We’re back! So, how is the epidemic treating you? Still under lockdown? (For future generations, I’ll say that we are currently in the midst of an epidemic of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, with accompanying restrictions on contact and activities…as well as everything else that 2020 can throw at us.)
Today, we’re continuing our tour of the New Adventures novel series (VNAs, hereafter) with November 1993’s The Dimension Riders, by Daniel Blythe. Featuring Ace and Benny, this is the second of five novels loosely themed as the “Alternate Universe” arc, after the Doctor’s recent foray into an alternate Earth in Blood Heat. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!
While visiting a friend at Oxford, the Doctor and Ace are pulled across time and space to the ruins of a space station—where they are greeted by the crew of the starship Icarus, and by a warning previously recorded…by the Doctor himself! The Doctor is soon whisked away by a strange energy field, leaving Ace with the suspicious soldiers of the Icarus crew to find out what happened on the station, including the big question: Who or what has somehow aged the station’s crew to death?
Meanwhile, Benny remains on Earth, where she confronts the mystery of a female assassin who, it appears, may not be human; and a college president who definitely is more than he appears. Both, as it turns out, are in league with a creature from beyond time, an ancient Gallifreyan myth called the Garvond, which devours paradox to live and conquer.
The Doctor finds himself whisked back in time to a week before the station’s destruction, where he too must confront the Garvond and its soldiers. There he uncovers a plan to create a string of paradoxes which will feed the Garvond enough energy to manifest fully, and conquer all of time in its own image.
Now, all three strands of these events—and all three members of the TARDIS crew—must come together to somehow, some way, stop the Garvond and its servants, and preserve history from cataclysmic destruction. But how do you fight a creature that thrives on the breaking of cause and effect—and has your own memories as part of its very being?
I’ve mentioned before that I found the entire Alternate Universe arc to be a bit of a slog. That feeling reached its peak in the next entry, The Left-Handed Hummingbird (and apologies in advance to those who loved that book—I don’t dislike it, I just found it to be a slow read, and I recognize that it’s well regarded). I wish I could put my finger on why I feel that way; no particular story is bad. However, I found The Dimension Riders to be the weakest entry.
But, that’s most definitely NOT the author’s fault. It’s that I’ve already encountered other versions of everything he does here. And that is admittedly unfair on my part; this story predates anything in NuWho, for example, and it should rightly be regarded in that light. It’s hard, though, to give proper emotional credit to the original source of an idea, when you’ve seen the later versions already. “It’s not you, it’s me!” And it really is. So, if you are the kind of reader who is able to easily read it just on its own merits, and not consider your prior experience, you’ll probably enjoy it. Definitely give it a try.
Right from the start, there are hints of Shada here. The Doctor visits a professor at Oxford; another Oxford figure turns out to have connections to Gallifrey; the villain is also heavily connected to ancient Gallifrey; there are multiple TARDISes. This story, like Shada, bounces all over the place, from Earth to the depths of time and space, and pulls in locals from every destination. That’s a good thing; I enjoyed Shada (the Fourth Doctor version), despite its lack of polish.
The Garvond itself is a bit tiresome as a villain, but again, that’s only because so many stories since have written similar characters. It’s a being from Gallifreyan myth, which is born from the minds of the Time Lords (via Matrix shenanigans), and lives on the energy generated by paradox. Its soldiers can time-travel, but this most often manifests as a phasing in and out of reality—in this I was reminded of The Sirens of Time, though that may be inaccurate; it’s been a long time since I listened to that audio. The Garvond’s feeding habits are echoed some years later in our favorite statue creatures, the Weeping Angels, who live on the energy created by destroying someone’s personal timeline. At one point the Doctor is revealed to have erased his own mental print from the Matrix in order to prevent the full form of the Garvond from arising, which is something that seems to be impossible based on later stories (most notably the recent The Timeless Children, where the Doctor’s Matrix print is much more extensive than we thought). (I should mention that others have compared the Garvond to the Dark Matrix from the novel Matrix, but I have not read that novel yet, so I can’t comment.)
