Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Unnatural History by Kate Orman and Jonathan Blum

Plot: Three years have passed since the Doctor last wrecked havoc on San Francisco and now he has to pick up the pieces. Sam has fallen into a dimensional scar and a Darker version of her character has been spat out, one who never met the Doctor and joined him on their travels…

Top Doc: The best thing about the book by far, this is another excellent take on McGann’s Doctor by the daring duo. At one point he is described as ‘an overgrown student rebel, with a burning desire to get involved and a incipient messiah complex’. Brilliantly, he is aware that he knows something about everything but not enough about anything. He thinks about setting up a home for himself in the States but soon comes to the idea that it would be too easy. He makes the possible impossible, is described, as machine for dumping bad news and his manic energy is palpable throughout, rushing from one crisis to another. He is no longer as careful with the timelines as he once was and nowhere would dare to stay the same around him. He is a lot of fun to be around here and he (mostly) has excellent rapport with his companions.

(Dark) Friend or Foe: Finally we meet this evil twin of Sam’s who we have been foreshadowing since Alien Bodies, and she’s no where near as scary or memorable as she should be. Okay so she takes drugs and works in a video shop, is irritatingly cynical and suspicious and a bit of a lazy bum when it comes to working out her issues but to be frank she isn’t all that different to Blonde Sam. She is described as a back seat driver through life. When she realises the Doctor has subconsciously trying to alter her personality, treating her like Blonde Sam it really isn’t possible to distinguish the two. The only real difference is how much of sl*t this Sam is, unlike Blonde Sam who runs off for three years after planting a smacker on the Doctor’s lips this one tries to get on him in every way and then gobbles up Fitz for dessert. Are we meant to feel sorry for her at the books climax, really she is just stepping into a mirror and stepping out again, the only thing that really changes is her hair.

Although during chapter Fourteen (Hero in Use) Sam morphs into several, much more unpleasant Sam’s, one who has terrible scars from abuse and an awful attitude problem…frankly I think this would have been a far more interesting book if the authors had used this Sam for the main plot and made it harder for us to like her. Imagine how cool this would have been if the Doctor and Fitz had to force Sam back into the scar? The Dark Sam we get epitomises the book, she is far too fluffy.

Scruffy Git: Fitz is mostly harmless, and the writers exploit his casual, useless character well. He is genuinely funny in places and has one fantastic moment where he gets to rescue Dark Sam from the Henches.

Foreboding: The Doctor has a very eloquent speech about how your memories don’t make you who you are. If only he knew what was coming… Every writer these days seems to want to get rid of Sam. It started with Demontage where she ended up in a painting, then Dominion shoved her in another dimension, Autumn Mist actually bothers to kill her off and bring her back all in time for Lawrence Miles to finally and finally write her out in Interference. Kate Orman and Jonathon Blum think up one of the more ingenious ‘get rid of the PC cliché’ ideas, by bringing in her alternate self. It really shows how the writers were tiring of her character and hints her near departure.

Twists: The first chapter is once again GREAT. The Doctor is stabbed and we get to look at the regulars from the POV of an alternative universe character, which is a great spin on an old idea. Dark Sam staring at Blonde Sam through the scar is such an obvious idea but its pulled of fantastically well here. Dark Sam’s personality shifts in chapter Fourteen were also well realised. In an especially wince making moment Fitz is stabbed through the head by an Inter Dimensional knife! Ouch! Sam’s choose your own memories moment with the Doctor is lovely.

Funny bits: Fitz is so dense he has been conspiring with the enemy (unknowingly) for days. Contacting the Time Lords is compared to asking your parents for a hand out! The numbered plans finally go tits up! I have been waiting for this moment a long time, and many people take the piss out of the system. Brilliantly, knowing how sensual he is, Fitz turns his mouth away from the Doctor before he can kiss him in a particularly joyous moment.

Embarrassing bits: The scene where Sam gives the Doctor a back rub and tries to get him into bed is probably the most up chuckingly horrible pieces of writing in the Doctor Who prose universe. On every level it insults, resorting the book to the level of childish fan fiction. Sam and Fitz getting it on for no other reason than they have a few hours to spare (and they quite like each other) is just as cheap but its no where nears as horrible as calling the Doctor a back rub slut. The line “At last Time Lord I have you in my power!” could be the worst piece of dialogue in the Doctor Who universe. The Blinovitch Generator is a lovely idea sabotaged by the fact that having multiple characters surrounding the Doctor would happen again (Camera Obscura) and that scene is infinitely more chilling. The book gets too bogged down in technobabble, lots of rubbish concerning biodata and unnaturalists…it is no substitute for excellent descriptive prose. The magical creatures in the book are treated as normal characters…we’re talking about unicorns and dragons…considering Orman’s later treatment of the Tigers this is a shocking oversight. They are non-magical magical creatures.

Result: There are lots of plot threads, some good (the Faction stuff), some not so good (Griffin and his technobabble hell) and it feels really disjointed because for once in a OrmanBlum book the plot rivals the character stuff for importance. The threats are not intertwined; rather they are like a check list that is ticked off one by one. There are the usual genuine character moments that typify this author’s work but considering they usually torture the Doctor and his companions in horrific ways the three of them get off pretty lightly here, the book unwilling to take the appropriate risks. Dark Sam is a huge let down after so much build up, I was expecting something horrible but instead she just a slightly rougher version of the Sam we usually hang with. I once called this book actively bad and whilst that might have been a bit ingenuous it certainly isn’t good by any means and it is by far the weakest novel to be churned out by the great OrmanBlum machine. Awkward: 4/10

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

No Future by Paul Cornell

Plot: Punk rock is alive in the seventies and the Black Star organisation is causing terrorist attacks on London landmarks. The Doctor, Benny and Ace’s relationships have reached breaking point and a friendly offer tempts Ace into the hands of an enemy that has plagued the Doctor for months…

(The one thing this book does [occasionally] gets right is the regulars. There are shining moments scattered in the text that remind you that Paul Cornell has not lost his mind completely)

Master Manipulator: The Doctor’s time on Earth is known as the Bug Era. The Brigadier (apparently) does not recognise him this time but it is a trick to fall the members of UNIT who have defected to the enemy. Something was showing the Doctor all kinds of alternatives. He’d tried to right the world enough times, to be Time’s Champion. He felt his handwriting stretching across the universe. Every time he tried to stop there was another monster to fight. It is a very sweet moment when the Doctor realises that someone still has faith in him – Benton. The Doctor has to avoid kissing Ace on the head when she is sleeping peacefully in bed in the TARDIS. When the Doctor first met Bernice he recognised her voice as a part of the band Plasticene and knew she would travel back in time. The Doctor symbolises the best values of British life – eccentricity, the creative amateur and civilisation. The Doctor meddles more now than Mortimus ever did. The Time Lords are tired of putting him on trial. He has started to become what he fights. There is one important difference between the Doctor and the Monk’s meddling: skill. When he was stabbed he thought it was for real and for what it revealed to him about Ace he has never been so pleased to be stabbed. He wants to give up finding things out in advance and he’s looking forward to being surprised.

