of Mars). The Doctor references Borusa, though not by name (The Deadly Assassin).
Overall: Well, I’ve already said that this is one of my favorites. I don’t think it’s generally regarded as a turning point in the series, but that is how it seems to me; and while I’ve only finished a few books beyond this one, the promise of that turning point seems to be carried out. Highly recommended. It helps to have read at least Legacy, for the background on why Benny is away from the TARDIS at first, but I won’t call it necessary. Check it out!
Next time: The Doctor and his companions meet the most unlikely of historical figures: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson! We’ll be looking at All-Consuming Fire, by Andy Lane. See you there!
The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.
We’re back! Today, we’re reviewing the next entry in the New Adventures series of Seventh Doctor novels, Gary Russell’s Legacy. The twenty-fifth novel in the series, this book was published in April 1994 (nearly 27 years ago!), and features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice. Let’s get started!
Some spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, skip down to the line divider, below.
The Doctor is in pursuit of a murderer. That would be bad enough, but there’s a complication: The victim was the daughter of the leader of the Galactic Federation. She was killed due to her pursuit of an ancient, and possibly evil, artifact called the Diadem—on a world very familiar to the Doctor: Peladon.
The Doctor takes Bernice to Peladon to search for the murderer in the midst of King Tarrol’s Restatement ceremony, an occasion with delegations from across the Federation in attendance, including a delegation of Ice Warriors, much to Benny’s delight. Meanwhile he sends Ace to the planet Pakha, home of the slain woman’s partner in the archaeological expedition, to follow up on the Diadem itself.
But one murder is never enough for the power-hungry, and more people fall victim to the murderer. Nothing is as it appears, and the real villain (or villains, perhaps?) will not be who anyone expects—least of all the Doctor.
Not that anyone is worried about the Doctor’s opinion—after all, he just became the next victim.
I fear that I’ve waited too long to review this story—about fourteen months—and won’t really be able to do it justice. To refresh my memory, I’ve been reading through the excellent and thorough plot summary over on the Doctor Who Reference Guide, and constantly shaking my head at all the details I’ve forgotten. Still, we’ll give it a try!
We revisit an old friend here: the planet Peladon, from the Third Doctor’s era. The Doctor has been here at least four times previously; however, he only mentions two. Out of universe, this is because two of those stories–The Prisoner of Peladon and The Bride of Peladon–are Big Finish audios which had not yet been recorded at this novel’s publication. The two mentioned appearances are television’s The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon, both Third Doctor serials. Placing this story in time is a bit of an exercise, but with a cheat sheet at the end; one could nearly nail it down from various clues, but then later, in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Placebo Effect, Russell places this novel in the year 3984. This makes it the third of a series of four visits to Peladon roughly every fifty years: Curse in 3885, Monster in 3935, Legacy in 3985, and (as hopefully one day I’ll cover) Bride in 4035. (Prisoner doesn’t seem to fit the pattern.) Most characters have changed or been replaced since last time; the notable exception is our giant-eyed friend Alpha Centauri, who seems to be particularly long-lived.
It’s perhaps a bit unfair to compare two unrelated stories in this series, but I find it useful here in order to illustrate what I liked about Legacy. The previous book, Tragedy Day, I would describe as complicated; but this one, as complex. Tragedy Day was complicated largely because it was so ambitious; it tries to do, well, everything, and as a result it’s chaotic. It has…I’m trying very hard not to use the phrase too many, because that would be unfair. But, it has a great number of villains, plot threads, and twists, and as such it’s a bit hard to follow. It’s certainly fun along the way, though. Legacy, by contrast, is much more streamlined, but there’s layer upon layer within each plot thread. No character is without secrets here, and you never know until late in the game just who is trustworthy and who isn’t. Every turn of the plot is fully justified—nothing is just for show—but you won’t fully get the justification until the end. It’s a great piece of work.
I was especially pleased with the portrayal of the Ice Warriors here. This didn’t have to be an Ice Warrior story—as a bit of a tell, if you look at the wiki page’s book details box, you won’t find Ice Warriors listed under “Main enemy”. Certainly there’s precedent; they were on Peladon previously. But the Ice Warriors as seen here are not one-dimensional enemies. They’re seen as an honorable society with a certain degree of guilt that they must live with—which is, I think, a view very in line with their occasional portrayals in NuWho. And let’s face it: Doctor Who has enough villains who are always evil, or at least evil from the perspective of the Doctor and his companions. Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, the list could go on; we get the occasional individual whose nature is changed in some way, but as a group they remain villains. The Ice Warriors are better than that, and as such a bit more believable when portrayed fairly, as they are here.
Continuity References: So many that I certainly won’t be able to cover them all, which seems to be a thing with Gary Russell (not that I’m complaining!). In addition to the frequent references to previous Peladon stories, here’s a sampling: Mavic Chen (The Daleks’ Master Plan, Neverland) becomes the Guardian of the Solar System. The Dalek War in The Daleks’ Master Plan is noted to be thirty years in the future. The Doctor mentions the events of The Ice Warriors as six hundred years ago (which may or may not be accurate). Space Station Zenobia is seen (The Mysterious Planet. Time Rings are a recent development (recent in Time Lord terms, anyway; Genesis of the Daleks; also Who Killed Kennedy, in which a dangerous prototype was used). The Horus ruins were recently discovered (Pyramids of Mars). Windchimes from Deva Loka make an appearance (Kinda). Cybermen appear to be extinct, although we know that’s not actually true; both New Mondas and Telos have been destroyed (Telos). A Felinetta appears in flashback, their actual first appearance (Invasion of the Cat-People). Various Federation species are mentioned: The Ogri (The Stones of Blood), the Lurmans (Carnival of Monsters), and the Cantryans (Destiny of the Daleks). Benny has memories of Mars that are not her own (Transit). Kaldor City (The Robots of Death) is mentioned as being on Japetus, which is contradicted by later stories. Sontaran fragmentation grenades first appeared in the novelization of Terror of the Autons. There’s a description of unarmored Ice Warriors which will much later prove to be consistent with their portrayal in Cold War. The Time Lord CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency) is mentioned in connection with Chancellor Goth (The War Games, et al.) The Pakhars—whom I haven’t discussed, but whom I find greatly entertaining every time they appear—have a legend about a Daemon asleep on their planet (The Daemons). The Diadem entity is compared to the Mind Parasite from The Mind of Evil. Draconians are mentioned (Frontier in Space). And none of this is getting into references to the recent books in this series!
There are also a few out-of-universe points worth mentioning. An in-universe book is authored by one Grith Robtts, a reference to Gareth Roberts. This story, like Sword of Orion, was originally intended to be audio in the Audio Visuals fan series (Sword actually was produced as an AV; the Orions get a mention in this novel). The TARDIS is seen to have a room that is very much a holodeck, a la Star Trek: The Next Generation, if not called that.
