Novel Review: Deceit

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we’re reading Deceit, the thirteenth entry in the New Adventures series, written by series editor Peter Darvill-Evans, and published in April 1993. The story features the Seventh Doctor and Professor Bernice Summerfield, and reintroduces former companion Ace, as well as tying in a character from the comics: Dalek Hunter Abslom Daak! Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

Deceit 1

In an unknown location,  an aging man named Bertrand links with a vast, telepathic presence.  The presence concludes that, although the war between Earth and the Daleks will soon end in a victory for Earth, the end of the war will mean an early end to the presence’s experiments.  As such they are accelerating the pace.  Bertrand is too old and frail to continue serving as the presence’s link to the real world, and must train his successor; but when his successor forcefully displaces him, he dies before he can do so.  In dying, he is unable to join the presence in its immortality.

Near the end of the Dalek Wars of the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth centuries, Earth is consolidating its grip on the colonies which were formerly managed by interstellar corporations.  One such is Arcadia, owned and heavily guarded by the Spinward Corporation.  Earth’s Office of External Operations is certain something illegal is going on; and when an expedition fails to return, their suspicions are reinforced.  Agent Isabelle Defries is dispatched to the system with a shipload of auxiliary troops—troops long ago drafted in from the security forces of various corporations—to find out what is going on, and to put a stop to it.  One of her Auxies is not who she claims to be, and Defries soon meets her: a young woman, an explosives expert, calling herself Ace.  Unwilling to waste resources, she leaves Ace free, but monitors her.  Ace learns of a secret weapon on the ship: a cryofrozen Dalek Killer named Abslom Daak.  It’s a name she remembers from the TARDIS databanks; and she knows how Daak will one day die, far from Arcadia.  Determined to keep him alive to preserve that future, she forges a link with Daak, and wakes him up a day early.  Meanwhile, the hypercube that the Doctor once left with her opens, connecting her to the TARDIS and the Doctor for the first time in three years from her perspective.  She finds the Doctor in the Zero Room, where he has finally managed to isolate the infection that has afflicted the TARDIS—and by extension, him—since leaving  Tir na n-Óg.  With her help, he is able to at last purge the infection, restoring himself and the TARDIS to normal.  As Ace withdraws, he sets the TARDIS to land on Arcadia, where Ace is headed.  Upon landing, Benny—who has been trapped in the console room, unaware of the Doctor’s work—exits the TARDIS and explores the rather pastoral world.

Arcadia is an agricultural planet with a population living at a medieval level of technology and culture.  An apprentice scribe named Francis has found forbidden books, which spoke of other worlds, and which stated that humans on those worlds live for many decades—unlike the Arcadians, who all die young, around the age of thirty.  He is accosted in his prince’s palace by a Humble Counsellor, a hooded and robed figure from the fortress of Landfall, who tells him he must go to Landfall to become a master scribe.  The Counsellor then tells the Prince that outsiders are coming from another world, carrying a plague, and must be killed.  Francies goes out with his lover, Christina, and tells her what he has heard; shortly thereafter, she dies, apparently of natural causes.  However, her younger sister, Elaine, witnesses her death, and sees that her brain is removed by a Counsellor.  Elaine subsequently goes mad from shock; it is determined that she will go to Landfall for treatment.  Elsewhere, a young woman named Britta, an employee of the Spinward Corporation, arrives on the corporation’s monitoring station for Arcadia.  Shortly thereafter she is taken in by the station commander, Lacuna, who has an odd telepathic connection to an unseen being called Pool.  She is manipulated by Lacuna to do terrible things for Pool’s enjoyment, as Pool has no sensory input of its own.  She becomes addicted to this warped relationship.

Defries’ ship, the Admiral Raistrick, nears the planet shortly after Daak is defrosted.  The crew finds that the system’s asteroid belt has been manipulated to resemble enormous tortured faces.  They are attacked by the image of a woman’s face, and the ship is crushed; Daak manages to get Ace, Defries, and Johannsen, the head of the Auxies, into a lifepod.  The pod crashes on Arcadia.  Meanwhile, Benny makes her way to the nearest town, Beaufort, but is captured as a potential plague carrier.  She is taken to a quiet manor owned by the father of Elaine and Christina, Gerald Delahaye.  In a cell, she meets Elaine, who is nearly catatonic; the child responds to Benny’s kindness, and begins to make jumbled statements about Christina’s murder.  However, Gerald gives them both to the Counsellors for transport—or transmat, as it turns out—to Landfall.

The Doctor exits the TARDIS sometime later, and meets Francis on the road to Landfall.  As they walk, Pool sends Counsellors to bring the TARDIS to the station.  The Doctor realizes that Arcadia has been terraformed, but now its terraforming is breaking down, and the native life is reasserting itself.  He and Francis are captured by Counsellors, which the Doctor recognizes as a bizarre type of android.  He realizes that he may be indirectly responsible for what is happening here.  They are reunited with Benny and Elaine at Landfall, then transmatted to the space station.  The Doctor explains that his previous efforts to help the Earth by interfering with the Butler Institute may have caused all this; had he not interfered, Butler may not have gone on to become one of the parent companies of the Spinward Corporation, and Arcadia may never have happened.  Meanwhile, Defries’ group fights their way into Landfall, noting that it is the corporation’s original forward base on the planet.  Johannsen is killed in the battle against the Counsellors.  Nevertheless, Lacuna secretly allows them to infiltrate the base and capture a shuttle, which takes them to the space station as well.

The Doctor and his group encounter Lacuna and Britta, and Lacuna introduces them to Pool.  Pool is the telepathic presence holding the system together; it is composed of the brains of the Spinward Corporation’s executives, with the addition of hundreds of pieces of brain matter from generations of Arcadians, all contained in a literal pool around control center of the station.  Lacuna’s claims were true; she provides a sensory and interface link to Pool, which on its own is deprived of sensation.  As such, she also controls the system.  The Doctor realizes that Pool is capable of Block Transfer Computation, the same mathematical technique by which TARDISes create their outer shells—a form of math that can create matter.  Pool’s goal is to create an entire universe, one of pure thought, in which it can exist forever.  However, the Doctor analyzes the plan and finds it doomed to failure; although the planned destruction of the Arcadian System will provide power, it won’t be enough, and at any rate Pool has become mad and can no longer handle enough calculation.

As Defries’ team arrives, Lacuna tries to kill Defries, considering her unnecessary.  The Doctor intervenes telepathically, saving the woman’s life.  While Lacuna is distracted, Benny slips away and meets with them, then fills them in on what is happening.  She goes with them to locate and destroy Pool.  Finding the pool of brain matter, Daak prepares to sacrifice himself to blow it up; but the Doctor contacts Ace and persuades her to stop him, so that his timeline will not be damaged.  This saves Daak’s life, but saves Pool’s as well.  The group is captured and brought to Lacuna.

Pool, it seems, wants the TARDIS.  It has gathered enough from the minds of Benny and Ace—the Doctor’s thoughts being shielded—to know that it can provide Pool with the power and space it needs to create its universe of thought.  To persuade the Doctor, it intends to kill his companions one by one, beginning with Ace.  As it deploys a force field to crush her, Daak leaps in to save her—and Ace inadvertantly kills him, in an attempt to blow up the control panel.  Although she is freed, she can’t save him from death.

The Doctor reluctantly agrees to let Pool into the TARDIS; but how?  Benny recalls a conversation with the Doctor about a data port under the console; the thoughts are picked up by Pool, who orders Lacuna to connect him manually to the socket.  She does so, and Pool converts its consciousness to software, then makes the jump to the TARDIS; with only limited memory available, it is unable to send a copy, but transfers the original.  Instantly it is trapped inside the tertiary console, which the Doctor had moved to the Zero Room for the purpose of removing the TARDIS infection.  Trapped in the Zero Room, Pool is disconnected from the rest of the universe, and can harm no one.  Benny realizes her conversation with the Doctor never happened; he planted the memory in her mind so as to give Pool the final push it needed.  The station begins to break apart, as Pool is no longer there to maintain the Block Transfer Computations; Britta takes Lacuna to an escape pod.  The Doctor, Benny, Ace, Defries, Elaine, and Francis escape in the TARDIS.

The Doctor returns to Arcadia to release Francis and Elaine, and spends some time informing the various rulers that they are on their own now, and further, that they are facing environmental changes as the terraforming breaks down.  He takes Defries and Ace to a Spacefleet outpost to report back to the Office of External Operations.  Ace, however, decides to rejoin him in the TARDIS, much to Benny’s consternation and the Doctor’s concern.  He then ejects the Zero Room into the Vortex; however, unknown to him, Pool is alive and well, and plotting revenge.  Meanwhile, Ace realizes that Daak was a clone of the original Abslom Daak; therefore his timeline was never in danger.  Once again, the Doctor has used her.  She continues to be distrustful of him—but then, why is she really here?

warhead-3

I consider myself a writer; I’ve made some attempts at publishing fiction, but have not been successful yet. Still, that bit of perspective makes it fascinating for me to see how an editor takes a look at the writing process. That’s what we have in this novel; as the afterword explains, Peter Darvill-Evans, the editor of the New Adventures line of novels, decided that if he was going to ask certain things of his authors, he should be able to see it from their perspective as well. The result is Deceit; and I have to say, the project was a success. He looked at it a bit more scientifically than some of the authors, I think, asking himself questions such as “how many characters can you fairly include?” and “how many plot threads are optimal?” (I’m paraphrasing a bit). I don’t recommend that approach for everyone in the case of every story; but it seems to have worked for him, and at any rate, those are questions every author should ask him- or herself at least once. (One noteworthy, but only loosely related, question is this: “What about the other Doctors?” Apparently he had been getting many requests to publish New Adventures using past Doctors. His short answer is “no”; he felt that the New Adventures should look to the future, not the past, as—and as I have pointed out before—the New Adventures essentially were Doctor Who between 1989 and 1996. However, these requests ultimately spawned the Virgin Missing Adventures line, which I intend to cover after I finish the New Adventures. As far as I can tell, the afterword includes the first mention by name of the Missing Adventures in any public-facing document; they were hardly even in the planning stages then, and I suspect the editor thought of the term on the fly as he was writing this afterword.)

The elephant in the room here is the return of Ace. (Truthfully, she hasn’t been gone very long; Love and War, in which she exited, was published in October 1992, and Deceit was only six months later, in April 1993.) There’s definitely a feeling that her exit was little more than an editorial trick to allow us to get an older, more mature and well-rounded version of Ace into the series. For her it’s been three years, and we don’t at this point get a complete look at what happened during those years. We know that she is part of Earth’s Spacefleet (inaccurately called Starfleet at one point—sorry, Star Trek!), and that at some point she worked security for a mining company. The latter is suggestive of a checkered history, especially as there’s no mention of any of the other survivors of Love and War; but three years isn’t much time for that, especially when she’s not only enlisted in Spacefleet, but also advanced to its Special Weapons division. She may have matured, but she hasn’t forgiven the Doctor yet; she’s over Jan, her love interest in Love and War, but she’s not over the way the Doctor uses her. Truthfully, though I like Ace, and I was glad to see her return, she doesn’t seem that different to me; she just has better toys and a bigger chip on her shoulder. At least there was not a single mention of her troubled relationship with her mother—maybe we can hope she’s outgrown that, at least? One thing she has learned from the Doctor is how to keep secrets; and we’re left at the end with a very deliberate suggestion that she has rejoined the TARDIS crew for reasons we don’t yet know. At any rate, she’ll be with us for a long time to come; with one exception, she’ll be in every VNA until #35, Set Piece, and will make a few more appearances thereafter. (Some audios, such as The Shadow of the Scourge, feature both Ace and Benny, and ostensibly at least must occur during this string of novels.)

Predictably, there’s a little tension between Benny and Ace—new companion meets old; it was inevitable. It’s only hinted at here; there isn’t time for them to fight. As the novels go, this is a very brief story; it covers five weeks—more if you include the prologue—but the vast majority of the action occurs in less than a day, on the planet and its space station. I expect more fireworks from them in the future; Bernice is still finding her feet as a companion, and Ace is nothing if not cocky. Their relation to each other is certainly a real concern, but I imagine it will be worked out eventually, as Benny is present along with Ace for nearly all of Ace’s future appearances. (And fortunately, there’s no dwelling on Bernice’s troubled relationship with her father here—really, both Benny and Ace could benefit from some therapy.) In fine Bernice fashion, she gets captured early, but at least this time she keeps possession of her mind. Truthfully, I’m having trouble seeing how Bernice becomes strong enough as a character to inherit the mantle of the New Adventures, or maintain her own audio series; but then, we have a lot of stories left to tell.

Abslom Daak is the other major feature here. I had heard of him, but had not yet read any of his materials; and when I discovered he would be a player in this novel, I intentionally put off reading up on him so that my experience here would be fresh. He’s a great character; violent, straightforward (as even Ace acknowledges) and lusty, he’s completely unlike most DW characters—the spiritual successor to Gilgamesh from Timewyrm: Genesys, now that I think of it. He’s the Whoniverse’s Conan the Barbarian, mixed with a healthy dose of “hold my beer” redneck, and I look forward to reading more of his stories. (Even if his name bothers me; my brain insists on spelling it as “Absalom”.) There’s more going on with him than we know at the outset; but to describe it would be to spoil much of Ace’s story here.

A final thing I love about this story: This is as close as we get to a coherent history of Earth in its expansion phase. The book concludes with a historical excerpt that adds much detail to what we know about the Dalek Wars, the Cyber-Wars, the colonisation period, and the early days of the Earth Alliance and the Empire that succeeds it. This is a period of history that is often revisited, but seldom explained. It does a great job of weaving in elements from the television series (such as The Dalek Invasion of Earth) and tying them to events from previous VNAs (such as the events of Transit and Cat’s Cradle:: Warhead). I think this is especially relevant this week, when Doctor Who Series Ten is about to launch; some scenes that have been revealed seem to revisit the Dalek War seen in Into the Dalek, which may be one of the Dalek Wars mentioned in this book. The possibilities are exciting!

There is a brief prelude to this book, as with The Pit; this prelude was published in Doctor Who Magazine #198. It adds a little to the backstory of Arcadia, but not much; it can be read in its entirety here.

