Novel Review: Timewyrm: Revelation

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we finish the Virgin New Adventures’ (VNAs) Timewyrm tetralogy, with Timewyrm: Revelation.  Written by Paul Cornell and published in December 1991, this novel is the fourth in the VNA series, and features the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

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I’ll be less detailed in my summary of this book’s plot, for two reasons. First, it has enough twists and turns, coming in rapid order, to fill several pages of summary, and we don’t have that much time. And second, this book is strange as hell (and actually goes to hell, literally, at one point. Or not. See what I mean? Strange already!). You know it’s going to be a strange story when it opens with the death of a companion!

Early in young Dorothy McShane’s life—or Dotty, as she is called—a young boy named Chad Boyle picks up a brick on the playground and hits her in the head with it, killing her instantly. Some time later, now awaiting trial and remanded to his mother’s care, he is spirited away by a man in a police box. Elsewhere (and probably elsewhen, though still in modern times), in the village of Cheldon Bonniface, there is a church…and it’s alive. Or rather, it’s permanently inhabited by an energy being named Saul, who doesn’t really even know his own origin. With the reverend Ernest Trelaw, Saul is a force for good in his community—and suddenly, he is faced with an odd couple. Peter Hutchings is a mathematician of considerable skill; his wife Emily is a scholar of music, and unknown to her, possesses a strong psychic ability. They cannot have children; and so Emily is stunned when, during a service, the Doctor runs in and places a baby in her hands, then runs back out.

Ace is disturbed. The Doctor has been acting strange, leaving the TARDIS at night in random places, setting up future gambits—but something is not right about it. Now, they travel to Cheldon Bonniface, but in the Victorian era, where the Doctor is known. Ace is attacked by a child-sized astronaut, and runs away—and finds herself on the moon. The astronaut is revealed to be her childhood bully, Chad Boyle; he sends her mind away and places her body in the church—but Saul is not present in this time. Meanwhile the Doctor realizes the entire village is a fake, and meets with an old adversary, Lieutenant Hemmings of the Freikorps [last seen in Timewyrm: Exodus, boarding a TARDIS]. Hemmings, controlled by the Timewyrm, fails to capture the Doctor, who escapes in his TARDIS. The Timewyrm inhabits Boyle’s body, and kills Hemmings, sending his mind to the same place as Ace’s.

Ace, she finds, is in Hell. Or so it is portrayed, anyway; she has her doubts. Some things are inconsistent: A library, a peaceful flower garden, and a strange room with thirteen stalls, six of which are filled with indeterminate—but humanoid—forms. Something claiming to be her rational side—but in fact is the Timewyrm—uses her to unleash a massive amount of power, vaporizing the real-world Cheldon Bonniface and all its people, and yanking the church—with Saul, Trelaw, the Hutchings, and the baby still inside—to the surface of the moon. Ace’s body appears inside the church as well, on the altar, still alive but without her mind inside. The Doctor arrives inside the church, as does the Timewyrm, who forces him to confront a specter of death; but he is not moved. The Doctor enlists the help of Trelaw, Saul, and the Hutchings—leaving Emily in particular with a strange amulet—and then allows the Timewyrm to send his mind to the same place as Ace’s, leaving his body in the church. The Timewyrm itself then abandons Boyle’s body and follows the Doctor in.

Ace meets the Librarian, an old man who shows her that it is not Hell after all. Rather, it’s the interior landscape of a mind [and brain as well, it’s a bit unclear] that the Timewyrm has occupied as a base of operations. The Doctor joins her, and rescues her from torment; he learns that she is vacillating between maturity and childhood, and realizes that it is because of the conflict between himself and the Timewyrm. If the Timewyrm wins, then—among other things—the vision of Chad Boyle killing Dorothy will come true, eliminating her entire adult life. If the Doctor wins, time will be restored. But the Doctor is losing.

Ace and the Doctor are confronted by the Doctor’s personal demons—the ghosts of many who have fallen in service to him. Leading the pack are three of the Doctor’s former companions: Katarina, Sara Kingdom, and Adric, all of whom gave their lives in service to the Doctor. The Doctor and Ace escape this vision, and are captured by Hemmings, who is torturing a prisoner. He threatens the Doctor, who gives up Ace to be tortured instead—but this allows him to confer with the prisoner, who is revealed to be the Third Doctor. The Third Doctor admits that he failed to resist Hemmings because he was troubled by his own demons [referring to the Leader from the alternate universe of Inferno, which he realizes was himself in one of the forms offered to him by the Time Lords in The War Games]. They join minds and send a message to the group in the church.

Together, Emily, Peter, and Saul interpret the message, which leads them to recover Hemmings’ severed head from the moon. They are able to force Hemmings’ consciousness back into the head, removing him from the internal landscape and freeing Ace, and letting Hemmings finally die for real. This allows the Doctor and the Third Doctor to escape imprisonment. They meet a cryptic ferryman, who is the Fourth Doctor; he takes them to the area around the mindscape’s central pit. Ace, now caught in illusions of the idyllic life she wanted as a child, eventually frees herself and joins the Doctor; the Third Doctor turns back to monitor her progress.

At the pit, Chad Boyle confronts them, and stabs the Doctor—a mortal wound, but he will be slow in dying. Ace drives Boyle off, and helps the Doctor down to the bridge over the pit. She confronts the Timewyrm, which reveals its plan: this is not just any mindscape, but the Doctor’s, where she hid herself long ago in Mesopotamia [during the failed mindprobe attempt in Timewyrm: Genesys]. As well, she has been able to exercise control briefly on several occasions, and has used the Doctor and the TARDIS to set the pieces of this complex plan in place—hence, the Doctor’s mysterious nighttime excursions. [It’s implied, but not stated, that the possessed Doctor is the one who picked up Chad Boyle in this book, and Hemmings way back in Timewyrm: Exodus.] If she can destroy the Doctor here, she will take over his body and powers, and consume the universe. Meanwhile, the group in the church, still following the Doctor’s message, are stunned when the amulet opens into a portal into the Time Vortex. Working together, they find a path leading to the Doctor and Ace, and Emily goes through to rescue them. She successfully brings out the Doctor, but Ace is trapped. Ace is confronted by the dead companions again, who tell her to go into the pit and free the Doctor’s conscience. She finds it in the form of the Fifth Doctor, tied to a tree; she frees him, restoring the Doctor’s conscience. Enraged, the Timewyrm attacks her, and Chad Boyle as well.