Boozy Babe: When Jan died, Benny was hurt too. Only more slowly. Its just she’s not the sort to go blubbing on people’s shoulders. Ace is a soldier and the Doctor and Benny aren’t. Benny wishes Ace could see how much they both care about her. Bernice decided she was going to stick with the Doctor a little while ago. Benny hates combat, loathes it. She wasn’t particularly keen on the company of soldiers either. When he is stabbed it is Bernice’s reaction that affects the most. She really believes he is dead because it is Ace who pushed the blade in and she would made sure it was done properly. She realises she doesn’t know what his morals are but she does love him. In a shocking sequence she hunts Ace through the TARDIS, determined to make her pay for killing the Doctor. Sweetly, she hugs the Doctor to death when she is reunited with him. Without Bernice the Doctor would be terribly lonely and fail miserably.

Oh Wicked: Ace is a bloody demon, a bloody thing around Bernice’s neck. Benny thought she knew something about Ace but she was just testing to see if she could be trusted. Much of the book revolves around Ace’s story and the choices that she makes. She’s acting more rebellious than ever and is offered a new life by the Monk who is willing to give her Jan back. For a while the book convinces that she has turned traitor, stabbing the Doctor and sealing him in a vat on some abandoned planet. Ace thought when she returned she could go back to how things were but for Bernice (bloody) Summerfield. Fake this and fake that. She has the illusions that you can go through life as a hero. However she makes her choice and betrays the Monk, using a fake knife on the Doctor. When Ace lost her lover (Jan), the Doctor lost his best friend (Ace). She chooses to save the Brigadier rather than save Jan. She never wanted to hurt the Doctor…just show him what it was like to be manipulated. Ace likes the Doctor just the way he is. Thank bloody God.

Foreboding: Does this mean we can have some adventures with a happy TARDIS crew who enjoy their lives together? I’ve forgotten what that is like.

Twists: Big Ben’s clock tower explodes; it has a habit of doing that. The helicopter crash kills Molyneux, the Vardan agent in UNIT. The Monk keeps his TARDIS cold to remind him of his revenge on the man that left him trapped on the Ice Planet. Ace stabs the Doctor. The Monk freed the Vardans from the time loop and was granted special power from the Chronovore he captured. Firstly he killed an earlier Doctor causing an alternative universe (Blood Heat), released the Garvond (The Dimension Riders) and Huitzilin (The Left Handed Hummingbird) and finally put the Doctor out of the way in the Land of Fiction.

Funny Bits: “She’s a Summerfield, I’m a Moose.” You said it, Ace.

Embarrassing Bits: Where the hell do I start…?

* I remember a reviewer blasting the eighth Doctor into infinity, suggesting his characterisation was inconsistent. The same guy raved about the New Adventures. Well, this book features a Doctor who does not regret switching off the Silurian universe…after all there has to be someone who did these things. Just three books earlier the Doctor had promised himself he had given up the meddling. A change had been on the cards, long overdue in fact. All he’d wanted was a rest, a change of scenery. Some part of the Doctor abhors change because change in his species is so dramatic. Then at the end of No Future he decides to give up all his schemes again! Make up your mind mate.
* Pages 12 to 14 wrap up the last four books. Why bother reading them when this info-dump does all the work for you?
* Danny Painful more like. “Anarchy is more important than music!” is one of his better lines.
* Ace is pretty much unbearable throughout this novel until the last twenty pages or so. Beyond bitchy, past bullying, heading straight until new realms of irritation. She gets choice dialogue like: “You can just treat me like I’m not here and I’ll get off at the first place I like, okay?” and “No, the old days are gone. That’s history. You can’t change history. I just want you to piss off ‘cos you’re an irritating, selfish bitch who wants everyone to love her.” Had Ace not snapped out of it by the end of the book I may have had to take another break from the NAs.
* I remember people were appalled when the big villains at the end of the mighty eighth Doctor arc turned out to be the Council of Eight. Okay, they were hardly thrill a mniute but they were original and interesting. To end this arc we have the Meddling Monk joining forces with the Vardans using a Chronovore! This is who has been responsible for the troubles of the past four books? It’s not only unsatisfying…its irritating. Three of the most rubbishy monsters in Doctor Who history working together? What’s worse is that they all portrayed as being really stupid. The Monk just wants revenge, the Vardans couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery let alone an invasion of Earth and Artemis the Chronovore is manipulated into saving the day with a few clever phrases and then when she realises she has been tricked just decides to leave. Where is the editor???
* The book is full of horrid in jokes which I’m certain are supposed to make us all chuckle but they are so tired and rotten these days I just groaned: “Like that chap with the eye patch – I still remember that witty story you told me about him…”/ “I was never happy with my slot you see – caught between Basil Brush and Bruce Forsyth.” Oh and the Doctor is kept alive through the underground press and fanzines.
* The Mediasphere is used to play the same tricks as Steve Lyons did in Conundrum except without the wit, the ingenuity and the imagination.
* Oh good grief – the Monk plans to hold an almighty rock concert and turn on a pacifier beam so the Vardans can come through and invade. What a load of tripe.
* Continuity vomits from No Future’s pages: Obviously the Monk, the Vardans and the Chronovores. The Brigadier, Benton and Yates also appear. The Monk was technical advisor to Yartek the Voord and the Moroks! To summon the Chronovore he needed the blood of Minyan, Silurian, Dalek, Human and Mandrel…using spheres from the Sisterhood of Karn. Was Gary Russell the creative consultant on this book?
* The Vardan Popular Front? Rebel Vardans? Oh please…
* Bizarrely, during the climax a rebel Vardan stops to tell Ace that the human he has copied had a transvestite brother.
* The Doctor makes the Brigadier forget all of the events of this book so he can meet him again for the first time in Battlefield. What the hell was the point of using him then?
* No Future even copies the ending of The Time Monster…this time with the Monk hamming it up (impressive in a book!) before an angry Chronovore.
* I know I have already mentioned this…. but the Vardans?