I struggled to find problems with this story, but there’s one that leaps out at me. Near the beginning, the ongoing plotline about the infection of the TARDIS (and by extension, the Doctor) is quietly resolved. It’s a bit of a mercy killing; the entire plot arc, in my opinion, never really amounted to anything. Allegedly it interfered with the Doctor’s effectiveness, but we never really see that happen; he talks about it, then goes on to win in every situation anyway. There was never, prior to this book, a proper explanation of what was happening; I only knew because I had done some research. This plot began with the repair of the TARDIS in Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark, and quietly developed in each succeeding novel; but it never turned out to be level of sleeper plot that the editor seemed to intend. It’s only fitting, then, that he is the one to kill it off; and he does so quietly, quickly, and unceremoniously. Good riddance.

Continuity References: There are many, some of which I’ve already covered. Dalek plagues are mentioned (Death to the Daleks). Benny labors over the destruction of the Althosian System (The Pit). The Zero Room has been rebuilt (and gets dumped again; Castrovalva). Ace mentions the destruction of the TARDIS in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, the events in Tir na n-Óg (Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark), Robin from Nightshade, and Jan from Love and War. The Doctor mentions the internal stabilizers on the TARDIS (Time-Flight), and mentions Spectrox (The Caves of Androzani). Block Transfer Computations debuted in Logopolis. Kane and Iceworld get a mention (Dragonfire). The Doctor mentions the Master, specifically explaining that he would have changed the Master’s life course if he could (this comes in the middle of a fantastic explanation about what the Doctor can change and what he can’t—the book is worth it just for that). He mentions the Monk (The Time Meddler) and the Draconians (Frontier in Space, Love and War). The tertiary control console (Nightshade) reappears, but is ejected at the end. Benny mentions Sakkrat (The Highest Science) and plays 4D chess with the Doctor (The Pit). Ace’s hypercube/tesseract was last seen in Love and War. The mining company she mentions is thought to be IMC (Colony in Space). Androids appear in any number of stories, but probably not this variety of android. Ace has a baseball bat, possibly the same one as in Remembrance of the Daleks if the Doctor repaired it. Abslom Daak’s first appearance was in the comic Abslom Daak…Dalek Killer; his predicted death (Nemesis of the Daleks) was established fact until he was saved from that death in Emperor of the Daleks!. The Arcadia presented here is not to be confused with Gallifrey’s second city (*The Last Day*, *The Day of the Doctor*).  I won’t get into them, but there are an unusually large number of real-world references in this novel; also it is the first VNA to exceed three hundred pages.

Overall: A good entry into the VNA range, and more, it brings back Ace! Eventually I suppose Benny can handle things on her own, but for now, the extra perspective is welcome. A lot of good things were set up here, and it will be great to see how they play out. It feels similar in tone to *Timewyrm: Apocalypse*. This book is nearly as valuable as a reference as it is as a novel, with much useful background established here.

deceit 2

Next time: Lucifer Rising! See you there.

Previous

Next

 

Advertisements

Novel Review: The Pit

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we’re continuing the New Adventures (VNA) series with The Pit, by Neil Penswick. Featuring the Seventh Doctor and Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, this novel was released in March 1993. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

Pit 1

Bored and looking for adventure of her own choosing, Bernice asks the Doctor to take her to the Seven Planets of the Althosian System.  A former system of colony worlds that gained its independence, the system vanished before Benny’s birth, and no one knows why.  Catching the Doctor’s attention, there is no mention of the system in the TARDIS memory banks or his own prodigious memory.  En route, the TARDIS experiences some interference, then stalls out, before making a rough landing on a large, unnamed planet in the system.  Determined to find out what is affecting the TARDIS, the Doctor explores the jungle.

Elsewhere, a scientist named Jarak is studying the water and life on the planet, which is ordinarily off limits.  He witnesses the river turn red, then dies from exposure to it; the redness spreads onto the land, and anything it touches seems to be frozen in time.  His wife Ell is forced to hide in their interplanetary ship.  Yet elsewhere, two shapeshifters, Butler and Swarf, have stolen “Pandora’s Box”, the most powerful nuclear weapon in history; if used, it will destroy the entire system.  Using a team of telepathic Khthons, the system’s natives, they are transporting the device through the jungle to an ancient and forbidding castle.  In pursuit are a team of hunter-killer androids—Thomas, Chaney, Marilyn, and their leader, Spike—sent by the Archon of the Althosian system and his Justice Police from the capitol world, Nicaea, to recover the bomb.  As they skydive onto the planet, their ship—with hidden orders of its own—begins a long but fatal countdown.

On Nicaea, and other worlds in the system, the situation is degenerating.  An unwarranted military buildup has left the people starving, which in turn has caused riots that are just beginning to get out of hand.  While the Archon and his Justice Police administrator, General Kopyion, deal with the crisis, Major John Carlson has a problem of his own to investigate:  a strange series of murders.  The investigation leads him to one Bulbir Singh Mann, a dealer in Earth relics and antiques, who took a book of poetry from the scene of one of the murders.  He arrests Mann, but is forced to release him upon the interference of a politician, an Academician named Brown, who leads the opposition faction in the governing Academy.  Kopyion tells Brown that the most recent victim was an undercover Justice Police officer on an unrelated investigation, confusing the Major.

Spike strikes the planet apart from his fellows, and is mortally injured; he will die in sixty hours.  The Doctor and Benny happen upon him, and he takes them for the shapeshifters and holds them at gunpoint.  However, the Doctor suddenly vanishes, leaving Benny in Spike’s possession.  They are intercepted by the other androids, who cannot risk that they may be the shapeshifters, and open fire.  However, Spike escapes with Benny, still believing that she is a shapeshifter.    He takes her with him by raft down the river, in search of the bomb.

The Doctor falls through a hole in time, finding himself in a hellish underworld of sorts.  He is captured by a race of creatures called the Cun, who force him to fight another creature while they bet on the outcome.  He survives, but with injuries, and in the cells he meets the poet William Blake, who also fell through a hole in time.  Blake believes they are in hHll, and who can argue?  They escape and head for the hole in time, but are intercepted by creatures on pterodactyls.  The Doctor bargains for freedom, but is disturbed regardless; the creatures spoke ancient Gallifreyan.

On Nicaea, Brown confronts the Archon in the Academy and attempts to restore order, but fails.  The Archon retreats to his palace, but is killed during the night, in the same ritualistic fashion as the previous murders.  The chaos accelerates, drawing in military and religious elements; the priests are insisting it is the end of time, the final battle against the demonlike Hunters that are native to the system.  While Carlson tries to deal with the situation, his wife Melanie leaves him, volunteering as a nurse in the combat zones.

The hole in time takes the Doctor and Blake to London during Jack the Ripper’s murder spree, seventy years after Blake’s time.  Blake is disillusioned that the progress he and his compatriots predicted has not swept the world.  Their search for answers leads them first to a brothel, where the Doctor’s plans do not work out, leaving him disillusioned; his sonic screwdriver is then stolen, and in recovering it, they are captured by a cult whose members worship evil forces.  They escape just in time to avoid being sacrificed, burning down the cult’s lair in the process.  They find another hole in time, this time landing on present-day Salisbury Plain, where they are immediately picked up by UNIT.  Verifying the Doctor’s credentials, the UNIT officers let him in on current events; they are assisting an archaeological dig which has unearthed the bones of a massive, reptilian creature, much larger than any dinosaur.  The Doctor suspects it is only dormant, not dead, and insists that it be destroyed, but the archaeologist, Roberts, refuses.  The Doctor realizes Roberts is a member of the cult he just destroyed in the past, and Roberts tries to kill him.  A group of Hunters—the same as the ones in the Althosian system—interrupt, appearing through the hole in time and crashing a plane, which diverts UNIT to trying to save the passengers and kill the beasts.  The Doctor, with Blake, steals the carrier holding the bones and drives it back to and through the hole in time.  They find themselves back in the netherworld.

Butler stalks the androids through the jungle, killing first Chaney, then Marilyn.  However, before he can kill Thomas, he falls into the encroaching red weed that has spread from the river, and is frozen in time.  Thomas finds the ship in which Ell hides; she joins him outside, but destroys the ship, claiming there was a bomb aboard.  Thomas knows this is suspicious, but has no time for that, and takes her with him.

Benny falls into quicksand, but is rescued by an invisible figure.  She and spike then find a crashed, ancient space station near the castle, and explore it.  Swarf discovers that Butler is dead, and goes to the space station to take revenge.  He nearly kills Spike, but Benny escapes; Swarf returns to the castle.  Meanwhile, Thomas and Ell discover that many things on this planet, including much of the plant and animal life, are artificial; they were manufactured by Mirage Enterprises, a company owned by Kopyion.  They find Benny in the space station, and she tells them that Spike is dead, although she is not aware that the android survived.

Mann, the antique dealer, meets Brown at Brown’s apartment.  Brown was the expected buyer for the book of poetry; together, they remove its binding to find packets of a potent drug, Dream B, which they sample.  As their drug-induced visions wear off, an intruder shoots them both, killing them.  Later, Carlson wants to investigate the murders, but Kopyion stops him and closes the case, tying it to the dead officer’s investigation.  Carlson is not happy, but is interrupted by a notification that his wife was killed in a government-approved chemical attack on the rioters.  IN a rage, he tears apart the file room, but finds nothing useful there.  He follows Kopyion to the spaceport, where Kopyion declares these “the final days”, and takes a ship to the unnamed planet.  Carlson accuses Kopyion of the murders—correctly, as it turns out—but before he can stop Kopyion, Kopyion kills him.

The khthons sense the approach of Benny, Ell, and Thomas to the castle.  Ell has them surrender so as to get inside quickly; the red weed is closing in.  En route to the castle’s cells, Benny notices that the walls are decorated with the Gallifreyan Seal of Rassilon.  At Swarf’s direction, the khthons have used the bomb to power a dimensional drilling apparatus, which they now activate, trying to open a dimensional gateway to the netherworld.  Swarf’s interest is financial; the netherworld is the source of Dream B, which he will sell.  Outside, the Hunters gather, and one carries the dying Spike to the castle; he kills the Hunter holding him, and makes his way slowly inside.

The Doctor reveals to Blake that the netherworld is the home dimension of the Yssgaroth, the Great Vampires of archaic Gallifreyan history, which the Gallifreyans once allowed into the universe, thus kicking off their great war. Now the Cun and others are establishing a bridgehead for the Yssgaroth to invade again, and in the process they are mining Dream B, which the cult on the other side uses in its rituals.  He tries to use the Dream B, which is explosive, to destroy the bridgehead, but before he can do so, he and Blake are spirited away.  Their rescuer is Kopyion, who is more than he seems; he is Kopyion Liall a Mahajetsu, the nearly-mythical Gallifreyan general who led the war against the Yssgaroth, millions of years ago.  He claims that Rassilon’s early experiments with time travel opened the gates that allowed the Yssgaroth into the universe; after the war, Rassilon hid the truth, against Kopyion’s will.  Therefore, Kopyion has waited all this time for the monsters to return—and now it is happening.  He is willing to carry out his plan against them even if it costs Benny’s life.

Escaping the cells, Thomas, Benny, and Ell head to the courtyard where the drill is running.  There, Ell reveals that she and her husband were Nicaean members of the Yssgaroth cult, as were the now-deceased Brown and Mann.  It was they who hired Butler and Swarf, in order to gain access to the netherworld.  Thomas tries, but fails to kill Swarf, who instead kills him.  Ell then kills Chopra, the final surviving khthon, in preparation for the arrival of the Yssgaroth.  Kopyion prepares to deal with Ell, but Spike arrives, and destroys the drilling machinery.

Some small part of the bomb’s force radiates outward, bringing down the castle; it crushes Ell, and Kopyion then beheads her for good measure.  Most of the explosion has flowed through the gateway, causing incredible destruction in the netherworld and closing the gate for now.  The Doctor argues with Kopyion over his methods; Kopyion insists his resolve is strong, and he will stand against the Yssgaroth regardless of cost.  To prove his point—and to close this gateway for good—he reveals that he is allowing the androids’ ship to self-destruct; its explosion will destroy the entire system, including this world and its gateway.  Benny objects, but the Doctor reminds her that they are already aware of the destruction of the system, and thus part of events—therefore they cannot avert the destruction.  Kopyion erases this information from the Time Lord Matrix, deeming it too dangerous.  He warns the Doctor to stay out of his way in the future, as he will kill the Doctor if he sees him again.  Before the system goes up in flames, the Doctor and Benny take Blake back to the TARDIS, then take him home.

warhead-3

I have to admit, I didn’t care for this entry. It took me nearly two weeks to finish it (I’m averaging about a week per book, given that I have other reading material as well), and toward the end it felt like a trek trying to get through it. While I certainly don’t want to insult the author, it’s a difficult and rambling read; it’s well done in a technical sense—Neil Penswick can certainly write—but it’s just boring. The book is Penswick’s only successful contribution to Doctor Who, although he previously submitted a script which might have been accepted, had the televised series not been cancelled. He does have some other writing credits, including a short story for a French publication described on the wiki as an “analogue to the First Doctor”. I do find myself feeling some sympathy for Penswick, however; he and I are both primarily social workers, and writers of fiction on the side.

I do like the history of Gallifrey, and I was especially fond of the Fourth Doctor serial State of Decay, from which this story takes its lead. The lore added here, regarding the Gallifreyans’ (the book uses the term “Time Lords”, but technically they wouldn’t be Time Lords yet, although that time was approaching) war against the Great Vampires, is very interesting; it’s unfortunate there isn’t more of it, and I wouldn’t have minded a story that actually took the Doctor back to that time. The book doesn’t actually state that the Great Vampires are the same as the Yssgaroth—a term which first appears here—but the context makes it clear, and it will later be confirmed in Interference. They don’t appear to have the same form as the Great Vampires, but this seems to be an illusion of some sort. (I understand that they also appear in some of the Faction Paradox works, but I don’t have enough experience there as yet to comment further.) The Gallfreyan general, Kopyion Liall a Mahajetsu, is quite a formidable character: ancient in ways even the Doctor can’t approach, world-weary, focused, and deadly. I would love to see him again, or even see him become an occasional nemesis of the Doctor; the book ends with his promise to kill the Doctor if he ever sees him again. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case; he has no other appearances to date. The book also adds one more piece of lore: “Gallifrey” is said to literally translate to the phrase “They that walk in shadows”.

