Novel Review: Iceberg

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today, we continue catching up on the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs, hereafter) featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice Summerfield. Today we’ll be looking at Iceberg by David Banks, published in September 1993.

Iceberg cover

As I mentioned last time, due to my being a little behind schedule, this and the next several reviews will be a bit shorter than usual, and less involved. I hope you’ll stick around anyway.

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! Given that the books are two and a half decades old, I suspect that won’t be a problem; but at any rate, read at your own risk. And with that, let’s get started!

Here we come to the end of what I informally dubbed the “Holiday Tetralogy”, in which the Doctor wants a vacation. That sounds like such a simple premise; but this is Doctor Who, and of course nothing is that simple. The events of this novel take place at the same subjective time as those of Birthright–that is to say, while Benny and Ace are dealing with the Ch’tizz, the Doctor is on his own adventure in 2006 Earth.

Having split off a portion of the TARDIS into a separate—and alarmingly temporary—craft, the Doctor finds himself aboard the SS Elysium, a new and elaborate passenger liner on a voyage through the Antarctic seas. At the same time, the world is facing a crisis, as its magnetic field is about to reverse itself. Fortunately, there’s a plan! At an Antarctic base—one that is distantly familiar to the Doctor—a team works to assemble a machine that will, in the critical moment, reverse the reversal, and set the magnetic field back to its normal alignment. Unfortunately, no one imagined that under the ice waits a force of silver giants: Cybermen, with a plan to take over the planet. Now, undercover journalist Ruby Duvall must join this strange little man in stopping the plans of the Cybermen…and oh yes, saving the world from a natural disaster as well. All in a day’s work, right?


 

When I describe it the way I did in that summary, it sounds incredibly clichéd. I had some doubts when I read the cover blurb; but I was pleased to see it didn’t work out that way in practice. The story is engaging; and I have to say that it was refreshing to have a story that didn’t focus on the terrible relationships among the TARDIS crew. In NuWho terms we would call this a companion-lite story; ultimately I think it’s most reminiscent of the Tenth Doctor special Voyage of the Damned. The Seventh Doctor works best when he isn’t brooding all the time, and Ace and Benny (or maybe it’s just Ace; it doesn’t seem to happen as much without her) seem to bring out the brooding in him. Here, it’s clear throughout the story that, regardless of how dire the situation may be, he’s enjoying himself. So, maybe the holiday situation worked out in the end?

The comparison to Voyage of the Damned also works in relation to the companion of the day, Ruby Duvall. (She does, momentarily, travel in the TARDIS; but still, I wouldn’t call her a regular companion.) Ruby is very similar to Astrid Peth from Voyage in terms of personality; perhaps a little more world-weary, as she has a more varied set of life experiences than Astrid, but with the same eagerness to get involved. Like Astrid, she too wants to leave with the Doctor, but doesn’t get the chance, even though he is willing to take her. (Fortunately, it’s not through death that she misses her chance—Ruby lives to tell the tale, literally, as she dictates the final chapter of the book.) She follows a familiar pattern; many of the Doctor’s one-off companions seem to fit this template.

The biggest issue I find with this novel is that it contains several threads which never really pay out. Most notable is iceberg-sculpting artist Michael Brack. One would believe, from the first half of the novel, that he is going to be a major figure, with possible ties to the Cybermen—after all, they’ve used human agents many times before. In the end, though, he doesn’t amount to much, and his big secret—while emotionally significant for Ruby Duvall—feels rather tacked on at the end.

It’s worth noting that there’s a theme in the background of the VNAs, regarding the state of the Earth in the 21st century. It’s generally depicted as a hothouse of resource depletion, pollution, and general environmental abuse, largely due to the actions of corporations like the Butler Institute (not pictured here, but prominent in other novels in the series, such as Cat’s Cradle: Warhead). Ten years ago, I would have mused about how quaint the view was; these days, it’s uncomfortably relevant, with the real-world climate change issue. That theme is the backdrop for this novel as well, though it’s shielded a bit by the fact that this story takes place in the Antarctic; it is mentioned prominently in the early chapters and again at the end, but not much in between.

We can’t completely escape the tropes we’ve built up; this book continues the trend of drawing heavily on past (read: televised) stories. Here it’s The Tenth Planet that gets revisited. The Antarctic base is the same one featured in that story; its new commanding officer, US General Pamela Cutler, is the daughter of deceased Brigadier General Cutler, who died in that story. Both stories feature the Cybermen; but the Cybermen here are not from the Mondas situation addressed in The Tenth Planet, but relics of an older invasion attempt in the 1970s (The Invasion). Other continuity references: The Doctor is reminded at one point of his Sixth incarnation’s multicolored coat. His first regeneration (at age 450) is mentioned (The Tenth Planet). International Electromatics is mentioned (The Invasion, et al). Ruby Duvall will reappear in Happy Endings (if we ever get there, that is). The Doctor mistakes Ruby briefly for Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart (Transit). Ruby mentions the Cottingley fairy photos (Small Worlds). Photographer Isobel Watkins and her work are mentioned (Who Killed Kennedy). The Doctor has a vague memory of Daleks connected to a cricket match (The Daleks’ Master Plan). As well, there are many references to previous Cybermen stories, many of which have timeline conflicts that are subject to some efforts at reconciliation.

