Novel Review: All Flesh is Grass

We’re back, with another novel review! Here we have the second of two reviews of the novels from the Time Lord Victorious multimedia project: All Flesh is Grass, by Una McCormack. You can check out my review of the first novel, The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, at that link.

Just a reminder: For the moment, the only parts of the Time Lord Victorious project that I’m covering are these novels, for the simple reason that I haven’t acquired the rest yet. Fortunately, they form the backbone of the project’s story, so this is as good a place as any to start. This post will read a bit like a “part two” of the previous post, as the books are so tightly intertwined; wherever it may matter, I’ve assumed that you’ve already read the previous post.

This novel, published just over a year ago on 10 December 2020, picks up immediately after the end of The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, and features the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Doctors in the Dark Times near the beginning of the universe. None of the regular companions are featured here; however, Brian the Ood fills the role for us. And with that, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! Here on Reddit, I omit a summary of the plot (if you would like a summary, you can check out the relevant TARDIS wiki page), or you may read this review on my blog, The Time Lord Archives, where a summary is included). However, some spoilers are unavoidable even without the summary, so read at your own risk!


We last saw the Tenth Doctor leading a mercenary ship, with Brian the Ood assassin at his side, against his Ninth self accompanied by a fleet of vampires, and his Eighth self accompanied by—believe it or not—an attack force of Daleks. The prize is the planet Mordeela and the death-dealing Kotturuh—and the Tenth Doctor just gave the order to fire!

The weapon is no small matter. It turns the Kotturuh’s judgment back on themselves, giving them a lifespan, and a rather abrupt one at that. They begin to die off at once. But that isn’t enough to satisfy the Time Lord Victorious. Mordeela is the source of their power of death, and so he attacks the planet itself; and though his fleet is cut down to just one ship by the Daleks and vampires, it manages to strike the fatal blow, reducing Mordeela to rubble and sealing, as it were, the gates of death. The Doctor then manages to depart for other locales, leaving his past selves to hold their coalitions together. They set off in pursuit.

Elsewhere, though, one Kotturuh has escaped the worst. Many years ago, Inyit sensed the coming doom of her people, and hid herself away on Birinji, the first world the Kotturuh doomed. There she maintains her garden inside a biodome, the one spot of life on the dead world, and waits for an end she knows must come.

After weeks of adventurous but undocumented skirmishes against the dying Kotturuh, the Tenth Doctor and Brian find themselves seeking an audience with the Brokers of Entranxis, iron creatures who deal in weapons…and sometimes more interesting things. And the Brokers have something for the Doctor, but it’s not what he expects: it is Madame Ikalla, the leader of the vampires, who was captured while escaping the battle at Mordeela. She is much abused, but the Doctor determines to rescue her. He is interrupted by the arrival of his past selves, who intend the same plan; altogether…well, they botch the job pretty thoroughly. Ultimately Brian and the Tenth Doctor are forced to extract the Eighth Doctor, whose TARDIS is being held by the Daleks; the Ninth Doctor in turn rescues Ikalla, and in the process hears an intriguing mention of a planet called Birinji. But before any of them can escape, the Kotturuh—still trying to carry out their Design, even in the throes of death—come to judge Entranxis. They will fail; they are intercepted and killed by the Daleks. It seems the Daleks intend to replace the Kotturuh as the dealers of death.

Brian, Eight, and Ten make their way to the vampires’ remaining Coffin Ship, and find that all the lesser vampires are dead; the other Coffin Ships in the small fleet have escaped. However, there is a squad of Bloodsmen aboard, the highly trained and powerful bodyguards of the Great Vampires who usually use the ship to travel. They grudgingly ally with the Doctors to try to recover Madame Ikalla. Meanwhile, she—along with the Ninth Doctor and a dying houseplant named Hector (don’t ask)—have landed on Birinji, and there discovered Inyit, who will very soon be the last of her kind. Inyit welcomes them; she has some things to teach them about her experience with life and death, and her own regrets. But perhaps the most urgent thing she tells them is what will reputedly happen if the last of the Kotturuh dies: the gates of death will open, releasing all the remaining power of the Kotturuh at once.

The other Doctors arrive, and a conference ensues. And at last, the Tenth Doctor is properly chastened for his choices—though he still believes in his cause: the fight against death itself. But things have become more urgent; for Madame Ikalla reveals that there was, in fact, a Great Vampire—the old enemy of the Time Lords—aboard her ship. And it has been captured by the Daleks. The possibilities are horrifying.

Ikalla stays with Inyit (and Hector the houseplant) while the Doctors, Brian, the remaining mercenaries, and the Bloodsmen go to war against the Daleks…to rescue the Great Vampire. The ridiculousness of the situation is lost on no one. They soon find that the Daleks have experimented on the Great Vampire; they kill it in the process, but they successfully create Dalek-vampire hybrids, extraordinarily deadly creatures. Soon enough their ultimate aim is revealed: They plan to use the hybrids to destroy Gallifrey here in the Dark Times, long before the native Gallifreyans become their hated enemy, the Time Lords.

And so, the final battle begins, at Gallifrey itself. And it is a very near thing; the Daleks are on the verge of winning. But then, as Inyit’s long life fails, a single Dalek hybrid comes to ensure her death…but before she goes, she pronounces the Kotturuh’s final judgment…on the Dalek hybrids. At once they begin to die, screaming. The pure Daleks aboard their ship are thrown into a panic, as they feel the judgment tugging at their own genetics; fortunately, the Eighth Doctor returns to them at that time, and with a little push from the Tenth, he drags them out of the Dark Times and back to their own time. As Inyit dies, Gallifrey—and the future—are saved.

In the aftermath, the survivors return to Birinji. There they find Inyit dead—but Ikalla remains, and she has been changed. Inyit’s final gift to her is a change in her biology; she is freed from her terrible urges. She is the last of the vampires—save for her scions and the Bloodsmen—and in a way, she is also now the last trace of the Kotturuh, and of the life of Birinji. But new life will come to Birinji; the mercenaries will settle here, as will the remaining undead, who can inherit the changes given to Ikalla. Brian, as well, chooses to stay—though not without acknowledging the unlikely-but-not-impossible chance that he might take over and run the place. The Doctors conclude that, in the wake of the Kotturuh, death will still come to the universe—but in accordance with life’s own patterns, not the Kotturuh Design. Some races will live but briefly; some will outlive the stars; but they will all have their own chance. Death can’t be beaten, perhaps; but sometimes you can outrun it.

And in the future, three men—three faces of the Doctor—meet for one last time.


Although this book picks up where the last left off, and continues the same story, its tone is very different. It’s much more lighthearted and comical, with many witty lines, puns, and jokes. I suppose that makes sense; the first book only features the Tenth Doctor in full Time Lord Victorious mode, and he’s not a very funny guy at that point. Here, though, we get Eight and Nine as well; and not only do they bring their own typical bouncy personalities with them, but also they begin to pull Ten out of his own pit. It isn’t only them, as well; Brian the Ood, the vampire Madame Ikalla, and others all get in some great lines.

But there are somber moments here, as well. Most notably, it becomes clear soon enough that the Eighth Doctor is from a point in his timeline prior to the start of the Time War; he’s fully unaware of it, and of Gallifrey’s destruction (well, he would be unaware of that, I suppose). His optimism and relative naivete are almost painful to watch when played against the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, who do know; it’s certainly painful for them to watch. Even though it’s acknowledged that he–and Nine as well–won’t remember these events once they end, Nine and Ten go out of their way not to tell Eight what’s coming.

That, in turn, begs the question of when exactly these Daleks originate from. Having arrived along with Eight, clearly they must also be pre-Time War Daleks; therefore they also can’t know of the future (despite having a Time Commander among their ranks). And yet, a Dalek is a Dalek is a Dalek; just as surely as their future Time War compatriots, they hit on the idea of destroying Gallifrey before it can rise to be a threat. Some things never change! I did find it interesting that they needed the Eighth Doctor and his TARDIS to get here; it’s stated that Dalek time travel tech has never been able to penetrate the barrier separating them from the Dark Times. It’s the first time I’ve heard of that barrier; I knew these times were forbidden to Time Lords, but I had not heard they were impossible to reach. Possibly this comes up in TLV stories I haven’t experienced yet; at any rate, it bears further investigation.

Overall, not a bad book; but it does have one fatal flaw: It never really resolves its main issue. The Tenth Doctor goes back in time and seeks to destroy the Kotturuh so that they can’t introduce death to a universe where no one ever dies. And yet, once the Kotturuh are vanquished, it really seems to make no difference. All races will still inherit death; they’ll simply come to their own lifespans without the interference of the Kotturuh. Of course the point is made that you can’t defeat death no matter how hard you try–which is not at all a new argument in Doctor Who–but…why was this ever an issue in the first place? It’s all very downplayed at the end. Throughout both books, a major point is that the Doctor has broken something fundamental in history by stopping the Kotturuh. It should have to be fixed–but instead, at the last few pages, we find out that it was never really broken at all. It really removes much of the impact of the story, and that’s unfortunate. Because it’s a hell of a good time getting there–journey before destination, to borrow a phrase from the Stormlight Archive series–and it’s regrettable that the destination is so anticlimax. Well, at least it’s a pretty battle!

Continuity references: Brian the Ood–who, incidentally, really steals the show whenever he’s onscreen–has an elaborate collection of weapons from ancient races: Racnoss (The Runaway Bride, et al), Jagaroth (City of Death), Grelsh, Uxaerian (Colony In SpaceThe Quantum Archangel), Daemon (The Daemons), and Kastrian (The Hand of FearEldrad Must Die!). Nine mentions the Untempered Schism (The Sound of Drums). The Doctors telepathically join by saying “Contact” (The Three Doctors, et al). Ten, speaking to Nine, alludes to a child’s death (To the DeathMuseum Peace). The Daleks use the phrase “philosophy of movement” when speaking of the TARDIS’s time travel (The Daleks). Ten reminds Eight that he started out by changing time to save his friends’ lives (TV movie). Eight thinks about meeting Brian (He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not), and about the TARDIS’s role in bringing them here (What the TARDIS thought of “Time Lord Victorious”). Inyit mentions Kotturuh legends regarding their activities (The Dawn of the Kotturuh). Gallifrey’s galactic coordinates are given (Pyramids of Mars, et al). The Doctors cite the Blinovitch Limitation Effect and caution each other against touching (and then promptly do it anyway, without consequence) (Mawdryn Undead). Eight mentions President Romana (Happy Endings, et al). Hector the Houseplant survives and ends up with the Ninth Doctor (Monstrous Beauty). Rose is mentioned, but is not present; she is on another planet, in the future, recovering (Monstrous Beauty).

