Book Review: Christmas on a Rational Planet by Lawrence Miles


Author: Lawrence Miles
Title: Christmas on a Rational Planet
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1996.
Summary/Review:

This is the first Doctor Who novel by Lawrence Miles, who would later go on to be one of the leading writers of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, introduce the Faction Paradox, and co-wrote the history of Doctor Who series About Time.  But in this first novel, Roz is trapped in a town in New York in 1799, Chris is trapped in the TARDIS with someone trying to kill him, and secret socities are worshipping Satan and the like.  The book is interesting at parts, but also just weird in ways that makes it hard to follow.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Happy Endings by Paul Cornell


Author: Paul Cornell
Title: Happy Endings
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1996.
Previously Read by the Same AuthorTimewyrm: Revelation, Love and War, Human Nature and Doctor Who: Four Doctors.
Summary/Review:

This is the 50th book in the Virgin New Adventures and after five years of publishing books instead of producing Doctor Who tv shows, it’s time to celebrate. In traditional Doctor Who style, anniversary celebrations mean bringing back past characters.  In this case, Cornell writes in connections to all 49 previous books in the series. If you’re like me and only read select few of the books in the series it means I don’t know who a lot of these people are, but it doesn’t prove to much of a problem.

The setting is the English village of Cheldon Bonniface, the same place featured in Cornell’s Timewyrm: Revelation, and the occasion is Bernice Summerfield’s marriage to Jason Kane.  Berenice’s main plot is basically sitcom hijinks about getting into fights with Jason over his perceived infidelity and then having makeup sex.  It’s so embarrassing it’s unbearable.  Luckily, there’s a lot more going on.  Ace, now going by the name Dorothee, is there as a bridesmaid and boasting about her sexual conquests, hoping to add Jason to the list (the books are VERY different from the tv show, no?). Both UNIT and a some Ice Warriors are there as an honor guard (they end up brawling in a village pub). Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson enlist Roz to aid them in solving a mystery.  The Doctor gets the Isley Brothers as the wedding band. And there’s a very long cricket match where the wedding guests challenge the villagers.

It’s all rather cornball and daft.  It’s not much as a book, but it’s a fun celebration of the continuity the Virgin New Adventures had created in keeping Doctor Who alive at a time when the show returning seemed unlikely.  Obviously, this one is for fan’s only.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Also People by Ben Aaronovitch


Author: Ben Aaronovitch
TitleThe Also People
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1995.
Summary/Review:

The Doctor takes Benny, Roz, and Chris on vacation to the Worldsphere, a world populated by the technologically advanced, utopians society of The People.  In addition to the advanced People – who can change their shape and gender – the Worldsphere is populated with sentient artificial lifeforms, including God (who got its name as a joke from watching over the Worldsphere), ships, drones, and even tables, bathtubs, and parachutes.

Because The People are so technologically advanced they have a nonaggression treaty with the Time Lords that prevents them from developing time travel.  The Doctor and God are friendly but also don’t trust one another and dance around a lot of tensions.  And despite saying the visit to the Worldsphere is a holiday, the Doctor also has ulterior motives involving an old frenemy, and a difficult decision for Benny.  When a drone is murdered, the Doctor also volunteers to investigate the crime, and Roz is key in using her skills in the procedural story.

The Also People is inspired by a science-fiction series called the Culture by Iain M. Banks.  I’m not at all familiar with Banks’ work, but it does appear to be another example of Doctor Who crashing into another genre and making another story.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Birthright by Nigel Robinson


Author: Nigel Robinson
TitleBirthright
Publication Info: London Bridge (1993)
Summary/Review:

The TARDIS crashes and Bernice Summerfield finds herself alone in the East of London in 1909, albeit the Doctor has somehow found a way to supply her with a bank account to draw upon, and the support of the Waterfield family for a place to live.  Soon she’s investigating a series of grisly murders attributed to Springheel Jack, but are actually committed by … aliens!  Meanwhile, Ace is on a desert planet in the far future aiding the surviving humans against the insect-like Charrl.  And the Doctor is off having adventures in another book that I won’t be reading.