Overall: This novel is a continuity porn dream, something that fans in our fandom tend to love (myself included). Honestly, it amazes me that it’s Gary Russell’s first Doctor Who work (I’ve read others, but out of order), given how thoroughly connected it is. The downside is that it means it’s not very approachable for fans who aren’t well versed in classic Doctor Who. But then again, not every novel should be a jumping-on point for new fans; and there’s nothing wrong with having a story that caters to those of us who have been with the series since time immemorial. If you fall into that category, you’re going to love it. And if not, well, stick around; we have better options for you coming soon!
Next time: We’ll check out one of my favorites so far, and a good Benny story to boot: Justin Richards’s Theatre of War! See you there.
A prelude to Legacy can be found here.
The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.
And we’re back! Welcome back to the Time Lord Archives. If you’ve followed along before, I thank you for your patience, as it’s been awhile; if you’re new here, welcome aboard! Today we’re picking up our read of the New Adventures line of Seventh Doctor novels with #24 in the series, Gareth Roberts’ Tragedy Day, published in March 1994, and featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace McShane, and Bernice Summerfield. I should mention that when I left off this series, I had read several more books than I had reviewed, and so this and the next several reviews will be a bit shorter and more to the point than my usual, in an attempt to catch up.
One last but necessary note. Gareth Roberts is a controversial topic himself these days, due to various comments he’s made over the years, and he has largely been ousted as a writer for the Doctor Who community. However, that kind of personal controversy is not really the purview of this blog; and I am not making any statement regarding his character, personal life, or personal views, or the reaction thereto. Here–and this will be my policy going forward, because we’re going to encounter Roberts again, more than once–I’m only discussing the book. Regardless of his outside issues, for better or worse, his works are part of the series, and we’ll consider them as with all the rest. It may or may not be deemed appropriate to as it were “cancel” a person for their actions; but I’m not going to apply that standard retroactively to their work prior to the commission of the relevant offense.
With all that said, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead (though not as many as usual). For a more spoiler-free review, skip down to the line divider below.
Long ago, the planet of Olleril was visited by the mysterious stranger known as the Doctor–but, probably not the one you were expecting. Had the natives known about regeneration, they might have known him as the First Doctor, accompanied by his granddaughter Susan. He saved the natives and their world from death by contamination–radiation from a crashed starship would have killed them all. And he took away with him a mysterious piece of red glass, which the locals believed was the source of a curse…
Centuries later, the Seventh Doctor and his companions return to the planet for its famous Tragedy Day celebration. It’s a different world now, with the natives all but wiped out, and a new society descended from a fallen–but not forgotten–human empire. Ace is quickly lost in a refugee camp, and the Doctor and Bernice find themselves the targets of an imperial cult-turned-dictatorial regime–not to mention a celebrity gone mad with power. Worse: the mysterious and transdimensional Friars of Pangloss have sent assassins to kill the Doctor and recover the red glass, the key to their source of power.
Now, the Doctor must piece these disparate threads together, defeat a child maniac, save Ace from being eaten by monsters, and oh yes, defeat the Friars–and all before Tragedy Day reaches its violent end!
This story is, in a word, everywhere. There are so many threads at work here that it gets a bit hard to follow. It’s certainly enjoyable, if only because its pace has to be breakneck in order to fit everything in. It’s everywhere in the geographic sense, too; from the Imperial City on Olleril, to a weapons test site on an island, to a hidden base on a submarine, to a crowded refugee camp, to the devastated planet Pangloss, this story jumps around more than nearly any I’ve seen recently.
As seems to be common in the VNAs, we have a prominent look back at an episode in a previous Doctor’s life. This is the earliest such scene we have, with the First Doctor and Susan appearing sometime prior to their time on Earth–it’s not possible to place it exactly, but then, pre-An Uneartly Child adventures are fairly rare anyway. (We do have earlier flashbacks in previous books, but those scenes concern the history of the founding of Time Lord society, not the Doctor’s earlier life.) We’re going to have several more occasions like this in upcoming novels, so stay tuned! It happens often enough in the VNAs that it’s almost a cliché–and yet, as a longtime fan, I find it hard to complain; of course the Doctor’s life should circle back and intersect sometimes, much as we may meet an old friend and catch up. It’s a way to bring in the past without making multi-Doctor stories even more common than they are already, and I am content with that, especially given that the television series finds it harder to be self-referential in this way. It also serves to show us that the Doctor’s adventures are far more numerous than we seem, which I find comforting; it allows us to account for his odd throwaway instances of name dropping, and it tells us there’s always more to learn.
I don’t often delve into the real-world themes found in these novels–for example, any time they are written with reference to real-world politics. It’s not that those things are unimportant; it’s that the real world can be depressing enough these days, and I like to enjoy these books–now nearly thirty years out of date–as happy fiction rather than commentary. Nevertheless, the commentary is there, and sometimes it’s too obvious to be missed. That’s the case here, but unlike many novels, Tragedy Day doesn’t discriminate; it takes a jab at everyone and everything. War, colonialism, religious fanaticism, television, celebrity–there’s a critique here for everyone! And it’s always well-deserved. The only downside is that there’s not enough time to get as far as solutions, in most cases, so we’re left with the critique and the opportunity to make our own decisions unaided.
Continuity References: Surprisingly, less than I expected this time, especially after opening with a First Doctor reference. But that reference is to a story that isn’t recorded anywhere else, so in a sense it doesn’t count. There are hints at the events of An Unearthly Child, though not very definite. The Monk, aka Mortimus, is mentioned, after recently showing up in No Future. The Rutans are mentioned (Horror of Fang Rock). The actor Crispin has a complete collection of a television series called Captain Millennium, except for a single episode missing; this is undoubtedly a reference to The Highest Science, in which an odd episode of the series was randomly transported to the planet Hogsumm (that novel was Roberts’ first contribution to the VNAs). The Doctor claims to have never met Henry VII, but this is not true; he met him previously in The Sensorites, God Send Me Well to Keep, and Recorded Time. Bernice mentions the nonexistent planet Rhoos (The Playthings of Fo). And, the ruling faction on Olleril, the Luminus, came about as a result of Faction Paradox (Interference – Book Two). And, not specifically a reference, but I feel compelled to point out that the Doctor is still using the Third Doctor’s TARDIS as rescued from the alternate universe; there’s little mention of it here, but we’ll have occasional reminders in upcoming books.
Overall: I know I sound like I’ve been harsh toward this book, but actually I enjoyed it. It’s a mess, but it’s our mess, as it were. It reads quickly, and it’s one of the rare novels in the series that’s very easy to get lost in–I didn’t finish it in a single sitting, but close enough. For me, that won’t happen again until Blood Harvest, number 28 in the series. As well, being fairly low on continuity references–and having finally passed through the Alternate Universe novels and the “holiday trilogy” (as I call it)–this book is easy to get into for a newcomer. So, check it out, if you can!