Overall: I mean, why not? It’s not the most coherent novel, and it wraps up just a little too neatly (Just this once, everybody lives! gets a new home!). But it’s still a lot of fun, and in the end, that’s why we’re here, right? So yes, check it out–and if you didn’t already read The Knight, The Fool, And The Dead, read that one first.

Next time: Who knows? Soon it will be a new year, new reading/watching/listening, and we’ll see where it takes us. I’ll catch you there.

All Flesh Is Grass is available from many booksellers.

You can read the TARDIS wiki entry for this novel here.

Previous

Novel Review: The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead

We’re back, with another novel review! For the holidays, here’s another standalone novel review (well, almost standalone—let’s say one of two). We’ll get back to the New Adventures soon, but not just yet. Today we’re looking at the first of the two novels from the “Time Lord Victorious” multimedia project, Steve Cole’s The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead. Published in October 2020, this book takes place shortly after the events of The Waters of Mars, and features the Tenth Doctor on the run from—and yet embracing—the decision he made in that story.

I want to go ahead and mention that for the moment, the only part of Time Lord Victorious—hereafter abbreviated as “TLV”—that I’m covering is this novel and its sequel, All Flesh is Grass. For now, anyway; I may try to check out some of the other installments, but at the moment all I have at hand are the two novels. Fortunately, they form a coherent story by themselves, and supplementary materials seem to indicate that they form the core of the entire TLV narrative; so I think we’ll be okay for now.

And with that, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! Here on Reddit, I omit a summary of the plot (if you would like a summary, you can check out the relevant TARDIS wiki page), or you may read this review on my blog, The Time Lord Archives, where a summary is included). However, some spoilers are unavoidable even without the summary, so read at your own risk!


The Doctor has already broken the most important rule—that you cannot change a fixed point in time—so why not break some more?

Thus he travels back, further back than any Time Lord is supposed to go, to the Ancient Days, the era when the universe was young, a time his people referred to as the Dark Times. He finds them anything but dark, though; for here he finds a universe where death is unnatural and rare. Every species is immortal, barring accidents; no one grows old, no one dies by natural means. But that is before the Kotturuh arrive.

The Kotturuh bring death—but not just by killing. Instead, the Kotturuh introduce death. They grant each species a peculiar and dark gift: the gift of a lifespan. For some it is short, for some long, all according to the Kotturuh’s Design. When they come to a world, those above the prescribed lifespan die at once; those beneath age to the point they would have reached had they been born with this lifespan. It is horrifying—and yet they deem it necessary.

The Doctor meets allies here. There is Estinee, the young survivor of an early encounter with the Kotturuh. There is Fallomax, the scientist and scam artist who saved and recruited Estinee. There is Chalskal, the self-proclaimed ambassador and would-be conqueror who seeks Fallomax’s Lifeshroud technology so that he can equip his armies to withstand the Kotturuh’s gift. And last, there is Brian the Ood, a rather strange and possibly insane Ood who claims to have arrived here in the Doctor’s TARDIS, under a different incarnation of the Doctor—and who works as an assassin.

And yet, it may not be enough. For the Doctor, drunk with his own power as the last of the Time Lords, the Time Lord Victorious, has decided to take on the greatest enemy of all—death itself—and cut it off at the source. If he can defeat the Kotturuh here, the universe will never know death as a force; and perhaps its greatest evils—the Daleks, the Cybermen, others like them—will never arise.

The Doctor takes charge of the Lifeshroud project—but he does more than make the life-preserving technology functional. With the help of his friends, he turns it into a weapon, a system that will turn the Kotturuh’s gift back on themselves, and bring death to the dealers of death. The Kotturuh will have their own lifespan, and their power will be cut off from this universe, and life will prevail.

Except…the Doctor’s past lives want to stop him.

The Eighth Doctor and the Ninth Doctor—each accompanied by some of their greatest enemies—arrive at the ultimate moment, and attempt to dissuade the Tenth Doctor from his course. And yet he will not listen, for he is the Time Lord Victorious—and he fires the weapon.


I’ll be brief, and for the very simple reason that this book is not a complete story by itself. I’ll be able to say more when I post part two of this review, concerning All Flesh is Grass.

After so many seasons of the next three incarnations of the Doctor, and all of the elaboration we’ve had on the Time War, the Moment, and the Doctor’s character, it was a bit of a challenge to put myself back in the mindset of the way things were at the end of The Waters of Mars. In some ways it’s a pity that the Time Lord Victorious arc (if we can call it that) was contained to one episode, because the Doctor was forced to go from pride to remorse so quickly. (I realize an argument can be made that other episodes figure in as well, in terms of the influences that led the Doctor to that moment, and in terms of the consequences; but I’m saying that his entire time as the “Time Lord Victorious” was contained to one episode.) That creates a bit of a problem when trying to start this storyline, because the Doctor immediately seems to backtrack. His remorse is forgotten, except for the occasional fleeting memory; he’s right back to be the proud, arrogant Time Lord he was when he decided to save Adelaide Brooke.

But he plays it well, though. He really commits to this new course of action, and he immediately finds a challenge he considers worthy of his status: the removal—prevention, even—of death from the universe. And he turns his considerable personal energy to that goal in very un-Doctorish ways. He blusters and brags; he bullies his friends into doing what he wants; he runs over their objections and refuses to listen; he threatens (okay, that’s Doctorish enough, I admit). And in the end, he decides that the ends justify the means here. He decides—over Estinee’s objections—that doing to the Kotturuh what they’ve done to other species is not just okay, but admirable, if it means stopping them.

And that’s where we get to the real conflict of this book. It’s the infamous Trolley Problem, but writ large, and in Doctor Who terms. If the Doctor does nothing, every species in the universe will experience death. But if he acts to prevent that from happening, the Kotturuh will die (as well as every species they’ve already touched). And yet it’s not quite the same problem, because the Kotturuh aren’t just potential victims; they’re the perpetrators of death for everyone else. So it would seem like an easy choice—make the Kotturuh pay for their actions, kill them, and their many would-be victims can live. That’s the choice the Tenth Doctor makes.

But…it’s not that clear, either. We’re clearly intended to think that what he’s doing is wrong. Not only does Estinee—who is the innocent in this story, the tiny moral compass, the role that is often filled by a companion—disapprove; but also, the Doctor’s past selves disapprove. The Eighth and Ninth Doctors, appearing at the last moment, are here to stop the Tenth from carrying out this strike on the Kotturuh. They even tell him that he thinks he is doing the right thing, but he isn’t. The only catch here, is that we don’t yet know why it’s the wrong decision.

And that’s the exciting part! It could go several ways. It could be that something worse will be unleashed. It could be a “MCU Thanos” scenario, where the future universe can’t support all this life if there’s not death. It could be that death is necessary for the existence of the Web of Time. A million possibilities—and we just don’t know yet. And it’s in that environment, with so little knowledge, that the Tenth Doctor arrogantly makes his decision to strike.

I can’t wait to see what happens!

As for the experience of reading this book, I had only two complaints. For one, it’s very short, 178 pages in hardback. It took me about two hours to read. Not that I mind shorter fiction—I don’t—but It’s a pretty abrupt change from every other Doctor Who novel I’ve read. Of course there’s the sequel still to go; despite being from a different author, it could almost be regarded as the second half of the same book. The other issue was that the characters—specifically the three Doctors, since they’re the only familiar characters—don’t really feel or sound much like their usual selves here. One can picture them doing the things they’re doing, but the dialogue is very different from what we usually get for those characters, and it comes across jarringly. After recently reading (er, listening to) Scratchman, which really nails the characterization and dialogue, it was a bit of a letdown.

But none of that is a dealbreaker, and I still recommend the book.

Continuity References: Obviously there are many references to The Waters of Mars. The Tenth Doctor refers to several “old one” species: The Jagaroth (City of Death), the Exxilons (Death to the Daleks), the Racnoss (The Runaway Bride), and the Eternals (Enlightenment). He uses the term “walks in eternity” to refer to himself, as did the Fourth Doctor in Pyramids of Mars. The Ood Brain is mentioned several times (Planet of the Ood). Chronolocks are mentioned (Face the Raven), as are the fallen civilizations of Ascinta and Perganon (School Reunion). The rise of the Daleks (Genesis of the Daleks) and Cybermen (Spare Parts) are mentioned. The Doctor alludes to the rejection of his name in The Night of the Doctor. He remembers his conversation with Mr. Copper, though not by name (Voyage of the Damned). He puts on his Time Lord robes and says he is dressed for the occasion; the Master did the same in the TV movie. The Dark Times are referenced in a way reminiscent of the short story The Guide to the Dark Times. Brian reports arriving in the Dark Times in the TARDIS (What the TARDIS thought of “Time Lord Victorious”). And, most importantly, there are three interludes, each of which features a scene from a different Doctor’s life; in each instance, he tells the fairy tale of “Godfather Death”. In the first, the First Doctor and Barbara talk in the Cave of Skulls (An Unearthly Child–using that title for the serial, not the individual episode). In the second, Rose and the Ninth Doctor talk (no particular episode cited). In the third, it is the Eighth Doctor with Brian the Ood (again, no particular episode).

Okay, I lied about being brief…oops!

Overall: Despite the heavy topic, this is fairly light reading for Doctor Who. Still, if you’re interested in the TLV series, you should definitely pick it up—and even if not, I think you’ll find it entertaining. After the most recent run of television episodes, it feels like a palate cleanser, and at this point that’s a welcome change.

Next time: All Flesh is Grass, by Una McCormack! See you there.

The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead is available at many booksellers.

You can read the TARDIS wiki entry for this novel here.

Next

Novel Review: Scratchman

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Stepping out of the New Adventures series for a moment, today we’re looking at a more recent, and more unique, novel: 2019’s Scratchman, written by Tom Baker himself!

…Well, not exactly. Baker is certainly credited as the author; and along with Ian Marter, he wrote the original movie treatment from which the novel is adapted. (In some sources, Marter gets a credit on the novel as well.) But the actual writing was handled by James Goss, and he deserves credit as well, so I’m acknowledging him here.

Cover of the print novel

However, Baker did do the reading of the novel; and it’s for that reason that this time, I chose the Audible audiobook version. I’ll go ahead and say, you should too; if you want to experience this novel, do yourself a favor and pick up the audio. Tom is clearly having the time of his life, and it shows; you won’t be disappointed.

This novel features the Fourth Doctor, along with companions Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan (placing it sometime early in the Fourth Doctor’s era—we’ll try to get a better placement later). Further, it’s told in the first person perspective, by the Doctor himself. And so, let’s get started!

Novel print back cover

SPOILERS AHEAD! A brief summary begins here, and contains spoilers. If you want to avoid them, skip down to the line divider, below. However, be aware that some minor spoilers may happen in the later remarks as well.