Outside, the Doctor has the power now to crush the Timewyrm; but doing so will kill Ace as well. With his conscience restored, he cannot do that. He pilots the TARDIS into his own inner landscape, and confronts the Timewyrm there—and offers it not death, but peace. In terror, it destroys Chad Boyle to unleash its full power on the Doctor. He locates the humanity inside—Qataka, the woman it once was—and offers it peace. Qataka agrees, and he absorbs her into himself. The Timewyrm’s power, now a facet of the universe itself, becomes dormant. The Doctor and Ace return to the church, and he releases Qataka’s essence into the baby [which, it is later revealed, is an artificially-grown, mindless clone of sorts], which the Hutchings will now raise and name Ishtar. Qataka will have her chance at redemption.

The Doctor and Ace return the church to Earth, where the explosion never happened, now that the Timewyrm is removed. They spend some time wrapping up loose ends—obtaining the baby from a lab and placing it with Emily, stopping the childhood version of Chad Boyle from killing childhood Ace [and realizing that Chad turns out well in the end], and finally, departing. Trelaw, meanwhile, buries Hemmings’ head, and pondering the outcome of it all.

It says something about this book that my simplified summary is still nearly 1500 words long. It’s a complex story, with many twists, and a good deal of surrealism, and I’ve glossed over a lot of the details. It explores one of my favorite science fiction tropes, that of an internal landscape in which someone is trapped; I’ve written a few stories of that type myself, though not nearly so compellingly. In one sense, it fails in that regard; I expect Paul Cornell thought he was being rather vague about whose mind was in question, up until the point where the Third Doctor’s identity was revealed; but I caught that particular twist as soon as the first scene inside the mind took place. (Then again, who else could it be? No other character had been built up enough to merit such a reveal.) In every other sense, it’s brilliantly done. The inner landscape reflects not only the mind, but aspects of the brain in which different functions take place. As well, it’s divided into several large zones, each of which is occupied by a former incarnation of the Doctor, thus justifying the manner in which the Doctor called up his past selves in the preceding novels. Not everyone is here, however; the Second Doctor doesn’t appear (perhaps in light of being so heavily utilized in the last novel), and the Sixth doesn’t appear. (With regard to the Sixth Doctor, we will eventually learn why he doesn’t appear here, but not for a long time—it’s addressed in Head Games, the 43rd VNA novel.) Future incarnations are also addressed, in the hub room which contains their undefined forms; there’s even a near-regeneration when Ace accidentally awakens the potential Eighth Doctor.

The Doctor’s manipulative tendencies are addressed head-on here. His past companions both love him and castigate him here (and never mind that they are from previous regenerations, which weren’t noted for this level of manipulation). Ace herself finally admits that she both loves and hates the Doctor, and he is forced to confront that truth—but in the end, he goes back for her, and not her only, but the Timewyrm as well. Ace has her own moment of truth when she tries to save Chad Boyle, though she is unsuccessful (he will, of course, be saved by setting time right, but that’s another matter). It will be interesting to see how the matter of the Doctor’s conscience plays out in future novels.

We get a glimpse of Gallifrey in vision form here. It’s not clearly stated that the Hermit from his childhood is the same as Kan’po Rimpoche (Planet of the Spiders), but it’s a reasonable guess; and if that is so, then the mountain in question here, Mt. Cadon (Gallifrey’s highest mountain) would be the mountain that stands above the House of Lungbarrow (as seen much later in the penultimate VNA, Lungbarrow). He also makes reference to the Prydonian Academy (the parent organization, the Prydonian Chapter, was referenced in The Deadly Assassin), from which he stole the amulet that allows Emily into his mind.

Many other stories are referenced in passing here; perhaps unusually, the references are less in the form of artifacts or individuals from those stories, and more in the form of dialogue about those stories’ events. The Timewyrm refers to the events of Earthshock, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric, and—more distantly–The Daleks’ Master Plan. Ace reflects back on several of her past adventures, including Iceworld and Survival, and mentions having received one of Mel’s memories (Timewyrm: Genesys). The Third Doctor refers to Inferno; the Fourth Doctor’s appearance is a nod to his version of Shada (and by merit of reused footage, The Five Doctors). I’ve already mentioned the three deceased companions (The Daleks’ Master Plan, Katarina and Sara Kingdom; Earthshock, Adric); as well, other spectres seen include UNIT soldiers (various stories) and at least one Sea Devil (The Sea Devils, Warriors of the Deep). It’s perhaps a bit of a spoiler, but as it will be a long time before I get there, I’ll mention that Cheldon Bonniface appears again in Happy Endings, at the wedding of Bernice Summerfield; Lieutenant Hemmings will appear there as well.

Interestingly, the TARDIS wiki states that this novel is based on a short story by Cornell, called Total Eclipse. In that version, it was not the Seventh Doctor, but the Fifth, with Nyssa and Tegan in tow. I’m not sure if the story was ever published; the wiki had no page for it, and the interview from which the explanation comes is no longer available at its original source (perhaps via Internet Archive, if someone feels ambitious?). Still, it would be interesting to see how it played out, given that the Fifth Doctor is a character within the Doctor’s head in the novel version.

While I don’t really have any complaints about this story, I can easily see how some people might. Its surrealism, coupled with the speed with which it jumps viewpoints, could make it very hard to follow (and it isn’t helped by the quality of the ebook version that I read, which tends to remove any markers or extra spaces between scenes). It could easily leave the reader with more questions than answers, especially given that at the time of writing, there was no way to know what lay ahead. Still, it’s a fascinating book, with a novel approach to the inside of the Doctor’s mind; and it gives a suitably original ending to the Timewyrm, an ending that is fit for the Doctor. In that regard, he’s much more in tune with the new series than the classic series; for once, everybody lives. (Except Hemmings. Nobody likes that guy.) It’s a great end to the tetralogy, and more than pays back the two volumes of side stories that came in the middle.

Next time: We’ll begin a new story arc with the first in the Cat’s Cradle trilogy, Marc Platt’s Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible! See you there.

 

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Novel Review: Timewyrm: Apocalypse

We’re back, with our latest Doctor Who novel review! This week we continue the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs) line, with the third entry in the Timewyrm quadrology, Timewyrm: Apocalypse, by Nigel Robinson, copyright October 1991. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this book!