Result: Paul Cornell called this the worst book he has ever read…who am I to disagree with the author? I can’t remember the last time I read such a load of old wank (Warmonger?). No Future epitomises everything that bugs me about the New Adventures whilst forgetting about any of their strengths. Great swamps of continuity obscure the unrealistic plot, characters are re-introduced and misrepresented; the editor seems to have gone to sleep and lets some hideous dialogue and prose reach publication…after the heights of Conundrum it is such a shock to plummet to this level of nonsense. Anarchy is the tone but Cornell’s writing lacks conviction and as a result the setting refuses to ignite, and as the closure of an arc (that has for the most part been pretty damn good) it lacks any punch and the revelation of the villains still makes me roar with laughter. Like squeezing lemon into an already painful wound, the cover is also appalling: 2/10

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Mark Michalowski Q & A

Mark Michalowski provided a fresh new voice when the Past Doctor Adventures were getting slightly repetitive and in danger of losing their readership. Relative Dementias was rightfully a popular book which juggled real life horror and bubbly humour with equal aplomb and manage to say something new about the Doctor/Ace dynamic, which had become a bit stale at the time. His sophomore book was the delightfully witty and sunny Halflife. Just escaping the concept heavy and depressing alternative universe arc, it was aptly placed to deal with some of the long term character questions of the range. A glorious role reversal for the Doctor and Fitz ensues and we come to realise just why they are made for each other but importantly new girl Trix received some fine development and for the first time the audience was able to care about her. Two New Series Adventures followed, Wetworld and Shining Darkness both of which are a cut about the rest of the series. Wetworld features more sombre writing than we are used to from Mark, odd from a writer who burst into the ‘adult’ ranges with irreverent humour but a pleasant change of pace from the fluffy but ultimately hollow nature of so many of the NSAs. Mark’s Shining Darkness is the superior novel, enjoying a fast paced plot, featuring some surprisingly moral and affecting questions and a hilarious and intelligent take on the wonderful Donna Noble. Mark also branched off into spin off territory, producing a detailed and juicy read in the Bernice Summerfield series, The Tree of Life.

Hi Mark and thanks for taking part. How did you get involved with writing Doctor Who books?
I bumped into Gary Russell at the BBC in Manchester, purely by accident, and after enthusing – embarrassingly – about his stuff, I told him out how I’d love to write something one day. And just a couple of weeks later, he emailed me, asking if I’d like to submit something for the very first Benny Summerfield anthology. And it just snowballed from there.

Was the selection of using the Doctor and Ace your choice for Relative Dementias?
Yes, totally. I loved the stuff that had been done in the NAs with them and fancied giving them a spin.

What has been your favourite TARDIS crew to work for so far and why?
Eeek! The silly – but probably true – answer is ‘The one I’m working with at the time’. Looking back, though, I think it has to be either the eighth Doc, Fitz and Trix, or the tenth Doc and Donna.

Halflife dealt with the very controversial issue of the Doctor’s amnesia – was this part of the brief or something you wanted to get your teeth into?
Nope, that was something I threw in. Much of it was added at the actual writing stage, rather than at the synopsis stage, because as I got to work on it, it seemed to arise naturally from the plot. I was terrified that Justin Richards was going to send it back saying ‘Oi! Stop it!’ but – thankfully – he didn’t.

The New Series has given the show a new lease of life. Would you say that is true of the books as well? Does a reduced word count make writing more difficult?
I think the NSAs have been informed, heavily, by the style of the new TV show and whilst I think they’re actually quite different to the NAs/EDAs/PDAs, I reckon they’re probably much closer to what viewers of the new series want from their books. And yes – for me, the reduced word count has meant streamlining – and, to some degree, simplifying – my stories. Which might not be a bad thing.

Martha Jones and Donna Noble, two strong characters. Who was more difficult to interpret on the page?
Martha, probably, because Donna – and, particularly, Catherine Tate’s on-screen portrayal of her – was much sharper and her ‘voice’ was easier to hear in my head when writing dialogue.

Looking back which of your books was the most fun to write?
Hmm… I’d probably say ‘Shining Darkness’ – although ‘The Tree of Life’ was great, too.

Would you go back now and make any changes?
Probably lots of little ones, but nothing major springs to mind. But that’s probably because I’ve forgotten all the things that jumped out at me when I read them back shortly after they were published.

What can we look forward from you in the future?
Well I’m writing a story for a certain DW-related-ish anthology coming out later in the year (I think), and I have another TV tie-in novel (not DW-related!) that I’m working on for publication at the end of the year. Which reminds me…. I really should be getting on with it, or I’ll get the sack!

Mark thank you for your time.
Not at all – it’s been a pleasure!

Storm Harvest by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry

Plot: There are serious troubles for the new colony on the water planet of Coralee, mysterious deaths, homicidal war creatures and a war fleet hanging in space. The Doctor is drawn to the underwater archaeological sight, fearing the answers to the puzzles might lie down there…

Master Manipulator: In total contrast to the authors’ last treatment of these regulars there is a sudden lack of focus on what they are going through, barely glimpsing inside their heads in favour of their huge action plot. A shame because they did show a strong indication of how their minds ticked but unfortunately this back to standard Doctor and Ace, heroes of the universe, fighting monsters and saving the day.

Saying that it is nice to see the seventh so involved in the action and not hiding on the sidelines manipulating events. He is in the thick of it throughout, performing the sort of stunts you would expect from Pertwee’s Doctor. The events of Matrix shook him up badly and things haven’t been the same since between him and Ace. It scared him that he could have become the Valeyard. He has an endless array of useless facts at his fingertips. Not for the first time the Doctor marvelled at how such fragile creatures (human beings) could have survived so long when the universe continued to throw up enemies that were better armoured than them, more vicious, more ruthless. There is a nice scene where the Doctor has to mentally prepare himself for wiping out the Krill and tries to find a space in his subconscious to store the guilt but realises it is already full of pockets of guilt. His reaction to Holly’s: “If there are still people trapped in the corridors?” is “Then it will be quick.” There is something strange about the Doctor but you feel more at ease with him than anyone you’ve ever met.