The Fourth Doctor is on trial. The Time Lords have summoned him to Gallifrey to account for his recent actions; and this time, they aren’t playing around. He is accused of interfering in universal affairs—a rather broad charge, and that’s the point, isn’t it? The penalty, should they find him guilty, is to be wiped from existence—but the Doctor isn’t going to roll over and die. Instead, he’s come to teach the Time Lords a lesson in fear—and to do that, he’s going to tell them the story of his recent encounter with the Devil himself: Scratchman.

The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry arrive on an island somewhere off the coast of Scotland (or is it? It’s suggested, but not confirmed), in a recent but unconfirmed year. It seems like a nice place for a break; but as usual, something is very wrong here. It doesn’t take long for the Doctor and his friends to find that strange living scarecrows have infested the island, and are slowly killing the villagers. Or…are they? It soon becomes apparent that they aren’t killing the locals; they’re transforming them into more scarecrows!

The travelers gather the remaining locals into the village church. The Doctor deduces that a virus is the vector for this strange plague, and that the scarecrows spread the virus by touch; but if he can keep them from getting infected, and can destroy the scarecrows, he can stop it. To the latter end, he constructs a machine that will create an evolutionarily targeted breed of moths, which will devour the scarecrows’ outer shells, killing them. He sends Harry out for parts, and sends Sarah to the TARDIS to retrieve an Artron power pack for the device. Harry is infected while out, though he doesn’t realize it. Sarah accidentally allows a scarecrow into the TARDIS; she confronts and defeats it, but not before it infects her—and what’s more, it infects the TARDIS itself. Along the way, the Doctor himself is infected, though he is able to resist it longer.

A battle in the churchyard leads to the deaths of the remaining locals; although the moths do the job, it’s too late, and the scarecrows capture the Doctor and his friends. They take them to the beach, where they are confronted by the power behind the scarecrows: The Cybermen. However, the Doctor figures out that the Cybermen aren’t the problem here; they, too, are tools. Some other power has gifted them with the scarecrow virus, promising them an easy army; that power now has what it truly wants: The Doctor. It appears on the beach in the form of a humanoid at a distance, as the Cybermen leave the scene and walk into the ocean. The figure tells the Doctor to come to him, and turns Harry and Sarah into scarecrows.

The Doctor lands the TARDIS in a strange volcanic world; as soon as he exits, the TARDIS is consumed by vines. He meets a taxi driver named Charon, who takes him on a drive to meet the ruler of this land. The Doctor has already forgotten much, including his own identity and mission; Charon says this is normal here in the land of the dead, and that it will come back to him eventually. Along the way they suffer an attack from the Cyberleader from the island, who apparently is now also dead. Charon drops him near a castle floating in the sky, which the Doctor enters. He suffers another attack on his identity, but refuses to believe he is dead; the memory of Sarah and Harry returns to him and strengthens him. He finds them in a strange ballroom, dancing among a crowd; but this all serves to try to convince him he is dead, and therefore no longer the Doctor. He sees Harry and Sarah leave with a young man, purportedly his next self; and he begins to lose heart. However he meets a young blonde woman—his Thirteenth self, though he doesn’t know it—who distracts and frees him from the influence of the place.

The Doctor then meets the local ruler, Scratchman, who is ostensibly the Devil himself—which makes this place Hell. Scratchman offers to return the Doctor to his own universe and place, if the Doctor will open the way for Scratch to follow—after all, he claims he has made this a better realm, and claims that, much like the Doctor, he would like to do the same in the Doctor’s universe. The Doctor refuses, leaving a battle between them as the only alternative. He recovers Harry and Sarah, but they find themselves battling Scratchman on a huge game board, which is defined by Harry’s memories and thoughts. The Doctor forces a stalemate before Scratchman tries to change the rules. He loses Harry; but Harry makes his way inside the castle, and sabotages the engines that keep it afloat. The Doctor nearly dies in the crash, but is rescued by the Cyberleader; it tells him that its own form of Hell is being forced to do good deeds, and feel the emotions thereof. It states it will not do so again, and then disappears.

The Doctor now knows Scratch’s secret: He feeds on dreams and feelings and memories. The engines were powered by the consumption of the dreams of those trapped in this world; but that source of power is running out. Scratch begins to consume the world itself in an effort to destroy the Doctor; he creates replicas of many creatures the Doctor has faced and defeated, and sends them after the Doctor. He also creates scarecrow replicas of the Doctor’s previous three incarnations, to judge and dishearten the Doctor. The Doctor and his friends meet up with the islanders who died as scarecrows; the islanders know they’re doomed, but they choose to go down fighting, and stand against the army of monsters, allowing the Doctor to make it back to Scratch’s office in the ruins. Scratch reveals that what he really wants—the thing he believes will give him true power over the Doctor—is to know what the Doctor is afraid of. The Doctor tells him (although we, the readers, are not told). Whatever it is, Scratch is overwhelmed by it, and falls into fear himself. He flees from the remains of the monster army, before falling into a chasm to escape them. Quiet falls over the remains of Hell, and the three travelers—the only survivors—find the TARDIS, now restored, and return to their own universe.

Back at the trial, the Time Lords are unhappy with the outcome; but as the Doctor did save the universe again, and sealed the rift to Scratchman’s universe, they have no grounds to convict him. The Doctor concludes his lesson to them by telling them that what Scratchman wanted was not truly the Doctor’s fear, but rather, the Time Lords’ fear. He tells them they are afraid of change; and tells them to take action when the universe is under threat. He then walks out of the courtroom.

Later, while taking a much-belated break, the Doctor talks with Sarah about her experiences in the infected TARDIS, and about the future, and the knowledge of it. He meets briefly with the Thirteenth Doctor again, and talks about their own mutual future. He ends, much later, with a reading of a note from Sarah Jane, who is no longer with him.


I’m going to change up my usual order of things, and list continuity references now, rather than at the end. There’s a method to my madness, so bear with me:

Continuity references: The Doctor has previously been tried (The War Games), and will be again, several times. He mentions the Master’s doomsday weapon (Colony in Space). He mentions several recent encounters: professors (Robot), giant wasps (The Ark in Space), “militant potatoes” i.e. Sontarans (The Sontaran Experiment), mad scientists (Genesis of the Daleks), shapeshifters i.e. Zygons (Terror of the Zygons), and androids (The Android Invasion). Sarah Jane has her own mentions: her aunt Lavinia (The Time Warrior, later in A Girl’s Best Friend), a space station (The Ark in Space), a minefield (Genesis of the Daleks), a mummy (Pyramids of Mars), an android duplicate (The Android Invasion), a stuffed owl (The Hand of Fear), a garden centre (A Girl’s Best Friend–Sarah is seeing possible futures at this point), an exploding school (School Reunion) and a young boy (Luke, Invasion of the Bane et al.). She believes, erroneously, that the Jigsaw Room floor is a tile trap (Death to the DaleksThe Pyramids of Mars). The Doctor mentions the Loch Ness Monster (Terror of the Zygons) and thinks about the Daemons (The Daemons). Scratchman pulls several monsters from the Doctor’s memories: Giant spiders (Planet of the Spiders), Macra (The Macra Terror), Mechonoids (described but not named; The Chase), a giant robot (Robot), giant maggots (The Green Death), brains in jars (The Keys of Marinus), and a metal city of Daleks (described but not named; The Daleks).


Audiobook cover

How many times has the Doctor met the devil?

It’s a good question! And admittedly, one that’s difficult to pin down. A statement that repeatedly comes up in Doctor Who is that Earth’s history of belief in the devil has been greatly influenced by outsiders. The Daemons from the planet Daemos are once source (The Daemons), as were the Demoniacs (Mean Streets). The Greek immortal Hades called himself Satan (Deadly Reunion), as did Sutekh (Pyramids of Mars). The Beast claimed to be Satan, and certainly looked the part (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit). (This information taken from the TARDIS wiki, not assembled by me.)

And here we meet another candidate, Scratchman. This being comes from outside our universe, from a related realm that poses itself as the Land of the Dead. It’s actually unclear whether Scratchman originated there, or whether he came from somewhere else; the Doctor makes it clear that Scratchman’s rule had a definite beginning, and Scratch himself doesn’t deny it.

Scratch’s claim to being the devil is pretty good, as compared to some of the others. The dead really do appear to go to his realm (or at least some of them; this isn’t the only afterlife we’ve ever seen); while there, the Doctor meets the dead villagers that he previously encountered in life, and both he and they seem convinced that the villagers are both real and dead. Even more convincingly to me, the Doctor never denies that Scratch is exactly what he says he is; in fact the Doctor supports that claim, treats him as though he is in fact the Devil, and even later warns the Time Lords that they should fear Scratchman. When the Time Lords mock him for this, he doubles down. Is Scratch truly the devil? It’s up to the reader in the end; but the Doctor himself seems to think so, at least to the limit that he acknowledges that the devil could be real at all.

The Doctor purports to give the Time Lords a lesson in fear; indeed, all the interludes set during the trial are themed around various aspects of fear. The overall lesson seems to be that fear is a tool, and if you can’t overcome it, someone will use it. That lesson cuts in two directions; the Doctor urges the Time Lords to overcome their own fear of change and inactivity so that it can’t be used against them, and so that they don’t fail in their responsibilities to the universe; but at the same time, it’s clear that he overcomes his own fear. He does this not by denying it, but by embracing it and using it to motivate himself. We’re never told exactly what the Doctor fears, but it must be something great indeed, if in the end it drives even his enemy to extremity. (The novel doesn’t take the easy way out here; it would be so simple to say that “The Doctor fears losing his friends” or something sentimental like that, but the book explicitly avoids that option—rather, he makes it clear that he loves his friends, and that love is a potent force for good.)


Now, a bit of theorizing. Let’s think about when this story takes place. Based on the list of continuity references above, it’s clear that this story happens near the end of Harry’s travels with the Doctor. In fact, his last televised adventure, The Android Invasion, has already taken place; but the next story, The Brain of Morbius, does not feature Harry, and gets no mention here, implying this story takes place immediately between those two adventures. (There are mentions of later episodes, but they are explicitly images of possible futures, not memories of things already past.) I think that the Doctor’s “lesson” to the Time Lords here is specifically a reaction to the events of Genesis of the Daleks. The Doctor has always considered the Time Lords to be stagnant, standoffish, and set in their ways, qualities he abhors. I think that when they began to interfere by proxy, during his third life, he grew frustrated with their efforts to use him to do things they themselves considered beneath them; and I think this came to a head in Genesis, where he finally refused to comply. Thus he comes here and lectures them about their habit of ignoring their responsibility to the universe, because even in sending him out to do their dirty work, they’ve been refusing to get involved themselves—using him as an “out”, as it were.