Although I was impressed by Kopyion, it’s hard to get a feel for any of the characters in this book. All of them—including, strangely enough, the Doctor and Bernice—feel shallow, as if we’re only ever seeing the surface. I suspect that this is because there are too many characters, with too many plot threads for this rather short book. There are two shapeshifters and their telepathic slaves, who have stolen the most powerful nuclear weapon in existence; the trio of androids sent to take it back; the fourth, displaced android, who ends up with Benny as an escort; the mysterious General Kopyion with his secrets; Major John Carlson with his murder investigation; Academician Brown and relic dealer Mann, who have their own plot threads; the Archon, the leader of the Althosian system, who is trying to put down a growing civil unrest; Ell Romer and her husband Jarak, a scientist with secrets; a mysterious cult on Earth; UNIT; and the Doctor with—most improbable of all—the poet William Blake. It’s simply too much, and as a result it ties together in ways so improbable that Douglas Adams would cringe. There’s simply no time to get to know anyone. Some plots, such as Carlson’s murder investigation could be cut completely, and their characters reduced to the background; Carlson’s meaningless death negates his importance to the story in a single moment. Blake’s character serves no real purpose at all, and shouldn’t have been included (besides being unnecessary, he’s also incredibly unlikely—a random person falls through a hole in space and time, and it happens to be a historical celebrity? That stretches credibility even for Doctor Who!). In fact, we know in advance that this system is about to be destroyed completely, and everyone in it will die; therefore none of the local characters have much significance to the overall story.

I will give the story credit for explaining further about a plot that has been in the background for some time: the infection of the TARDIS. This phenomenon began in Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark and has steadily increased since; this is the source of the two competing cat-avatars of the TARDIS in Transit. Until now, it’s been essentially a nuisance; but here we see that the TARDIS’s actual function is breaking down, and the Doctor—by merit of his psychic link with the TARDIS—is breaking down with it. He very nearly loses the battle here, and in fact he is not really instrumental in the victory at all, all because of the TARDIS infection. That plot line will be resolved in the next book, Deceit.

I can’t help feeling that Bernice’s character is floundering at this point in the series. My feeling is that, after so long dealing with Ace, the writers simply don’t yet know what to do with a new companion. This holds true even with those writers who haven’t previously written for Ace; for several years at this point, Ace has been THE companion for the Seventh Doctor, and any writer doing research for the series would have to deal with her. As a result, Benny indulges in a number of traits that were common to Ace: impulsiveness, resorting to violence against the Doctor’s wishes, boredom, and fixating on her relationship with one or both parents. If I have counted correctly, she ultimately appears in more of the New Adventures than Ace or any other companion; therefore I hope that her character levels off soon and finds her own personality. Ace is slated to reappear in the next book, and I think this is a good thing; with both of them present, Benny shouldn’t be able to fill Ace’s niche, and may be forced to be herself.

There is a prelude to this book that was published in Doctor Who Magazine and subsequently excluded from the finished volume. It focuses on Major Carlson’s early investigations into the string of murders. It feels very rough, as though it was an early draft, and doesn’t add anything vital to the story, but it may be worth a look. You can find the full text here.

This book chooses to focus more on Doctor Who lore than on past continuity; however there are still a number of continuity references. The Doctor mentions Susan, in that she loved the works of William Blake, although I haven’t managed to pin down a particular story in which this is stated. There are numerous references to the lore established in State of Decay. Bernice makes several references to past adventures with the Doctor (Love and War, et al.) and especially to her own personal family history, as introduced in Love and War. She dates those events to 2450, which contradicts The Highest Science, though this may just be an error. There is a reference to the creation of the Eye of Harmony via a black hole (The Three Doctors); here it is stated that Rassilon deliberately caused Omega’s accident to cover up his own mistakes. The Doctor has a new Sonic Screwdriver (his original being lost in The Visitation, and confirmed as still lost in The Highest Science), although he will lose it again before Lungbarrow. The Time Path Indicator is mentioned (The Chase, et al). Several UNIT personnel get mentioned, including Brigadier Bambera (Battlefield), though they do not actually appear here. The Doctor finds Ogron bones (Day of the Daleks) and Terileptil bones (The Visitation). He mentions meeting Kublai Khan (Marco Polo) and Houdini (Planet of the Spiders, Smoke and Mirrors, et al). He mentions the Pythia (Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible).

Overall: Not so great, this one. It does have some good points, but they’re overshadowed by its problems. I’m glad to have it behind me, and I hope the next book picks up a bit.

Pit 3

Next time: We’ll be reading Deceit by Peter Darvill-Evans, which features the return of Ace! See you there.

Previous

Next

Novel Review: The Highest Science

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today we continue the Virgin New Adventures series (VNAs) with The Highest Science, by Gareth Roberts. Published on 18 February 1993, this story features the Seventh Doctor and Bernice Summerfield. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

Highest Science 1

The TARDIS approaches the planet Hogsuum in the year 2680.  The Doctor is in pursuit of a temporal phenomenon called a Fortean flicker, which creates coincidences and pulls people and things from their proper places and times.  His research leads him to a 25th-century scholar named Gustav Urnst, with whom Bernice Summerfield is familiar, and who allegedly found and wrote about the fabled planet of Sakkrat.  His writings speak of the Highest Science, the pinnacle of Sakkratian technology; but what it is, no one can say.  Urnst himself disappeared before revealing his answers.  Could Hogsuum be Sakkrat?

On the planet Vaagon, a Chelonian assault force is mopping up a human colony, when the Fortean flicker transports the Chelonians to Hogsuum.  The force’s commanding general, Fakrid, prematurely delivers a clutch of stillborn eggs, which begins to drive him mad.  He sends his troops into battle, where they confront the mysterious “eight twelves”, but they are repelled by intelligent weaponry.  At the same time, the TARDIS arrives, and the Doctor and Benny meet a human named Rodomonte.  Strangely, he seems to know them, at least by description.  Faced with the Chelonian threat, the Doctor sends Benny and Rodomonte away to safety while he stays near the TARDIS.  In orbit, another ship arrives, guided by an engineered being called the Cell.  It awakens its crew: first, unwilling participants and master thieves Rosheen and Klift, then the psychotic warrior Postine, and then the worst of them all: the expedition’s leader, the storied criminal Sheldukher.  They have been asleep for three hundred years, while the Cell searched for Sakkrat—and now it has found the planet, or so it believes.  Sheldukher reasserts control over his crew by prematurely aging Klift, forcing Rosheen to obey.  The Cell can’t properly scan the surface, but it telepathically contacts the Doctor, who is the first person to ever show kindness to it in its tortured existence.  However, its power overwhelms him and knocks him out, and the Chelonians capture him.

Benny happens upon a swamp creature that hypnotizes its victims.  Rodomonte gathers his two friends, Sendei and Molassi, who are behaving oddly; the trio also came here by way of the Fortean flicker, transported from the Ragasteen Music Festival of 2112.  Sendei goes after Benny, provoking Molassi in the process; Molassi begins growing progressively more insane and dangerous.  Sendei rescues Benny and takes her back to the camp, giving her drinks from a dispenser that they found after arrival.  Unknown to them, the drink is from their relative future, but her past; it is called bubbleshake, and though developed as an appetite suppressant when coupled with a certain medication, by itself it is highly addictive and eventually deadly, with many mental side effects including amnesia and paranoia.  As all three men have been drinking it, all of them are beginning to show the effects, with Molassi the most affected.  He believes himself to be the Wizard King, adapted from the lyrics of his favorite band—lyrics which, coincidentally, seem to perfectly describe the situation they are all facing… As Benny consumes the bubbleshake, she too is affected, and soon forgets herself, the TARDIS, and the Doctor.

As the Chelonians move to attack the Eight Twelves, the Doctor intervenes.  Bluffing, he persuades the Chelonians to let him deal with the threat.  He finds that the “Eight Twelves” are twentieth-century humans; they were on the #812 bus when they were transported here by the Fortean flicker.  Two of their number, Vanessa and Hazel, happened upon the intelligent weapons—also deposited by the flicker—that have heretofore kept them alive.  The Doctor gets them behaving in a way that contributes to survival, and goes back to announce their “destruction” to the Chelonians… only to find that the Chelonians have been monitoring, and know that he deceived them.  He is saved, however, when Sheldukher’s ship lands, and transmits a sonic signal that temporarily disables the Chelonians.

Molassi’s speeder craft carries his group, and Benny, to a ruined city before breaking down.  This is the location Molassi, in his madness, has been seeking, and he runs on ahead to a ruined temple.  Caught in addiction, he demands more of the bubbleshake, but the dispenser is empty.  Enraged, he kills Sendei.  At the temple, he meets ghosts, which probe his mind for a certain response, but do not receive it.  The ghosts reject him, and give him visions which disillusion him, causing him to commit suicide.  Rodomonte, too, is found and probed by the ghosts, and subsequently commits suicide.  However, the ghosts get the response they seek from Benny, and let her live.  She subsequently passes out inside the city from bubbleshake withdrawal.

Sheldukher threatens the Eight Twelves to get the Doctor to lead him to Sakkrat city.  The Doctor reluctantly does so, following Urnst’s cryptic directions, which Sheldukher had never seen, having been in cryo-sleep at its publication.  To discourage the Chelonians as he departs, Sheldukher kills four of him; however, this drives General Fakrid into a frenzy, and he takes his troops to follow Sheldukher to the city, several thousand miles away.  As Sheldukher’s ship lands at the city, the Cell locks everyone inside and tries to destroy the ship and end its own life—and take revenge on Sheldukher in the process—but the Doctor is able to get everyone out, including the Cell.  However, the self-destruction leaves them stranded here, far from the TARDIS.  The Doctor finds Benny, and manages to repair her mind telepathically, although she will still require medical treatment for the addiction and its effects.  She too knows Sheldukher by reputation.  Sheldukher sets Postine to hold off the pursuing Chelonians while the others enter the temple.  The battle outside brings down part of the structure, trapping Klift; but he subsequently confronted by the ghosts, and dies.  The Doctor seems to recognize the ghosts.  Postine manages to mortally wound the general, but dies in the process.  Before dying, Fakrid passes command to his First Pilot, Jinkwa, whom he reveals to secretly be his son.  Jinkwa, however, is already stressed past breaking, and is just as mad as Fakrid.  Benny and Rosheen escape the city, but are caught by the Chelonians, and Rosheen is killed.  Benny is transmatted to safety by the ghosts.  Jinkwa orders a suicide mission to destroy the city; two of the three suicide operatives carry out the mission, but are transported beyond the city by the ghosts before they can explode.  The third, in an attack of conscience, returns to stop Jinkwa, and detonates near his command vehicle; however two other vehicles take the explosion instead.

The Doctor, Benny, and Sheldukher, with the Cell, pass through a strange chamber, a slow-time conversion chamber, which matches them to the slower passage of time beneath the city.  This field of slowed time would protect whatever it encloses, possibly for millions of years.  They are attacked by a robotic monster called the Monumental Guardian, but it lets them go after trying to scare them.  Sheldukher is then captured by a containment field.  Two humanoid genetic Contstructs approach the group, and demand that they return Project FXX Q84…also known as the Cell.  Finally the Doctor explains.

Three hundred years prior, Sheldukher stole the embryonic Cell from a horrific research world called Checkley’s World, planning to use it to find Sakkrat.  When Sheldukher vanished, the controlling firm of Checkley’s World created a plan to trap him and recover the Cell, which had the power to become the greatest mind in existence.  They altered the planet Hogsuum to more perfectly match Sakkrat’s description, and created the various guardians and traps in order to lure in Sheldukher and recover the cell.  However, the slow-time chamber’s control globe became faulty, creating the Fortean flicker.  The Doctor makes his way to the control globe and shuts off the faulty circuit, ending the flicker; however, shutting down the rest of the system proves impossible.  Sheldukher overcomes that problem, however, when he cannot handle the truth, and kills himself; but he is wearing a powerful explosive on a deadman switch and a timer, and in fifteen minutes it will vaporize everything for a thousand miles around.  The Doctor and Benny flee try to flee via the facility’s emergency transmat, and are attacked by the Monumental Guardian along the way; they escape seconds before the explosive detonates.

The Doctor and Benny materialize near the TARDIS, only to find the Chelonians about to wipe out the Eight Twelves using a lethal Zarathion gas.  Using the facility’s control globe, he freezes the area in slow time, saving the lives of all the survivors, but leaving them as a problem to be worked out another day; he cannot enter the slow-time field, as it would kill him at this level.  With Benny, he returns to the TARDIS.  Inside, he administers the antidote to the bubbleshake, and she slowly recovers over several days; when she is fully recovered, he celebrates by taking her to 1935 Earth, for a meeting with Virginia Woolf, or—failing that—a night at the theatre.  As they exit the TARDIS, they fail to see that it is behaving oddly; and later, they find that it has moved itself to another spot nearby.  In the theatre, they watch the show before getting bored and leaving for other worlds, without realizing that Gustav Urnst, the lost scholar, is there, having been displaced by the Fortean flicker to this historic time.  Urnst watches them go, and muses on their existence as travelers from the future.

highest science 2

I had heard this story mentioned in many contexts in the past; and so I was a little disappointed to find that it reads more like an extended interlude in the Doctor’s adventures. It’s not a bad story, but if this were Big Finish, it would be a Short Trip story. (Actually, as Big Finish has included this novel in their line of Novel Adaptations audio dramas, perhaps I shouldn’t say that.) Its events cover a few days, but they don’t feel like it; it gives the appearance of brevity, despite being as long as most VNA novels.