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Overall: Not bad, and I’d even go so far as to agree with the Discontinuity Guide in calling it underrated. The author is an occasional Classic Series actor, having played a Cyberman on a few occasions, and has a great interest in and detailed knowledge of the Cybermen and their history. It shows, as this book makes them a more visceral enemy than their Classic Series television appearances; there’s more of the body horror that we see in NuWho and Torchwood, where we actually witness transformations in progress. It’s worth it just for that; and it’s a nice break, as well, before we dive back into the mess that is Ace and Benny’s relationship (and the Doctor’s, with both of them).

Next time: We sidestep into an alternate universe in Blood Heat, by Jim Mortimore! See you there.

The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.

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Novel Review: Birthright

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today, we continue catching up on the Virgin New Adventures line (VNAS, hereafter) featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice Summerfield. Today we’ll be looking at Birthright by Nigel Robinson, published in August 1993.

I mentioned last time that I find myself in a combination of conflicting factors. For one, I dropped this line for some time due to burnout, meaning I’m further behind than I meant to be. For another, in the month of September I read a number of VNAs without posting any reviews, meaning I’m now behind on both reading and reviewing. As a result, these reviews (until I’m caught up) will be shorter than usual, less involved. I hope you’ll stick around anyway.

And finally, as always, there will be spoilers ahead! Granted, they’re spoilers for a book that is two and a half decades old, but, read at your own risk. Let’s get started!

Birthright cover

Picking up after the events of Shadowmind, we continue what I have informally dubbed the “holiday tetralogy”, wherein the Doctor really just wants a vacation. I don’t blame him; no one in the current TARDIS crew seems able to get along, nor to work through their own issues, and that includes the Doctor. He’s going to get it, too, whether his companions like it or not.

This book and the next, Iceberg, follow a pattern that ought to be familiar with viewers of the modern series: A “Doctor-lite” story, followed by a “companion-lite” story. The two stories take place at the same time (as much as any time travel story can be described in that way), at least from the perspective of our main characters. Here, we follow Benny for about two-thirds of the novel, and then incorporate Ace’s perspective. After experiencing a catastrophic event in the TARDIS, Benny finds herself stranded in 1909 London, where a serial killer is eviscerating young women. Ace lands on the planet Antykhon in the approximate year 22,000, where she finds humanlike survivors waging a resistance war against the ruling, insectoid Charrl, the reputed most noble race in the universe. There, an old hermit named Muldwych assists the queen of the Charrl in her efforts to transport her race through time to twentieth-century London; and all he needs is a missing piece of the TARDIS. The Doctor, of course, would know what to do—if he could be found.

I mentioned previously that we were embarking on what I consider a lackluster stretch of the VNAs, and that is true. It’s a sequence that highlights several plot and character elements that become so repetitive as to be tropes of the series, especially as relates to the relationship between Benny and Ace. But, in the interest of fairness, I did enjoy this book, once it got going. It, alone of this stretch of entries, tries to subvert some of those tropes; for example, instead of locking Benny up (or otherwise disposing of her) for two-thirds of the story, it puts her in the spotlight, allowing her some much-needed character moments. Of course, the downside is that now Ace is out of the picture; no one seems to be able to do justice to both characters together. We do, unfortunately, continue the trend of catastrophically removing the TARDIS from the story (though it’s not as egregious as what’s going to happen in Blood Heat when we get there!).

I liked the Charrl and their queen, Ch’tizz, as villains, largely because they don’t want to be villains; they feel driven to it by the threat of extinction. Their world, Antykhon (which has its own secrets that I won’t spoil), is a colony world that turned out to be hostile to their form of life; within a few centuries they will be extinct. This, in turn, drives Ch’tizz to strike a bargain with the hermit Muldwych to take them away somewhere safe, in exchange for his own freedom. On the other hand, the point is driven home many times that the Charrl are the most noble, most beautiful, most peaceful, most creative race the universe will ever know—a point which seems unlikely enough, but even the Doctor makes it, in his brief appearance at the end. I could have done without this particular bit of trivia, especially on repeat. The secondary villain, Ch’tizz’s human agent Jared Khan, was much more forgettable; there’s a hint of an interesting backstory involving the Doctor, but little is done with it. He could have been removed from the story with no great impact.