But: remember that there’s also a popular theory that the events of Genesis constituted the opening blow of the Time War. My addition: What if the reason the Time Lords began to fight the war directly, is because of the Doctor’s speech here? What if he prompted them to take direct action—and in typical Time Lord fashion, they screwed it up, and started a war they couldn’t win? Essentially, the Doctor called them cowards and dared them to do it. A lesson in fear, indeed! Or at least it’s frightening to think of in hindsight.


The highlight of the story is the perspective. The first person perspective is a unique addition to this story; and with the Fourth Doctor as a narrator, it becomes an interesting look into his thoughts. He’s conceited, there’s no doubt about that; but when coupled with his obvious love for life and sense of humor, it comes across as charming rather than arrogant. This is the Doctor in his youth; I’ve long suggested that given Time Lord lifespans, the fourth incarnation is the Doctor’s adolescent period, where he’s rebellious and wild, but also still has much to learn. This story seems to bear that out. He’s not the jaded and cunning Doctor of future incarnations; he’s sarcastic but not cynical, and even in some ways naïve. It’s refreshing, but it’s not the view of the Doctor that we would get through companion eyes.

Overall: What a fun story! It’s not the most serious adventure out there, though neither is it absurd, despite the premise; it’s just serious enough. And that’s a good place for a Fourth Doctor adventure to be. It’s also highly sentimental; one gets the impression it’s Tom Baker’s memorial to Ian Marter and Elizabeth Sladen, both of whom are referenced fondly, both in and out of character. If you have the opportunity, check it out, and enjoy the trip.


Next time: Well, this isn’t part of a series, and standalone novels are rare among my reviews, so…we’ll see? I may cover the Nest Cottage trilogy; for anyone interested, you can obtain the entire set for one price on Audible, or if you have an Audible membership, for one credit. Regardless, whatever we cover, see you there!

Doctor Who: Scratchman may be purchased in print form from Amazon and other booksellers, and in audio form from Audible and other audio distributors.

The TARDIS wiki’s treatment of the novel may be found here.

Novel Review: Strange England

We’re back! And hopefully we’ll stay caught up now! Last time, we looked at #28 in the Virgin New Adventures series of Seventh Doctor novels, Blood Harvest. Today we’re examining #29, Simon Messingham’s only contribution to the line: August 1994’s Strange England. Judging by that cover, it’s going to live up to its name—so, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, skip ahead to the dividing line below.

Anytime the TARDIS takes its crew to a peaceful place, you can rest assured that trouble is on the way. This newest destination, a Victorian manor in the country, is no exception. Almost immediately, the first person the Doctor, Ace, and Benny meet—a young girl named Victoria (no connection to the former companion of the same name)—is killed by a large, vicious insect lodging itself in her throat. Other deaths are happening elsewhere among the household staff: the groundskeeper is killed by a tree, the gardener by his roses. Ace goes to find help, and the Doctor and Benny carry Victoria back to the house, where they meet another resident, Victoria’s sister Charlotte, as well as the housekeeper. Along the way, Benny sees a man by the lake, smoke spewing from his body.

It quickly becomes apparent that the household have no concept of time, of death, of change–as though they live in a sort of stasis. They’ll learn soon enough, though, as the deaths begin to mount. Meanwhile, Ace finds herself in a village, where she encounters Arthur, another member of the household, who is very unwell. The pair run afoul of Dr. Stephen Rix and his thugs, though Ace finds an unexpected ally in future author Richard Aickland, whose books she once read. She finds Rix to be a sadistic, focused psychopath, determined to punish God Himself for perceived slights against him; when he fails to use Arthur and his burgeoning powers for that purpose, he sets out to find the rest of Arthur’s household and accomplish his aims.

While the Doctor tries to solve the mystery of the house and its inhabitants, he sends Benny and Charlotte—who is now rapidly aging—to investigate the smoking man. Thus they discover another piece of the puzzle: the figure calling himself the Quack, who claims a relationship to the Doctor via the Doctor’s dreams. The Quack invades the house, causing it to begin to tear itself apart; and Benny is struck down by one of the insects that killed Victoria.

But all of this has a familiar ring to the Doctor. As the threads of this story converge—and, fortunately, Benny is saved from an untimely death—the Doctor at last pieces it together: The world of the house, and all its people, is not the real world at all. It’s the manipulated interior of a TARDIS. And not just any TARDIS: this one belongs to an old acquaintance of the Doctor. Her name is Galah, and she is dying.

Galah has a bone to pick with the Doctor, dating all the way back to her school days—and now that her life is ending (prematurely, it seems—something went wrong with her regenerative process), she’s come back to make her final point. While the Doctor has always believed that good and evil are choices we make, an act we carry out, Galah believes them to be a state of being. To prove her point, she has linked her dying mind to her TARDIS, and used its architecture system to create the artificial world of the house, linked to a corresponding spot on Earth like an anchor. It’s static, benign, and good—and it’s utterly failing.

But before the Doctor and his friends can do anything about that, there are Rix and the Quack to deal with. The problem of Rix solves itself; when Rix comes face to face with the Quack, who is now a monstrous and vengeful creature, he is overwhelmed, and kills himself. However, his death becomes the key to the Quack’s power; the Quack is a facet of the TARDIS, and is attempting to absorb everyone inside. Because Rix died before being absorbed, his consciousness is not assimilated, and in death he—now merged with the Quack—gains control of the interior of the TARDIS, cordoning Galah off into a corner.

The Doctor, Benny and Ace escape in their own TARDIS, using it to approach Galah’s from the outside, and entering the control room, where Galah’s dying body sleeps. The Doctor connects himself to the TARDIS, joining her on the inside, while Benny and Ace take a different route in to try to rescue Charlotte and Aickland, the only survivors from the house. They defend Charlotte and Aickland from Rix’s torture; meanwhile, the Doctor manages to rouse Galah to help him, and together, they erase Rix from the TARDIS’s protyon core, destroying him forever.

Galah at last admits that the Doctor was right: Good is a choice, as is evil—a life that one leads, not what one is by definition. She is dying; but at the Doctor’s suggestion, she uses the last of her energy to change Charlotte and make her real, so that she can survive outside the TARDIS. The Doctor takes Charlotte and Aickland back to Earth, the real Earth; they will later marry, and Aickland will write the books of ghost stories by which Ace knew him.


Strange England is the story of a world that never changes—until it does. On the surface, it’s a normal Victorian manor and village; but when did Doctor Who ever stop at the surface? And things are not what they seem here. As the situation deteriorates, things become progressively more bizarre, until the Doctor reaches the core of things—and takes a trip down memory lane, all the way back to his academy days.

We’ve met the Doctor’s old schoolmates before. The Rani, the Master, others—it’s a group of misfits worthy of any adventure. Galah, though, strikes me as a bit of a misfit even with that group—she’s the bookworm among the jocks, the Luna Lovegood among Harry, Ron, and Hermione. She’s a late arrival in the story—we get her name early, but we find out nothing about her until the final third of the book. I feel some affinity for her—I was a nerdy bookworm myself in school, at a time when being a nerd would still get you beaten up. And we get hints that the Doctor himself didn’t treat her well in the Academy—imagine that, the First Doctor being rude!—but he seems to regret it now.

I struggled with this book, I will admit. It was a very slow starter. It redeems itself in that final third, but you have to wade through a lot of meandering to get there. It’s not very surprising to learn that the author himself doesn’t think highly of this book; he’s even gone on record as saying that he hates the ending, and would change it. I should point out that the ending, as he is referring to it, is everything about the character of Galah; originally he wanted the Doctor to conclude that he was responsible for the problems in the House, and simply be forced to walk away, the “ultimate anti-climax”, as Messingham put it.

But that, as it turns out, leaves me with mixed feelings—because Galah and the ending are the best things about this story. I can agree with Messingham that the book isn’t great; but the part about which he is the least happy, is the part that went the furthest toward redeeming the book, in my opinion. There’s something to be said for having these characters live in the shadow of what is essentially their high school drama; to see what happens when someone just can’t let go and move on, and see the tragedy that results.

Oh well; can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

Messingham would not write for the New Adventures again. He would, however, go on to write several Doctor Who novels in other lines, all the way up to the Tenth Doctor Adventures. I have yet to read any of his other works, but I hope to get there eventually, at least with his Eighth Doctor Adventures contributions, and see how far he may have come.

The other major issue that bears addressing here is the use of TARDISes (and I’ll try not to spoil the punchline for those who didn’t read the summary above). It’s not the first time we’ve seen a situation like this—Ace even makes reference to the rather bizarre events of Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, which are admittedly far more extreme than what we see here. However, I find the situation in this novel to be much closer to the depiction of the TARDIS’s architectural capabilities as displayed in the revived television series, and it’s a nice little bit of unintentional foreshadowing. (Still no protyon cores in the new series, though!)

This story, in my opinion, isn’t particularly groundbreaking for any of our protagonists. Messingham did try to subvert some of the usual tropes: the Doctor runs from a desperate situation (temporarily) instead of helping; Ace gets her fingers broken (temporarily) and thus can’t fight; Benny dies (temporarily) instead of getting captured…okay, she’s also captured, sort of, so never mind that. But, overall, the focus here is much more on the strange situation than on the characterization. It does work, sort of; it’s just that the story takes so long to come together, and so the full effect of that situation is diluted.

Continuity references: Not too many, this time, and some of these are a bit thin. The Doctor believes evil to be a force (The Guardians of Prophecy). Benny mentions the events of Birthright; Ace mentions those of Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible and Timewyrm: Revelation. The Matrix gets mentioned, but this isn’t the Gallifreyan Matrix; rather, it’s the Matrix in a TARDIS, the data system that makes up its programming and personality (The Doctor’s Wife). Bernice recalls the Land of Fiction (Conundrum). Ace reiterates that she’s had enough of Victorian England and angels (Ghost Light). The Architectural Configuration Program is mentioned (Castrovalva, and in the future, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS). The Doctor plays the spoons (Time and the Rani). Benny thinks of the planets Heaven (Love and War) and Lucifer (Lucifer Rising). The Doctor thinks of Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith.

Overall: Well, that was…something, anyway. I don’t hate it—it’s no The Pit—but it’s hardly a top-of-the-line entry. It did pick up near the end, and Galah makes the whole story poignantly tragic; I wish we’d had more of that, and less of the wandering aimlessly. But, if you’re into the foibles and secrets of TARDISes, you might still want to check this one out.

Next time: We’ll head back to a more modern (well, 1950s modern) Earth in David A. McIntee’s First Frontier! See you there.

A prelude to Strange England was published in DWM 125, and can be read here.

The Virgin New Adventures series is out of print, but may be purchased from many resellers.