The story covers the Doctor’s trip to what appears to be the legendary world of Sakkrat, where a motley collection of others have also arrived, including a Chelonian (think intelligent, angry tortoises) assault force. He is in search of a temporal disturbance called a Fortean flicker, which is responsible for transporting the various groups to the planet. The Chelonians are on a mission of conquest, now tragically misdirected; a group of music fans are chasing a vision that keeps inexplicably coming true; a certain criminal element is in pursuit of the fabled Sakkratian “Highest Science”, which is reputed to reshape reality; and the human tourists in the middle of it all just want to go home. Toss in some serious drug addiction with amnesia on the side, and an alien conspiracy that may or may not be what it seems, and everything goes haywire in very short order. For once the Doctor isn’t able to do any of his customary scheming, and it’s refreshing to see him have to think on his feet (especially impressive, considering that he repeatedly gets knocked off of them); he does figure out what’s happening before the conclusion, but not in time to manipulate the situation to any great degree.

Bernice has a rough time in this story. In fact, her adventures with the Doctor aren’t going well at all at this point, though she remains inexplicably optimistic. Her adventures on Heaven (Love and War) ended terribly for everyone involved; in Transit, she was possessed by the transit system entity for most of the story. Here, she spends most of her time largely incapacitated by bubbleshake addiction. I’m reminded of the tendency in the early Fifth Doctor era to write the episodes in such a way that one of the three companions was out of action throughout the story. That technique was justified at the time by the fact that it’s just simply difficult to write for four main characters at once (for comparison, watch Stargate SG-1, and see how many times Daniel Jackson is either dead or off on an archaeological dig, or both). Here, we don’t have that excuse, but the various writers still seem to insist on writing Benny out as fast as they can—which is odd, given that she’ll be with us for something like forty-five of these novels.

This story relies heavily on deus ex machina events. Spaceships and transmats arrive at just the right time; characters mysteriously know each other when they shouldn’t, with little ultimate explanation given. On the one hand, these things should be expected, because the story’s macguffin—the Fortean flicker—causes odd coincidences. On the other hand, early in the story we get a set of indicators that show when the flicker is active, and it’s never active at the time that these particular coincidences take place. That negates the effect, in my opinion. We could forgive one such event—the arrival of the villain’s spacecraft, which in turn saves the Doctor’s life, is excellent—but a string of them is sloppy writing.

For a story set on an isolated and uninhabited world, there are a lot of supporting characters here. The mad Chelonian general Fakrid and his First Pilot Jinkwa; the leaders among the human tourists, Vaness, Hazel, and Witcher; the three music fans, Rodomonte, Sendei, and Molassi; the criminal Sheldukher and his entourage of Rosheen, Klift, Posteen, and the Cell; and several constructed beings inside the Sakkrat temple. Most of them are believable characters, but their circumstances have them acting in very erratic ways; Sendei, Rodomonte, and Molassi in particular are all suffering from various degrees of madness thanks to the bubbleshake addiction. Fakrid suffers from his own rapidly-advancing madness, and Jinkwa picks up some of it near the end. Fakrid and Sheldukher are both caricatures—Fakrid a caricature of a mad military commander, Sheldukher of a ruthless-but-cultured criminal—but otherwise, the characters are fairly well done.

Some continuity references: The Eternals (Enlightenment, et al) get a mention by the Doctor. The Chelonians are first mentioned here, but will appear in other stories later, including The Well-Mannered War, also by Gareth Roberts. Lasty’s Nebula will also be mentioned in The Dark Path. There are several references to the events of the preceding two novels (Love and War, Transit), mostly made by Bernice. The survivors of this story, left frozen at its end, will be rescued in Happy Endings, many novels from now. The Doctor states that he asks three questions every time he awakens after being knocked unconscious: “Where am I? Who am I? And who are you?” These questions date back to Time and the Rani. Elements of this story—especially the underused element of the bus tourists stranded on an alien planet—will be reused in Planet of the Dead, also written by Gareth Roberts, which I will coincidentally be covering next week, barring unforeseen circumstances. Allegedly Roberts wished to use the Chelonians in that story, but declined due to the difficulties of putting an actor in a Chelonian costume in the Dubai heat. Notably, this story is the first to spell out what was suggested as far back as Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, that the TARDIS likely requires six pilots for normal operation; this would later be adapted into television canon and confirmed in Journey’s End, which I covered last week. The Doctor’s ring here resembles the First Doctor’s ring (last seen in The Power of the Daleks) and may possibly be intended to be the same one.

Overall: Although I understand the book was well-received, I found it to be so-so at best. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely not one of the better novels in the series, either. The running theme of the book can be summed up in the repeated line: “He [or she] just couldn’t understand some people.” The characters don’t understand each other, and every step of the plot is built on such misunderstandings; and in too many cases, we the readers don’t understand them either. Roberts is good for some quick wit and humor, and his plot does hold together (with the exception of the deus ex machina moments I mentioned earlier), but it’s nothing to write home about. Planet of the Dead does it better, and I think that Roberts benefitted from the years in between when it comes to refining the basic ideas here.

highest science 3

Next time: The Pit, by Neil Penswick! See you there.

Although most of the Virgin New Adventures novels are out of print, this novel has been adapted into full-cast audio drama format by Big Finish Productions as part of their Novel Adaptations range.  This adaptation’s purchase page is linked below.

The Highest Science

Previous

Next

Novel Review: Transit

I’m not going to be finished with the next audio review in time to post it today, so instead, here’s Tuesday’s novel review a day early, and we’ll get to the audios tomorrow.

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we continue the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs) with Transit, by Ben Aaronovitch. Published 3 December 1992, this novel features the Seventh Doctor and Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, accompanied by guest companion Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, and is set in the year 2109. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has  not read this novel!

Transit 1

In the year 2109, the Earth’s colonies throughout the solar system are connected by the Sol Transit System, or STS, a system of train “tunnels” through the fabric of reality itself.  Travel is fast, nearly instantaneous; and the ambitious human race is about to open its first interstellar addition to the system.  The first Star Tunnel, or “Stunnel” for short, will go to the colony at Arcturus, 26 light years away.  Something goes drastically wrong, however, when something unknown pushes its way out of the stunnel and into the body of the system itself, vaporizing everyone on the platforms for the opening ceremony.

Lunar University (or “Lunarversity”) student Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart—a distant descendant of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart from an illicit relationship in his early military days in Africa—gets briefly involved with a group of special maintenance workers on the Stunnel project, and develops a hasty but passionate relationship with Zak, or Blondie as he prefers to be called, the youngest member of the crew.  Related events lead her to be at King’s Cross station when the entity from the stunnel passes through, destroying everyone; but she is saved by the sudden appearance of the Seventh Doctor and the TARDIS.  The TARDIS itself, with Bernice Summerfield still inside, are hurled to the end of the line, somewhere in another station.  Stuck with few options, the Doctor falls in with Kadiatu, who connects him to a family friend, a woman named Francine, who is—famously—a completely blind veteran of the war on Mars between the humans and the Ice Warriors some twenty years earlier, and also an accomplished underworld boss.  Unknown to the Doctor, Kadiatu knows exactly who he is.

Benny finds herself in a slum near the last station in the solar system, on Pluto, and falls in with two prostitutes, Roberta and Zamina.  (By coincidence, Blondie is also from this slum, and is well known to both girls.)  Benny quickly uses the girls, as well as a local gang, to seize power and then spark a riot that sends destruction careening through the slum.  Roberta is killed in the fighting, and Benny escapes.  Meanwhile, the Doctor knows a thing or two about Kadiatu, as well—he realizes that she has been genetically engineered, probably as a soldier.  He discovers her rather complete files on him, and learns that she is very close to discovering time travel, a few centuries early for humanity.  He considers deleting the files, but decides against it, fearing the repercussions.  He also realizes—though she didn’t tell him—that she is a descendant of his old friend.  When she awakens, he helps her solve a minor problem she is dealing with, and in return, recruits her to help him recover Benny and put an end to the crisis in the STS.

Blondie’s crew, led by a former—and highly augmented—soldier called Old Sam, begins to search the now-closed system for the source of the problem, using a modified maintenance train they call Fat Mama.  They are assaulted by a group of mutated individuals, and barely escape with their lives and heavy damage to the train, though one crewmember—Dogface—is critically wounded and whisked off to a hospital.  They report in to their supervisor, the System’s manager, Ming, often called “Ming the Merciless”.  Meanwhile the Doctor and Kadiatu make their way to the slum on Pluto, where the fighting has ended and the relief workers have arrived.  There they find the TARDIS; it struck the wall of the station with enough force to embed it deeply in the wall, with the door unfortunately facing the wrong way.  Benny arrives at the station, and tries to kill the Doctor; it becomes clear that she is possessed by the transit system entity.  He is saved by Old Sam and Blondie; Benny flees, collecting Zamina as she does, and joins a refugee group headed for Mars.  During the fight, Kadiatu discovers—and is disturbed by—her own preternatural fighting skills, which she does not understand; a flashback shows that she herself is not her parents’ natural child, but was found by her father on a military mission, organized by Francine.  She was genetically engineered by the Imogen corporation as a supersoldier of incalculable ability; however her father couldn’t bring himself to kill the infant warrior, and adopted her instead, vowing to overcome her creation with a good upbringing and psychology.  She knows none of this, however.

The Doctor takes Blondie and Kadiatu to his house in Kent, where the couple’s relationship deepens.  The Doctor realizes that the STS hasn’t been invaded by an outside intelligence; rather, because it is structured in the form of a complex neural network, it has evolved its own intelligence.  He builds a device to communicate with the system, and finds that while he is correct, he only has part of the story.  The system, though certainly intelligent, was invaded by a competing intelligence—a virus of sorts—from another dimension, which breached the system where reality was thin along the Stunnel’s path.  The Doctor decides to help the system expunge the virus.  He contacts Ming and her fellow executives and offers to help—and none too soon, because something in the system is preparing to open the Stunnel again.

Benny and Zamina are placed with a family on Mars, but Benny quickly kills them.  She heads out, intending to get to STS control and advance the virus’s plan—but she manages to resist the virus’s control long enough to send Zamina away with a warning for the Doctor.  The Doctor gets the message, and takes Kadiatu to Mars via the tunnels, finding that Benny has fled in a vehicle out onto the wilder parts of the surface.  She leads them to a dormant Ice Warrior nest, where she tries to shoot the Doctor; Kadiatu kills her.  The Doctor is furious, until he realizes it’s not the real Benny; it’s a mutant made to look and sound like her.  She was a decoy; they are forced to race back, having lost time on this distraction—and moreover, the Ice Warriors asleep in the nest will eventually awaken, not knowing their war with Earth is over.

Waiting to be picked up, Kadiatu compares notes with the Doctor about her family history, and then reveals something disturbing—she has dreams about an old woman, whom the Doctor identifies as the Pythia of Gallifrey’s past, giving a curse against childbirth.  Francine arrives in a modified jet and picks them up, but is shot down by an automated system that misinterprets her intentions.  She lands safely somehow, though the plane is destroyed.  A chance encounter with one of the rescue crew that collects them makes the Doctor realize that he may be far too well known to humans now, and he considers deleting knowledge of himself from human records.

Benny makes her way to STS control and sets the reactors to overload, pouring power into the Stunnel’s grid, preparing to open the gates on both ends.  The Doctor and Kadiatu arrive, but find that it’s another false Benny.  The Doctor sends the maintenance crew’s drones to build a machine to draw power from the TARDIS, and then he heads to the Stunnel station by freesurfing the tunnels—that is, traveling them on a board, without a train.  Inside the tunnels, he picks up an unidentified, disembodied hitchhiker, telepathically entering his mind.  At the other end, he finds a battle in progress, between the entity’s mutants and the human security forces, with Blondie and Old Sam there holding the line as well.  Blondie dies in the process, horrifying Kadiatu.  Benny—the real Benny this time—is there as well.  As the Doctor arrives, the gateway opens, and the full entity emerges, possessing Benny; it seems the version that was already inhabiting her was only an agent of sorts.  As it claims no name, the Doctor calls it “Fred”.  However, before it can act, the machine connected to the TARDIS fires a powerful burst of artron energy through the tunnel, channeled through the Doctor, striking Fred and driving it back into the tunnels and into its own dimension, taking Benny with it.   As the Stunnel starts to collapse, the Doctor follows it in, trying to rescue Benny; Kadiatu follows him.

The Doctor finds himself in a world of subjective reality, malleable to the wills of those inside it.  He shapes reality into a form he can navigate, and leaves messages for Kadiatu to follow.  He also finds that the artron energy—representing the TARDIS itself—takes the form of two cats, one green, one silver.  He battles his way through to a confrontation with Fred.  Fred admits that it has concealed its true purpose until now; it can’t act with impunity in the real world, but here, it has more power; and it saw the potential in the Doctor, and wanted to take him to augment its own power.  To that end, it kidnapped Benny, planning to lure the Doctor here so it could acquire his mind.  Kadiatu arrives manifesting as a leopard, and attacks Fred; the Doctor transfers the hitchhiker from his own mind to Benny’s, forcing Fred out, and Kadiatu devours Fred.  The hitchhiker then vacates Benny’s mind and takes form—it is the Transit entity, and now, without any opposition, it feels comfortable vacating the system and remaining here in this dimension, where it can reach its full potential.  The Doctor, Benny, and Kadiatu return to reality just as the gateway collapses..