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The Seventh Doctor is having flashbacks to his second incarnation. Certain that they mean something, he nevertheless can’t figure it out. He allows the TARDIS to guide their flight, and it takes the Doctor and Ace to a planet called Kirith, billions of years in the future, near the end of the universe. (“Near” is a relative term here; there are still a few billion years remaining.) The Kirithons are a visibly perfect race, excelling in physical grace and mental prowess—but they are handicapped by their dependence on another race, called the Panjistri, who for thousands of years have been their benefactors, providing everything they need. The Doctor and Ace meet an injured young Kirithon named Raphael, and help him back to the nearby town, where they are received as guests. However, the next morning, Raphael’s injuries are gone without a trace.

The town is led by the Procurator Huldah, with his personal assistant, Revna, who is of Raphael’s generation and secretly loves him. Within the town is the seminary, an institution of learning led by Miril, who is Raphael’s mentor and surrogate parent. Miril tells the Doctor about the Panjistri and the planet’s history; but he doesn’t remember his own childhood, or his parents. Something doesn’t add up; there was allegedly once a nuclear war, but there is no fallout, no radiation. The Doctor concludes, ultimately, that the Panjistri are deceiving the Kirithons, and tampering with their memories—but, why? What are they hiding? Meanwhile, the Panjistri’s leader, the Grand Matriarch, is watching the Doctor’s actions, with her servant Fetch—but even Fetch can see that something is wrong with the Matriarch, and her personality is changing.

Ace becomes close with Raphael, and persuades him to help her investigate. They check out the Harbours of the Chosen, the facility where the Panjistri make landfall when they come from their island fortress, Kandasi. They find it to be a lab where genetic and biological experiments are conducted; and they find the Homunculus, a horribly misshapen hybrid creature in an experimental fluid tank. They are caught by the Panjistri Reptu, the liaison between the Panjistri and the Kirithons, who says the Homunculus is the potential salvation of everyone. As they flee, Ace gives Raphael her backpack, which has canisters of Nitro-9 explosive; they split up. Raphael returns to the city and reports to Revna, only to find out that she is the one who told Reptu where to find them; he locates the Doctor and Miril, only to be betrayed again. All three of them are captured, and taken to the Harbours. Ace flees to a forbidden area called the Darkfell, where she meets a group of Kirithons called the Unlike, who have all been twisted through experimentation. They explain that the food the Kirithons eat, called zavat, is the processed remains of their own dead, and is formulated to make them susceptible to memory manipulation. This is why they don’t remember their true past, and why they have forgotten the many loved ones who were taken for experimentation. They also reveal that the Doctor has been captured; they agree to help her save him if he will in turn heal them and their home.

At the Harbours, Raphael attacks Reptu, showing the first aggression any Kirithon has ever shown toward the Panjistri. He fails, however, and the Doctor is taken to Kandasi and abandoned on a hillside. He makes his way toward what is ostensibly the Panjistri fortress, outwitting traps along the way, as the Grand Matriarch watches. En route, he has another vision of his second incarnation, in which he met a little girl named Lilith in an alien marketplace. Meanwhile, Raphael uses Ace’s Nitro-9 to escape the Harbours; he and Miril meet up with Ace and the Unlike. The Unlike want to destroy the Homunculus before they pursue the Doctor; while they argue, it feeds on their anger, and breaks free, forcing Raphael to kill it to save Ace. They return to the seminary, and with the Unlike, they recruit the staff to form a resistance movement. They manage to shut down the power in the city, and the food supply; in addition to causing unrest against the Panjistri, the lack of Zavat will cause some people to regain their suppressed memories. Revna takes advantage of the situation to undermine Huldah; and when the Panjistri inevitably come to suppress the uprising and restore services, Huldah is executed, and Revna is made Procurator. The rebels are forced to flee into the Darkfell.

Ace and her friends take a Panjistri boat and set out for Kandasi; along the way, Miril is killed by a genetically-modified sea monster. On Kandasi, they reconnect with the Doctor, but find that the stronghold is empty; it contains only a transmat unit. The unit takes them to a huge space station near the planet, which the Kirithons have always believed to be a second moon—it is the true Kandasi. Here the Doctor reveals what he has learned: The Kirithons were created here, and never actually evolved. However, the station attempts to eject them as intruders; and though it is overridden by the Panjistri, Ace vanishes in the confusion. Reptu informs them that she has been taken to the Grand Matriarch. She will die, but in so doing, she will complete the Grand Matriarch’s long plan to save the universe from its inevitable death. The Panjistri for millennia have accumulated the best and brightest of many sentient races, and combined their talents and experiences into a massive machine, the God Machine, which will have the power to manipulate reality—and the wisdom to pull it off. Only one thing remains to be added—aggression. The Homunculus was to have provided this, but without it, Ace will substitute, as she is from Earth, a world known to have been warlike.

The Doctor knows it will not work—all things, even the universe, have their time. But it’s worse than that; for the Doctor himself has doomed it to failure. He explains that, after his last victory over the Timewyrm, it hid in the one place he would never have expected: His own past. It entered his mind immediately after his first regeneration, when he was weak; and on an alien world, it passed into the mind of a young, impressionable girl named Lilith, whose telepathic powers were overwhelming. Now, five thousand years later, Lilith is the Grand Matriarch of the Panjistri—and her victory will give the Timewyrm power over the God Machine and all creation.

Lilith has started to shut down the station, and it will soon fall apart; but in the meantime, she has blocked access to her chamber. The Doctor and Fetch, Lilith’s now-abandoned servant, make their way across the hull to Lilith’s chamber, and break in; meanwhile, Raphael hears a voice, of a long lost friend…he makes his way through hidden passages to the vast chamber where the God Machine waits. Unknown to anyone, he merges with the machine, giving up his own life willingly…

The Doctor confronts Lilith, who promptly kills Fetch. Fully in the thrall of the Timewyrm, she gloats over the Doctor as she prepares to add Ace to the God Machine…but it’s too late. Raphael, having learned independence and aggression from Ace, has given the Machine what it needed, and now its power is absolute. It expels the Timewyrm from Lilith’s body, and regresses her to innocence before she dies. It returns the Panjistri to Kirith, along with the Doctor and Ace; the Panjistri will be forced to live alongside their creations. Then the station explodes; even the God Machine acknowledges that its power is too much.