Of much more interest to me is Muldwych the hermit. As this isn’t addressed in this novel, I don’t consider this a spoiler; but other materials make it clear that he is a future incarnation of the Doctor, albeit a very odd once. It seems that he may be the incarnation that earned the “Merlin” moniker in Battlefield (although other incarnations have also been known by that name). Although he has made other, subsequent appearances, which confirm his connection to the Doctor, the wiki indicates that Nigel Robinson did not intend for Muldwych to be Merlin (and therefore presumably not the Doctor either). Indeed, the Doctor interacts with him here, and speaks of him familiarly as though they have met before; this would seem to imply they are not the same, as if he were a future incarnation, the Seventh Doctor should not be able to remember any past encounters with Muldwych. Muldwych is cantankerous, devious, and far less moral than the Doctor, and seems to have developed a strong sense of self-interest; so I’m interested to see how he is portrayed in later entries.

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Continuity References: We’re swimming in them today! It’s still some distance ahead of us, so I’ll go ahead and say that the Charrl and Muldwych will appear again in Happy Endings. Muldwych refers to 699 Wonders of the Universe; the 700th was destroyed in Death to the Daleks. Muldwych quotes the Fifth Doctor on the subject of tea, calling it “a noxious infusion of dried leaves” (The Awakening). Jared Khan, while following the Doctor through several hundred years of Earth history, ends up in the court of Kublai Khan (Marco Polo), and just misses the Doctor at Culloden in 1746 (The Highlanders). Muldwych recommends Madame Bovary to Ace via the Doctor, as a hint toward an as-yet-undefined future related to events of The Curse of Fenric (I admit this one is a stretch for me; I’m pulling that information from the Discontinuity Guide for this story, but I don’t personally know all the links in this chain of events yet). The TARDIS performs a time ram on part of itself, as first described in The Time Monster; this results in the famous Tunguska event, a massive explosion over Siberia. The character of Margaret is an aunt to Victoria Waterfield (The Evil of the Daleks); Ernie Wright, meanwhile, is implied to be Barbara’s grandfather (An Unearthly Child, et al). There is a bank account holding a large amount of money for use by the Doctor’s companions in emergencies; its five co-signatories are Benny, Victoria Waterfield (The Evil of the Daleks), Susan Foreman (An Unearthly Child), Sarah Jane Smith (The Time Warrior), and Melanie Bush (Terror of the Vervoids). And many more: for time’s sake, I’ll quote the Discontinuity Guide:

The Time Vector Generator first appeared in The Wheel in Space. The Cloister Bell rings again (Logopolis). There is a reference to the Seven Planets (The Pit). The Doctor mentions Susan. He has told Bernice, “sleep is for tortoises” (The Talons of Weng-Chiang) and has told Ace about the Wirrn (The Ark in Space). He mentions the Eye of Orion (The Five Doctors). Deaths for which the Doctor is held responsible include Adric’s (Earthshock), Katarina’s and Sara Kingdom’s (The Daleks’ Master Plan), Sorin’s (The Curse of Fenric), Julian’s (Love and War), and Raphael’s (Timewyrm: Apocalypse). There are references to Draconians (Frontier in Space), Hoothi (Love and War), Special Weapons Daleks (Remembrance of the Daleks), Karn and the Elixir of Life (The Brain of Morbius), Mondas (The Tenth Planet), Rassilon, Jan and Heaven (Love and War), Cybermen, Lady Peinforte and Richard (Silver Nemesis), Ace’s trip through a time storm to Svartos (Dragonfire), the Hand of Omega (Remembrance of the Daleks), Vicki, Steven, Nyssa, and Peri.

Overall: I actually wanted to hate this one, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a nice break in the midst of a lot of repetition. Just by nature, the next book will be similar, as it’s hard to have tropes about the companions without the companions. In a very real sense, the two books are halves of a whole. After that it will be back to business as usual for five books at least. Doctor-Lite and Companion-Lite are formats that I hope we see again in the novels.

Next time: We’ll get the rest of the story in Iceberg, by David Banks! See you there.

The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.

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Novel Review: Shadowmind

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today, we’re picking up the lost threads of our tour of the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs, hereafter), the Seventh Doctor novels published between the cancellation of the classic series and the release of the 1996 television movie. When last we met, we looked at the fifteenth (of sixty-one) entries in the series, White Darkness; today we pick up with Shadowmind, by Christopher Bulis, published in July 1993.

Shadowmind cover

I’ll confess to having dropped this series for some time—in fact, I had unintentionally taken a hiatus from all my review efforts (appropriate, given that these books were published while the series was on hiatus). What can I say; I was getting burned out. There’s a wealth of Doctor Who material, and after awhile it begins to be too much to keep track of. But that in no way means my enthusiasm for the series is diminished! And so, here we are, getting back on track (hopefully). I will say, however, that due to time constraints—as I have a number of time-consuming things going on in my offline life right now—these next reviews will be brief, more mini-reviews than full reviews, at least until I’ve caught up with my reading. Still, I hope you’ll stick around.

As usual, there are spoilers ahead (for a twenty-six year old book)! While the reduced size of this entry will preclude a full plot summary, it is really impossible to discuss details of a story without some spoilers. Read at your own risk (but I hope you will anyway). And with that said, let’s get started!