This is the first example of a “Doctor-light” story that became common in the future Virgin Adventures and in the new television series.  It also continues the trend of characterizing the Doctor as a manipulative mastermind, the Ace as surly and violent, and Benny as clever but self-doubting.  Even the surreal dream-like sequence of the conclusion is a New Adventures’ trait.  Nevertheless, it’s a much more simply-written, straightforward narrative than some of the other, more complex books.  And barring a few examples of sexist language, it’s a pretty enjoyable adventure to read too.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Transit by Ben Aaronovitch


Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Title: Transit
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who, 1992.
Summary/Review:

Having read Set Piece, I decided to jump back to this earlier book in the New Adventures series that introduces the character of Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. The author, Ben Aaronovitch, previously wrote the teleplays for the classic Seventh Doctor serials Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield.  This novel was controversial at the time of its release because in response to the adult audience of the New Adventures novels, Aaronovitch depicted scenes with profanity, drug use, and sex for the first time in a Doctor Who story.

The main plot involves a transit system that connects the Solar System through “tunnels” which are actually transmat systems that carry “trains” over long distances at faster-than-light speeds. An entity from another dimension enters the transit system like a virus causing power surges and killing people.  The TARDIS gets caught in one of the surges separating the Doctor and Benny.  This is the first novel in which Benny is traveling with the Doctor and she ends up possessed by the virus, which is an interesting choice when her character hasn’t even been fully established yet.

Like other New Adventures I’ve read, this is a complex novel with dozens of characters and an entire fictional universe in the cyberpunk style without anything really for the reader to latch on to be introduced to the characters and their world.  I shouldn’t complain so much about the novels’ complexity, but I did major in English and read complex novels (heck, I even read Ulysses for fun!), so it’s frustrating to struggle with sci-fi tv spinoff novels from the 1990s.  Still, there are some great details, such as allusions to the Ice Warriors (here called “Greenies”) and a great war.  The final showdown between the Doctor and the entity is also well-written.

Rating: ***

Previously Reviewed:

Book Review: Set Piece by Kate Orman


Author: Kate Orman
TitleSet Piece
Publication Info: London Bridge (1995)
Summary/Review:

This is Kate Orman’s second contribution to the New Adventures line and much like The Left-Handed Hummingbird she puts the Doctor and his companions in torturous scenarios that push them to their limits, physically and psychologically.  An organic vessel known only as The Ship is exploiting a Time Rift to abduct starliner passengers with the help of robotic Ants and harvest their minds for The Ship’s systems.  The Doctor and Ace make a plan to get themselves captured by The Ship to find out what’s happening and stop the abductions.  But when Bernice comes to rescue them the Time Rift throws them into three different eras.

The heart of the story focuses on Ace, as this is her farewell story, putting her in a situation where she has a long time to think about her travels with the Doctor, accept that they may be forever separated, and begin to use how she’s learned and grown to continue on her own.  Ace finds herself in Ancient Egypt, and unwilling to accept the cultural norms for women at the time, tries to prove herself as a soldier and a bodyguard.  She even tries to overthrow the tyrannical reign of the pharaoh Akhenaten, as you do.

Meanwhile, Berenice ends up in France in 1798 and ends up befriending the Egyptologist Vivant Denon and traveling with Napoleon’s army to Egypt. The Doctor also ends up in Paris but in 1871 during the Paris Commune, suffering PSTD from his experience on The Ship and slowly recovering under the care of a mysterious frenemy Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart.  It’s no spoiler that the three of them do find a way to get back together, but this book is more of a study of characterization and relationships in extreme situations than plotting.

This is the type of story that would be unimaginable in the original run of the television program, and although the New Adventures strongly influenced the revised series, I can’t see it done there as well.  It’s certainly difficult to imagine Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred in these parts as I read the book.  Not that they were not fine actors who could certainly give it a go, just that the characterizations of tv have evolved so much over the course of the New Adventures, so this is a satisfying farewell for book Ace that seems inexplicable for TV Ace.