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Novel Review: All-Consuming Fire

We’re back! Almost caught up now. Today we’re looking at the twenty-seventh entry in the New Adventures novel series: Andy Lane’s All-Consuming Fire. Published in June 1994, and featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny, this novel takes a turn even further into fiction with an appearance by none other than Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson! That should be interesting. So, let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the line divider, below.

In 1887, a secret and most interesting library stands in London: the Library of St John the Beheaded, visited only by those in the know. And, despite its most impressive security, it has been robbed. Several rare and important books have been stolen—books which, if properly used, may lead to another world. A case of such import deserves the best; and so, at the behest of none other than the Pope, Sherlock Holmes and his partner, John Watson, take the case.

They are not alone in their efforts. Also at work is a strange and mysterious figure, one who has been associated with the library under various faces: A man calling himself The Doctor. There’s one problem: The Doctor himself was the last to read the books—and thus, he himself is a suspect!

One thing is sure: this case won’t be easy. It will take Holmes, Watson, and the Doctor to places they never expected to go—from a séance in a rundown brothel, to the rugged and hot provinces of central India, to a world called Ry’leh that is populated with monstrosities, to perhaps the strangest place of all: San Francisco (!). Moreover, the case will prove to be personal for Holmes, much more so than even the great detective ever anticipated. The only question remaining is, will any of them survive?


One of the great things about the VNAs is the capacity for experimentation. Typically that means more sex, profanity, and violence than television would allow; but sometimes there’s experimentation with other conventions as well. Here, we have experimentation with the format itself. This novel takes the form of a book within a book. The frame of the story consists of the Doctor, Benny, and Ace discussing their adventure with Holmes and Watson (which are pen names for the real individuals; their real names are not given). The Doctor hands Benny a book by Arthur Conan Doyle, titled The Strange Case of the All-Consuming Fire (or, more fully, “All-Consuming Fire: Being a Reprint From the Reminiscences of Doctor John Watson As Edited by Arthur Conan Doyle”), which is Doyle’s (and by extension, Watson’s) take on their adventures. (Benny isn’t particular impressed; she implies that it took liberties with the real events.) The rest of the book, in the middle, is the text of Doyle’s book; therefore, as with most of Doyle’s works, it is presented in first person from Watson’s perspective (with occasional excerpts from Benny’s diary, as provided by her to Watson).

And now, confession time: I have never read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s one of those things that has perpetually been “on the list”, but I’ve never made it to them yet. I’m familiar with some of them through highly abridged junior versions from my school days, or from various adaptations, but I haven’t read the original works. Therefore, as much as I’d like to, I can’t comment on how convincing the presentation is (given that it purports to be a Doyle book). On the bright side, that left me with no preconceptions about it; and I will say that Lane does a convincing job of making it seem period-appropriate. That’s good enough for me!

Not emphasized is the H.P. Lovecraft influence on this story. Given that the story takes place three years before Lovecraft’s birth, it’s no wonder his name is never referenced—but his work forms the entire foundation of the book. And while I’m not particularly familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories, I am an unabashed Lovecraft fan (well, except for the racism and all—I like his work, not the man himself as much). So there’s reference here to several features of the Cthulhu Mythos, including Cthulhu himself (in a reference back to the events of White Darkness). This story’s ultimate villain, Azathoth, is a Lovecraft reference; it is a being that became a major figure in the mythos after Lovecraft’s death, although he himself died before he could give it more than a passing reference in the short story of the same name. Both Cthulhu and Azathoth—along with Hastur the Unspeakable (aka Fenric), Lloigor (aka the Animus, from the planet Vortis), Dagon, Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth (possibly the Great Intelligence, by the Doctor’s implication), and the Gods of Ragnarok—are Great Old Ones, that collective group of beings from the universe prior to our own. The planet Ry’leh is undoubtedly a reference to R’lyeh (slightly different spelling), the island city from The Call of Cthulhu. It’s a bit strange to see all of these references and not have them called out as such; it almost makes them into a part of the background. The Doctor, of course, takes it all in stride, as do Ace and Benny—this is nothing new for them—but even Watson’s reactions are more subdued than I would have expected. Holmes is the only one who is rattled by the entire situation; but Watson explains that that is because, on Ry’leh, all of the familiar conventions that Holmes relies on for his famous deductions, are not present. He’s perhaps more adrift than anyone, simply because on Earth he’s more grounded than most.

As if tracking the Doctor’s course isn’t difficult enough, there’s a short time skip at the end, at least for him. The Doctor, Holmes and Watson, and Ace and Benny, end up stranded in San Francisco in 1906—two decades after the time from which they departed. Watson briefly thinks about whether they’ll get back home; but in the moment, the Doctor excuses himself, and next thing anyone knows, the TARDIS is materializing to take them all back. The Doctor admits that he left them and spent three months traveling back to London to retrieve the TARDIS, then traveled back to the same moment to retrieve them. It’s a fairly minor point (and exactly the kind of thing the series usually avoids, because if the Doctor can do this sort of thing, why doesn’t he always do it?). I mention it, though, because I’ve noticed throughout the VNAs that the Seventh Doctor is very good at piloting the TARDIS where he wants it to go. Previous incarnations were never so good. This is consistent throughout his time, as well (or at least as much of it as I’ve experienced); it’s a minor plot point in television serials as well, for example Delta and the Bannermen, which was during Mel’s time as a companion. I had always assumed this was something that developed during the Time War, and that we didn’t see it until the new series, but apparently not. This matters, though, because some sources imply that the yet-to-be-born Seventh Doctor took control of the Sixth Doctor’s body and flew the TARDIS into the path of the Rani’s weapons in order to bring about the Sixth Doctor’s deaths. (We’ll get to that in a later novel, but it’s worth mentioning now.) The fact that he has this degree of skill would add weight to that theory.

Continuity References: I’ve mentioned several already, but in addition: The Library of St John the Beheaded was mentioned in Theatre of War and will show up again several times. The Gods of Ragnarok are a reference to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. The Doctor mentions the Raston Warrior Robot (The Five Doctors). The Seventh Doctor’s fob watch is the same one carried by the First Doctor (it’s unclear if it’s also the same as the Tenth Doctor’s watch from Human Nature/The Family of Blood). Holmes and Watson will show up in other stories, most notably in Happy Endings (but then, everyone shows up in Happy Endings…); not all stories will treat them as real people, unfortunately. Ace says her smart missiles—perhaps a little too smart—deserted her on Peladon to form a union with mining machinery (Legacy). Silurians are mentioned (The Silurians, et al.) Benny mentions the planet Terserus (several stories, but probably most famously from The Curse of Fatal Death). The Doctor’s pants are still dirty from Menaxus (Theatre of War; seriously, do your laundry, Doctor). The Third Doctor briefly appears in the Diogenes Club; the Seventh Doctor gets him kicked out. The Doctor leaves the TARDIS with George Litefoot (The Talons of Weng-Chiang, many others). The Doctor reads Adventures Amongst the Abominable Snowmen by Redvers Fenn-Cooper (Ghost Light; completely by coincidence, I happened to rewatch Ghost Light while I was reading this book, so seeing the name pop up again was an unexpected treat). A cult of Shobogans is mentioned (The Deadly Assassin). Shlangii mercenaries appear here; they were first mentioned in The Ribos Operation. Holmes says “sleep is for tortoises”, a line previously said by the Fourth Doctor (The Talons of Weng-Chiang). Not a DW reference, but a Holmes reference: The giant rat of Sumatra is implied to have been from Ry’leh. The library contains a copy of Love’s Labours Wonne (Theatre of WarThe Shakespeare Code) and documents about the Loch Ness Monster (Terror of the Zygons). Sabalom Glitz is mentioned (Dragonfire; it’s implied that Ace may have lost her virginity to Glitz). The Doctor and Benny also make a number of quick, offhand references to various stories, too many to list here (I’ve already gone on too long); for a full list, see the Discontinuity Guide for this story.

Overall: This one is pretty good. Not quite the page-turner that I found the next entry to be, but that’s just personal preference; you will probably enjoy this one too. It’s refreshingly different, and in a good way (we’ll get a bad example of “different” soon).

Next time: We’ll revisit E-Space (and gangland Chicago!) in Terrance Dicks’s Blood Harvest. See you there!

A prelude to All-Consuming Fire can be found here. An audio adaptation by Big Finish Productions may be purchased here.

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: Theatre of War

We’re back! Today we’re looking at the twenty-sixth volume of the New Adventures series of Seventh Doctor novels: Theatre of War, by Justin Richards. Published in May 1994, and featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Benny, this novel remains one of my favorites from the New Adventures (so far, anyway). Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the line divider below.

It’s not often an empire is founded by actors, but that is exactly what happened on Heletia. Its colonists turned their love of theatre into a drive to conquer the stars, and for awhile, they were successful. Now, though, they are being driven back toward their homeworld by the Rippeareans; and between them and their enemies lies the disputed world of Menaxus. But Menaxus may hold a secret: the ruins of a civilization that loved the theatre as much as the Heletians. Five years ago, an expedition to Menaxus was aborted by tragedy. Now, Bernice Summerfield—in the right place at the right time, at the storied Braxiatel Collection—is joining a second expedition to Menaxus. But with the enemy encroaching, time is short, and things are more dangerous than they seem.

When Bernice is nearly killed by an assailant who seems to be a ghost—unbelievable as that may seem—she summons the Doctor and Ace. As one by one the expedition members are picked off, the Rippeareans arrive in the system; Ace holds them off, nearly at the cost of her own life. Meanwhile the Doctor and Benny race to figure out just what the truth is about Menaxus—and about the war between Heletia and the Rippeareans. Now, if only they can manage to survive until the curtain comes down on this performance…

For what may be the first time in the New Adventures, we have a story that strongly focuses on Bernice Summerfield, and in a positive way! Oh, she still has a near miss or two—she does nearly get killed by a ghost—but for now, she’s not there simply to get tied up/drugged/turned into a zombie/etc. This is, quite simply, her show. (And yes, I know, eventually she will be THE star of the New Adventures after the Doctor Who license is lost, but no one knew that at this point, so the point still stands.) Because, frankly, the series hasn’t been kind to Benny so far. I’ve only completed a few more books past this point, but so far, this book seems to mark an uptick in events for her; she plays a more pivotal role in books to come.