I mentioned last time—a very long time ago—that the previous book started an informal “holiday tetralogy”, in which the Doctor tries, unsuccessfully, to take a vacation, either with or without his companions. Here he continues his efforts, and they seem to be successful…for about five minutes, anyway. Visiting the established colony world of Tairngire in 2673, the Doctor, Bernice, and Ace spend a few minutes wandering peaceful sculpture gardens…before getting caught up in a disaster in progress. They are quickly drafted into the efforts to save Tairngire from an unknown, extraplanetary assailant. It becomes evident that the assault is centered on the nearby world of Arden, a newly-planted colony world that is inhabited by the indigenous Shenn, a race of telepathic squirrel-like creatures that exist in the form of group minds. The Shenn have the ability to create organic duplicates of anyone they choose, and thus have infiltrated Tairngire…but to what end? And who is controlling the Shenn?

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We’re embarking on a lackluster stretch of novels. For some time now, the VNAs have been a bit repetitive; there are certain plot points that get touched upon over and over. Ace (when she’s present) grapples with her time in Spacefleet much as she used to grapple with her family history; she’s a soldier now, and a brutal one at that, which brings her into conflict with both the Doctor and Bernice. Benny often gets kidnapped, tied up, drugged, or otherwise put aside; it sometimes seems that the authors don’t yet know what to do with her. The Doctor is both angsty and mysterious, and never quite puts his cards on the table, even among friends. Something bad happens to the TARDIS (not in every story, but nearly every one). We delve into the Doctor’s past lives. I believe that it wouldn’t have been so obvious to someone reading the VNAs as they released; but here, with the ability to binge-read portions of the series, it’s very plain. Some novels—The Pit and Lucifer Rising come to mind—are downright painful to read. (Apologies if that varies from what I said in the reviews of those novels; I like to be as optimistic as I can, and sometimes it’s only later that the flaws sink in.)

So, with that in mind, I’m pleased to say that Shadowmind is…well, acceptable. It’s neither great nor terrible. It’s good, middle-of-the-road Doctor Who. That’s a bit of a relief after the aforementioned Lucifer Rising; in fact, we’ve now had two decent stories in a row, with White Darkness preceding Shadowmind. I find this novel to be engaging, but a bit long for its material; it’s fun, with only a little of the introspection and navel-gazing of the novels before and after. (Literal navel-gazing in some cases; the Brigadier will use that very phrase in reference to Buddhist meditation in the upcoming No Future.) We get an interesting enemy in the Shenn and their patron, Umbra (I won’t spoil just what Umbra is); we’ve had group minds before, but here they actually have personality, and try to be as human as possible (for the sake of the humans they’re encountering). Ace is still in her struggling ex-soldier phase, but her actions are more sensible here than in some of the upcoming entries; her struggle is on the surface, and she’s trying to get along with the Doctor and Benny. Benny gets a taste of the military life herself, which will also come up again in No Future; she handles it decently here. This story is kind to her, in that she doesn’t get her usual level of abuse. The Doctor is at least not being particularly deceptive to his companions, though we do see him reiterate his pattern of not telling his secrets until after it’s all over (specifically so that the enemy won’t overhear). Still, the stresses among the TARDIS crew are showing, and they will only get worse from here—at least, for the next half-dozen entries. (I’m hoping for good things after No Future. Really I am. Or maybe I’m just naïve.)

Continuity references: Bernice makes a reference back to the events of the previous adventure, referring to it as “Club Zombie” (White Darkness). The local government, the Concordance, has access to records of the Doctor all the way back to his time with UNIT and his negotiations in the Human-Draconian War (Frontier in SpacePlanet of the Daleks, et al). While navigating visions of the Doctor’s past, Benny sees the First Doctor, and the Doctor refers to her as Barbara and to Ace as Susan (An Unearthly Child, et al). The Doctor name-drops Marco Polo (Marco Polo). Various mentions are made of Jan, Ace’s fallen love interest (Love and War), Iceworld (Dragonfire), various UNIT-era enemies: Daleks (Day of the Daleks, et al), Cybermen (The Invasion, et al), Yeti (The Abominable SnowmenThe Web of Fear), Autons (Spearhead from Space, *Terror of the Autons), and Ice Warriors (not directly UNIT, but The Curse of Peladon).

Overall, not a bad story by any means, but not the most outstanding one either. I’ll take it; it’s going to get worse before it gets better. If you’re reading the VNAs, but only hitting the highlights, you should include Shadowmind for its decent overview of the issues the Doctor and his companions are going to have over the next several novels; after that, if you like, you can skip to No Future without great consequences (though I hope you won’t skip my reviews of them!).

Next time: The Doctor finally gets his vacation, leaving Benny and Ace to fend for themselves in Birthright! See you there.

The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.