Oh Wicked: Too often Ace followed the Doctor blindly into situations he could barely control, her blind faith giving her courage. The Doctor attempts to compliment Ace: “If this is how you are going to dress from now on then I’m going to have to find us a better calibre of villain to fight!” The meal between the two of them is nice because the Doctor realises she is now an elegant young woman and not the fiery teenage he had first met. Ace: “The last three years have been…well, I still can’t believe what they have been like. You’ve taken me to my past and future, you’ve shown me planets I couldn’t even begin to dream about. I’ve met monsters and criminals; I’ve held Excalibur…I’ve travelled in Time! Do you really think that if someone had giving me a warning, that if someone has sat me down and told me a strange man was going to turn up in a police box, and he was going to take me travelling in time and space, I would have said no? Yes there are dangers…but for God’s sake, people die crossing the road. Life’s too short to live like that. I stay on my own terms, Professor. If I’ve ever got a problem with it I’ll let you know.” She is rebellious, loyal, determined and brave. The headstrong teenager had changed; every day she spent with the Doctor she learnt something new.

Foreboding: The dreaded Krill that debut in Storm Harvest will turn up again in the Big Finish story Dust Breeding. The Braxiatel Trust?

Twists: There is a gripping underwater opening, which immediately give this the impression of movie script turned book. The Krill attack on the sub is terrifying, they only escape because they lure an eel out of its nest and as it is torn to pieces they ascend to the surface. A body is found underwater at the ruins (the ruins themselves are a lovely image, a protective bubble allowing them to explore the seabed). A biogenic weapon is hidden in the ruins protected by a disruptor and a sonic blast; the latter causes a rockfall, which nearly buries the Doctor. Ace and Rajid discover an injured Krill, which bursts to life and survives bullets, a flare in the face and an engine smashing down on it. The Krill are a living weapon, created by people who once inhabited Coralee. When their life is almost extinguished the Krill can return to their larval state and heal itself. The legends go that the ancient masters of Coralee loosed the Krill upon the worlds of their enemies and laid waste to them, attacking everything they came into contact with. Garrett eats a Krill and kills Edwin Bryce. The Krill thrive on radiation and their eggs are in the ocean as a nuclear sub goes critical… The Krill bursting from the sea and attacking the defensive shields, accessing the colony via the dolphin canals and in particular the breathless action sequence that spans pages 157-160 is all tremendously exciting and the best part of the entire book. Phillip Garrett is a long-term Cythosi agent, the siting of the colony on Coralee, having Garrett as the chief engineer was all planned according to the design of Cythosi high command. The end of part three is excellent, with the nuclear reactor exploding out at sea in a mushroom cloud, promising more Krill to come! The Doctor transmits the Krill eggs onto the Cythosi cruiser and they set upon the inhabitants with terrifying relish. The Doctor crashes the ship into an asteroid field and covers himself in segments of Krill egg and manages to survive the plunge into Coralee’s atmosphere. The Krill are now an ancient weapon, floating in space…

Embarrassing Bits: Anything Cythosi is hideously embarrassing, written with five years olds in mind. I could imagine a newbie picking up Storm Harvest reading these sections of lumbering aliens walking around saying things like “You dare speak to me like that!” and eating their workforce and having all their worst fears confirmed. The attempted rape of a male human by a male dolphin is not just embarrassing, its twisted.

Result: I still don’t get it, people are remarkably kind about Storm Harvest but this is clearly the weakest Perry/Tucker book yet, lacking even basic descriptive prose, substituting intelligence for violence and rarely bothering to tell their story in any depth from the characters POV. On screen this would be a dramatic treat, a big budget movie of destruction and terror but the biggest strength of writing a Doctor Who novel is that you can push aside the constant need to impress with set pieces and involve your audience in creative ideas and powerful characterisation and none of that is evident here. I really liked part three because the Krill are such a fabulous monster, slaughtering with unfeeling relish but the rest of the book read a lot like the NSAs, kiddie monsters (the Cythosi), kiddie inhabitants (the Dreekans) and kiddie prose: 4/10

Monday, 15 June 2009

Dominion by Nick Walters

Plot: The TARDIS is assaulted by a dimensional anomaly and the Doctor is cut off from both his machine and Sam. He and Fitz are trapped in Sweden, which is beset with its own problems. Alien creatures are causing havoc and attracts the attention of a organisation very close to the Doctor’s past…

Top Doc: This is exactly the sort of interesting take on the Doctor you would expect from a debut author and tries out some brave, if not always entirely successful, ideas. The Doctor is seen to have an extremely intimate relationship with the TARDIS and when she is pain, he screams with her. Once she cuts herself of from him to heal he starts exhibiting unusual behaviour, making some foolish errors of judgement and flying off the handle at the merest provocation. He is emotional, lonely, desperate and angry…it is a potent brew which marks him as one of the books best characters, for once he is really unpredictable and intriguing to read about. His strained relationship with UNIT commander Wolstencroft is fantastic, the leader angry that the Doctor always walks away from his adventures unscathed (whereas the soldiers die) and the Doctor furious at his disregard for life. When Nagle turns on the Doctor and tells him he will have to kill her to stop her experimenting with the wormhole, I genuinely feared for her life after the climax to Revolution Man. The difference between the Doctor and the troops is highlighted by Nagle, he is not afraid to show that he cares for the people he saves. Best line: “Why are you all pointing guns at me? I’m the man who can save the day you know!”

Friend or Foe: Sam spends much of this book floating around an alien environment wondering how she is going to get out. She’s inoffensive but not especially memorable.

Scruffy Git: At first I though Fitz would be a walking parody of his own character (pretty impressive only four books into his run…guess that shows how distinctive he is already) because he spends the hilarious amount of time in the first half of the book thinking about his cigarettes as though that is his one distinguishing feature. But the hero in him is starting to emerge and he display some very impressive qualities later on; taking charge when the aliens attack the farm, comforting Kerstin, rescuing the Doctor from C19, diving into the wormhole when it opens and organising the T’hiili into an attacking force. What’s most striking is how he refuses to admit he is a hero, especially in one of his typically cynical (but wonderful) speeches: “Because I’m rather fagged out. It’s so easy for you. You’re the guy with two hearts, who never farts. Never swears, smokes, drinks or even sweats. Well, I’m sorry Doctor, I can’t even begin to come up to your ideal. I’m only bloody human!”

Foreboding: The re-introduction of UNIT from Vampire Science is a nice reminder of their existence in time for The Shadows of Avalon. The Doctor should get used to losing the TARDIS, in a few books he will be without her for quite some time…

Embarrassing bits: There is a speech on page 36 by the Doctor concerning the interconnected-ness of all things in the universe which is melodrama personified. Fitz doesn’t recognise the cloister bell, which is odd because he did in Revolution Man. The Doctor has to explain a number fourty-seven in great detail because Sam and Fitz are not around… After the eye opening first chapter the first fifty pages are hopelessly mundane.