However, when the Doctor and Ace return to the TARDIS, they see that it is still reading the Timewyrm’s existence. Ace remembers that Raphael was horrified at killing the Homunculus, and realizes that the God Machine did not actually kill the Timewyrm, simply banished it. The hunt is not yet over.

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While I haven’t yet read the final book, I suspect that this book is the low point of the Timewyrm quadrology with regard to quality. It’s not a bad story; it’s just the presentation. It jumps around quite a bit without warning (not a good thing when coupled with the ebook format I was reading, which tends to remove any divider marks or extra spaces between scenes), and is a little heavy-handed in its descriptions. Still, it was an enjoyable read, once I got past the first few chapters, but I admit that getting started was a challenge.

Some elements are introduced but not well explained. For one, the Grand Matriarch states that the Doctor is “not only a Time Lord”, but she never elaborates. I take this to be a bit of pre-planning for the Doctor’s role as Time’s Champion later in the VNAs, but at this early stage it’s cryptic with no resolution. (Or possibly, she’s just commenting on his status as the Timewyrm’s great enemy?) Another example: the planet, and especially the island of Kandasi, is artificially soaked in artron energy, which the Doctor comments on several times, but never really explains what it’s accomplishing. It may be that the energy is powering the transmat, but he never says so; and that is inconsistent with anything we’ve ever seen before. An early reference is made to Logopolis, and the entropy which the Logopolitans worked to dispel; it mentions the final CVE closing at some unidentified point. No further mention is ever made of this event, and it seems it’s only mentioned to establish that the end of the universe is coming—but it’s totally unnecessary for that purpose.

For the second book in a row, the Timewyrm is almost incidental to the plot. It’s true that she has been behind the scenes via the character of Lilith; but the Panjistri could just as easily been convincing villains without her. In fact, the Timewyrm gets even less focus here than in Exodus; she has few if any discernible lines of her own, and even the plan of the Panjistri seems to have only been co-opted by the Timewyrm, not inspired by her. It doesn’t do much to weaken the overall story; but it does undermine the book’s role in the quadrology. We should get more in the final book, I think.

The Doctor’s reputation as a manipulator is explored more deeply here; this time it’s not Ace, but Raphael that he uses, putting him in a position to sacrifice himself and deliberately avoiding rescuing the boy from that fate. He makes some thin justification on the basis that it was Raphael’s choice; but it seems shaky at best. Ace, meanwhile, goes on being Ace; she doesn’t get a lot of character growth here, though she is becoming a leader in her own right. It has the feeling of a held breath before the exhale that the next novel should be.

The supporting cast are better than the stock characters we often get, with most of them having their own story arc—downplayed, perhaps, but definitely present. Revna, in addition to being Raphael’s childhood friend, had a brother who was taken for the God Machine, and her memories—as everyone else’s—were suppressed thereafter so that she would forget him. She is a flawed character anyway, but when Raphael at last spurns her in favor of Ace, she chooses hate over love, and begins her path of betrayal. Miril is more than just a teacher; he’s an old man with regrets, but instead of sitting on them, he chooses to do something about it. It costs him his life, but he would not consider it a waste. Huldah is weak and easily deceived, and his habit of feathering his own nest leads to his downfall. Arun, the leader of the Unlike, is torn between her innate goodness and her desire for revenge. Reptu is every bit the consummate leader—until he faces his own leader, whom he fears. Raphael is the real point of sympathy here; he is the most human and well-rounded of the Kirithons. He falls for Ace, but it isn’t entirely reciprocated; but in the end, his care for her is the final piece of his character to fall into place, and leads to his self-sacrifice.

Some references: There’s the obvious reference to Logopolis that I have already mentioned. Ace refers again to the events of Ghost Light, or rather, to her childhood which was mentioned in that episode; she mentions also the explosion in her school’s art room, which was previously mentioned in Battlefield. The Doctor’s visions cover several events from his second life; he mentions landing in Australia (The Enemy of the World), and several adventures with Ben and Polly (The Tenth Planet, Power of the Daleks, The Smugglers), and also gets a flashback of his regeneration scene from The War Games. Ace mentions Iceworld (Dragonfire). The Doctor mentions Professor Travers (The Abominable Snowmen) and Alzarius (Full Circle). The Rills, last seen in Galaxy 4, once visited Kirith. Oddly, Lilith makes a reference to the Time Lords being extinct; this is probably simply because of the late stage in the universe’s existence, but in hindsight it can also be taken to foreshadow their destruction in the Time War. It’s an offscreen adventure, but the Second Doctor once visited the now-destroyed Panjistri homeworld to obtain mercury for the TARDIS; from his point of view it was between The Power of the Daleks and The Highlanders. Also, while I rarely get into real-world references or references to other fiction, it’s worth noting that the Zavat food substance is a direct reference to Soylent Green, in that it’s made from human (or rather, Kirithon) dead.

Overall, it’s not a bad story, just a mediocre one—it would have made a decent filler story in the classic series. Still, it’s hampered by the presentation; and I had a difficult time getting going with it. While I’m glad to have finished it, I’m even more glad to move on.

Next time: We finish the Timewyrm quadrology with Timewyrm: Revelation, written by Paul Cornell! See you there.

 

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Novel Review: Timewyrm: Exodus

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Continuing with the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs), we’re looking today at Timewyrm: Exodus,  book two in the Timewyrm quartet, written by longstanding Doctor Who writer Terrance Dicks. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

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Picking up where we left off in Timewyrm: Genesys, the TARDIS takes the Seventh Doctor and Ace to London, 1951. It’s the Festival of Britain, set to celebrate recovery from World War II, but something is amiss: It becomes immediately clear that history has changed, and the Nazis won the war. Britain is now a German protectorate.

The Doctor saves a shopkeeper from a brawl with members of the Freikorps, a sanctioned group of local thugs under the loose control of the SS. He and Ace then witness a murder, and the dying man slips the Doctor an odd item: the identification of a high-ranking Nazi official, the Reichsinspektor General. Shortly thereafter, they are arrested on the word of an informant, and imprisoned by a Lieutenant Hemmings, local commander of the Freikorps. They escape quite easily, and return to the Festival, where a local named Popplewell–secretly a resistance member–hints at how to contact the resistance movement. He also reveals that the TARDIS was taken by a patrol. They return to the local headquarters, and the Doctor uses the ID badge to bluff his way into the confidence of the local general, General Strasser. Hemmings breaks in and accuses them, and the Doctor has Hemmings seconded to his command, so as to keep him in view.