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Novel Review: White Darkness

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the New Adventures line of Seventh Doctor novels, with the fifteenth entry, David A. MacIntee’s White Darkness. Published in June 1993, this novel weighs in at 244 pages, and is MacIntee’s first contribution to the Doctor Who universe. Let’s get started!

white darkness cover

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

After events at Lucifer were a bust, the Doctor is ready for a break. He attempts to take Ace and Benny to Key West, Florida, 1915; but as usual, his aim is…less than stellar. Instead, the group ends up in Haiti, 1915, which may as well be a world away from Florida. The island is ruled by the despotic President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, but his reign is under threat by General Rosalvo Bobo, the leader of a popular rebellion—nothing new in Haiti, but the timing is unfortunate, as both the Germans and the Americans have a vested interest in the tiny nation. The Doctor and his companions are pulled in when they stumble upon some mutilated bodies, and are taken in for questioning from General Etienne, who is loyal to President Sam.

The Doctor quickly takes charge of the situation, and ingratiates himself with the group’s guard, Captain Eugene Petion. He begins an investigation into the deaths, but moreover, into rumors of the dead rising; Haiti has long had talk, and sometimes more than talk, of zombis, but this seems out of proportion. He does not realize just how deep the web goes: for the Haitians are not the only ones present. The Germans have a hidden base on the island, in which they have allied themselves with a houngan named Lemaitre, or Mait for short; Mait’s underlings: the assassin Carrefour, the vodoun bocor Henri, and an American military attache—and devoted killer—named Richmann. With their help, the Germans are seeking to industrialize the ancient arts and potions that the locals use to create zombis, giving them a mass-produced weapon that will bring the war in Europe to a standstill—in Germany’s favor. As well, the American Marines under Admiral Caperton wait at nearby Cuba, poised to invade at a moment’s notice.

The Doctor senses odd telepathic whispers, which lead him to the local university and a doctor named Howard Philips. Philips, in addition to performing the autopsies on the original bodies, has long been researching the zombie tradition; and also, he has found something stranger still. He tells the Doctor of carved stones—now located in the university museum—that seem to date back much, much further than even the existence of humans, and which radiate a strange power. The Doctor sends Benny to investigate the stones; but she is captured by Henri, and taken away to be made into a zombi herself. Mait, fearing the interlopers’ influence, orders General Bobo to begin his attack on the palace. Ace returns with Petion to move the TARDIS to a new location, but they are attacked while en route; she manages to get them inside and pilot the ship to a safe location as instructed. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Philips try to return to the hospital, but are ambushed unsuccessfully by Richmann. Bobo and his men attack the palace, and Sam commits suicide (later to be believed an assassination). Meanwhile, the Marines, seeing their opportunity, invade the island to restore order. The Doctor quickly works his way into their ranks, and begins using them for his own purposes.

Benny awakens and escapes, only to find herself in the underground German base. She learns of their plan to use the mass-produced chemicals, and then escapes through a tunnel to the sea, coming ashore just in time to be picked up by the Marines. Meanwhile, General Etienne is killed by Carrefour.

The Doctor has learned of an upcoming ceremony in a nearby cemetery, to be conducted at midnight, and enlists the Marines to prevent it. He reconnects with Ace, Benny, and Petion—but he will need additional help. He meets and recruits another houngan, Dubois, who is also an Empereur of the Bizango, the island’s de facto council of houngans, who serve as a sort of unofficial law enforcement and court. With Dubois and the others, he visits Lemaitre’s villa, and destroys his vodoun workshop; he also finds a device that is used for amplifying telepathic signals. The device is Mait’s instrument for controlling his new breed of zombis. The Doctor doesn’t destroy it, but alters it to trap Mait’s mind and concentration—but unknowingly, he leaves an echo of his own memory in the device. He also realizes what is happening behind the scenes: Lemaitre serves the Old Ones, beings from before the dawn of the universe, who are disembodied—but who are using Mait and his upcoming ceremony to restore themselves to physical form. As well, the German plan will create an army of slaves for the Old Ones. The battle to end the ceremony just became much more urgent.

Hearing of the explosion of his workshop, Mait and Henri hurry back to the villa, where Mait is quickly trapped by the device. However, Henri frees him, and Mait gains a glimpse of the Doctor’s nature and plans. He sends Richmann to stop them at the cemetery, but the Doctor manages to convince Richmann he and the Germans are being betrayed by Mait. Richmann takes the Doctor to the base, but Mait intercepts him and interrogates him, unsuccessfully. When he leaves, the Doctor escapes, and plants explosives around the base and on a loaded transport ship, planning to destroy the chemicals. Meanwhile Ace, Petion, and Benny return to the cemetery with the Marines and their leader, Mortimer; but Mortimer holds out too long before attacking, allowing Mait to store sufficient telepathic energy in his device to complete the ritual on his own. He, Henri, Carrefour, and Richmann escape and retreat to the base, with Ace and the others in pursuit. Ace demolishes the door of the base, and the Marines invade it, joining battle with the Germans. Meanwhile, Richmann lashes out and kills Henri.