The story picks up three months after the events of Legacy. Bernice, burnt out on the insanity of traveling with the Doctor and Ace, left at the end of that story to join an archaeological expedition to Phaester Osiris. The vacation has done a world of good for her, and now she is bringing the results of the expedition to the Braxiatel Collection, which sponsored the trip. And here we get the introduction of another character who will become a major figure of the Whoniverse: Irving Braxiatel, the owner of the Collection that bears his name. Consider the Collection an asteroid-sized museum with entirely too much money and fingers in too many pies. The TARDIS wiki says that Braxiatel’s first appearance was in Legacy, but I don’t recall him appearing there; I expect it was just a mention at the end. (The Braxiatel Collection was first mentioned all the way back in City of Death, in a throwaway line by Romana in Part One.) That makes Theatre of War his first appearance of any substance. At any rate, this story is Benny’s first meeting with him (although not his first meeting with her; see continuity, below). Whether it’s the start of a beautiful friendship remains to be seen. (It’s also noted that he has a connection to the Doctor, but I won’t get into that now—it isn’t spelled out, and there will be other stories that dig into it.)

The story is fascinating to me, as well, because it’s perhaps the first story where the Seventh Doctor is truly outplayed. I won’t spoil who manages it, or how, but suffice to say that it’s not a bad ending; it’s simply not the ending the Doctor wanted.

It seems strange to say it this way, but I feel like this version of the TARDIS team seems to work together better when they’re separated. That is, each person has an assignment to carry out, and their own relevant story thread; but those threads together display a degree of teamwork that was missing for a long time. Some of that was probably deliberate; Ace, Benny, and the Doctor couldn’t get along for their first dozen or so adventures together, and had to learn to not only work together, but to tolerate each other. They seem to have finally hurdled that obstacle—there will be occasional misunderstandings going forward, but no actual fights in the immediate future. Indeed, most upcoming books will scatter the characters out before bringing them back together to solve the issue of the day.

Continuity references (in addition to those mentioned above): Braxiatel’s first meeting with Benny, from his perspective, is documented in Dragon’s Wrath and Disassembled; his connection to the Doctor is revealed in Tears of the Oracle. The Doctor mentions the Eye of Orion (The Five Doctors); the Black Hole of Tartarus (Terror of the Vervoids), the events of The Chase; meeting Kublai Khan (Marco Polo); Metebelis III (The Green DeathPlanet of the Spiders, et al.); the experiential grid on Argolis (The Leisure Hive), and the Eternals in their yachts (Enlightenment). The projector in the Menaxan theatre contains a performance of Love’s Labour’s Won (The Shakespeare Code); we will see the print version make an appearance in the next novel, All-Consuming Fire. (Incidentally, I love when the new series picks up on tiny bits of trivia like this and turns them into foreshadowing; the play is the entire point of The Shakespeare Code.) Braxiatel also has a blotter referring to him as “Custodian of the Library of St John the Beheaded”; we’ll see that library in great detail in All-Consuming Fire. The expedition to Telos is mentioned (Tomb of the Cybermen). Benny’s locator is tracked via the TARDIS’s Time Path Indicator (The Chase). The Collection contains statues of Lavithian Graffs (The Ribos Operation). Phaester Osiris is the homeworld of Sutekh, and was destroyed (though not completely, just in the sense of civilization) by him (Pyramids of Mars). The Doctor references Borusa, though not by name (The Deadly Assassin).

Overall: Well, I’ve already said that this is one of my favorites. I don’t think it’s generally regarded as a turning point in the series, but that is how it seems to me; and while I’ve only finished a few books beyond this one, the promise of that turning point seems to be carried out. Highly recommended. It helps to have read at least Legacy, for the background on why Benny is away from the TARDIS at first, but I won’t call it necessary. Check it out!

Next time: The Doctor and his companions meet the most unlikely of historical figures: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson! We’ll be looking at All-Consuming Fire, by Andy Lane. See you there!

A prelude to Theatre of War can be found here. An audio adaptation of Theatre of War may be purchased from Big Finish Productions here.

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: Legacy

We’re back! Today, we’re reviewing the next entry in the New Adventures series of Seventh Doctor novels, Gary Russell’s Legacy. The twenty-fifth novel in the series, this book was published in April 1994 (nearly 27 years ago!), and features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice. Let’s get started!

Some spoilers ahead! For a more spoiler-free review, skip down to the line divider, below.

The Doctor is in pursuit of a murderer. That would be bad enough, but there’s a complication: The victim was the daughter of the leader of the Galactic Federation. She was killed due to her pursuit of an ancient, and possibly evil, artifact called the Diadem—on a world very familiar to the Doctor: Peladon.

The Doctor takes Bernice to Peladon to search for the murderer in the midst of King Tarrol’s Restatement ceremony, an occasion with delegations from across the Federation in attendance, including a delegation of Ice Warriors, much to Benny’s delight. Meanwhile he sends Ace to the planet Pakha, home of the slain woman’s partner in the archaeological expedition, to follow up on the Diadem itself.

But one murder is never enough for the power-hungry, and more people fall victim to the murderer. Nothing is as it appears, and the real villain (or villains, perhaps?) will not be who anyone expects—least of all the Doctor.

Not that anyone is worried about the Doctor’s opinion—after all, he just became the next victim.

I fear that I’ve waited too long to review this story—about fourteen months—and won’t really be able to do it justice. To refresh my memory, I’ve been reading through the excellent and thorough plot summary over on the Doctor Who Reference Guide, and constantly shaking my head at all the details I’ve forgotten. Still, we’ll give it a try!

We revisit an old friend here: the planet Peladon, from the Third Doctor’s era. The Doctor has been here at least four times previously; however, he only mentions two. Out of universe, this is because two of those stories–The Prisoner of Peladon and The Bride of Peladon–are Big Finish audios which had not yet been recorded at this novel’s publication. The two mentioned appearances are television’s The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon, both Third Doctor serials. Placing this story in time is a bit of an exercise, but with a cheat sheet at the end; one could nearly nail it down from various clues, but then later, in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Placebo Effect, Russell places this novel in the year 3984. This makes it the third of a series of four visits to Peladon roughly every fifty years: Curse in 3885, Monster in 3935, Legacy in 3985, and (as hopefully one day I’ll cover) Bride in 4035. (Prisoner doesn’t seem to fit the pattern.) Most characters have changed or been replaced since last time; the notable exception is our giant-eyed friend Alpha Centauri, who seems to be particularly long-lived.

It’s perhaps a bit unfair to compare two unrelated stories in this series, but I find it useful here in order to illustrate what I liked about Legacy. The previous book, Tragedy Day, I would describe as complicated; but this one, as complex. Tragedy Day was complicated largely because it was so ambitious; it tries to do, well, everything, and as a result it’s chaotic. It has…I’m trying very hard not to use the phrase too many, because that would be unfair. But, it has a great number of villains, plot threads, and twists, and as such it’s a bit hard to follow. It’s certainly fun along the way, though. Legacy, by contrast, is much more streamlined, but there’s layer upon layer within each plot thread. No character is without secrets here, and you never know until late in the game just who is trustworthy and who isn’t. Every turn of the plot is fully justified—nothing is just for show—but you won’t fully get the justification until the end. It’s a great piece of work.

I was especially pleased with the portrayal of the Ice Warriors here. This didn’t have to be an Ice Warrior story—as a bit of a tell, if you look at the wiki page’s book details box, you won’t find Ice Warriors listed under “Main enemy”. Certainly there’s precedent; they were on Peladon previously. But the Ice Warriors as seen here are not one-dimensional enemies. They’re seen as an honorable society with a certain degree of guilt that they must live with—which is, I think, a view very in line with their occasional portrayals in NuWho. And let’s face it: Doctor Who has enough villains who are always evil, or at least evil from the perspective of the Doctor and his companions. Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, the list could go on; we get the occasional individual whose nature is changed in some way, but as a group they remain villains. The Ice Warriors are better than that, and as such a bit more believable when portrayed fairly, as they are here.

Continuity References: So many that I certainly won’t be able to cover them all, which seems to be a thing with Gary Russell (not that I’m complaining!). In addition to the frequent references to previous Peladon stories, here’s a sampling: Mavic Chen (The Daleks’ Master PlanNeverland) becomes the Guardian of the Solar System. The Dalek War in The Daleks’ Master Plan is noted to be thirty years in the future. The Doctor mentions the events of The Ice Warriors as six hundred years ago (which may or may not be accurate). Space Station Zenobia is seen (The Mysterious Planet. Time Rings are a recent development (recent in Time Lord terms, anyway; Genesis of the Daleks; also Who Killed Kennedy, in which a dangerous prototype was used). The Horus ruins were recently discovered (Pyramids of Mars). Windchimes from Deva Loka make an appearance (Kinda). Cybermen appear to be extinct, although we know that’s not actually true; both New Mondas and Telos have been destroyed (Telos). A Felinetta appears in flashback, their actual first appearance (Invasion of the Cat-People). Various Federation species are mentioned: The Ogri (The Stones of Blood), the Lurmans (Carnival of Monsters), and the Cantryans (Destiny of the Daleks). Benny has memories of Mars that are not her own (Transit). Kaldor City (The Robots of Death) is mentioned as being on Japetus, which is contradicted by later stories. Sontaran fragmentation grenades first appeared in the novelization of Terror of the Autons. There’s a description of unarmored Ice Warriors which will much later prove to be consistent with their portrayal in Cold War. The Time Lord CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency) is mentioned in connection with Chancellor Goth (The War Games, et al.) The Pakhars—whom I haven’t discussed, but whom I find greatly entertaining every time they appear—have a legend about a Daemon asleep on their planet (The Daemons). The Diadem entity is compared to the Mind Parasite from The Mind of Evil. Draconians are mentioned (Frontier in Space). And none of this is getting into references to the recent books in this series!

There are also a few out-of-universe points worth mentioning. An in-universe book is authored by one Grith Robtts, a reference to Gareth Roberts. This story, like Sword of Orion, was originally intended to be audio in the Audio Visuals fan series (Sword actually was produced as an AV; the Orions get a mention in this novel). The TARDIS is seen to have a room that is very much a holodeck, a la Star Trek: The Next Generation, if not called that.

Overall: This novel is a continuity porn dream, something that fans in our fandom tend to love (myself included). Honestly, it amazes me that it’s Gary Russell’s first Doctor Who work (I’ve read others, but out of order), given how thoroughly connected it is. The downside is that it means it’s not very approachable for fans who aren’t well versed in classic Doctor Who. But then again, not every novel should be a jumping-on point for new fans; and there’s nothing wrong with having a story that caters to those of us who have been with the series since time immemorial. If you fall into that category, you’re going to love it. And if not, well, stick around; we have better options for you coming soon!

Next time: We’ll check out one of my favorites so far, and a good Benny story to boot: Justin Richards’s Theatre of War! See you there.

A prelude to Legacy can be found here.

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

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Novel Review: No Future

We’re back! Today we’ll be finishing up the “Alternate Universe” arc of the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs, hereafter), with the fifth entry in that miniseries (and twenty-third in the VNAs overall), Paul Cornell’s No Future. Published in February 1994, this novel as usual features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Bernice. Let’s get started!