The Doctor tells Hemmings that Ace is a relative of a resistance member, and has contacts; she must be “interrogated” (for the sake of appearances) and then released, and will then willingly lead them to the resistance. Meanwhile, the Doctor goes to the former British Museum to examine the military records stored there, hoping to find the point at which history diverged. He learns that the turning point was at Dunkirk during the war; unlike real history, the Germans annihilated the retreating British army at Dunkirk. He is contacted psychically by the Timewyrm, who rages and tears up the room, much like a poltergeist–but he gets the impression she is trapped somehow. Hemmings, meanwhile, “interrogates” Ace; he beats her more than necessary for effect, as he doesn’t believe they are not enemies of some sort. He then releases her, and she goes to act on the tip from Popplewell, meeting resistance members at Ma Barker’s Cafe. Hemmings has her followed, and plans to raid the cafe; but he is interrupted by the timely intervention of the Doctor, who manages to vouch for the resistance members as double agent, and have Hemmings arrested. Back at HQ, he sends Ace to the TARDIS, and goes to release Hemmings secretly, knowing he put the man in a dangerous position; but Hemmings attacks him and bolts. Hemmings sees the TARDIS materialize, and a voice calls him inside; then the TARDIS vanishes. However, something isn’t right; the Doctor’s TARDIS is still where he left it. The Doctor joins Ace there, and they depart.

Working with a plan that he has not yet revealed, the Doctor travels to Munich, 1923, on the date of Hitler’s failed coup that led to his imprisonment (during which he would write Mein Kampf). Against Ace’s urging, he lets the events play out…and resets Hitler’s dislocated shoulder, ingratiating himself to the future dictator. Later he tells Ace that the Nazi regime failed in part because of Hitler’s incompetence…and he cannot allow Hitler to be replaced with a competent dictator. Hence, his involvement now.

They then travel to Nuremberg, 1939, and hide the TARDIS in a parking location in the Time Vortex. They attend a Nazi party rally, and the Doctor demonstrates that Hitler’s speeches are not very good, but are using some highly advanced psychological tricks, tricks which don’t belong to this time period; someone has been interfering, but it doesn’t seem to be the Timewyrm–it’s not her style. He meets Goering and Himmler, Hitler’s highest-ranking associates, and also Bormann, Hitler’s personal attendant. He also meets an old and deformed doctor named Kriegslieter, who seems familiar somehow. He then meets Hitler, and, playing on the memory of their first meeting, he incorporates himself into Hitler’s inner circle, obtaining resources and freedom to operate in the process. At a private audience with Hitler, he learns that the man has been possessed by the Timewyrm, who sets off a telekinetic storm like that seen in the museum. However, he learns something else: The Timewyrm is trapped in Hitler’s powerful mind, and can’t escape. He teachers Hitler some basic techniques to resist its influence. And still, someone else’s hand is at work.

Hitler kicks off the invasion of Poland. He believes that Britain will not counterattack, but will appease him, as they have done before–but he is wrong. Britain declares war, sending Hitler into a rage, but he is able to calm himself and not accede control to the Timewyrm, thanks to the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Doctor is content, knowing the war will proceed on schedule–history has not yet been derailed.

The Doctor is summoned by Goering, who admits that if necessary, he would replace Hitler for the good of the Reich. He is then arrested and taken to Himmler, but ingratiates himself by claiming to be a sorcerer–he knows that Himmler is obsessed with the occult. Himmler invites him to Drachensberg, the castle of the SS, where Himmler’s other alleged sorcerers–the Black Coven–meet. However, upon returning to his rooms, the Doctor finds an invitation from Kriegslieter, which Ace has accepted in his place. By the time he gets to Kriegslieter’s office, Ace is missing–and a crystal ball on the table shows her being prepared to be used as a sacrifice at Drachensberg.

The Doctor calls in a favor from Goering, setting him on the road to Drachensberg with an armored column. He then finds a transmat booth in Kriegslieter’s office, which leads to Drachensberg. He tampers with it before using it, sending himself onto the roof of the castle instead of to the receiving transmat, and the receiving transmat explodes. However, to save Ace, he surrenders–and he recognizes the equipment in use. It is the property of the War Lords, whom he last encountered at the end of his second life. Kriegslieter proves to be the renegade Time Lord known as the War Chief, now victim of a failed regeneration that left him deformed.

Escaping their past defeat by the Time Lords, the War Lords had come to Earth to again form an unstoppable army; but this time, unlike their previous plan to collect soldiers from throughout history, they will craft their own army via Nazi Germany. To that end, they have been controlling, manipulating, and assisting Hitler; it is this involvement that leads to the change in history at Dunkirk. The War Lords will win the war, accelerate humanity’s technological development, and conquer the galaxy. Ace will be sacrificed to motivate the SS, and the Doctor…Kriegslieter will take his body and his regenerations.

When Himmler arrives for the sacrifice, the Doctor tells him he is being groomed to replace Hitler. He turns on Kriegslieter, who is stunned, having underestimated Himmler’s loyalty to Hitler. The Doctor frees Ace and uses her new Nitro-9-A variation to create a distraction, escaping to the top of the tower. Goering’s armored column arrives, and a battle begins. Goering’s men overcome the Black Coven, but are interrupted by Hitler; the Doctor senses something wrong, and realizes that he has made a mistake–he has not only enabled Hitler to resist the Timewyrm, but to control it. Hitler leaves with Himmler and Goering and the troops. However, the dying Kriegslieter briefly reanimates his dead troops to attack the Doctor. The Doctor sets the castle’s reactors to explode, and they escape in the TARDIS–summoned back from the Vortex–just before it blows, eliminating the War Lords and their technology.

But there is still the Timewyrm to deal with, and Dunkirk. The Doctor jumps ahead to 1940. At Hitler’s command bunker, he confronts Hitler, who is about to order the destruction of the British Army at Dunkirk. The Doctor provokes the Timewyrm into showing itself–and with the aid of the TARDIS, he breaks it free of Hitler’s mind, sending it unfocused into the void. Hitler, now a broken man at the mercy of his own madness, is left impressionable; and the Doctor gets him to order a withdrawal rather than an attack. Thus the true timeline is restored.