Next time: We revisit the world of Peladon in Legacy, by Gary Russell! See you there.
A prelude to Tragedy Day can be found here.
Nearly seven years ago, I remember sitting in my bedroom with the television on and the lights dimmed. I had put my children—then ages seven and five—to bed early, and locked up the house, and silenced my cell phone, all so that I could watch, uninterrupted, something for which I had waited years: the fiftieth anniversary special of Doctor Who.
And it was worth it. In the years since, there has been much debate over the episode, much of it over on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit (where this post can also be found); but on that night I didn’t care about any of that. I watched and enjoyed the story for everything it represented–fifty years of wonderful stories, of colorful characters, of Doctor after Doctor after Doctor…and something unexpected: a new Doctor! And not even the next one, which we already knew about; but rather, a past Doctor, a hidden Doctor, one the Doctor himself couldn’t bear to bring into the light. Needless to say, I was caught up. (Full disclosure, of course: the actual reveal was in the previous episode—but we knew so little, it may as well have been in the special. I certainly wasn’t disappointed!)
John Hurt’s War Doctor became the glue that held the entire post-Time War continuity together. The Last Great Time War was the event that drove every incarnation of the Doctor, from Eccleston’s Nine to Capaldi’s Twelve; but it took Hurt’s War Doctor to show us just why, and how much, the Doctor loathed himself. So much so that he denied the very name; so much so that he managed to hide the existence of the War Doctor from every instance where he could have been expected to be revealed. But the past doesn’t always stay in the past, even if you’re the Doctor.
Unfortunately, John Hurt was taken too soon. He turned in a few glorious performances as the War Doctor in Big Finish’s audio format; and then he was gone. I one hundred percent respect the BBC’s, and Big Finish’s, decision not to recast him or otherwise continue his legacy. And yet, there’s a part of me, as a fan, that says what everyone was thinking: The War Doctor deserves more.
That’s where today’s review comes in. On 03 August 2020, a new War Doctor charity anthology was released; and we’ll be looking at it today. Published by Chinbeard Books, and edited by Kenton Hall, Regenerations is released in support of Invest in ME, a research organization studying treatments for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (the “ME” of the title). I will link to the charity at the end, as well as to the sale page for the anthology. In the meantime, you can view a short trailer for the anthology here!
We’ve had other charity projects concerning the War Doctor before, most notably the Seasons of War anthology (an excellent read, if you can locate a copy; it is currently out of print, and not expected to return). Regenerations is a bit different; where Seasons of War is a compilation of stories that are in rough chronological order—as much as a Time War can ever be chronological!—but mostly unrelated to each other, Regenerations is more tightly woven. But more on that in a moment.
There will be some spoilers ahead! I have given a short and vague overview of the anthology’s entries, but even those clips contain spoilers. Further, afterward, I’ll be summing up the frame story, and will at minimum be spoiling who the major villain is, and a bit of how it is overcome. I am not going to try to spoiler tag such an extensive part of the post; but you can use the line dividers ahead as markers. You can read the next section, beginning with the phrase “Less like an anthology”, safely without significant spoilers. The two line-divided sections thereafter are spoiler-heavy, so if you want to avoid them, skip ahead!
With all that said, let’s dive in!
Less like an anthology, Regenerations reads like a novel, despite being the work of a group of authors. Its stories don’t simply have “the Time War” as their common thread; they mesh together for a purpose. There’s a frame story, penned by editor Kenton Hall, in which the War Doctor begins abruptly to sense that, in this war of changed timelines, someone is playing games with his own past. Suddenly, he’s not quite the man he has been—and he is dangerously close to becoming the man he used to be. That’s unfortunate, and quite possibly disastrous, because the change comes at a critical moment, a time when the universe seems to need the Warrior more than the Doctor. Now, he must work through his past lives and find the divergences, and somehow set them right, before he himself ceases to be. And if, along the way, he can find the parties responsible, it would be a wonderful bonus.
We’re introduced to two new Time Lords, newly minted Academy graduates (and CIA desk jockeys) Jelsillon and Dyliss. Their world is turned on its head when they receive a new mission from the CIA’s Coordinator—and instantly they know something is wrong. The Coordinator is a man they know—but not from the CIA. Rather, it’s a former classmate, Narvin (yes, THAT Narvin), who is suddenly seen to be much older and several regenerations along. Narvin sets them a mission: to disrupt the timeline of the famous (infamous?) Time Lord known as the Doctor. There’s just one problem: They don’t know who that is.
Jelsillon and Dyliss, as it turns out, live in a time long before the War, and even before the rise of the Doctor. This, it seems, makes them prime candidates for the mission; though they familiarize themselves with the Doctor, they have no preconceptions. All they have is a drive for adventure—and who wouldn’t want to save the world, after all?
From here, we launch into a series of tales, one concerning each of the War Doctor’s past lives. Each is an alteration of events familiar to us, the fans; each is a deviation from the timeline we have known. Between these stories, we see in short form the Doctor’s continuing efforts to get to the bottom of the situation.
Let’s take a look at the stories.
- First Doctor: To get us started and set our course, editor Kenton Hall gives us our first tale, told in five short parts. In An Untrustworthy Child and The World That Was Different, we visit late 1963, where a policeman walks his beat near I.M. Foreman’s scrapyard; but his curiosity will cost him tonight. Elsewhere and elsewhen, on war-torn Gallifrey, the High Council under Rassilon banishes one of its own, and sets a dangerous plan in place. And two young Time Lords, Jelsillon and Dyliss, are sent on a mission to make that plan a reality, though they don’t know what they are getting into. In Exit the Doctor, the First Doctor mulls over his situation, and ultimately decides the time to leave 1963 London is fast approaching; but before he can act, he discovers the alarming presence of another TARDIS in the scrapyard, and goes to investigate. In The TARDISes, the Doctor isn’t the only one investigating; two teachers from his granddaughter Susan’s school are making their way to the scrapyard on a mission of their own. Meanwhile, the occupants of the new TARDIS, Jelsillon and Dyliss, have laid a trap, not for the Doctor, but for his granddaughter, Susan. A split-second decision will return Susan to Gallifrey, and turn everything on its head, as Jelsillon and Dyliss—not Ian and Barbara—join the Doctor on his travels. They have one goal: to ensure he never goes to Skaro, and never meets the Daleks. For, as the High Council believes, it’s the Doctor’s encounters with the Daleks that ultimately lead them to their vendetta against the Time Lords; if that can be averted, will not also the War itself? And in The Pawn of Time, the Doctor—now having traveled for some time with Dyliss and Jelsillon—has just taken on a new companion, one Vicki Pallister. Back on Gallifrey, the banished Cardinal is summoned to a meeting by the War Doctor; and on Earth, a somewhat traumatized policeman decides to put in for his retirement.