Twists: The opening, with the TARDIS attacked and Sam abducted, is very dramatic. The TARDIS reverting to its original shape is as disconcerting for the Doctor as it is for the reader. The creatures attacking the farm proves far more exciting than it has any right to be. There is a supremely icky moment when a creature bursts from Johan’s chest much to the horror of those observing. The mass suicide of the T’hiili is horrible, and provides a great shock for Sam, finally making us care about the situation in the Dominion. The action packed climax is gripping reading, especially Nagle’s death, ignoring the Doctor’s warnings about human curiosity.
Funny bits: Fitz’s impression of UNIT is of secret investigators having secret meetings in dark alleys wearing trench coats. Although it is a serious moment, the Doctor makes a wrong prediction about a characters’ future. I just thought it was hysterical that Walters took the Michael out of this frequently bizarre new facet of the Doctor’s persona.

Result: Sporadically brilliant and dull. If you can get past the first terminally dull 50 pages things improve radically with some lovely gruesome set pieces, marvellous characterisation (you have a pair of excellent wannabe companions in Kerstin and Nagle, both competing for the position of replacement for Sam) and a great exploration of the Doctor’s character. Unfortunately the scenes set in the Dominion are mostly boring, a little too weird for my tastes and not giving you enough to care about. The prose is faultless but not risky enough (plain English…emphasis on the PLAIN) but for a debut novel this shows a lot of imagination and fresh ideas and marks Nick Walters as one to watch out for in the future: 6/10

Friday, 12 June 2009

Conundrum by Steve Lyons

Plot: The Doctor and friends arrive in the picturesque town of Arandale to discover a string of murders. Things are dangerously wrong…superheroes are committing suicide, Adventure Kids are falling into real danger and priests are attacking people with knives…

Master Manipulator: The Doctor had been moody and sulky since leaving the Titanic like he had given up on everything, Ace especially. When he destroyed the Silurian Earth Bernice had comprehended how alien and amoral the Doctor was. He was no longer somebody she could trust, these days she felt as though she didn’t even know him. The Doctor seemed to have rules for everything – for other people to follow at least. His presence is unnerving. It was as though the Doctor could project whatever image of himself that he desired. The Master of the Land of Fiction tries to break the Doctor with guilt (preying on his feelings over the deaths of Sara and Adric), tries to appeal to his curiosity (he gets an invitation to the Mad Hatters tea party) and even tries to question his existence (John and Gillian appear and proclaim him Dr Who!). There is possibly the best ever criticism of the seventh Doctor in the New Adventures…and it wasn’t made by me: “Mind you Doctor. I have to pull you up on one or two points, I’m afraid. Your sense of humour for a start. I mean, that other persona of yours was such a light-hearted fellow, always good for a laugh and a joke. I’ve watched your first adventure here hundreds of times and I never tire of his clowning and his witticisms. I was so looking forward to having him back here, t using him in one of my stories, but all I got was you with your moods and your tantrums and your oh-so-precious secrets. You’re no fun anymore, Doctor.”

Boozy Babe: Yes! Yes yes yes yes! This is Benny! Lets face facts…besides proving that Doctor Who could work in an adult novel format the NAs greatest gift to Doctor Who was Bernice Summerfield. She’s not been used to one tenth of her capacity so far but it would appear that Steve Lyons has figured out exactly how she should be portrayed. It’s the best use of her character since her introduction. Benny is compassionate, intelligent, quick-witted and intuitive. She is thinking of leaving but she doesn’t know if she can confine herself to one place, one time. Her relationship with Norman Power is really sweet, reminding him that you don’t need to have superpowers to be a hero. Bernice is struggling to cope with the Doctor’s secrets and Ace’s tantrums…she has reached breaking point. She tries to talk to Ace in this story and for a while they seem to be getting closer but after she speaks to the Doctor about their heart to heart Ace takes it as a betrayal and things are worse than ever.

Oh Wicked: This book was heading for a 9.5 mark but unfortunately Ace was responsible for the mark it actually got. Her very existence can drag books down…its so annoying. Whilst Conundrum does some extremely clever things with her character…the character itself is just so damn irritating, spouting out dialogue like, “Just get the hell out of my life, you bastard!” Ace is a bit of a cold bitch (that description is in the book!). She’s seen a lot of things, fought a lot of fights and killed a lot of people too. She doesn’t talk much nowadays, not about herself and she keeps her feelings well hidden behind her mirrored glasses. Nowadays the TARDIS crew communicate on a purely functional level…mostly thanks to Ace. Stupidly, she throws a tantrum when the Doctor suggests Benny sleep in with her…showing how childish she really is. She’s playing the Doctor at his own game, refusing to leave the board until she’s beaten him just once. She used to trust him, he was the only one she trusted, he guided her, protected her but it was all part of a game with the Doctor in control of her moves. Ace was the pawn he used and abused. People she loved he sacrificed. She knows he has saved lives but he has ruined some too. She joined up with IMC so she could play against him but when the time came she couldn’t go through with it. As much as she hates him…she still loves him. She can’t leave him; she can’t get the Doctor out of her life. Unfortunately after revealing all this healthy character development…Ace becomes more ridiculously angst ridden than ever.

[All this talk of reality does make you think? Doesn’t it? Conundrum questions the reality of fiction in very clever ways. It really brings things home…like this very review. In reality…why am I reviewing this book? Books are supposed to be an intensely personal experience…why plaster your thoughts over several pages of a forum? Do I want peoples approval of my opinion? Thinking about it…why are you reading this review? Why aren’t you reading the book rather than someone’s opinion of it…an opinion corrupted with all of my quirks of personality? Is this review a true representation of Conundrum? In a way…you are reviewing my review. And if you comment on this blog about my review and get a response…that person is reviewing your review of my review!!! Yes, I’m talking to you…yes you…the one gawping at their monitor right now. Do you realise that you are reviewing my own review of my review. Gee this is fun! Conundrum does this very well…as you read through its pages you feel as though the writer (not Steve Lyons) is making up the story as it goes along specifically for you. Just as im doing with this review. Now go and have a good lie down and think about nature of reality and if you are really real or just a figment of my reality…if so you’re a damn attractive one*wink*]

Incredibly Clever Plot Conceits: Conundrum is so full of clever moments I feel compelled to list my favourite bits…