The crisis is resolved; but before leaving Earth again, the Doctor visits the Stone Mountain data repository on the moon, which contains the sum total of human knowledge.  He has deduced that its AI management software has become sentient, and threatens to expose it to humanity—who are paranoid about such things—if it doesn’t accommodate him.  He persuades it to delete all records of his own existence on Earth, and he personally destroys what hard copies are available; and in return, he gives it pointers on how to live with humanity.  It names itself FLORANCE, and immediately begins establishing a presence on Earth, before revealing itself.  The Doctor returns to the station on Pluto, and has the maintenance crew cut the TARDIS free of the wall, and takes a very shaken Benny with him when he leaves.  He sends Old Sam to make peace with the newly awakened Ice Warriors, and sees that Kadiatu gets a job with STS.  He offers her a chance to come with him, but she refuses—but warns him that she’ll give him a head start, then come after him.  Later, she completes her time machine, and then destroys all her research, before setting off after the Doctor—but where her allegiance lies, remains to be seen.

warhead-3

I had been looking forward to this book for some time, chiefly because of the character of Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart; I knew that she was a descendant of the Brigadier, but that was all I knew. While Kadiatu is a fascinating character, I still had trouble getting into this book. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and honestly I’m still not sure. It’s certainly a good read, and once I was able to get started, I finished it quickly, in about a day and a half of scattered reading. I think perhaps I had trouble because the book feels—to borrow one of its own words—interstitial, like it’s between greater things. (Not that I know if what follows is better—I haven’t started the next book at the time of this writing…) It spends a fair amount of time referring back to the events of the last book, Love and War, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it gives the feeling of mooning over a lost love, especially with Ace having left in that book. Ace is fantastic, I agree completely with that—but these books, I think, have serious difficulty with moving on. To that end, there’s a scene where the Doctor finds a stash of Nitro-9 in the house on Allen Road, and mourns over Ace a bit; and at the end, when he needs guardians in the virtual dimension occupied by the Transit entity, he manifests them as a horde of Aces, all with cans of Nitro-9. It’s clever, but it feels awkward. In addition, Benny is relegated to a background character here; she spends most of the story—all of it, really—possessed by the Transit entity (or not, actually—to explain would be a major spoiler, so just bear with me), and gets little dialog or screen time on her own. This is her first adventure traveling with the Doctor, and she leaves it with the conviction that she is essentially a pet to him—not a good way to get things rolling, Doctor.

Enough negatives; on to the positives! Kadiatu IS a fascinating character, and well worth the read. She has secrets layered upon secrets, and I am certain we don’t yet have them all. She reminds me of Jenny from The Doctor’s Daughter, in that she is born for military action, but also has secrets in her upbringing; and her exit scene at the end is almost a perfect match for Jenny’s, with the added bonus that we know from her later appearances that she doesn’t immediately crash into a moon and die. I look forward to further appearances. She is surrounded by a great supporting cast, with almost everyone getting at least a better-than-average amount of character development, even the throwaway villains (that is, the mutated hit squads created by the major villain). Junior maintenance worker and Kadiatu love interest Zak, aka Blondie, is a bit of a Mary Sue (or whatever the male equivalent is) without really needing to be, as he isn’t the main character and only rarely serves as the viewpoint character, and yet he’s endearing anyway, and I was truly upset at the way his arc ends. Old Sam, a maintenance worker with a serious military background, quickly became my favorite supporting character; and he gets one of the final scenes in the book, a moment of great import, pertaining to the Ice Warriors. Those classic-series adversaries (I won’t say villains, because they usually aren’t villainous) don’t appear at all, but they have a tangential bearing on the story, and their presence is felt in the background. The Transit system manager, Mind “the Merciless”, is nothing like she appears at first, and gets a surprisingly good backstory which doesn’t directly change anything, but makes her a much better character.

I left this story feeling that it’s planting seeds for the future. Often that’s a dangerous prospect—you as the author don’t know if you will have the opportunity to go back and harvest what you’ve planted, and you don’t know if any other author will continue with what you’ve done. We don’t know those things here, either; but Ben Aaronovitch certainly planted a lot of seeds for future use. He gave us the Human-Ice Warrior war on Mars, also known as the Thousand Day War, which ended with human control of Mars, and which will be expanded on in later stories such as GodEngine. He created the Sol Transit System (STS) , which, though not mentioned in any other works to date, is clearly instrumental in the expansion phase of human history. He created an early form of human time travel. He created an offshoot of the Brigadier’s family, and of course he gave us the recurring character of Kadiatu. He gave Benny a book that even she cannot read, and then doesn’t really go back to that thread; possibly something for the future? Some of these, of course, have been picked up in other works; some have not. Still, it will be interesting to see how these connections play out.

The Doctor is certainly more decisive here than he has been in recent stories. He does, as I mentioned, brood over Ace a few times, but never for long, and never in a way that would interfere with his activities. We do see something very rare early in the book: We see the Doctor get drunk. It’s not a pretty sight, but at least there is no singing…no, wait, that’s not true; he sings Happy Birthday…to the universe. It has to be seen to be believed.

There’s a definite cyberpunk theme to this novel which is curiously rare in Doctor Who. Despite the fact that the story depends on it, it doesn’t take over the story, but manages to fit casually into the story’s world without being too intrusive—a rare feat indeed, as cyberpunk elements usually tend to define their stories. I wouldn’t want this to be a common thing in Doctor Who, but I’m glad to see it happen occasionally; when the series began, no one had any inkling of such a thing, but if it wants to stay relevant to modern audiences (not to mention modern technology), this sort of thing almost has to be acknowledged sometimes.

Continuity References: The House on Allen Road last appeared in Cat’s Cradle: Warhead. The Doctor makes multiple references to Survival and The Curse of Fenric, especially in connection with Ace. He mentions building a boom-box (Silver Nemesis) and having visited “all three Atlantises” (The Underwater Menace, The Daemons, The Time Monster, which famously gave three different explanations for the destruction of Atlantis). Battlefield is referenced in the form of an opera based on the events of that serial, though it’s not a very clear reference. (The TARDIS wiki states that “[t]he unknown future incarnation of the Doctor that first appeared in Marc Platt’s novelisation of Battlefield reappears here in a cyberspace encounter with a supporting character”, but I don’t recall this happening in the book; I only recall the operatic reference to that story, and have not read the novelization of Battlefield so as to know what I’m looking for there. The wiki page for the novelization was singularly unhelpful in that regard.) The Doctor calls the entity “Fred”; this references his intended nickname for Romana in The Ribos Operation, as well as a Robot Yeti in The Web of Fear. The intelligent computer FLORANCE will appear again in Sleepy and Seeing I. Kadiatu will appear next in Set Piece, and several other stories thereafter. The TARDIS’s infection appears again, having begun in Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark, though with very little explanation given in either story; here it manifests as a green cat to match the TARDIS’s silver cat. That thread has yet to be resolved. Benny mentions the Silurians (Doctor Who and the Silurians, et al), who in her time are a known and accepted species with a bit of a lingering grudge against humans. She (or rather, a duplicate of her) mentions the Hoothi (Love and War). The Doctor mentions the events of Earthshock, if only tangentially. He remembers an Australian beach (The Enemy of the World). He mentions the Panopticon and the great seal of Rassilon (The Deadly Assassin, et al). He mentions various stories from his third-Doctor era with UNIT, including Planet of the Spiders; the flashback about Kadiatu’s ancestors also mentions a few, including Robot. Kadiatu dreams of the Pythia (Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible) despite having no direct connection to Gallifrey. Benny references the Butler Institute and the environmental crisis (Cat’s Cradle: Warhead).

Overall: After a slow start for me personally, the book turned out pretty good in the end. It’s not, I think, one of the pivotal stories of the series; but it’s getting us there. It was by no means perfect, but it’s a fair, mostly solid entry, and I enjoyed it.

Transit 2

Next time: We’ll be reading The Highest Science, by Gareth Roberts, another novel adapted later into audio form by Big Finish Productions! See you there.

Previous

Next

Novel Review: Love and War

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we’re reading Love and War by Paul Cornell, published in October 1992 as the ninth entry in the Virgin New Adventures (VNA) series. In this story, we say goodbye to longtime companion Ace McShane, and welcome new and noteworthy companion Bernice Summerfield, who will eventually headline a series of New Adventures novels of her own. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

love-and-war-1

Ace attends the funeral of her old friend Julian in Perivale.  Afterward, the Doctor takes her to the planet Heaven in the year 2570.  The bucolic planet lies on the border between the human and Draconian empires, and is neutral territory, serving as a cemetery world for both races in their long and sporadic wars against each other and against the Daleks.  While the Doctor visits the governmental library in Joycetown in search of a lost manuscript, The Papers of Felsecar, Ace gets involved with a group of Travellers, a nomadic bunch that has lived on Heaven for some years now.  She quickly falls for Jan, one of the travellers, and he shares her interest, although he is in an open relationship with another Traveller, Roisa—who is in turn in another open relationship with yet another Traveller, Máire.  Ace meets other colorful characters: Christopher, the sexless priest of the Travellers, who has peculiar powers thanks to a government experiment; and a guest of the Travellers: archaeologist Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, who is conducting a dig at some ancient ruins left behind by the now-extinct Heavenites.  Meanwhile, Roisa steps on a filament of a strange fungus.

In Joycetown, Phaedrus—priest of the death-obsessed Vacuum Church—conducts a ritual sacrifice of an old friend.  The friend’s dying corpse is taken over by, and converted into, a fungus—and the fungus is intelligent.  It has orders for Phaedrus… later, he encounters Roisa, and warns her of terrible things to come.

The Doctor’s efforts to find the manuscript are unsuccessful, and he is balked by a nervous librarian.  He meets with Miller, the head of the local military detachment, and takes him into his confidence, warning him of the real reason for his visit; Miller keeps it to himself, but is convinced to help the Doctor.  Miller tells him about a mysterious sphere in space, which was spotted briefly before vanishing.  The Doctor meets Benny, and she shows him a buried Heavenite observatory with a strange telescope and a decayed body inside—the first Heavenite remains found.  The Doctor is disturbed by what he sees there.  He accompanies Benny to Joycetown, but they are attacked en route; Benny shoots off the attacker’s arm, but the assailant is not deterred, and escapes.  The arm is infected with white fungal filaments.

Ace joins the Travellers in “Puterspace”, a virtual reality environment that links to the Empire’s electronic networks, and which the Travellers use in lieu of drugs to join their minds for rituals and conferences.  With Jan, she encounters a being calling himself the Trickster; and she learns more of Jan and Christopher’s history.  The two men are old friends; both volunteered for military experimentation during their service.  The experiments took away Christopher’s sexuality, but gave him strong psychic powers; Jan was mostly unaffected, but gained the ability to generate fire on command.  As the Travellers gather, Roisa begs the Travellers to leave the planet and leave her behind.  They are attacked in Puterspace by a strange sphere, but Christopher sacrifices himself to let the others escape.  In the real world, the others bury Christopher’s now-empty body, and grieve for him.  Ace spends the night with Jan; later, she dreams of the Doctor bargaining with Death for her life, with Death refusing the deal.  In the morning, the Doctor meets her, and is disturbed to find that she slept with Jan; she assumes he is jealous of her desire for a separate life.  During the visit, he shows her a tesseract, a Gallifreyan hypercube, and plays a trick where it disappears between dimensions.  He enlists her help in locating the book; she meets the librarian, who seems afraid, but drops a hint as to where to look in the library computers.  Meanwhile, a guard named Kale meets with Miller and reports a (fabricated) attack by Sontarans, and requests to go to the orbital station to scan the planet for incursions.  Miller allows it, but notices that Kale’s arm is in a sling.

The Doctor talks with Jan about Ace, and then enters Puterspace.  He is attacked by Vacuum Church assassins; Christopher appears and rescues him.  Christopher reveals that his powers allowed him to copy his mind into Puterspace as software before he died; he is working out a way to control his own dead body as well, via the Puterspace jack in its brain.  However, before the Doctor can leave, Phaedrus enters Puterspace and catches him in a software trap, forcing him to relive painful memories of his third incarnation’s death.  Ace arrives to rescue him, but is caught in the trap herself, and it shifts to her memories of Perivale.  There she learns from the Doctor that the real enemy is a fungal race called the Hoothi, which absorbs its victims and gains their memories and minds.  Ace sees her dead friend Julian there, and the Doctor realizes the Hoothi have replicated her house from his memories, not from Ace’s, indicating that after his death, the Hoothi absorbed him.  The Doctor briefly liberates Julian’s mind, and Julian in turn restores Christopher’s program; Julian is reintegrated into the group mind by Phaedrus, but Ace liberates them by reversing the trap onto Phaedrus and making him relive his worst memory—in which he euthanized his own mother.  With the Doctor, she escapes Puterspace.  While they recover, Roisa gives the Doctor a drink from a Heavenite goblet that was once stolen from the Vacuum Church.

The Doctor and Ace lead the Travellers in a raid on the library.  There they are intercepted by Vacuum acolytes, who have been absorbed by the Hoothi.  Ace kills them with Nitro-9, setting the library ablaze in the process, but not before they infect the librarian—but just before he converts to fungus, he unlocks the computer, allowing them to find out where the manuscript is hidden.  They find that it was last released to Bernice Summerfield.  On the way out, they meet Miller, and he learns that the Sontaran invasion was a lie; and Kale has been infected by the Hoothi spores.  Kale, it seems, is the assailant who attacked the Doctor and Benny; his arm in a sling is fake, concealing a cache of the spores.  He has now infected the entire orbital station crew, and removed the station from action, leaving the planet defenseless until help arrives—in a week.

The Doctor again tries to get Ace to give up her romance with Jan, but to no avail.  He retrieves the manuscript from Benny, and finds his own handwriting in it, though presumably from a future incarnation.  It acts as a Rosetta Stone of sorts, allowing him to translate Heavenite writing left behind in the observatory.  Ace confers with Benny, and they discuss their respective and checkered pasts; Benny admits that she faked her credentials years ago, and is not really a professor.  She travels in search of the truth about her missing father, who may be among the dead buried on Heaven.  Ace spends the night with Jan, who tells her his secret name, Aradrath, meaning “one big fire”.  During the night, mysterious figures release spores into the Traveller camp, infecting some of the Travellers.  Christopher also appears, having regained control of his body after a fashion, and collects most of the spores, which will not harm him; he also warns Ace that remaining with Jan will require a sacrifice.

The observatory writing leads the Doctor and Benny to the graveyards, where they find that every body is infected with the spores, and indeed, have not decayed—all part of the Hoothi plan. He gets Benny’s team to rush and dig up the observatory, as it is intstrumental to his plan.  The Hoothi, via Kale, try to crash the orbital station onto the dig, but the Doctor threatens Phaedrus to divert it; the Hoothi need Phaedrus alive for now, and they destroy the station before it can crash.  The Doctor returns to the camp, and levels with everyone about the Hoothi: They are an ancient, fungal race, which absorbs and utilizes the living and the dead alike in efforts to conquer the galaxy.  They were believed to have fled after failing once to conquer Gallifrey; but now they have returned.  They exist in sub-hive minds as part of the greater group mind, and each sub-group travels in a massive organic sphere, composed of the remains of absorbed creatures.  Centuries ago, they farmed the Heavenites for raw material, until they eventually claimed the entire world; the observatory was left to guard against their return.  Now they are returning, and their long game will pay off; they arranged to have Heaven made into a cemetery world, filling it with a vast army of the dead, which they are coming to claim for use in their conquest.  They can see and hear through their living victims, and can control the victims’ actions, or take over at any time.  The spores cannot be cured.