No Future

I almost never comment on the cover art, but in this case…wow. That’s…really something.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

Led by a hint laid for them during their time in the Land of Fiction, the Doctor and his companions land in 1976 London, searching for a man named Danny Pain. They find him to be less impressive than promised; a moody teenager in a punk band, he shows no sign of saving the world as implied. Nevertheless, something is up, and the Doctor has had enough of the meddling happening in his past; one way or another, the game ends here and now.

Now, Benny is a full member of Pain’s band, Plasticine—a fact the Doctor knew before he ever met her. Ace is at odds with the Doctor, and seeks to end their problems on her own terms. The Doctor seeks help from his old friends in UNIT…and finds that they don’t know him—but they’re more than willing to deal with the threat that he represents. It’s good timing, because the anarchist group Black Star is on a rampage, setting off bombs and sparking riots; but a record producer named Robert Bertram has a plan to bring peace to the world—and Plasticine, Benny, and Ace are at the core of it all.

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I’ll say up front that I enjoyed this novel; but I also have to say that I’m afraid that I can’t do it justice here. So, this entry is likely to be brief and a bit unsatisfying—but don’t let that reflect on the novel!

The problem, for me, is that this book, among all the entries in the Alternate Universe arc, is heavily steeped in a period of British culture with which I am almost completely unfamiliar. I grew up in the USA in the eighties and nineties, a time and place where most knowledge of British culture came from A) those bands that were popular on both sides of the Atlantic, B) Monty Python, and C) classic Doctor Who. None of those sources give much insight into what things were like locally, especially in the political and musical sense. (You’d think the musical side would be obvious, but in my experience, we can be fairly tunnel-visioned about such things.) As a result, references were lost on me; jokes most likely went over my head; and, since we’re dealing specifically with an altered history in this novel, I sometimes had trouble seeing where the novel’s background deviates from reality. It’s likely I’ll even get some things wrong in this review, even after having done the research.

To that end, I’ll mostly talk about what I did appreciate (and what I didn’t!) here. For one, it’s a UNIT story, which is generally a plus to me. It bookends the arc nicely; we started with an alternate version of UNIT, and we’re finishing with one as well. (To be fair, it’s not “alternate” here in the sense of another version; this is the real UNIT, but with some past experiences altered.) They also appeared tangentially in The Left-Handed Hummingbird, but insignificantly by comparison. Unfortunately, this book makes a strong effort to align UNIT’s history with the dates given in Mawdryn Undead, rather than every other UNIT story, thus further confusing the issue. While researching this review, I found mention that Paul Cornell had been vocal in his dislike for the Pertwee era; it seemed to be implied that this book was his effort to see a UNIT story “done right”. I hadn’t heard that before, and unfortunately didn’t have time to dig into original sources to confirm; but if that was his goal, I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t come across as particularly different from a typical UNIT story. Or perhaps I’m not sorry; after all, I like most UNIT stories.

Generally, though, I like Cornell’s work, and usually recommend his books. Allegedly he himself considers this to be the worst of his DW novels; but that doesn’t make it bad. The worst I can say for it is that it’s clogged; there are so many real-world references and continuity references here, I’d struggle to list them all (though I’ll take a stab at the continuity, at least). He has a lot of threads to tie together here, and he does a fair job of it. Our final villain—and before I say it, I’ll remind you that I did say there were spoilers ahead—turns out to be the Monk; allegedly this is the first DW story to confirm, not just suggest, that the Monk and the Master were not the same Time Lord. (In 1994! Who would have thought it would be that late?!) It’s he that has been tampering with the Doctor’s past since Blood Heat, chiefly out of a desire for revenge for trapping him on an ice planet in The Daleks’ Master Plan. That’s no mean feat; he does so with the help of a captive Chronovore, a creature that devours the leftovers and mistakes of time itself (think Reapers from Father’s Day, but much more sentient and attractive). He works his plan here with the help of the Vardans, the energy-based humanoids first seen in The Invasion of Time; they, too, have long been trapped by the Doctor, and seek revenge.

Ace, Benny, and the Doctor finally get some resolution for their various interpersonal problems here. Ace and Benny’s conflict comes to a head; after this we’ll see them getting along much better. It’s too bad that Ace has to get pulled over to the Monk’s side for awhile to get there, but then, no one said people were uncomplicated. There will still be the occasional tension with the Doctor on both their parts—soon it will be Benny’s turn to think about leaving (a nice change from Ace’s constant flirting with the idea)—but overall we’ll see some improvement going forward. And not a moment too soon, in my opinion!

Though we’re finished with the Alternate Universe arc, there are still a few threads hanging. Most importantly, the TARDIS: the Doctor is still using his third incarnation’s TARDIS from Blood Heat, and as far as we can tell, his original TARDIS is gone along with that universe. More on that to come, but for now, it’s a thread we’ll leave out there. He does, however, smash the chameleon circuit with a hammer; he decides he prefers the police box after all. Eh, well, it was fun while it lasted; in fact, the chameleon circuit is instrumental in his search for the Monk in this story.

Continuity References: I don’t expect to get them all today; there are quite a lot of them. But, notably: The events of Battlefield get a mention (for the Brigadier it is yet to come, but for the Doctor it was before this adventure). The Vardans are released from their time loop (The Invasion of Time); in reference to that story, Bernice, very quotably, remarks that the Vardans are “the only race in history to be outwitted by the intellectual might of the Sontarans” (a double burn, very nice!). The Monk was last encountered in The Daleks’ Master Plan, but that means that this novel contradicts his appearance in the comic 4-Dimensional Vistas. The Chronovores were introduced in The Time Monster. Very frequent references are made to all the preceding Alternate Universe entries (Blood HeatThe Dimension RidersThe Left-Handed HummingbirdConundrum). Ace already knows who Danny Pain is, having had one of his albums in Colditz; she denies knowing him here, but that may be because of her poor relationship with, well, everyone at this point. The Monk mentions Magnus, later revealed to be the real name of the War Chief (The War GamesDivided Loyalties). Professor Clegg is mentioned (Planet of the Spiders), as are the Zygons (Terror of the Zygons), the Axons (The Claws of Axos), the Autons (Spearhead from Space), Omega (The Three Doctors), the Guardians (The Ribos Operation, et al.), Morgaine (Battlefield), the Gods of Ragnarok (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and more recently, mentioned in Conundrum), and the Yeti (The Web of Fear). The Doctor mentions the Brigade Leader (Inferno), and the (alleged) death of the Master (Survival, though we of course know he survived). Ace and the Monk both mention Jan (Love and War). She also mentions the events of Nightshade. The Monk mentions the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which are still in the future. The Brigadier mentions Harry Sullivan and Sarah Jane Smith, and the Doctor mentions Susan (various stories). Mike Yates and his betrayal in Invasion of the Dinosaurs was mentioned. The Vardans use the phrase “chronic hysteresis” (Meglos). The Monk uses Chelonian technology (The Highest Science) and mentions the Daemons (The Daemons) and the Eternals (Enlightenment).

Overall: It’s been a tumultuous trip, but we made it! Through the Alternate Universe arc, that is. We’ll move on to some mostly standalone adventures for awhile, and some of the issues we’ve been facing will fade away. Not a bad ending, I must say, though quite a roller coaster in its own right. If you made it through the others, you’ll want to read this one.

Next time: We’ll catch up next time in (pre-scandal) Gareth Roberts’ Tragedy Day. See you there!

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: Conundrum

We’re back! Today we’re looking at the twenty-second entry in the New Adventures (or VNAs) series of Seventh Doctor novels: Steve Lyons’ Conundrum, published in January 1994. This one is hard to describe, and although it was a fun read, I feel that it won’t lend itself easily to analysis; so we’ll make this quick. Let’s get started!

Conundrum

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

  • A family man with a dark and outrageous secret.
  • A detective who’s just a little too cliched to be for real.
  • An old man with both regrets and superpowers.
  • A group of adventuring kids too cute for their own good.
  • A criminal hiding in plain sight.

And right in the middle of it all—in a place that should no longer exist—the Doctor, Ace and Benny!

The town of Arandale is at the center of not one, not two, but three mysteries; and the Doctor, drawn here against his will, intends to solve them all. The problem is, nothing in the town is what it appears to be—and this time, that’s literally true! As events in the town race toward final destruction, the Doctor comes to realize he and his friends have been trapped in a realm he destroyed long ago, in another life: The Land of Fiction. Once again, someone or something has interfered with his past; and this time, he may not get away.

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The Mind Robber is such a classic of early Doctor Who, that revisiting it is always a dangerous exercise. (Coincidentally, it was my first experience with the Second Doctor; accordingly, I think very highly of the story.) The Land of Fiction is a concept that by its nature has few rules for its usage; and so there’s a multitude of directions a writer can go with it—but, many of those directions won’t live up to the standards of the original.

Steve Lyons comes close, though. His take on the Land of Fiction relies on the original just enough to establish continuity and give solidity to the story, but goes its own direction just enough to keep the story from feeling like a copy of the original. It’s a bit scattershot; the plot is all over the place, and that’s probably its biggest weakness (especially given the ambition of a story that brings superheroes into the DW universe!). I feel there’s perhaps one or two subplots too many for the story to contain. But I get why he chose that tactic, and I agree with him: As I’ve said before, few writers in this series seem to know what to do with this TARDIS team. Lyons does a better job than most, by giving the Doctor, Ace, and Benny each a situation of their own to deal with—and crucially, by making those situations of equal weight. No one is sidelined here the way it usually goes; everyone is important. (He’s still needlessly hard on Benny, I think, but hey, we can’t have it all. For the record, though, it’s nice to see I’m not the only one who feels this way; from the Cloister Library entry for this book: “There are so many things so wonderfully right about this book, and the first among those equals is Benny. Finally, after a few books where she is underused, the character shines here, being empathic, sarcastic, hilarious and sad by turns.”)

As a consequence, he manages something else that others don’t usually manage: He brings the interpersonal tensions between the Doctor, Benny, and Ace out into the open, and to a head. Benny finally admits that she feels pushed to the edge by the conflict between the Doctor and Ace, and she intends to leave (spoiler: she doesn’t, but she plans to). Ace finally admits to her fury at the way the Doctor manipulates her, and declares that she’s staying on so she can beat him at his own game; she actively confronts him about it at the end. The Doctor, for his part, doesn’t resolve his issues, but he ends the book aware that that reckoning must come. (Now, with all that said, don’t take this to mean there won’t be any further regression of this arc; I can’t promise you that. But it’s progress!)