* ‘Still I don’t suppose you want sixteen pages of me psychoanalysing her to death’ The Writer hits the nail on the head…unfortunately he does go back on his word. Nobody wants to go there with Ace.
* ‘The significance of all this I don’t yet know, but since we hadn’t seen that character since chapter one, I thought I better remind you that he existed.’ Cheeky devil.
* Brilliantly Ace sprints out of the world the Writer has created into…well, actually, he hasn’t decided yet.
* Pages 92 explains the power of meanwhile…by using that word the writer can leave Ace where she is…and then return to her later when he has decided what to do with her!
* ‘It might spoil my continuity just a tad.’ Huh, like that stopped a Doctor Who writer before!
* ‘Can you believe that? I can’t make anything up – no matter how ridiculous it seems at the time – without this idiot thinking he’s got a rational scientific explanation for it.’ The poor writer is attempting to make his story fantastical…and the Doctor keeps finding explanations for his concepts.
* Page 146…Ace figures out what is going on and flings herself out of the world.
* Page 151 sees the writer hopelessly improvising…trying to salvage some sort of straightforward plot line from the mess Ace has left him in!
* “And if I was to place you under arrest?” “That would be a very boring plot development. It’s been done.”
* ‘Just a minute…I didn’t write that!’ “No, I did.” Brilliantly the Doctor confronts the writer of this story…writing his own words of fiction.
* Pages 208-209 canonise the comic strips within the world of fiction (‘I even used some of your real companions, just the ones I liked.’)
* At one point the Doctor reads Conundrum! He reads exactly what we are reading! Gah! My head is going to explode!
* ‘We’re into the last four chapters already!’
* “You mean there’s actually someone out there reading this?”
* “When this book closes – we’ll be trapped in its pages forever.” Afraid so.
* “Dramatic convention, this is the end of the chapter, no doubt. I assume we’re due for a cliffhanger.”
* The Doctor doesn’t like the ending, its too pat so he creates a new one.
* Ace is judged by a panel of readers: ‘You are no longer of interest. Your audience are bored. Your continued existence in this series will not be countenanced.’ Oh Steve Lyons I could kiss you all over!
* ‘Obscenities too! In a book deemed suitable for consumption by minors!’
* In a truly amazing sequence Ace sees her life in written form…books called ‘Dragonfire’, ‘Love and War’ and ‘Deceit’. She weeps letters…words of pain bleeding into the pages of her books. What a brilliant metaphor for all the pain Ace has brought to the NAs.

Result: One of the cleverest books I have ever read, playing with the reader in the way only a book about fiction can. From the first page you feel as if you are being manipulated and guided through the book and it turns out to be a hell of a ride. In amongst all of the narrative tricks there is a murder mystery plot; some surprisingly grisly moments and another strong example of the current emotional crisis the TARDIS crew are going through. A return visit to the Land of Fiction was long overdue and it works doubly well in this arc…what with the attention on twisted timelines. The prose is light but very readable and perfectly suited to its brisk and twisting tone. Bernice is superb but Ace is appalling, I would have marked this book even higher if it wasn’t for the few scenes she behaves like a spoilt brat. Steve Lyons has written a superb New Adventure, only triumphed when he re-wrote it to even more perfection in the classic EDA, The Crooked World: 9/10

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Millennium Shock by Justin Richards

Plot: The Millennium Bug is threatening to bring down the worlds technology on January 1st, and the world is not prepared. An alien force, disgusted at being defeated during their first attempt to invade, have figured out how to use the Y2K scare to their advantage and seize the Earth during the crisis…

Teeth and Curls: This is the first (real) time I have felt that anybody has captured the 4th Doctor as Tom Baker plays him (during season fourteen). All the manic energy, the dry wit, the heroism, the moments of violence and unpredictability…its all here, there were only a few scenes near the end where I feel Justin was repeating dialogue from the series for effect but on the whole this is a stellar effort. He offers a jelly baby which turns out to be a dolly mixture…what else do you need to know about this guy?

There is a sense of familiarity and confidence about the Doctor, something that engendered friendship and trust. His face seemed to consist entirely of eyes and nose. The scene where the Doctor and Harry exchange gifts is adorable, he gets Harry a bag which laughs when you clap and Harry gets him some socks with snowmen on them! They both agree it is the thought that counts. His relationship seems to have picked up exactly where they left off in System Shock, with mutual trust and compassion but also a nagging feeling that they really enjoy each other’s company too. The Doctor still talks down slightly but that’s just his way in general. The paranoid Gardner skulks around in his nuclear bunker, safe in the knowledge that nobody can access it and the Doctor just strolls in casually. He did sign the Official Secrets Act, eventually. His plans are usually devised on a whim at the last moment and have more than a element of risk. In a moment of Doctor lunacy the Doctor enjoys himself immensely driving a bloody great tank through the deserted London streets.

Right-O: I love Harry. That should be recognised before I dribble on with praise about his characterisation. He’s so thoroughly British I think it is impossible to dislike him, I like how gentlemanly and polite he is (which is a great strength of the British) and how awkward and accident prone he is too (which is a great weakness)…there is a strong chivalrous side to him, as well a strong intelligence and sense of moral right. All of this is present in this book and I personally think that writing a book primarily from Harry’s POV is a smashing idea, it works here and it works just as well with Jac Rayner’s Wolfsbane, because he adds a great deal of humour and humanity, especially to a story as techno-minded as this one. He seems to be constantly surprised throughout the group but takes each surprise in his stride. A man of action, he goes through the wars (see Twists) and doesn’t really get a single scratch. He still meets up with Sarah Jane, which is nice to see. He accepts responsibility for Sylvia’s death, accepting that she would not be involved in the situation if it weren’t for him. Harry is fab and Millennium Shock goes some way to proving why.

[For those of you who have forgotten the events of System Shock here is a quick re-cap of the situation with the Voracians. Vorella developed along similar lines to Earth. Technological dependence, information super highways, digital hardware and software in every aspect of life…until the time of the Great Reckoning. The Vorellans built a reasoning processor, an artificial intelligence that they called Voracia. Within an hour it had decide that organic life was inefficient and of no use. The Vorellans put up a fight and eventually won, but before Voracia was destroyed it had created some hybrids, robotic brains with organic limbs slaved to them: the Voracians. They see themselves as the bearers of Voracia’s genius and the start of a new, superior race, if they have it there way all organic life will be slaved to machines.]