The Doctor chases Mait toward the lowest chamber, where the Old One’s body is buried, sending Benny to keep the Germans busy. She is captured by Richmann and Carrefour; but Carrefour has a crisis of memory, and takes out his long-delayed anger on Richmann. Richmann prevails and kills Carrefour, chasing the now-escaping Benny. En route he encounters Ace and Petion; and when he shoots Petion, Ace kills him with great prejudice. Mortimer is also killed in the fighting.

The Doctor manages to reach the chamber ahead of Mait, where he finds—and sabotages—a scaled-up version of the mind device. He also plants explosives with motion sensors behind him as he leaves, to bring down the tunnels. He encounters Lemaitre, and tries to talk him down; but Mait pushes past him, triggering the sensors and destroying the tunnels, killing himself. The Doctor heads back to the docking cavern and starts an evacuation—and just in time, as the hidden explosives detonate, bringing the project to an end.

In the end, the Doctor recovers the TARDIS, and the group moves on. The Marines, as history shows, will take control of the island, leading to the next chapter in its history. Petion will survive, though he will lose an arm. But the biggest shock is for Ace, who is confronted with the fact that in her last three years she has become a killer—perhaps not so different from Richmann. That is a fate she abhors, but can she still escape it?

White Darkness back cover

I’ve come to informally think of this book as the first in the “holiday tetralogy” (not an official designation, of course). After several difficult adventures, the Doctor makes attempts, over this and the next three books (ShadowmindBirthright, and Iceberg) to take his companions on a restful holiday…with predictably terrible results. Some people just can’t catch a break. At any rate, this book represents one of Doctor Who’s occasional takes on the classic zombie story—and literally, as these are traditional Haitian “zombis”, as it should properly be spelled.

Speaking of those who can’t catch a break, this is another entry in the now-well established tradition of doing terrible things to Bernice “Benny” Summerfield. Here, Benny gets a taste of what it’s like to become a zombi, though she thankfully recovers and escapes before it can be made permanent. She gives as good as she gets, several times fighting off various attackers and captors; but still, no one else seems to get into these situations in the first place. Maybe in the next book… (hint hint, Ace). Benny has had a tougher time since Ace returned; for one, the two women do not always get along; and for another, it’s hard to make anyone look tough beside hard-as-steel Spacefleet-era Ace. It will take a few more books to begin to balance things between them.

At the same time, this is Ace’s story too. When we last saw her, she was in full vengeful Spacefleet mode, taking out her long-delayed wrath on the Doctor and everyone else. Now that she’s got that out of her system, we’re slowly going to see her new persona get deconstructed; and it begins here, as she has to face the killer she’s become. The character of American assassin Richmann is otherwise extraneous to the story; but he’s here to show Ace what she’ll become if she doesn’t get a grip on herself and her future. I find that interesting, because Ace’s arc throughout the television series and early VNA novels was always about getting a grip on her past; now she’s shifted to look ahead. Meanwhile, Benny is the one focused on the past—specifically the matter of her father, though it will be a very long time before that thread comes to fruition.

Although this book itself is sunny enough, it must be pointed out that it occurs at a dark moment in history. The war in Europe—that would one day be called World War I—rages on; and Haiti is in a period of upheaval. It is, unfortunately, also a very racist time in the Western Hemisphere. The book doesn’t shy away from accurately describing the situation; characters sometimes use the word “nigger” and other insulting terms (not our heroes, thankfully), and the whole phenomenon of the racist relations between groups is on display. I was surprised that things were as explicit as they were; books today would tend, I think, to acknowledge the situation in info-dumps, but gloss over it in dialogue. There’s none of that here, and I can’t help wondering if the book would be rejected today. Certainly a story like this wouldn’t make it onto the television series, with family viewing at stake. Essentially it’s a gritty story set in a beautiful environment, and the contrast is jarring but satisfying.

Continuity references: The Doctor mentions having learned hypnotism from the Master—not by name, but by description, and not from any specific story. He wears the brooch given to him by Cameca in The Aztecs, and comments on the situation as a possible turning point in his character. In the same passage, he mentions Ian and Barbara’s return home (The Chase). It’s worth noting—though not mentioned here—that the First Doctor sold it for clothing in The Suffering, published sometime later; he seems to have recovered it. It will materialize again later in Relative Dimensions, as the Eighth Doctor gives it to Susan. The Doctor mentions his time as President of Gallifrey (The Invasion of Time, et al). He is reminded of his experience at the Dark Tower in The Five Doctors. He mentions hearing telepathic whispers (The Pirate Planet). He mentions wishing he had built another K9 (various stories). The HADS is mentioned (The Krotons, et al). The TARDIS translation feature works only erratically here (various stories). Ace mentions injuries from big cats, probably the Cheetah People (survival). Several figures, too common to name particular stories, are mentioned: Davros, the Brigadier, Bessie, Draconians, Centaurans, the Daleks. Drug use for mind control, seen here, is very similar to that used by the Usurians as mentioned in *The Sun Makers. The later novel All-Consuming Fire will indicate that the Old One featured here is Cthulhu, from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos series. Slightly unrelated, but I should point out as well that “Lemaitre” is French for “the Master”, though this is only an inside joke; the character is not the Time Lord by that name.