While I’ve been enjoying going back and reading these books from the 90s to revisit an overlooked but transformative period in Doctor Who, it’s also frustrating how much continuity there is within the New Adventures.  Set Piece is the 35th of 61 novels and there is no way I’m going to find time to read them all (especially the one’s I’ve been told are not worth reading).  This is full of references to previous adventures and Kadiatu enters the story with no explanation of who she is or her significance, having previously appeared in the 10th book Transit.  I’m griping a bit too much, but I am grateful that I’m reading these in the time of Wikipedia, otherwise I’d be lost.

Rating: ***1/2

Previously Reviewed:

Book Review: Warlock by Andrew Cartmel


AuthorAndrew Cartmel
TitleWarlock
Publication Info: London Bridge (1995)
Previously read by the same author: Through Time: An Unauthorised and Unofficial History of Doctor Who
Summary/Review:

Andrew Cartmel was the final script editor on the original run of Doctor Who on tv from 1987-1989, and is known for allegedly having a master plan for the Doctor’s story that would be revealed over time.  Interestingly, he never wrote a screenplay for a Doctor Who tv  screenplay, so it is in books that one gets to see how he’d tell a Doctor Who story.  And this one’s a doozy.

The Seventh Doctor is living in a cottage near Canterbury with Ace and Benny, using the cottage to carry out research while sending his companions on missions. Benny goes undercover with a top secret drug enforcement agency (called IDEA) in New York to find out about a mysterious new street drug called warlock, while Ace becomes involved in a pair of animal rights activists working to undermine animal testing at a nearby research facility.

What’s stands out about this book is that the Doctor is hardly involved in the story at all, and it can also go chapters at a time without checking in with Ace or Benny.  Full plotlines are carried out by the characters Cartmel invented for the story including the NYPD detective Creed, IDEA agents, the lab researchers conducting experiments, and a couple named Vincent and Justine who have psychic powers (and were introduced in an earlier Cartmel novel).  It’s a tightly-plotted crime drama with just hints of science fiction/fantasy underpinning.  There doesn’t even seem to be an extraterrestrial element unless you consider, …. well I won’t give away the ending, but readers will probably figure it out well before then.

The strangest thing about this book is that a reader with little to no knowledge of Doctor Who could pick it up and read it as a solid, standalone novel.  And it’s a strange book which includes things such as human consciousness entering animals, a woman suddenly forced into prostitution and just as quickly rescued, the complete destruction of Canterbury cathedral, and a couple sneaking into Buckingham Palace to have sex, and these are all relatively minor plot points.  Whatever you’re expecting from a Doctor Who story, this novel will defy expectations.

Rating: ***1/2

Previously Reviewed:

Book Review: Love and War by Paul Cornell


Author: Paul Cornell
TitleLove and War
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1992.

Previously read by same authorTimewyrm: Revelation
Summary/Review:

This is my 3rd Doctor Who New Adventure, and it’s one that has a notably good reputation among diehard Doctor Who fans.  In this story, the Seventh Doctor and Ace – who is grieving over the death of a childhood friend – go to the planet Heaven.  The entire planet is a cemetery for the people of Earth and the Draconians who die in the Dalek Wars.  Ace falls in with a group of Travellers encamped on Heaven, and begins a romance with a young man named Jan.  The Doctor seems to disapprove of Jan, and Ace begins to drift away.  This is only a preamble for an act of betrayal that will push Ace out of the Tardis for good.

Apart from the tragic situation that divides the Doctor and Ace, this novel has a number of interesting attributes.  It introduces the archaeologist Berenice Summerfield who will go on to be a regular companion of the Doctor.  It also features the creepy villains the Hoothi, who are kind of a sentient fungi.  On the downside there’s a whole subplot involving virtual reality in something called Puterspace.  And like Timewyrm: Revelation, the narrative jumps quickly among a large number of characters and stories, making it a challenge to read. All and all, an imaginative and influential Doctor Who story.

Rating: ***