- The Second Doctor: Dan Barratt’s Time of the Cybermen revisits the events of Tomb of the Cybermen, on the distant planet of Telos—until a sweeping wave of timeline changes carries the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria away to Earth, with aching heads and new memories… Here they discover a different tomb, as in the 22nd century they find that the Cybermen, not the Daleks, conquered Earth. Now, the last bastion of humanity, long sleeping in their own frozen crypt, is about to be discovered—and it’s all the Doctor’s fault!
- The Third Doctor: Andrew Lawston revisits Day of the Daleks in The Paradoxical Affair at Styles. Events happen much the same, with a 22nd century assassin returning to kill Reginald Styles, only to be thwarted—but when the assassin is killed, he is determined to be the Doctor! Naturally, this is most alarming to the Doctor himself. He and Jo Grant find themselves transported into the future—but they miss the mark by twenty years, only to find themselves in the midst of the Dalek occupation of Earth. They receive unexpected aid from an old enemy: The Master—but not as they have known them. This Master claims to be from the future, in a time of universe-consuming war. In the end, his help only serves to perpetuate the loop, with the Doctor returning to the past to assassinate Styles…
- The Fourth Doctor: Terminus of the Daleks, by Alan Ronald, takes us to the far future of Gallifrey, a time long past the disappearance of the hero known as the Doctor. We meet Ari, an actor, who is playing the role of the Doctor in his greatest adventure: his visit to Skaro at the very beginning of the Dalek menace (Genesis of the Daleks), where he asked the famous question, “Have I the right…?” and then answered with a resounding YES. And yet, here, now, with history solid and reassuring behind him, he must ask himself: How would the Doctor really feel? The question has weight, and so will the answer.
- The Fifth Doctor: Shockwave, by Simon A. Brett and Lee Rawlings, picks up immediately after the death of Adric—but not the death we remember. After all, there were no Sontarans involved in Adric’s original death. Don’t mind the oddity though; as the Doctor says to Tegan and Nyssa, “as we’ve been dealing with a number of supremely powerful species discharging temporal energy in the same relatively localized area of time and space, normality may be too much to ask.” But there’s no time to worry about that, as the TARDIS has a close call with a VERY displaced Concorde—which leads them to a drastically altered Heathrow airport, an ankylosaurus in the shops, and a kidnapping by a quite unexpected old enemy.
- Sixth Doctor: Revelation, by Christine Grit, opens with the Sixth Doctor landing on a world called Necros—or is it?—in the midst of an argument with his young companion, Per—no, Adric. Even the Doctor can detect that something isn’t right—just why did he come here, anyway? A funeral? An old friend?—but he can’t force his mind to sort it out. Which quickly becomes irrelevant, as he is captured and placed in a cage in a zoo, right between a dead Sontaran and a depressed-but-artistic Ice Warrior. Adric, meanwhile, escapes, only to fall in with a local band of (literally) shadowy rebels, led by a strange woman with a gravity-defying mermaid tail. Yes, that is a real sentence; just roll with it, it works out alright in the end. Before long, the roles are reversed; it is the Doctor who is free and siding with the young woman, while Adric is a prisoner…of a long-absent Time Lord called the Rani, and her modified Daleks.
- Seventh Doctor: Enter the Rani by Nick Mellish picks up on the threads left hanging in Revelation. After disposing of Adric, the Rani’s plans have moved ahead, and she has found a suitable world in Lakertya. If only she hadn’t crashed on it! But given time—something she has in abundance—she shapes the rocky continent of her landing into something she can use, enslaving its people, building labs, conducting experiments. It isn’t long before her next targets—the Doctor and his companion, Mel—come along…only to crash as well. Strange. Well, the Rani is nothing if not an opportunist. She captures the Doctor, but is stunned to see that he has just regenerated, which will certainly throw a wrench in the plans. Mel falls in with the remaining natives, and organizes a rescue—and for once it works! The Rani is captured, the Doctor freed. Her plans continue, however—plans to destroy a strange matter comet and collect the chronons it generates, and use them to punch a hole in time and shape history—and evolution—to her own desires. But the mystery still remains: What is it that traps TARDISes on this world? As the moon turns blue, the truth proves to be stranger than fiction—but that won’t stop the end of the world from happening.
- Eighth Doctor: Steven Horry’s The Edge of the War posits only a small change: What if the Master, in his deathworm morphant form after his execution by the Daleks, didn’t steal the body of Bruce the paramedic, but rather, the body of his wife, Miranda? Such a small change…and yet the consequences snowball, as this new Master kills Chang Lee rather than subverts him, and then steals the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor stranded on Earth—and out of the path of the inevitable Time War.
- War Doctor–or not?: The Flight of the Doctor, by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, shows us a different view of The Night of the Doctor, one in which Cass and her crew safely escape the gunship’s crash on Karn…and the Doctor walks away from Ohila’s offer. After all, what does a war need more than a medic?
From here to the end of the book, we return to the War Doctor, Jelsillon, and Dyliss. For the War Doctor, this tale began on the world of Makaria Prime, which dealt with the War in a singularly impressive way: By removing themselves from it. Unfortunately, they did so by punching a hole through not only the time vortex, but the very fabric of the universe itself—and that hole became a superhighway for not only the Daleks, but also another, unexpected villain. Long ago, the Doctor encountered an artificial pocket universe called the Land of Fiction, which was ruled by a supercomputer called the Master Brain, using various human proxies. Now, the Master Brain itself has evolved sentience, just in time to find a way through the Makarian rupture and into the universe. And yet, it remains bound to the Land. Now, it seeks the Doctor, not just for revenge, but for a greater purpose: To cede control of the Land to him. This will give the Doctor the power to create what he always wanted: A universe without the Daleks. In turn, it will free the Master Brain to wander the universe and do as it pleases—much as the Rani once sought control over history. It is the Master Brain, using willing pawns in power-hungry Rassilon, Coordinator Narvin, Jelsillon, and Dyliss, who tampered with the Doctor’s past, all to bring him to this point. And to accomplish all this, it has possessed Jelsillon, taking control of his body—a control it plans never to relinquish.
When of course he refuses, the computer tortures him with visions of what may be. He sees his next life save London from overeager Chula nanogenes…by introducing them to regeneration. He sees the Tenth Doctor save Donna Noble from her memories, only to see her become an amalgamation of his own darker sides, calling itself the Valeyard. He sees a world where one Amy Pond didn’t follow her husband into the Weeping Angel’s touch, and mourns his death all the way to a world called Trenzalore. He sees his Twelfth incarnation stand at the top of a miles-long ship with two friends and an old enemy, and watches the villain take a blast for him that leaves a hole through her body. The Master Brain shows him these things not to hurt him (or, well, maybe a little to hurt him), but to show him the wealth of possibilities, if only he will give in.