The Doctor is unhappy; though he saved time, he still allowed the war to rage, and the Timewyrm is free again. Ace has him return to the festival in 1951, where he sees that all is restored; this cheers him up. However, elsewhere, the Timewyrm is still plotting–and preparing one Lieutenant Hemmings for the future…

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This story taxed my knowledge of World War II and attendant history; but fortunately, it’s written in a manner that explains its events fairly well, so that no research into that history was required. As to that writing: Terrance Dicks has long been my favorite Who writer, at least in terms of prose; I grew up reading his Target novelisations, which were for me the main form of Doctor Who in my childhood. (I did see a number of classic episodes in reruns, but the novelisations made a far greater impact on me, teaching me basic techniques of fiction writing which have stuck with me to this day.) This novel is true to form; as far as structure and execution, it’s better than the first in the quartet. (I hear that the next novel–which I’ve only just begun as of this writing–is the worst of the four, but we’ll see.) My only real complaint–and I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way now–is that the entire first section of the novel feels largely irrelevant to the rest of the plot. The events that happen in 1951 have no bearing on what happens earlier, other than revealing to the Doctor that something is amiss; I suppose he does nail down Dunkirk as the point of divergence, but he could have done that at other times as well. While the first part is well-written, it left me with a feeling of “well, what did I bother reading that for?”

The Timewyrm herself is very much downplayed here. Certainly she’s at work behind the scenes, but we don’t see much involvement from here, as she spends the entire story trapped in Hitler’s mind. However, it’s very clear that we’re setting up for future events, and I expect more from her at least in the fourth book, if not the third.

The Doctor is at his manipulative best here, playing everyone against everyone else. It’s unfortunate to see how he uses Ace; although she takes it in stride (at least, as compared to the last book), he had to know she would suffer because of his actions. While I don’t yet know the details, I do know that Ace ultimately leaves him do to a serious disagreement, not many books hence; and I feel that we’re starting to see the roots of that future conflict. Ace, meanwhile, is her usual self, capable and charming and witty and enthusiastic; she only breaks character once, under great stress, when faced with possible sacrifice (she does the traditional screaming-female-companion bit, briefly). I don’t have enough historical background to evaluate the portrayals of Hitler, Himmler, and Goering; but they are certainly convincing and believable here. While I’d never want to humanize Hitler to the point of excusing his actions, we do see enough of his human side here that we can begin to understand how he must have thought at the time–he has doubts and worries, and makes mistakes. I do think that understanding how a man becomes a monster–as with Hitler–can be useful in helping us avoid such a similar path for ourselves, whether we’re in a position of power or not.

As much as this story is a sequel to Timewyrm: Genesys, it is much more a sequel to The War Games. That serial needed a sequel, and this book delivers. At the time of the serial’s broadcast, not much was yet known about the Time Lords or Gallifrey–in fact, they made their first substantial appearance in that story–and this story benefits from the years of canon that have passed since. Kriegslieter–aka the War Chief–much like the Valeyard before him and the Master after, wants the Doctor’s remaining regenerations. Unlike those others, he intends to take them in a much more direct manner–by transplanting his brain into the Doctor’s body. This story introduces the idea that a failed regeneration can terminate a Time Lord’s entire regeneration cycle, locking them into a deformed or otherwise twisted body; this concept will reappear again in the audio The Trial of the Valeyard. As he clearly dies here, it does seem to undermine the occasionally-popular theory that the War Chief is the Master in disguise, though anything is possible, I suppose. At any rate, it appears that the War Lords meet their final end; however, we don’t know much about them in the background, and we don’t know if there may be more of them on their homeworld, so perhaps we’ll see them again.

Some references: The Doctor calls himself “Johann Schmidt”, the Germanic form of “John Smith”; he will use this name again in Storm Warning, Colditz, and Klein’s Story. Ace references events of The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor refers to the death of his third incarnation by radiation (Planet of the Spiders). He uses the line “Sleep is for tortoises”, which he previously said in The Talons of Weng-Chiang). He claims to have never met Hitler before, but this will eventually be contradicted by the Past Doctor Adventures (Sixth Doctor, in this case) novel The Shadow in the Glass; as well, the Eleventh Doctor will meet him in Let’s Kill Hitler!. As far back as the First Doctor, he witnessed the events at Dunkirk (Just War, Byzantium!), and will visit again in Fugitives. As well, the Eighth Doctor will nearly run into the Seventh and Ace at the festival in the novel Endgame. In an example of contradiction, the TARDIS can’t be painted–it resists the paint–unlike scenes in Aliens of London, The Happiness Patrol, and Hell Bent. The Doctor refers to his sonic screwdriver, and acts as though he doesn’t know what happened to it; never mind that he hasn’t carried one since The Visitation (although I can’t vouch for what may have happened in the comics). There’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the TARDIS’s ability to translate; Ace mentions that she doesn’t speak German, and the Doctor countered that she never studied Cheetah language either (Survival), but she will be fine. There’s a rather silly and undignified reference to the Sisterhood of Karn, who last appeared in The Brain of Morbius (and again in several NuWho episodes); the Doctor has a pot of “Dr. Solon’s Special Morbius Lotion, Guaranteed to Contain Genuine Elixir of Life, Manufactured Under License by the Sisterhood of Karn”. The reference is a joke, but the salve really does work as advertised, curing any superficial injury instantly, and rejuvenating the affected area.

It’s worth discussing for a moment Doctor Who’s relationship with World War II. I have to tread lightly on that topic; I’m not British, and don’t have a British perspective, and the war is probably viewed very differently here in America. But it seems to me that the series has always had a very cautious take on World War II. Direct references to the war in the Classic Series were nonexistent; not a single story was set there. Instead, there are more obscure references in the form of villains modeled after WWII personalities, invasions that echo the war in spirit, and so on. I haven’t made much attempt to track real-world references in these reviews; the various Discontinuity Guides available do a good job of that. But I like to think that the series’ general silence on World War II was in part out of respect for the horror and death of the war, and for the memory of the dead. Now, of course, things have changed; not only the VNAs and other novels, but also the revived series, have many times touched on this topic. I think that’s appropriate; after so many decades, one starts to run the risk of forgetting things that should not be forgotten. You reach a point where respectful silence has to give way to telling the stories of the past, even with all its horrors. Doctor Who is no exception, despite being fictionalized.