The Land of Fiction, as portrayed here, is one relying heavily on stereotypes, as a result of the mind and experiences of its new Master (usually referred to as the Writer in this novel—I wonder if there was a copyright issue for the original Master of the Land character?). You have the detective who’s too noir to be real (Ace’s thread of the story); the retired (and very sad and poignant) superhero and his over-the-top nemesis (Benny’s thread); the precocious children (the Doctor’s); a mysterious string of exsanguinated murder victims; and oh yes, a village witch caught in the middle of everything. It’s all played for laughs, but this book is not a comedy; the laughs are only there to call attention to the fictional nature of this reality. It’s hard to say when the Doctor catches on—he, of course, has been here before—but Ace and Benny take a surprisingly long time to figure it out. I suppose that’s only fair, though; you’ll have readers who have watched The Mind Robber, and figure it out early; and readers who haven’t, and may need longer. It’s nice that the book has something for each.

Continuity References: The Mind Robber, obviously; the Doctor destroyed the Land of Fiction, but it has been restored. He also has visits there in his Fourth and Sixth lives (The Crooked ManLegend of the Cybermen), but this story predates those, and so the Doctor behaves as though this is his first time back. There are numerous references back to the previous entries in the Alternate Universe Arc (Blood HeatThe Dimension RidersThe Left-Handed Hummingbird), and they only advance from here. Ace sees fictional versions of her adventures, especially DragonfireLove and War, and Deceit. The Doctor plays the spoons (Time and the Rani, et al.). The Land of Fiction was created by the Gods of Ragnarok (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy). The chameleon circuit in this version of the TARDIS (the Blood Heat TARDIS) was repaired, and Ace knows how to use it (first explained in the last novel, and I apologize for not mentioning it there). The destruction of the Althosian system is mentioned (The Pit–spare us all from the memory!). The ghostly trio of Katarina, Sara Kingdom, and Adric make an appearance (The Daleks’ Master PlanEarthshock); we’ve seen them appear similarly before (Timewyrm: Revelation). The Valeyard is mentioned (Trial of a Time Lord), as is Fenric (The Curse of Fenric) and the Timewyrm (Timewyrm tetralogy). Ace thinks of several old acquaintances: Chad Boyle (Timewyrm: Revelation), Robin (Nightshade), Jan (Love and War), and IMC (Lucifer Rising). And, for the first time, we get a clear picture of just who is tampering with the Doctor’s timeline: The Meddling Monk. The Doctor, however, will have to wait to find out later.

Overall: You’ll like this one, but don’t expect it to be straightforward or tame; it’s nonsensical, as befits a Land of Fiction story. You should definitely read it before wrapping up in the next book.

Next time: We finish out the Alternate Universe arc with Paul Cornell’s No Future. See you there!

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: The Left-Handed Hummingbird

We’re back! To date, I’ve reviewed the first twenty volumes of the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs, for short) line of Seventh Doctor novels. (There are a total of 61 novels in the VNAS featuring the Doctor, including one Eighth Doctor novel, The Dying Days. I’m not counting the novels with Bernice Summerfield as protagonist, although I do hope to read them and review them. Eventually.) Twenty sounds like an impressive enough number…except that I’ve read twenty-six of them (Well, twenty-seven; but I wrote the review for Lungbarrow a long time ago, after I read it out of order, and am just waiting to post it.) As I’m quickly beginning to forget details, and want to catch up as quickly as possible, I think a little picking up of the pace is in order. So, here we are, posting for the second day in a row.

Now, on to number twenty-one! This brings us to prolific DW author Kate Orman’s debut novel, The Left-Handed Hummingbird. Published in December 1993, this novel is the third entry in the “Alternate Universe Arc”. Let’s get started!

Left Handed Hummingbird

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

The life of a Mexican man of Aztec descent, Cristian Alvarez, is forever shaped by four events: the discovery of the Aztec great temple in 1978; the murder of John Lennon in New York, 1980; a marketplace massacre in Mexico City, 1994; and predating them all, a meeting with the Doctor in 1968 London. But Cristian has a secret that plagues him: at each crucial moment, he is assaulted by a psychic event or force that he calls “the Blue”. He can’t explain it; but he knows that when the Blue arrives, tragedy walks with it.

The Doctor, Ace and Benny are summoned by a psychic distress call. Arriving in late 1994, they meet Cristian for the first time—but, not his first time, as he knows them well. Soon enough it becomes apparent that someone or something is stalking Cristian through time; and, it seems, also stalking the Doctor. But, why? The Doctor first traces the phenomenon to the unearthing of the Aztec temple in 1978, and then to the temple’s bloody dedication in 1487. His course then takes him to 1968, and Cristian’s first encounter with the Doctor, in London; then at last to 1980, and the murder of John Lennon. At last, he comes to a final, traumatic event, one that Cristian would not have expected: the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. There, he faces a final battle with the persistent spirit of a long-dead Aztec warrior…but this battle will bring him no closer to his true enemy, the being interfering with his own past since the events in the alternate universe.

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My first inclination, when sitting down to write this review, was to be a bit hard on the book. I’ve already mentioned more than once that this arc of the New Adventures—the “Alternate Universe” arc—was a chore to work through. In fact, yesterday I said that this book represents the peak of that feeling for me—and that remains true.

And yet, that’s an unfairly negative description. Upon further thought, I’ve decided that to present the novel that way would be to do it an injustice and a disservice; because it’s a very good book, in the end. It’s possible my judgment, going into this book, was colored by the experience of the preceding two books; but more to the point, this book is extraordinarily complex, even for the VNAs, and I think I wasn’t prepared for that. My lack of preparation, though, doesn’t invalidate the fact that that complexity is a good thing.

Nevertheless, if you read this book, be warned: It’s going to take some time for it to come together. You’ll have passages where you think the plot is wandering. I assure you it isn’t. Kate Orman chose to weave together any number of very different historical events, on two continents and in three countries (plus the middle of the ocean!); naturally it’s going to take time to tie those things together.

It’s all that history that really shines here; and with that, I have to apologize, because I haven’t been able to put in the research time necessary to figure out what is real and what is fictionalized here. Some of it is fairly fresh; the death of John Lennon, for example, occurred within my lifetime. Some of it is distant enough to be of interest chiefly to historians—but we’re all historians here, at least when the Doctor goes to visit. Aztec history is something in which I’ve only lightly looked over the years, but if it’s even a fraction as interesting as Orman portrays, I find myself fascinated.

After a short reprieve, we’re back to the usual amount of violence found in the VNAs. Nearly everywhere Cristian and the Doctor go, people die in horrifically violent ways. Perhaps that’s to be expected in a story about the Aztecs, who were known for bloody human sacrifices; and yet, we don’t see much in the way of sacrifices (possibly not any at all; I can’t recall). This, in spite of the fact that the temple featured in the story was known to have been dedicated with twenty thousand sacrifices; we don’t stay on hand for that scene, if I recall correctly. Rather, the deaths here are often bloody, always personal, and always up close. Deaths are far from uncommon for the VNAs, but often they occur offscreen and quietly; not so much here. It’s one of the few times I feel the series thus far has earned its description of “more adult than the television series”.

Some things for which I didn’t care: After just finishing with the Garvond, we get another incorporeal, violent, possession-capable villain whose origin and persistence are tied to the Doctor’s mind—that is, the Aztec “god” Huitzilopochtli, aka the warrior Huitzilin. (I put “god” in quotes because, in true DW fashion, he’s not actually a god in the end; but he certainly plays the part.) Maybe that’s in keeping with a theme for this arc, but it’s not exactly revolutionary at this point. The Doctor uses LSD at one point; now, applying 21st-century society to this, I don’t care, because there’s been a softening of views on drug use in our time, and because there’s growing evidence that LSD has therapeutic value for some conditions. But, when this novel was released in the early nineties, the anti-drug movement was at its height, and this…well, it makes me wonder about the reception at the time. Anyway, having lived through that period, it feels jarring to me.

Most of all, though, we’re back to the same issues we’ve been having with Ace and Benny. Once again, the trust among the members of our TARDIS team is left broken at the end; once again, Ace is angry with the Doctor for interfering in her way of doing things, and once again, the Doctor suspects that he is responsible for making Ace a killer. Once again, Benny gets largely sidelined; most egregious of all, when the Doctor and Ace take off for 1487, it’s Benny, the archaeologist of the group, who gets left babysitting Cristian in the future! Don’t worry, Benny, your chance is coming…half a dozen books from now, give or take. It’s frustrating to see these same old problems—can I call them tropes at this point? They feel like tropes—arising again. Better things are coming, I think, but only through slow and incremental progress.

Continuity References: Almost endless! The Doctor visits the Titanic, which has appeared in numerous stories, and which he has visited in multiple incarnations (first DW appearance in a DWM comic titled Follow That TARDIS!). He mentions Barbara’s actions from The Aztecs. He mentions numerous aliens that have interfered with Earth: The Osirians (Pyramids of Mars), the Exxilons (Death to the Daleks; also of great importance in this very book, though not actually present), Scaroth (City of Death), the Daleks (The Chase, for this purpose, and many others), and the Timewyrm (Timewyrm: Genesys and its sequels). He mentions Woodstock; the wiki indicates two earlier incarnations were there. One is the Second Doctor (Wonderland), but I was not able to identify the other or his story; however, he will visit again in his Twelfth incarnation (The Crawling Terror). Ace mentions Saul, the church in Cheldon Bonniface (Timewyrm: Revelation). UNIT gets several mentions; notably, Mike Yates is known to not speak to anyone by 1994, and Harry Sullivan is mentioned. Unit Corporal Carol Bell was last seen in The Claws of Axos. Ace contacts an Air Commodore Ian Gilmore (Remembrance of the Daleks). Herbert Clegg is mentioned (Planet of the Spiders). The Nightshade TV series is playing in 1968 (Nightshade). The Doctor mentions the Mara (KindaSnakedance) and the Fendahl (Image of the Fendahl). The Doctor mentions that an aspirin could kill him (The Mind of Evil). Ace wears a shirt from Svartos, specifically Iceworld (Dragonfire). UNIT agent Hank Macbeth mentions the Yeti invasion (The Web of Fear), the evacuation of London (Invasion of the Dinosaurs), and Devil’s End Church (The Daemons). Ace mentions Merlin (Battlefield). Benny thinks of the planet Heaven (Love and War). The Doctor mentions Xanxia (The Pirate Planet). And, a touch of foreshadowing, the Doctor gets (ostensibly) killed and placed in a morgue with a “John Doe” toe tag, which will happen for real at his regeneration. Also notable: This book is absolutely littered with real-world pop culture references; I won’t list them here, but for a quick rundown, check the Discontinuity Guide.

Overall: You’ll like this one; and there are plenty of good reviews to support me on that. Just give it time, take it slow, and savor the story.

Next time: We’re more than halfway through the Alternate Universe arc! Next time we’ll look at the fourth entry, Steve Lyons’ Conundrum. See you there!

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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