And ultimately, he does exactly that.
But the Doctor—even as the Warrior—remains the Doctor; and as always, he’s done something clever. For he knows what the computer does not: That as much as anything else, this is a love story. Jelsillon and Dyliss’s story, to be specific—over the years, they’ve developed a bond much greater than classmates or coworkers. And that bond allows Dyliss to find Jelsillon, and with him, the Doctor and the Master Brain. Staser in hand, she offers the computer a way out: The Doctor will take ownership of the Land, and in return the Master Brain can go free—but in its disembodied form, where it can do no harm. At last it agrees.
The Doctor closes the tale with “a bit of a rewrite”. Going one step further than the Master Brain, he seeks out his Thirteenth incarnation, interrupting her battle against the Lone Cyberman at Villa Diodati, and enlists her help to set things right. Slowly he pieces his life back together, visiting points of divergence, preventing changes. Narvin’s call to Jelsillon and Dyliss is intercepted, much to Narvin’s anger. Changes radiate through his timestream as he makes them, a river resuming an old familiar course. Unfortunately, as he does so, the Doctor recedes, and the Warrior resurges. But that’s not such a bad thing—after all, there’s still the matter of the Makarians to deal with. Only a Warrior would help them escape the universe—and after all, the Doctor recently inherited a piece of extra-universal Land…
Back at their old jobs, Jelsillon and Dyliss talk over their experiences, before the timestreams cause them to forget. But some things—like the bond they created—will outlast even the changes of memory.
And in a future still to come, a weary Warrior trudges across a desert toward an old barn, a sack on his back, ready to bring about an end, and so many beginnings.
Most spoilers end here!
One never knows what to expect when beginning a story about the War Doctor. That’s chiefly because it’s impossible to do justice to the Time War, the inevitable backdrop of any War Doctor story. It’s a frequent complaint: Descriptions given by the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors paint a picture that is never fully realized, and understandably so—after all, a true Time War of the scale described would be beyond the comprehension of three-dimensional beings like us. Consequently many stories leave fans feeling a bit short-changed.
I don’t buy into that outlook, though. A bad War Doctor story is better than none at all; and if we can’t properly encompass the incomprehensibility of the Time War, well, neither can its victims. Therein lies the secret: You have to view it through the lens of an individual. When you do that, the smaller stories make sense, because that’s how the incomprehensible would filter down to us.
And if you’re going to do that, then you should run with it.
That’s what we have here in Regenerations. We see the War Doctor not as a force of nature, because forces of nature don’t make good stories (even a disaster movie is about the people it affects). We see him as a person. While we don’t get to see him in full Warrior mode—another frequent complaint—we do get to see him struggle between the two personas of Doctor and Warrior as they’re pitted directly against each other. He himself doesn’t know who he is, and he feels pulled apart by the struggle.
The entire book walks a line between earnest and tongue-in-cheek, sometimes dipping a toe in one direction or the other. There’s a serious story happening here, worthy of any other time-bending story in Whovian continuity; but there’s also plenty of jokes, and a wealth of references to past stories, far more than I could possibly cover here as I usually do. That’s above and beyond the fact that each story is a new take on a classic story—you get inside jokes, such as the War Doctor announcing “Im looking for the Doctor”; Graham declaring “You’ve certainly come to the right place”; and Thirteen leaping in to insist that “No he hasn’t! He’s come to entirely the wrong place and he knows it!”
I admit to being especially impressed at the continuity here. Sometimes I forget just how many threads of continuity one must tie together in order to keep a story in order these days. It’s especially complicated here, where not only do we have to track each Doctor’s timestream, track the changes we’re making, and make sure we’re not contradicting more obscure details; but also we have to bring in any number of sources—for example, Narvin from the Gallifrey audio series, the Doctor’s return to the Land of Fiction in the New Adventures novels, various television seasons, and even a hint about the Eighth Doctor being stranded on Earth with Grace Holloway in the Doctor Who Magazine comics. Somehow, despite spanning an entire stable of authors, it works.
In the final analysis, the book left me both satisfied with the outcome, and wanting more. I’m content with the end of this story; it’s fully resolved, and lingering too long would weaken it. But I wouldn’t mind seeing some more stories set in some of these alternate lives. In particular, Jelsillon and Dyliss are interesting characters, and I’d be interested to see more of their adventures with the First Doctor in place of Ian, Barbara, and Susan. Or, I would like to see more of the life of third-regeneration Susan as a Cardinal during the Time War—a different take than her appearance in the audio All Hands on Deck; a life in which she either never left Gallifrey with the Doctor, or was returned there from 1963 London by Jelsillon and Dyliss (her own memories of the event are in flux at this point). I’d like to know what happens to Seven and Mel and the Rani if and when they escape Lakertya. I wouldn’t mind a glimpse into the battle against Donna as the Valeyard.
We’ll leave that to the imagination for now, I suppose.
But, if you’re also into alternate continuities, or the War Doctor, or just the humor to be had in revisiting these adventures, check out the book. You’ll enjoy it, and you’ll give some support to a worthy cause in the process.
Thanks for reading!
The trailer for the anthology may be viewed here.
For more information on Invest in ME Research, check out their website here.
We’re back! Today we’ll be finishing up the “Alternate Universe” arc of the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs, hereafter), with the fifth entry in that miniseries (and twenty-third in the VNAs overall), Paul Cornell’s No Future. Published in February 1994, this novel as usual features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!
Led by a hint laid for them during their time in the Land of Fiction, the Doctor and his companions land in 1976 London, searching for a man named Danny Pain. They find him to be less impressive than promised; a moody teenager in a punk band, he shows no sign of saving the world as implied. Nevertheless, something is up, and the Doctor has had enough of the meddling happening in his past; one way or another, the game ends here and now.
Now, Benny is a full member of Pain’s band, Plasticine—a fact the Doctor knew before he ever met her. Ace is at odds with the Doctor, and seeks to end their problems on her own terms. The Doctor seeks help from his old friends in UNIT…and finds that they don’t know him—but they’re more than willing to deal with the threat that he represents. It’s good timing, because the anarchist group Black Star is on a rampage, setting off bombs and sparking riots; but a record producer named Robert Bertram has a plan to bring peace to the world—and Plasticine, Benny, and Ace are at the core of it all.
I’ll say up front that I enjoyed this novel; but I also have to say that I’m afraid that I can’t do it justice here. So, this entry is likely to be brief and a bit unsatisfying—but don’t let that reflect on the novel!