The now-liberated observatory contains a special telescope that can penetrate the Hoothi sphere’s ability to conceal itself.  Roisa, knowing she is infected, goes to blow up the Vacuum Church in a suicide bombing, but can’t pull the trigger; Phaedrus forces her to meet the Hoothi that is located in the basement.  Jan realizes what has happened, and takes matters into his own hands; he takes some of the others and steals a shuttle, intending to set it as a passive projectile in orbit to destroy the Hoothi sphere.  Ace and Máire follow him and sneak aboard.  When he discovers Ace, he asks her to marry him if they survive.  She agrees, and everyone but Jan waits in the shuttle’s escape pods.  Jan will activate the final course of the shuttle, and then enter a pod himself, and launch the pods.  However, when the ship appears, everyone except Jan, Máire, and Ace explodes into fungus; and even Jan is clearly infected, as he can’t fire the engines.  He ejects Ace, Máire, and one of the others.  Ace loses her mind briefly from grief; but the Doctor’s hypercube appears in her hand, containing impressions of Jan, which pull her back to sanity.  Máire’s pod crashes into the Vacuum Church, doing much damage, but not destroying the church, Phaedrus, or the Hoothi.

When the Doctor learns that Ace followed Jan, he is appalled, and immediately takes the TARDIS—with Benny—to the Hoothi sphere.  The Hoothi—or rather, three of the four in their subgroup—meet with him, and reveal that he himself is infected, having received a spore from the drink given to him by Roisa.  They will refrain from taking him over, and allow him to leave with Ace, if he destroys the planet’s military communication equipment so as to prevent the empire’s Spacefleet from arriving.  However, they infect Benny; but the Doctor secretly prevents the infection, feeding the Hoothi images from his mind to make them think they were successful.  As the Doctor and Benny leave, they see Jan’s body among the other captive forms.  The Hoothi sphere enters the atmosphere, and sends down subspheres and stairways to receive their infected dead, which burst to life from the ground all over the planet.  Along the way, the dead attack and kill many of the living, breaking down settlements and buildings.  The Doctor sends Benny to recover Ace, who has crashed in the forest.  Christopher joins them as well.  Phaedrus, considering his work complete, enters Puterspace still haunted by the death of his mother; Ace arrives and follows him in, seeking revenge for Jan’s death.  The Doctor, meanwhile, deactivates the comm equipment.  He goes to the Vacuum Church and enters Puterspace to rescue Ace; however, with Christopher’s help, he exploits the remnants of Jan’s consciousness inside the group mind, horrifying Ace.  Rather than try to save Jan, he persuades Jan to ignite his pyrokinetic power—and the sphere, filled with flammable gases, explodes, destroying the Hoothi inside and breaking their control over their army.  It was all a part of the Doctor’s plan, including leading Jan to confront the Hoothi, as he knew that Jan was infected; however, Ace cannot forgive the Doctor for manipulating sacrificing her lover to win this battle.

As the colony picks up the pieces, Ace returns to the church—but finds Phaedrus still alive in the basement.  Phaedrus kills himself, and is absorbed by the fourth Hoothi, which has been in the basement all along; it could still salvage the situation with enough blood—and Ace will provide that blood.  The captive Roisa pushes her toward the Hoothi.  However, Máire is still alive in the wreckage, and she shoots and kills Roisa.  Ace calls on the last of Julian’s mind inside the Hoothi, and makes him rebel momentarily; and he causes the Hoothi to explode and die.

The Doctor searches for Ace, and bears witness to Christopher’s final death, as he can no longer maintain his body.  He finds Ace and tries to apologize to her; but her love for him has turned to hatred after his actions, and she refuses to go with him.  She stays behind with Máire and the remaining Travellers, keeping only the hypercube—she even leaves her jacket with the Doctor, indicating her break from her life with him.  He returns with it to the TARDIS…where Benny agrees to join him.  After all, as she points out, he needs someone to remind him who he is, and to give him a reason to fight.

love-and-war-2

This story represents a major turning point for the New Adventures: the departure of the final classic series companion. We’ve had hints for some time that Ace would leave the Doctor (and it’s been common knowledge among fans for a few decades, of course), including a false start at the end of Nightshade; here, she goes through with it. It happens predictably but spectacularly; we’ve known for some time that Ace’s one problem with the Doctor is the way that he manipulates people for his own purposes as Time’s Champion. Here, it finally costs her the life of someone dear to her, and it overwhelms her, leading her to erupt at the Doctor at the end of the book. She’s lost people before, of course, but never with the significance seen here, and it leaves a mark from which she will be a long time recovering. I like Ace—I always have—and I hate to see her go; but given that it had to happen eventually, I can’t think of a more appropriate way for it to happen. Note that I don’t call it a good way; it’s not good, but it’s appropriate, in that only something so terrible would be enough to truly break the bond between Ace and the Doctor.

Bernice Summerfield’s arrival is just as portentous in its own way. She won’t be with him for the duration of the New Adventures—there are other companions to come—but Benny, as she calls herself, will accomplish something that no one else could manage: She will become the star of the show. Specifically, when Virgin Books lost the license to produce stories featuring the Doctor, they chose to continue the New Adventures in modified form, with Bernice as the main character. This will eventually lead into her extensive role in Big Finish’s books and audio dramas, with Bernice’s stories actually preceding the Doctor’s at Big Finish. At the moment I don’t intend to include Bernice’s books in this series of New Adventures reviews; I intend to stop with Lance Parkin’s The Dying Days, the final VNA to feature the Doctor, before switching to another series of books. However, I may at some point continue with Bernice’s novels as well.

This is the first book to make the concept of Time’s Champion explicit. Here, Death is personified as an Eternal (a concept first introduced back in Enlightenment), and later books will establish that Time is also an Eternal; Death makes a reference here to the Doctor being Time’s Champion, its chosen representative. It’s in this role that he carries out his campaign against the various evils of the universe, but it’s also this role that sometimes requires him to sacrifice the few for the sake of the many. Ace has been with him in this until now—she is referred to as the steward of Time’s Champion—but she can’t bear it anymore. The Doctor, for his part, is sorry to let her go, and even tries to make it up to her; but in the end, he fails at this last task. His chesslike manipulative skills are in full force here; we even get an indication that an unspecified future incarnation still plays the game, as some future version leaves a note for the seventh Doctor.

The Travellers are not your ordinary supporting characters. They’re inspired by—or are direct descendants of—what in America we would call Gypsies; I’m not sure what the preferred term would be in Europe, but I don’t mean any disrespect if I get it wrong here. There’s a larger group that appears in the background, but there are four major characters. Jan, Ace’s love interest, is exactly the type of firebrand that would attract her; he’s flamboyant, loyal, and driven, unlike her last love interest, Nightshade’s Robin Yeadon. (I never understood how the meek, bookish Robin managed to catch Ace’s eye; and apparently the Doctor felt the same, as he essentially forced Ace away from Robin, although I’ve seen hints that this will be significant for other reasons in the future.) Christopher, the group’s priest, is a mystical figure of sorts, which isn’t particularly unusual; but he continually turns up in unexpected places, with surprising abilities. In any other story, that would serve as a sort of deus ex machina; but here, it plays very well. Máire is the group’s priestess, and has the smallest of the four major roles; but she’s interesting for being on the end of Jan’s string of relationships here, as she is Roisa’s other lover; she’s a bit jealous, of course, but in the end her relationship drama plays into her role in the story’s resolution. She and Ace are on opposite ends of this string of relationships, and in the end, they find some solidarity in that fact, with both Jan and Roisa dead (which I think is not a particularly large spoiler, given that most people die in the average Doctor Who story). Roisa is in the middle of it all, and conceals a deadly secret for most of the story; she’s perhaps the most sad and tragic figure among the Travellers, and what’s worse is that she knows it—but still tries to save everyone around her.

Other supporting characters don’t figure as prominently. Miller, the imperial security lead, is decent, but has a fairly minimal role. Benny’s fellow archaeologists are essentially stock characters (though one of them is conspicuously named for Doctor Who author Paul Magrs; I wonder what the story is behind that).The librarian, Trench, is the same kind of nervous, cloistered, elderly academic that we’ve seen dozens of times; for a good comparison, see The Genocide Machine. Phaedrus is interesting, but horrifying, given his obsession with death; even when we get an explanation for it, it’s still depressing.

References: The Draconians and their war with Earth—and the subsequent Dalek wars—was first mentioned as far back as Frontier in Space. The Draconians in this book give us the first instance of the Doctor being called “The Oncoming Storm”, which features in the revived television series beginning with The Parting of the Ways. The fungal Hoothi aliens—the villains of this story—were first referenced in The Brain of Morbius, though without the extensive description given here. Abslom Daak is mentioned here by Máire, who is also a (former) Dalek Killer like Daak; he first appeared in the comic Abslom Daak…Dalek Killer. IMC, the Interplanetary Mining Corporation, has a presence on Heaven, and appears first in Colony in Space. The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe met Benny prior to this in The 100 Days of the Doctor (which had not been written yet, thus explaining behind the scenes why it’s not referenced here), although for Benny this is the first meeting; hence the Doctor doesn’t mention it to her. The Doctor refers again to Harry Houdini (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Smoke and Mirrors, other offscreen stories). The Doctor again reminisces about leaving Susan on Earth (The Dalek Invasion of Earth). Death comments that the Seventh Doctor, while as yet not regenerated, caused the death of the Sixth Doctor so that he could become Time’s Champion (Time and the Rani); however, as this occurs in Ace’s dream, it’s debatable whether it’s correct. There are a number of things in this story, as well, which will be picked up again in future stories, but I’ll leave those for when we get there, for the sake of spoilers.

This book is very nearly as good as Nightshade, in my opinion. If I have any complaint, it is this: Ace is still hung up on her past with her mother. While it’s completely believable that she would have this issue, several stories have had her resolving it. She’s grown so much in so many ways, but in this one area, she seems to be stuck in limbo indefinitely. It’s become repetitive over several stories, and stretches belief. The same could be said for the Doctor’s memories of Susan; several books in the nine we’ve read so far have had him obsessing over her to the point of delusion, and though he resolves it in every instance, each successive book seems to reset him to the starting point. I suspect that this is a product of the manner in which the books were commissioned and written by varying authors, who all worked from the same basic set of points; I imagine that each author had to submit his or her manuscript before the preceding book became available, and therefore had to wing it as far as such details were concerned. Still, it may be that we’ll get a shift in focus along with the change in companions.

love-and-war-3

Next time: We join the Doctor and Benny on twenty-second century Earth in Transit! See you there.

Although most of the Virgin New Adventures are now out of print, and therefore are difficult to locate with reliability, this novel (among several others) was adapted to audio drama format by Big Finish Productions, and may be purchased at the link below.

Love and War

Previous

Next

Novel Review: Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we’re reading the final volume in the Cat’s Cradle trilogy and seventh Virgin New Adventures (VNA) entry, Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark. Written by Andrew Hunt and published in June 1992, this novel features the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

witch-mark-1

The recent damage to the TARDIS has spread, and the time capsule is dying.  To live, its link to the Eye of Harmony on Gallifrey must be restored, and to that end, it needs an adaptable organic material that it can mold to its purposes.  It takes the Doctor and Ace to 1992 Wales, to the town of Llanfer Ceiriog, where the Doctor has old friends, Hugh and Janet.  The local couple takes them in for rest and recovery…but strange happenings are afoot.  Local veterinarian Stuart Taylor is called to help deliver a foal, but finds a strange, severed horn—is the horse really a unicorn?  An old local called Old Davy is aware of something strange coming, but what?  A new community has appeared in London, composed of strange, secretive people with no known identities—and a busload of them have met their deaths in a crash, all dressed the same, all without identification, all carrying briefcases full of money, and some of them bearing strange triangular birthmarks on their necks.  Inspector Graham Stevens, the only member of Scotland Yard’s Paranormal Investigations team, is on the case—and the bus’s owner, one Selwyn Hughes, who died in the crash, is a resident of Llanfer Ceiriog…

The Doctor and Ace locate a strange stone circle.  It is located in a ruined old village called Dinorben, on land owned by Emrys Hughes, the brother of the deceased Selwyn.  Hughes is a surly old man, and threatens them, forcing them to return secretly later…and Ace stumbles through the circle’s gate, dragging the Doctor with her—into another world.

The mystical world of Tír na n-Óg is also dying.  It is inhabited by five races—humans, the Firbolg centaurs, the troll-like Fomoir, the hobbit-like (and fox-like) Sidhe, and the Ceffyl, or unicorns.  Once its sky carried two suns: the bright, lifegiving yellow of Dagda’s Wheel, and the dim red of Arawn’s Wheel.  Now, Dagda’s wheel has vanished, and the land grows cold and inhospitable.  Goibhnie, the world’s one-time benefactor, has turned evil, and has unleashed demons to lay waste to the five races.  The humans, with their fortress valley of Dinorben enclosing a stone circle, mean to escape through the circle’s gateway to the mythical world of Earth, from whence their forefathers came.  In forming this plan, they have abandoned their allies in the other four races, fearing that the presence of the other races on Earth will expose them and bring their doom; and now they find themselves in a standoff with their former allies at the walls of Dinorben.  The Doctor and Ace find themselves in this strange world via the stone circle, where they are quickly taken captive.  At the decision of the humans’ ruling council, the Tuatha de Danaan, they are sentenced to travel across the land to find Goibhnie and try to restore his sanity as well as Dagda’s Wheel—a mission of certain suicide, but their only option.