Twists: Sarah Jane’s essay about the Y2K bug is shocking and powerful. George Gardner discovers a chip in Silver Bullet’s equipment that is designed to fail at the millennium. There is an attempt on his life, as they utilise pieces of equipment around his home to kill him. The sequence where the Doctor and Harry are trapped in a speeding car approaching a petrol tanker is exactly the sort of high octane entertainment this book offers. The sudden realisation that the Voracians are after the pen that Sarah gave Harry leads to a rush back to his house but not in time to stop the explosion in the front room that catches Sylvia in the blast. Andi Cave is revealed to be a Voracian, she tries to murder Harry who smashes a window and with a shard of glass slashes open her artificial face. His car explodes as he uses the key lock and tries to escape. You’ve got to love the moment the Doctor and Harry visit Kurby in prison and his head explodes! The Defence Secretary is killed and Harry is framed for her murder! The Russians have obsolete warning systems and unless replaced will possibly cause a nuclear strike on the UK and US come January 1st’s millennium crisis. The UK have supplied them with brand new equipment, equipment which has the new Silver Bullet chips the Voracians have planted – that are designed to fail at the millennium, an act the Russians could see as an act of war. Russian rebels have control of a nuclear device, which they will fire at the first sign of trouble from the West. Even the Prime Minister is implicated, albeit blindly for his own political ambitions, he thinks they are destroying the reputation of the military by making it appear as though there is a military coup of Christmas day, when the chips fail the streets will be full of peace-keeping troops. All the PM is after is the military budget to spend on other, more wothy causes. From their helicopter the Doctor and Harry watch the lights of London extinguish as the millennium hits. Having President Denning is a nice link to Option Lock. Sylvia’s death is gruesome, being shot in the shoulder and catching alight, staring out at Harry as her face boils away to reveal the metal plates riveted to her skull. The Doctor batters down lampposts and pops cars on his way through London in Fred the Tank! There is an exciting gunfight outside Number Ten, which climaxes in Fred the tank crushing Attwell. To get the full confession from the Prime Minister there is a brilliant bluff, the Russians pretending they are sending a nuclear strike to England. The Doctor adapts the Y2K sensitivity into Voractyll’s software so when it is activated and comes into contact with any date reliant system it seizes and terminates…waiting for the 1900’s!

Result: How on Earth was something this good written in three weeks? Millennium Shock is a thoroughly engaging techno-thriller, which maintains its pace throughout and is packed to the brim with exciting surprises. The chemistry between the Doctor and Harry is adorable and they make an excellent team. The prose is a little light on sensuality but considering the subject matter and the speed it is written this is forgivable and it was a wise move for Richards to return to an enemy he already knows well and further their ambitions. The plot itself is typically ingenious; it manages to be a conspiracy tale, a techno-horror (with marvellous scenes of technology being used to kill people in various ways) and a political crisis, with some dramatic turns (especially when you realise how high the conspiracy goes). If the ending is a little light just remember that the rest of the book is packed with incident and on its own merits this novel deserves a 7/10 but considering it was produced in such a hurry and still manages to be this entertaining it earns a: 8/10

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Revolution Man by Paul Leonard

Plot: Someone is writing graffiti over the Earth using the drug Om-Tsor. The result is dangerous changes in time that should not have taken place. The Doctor, Sam and Fitz arrive in 1967 and are unaware of the massive changes they will face in opposing the Revolution Man…

Top Doc: He is fully aware he has contributed complications to Earth’s history. He has far too many memories that take him from the present and immerse him in the past. He feels he is going through something of a mid life crisis and wants to confide in Fitz about it. Revolution Man features a very dramatic take on the Doctor’s responsibilities to time as he dashes about trying to cancel out all of the Revolution Man’s meddling. Like Paul Leonard’s Genocide he is no longer the congenital idiot but a much darker, more contemplative character. The situation gets so dangerous at the climax he throws all of his morals away to fix the problem (see Twists) and its about time too.

Friend or Foe: This book features the best chemistry between the Doctor and Sam since The Scarlet Empress and the best all round interpretation of Sam’s character since Seeing I. She is marvellous, a far cry from the angst-ridden kid of the previous five or six books. Sam is intelligent enough to recognise the growing sense of dissatisfaction at the end of the sixties, wishful thinking turning into paranoia and hatred and she also identifies the darker side to the ‘Flower Children’, the sexism and homophobia that was still to be conquered. She thinks of Fitz as funny and intelligent and not half as cynical as he would like to think and when he says he is leaving the TARDIS it is sweet to see how shocked and upset she is about it (especially after giving him escape plan and first aid training!). She ingratiates herself with the TLB with ease, is contrasted wonderfully with psycho-campaigner Pippa and realises that meeting up with legends (Rex) is not always a good idea, as they never quite live up to what you expect. She is bright, resourceful, entertaining and perceptive. What took so damn long?

Scruffy Git: Failed romance number two: Maddie. Fitz is still unsure of the Doctor and his powers, when he heals Fitz’s girlfriend Maddie he thinks the Time Lord is some sort of God. He feels left out at the beginning, like a novelty the Doctor and Sam have grown bored of. He takes pretty much the first opportunity to leave the TARDIS but finds he misses the lifestyle, his life on Earth feels too ordinary. Entrenched in helping Maddie discover more information about Om-Tsor, he is kidnapped and brainwashed by the Chinese into a pacifist non-thinker and some of that influence still lingers at the end of the book. However he breaks free of that conditioning when he realises the world is in danger and commits and terrible act in the climax. He is still unsure of whether he did the right thing at the climax and so are we.

Foreboding: Fitz is MARKED, each time it looks as though he and the Doctor have split danger follows him and they are reunited. This happens in Interference, Time Zero and The Gallifrey Chronicles.

Twists: The consequences of people taking Om-Tsor are extremely dramatic. The train derailed, the earthquake in Rome, the ceiling ripped from the concert in London, the gun magically flying through the air and discharging…all of these are shocking moments but none more so than when Fitz and Jin Ming take some and chase each other (as giants) over the world, stepping over mountains, using oceans to break their fall, etc. Brilliantly, Fitz is thrown from a helicopter high in the sky. Red herrings are afoot concerning the identity of the Revolution Man…is it the Doctor, is it Rex…nope its Ed Hill, the supposedly dead rock star! The news that Om-Tsor will bring the world to an end is jaw dropping. None of these moments hold a candle to the climax, which sees Ed attempting to gain control of the TARDIS. In a desperate act to stop him Fitz shoots him through the head but this has no effect so the Doctor, in the only time in the series’ long history, picks up the gun and finishes him off. We cut away to a shocked look on the Doctors’ face and blood all over his coat. He then has to take drugs to ensure the safety of the planet. An unforgettable, powerful finish. I just wish all those cry babies who don’t like the Doctor using a weapon would bugger off, in a choice between millions of lives and one I know which I would choose. As a good friend of mine said this is Doctor Who not Doctrine Who.