Overall, a well-written novel. It doesn’t have the same level of gratuitous fanservice as its predecessor, and manages to pull off mature themes without being lurid. Terrance Dicks continues to be a fine writer, and is on top of his game here.

Next time: Timewyrm: Apocalypse! See you there.

 

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Novel Review: Timewyrm: Genesys

I’m doing something a little different today: instead of audios or television episodes, I’m taking a look at a Doctor Who novel. I’ve done this before, with the penultimate Virgin New Adventures novel, Lungbarrow; however, at that time, it was the only novel I had available, so I didn’t set out to make it a series of reviews. However, I’ve recently acquired a number of Doctor Who novels in ebook form, and so I’m considering giving it another try, beginning today. Of course, reading a novel takes more time and effort than watching an episode or listening to an audio drama; and so this series will be somewhat irregular. As long as the novels are short—as today’s entry is—I may aim to complete one each week; but that’s a pretty high bar for which to aim, and it will likely not happen that way, especially as I intend to continue my other review series. Still, it should make for interesting reading.

The ebook collection includes most if not all of the Virgin New Adventures (VNA) novels, so we’ll begin with those. Today we’re looking at the first in the series:  Timewyrm: Genesys, by John Peel, published in July 1991, and featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace. The VNAs were intended to continue where the final classic serial, Survival, left off, and this story does just that, beginning sometime not long after that story.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

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Original Cover Art

 

As novel plots tend to be longer than the equivalent audios and serials, I’ll try to be more concise, and leave out more detail, than I do in my audio and television reviews. Here, we open with a battle in space; a creature calling herself Ishtar is losing, her ship collapsing around her. She is seen to control the minds of her crew, even to the point of seeing through their eyes and directly controlling their bodies. She sacrifices them to make a final blow at the attacking ship, and escapes in a lifepod, falling to the planet below: Earth.

It’s ancient Mesopotamia, and Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, is on the hunt. He meets Ishtar, who claims to be a goddess, but lacks the power to leave the crash site of her lifepod. He rejects her call to join him, and she swears revenge.

On the TARDIS, Ace awakens with amnesia, unable to remember even her own name. The Doctor apologizes; he was using the telepathic circuits to edit his own memories, clearing out old junk, and accidentally caught her in the field. He is able to restore her memories. However, in doing so, he triggers an apparition of the Fourth Doctor, a message implanted long ago, warning him about a creature called a Timewyrm. He doesn’t remember it, but the TARDIS takes over, and takes them to Earth…where they intrude on Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu, in battle against warriors of the rival city of Kish. As they cause the battle to end, Gilgamesh takes them for gods, and takes them along to spy on Kish. The Doctor notes odd copper patterns on the walls, and realizes something isn’t right.

Something, indeed, is not right in Kish. Ishtar, after meeting Gilgamesh, met Dumuzi, Kish’s priest of the goddess Ishtar, who accepted her offer and took her to take residence in the temple of Ishtar. (I’ll go ahead and say that Ishtar, of course, is not her real name; we’ll get that later, but she has taken the name here from Gilgamesh’s mind.) Meanwhile, the king of Kish, Agga, is feeling trapped by Ishtar; but he won’t rebel, because he fears for his city. His daughter, Ninani, has no such qualms, and enlists a priestess of Ishtar, En-Gula, to help her destroy the false goddess. The Doctor confronts Ishtar, and is captured; he learns that she controls her servants by means of implants that let her overtake their minds and bodies. Ace rescues him before he can be implanted, but her use of Nitro-9 explosives tips Ishtar off to the otherworldly nature of the intruders. She orders Agga to hasten completion of the patterns on the walls; they will constitute a radio transmitter that will let her spread her influence across the entire world. As well, she has a cobalt bomb tied to her biosignature, which will detonate and devastate the planet if she dies. She reveals that she used such a device to destroy her home planet, Anu.

The Doctor, Gilgamesh, and the others escape back to Uruk, bringing with them En-Gula and a musician named Avram. En route, they view Ishtar’s crashed pod, and Avram reveals that he has seen something like it before, in the mountains a week away. Ace secretly pockets a now-defused thermite bomb that was left as a trap on the pod. In Uruk, Gilgamesh deals with a conspiracy against him, and Avram tells the story of his visit to the mountains, and to a man named Utnapishtim. The Doctor concludes that Utnapishtim is an enemy of Ishtar—or rather, Qataka, her true name—from her own world, and may help them against her. He sends Gilgamesh and Ace on a mission to recruit Utnapishtim, while he and Enkidu and En-Gula plan a return to Kish. Ace is not thrilled; she has been busy fighting off Gilgamesh’s constant sexual advances, and doesn’t look forward to a week with him on the road.

In the mountains, they find that the Doctor was correct. Utnapishtim is the leader of a spacegoing ark, all that is left of his people—and their power source is failing, due to damage on the ship. Nevertheless, he agrees to help, and takes a pair of smaller craft to get them back to Kish quickly. He has a computer virus which should destroy Ishtar—whom, he reveals, is a cybernetic lifeform, a copy of her original humanoid form. Meanwhile, the Doctor, En-Gula, and Enkidu return to Kish, and recruit Ninani; they are captured by Agga, but released by Ninani, and they advance on the temple. Ace, Utnapishtim, Avram, and Gilgamesh arrive at the same time, as does Agga, and the battle begins. Ishtar smashes the device with the virus, but is infected anyway when she hits Ace with an implant; the device was a decoy, and the real virus has been overlaid on their minds. Knowing the bomb will go off if she dies, the Doctor takes it and Ace back to the TARDIS, and uses the telepathic circuits to dredge up the more-technically-astute Third Doctor’s personality. As the Third Doctor, he uses the implant to create a copy of Ishtar in the TARDIS circuits, then links the bomb to it, giving him time to defuse it. She infects the TARDIS, but he ejects the infected components, apparently putting an end to her.

The Doctor uses Ishtar’s technology from the temple to repair Utnapishtim’s ship, and gives him the cobalt bomb to use as a new power source. He then directs them to an uninhabited world where they can re-establish their civilization. Unfortunately, he can’t change history; the future holds more natural unhappiness for their friends in Uruk and Kish.