Llanfair Ceiriog has other guests as well.  An American student, David Gibson, once visited the village in his childhood; now he has returned, with his friend Jack, for a vacation.  Tramping around in the woods, David and Jack find something shocking: a centaur, wounded and dying, lying by a stream.  Jack goes for the village vet, leaving David behind; he does not find the vet, but instead encounters the village constable, also by the last name of Hughes.  Returning to the site, Hughes sets fire to the dying centaur, and drives Jack and David away.  Enraged, they attempt to file a report, but are unsuccessful.  Meanwhile, Stevens has his own unsuccessful encounter with Constable Hughes; as well, he has had a tip from the vet, Stuart Taylor, about the unicorn—but the vet is missing.  Elsewhere, the Doctor and Ace return to Hugh and Janet’s farmhouse, but something is wrong—and in the night, Hugh and Janet find that they are not who they seem at all.  Instead, they are monsters, who possess Janet and Hugh.

The Doctor and Ace begin their journey.  They first encounter an army of Firbolg, the centaur people, but are allowed to pass when their errand is established.  They find a human child with a crippled arm, named Bathsheba, who tells them of the death of her family and the devastation that has come on the land; they take her along with them.  They encounter a strange being named Herne in the forest, who seems to know some of the future, and apologizes for things he will soon do to the Doctor.  They are captured by a band of Sidhe, but are freed when the Sidhe themselves are attacked.  They are again attacked, this time by one of the demons that roam the land; a human chieftain named Chulainn rescues them.  Chulainn explains that he is gathering human survivors to go to the safety of Dinorben to join the evacuation.  At the Doctor’s request, he agrees to take Ace and Bathsheba with him, and the Doctor slips away to continue the quest.  However, Bathsheba follows him, and by the time he discovers her, he is too far away to turn her back.  Ace doesn’t take abandonment well, and leaves to go after the Doctor, forcing Chulainn to chase her down.  While he is away, the camp is attacked by demons, and everyone is slaughtered, including Chulainn’s wife and unborn child.  Grieving, he burns the bodies of the humans, but not those few with a triangular birthmark on their neck; those, he says, are witches, who betrayed the humans.  Leaving for Dinorben, they are intercepted by a unicorn named Bat, who forges a telepathic bond with Ace.  Chulainn sees only an enemy; but Ace sees an ally, and chooses to leave with Bat.  She meets Herne as they travel; he appears to be dying, but his body has a strange effect—it radiates anti-chronons, causing anyone close by to age backward.  It was he who attacked the Sidhe camp, allowing them to escape.  Ace joins the Ceffyl herd, and they agree to travel back to Dinorben and attempt to escape to Earth, where they will try to obtain help in repelling the demons and restoring Tír na n-Óg.  Ace uses her Nitro-9 to blow a hole in Dinorben’s wall, and the unicorns charge the stone circle, aiming for the gateway to Earth.

David and Jack camp in a field for the night, but are awakened by figures in robes, who take David away in a van.  Jack runs into the road and is nearly run over; fortunately, it is Inspector Stephens whom he has encountered.  After a hurried explanation, Stephens and Jack chase down the van, but lose sight of it long enough for the occupants to escape.  They return to the village, and, with no options, call it a night.  In the morning, they go in search of clues, and Jack shows him the site where the centaur was burned…and the smell of smoke leads them to a clearing where the robed figures are about to burn David to death.  They disperse the group, and free David, who tells them that the figures were going to kill him due to a birthmark on his death—the same mark that the witches in Tír na n-Óg bear, though David does not know it.  They confront Constable Hughes, who takes David’s statement, but is no help—but Stephens notices a white robe in the constable’s house.  Following more details of David’s story, they visit Emrys Hughes at home; they are all stunned when Ace and the Ceffyl pour out of the nearby stone circle and charge the area.  However, they are captured by pursuing soldiers from Dinorben, who begin to cut the horns off the Ceffyl, reducing them to ordinary horses; and Emrys and the soldiers force the humans through the gate to Dinorben.  There they are met by the just-arrived Chulainn, who accuses Ace of working with the witches—but at that moment, Ace’s link to Bat is broken as the unicorn’s horn is severed, incapacitating her.

The Doctor and Bathsheba have encountered more Firbolg, led by a charismatic unicorn named Daffyr.  Daffyr has an unexpected guest: the human veterinarian, Stuart Taylor.  Taylor explains that he had been under some strange influence after finding the unicorn horn; and after contacting Inspector Stephens, he had been compelled to drive his car through the gate at the stone circle, where he was captured at Dinorben.  When the spell broke, he was sent out to find Goibhnie—and he ended up here.  The Doctor plans to use Taylor’s vehicle to complete the quest—but in the meantime, Daffyr has made an enormous accomplishment: he has slain a dragon, and now there will be a feast.  The Doctor determines the dragon is bio-mechanical, living flesh over an artificial frame; he takes its positronic brain.  He combines the brain with Taylor’s car radio to create a transmitter, and signals Goibhnie, whom he has begun to suspect is more alien than supernatural.  They are attacked by demons, and the car is destroyed; but Goibhnie arrives in a saucerlike aircraft, and rescues Taylor, Bathsheba, and the Doctor, and takes them to his island stronghold.  He is revealed to be a long-lived Troifran scientist; he created this world’s populations by genetic engineering, using DNA from humans and other terrestrial creatures combined with a protoplasmic organic material.  Herne, incidentally, was a strange and unexpected mutation.  It was all intended to be a long-term social experiment; but now it has ended, and the artificial sun he created—Dagda’s Wheel—has exhausted its fuel supply and gone dark.  Viewing the inhabitants as just experimental data, he is preparing to depart the world and return home with his results.  However, the Doctor reveals that his failed experiments—the demons—have escaped containment and have begun to ravage the land.  He is unable to appeal to Goibhnie’s morality; but when he frames it as an opportunity to extend the experiment to long-term, independent results, Goibhnie reconsiders, and agrees to refuel Dagda’s Wheel and recover the demons before leaving.  He reactivates the artificial sun, and then takes the Doctor and the others in his aircraft to Dinorben to intercept the demons, which are now assembling en masse—but why are they suddenly doing so?

Ace finds the answer when the sun returns.  The Tuatha leader, Dryfid, quickly seizes the opportunity to make peace with the other races and assemble to battle the demons, allowing the races into Dinorben.  However, the Tuatha de Danaan military commander, General Nuada, is behaving strangely; and Ace discovers he secretly bears the witch mark.  It is he who is coordinating the demons, intending to let them through the gate; and when they have slaughtered all of Dinorben, they will invade Earth, and find new hunting grounds there.  He confronts and captures Ace, but is in turn confronted by David and Jack—and to everyone’s shock, including his own, David is revealed to be a demon himself.  He was only human once, but as a child, he was possessed and transformed at Llanfair Ceiriog, resulting in the witch mark on his neck.  Nuada and David transform into monstrous forms, and go to the gates to let the demons in, dragging Ace and Jack with them.

The Doctor, Taylor, Bathsheba, and Goibhnie arrive, and begin organizing a final plan.  The will relocate the stone gateway—the transmat—to the gates, and Goibhnie will reprogram it to terminate at the containment unit near his island; the demons, pushing through, will be transported there. But first there is Nuada to deal with; and Goibhnie and Taylor go to stop him.  He mortally wounds Goibhnie, but David, struggling to hold onto himself, transforms fully and kills Nuada.  He returns to human form and collapses; the Doctor saves him from the vengeful Tuatha.  Goibhnie is dying; but he gives the Doctor the power pack from his breathing unit to reactivate the gateway, then dies.  The Doctor does so, but is unable to program it for the containment unit; instead, he redirects it into Dagda’s Wheel, where the demons will burn and provide more fuel for the artificial sun.  Soon the battle is over, and Tír na n-Óg has two more millennia to live.

All is nearly over, but not quite.  Dryfid adopts the homeless Bathsheba.  The Tuatha will destroy the gate, preventing any further temptation to return to Earth; Ace provides them with Nitro-9 for use in destroying it after she and the others depart.  However, before they can leave, the dying Herne joins them, and the Doctor determines to save him if he can—after all, only the Doctor can endure the anti-chronons he emits.  The Doctor threatens the demonic protoplasm in David with fire, forcing it to escape, where the Doctor collects it; David is now free of his possession.  They exit through the gate, which is promptly destroyed.  On Earth, they find that some of the unicorns survived; and as their horns were inexpertly removed, they will grow back eventually.  The Doctor contacts UNIT to enlist help in ensuring the unicorns’ safety.  The Doctor collects Old Davy on the way to the TARDIS, enlisting the man to help carry Herne—but he realizes the two have a connection already.  Inside the TARDIS, Old Davy and Herne merge into one; from Herne’s perspective it is death, but from Davy’s it is a new existence.  The joined creature vanishes, leaving a mass of the organic protoplasm—and the silver cat manifestation of the TARDIS appears, and begins using the protoplasm to heal the TARDIS’s link to the Eye of Harmony.  As the TARDIS is restored, the cat shuts down…but unknown to the Doctor, a speck of protoplasm from one of the demons has contaminated the mixture.  There will be consequences.

warhead-3

It’s always a mixed bag when Doctor Who delves into the supernatural. Sometimes it turns out well, and we end up with stories like The Daemons or The Spectre of Lanyon Moore. Other times, it goes badly, and we get The Vampires of Venice (apologies to anyone who likes that story; I personally don’t). Once in awhile, it’s just average, and we get Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark. I expected worse, to be honest; I had done some research that indicated the story is terrible. It isn’t a bad story, but it suffers from bad writing. Plot threads are left hanging; notably, the Doctor and Ace are impersonated by demons at one point, but we never find out what happens to them (I know from research that they will appear in a later book, but at this point it’s very awkward). The prose can be clunky, and the dialogue stiff—more so, even, than one would expect from a story set in a pseudo-medieval world. It takes a long time for the disparate threads of the story to begin to weave together. The story has a bit of a split personality; the scenes in the Welsh village of Llanfair Ceiriog, with American tourists David and Jack and Scotland Yard Inspector Stephens, want very much to be a mystery, while the Doctor’s and Ace’s adventure in Tír na n-Óg is clearly a quest story.

With all that said, it’s still a fairly clever story. In true and classic Doctor Who fashion, it takes the various elements of fantasy—unicorns, centaurs, trolls, hobbits, even werewolves and demons—and gives them a scientific explanation, although not until late in the book. Also in true DW fashion, we get an alien with a clearly non-human perspective—Goibhnie, who is the precipitating cause of the story’s events—who eventually has to grow beyond his own limited perspective. We get some good, sympathetic characters, both human and non-human. The Doctor is in his element, neither coldly manipulative nor mopey and depressive (we’ll save that for the next book, as I understand). It’s certainly an enjoyable read, for those reasons and more.

Ace is a bit of a surprise here. She’s more like the immature Ace of her early television appearances, rather than the mature, measured version of her we’ve grown accustomed to. It was a timely observation, as last week I reviewed the audio drama Dust Breeding, which is similarly retrograde with regard to Ace’s character. I like the more mature version; I don’t mind teenage Ace in her proper place in the timeline, but she’s grown beyond that by now. It wouldn’t be so glaring, if we hadn’t just come from Cat’s Cradle: Warhead, where she’s able to smoothly travel internationally, hire foreign mercenaries, facilitate the breaking and entering of a well-secured building…here, she spends most of her time making angry retorts, and that’s unfortunate.

It’s hard to view Cat’s Cradle as a true trilogy. The Timewyrm tetralogy had the machinations of the Timewyrm to tie it together, and though they were sometimes in the background, they were always present. Cat’s Cradle does have some binding elements; there’s the progressive damage to the TARDIS, begun by its collision with the Time Scaphe in the first book; and there’s the silver cat manifestation of it (here finally given a name, Lynx). Sometimes, though, those elements are so far in the background that they may as well not be present. It’s especially egregious here; give the Doctor any other reason for landing in Llanfair Ceiriog, and the rest of the story could have proceeded entirely unchanged. Those few elements are wrapped up at the end (though with a hint that there is still a problem with the TARDIS yet to be resolved), but it feels tacked on. It will be interesting to see what a standalone VNA novel is like, beginning with the next book.

Continuity references here are mostly to other Seventh Doctor stories, though with a few exceptions. The most obvious is the biomechanical dragon that is slain late in the story; the Doctor compares it to the titular dragon from Dragonfire. He also mentions King Arthur to Ace, referring to Battlefield, and mentions his visit to Wales with Mel in Delta and the Bannermen (his local friends Hugh and Janet have met Mel as well, and it is unclear if it is in connection with that story). Ace is still feeling some lingering effect from the Cheetah virus (Survival), and uses it to her advantage, while thinking about her adventures on the Cheetah planet. She mentions going to 1963 (Remembrance of the Daleks), and remembers the Haemovores (The Curse of Fenric). The Doctor also mentions once being nearly killed by a spider (Planet of the Spiders; there’s another such situation in UNIT: Dominion, but that story had not been released yet, and should also come after this in the Doctor’s timeline). The Doctor mentions his respiratory bypass system (Pyramids of Mars). Block Transfer Computations, the fundamental “stuff” of the TARDIS, were first described and explored in Logopolis. The Brigadier and UNIT get a mention near the end. I read that Ace’s early reference to a “recently-used” workshop in the TARDIS was intended to be a reference to The Invasion of Time, with time flowing differently inside the TARDIS, but take that as you like; I haven’t located an original source for that.

One final thought: This story is informative in one area, less for what it says than for what it doesn’t. The Doctor comes to Wales (with some direction from the TARDIS) in search of morphologically-unstable organic material to use in repairing the TARDIS’s link to the Eye of Harmony on Gallifrey. Without this, the TARDIS will die. However, let’s ask the obvious question: Why not just go to Gallifrey for that? Surely the Time Lords can repair a TARDIS, if they can build one. The Doctor has a habit of seeking elsewhere assistance that he could much more easily get at home—we’ve seen it ever since Logopolis, when he went to the Logopolitans for help with the chameleon circuit. (Honestly we’ve seen it all the way back to the First Doctor with the fluid links, but we can forgive him—he was on the run.) At this point, there’s no indication that he’s at odds with the Time Lords; the last time he dealt with them onscreen, it ended well enough, given that he overturned the high council and installed a leader that was sympathetic to him (Trial of a Time Lord). (I’m deliberately ignoring any audios, comics, or Past Doctor Adventures books for a moment, as they wouldn’t have been written yet to influence this story.) Is he just habitually distrustful of them at this point? Is it possessiveness toward his TARDIS, in that he wouldn’t want other Time Lords inside it? Or is he just stubborn? The world may never know; but having read Lungbarrow, in which he returns to Gallifrey in dramatic fashion, I wonder if keeping him away for now was intentional on the part of the writers, to build toward that story. We’ll learn more as we progress through the series, perhaps.

witch-mark-2

Next time:  Nightshade, by Mark Gatiss!  See you there.