The problem, for me, is that this book, among all the entries in the Alternate Universe arc, is heavily steeped in a period of British culture with which I am almost completely unfamiliar. I grew up in the USA in the eighties and nineties, a time and place where most knowledge of British culture came from A) those bands that were popular on both sides of the Atlantic, B) Monty Python, and C) classic Doctor Who. None of those sources give much insight into what things were like locally, especially in the political and musical sense. (You’d think the musical side would be obvious, but in my experience, we can be fairly tunnel-visioned about such things.) As a result, references were lost on me; jokes most likely went over my head; and, since we’re dealing specifically with an altered history in this novel, I sometimes had trouble seeing where the novel’s background deviates from reality. It’s likely I’ll even get some things wrong in this review, even after having done the research.
To that end, I’ll mostly talk about what I did appreciate (and what I didn’t!) here. For one, it’s a UNIT story, which is generally a plus to me. It bookends the arc nicely; we started with an alternate version of UNIT, and we’re finishing with one as well. (To be fair, it’s not “alternate” here in the sense of another version; this is the real UNIT, but with some past experiences altered.) They also appeared tangentially in The Left-Handed Hummingbird, but insignificantly by comparison. Unfortunately, this book makes a strong effort to align UNIT’s history with the dates given in Mawdryn Undead, rather than every other UNIT story, thus further confusing the issue. While researching this review, I found mention that Paul Cornell had been vocal in his dislike for the Pertwee era; it seemed to be implied that this book was his effort to see a UNIT story “done right”. I hadn’t heard that before, and unfortunately didn’t have time to dig into original sources to confirm; but if that was his goal, I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t come across as particularly different from a typical UNIT story. Or perhaps I’m not sorry; after all, I like most UNIT stories.
Generally, though, I like Cornell’s work, and usually recommend his books. Allegedly he himself considers this to be the worst of his DW novels; but that doesn’t make it bad. The worst I can say for it is that it’s clogged; there are so many real-world references and continuity references here, I’d struggle to list them all (though I’ll take a stab at the continuity, at least). He has a lot of threads to tie together here, and he does a fair job of it. Our final villain—and before I say it, I’ll remind you that I did say there were spoilers ahead—turns out to be the Monk; allegedly this is the first DW story to confirm, not just suggest, that the Monk and the Master were not the same Time Lord. (In 1994! Who would have thought it would be that late?!) It’s he that has been tampering with the Doctor’s past since Blood Heat, chiefly out of a desire for revenge for trapping him on an ice planet in The Daleks’ Master Plan. That’s no mean feat; he does so with the help of a captive Chronovore, a creature that devours the leftovers and mistakes of time itself (think Reapers from Father’s Day, but much more sentient and attractive). He works his plan here with the help of the Vardans, the energy-based humanoids first seen in The Invasion of Time; they, too, have long been trapped by the Doctor, and seek revenge.
Ace, Benny, and the Doctor finally get some resolution for their various interpersonal problems here. Ace and Benny’s conflict comes to a head; after this we’ll see them getting along much better. It’s too bad that Ace has to get pulled over to the Monk’s side for awhile to get there, but then, no one said people were uncomplicated. There will still be the occasional tension with the Doctor on both their parts—soon it will be Benny’s turn to think about leaving (a nice change from Ace’s constant flirting with the idea)—but overall we’ll see some improvement going forward. And not a moment too soon, in my opinion!
Though we’re finished with the Alternate Universe arc, there are still a few threads hanging. Most importantly, the TARDIS: the Doctor is still using his third incarnation’s TARDIS from Blood Heat, and as far as we can tell, his original TARDIS is gone along with that universe. More on that to come, but for now, it’s a thread we’ll leave out there. He does, however, smash the chameleon circuit with a hammer; he decides he prefers the police box after all. Eh, well, it was fun while it lasted; in fact, the chameleon circuit is instrumental in his search for the Monk in this story.
Continuity References: I don’t expect to get them all today; there are quite a lot of them. But, notably: The events of Battlefield get a mention (for the Brigadier it is yet to come, but for the Doctor it was before this adventure). The Vardans are released from their time loop (The Invasion of Time); in reference to that story, Bernice, very quotably, remarks that the Vardans are “the only race in history to be outwitted by the intellectual might of the Sontarans” (a double burn, very nice!). The Monk was last encountered in The Daleks’ Master Plan, but that means that this novel contradicts his appearance in the comic 4-Dimensional Vistas. The Chronovores were introduced in The Time Monster. Very frequent references are made to all the preceding Alternate Universe entries (Blood Heat, The Dimension Riders, The Left-Handed Hummingbird, Conundrum). Ace already knows who Danny Pain is, having had one of his albums in Colditz; she denies knowing him here, but that may be because of her poor relationship with, well, everyone at this point. The Monk mentions Magnus, later revealed to be the real name of the War Chief (The War Games, Divided Loyalties). Professor Clegg is mentioned (Planet of the Spiders), as are the Zygons (Terror of the Zygons), the Axons (The Claws of Axos), the Autons (Spearhead from Space), Omega (The Three Doctors), the Guardians (The Ribos Operation, et al.), Morgaine (Battlefield), the Gods of Ragnarok (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and more recently, mentioned in Conundrum), and the Yeti (The Web of Fear). The Doctor mentions the Brigade Leader (Inferno), and the (alleged) death of the Master (Survival, though we of course know he survived). Ace and the Monk both mention Jan (Love and War). She also mentions the events of Nightshade. The Monk mentions the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which are still in the future. The Brigadier mentions Harry Sullivan and Sarah Jane Smith, and the Doctor mentions Susan (various stories). Mike Yates and his betrayal in Invasion of the Dinosaurs was mentioned. The Vardans use the phrase “chronic hysteresis” (Meglos). The Monk uses Chelonian technology (The Highest Science) and mentions the Daemons (The Daemons) and the Eternals (Enlightenment).
Overall: It’s been a tumultuous trip, but we made it! Through the Alternate Universe arc, that is. We’ll move on to some mostly standalone adventures for awhile, and some of the issues we’ve been facing will fade away. Not a bad ending, I must say, though quite a roller coaster in its own right. If you made it through the others, you’ll want to read this one.
Next time: We’ll catch up next time in (pre-scandal) Gareth Roberts’ Tragedy Day. See you there!
We’re back! Today we’re looking at the twenty-second entry in the New Adventures (or VNAs) series of Seventh Doctor novels: Steve Lyons’ Conundrum, published in January 1994. This one is hard to describe, and although it was a fun read, I feel that it won’t lend itself easily to analysis; so we’ll make this quick. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!
- A family man with a dark and outrageous secret.
- A detective who’s just a little too cliched to be for real.
- An old man with both regrets and superpowers.
- A group of adventuring kids too cute for their own good.
- A criminal hiding in plain sight.