Back in the TARDIS, they are attacked when they enter the Vortex. Ishtar is not dead after all; she has merged with the ejected TARDIS components and become something terrible: the Timewyrm. She is free to roam time and space. The Doctor sets course after her, vowing to destroy her.

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Full Cover Art (no logos)

 

I’ve wanted for a long time to read the VNAs. I previously read and reviewed Lungbarrow, but that novel is near the end of the series, and while excellent, doesn’t really capture the range of the series. This, then, was an exciting read for me. On the downside, it assumes a lot of the reader—this is no book for beginners in Doctor Who history. While there are some brief explanations of things such as regeneration and the TARDIS, it can’t be called hand-holding; explanations are good for only the minimum necessary knowledge, and may leave a newbie with more questions than answers. (Ace’s amnesia at the beginning allows room for some explanation; the Doctor is briefly obligated to explain things to her.) As well, there is an excessive amount of references to other stories here; I’ll list some of them shortly, but here I will say that, although I personally love references and fanservice, it’s over the top here. There’s a good reason for that: as the VNAs were the only continuing legacy of the series at the time of publication, they were obligated to hit the ground running, and establish quickly that this really was the true successor to the series. We’ll find as we go on that that position is no longer really defensible, in light of the revived television series; the continuity is just too different—but at that time, this WAS Doctor Who, the only Doctor Who being produced. (To be fair, I like the view that this continuity is not invalid; it’s just different. Certainly I consider the television continuity to be of first importance, the “flagship”, as it were; but this is a perfectly good alternate version.)

We couldn’t do better than to kick off the series with the Seventh Doctor and Ace. This duo is one of my favorites, and they’re just as good here as they are on television. Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing; they have some very vocal arguments. Ace is growing up, to be honest, and she’s not as willing to take the Doctor’s word for things as she was in her earliest appearances. The book contains a number of sexual references, establishing it (as was pitched at the time) as “too broad and deep for the small screen”. It’s not a bad move, as long as it doesn’t get too far from the source material. Here, it mostly takes the form of a very sexually aggressive Gilgamesh (he frequently hits on Ace, as well as other women), and a priestess who is in reality a temple prostitute, frequently with breasts bared. Still, it’s the sort of thing that could easily be adjusted for television, should the need ever arise; it almost seems as though it was written with that possibility in mind, should the series have been revived during the Seventh Doctor’s time. The Doctor gets a great line here, which sums up his entire philosophy of interaction with the universe: “It’s not just the TARDIS that has relative dimensions, Ace, but the societies that we visit too.” He elaborates when he says “I’m not supposed to interfere with [this society’s] natural development. Unnatural development, on the other hand, is a different bucket of fish”—in explaining why he is willing to combat Ishtar, but not to change the societal norms. It gives perspective to the Doctor’s approach to interference in many stories. He also talks about clearing out old memories, as his mind contains too many; but he begins to rethink it when he finds it necessary to call up the Third Doctor’s personality. Reading that scene was bizarre; it was well-written for the Third Doctor, and it was hard not to picture him in the TARDIS.

The locals are interesting to me. Gilgamesh, of historical epic fame (his well-known epic is mentioned as being written by the songwriter Avram), is a barbarian, to be blunt; but despite being a stock character, he’s very entertaining, more so when put up against Ace. Enkidu is a Neanderthal, the last of his kind (as far as he knows; the Doctor and Ace mention the Neanderthal seen in Ghost Light), but very well-spoken and thoughtful, subverting the caveman trope a bit. En-Gula may be a prostitute, but she’s very matter-of-fact about it, and is of a broader mind than even the other characters expect. Agga and Ninani are perhaps the most boring of the bunch; but their family drama is crucial to moving the story along. Utnapishtim, while not a local, was an unexpected twist; he’s essentially a businessman thrust into the role of captain of the ark. As such he’s quiet, unassuming, and tortured by what he thinks he must do to save his people—that is, displace the more primitive humans and take their planet. I was glad to see him get another way out, and I hope we’ll see him again. (Of course, the implication here is that his story is the inspiration for the Gilgamesh epic’s ark story, and by extension the biblical version.)

Ishtar is an exciting villain at this point. She may be a stock character of sorts; but she’s honest about it. She doesn’t have grand aspirations or motivations; she just wants to rule, and to inflict pain on as many people as possible. She may be insane, but she’s methodical and determined. While I knew that this was the beginning of a story arc, and therefore she will return in the next book, the transformation at the end into the Timewyrm was still unexpected and well done. She brings out a determined and fatalistic side of the Doctor that we rarely see, even with the scheming Seventh Doctor; he is more than willing to destroy himself and Ace to stop Ishtar.

References: There are many, and I may not get them all here. The Doctor mentions past companions Sara Kingdom, Katarina, and Adric, and regrets their deaths; the TARDIS even manifests images of Sara and Katarina. The Fourth Doctor appears in hologram form, which was implanted just after The Invasion of Time. The Third Doctor is briefly resurrected in the Seventh Doctor’s body, and calls others by the names of his past companions. The Doctor and Ishtar mention Chronovores living in the void (The Time Monster). Ace makes mention of several onscreen adventures (Silver Nemesis, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Dragonfire, Battlefield, The Curse of Fenric), and is still feeling some residual effect from the cheetah virus (Survival). The Doctor last used the time path indicator in The Daleks’ Masterplan. He mentions K’anpo Rimpoche, last seen in Planet of the Spiders, but mentioned in other stories. He says that the cloister bell last sounded during the events of Logopolis, though this is incorrect; it sounded in Castrovalva, The Mutant Phase (which admittedly doesn’t exist in Big Finish form at the time of writing), and Resurrection of the Daleks. He claims never to have been to Alaska, although Big Finish’s The Land of the Dead would contradict this; perhaps that memory was erased.

Overall, it’s a great start to the VNAs. It contains something for everyone: Fanservice, mature themes, multiple Doctors (sort of), historical events, science-fiction elements, and of course, Seven and Ace. While it may occasionally try too hard, it’s forgiveable here; and we’ll see more to come in the next few novels.

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Next time: We’ll continue with Timewyrm: Exodus, by classic Who author Terrance Dicks! See you there.

 

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