There is also a prelude to the story, available here. In it, Paul Richmann returns to his childhood home to kill an old man, presumably his grandfather, in the wake of his mother’s death (possibly at the old man’s hands). He takes a pocketwatch from the man, which is later lost in Haiti. Many years later, the Third Doctor—joining the Brigadier on an excursion for the American government—finds the pocketwatch, and feels something from it, before burying it again. I admit that I didn’t read the prelude before the novel; I didn’t discover its existence until afterward. However, you can read it at the above link.

Overall: I first stated this book more than a year ago, but couldn’t get into it, and put it aside. On a second reading, it was much better; a bit of a slow starter, as there are many pieces to be placed on the board here. However, once it picked up, I had to finish it. While I don’t know that I would call many of the VNAs essential yet, I will say that this book represents the start of a turning point in the relationships among the Doctor, Benny, and Ace. It’s a fresh start, of sorts, and I’m curious to see where it leads.

Next time: Shadowmind, the first Doctor Who novel by prolific author Christopher Bulis! See you there.

The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.

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Novel Review: Lucifer Rising, by Jim Mortimore and Andy Lane

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today we’re picking up an older thread from this series: The New Adventures line of Seventh Doctor novels, published by Virgin Publishing (series sometimes abbreviated as “VNAs”). It’s been awhile since our last visit here—almost two years, in fact, when we examined the thirteenth entry, series editor Peter Darvill-Evans’s 1993 novel, Deceit. I should point out that this is one of the hazards of tracking the Doctor Who universe: There’s so much material to cover, in so many ranges and media, that it’s easy to let a series lapse for far too long. But today, we’re making a course correction, so, welcome back!

Now, a confession: As I moved to pick up this series, I realized that I completed the next novel long ago, but failed to post about it at the time. I’m picking up that lost entry today, but it will be a bit of a rush job; I have various resources to jog my memory, but the material isn’t exactly fresh after nearly two years. As well, I’ll admit to being in a hurry to move on to more recent reading. So, today we’re looking at May 1993’s Lucifer Rising, by Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore. Let’s get started!

Lucifer Rising front cover

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

The Doctor, Bernice Summerfield, and the recently-returned Ace McShane arrive on the Project Eden station above the planet Lucifer, and almost mysteriously begin to insinuate themselves among the crew. One of the Project’s team members—Paula Engado, daughter of mission commander Miles Engado—has just died by re-entry, falling into Lucifer’s atmosphere in a starsuit—but unknown to anyone, she saw angels as she died. Miles summons an adjudicator to investigate the death. As the Adjudicator arrives, the team’s mission continues: to research and lay bare the mysteries of Lucifer and its rather odd star system, centered on a strange subsurface power transmission facility dubbed the “mushroom farm”. More deaths occur, along with acts of sabotage—and it seems that Ace, or perhaps the Doctor, may be responsible. Miles slowly loses his mind in the course of his grief, and tries to commit suicide in the same manner as Paula’s death; but he is rescued by Paula’s spirit, accompanied by the angels. The Doctor convinces the Adjudicator of his innocence, and sides with him to help stop a rogue scientist, Bannen, from taking control of the mushroom farm and destroying the system in his ignorance. As the system is activated, the planet’s atmosphere is torn away into black holes. Ace reveals that she manipulated the Doctor into coming here as part of a mission left from her days in Spacefleet; in the twenty-sixth century, there is an exclusion zone around the Lucifer system, and she wants to know why. That portion of the system’s history is about to begin, and she intends to witness it. The Adjudicator is killed by a strange being, and the Doctor kills it in turn, realizing that he has himself been too often guilty of manipulation. He sends the crew away in the Adjudicator’s shuttle, and takes Ace and Bernice to confront Bannen in the mushroom farm. The farm is revealed to control morphic fields, energy fields that shape biology—but the system is now running out of control due to sabotage to its feedback mechanism. The Doctor joins hands with Bernice, Ace, and Bannen, fusing together in the face of the morphic fields, but—through their dreams—providing the necessary feedback to shut down the system. Bannen becomes the new feedback mechanism for the system, and the Doctor and his companions are restored to normal. They depart—and as history demands, the system’s exclusion zone is complete. Later, the Doctor and his friends join Miles on Earth to honor Paula’s memory.