And right in the middle of it all—in a place that should no longer exist—the Doctor, Ace and Benny!
The town of Arandale is at the center of not one, not two, but three mysteries; and the Doctor, drawn here against his will, intends to solve them all. The problem is, nothing in the town is what it appears to be—and this time, that’s literally true! As events in the town race toward final destruction, the Doctor comes to realize he and his friends have been trapped in a realm he destroyed long ago, in another life: The Land of Fiction. Once again, someone or something has interfered with his past; and this time, he may not get away.
The Mind Robber is such a classic of early Doctor Who, that revisiting it is always a dangerous exercise. (Coincidentally, it was my first experience with the Second Doctor; accordingly, I think very highly of the story.) The Land of Fiction is a concept that by its nature has few rules for its usage; and so there’s a multitude of directions a writer can go with it—but, many of those directions won’t live up to the standards of the original.
Steve Lyons comes close, though. His take on the Land of Fiction relies on the original just enough to establish continuity and give solidity to the story, but goes its own direction just enough to keep the story from feeling like a copy of the original. It’s a bit scattershot; the plot is all over the place, and that’s probably its biggest weakness (especially given the ambition of a story that brings superheroes into the DW universe!). I feel there’s perhaps one or two subplots too many for the story to contain. But I get why he chose that tactic, and I agree with him: As I’ve said before, few writers in this series seem to know what to do with this TARDIS team. Lyons does a better job than most, by giving the Doctor, Ace, and Benny each a situation of their own to deal with—and crucially, by making those situations of equal weight. No one is sidelined here the way it usually goes; everyone is important. (He’s still needlessly hard on Benny, I think, but hey, we can’t have it all. For the record, though, it’s nice to see I’m not the only one who feels this way; from the Cloister Library entry for this book: “There are so many things so wonderfully right about this book, and the first among those equals is Benny. Finally, after a few books where she is underused, the character shines here, being empathic, sarcastic, hilarious and sad by turns.”)
As a consequence, he manages something else that others don’t usually manage: He brings the interpersonal tensions between the Doctor, Benny, and Ace out into the open, and to a head. Benny finally admits that she feels pushed to the edge by the conflict between the Doctor and Ace, and she intends to leave (spoiler: she doesn’t, but she plans to). Ace finally admits to her fury at the way the Doctor manipulates her, and declares that she’s staying on so she can beat him at his own game; she actively confronts him about it at the end. The Doctor, for his part, doesn’t resolve his issues, but he ends the book aware that that reckoning must come. (Now, with all that said, don’t take this to mean there won’t be any further regression of this arc; I can’t promise you that. But it’s progress!)
The Land of Fiction, as portrayed here, is one relying heavily on stereotypes, as a result of the mind and experiences of its new Master (usually referred to as the Writer in this novel—I wonder if there was a copyright issue for the original Master of the Land character?). You have the detective who’s too noir to be real (Ace’s thread of the story); the retired (and very sad and poignant) superhero and his over-the-top nemesis (Benny’s thread); the precocious children (the Doctor’s); a mysterious string of exsanguinated murder victims; and oh yes, a village witch caught in the middle of everything. It’s all played for laughs, but this book is not a comedy; the laughs are only there to call attention to the fictional nature of this reality. It’s hard to say when the Doctor catches on—he, of course, has been here before—but Ace and Benny take a surprisingly long time to figure it out. I suppose that’s only fair, though; you’ll have readers who have watched The Mind Robber, and figure it out early; and readers who haven’t, and may need longer. It’s nice that the book has something for each.
Continuity References: The Mind Robber, obviously; the Doctor destroyed the Land of Fiction, but it has been restored. He also has visits there in his Fourth and Sixth lives (The Crooked Man, Legend of the Cybermen), but this story predates those, and so the Doctor behaves as though this is his first time back. There are numerous references back to the previous entries in the Alternate Universe Arc (Blood Heat, The Dimension Riders, The Left-Handed Hummingbird), and they only advance from here. Ace sees fictional versions of her adventures, especially Dragonfire, Love and War, and Deceit. The Doctor plays the spoons (Time and the Rani, et al.). The Land of Fiction was created by the Gods of Ragnarok (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy). The chameleon circuit in this version of the TARDIS (the Blood Heat TARDIS) was repaired, and Ace knows how to use it (first explained in the last novel, and I apologize for not mentioning it there). The destruction of the Althosian system is mentioned (The Pit–spare us all from the memory!). The ghostly trio of Katarina, Sara Kingdom, and Adric make an appearance (The Daleks’ Master Plan, Earthshock); we’ve seen them appear similarly before (Timewyrm: Revelation). The Valeyard is mentioned (Trial of a Time Lord), as is Fenric (The Curse of Fenric) and the Timewyrm (Timewyrm tetralogy). Ace thinks of several old acquaintances: Chad Boyle (Timewyrm: Revelation), Robin (Nightshade), Jan (Love and War), and IMC (Lucifer Rising). And, for the first time, we get a clear picture of just who is tampering with the Doctor’s timeline: The Meddling Monk. The Doctor, however, will have to wait to find out later.
Overall: You’ll like this one, but don’t expect it to be straightforward or tame; it’s nonsensical, as befits a Land of Fiction story. You should definitely read it before wrapping up in the next book.
Next time: We finish out the Alternate Universe arc with Paul Cornell’s No Future. See you there!
We’re back! To date, I’ve reviewed the first twenty volumes of the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs, for short) line of Seventh Doctor novels. (There are a total of 61 novels in the VNAS featuring the Doctor, including one Eighth Doctor novel, The Dying Days. I’m not counting the novels with Bernice Summerfield as protagonist, although I do hope to read them and review them. Eventually.) Twenty sounds like an impressive enough number…except that I’ve read twenty-six of them (Well, twenty-seven; but I wrote the review for Lungbarrow a long time ago, after I read it out of order, and am just waiting to post it.) As I’m quickly beginning to forget details, and want to catch up as quickly as possible, I think a little picking up of the pace is in order. So, here we are, posting for the second day in a row.
Now, on to number twenty-one! This brings us to prolific DW author Kate Orman’s debut novel, The Left-Handed Hummingbird. Published in December 1993, this novel is the third entry in the “Alternate Universe Arc”. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!
The life of a Mexican man of Aztec descent, Cristian Alvarez, is forever shaped by four events: the discovery of the Aztec great temple in 1978; the murder of John Lennon in New York, 1980; a marketplace massacre in Mexico City, 1994; and predating them all, a meeting with the Doctor in 1968 London. But Cristian has a secret that plagues him: at each crucial moment, he is assaulted by a psychic event or force that he calls “the Blue”. He can’t explain it; but he knows that when the Blue arrives, tragedy walks with it.