I’ve often talked about how the New Adventures aren’t great for character development, especially for Ace. This is largely, I think, because of the rushed schedule; authors probably couldn’t communicate properly in time to react to each other’s work. Thus, a character may gain ground in one story, and then they’re back to previous states in the next one. That’s still happening here; we end the story with Ace and Benny still having a troubled relationship with the Doctor, despite all that has come before.
The other problem I’ve cited often is that authors in this series seem to have trouble managing a TARDIS team of three. As a result, either Ace or Benny—usually Benny—gets sidelined for most of the story. Maybe it’s an inevitable result of their drastically different natures as people and companions; maybe certain stories just lend themselves well to one or the other. But I disagree, and I think some upcoming stories will argue against that idea. In the meantime, though, Benny gets largely sidelined again here; she gets left on Earth while the Doctor and Ace solve the mystery, and her involvement mostly amounts to being captured (again) and/or pushed around (again). She does, however, come back with the last-second save at the end; she is able to pass a covert message via the outdated method of Morse code, delivering information that ultimately saves the day.
In the end, the Doctor comes to realize that, just as in Blood Heat, someone has tampered with his past, and this time has managed to affect the real universe. It’s a bit tacked on, but then, this is the literary equivalent of a stepping stone in the Alternate Universe arc, so we’ll come back to it in later entries.
Continuity References: The Doctor briefly uses the book titled The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, though not in its normal use (Shada). The android Amanda mentions the events of Terror of the Zygons, Remembrance of the Daleks, and Day of the Daleks (by way of Auderly House, which is mentioned in a few other stories–Time and Time Again, Who Killed Kennedy–all of which overlap to some degree). The Doctor’s friend, Professor Rafferty, knows UNIT (thought not in the context of any particular story), the Brigadier, Ian Chesterton, and Edward Travers (The Abominable Snowmen). Epsilon Delta, another Time Lord rogue, was inspired by the adventures of the Doctor, the Rani, and the Master. Frequent references are made to the previous story, *Blood Heat, especially in the context of the TARDIS that was taken from that universe to replace the Doctor’s original TARDIS. The TARDIS defensive mode, the “Defence Indefinite Timeloop Option” (DITtO? Hmm) is highly reminiscent of the “Hostile Action Displacement System, or HADS (The Krotons). It’s worth mentioning that Epsilon Delta’s TARDIS is a type 102, but that this is NOT the same as the type 102 humanoid TARDIS seen in the Eighth Doctor novel *The Shadows of Avalon. Some of the Garvond’s soldiers are of Tharil origin (Warrior’s Gate). Gallifrey’s Gold Usher is mentioned (The Deadly Assassin). Epsilon Delta has been to Argolis (The Leisure Hive). He has encountered Sontarans as well, who caused his first regeneration. The Doctor mentions Florana (Death to the Daleks) and his old nickname of Theta Sigma (The Armageddon Factor). He uses his common nickname of John Smith. A book in the TARDIS library mentions the Transit system (Transit). Ace—but curiously, not the Doctor—hears the Cloister Bell (Logopolis). Ace remembers characters from several past adventures (Remembrance of the Daleks, Survival, Love and War, Ghost Light). And, last but not least, Darius Cheynor will reappear later in Infinite Requiem (VNA #36, same author).
Overall: Don’t be put off by my experience; this is a good one, I just wasn’t in a position to appreciate it as much as it deserved. In hindsight I think it plays out better than Blood Heat, and it stands well on its own, without the rest of the arc. It may or may not be an essential entry in the series, depending on your opinion, but it’s worth reading.
Next time: We’ll continue with The Left-Handed Hummingbird, which, as the back cover puts it, “is a triple first: Kate [Orman]’s first novel, the first New Adventures written by a woman, and the first written by an Antipodean.” (I don’t mind admitting I had to look up “Antipodean”; it means Australian, apparently. Not a common word in my part of the world.) 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.