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Up front, I’ll say I found Lucifer Rising to be a difficult read. It’s a good story, to be sure, and replete with the weirdness and technobabble that I sometimes expect from Doctor Who; but it takes a long time to get to the point. More than that, the story jumps around quite a bit, with little explanation between leaps. Perhaps the most immersion-breaking moment for me was near the beginning; the body of the story opens in media res, with the Doctor and his companions already having been present on the Eden Project space station for some time, and no one thinking this is odd! In fact, several of the crew find themselves wondering if the Doctor and his friends had been there all along, or were part of the crew. It’s been awhile, but I don’t remember any proper explanation for this phenomenon (something something telepathic circuits, maybe?), and I don’t recall seeing this happen in any other story. I’m accustomed to the Doctor having to smooth-talk his way into a situation. Mysterious, indeed!

I haven’t looked deeply into the behind-the-scenes aspects of the production of the New Adventures; but I think it’s telling that the previous novel was written by series editor Peter Darvill-Evans. It seems to have been a course correction of sorts for Ace, who returned therein after three novels away. For the Doctor, that’s been a fairly straightforward time, perhaps a few months at most, but for Ace it’s been three years—and not just any three years, but three years of enlistment in Earth’s Spacefleet. She comes back hard as nails, bitter and angry, and dangerous. Jim Mortimore and Andy Lane double down on that here, and has Ace be the manipulator as well, tricking the Doctor into bringing her here to complete a final Spacefleet mission. I don’t know yet how far this new Ace will go; but she won’t show the first signs of her old, happier personality returning until we get to Shadowmind, a few more books ahead.

Bernice, meanwhile, can’t catch a break, and there’s no sign of any change in the near future. She seems to exist only to have brushes with death, and has several here; otherwise she spends most of her time in the way. I feel bad for her; she has so much potential as a companion—and obviously things must get better at some point, as she takes over as the lead character of the New Adventures after the licensing of the Doctor expires. So far, though, she’s essentially disaster bait, and never accomplishes much. Spoiler alert: That’s not going to change in the near future.

We get introduced to the Guild of Adjudicators here, from which future companions Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej will spring. The Guild was mentioned as far back as Colony in Space, but their first onscreen appearance is here, in the form of the dour and analytical Adjudicator Bishop. Bishop is a bit trigger-happy, and spends a considerable amount of time coming to the wrong conclusions; but I like the guy, and was disappointed to see him meet a bad end. (Not much of a spoiler, that; deaths are like pennies in the New Adventures, they’re everywhere.) We’ll see more of the guild later, of course, but this book does a decent job of setting the tone for them: even Bernice, in the future, is familiar with them, and isn’t a fan.

Continuity References: Quite a few, actually! The starship Hydrax (State of Decay) gets a mention, as one Project Eden scientist, Piper O’Rourke, had a husband, Ben O’Rourke, serving aboard that ship when it vanished. This also gives a timeframe for the disappearance of the Hydrax, as Lucifer Risingtakes place in 2157. Ace refers back to several past stories, including Deceit (mentioning a ship, the Admiral Raistrick, on which she served), Dragonfire(mentioning being from Perivale), Love and War(her love interest Jan, and her earlier love interest Julian), and—indirectly–Colony in Space(mentioning IMC being aware of the Third Doctor and Jo Grant by way of that story). She also dreams of the death of her father, addressed in Rapture. Bernice also mentions Love and War by repeating the story of her father’s disappearance in the Second Dalek War. The Doctor dreams about the hermit on Mount Cadon on Galifrey (The Time Monster), and mentions having spared Davros (and thus condemned billions) (Genesis of the Daleks). This story occurs during—but at a distance from—the Dalek invasion of Earth in 2157, and the Doctor gives Piper the packet of powder that his first incarnation will then use on Earth in defeating the invasion force. Oddly, though, no direct mention of the invasion is made, although it is indicated that they are destroying Earth colonies on a possible track to Earth. The Doctor mentions Orcini from Revelation of the Daleks. The honorific terms Krauand Trau, last heard in The Caves of Androzani, are used here. Ace mentions having stolen the energy packs from a Special Weapons Dalek, last seen in Remembrance of the Daleks. Also, the Doctor mentions his age, claiming to be 943 years old.

A prologue to the story was published in DWM 199, pictured below.

Lucifer Rising prologue

Worth mentioning is that, allegedly, Virgin Books was looking into a possible regeneration for the Doctor, which would have seen his eighth incarnation resembling David Troughton. These plans were being laid at the time of this book’s writing, although it does not directly reference them. Eventually the plans were scrapped, and the 1996 movie, just three years later, would give us the now-accepted regeneration into the Eighth Doctor.

Overall: A good story, with lots of good material, but unfortunately fractured in its execution. It also perhaps goes on a little too long. I may be a bit biased; at the time I read it, I was fairly burnt out on the New Adventures, and this novel had much to do with that. Nevertheless, if you’re coming into it fresh, you will most likely enjoy it.

Next time: I’ve picked up the series again, and we’ll begin with David A. McIntee’s White Darkness! See you there.

The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.

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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?

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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.

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Next time: Lucifer Rising! See you there.

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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.

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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.

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

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