The Doctor, Ace and Benny are summoned by a psychic distress call. Arriving in late 1994, they meet Cristian for the first time—but, not his first time, as he knows them well. Soon enough it becomes apparent that someone or something is stalking Cristian through time; and, it seems, also stalking the Doctor. But, why? The Doctor first traces the phenomenon to the unearthing of the Aztec temple in 1978, and then to the temple’s bloody dedication in 1487. His course then takes him to 1968, and Cristian’s first encounter with the Doctor, in London; then at last to 1980, and the murder of John Lennon. At last, he comes to a final, traumatic event, one that Cristian would not have expected: the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. There, he faces a final battle with the persistent spirit of a long-dead Aztec warrior…but this battle will bring him no closer to his true enemy, the being interfering with his own past since the events in the alternate universe.
My first inclination, when sitting down to write this review, was to be a bit hard on the book. I’ve already mentioned more than once that this arc of the New Adventures—the “Alternate Universe” arc—was a chore to work through. In fact, yesterday I said that this book represents the peak of that feeling for me—and that remains true.
And yet, that’s an unfairly negative description. Upon further thought, I’ve decided that to present the novel that way would be to do it an injustice and a disservice; because it’s a very good book, in the end. It’s possible my judgment, going into this book, was colored by the experience of the preceding two books; but more to the point, this book is extraordinarily complex, even for the VNAs, and I think I wasn’t prepared for that. My lack of preparation, though, doesn’t invalidate the fact that that complexity is a good thing.
Nevertheless, if you read this book, be warned: It’s going to take some time for it to come together. You’ll have passages where you think the plot is wandering. I assure you it isn’t. Kate Orman chose to weave together any number of very different historical events, on two continents and in three countries (plus the middle of the ocean!); naturally it’s going to take time to tie those things together.
It’s all that history that really shines here; and with that, I have to apologize, because I haven’t been able to put in the research time necessary to figure out what is real and what is fictionalized here. Some of it is fairly fresh; the death of John Lennon, for example, occurred within my lifetime. Some of it is distant enough to be of interest chiefly to historians—but we’re all historians here, at least when the Doctor goes to visit. Aztec history is something in which I’ve only lightly looked over the years, but if it’s even a fraction as interesting as Orman portrays, I find myself fascinated.
After a short reprieve, we’re back to the usual amount of violence found in the VNAs. Nearly everywhere Cristian and the Doctor go, people die in horrifically violent ways. Perhaps that’s to be expected in a story about the Aztecs, who were known for bloody human sacrifices; and yet, we don’t see much in the way of sacrifices (possibly not any at all; I can’t recall). This, in spite of the fact that the temple featured in the story was known to have been dedicated with twenty thousand sacrifices; we don’t stay on hand for that scene, if I recall correctly. Rather, the deaths here are often bloody, always personal, and always up close. Deaths are far from uncommon for the VNAs, but often they occur offscreen and quietly; not so much here. It’s one of the few times I feel the series thus far has earned its description of “more adult than the television series”.
Some things for which I didn’t care: After just finishing with the Garvond, we get another incorporeal, violent, possession-capable villain whose origin and persistence are tied to the Doctor’s mind—that is, the Aztec “god” Huitzilopochtli, aka the warrior Huitzilin. (I put “god” in quotes because, in true DW fashion, he’s not actually a god in the end; but he certainly plays the part.) Maybe that’s in keeping with a theme for this arc, but it’s not exactly revolutionary at this point. The Doctor uses LSD at one point; now, applying 21st-century society to this, I don’t care, because there’s been a softening of views on drug use in our time, and because there’s growing evidence that LSD has therapeutic value for some conditions. But, when this novel was released in the early nineties, the anti-drug movement was at its height, and this…well, it makes me wonder about the reception at the time. Anyway, having lived through that period, it feels jarring to me.
Most of all, though, we’re back to the same issues we’ve been having with Ace and Benny. Once again, the trust among the members of our TARDIS team is left broken at the end; once again, Ace is angry with the Doctor for interfering in her way of doing things, and once again, the Doctor suspects that he is responsible for making Ace a killer. Once again, Benny gets largely sidelined; most egregious of all, when the Doctor and Ace take off for 1487, it’s Benny, the archaeologist of the group, who gets left babysitting Cristian in the future! Don’t worry, Benny, your chance is coming…half a dozen books from now, give or take. It’s frustrating to see these same old problems—can I call them tropes at this point? They feel like tropes—arising again. Better things are coming, I think, but only through slow and incremental progress.
Continuity References: Almost endless! The Doctor visits the Titanic, which has appeared in numerous stories, and which he has visited in multiple incarnations (first DW appearance in a DWM comic titled Follow That TARDIS!). He mentions Barbara’s actions from The Aztecs. He mentions numerous aliens that have interfered with Earth: The Osirians (Pyramids of Mars), the Exxilons (Death to the Daleks; also of great importance in this very book, though not actually present), Scaroth (City of Death), the Daleks (The Chase, for this purpose, and many others), and the Timewyrm (Timewyrm: Genesys and its sequels). He mentions Woodstock; the wiki indicates two earlier incarnations were there. One is the Second Doctor (Wonderland), but I was not able to identify the other or his story; however, he will visit again in his Twelfth incarnation (The Crawling Terror). Ace mentions Saul, the church in Cheldon Bonniface (Timewyrm: Revelation). UNIT gets several mentions; notably, Mike Yates is known to not speak to anyone by 1994, and Harry Sullivan is mentioned. Unit Corporal Carol Bell was last seen in The Claws of Axos. Ace contacts an Air Commodore Ian Gilmore (Remembrance of the Daleks). Herbert Clegg is mentioned (Planet of the Spiders). The Nightshade TV series is playing in 1968 (Nightshade). The Doctor mentions the Mara (Kinda, Snakedance) and the Fendahl (Image of the Fendahl). The Doctor mentions that an aspirin could kill him (The Mind of Evil). Ace wears a shirt from Svartos, specifically Iceworld (Dragonfire). UNIT agent Hank Macbeth mentions the Yeti invasion (The Web of Fear), the evacuation of London (Invasion of the Dinosaurs), and Devil’s End Church (The Daemons). Ace mentions Merlin (Battlefield). Benny thinks of the planet Heaven (Love and War). The Doctor mentions Xanxia (The Pirate Planet). And, a touch of foreshadowing, the Doctor gets (ostensibly) killed and placed in a morgue with a “John Doe” toe tag, which will happen for real at his regeneration. Also notable: This book is absolutely littered with real-world pop culture references; I won’t list them here, but for a quick rundown, check the Discontinuity Guide.
Overall: You’ll like this one; and there are plenty of good reviews to support me on that. Just give it time, take it slow, and savor the story.
Next time: We’re more than halfway through the Alternate Universe arc! Next time we’ll look at the fourth entry, Steve Lyons’ Conundrum. See you there!