Result: A mature piece of work and Paul Leonard’s best novel yet. Basing a book on drug taking was always going to be risky but Leonard pulls it off with real style, mainly because his prose has always had that sort of trippy, hypnotic feel to it that makes the scenes here of people intoxicated so powerful. The regulars are divine and it is astonishing to think it has taken this long to get them this right, but all three of them are vivid and used to drive the story along. The heavily bashed conclusion where the Doctor shoots Ed Hill is anything but disappointing, it’s the sort of sting in the tail these books should all have. Only the relative shortness of the book works against it, this is a storyline that deserves more time to let it breathe. All told, fantastic: 9/10

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Left-Handed Hummingbird by Kate Orman

Plot: Following the events of Blood Heat and The Dimension Riders, someone is tinkering with time, altering the Doctor’s past and forcing a race through time to paper over the temporal faults. From Mexico 1487, to London in the swinging sixties through to the sinking of the Titanic…

Master Manipulator: The Doctor is a shadow amongst shadows. Normally he was in and out of people’s lives so quickly that he didn’t get to see the long-term effects of his handiwork. Life was a series of hellos and goodbyes. The image of the Doctor juggling his way through an Aztec market is way cool. Does the Doctor think he is God’s police? Or is it just a bad dose of messiah complex? Was he ever afraid the same way humans are afraid? If he wasn’t God himself, he was a manifestation, a splash of colour spilled into the picture book of the ordinary world. He is an extraterrestrial who poses as a human…a harbinger of death. There’s a brilliant sequence that sums up the seventh Doctor beautifully…his companions are agonising over one death whilst he has a much bigger problem to consider: “Cristian Alvarez is not the be and end all of this situation. Something is happening which is much bigger than Cristian Alvarez. He’s dead in 1994. It is now 1968 and its snowing outside, so bring something warm.” The Doctor has no home; he wanders from place to place. He walks the fine line between healer and warrior. He was going to have to do something about the violence in Ace.

Boozy Babe: Benny always works better by herself. She was the archaeologist and doesn’t figure why she cannot go back and see the Aztecs. Bernice feels homesick for Beta Caprisis, the Academy and even Heaven before it became Hell. She was lost in an utterly alien city where she didn’t even speak the language. She feels alone. It always comes back to that; you meet people, you exchange a few words, a few ideas, maybe a little love. And then they move on. She hated evil and had seen a lot of it and felt as if she had been fighting it forever. The Doctor’s celestial game had been fun but now it was going sour. It occurs to Benny that if Ace considered people to be a threat, she actually would kill them. She feels more at home with the hippies than Ace.

Oh Wicked: The image of the invincible Ace in hospital in critical care is a potent image. Is Ace just a soldier following the Doctor’s orders? When she feels this might be the case she wants to throw her gun at the Doctor. Ace the fighter, Ace the killer, the Doctor had tried to search for the enemy in her eyes but the Ace who had wielded the sword was his Ace. Ace’s life came in two pieces, before Perivale and After Perivale. She remembered when she first met him on Svartos, that thrilling of a chance to hitchhike the galaxy. She had felt incredibly lucky, very privileged. When the stakes got high enough it was easy to concentrated on saving everybody, and forget about any one person. It was just as bad to destroy a single person as it was to destroy a whole planet. Even when that person was you. Especially when it was you. When she had run away from him on Heaven, it had been the worst thing she could think to do to him, the worst possible punishment for his sins. He wasn’t scared of monsters or pain or dying, he was scared of being alone. If he was going to die, he wasn’t going to die alone. Ace feels like a paper doll, dozens of copies of her cut out and scattered about. Ace has had the stuffed knocked out of her, emotionally and physically until she felt she was hollow. She was here to protect the Doctor, he would never give up his crusade but this might be the time for Ace to leave…while he still had Bernice. Ace was ready for peace. Fighting was like breathing for her now. I loved the following exchange: “You don’t want me to turn into the Halloween Man?” said Ace. “No” he said, “You’re perfectly capable of doing that yourself.” With speed that ever surprised her, Ace belted him.

Foreboding: “There’s nothing magical about psi” – soon to become an important element of the New Adventures. The death of Fitz? First The Dimension Riders features the death of a character called Anji and now The Left Handed Hummingbird features the death of a character called Fitz!

Twists: The depiction of the Aztecs is terrifying and beautiful. The Doctor’s drug induced nightmare is haunting. The Blue is a psionic being who using the power of an Exxilon device has become pure mental energy. Huitzilin exchanged places with the Doctor and slaughters the cultists.

Funny Bits: Cristian has to explain to Bernice that Star trek: The Next Generation is not a documentary (see also, Embarrassing Bits).
There’s a great moment where Bernice is torn between a phone ringing, a man screaming and her split tequila.

Embarrassing Bits: You’ve got to love how much controversy surrounded this book at the time with the Doctor (Shudder! Gasp!) taking magic mushrooms to contact the Blue. I was 13at the time this book was released and I have to say after reading it I was a regular user and always high as a kite trying to contact mind controlling aliens. Christ! Give children some bloody respect! The Doctor has since murdered people (The Burning) and married and set up shop in a whorehouse (both The Adventuress of Henrietta Street) but nobody got in a tizzy about that. I don’t get that Benny doesn’t know what pizza is, asks how to turn a cat off and doesn’t understand that ST: TNG is fictional…not really a fault of this book but of the range in general because soon she is au fait on all things 20th Century. One thing that really, really, really bugs me is books which refuse to actually explain what is going on and instead paper of explanations with lots of pretentious dialogue and enigmatic descriptive prose…The Left-Handed Hummingbird is the worst example of this since Timewyrm: Revelation. People proclaim that this is really deep stuff that you need to examine closely to unlock its meaning…I call it a lazy lack of respect for your readership. I don’t want miracles. Just a story that bothers to explain what is happening as it trundles along. This book waits until pages 180 onwards to give you any kind of a clue.

Result: I am so conflicted with this book because it does so many things well and so many things appallingly that on balance it is a deeply frustrating read. On the positive side I don’t think the regulars have ever been better written (just head upstairs and read those profiles) with Ace especially given some amazing development that (almost) makes her character palatable. The actual prose itself is a world away from the last book and many scenes are sculpted with care, punching with dramatic effect and setting the scene with vivid beauty. The trouble is all of this is lost on another rambling and aimless plot that lacks cohesion until very late in the day and worse, lacks explanation. Kate Orman would go on to write some of the best ever Doctor Who books and it is clear that she has much to achieve in her first novel but its too much. Too many settings, too many characters (very few of which are given the page space to make an impact) and too few answers. Halfway through I was incensed at the aimlessness of the plot. Flawed but definitely a step in the right direction: 7/10