Previous

Next

Novel Review: Cat’s Cradle: Warhead

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we’re continuing the Virgin New Adventures series (VNAs) with the second entry in the Cat’s Cradle trilogy:  Cat’s Cradle: Warhead.  Written by former script editor Andrew Cartmel, this entry was published in April 1992. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this book!

warhead-1

I’m going to find it difficult to give this story in the order in which the book presents it and still be reasonably brief, so I may skip around.

In the mid-21st century, Earth’s environmental concerns have grown drastically more severe. Soon, they will reach the point of no return. Already, simply breathing the air in a major city can be deadly, and the countryside is not much safer. Everyone has their part in it, but the mega-corporations are most at fault; and only they have the ability to act on a scale large enough to halt the devastation. But one group, the Butler Institute, has other, more sinister plans.

Outside a Butler-owned construction site in the mountains near New York, a young boy tries to destroy a camera on the fringe of the site so that he can play in the woods again. The Doctor makes a slingshot for him to destroy the camera—a symbolic gesture, but a sign of things to come.

Ace’s childhood friend, Shreela, is dying, her body poisoned by the foul air. She has spent her life as a journalist, specializing in scientific topics. The Doctor comes to her with one last article to publish, and it is a very strange one…but she owes him her life, and she is willing to help him one last time.

In New York City, a policeman named McIlveen is shot and killed by Butler Institute operatives. His body is collected and taken to the Institute’s headquarters at the King Building, leaving his partner, Mancuso, to pick up the pieces. The Doctor is also at the King Building, where he befriends a sick and dying housekeeper named Maria, and gets her to commit one last act of rebellion against the company that both employed and poisoned her: she opens the computers for him to access, allowing him to break into the mainframes and gather information.

An old predator named Bobby Prescott once fought and failed to save a library in a riot. Jaded by his experiences, he now targets and kills the child gang members whom he blames for the riots. But, months ago, something terrifying happened to him in the drugstore across the street from the ruined library. The Doctor forces him to reveal his secrets, which concern something vital in a drum in Turkey…and summons the gangs that have hunted Bobby even as he hunted them.

O’Hara, the founder of the Butler Institute, is spearheading its secret project, and looking for people he can trust to help him. He secretly pits two employees, Stephanie and Mulwray, from his Biostock division—which kidnaps people to harvest their organs for the rich and powerful—against each other; when they prove their loyalty, he promotes them to his team. His plan is to go live with a process he has developed, which transfers living minds into computers—making them functionally immortal, but killing the body in the process. He plans to submit his own son, eight-year-old Patrick, to the process while it is in the testing phase. The construction site is a massive bunker which will house the computerized minds of thousands, rendering the dying environment irrelevant. Stephanie throws herself in wholeheartedly, but Mulwray is disgusted—but he can’t back out now. Seemingly unrelated, O’Hara has also noted and read the article planted by Shreela, which led him to institute a new protocol for acquisitions in the Biostock division.

Ace is in Turkey, doing something she never imagined: hiring mercenaries. With the help of an old friend of the Doctor, she succeeds, though not without embarrassing the group’s leader, Massoud. The night before their operation begins, he tries and fails to kill her, and she is forced to drive him away. With the rest of the group, they attack a small outpost, which is manned by four teenage boys with weapons. They are guarding the drum to which Bobby Prescott referred; Ace has it shipped back to the England. Leaving, she is attacked again by Massoud, and is forced to kill him. She connects with the Doctor at the airport, and they return to his house in Kent, where the TARDIS is sleeping in the basement.

Inside the drum is a teenage boy, Vincent Wheaton, in suspended animation. His story—as revealed in flashback as he awakens—is dramatic. He has the frightening ability to unlock the emotions of anyone he touches; if they are negative, they are converted into a wild power that can manifest in many ways. As a child, he attacked his abusive father with a mirror without touching it; as a teenager, he was accosted by Bobby Prescott and a few others in a drugstore back lot, where he transformed a bicycle into a monstrosity that killed all the adults except Bobby, who escaped. One of the boys who had been guarding the drum, Calvin, was present and witnessed the incident; it was he and his three friends who decided Vincent was a monster, and captured him. They sealed him in the drum, relocated him to the beach in Turkey, and buried him there, then guarded him for several months.

While he recovers, the Doctor and Ace meet another new arrival: a girl of similar age to Vincent, named Justine, who breaks into the house. The Doctor arranged this as well, having planted magazine articles that led her here. She is a spiritist of sorts, believing in witchcraft, other planes, and the like. As well, she was traumatized as a child when her best friend was struck by a car and killed; the incident twisted her thinking to a radical form of eco-awareness, in which she blames vehicles and industrialization for all the world’s problems. But this makes her just the kind of person the Doctor needs… In the house, she finds and touches Vincent, and unwittingly unleashes his power, causing two of the cars in the Doctor’s garage to explode. Together, they constitute a weapon of considerable power—but the Doctor doesn’t anticipate that she will rapidly fall in love with Vincent.

The four of them travel to New York. Justine drugs Vincent, and ensures that the Butler Institute’s Biostock department will find him and collect him—but, once inside, due to O’Hara’s new collection protocol, Vincent’s bio-markers trip an alert, and he is sent to O’Hara’s home at the construction site. The Doctor takes Ace and Justine to a drugstore which is being robbed—possibly at the Doctor’s design. He has arranged for Mancuso and her new partner to respond; and Mancuso is testing a new weapon from R&D, which has been secretly fed to the police by the Institute. She finds that the thieves have a hovercraft for removing their stolen goods; she crashes it, blocking their escape, before she and Breen—her partner—finish off the criminals. She finds that the gun has a life of its own, literally, when it saves her life. While this is happening, Justine takes a capsule that appears to kill her, alarming the Doctor—not because she is dead, but because it’s too soon. She had another role to play, and now Ace must do it, by letting herself be arrested.

The Institute has made a double deal with the corrupt police department. The Biostock department gets the pick of the holding cells; as well, they obtain any bodies from crime scenes. Justine is taken in the latter manner, and Ace in the former; but before Stephanie and Mulwray can remove Ace, Breen intervenes and stops them, and sends Ace to Mancuso. Mancuso is at the R&D department, getting a sympathetic researcher, Peterson, to look at her new gun. The Doctor arrives shortly before Ace, and demonstrates that the gun really is alive in a sense; its control chip contains the mind of Mancuso’s dead partner, McIlveen. Convinced, she agrees to help the Doctor stop the Institute.

Justine was supposed to infiltrate the King Building and let the others in; her pill only simulates death for a time. However, because she took it too early, the team needs a new plan; and Mancuso provides it. She drives the crashed hovercraft from the crime scene through the gates and the front doors. They quickly rescue Justine, then—with the McIlveen chip as a pilot—they steal a helicopter and head to the construction site. O’Hara has just killed his wife, who could not accept what he had done to Patrick. Mancuso goes into the house to get Vincent, but is waylaid and shot three times by Stephanie, O’Hara, and—unwillingly—Mulwray, as O’Hara had anticipated the plot. They get the drop on the Doctor’s group. Mulwray snaps and lashes out at O’Hara, but is killed; but this allows Vincent to make contact with Justine. However, she is overwhelmed to have him back, and all her pent-up rage evaporates, leaving him with no ammunition, as it were. O’Hara tackles the boy—and finds out the hard way that it’s not only Justine who can trigger his power, as years of coldness and hatred and disgust pour out of him and through Vincent in a wave of destruction that obliterates the entire construction site. O’Hara is killed in the blast, as is Stephanie.

The mega-corporations that were previously backing the Butler Institute now find themselves scrambling to salvage something. They are forced to turn to efforts at a global cleanup, which will take years, but can ultimately prove profitable. Mancuso is still alive, and the Doctor hooks her to a life support system—and when the control unit says her injuries are too severe, he wires in McIlveen’s chip, which is more determined to save her life. Justine and Vincent are free to be together, but his power is gone; but as the weapon they constituted has served his purpose, all’s well that ends well.

warhead-3

This book is grim in so many ways. It’s enjoyable, certainly, but it’s dark in a way that we rarely get to see onscreen even in the modern era. People die all the time in Doctor Who stories, but here, it’s on a personal and invasive level that few stories seem to match. There’s a lot of violence even beyond the deaths; Ace gets beaten up at least three times, possibly more, for example. In addition, humanity doesn’t look so good here, at least not at more privileged levels—the destruction of the environment here can’t be played up enough. It’s a timely story in the real world, as the climate change debate continues to grow; and it’s timely for me in terms of these reviews as well. Yesterday I reviewed the audio drama Loups-Garoux, which is set a few decades after this story in the year 2080; in that story, the Amazon basin has become a vast desert, and temperatures are unpredictable. It’s serendipitous to see these otherwise-unrelated stories dovetail in this way, but it’s a bit disturbing when compared to the real world.

It’s very unclear at this point how this story fits in with the previous story. They constitute the first two parts of the Cat’s Cradle trilogy, and this one seems to follow shortly after Time’s Crucible; but it bears very little connection otherwise. It’s implied here that the TARDIS is still recovering from the damage it took in that book, and indeed, the Doctor doesn’t push the machine too hard; he uses it occasionally, but he also travels by car, taxi, plane, and foot. There are no interior scenes of the TARDIS here. I am interested to see how the final volume of the trilogy ties things together, because I’m not seeing it right now. Interestingly, this book—while being part two of the Cat’s Cradle trilogy—starts a trilogy of its own, the “War Trilogy”, consisting of Warhead, Warlock, and Warchild. Those books are not consecutive in the overall VNA series, however, and we’ll discuss them as we get to them.

The Doctor’s house on Allen Road in Kent is not original to this story—it originated in the comic story Fellow Travellers, and will appear again in the novel Transit. Purchased with his UNIT pay during his third incarnation, it’s not the only house he ever owns; his fourth incarnation also owns Nest Cottage (Hornet’s Nest, Demon Quest, Serpent’s Crest). He owns several vehicles, but Bessie doesn’t seem to be one of them; that’s appropriate, since Battlefield makes it clear that he left it in UNIT’s possession, and it may not even still exist this far in the future. UNIT certainly gets no mention here, and also may not still exist.

One plot point in particular stuck out to me as especially unbelievable, and I have to mention it. There’s no real explanation for the teenage boys who capture Vincent and put him in the barrel and transport him to Turkey. Their stated reason for doing it is that they consider Vincent a monster; so, why not just dispose of him in some way? (Perhaps they wouldn’t kill him, but I can see them ambushing him and beating him, or trying to get him arrested, etc.) Why go to the trouble of putting him in suspended animation? Why Turkey? How did they get there (with a drummed kid in tow)? Did no one notice them missing? What was their end game—were they just going to guard him forever? This plan seems insane for four teenagers, or even four adults.

When I discovered O’Hara’s plan, I was convinced this would become a Cybermen story, and honestly, I’m a little disappointed that it didn’t. O’Hara’s motivations are very much in line with those of John Lumic (Cybus Industries); both men want to transcend death and the limitations of the flesh, and evolve the mind. There’s even an old and disabled man who wants the procedure to save himself; here, it’s one of O’Hara’s investors. Still, it’s not a bad ending; and I suppose I can’t complain about an original plot that doesn’t rely on the standard enemies.

It’s often been said that the Seventh Doctor is a manipulator; but his manipulations in previous stories are child’s play compared to what he does here. He masterminds the entire situation from start to finish, and his mistakes are only missteps in the long run. While he doesn’t really manipulate Ace here, he does put her in harm’s way; she doesn’t seem to care anymore, and it’s clear she’s growing stronger on her own. He does allow a number of people to die, and directly engineers the deaths of many of them; there’s none of the Tenth Doctor’s mercy on his enemies here. It’s a frightening and very nearly cruel version of the Doctor, and makes you wonder where he will go from here.

I think that, often, we get into a rut with Doctor Who stories. Certain patterns show up over and over again. You have evil regimes being overthrown, higher-level beings to thwart, crashed spaceships, natural disasters, and of course the Daleks, Cybermen, etc. There’s nothing wrong with all of that—it IS a science fiction show—but even within those confines, there are many types of stories that can be told, and it’s a delight when a story breaks out of the usual mold. This novel is an example of that, because, at its core, it’s a heist story. It’s true that the end goal is not to steal something, but to destroy something—but everything else about the story matches the heist model. The Doctor puts together a team of specialists to break into a secured facility and get access to something he otherwise couldn’t reach…it’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Doctor Who. In that vein, it’s similar to Time Heist; however, Time Heist relied on the plot device of lost memory to conceal the truth from the audience. This story relies instead on the fact that the parts of its plot occur in far-flung, disconnected locations, with individuals who at first appear to have no connection to each other. I couldn’t come up with any other television story that fits this mold, although A Good Man Goes To War is close, as is The Wedding of River Song. For once, as far as television is concerned, we may have seen something new—but the VNAs, as seems to often be the case, did it first, and maybe better.

For all that can be said about it, I highly enjoyed this book. It’s a strong story on its own, moving neither too fast nor too slow, and it doesn’t lean on any crutches from other stories. As a result it can be read and enjoyed even without the surrounding books of the trilogies, and I highly recommend it.

warhead-2

Next week: I’m going to take a one-week break from the VNAs, for a reason that I’ll discuss at that time. As a result, I’m not ready to say just yet what we’ll be covering. In the meantime, on the audio front, we’ll go from Kent to Nest Cottage tomorrow with Demon Quest, part three; and we’ll finish up Destiny of the Doctor on Thursday! See you there.

Previous

Next