Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Time Zero by Justin Richards

Plot: The whole fabric of reality is threatened when Maxwell Curtis sets us his research outpost in Siberia to try and cure his unusual malady. Soon everybody is on their way there; Fitz as a part of an expedition in 1894, Anji being head hunted by the CIA, the SAS, Sabbath, the Doctor…all in time to see what could be the end of the universe as we know it…

Top Doc: After dropping his companions of to the relevant places, he springs straight back into action, admitting it is far better to be out there, doing something, achieving anything. He is pretty chirpy throughout, using his apparent goofiness to hide his real intentions. When he is around, everything is suddenly, irrationally all right. Where there’s trouble, that’s where he goes. He enjoys Trix’s company and yet bluntly refuses to take her with him at the end. He now has two hearts beating in his chest again. As usual, it is Sabbath who brings out the best in the Doctor and he goes absolutely ape-**** when old ham fists ridicules him, saying that he has no idea what he is doing. He then perversely proves the way Sabbath looks at the universe is wrong and laughs in his face. He says, “There’s nothing creative about killing. Have you ever thought of how much harder it is to preserve and save lives?” He admits he is terrified when Curtis, fully developing into a black hole, comes after them.

Scruffy Git: The quintessential Fitz book. Ever wondered why Fitz is so popular and long lasting, read Time Zero. Anji considers him a real friend, trusts him and has enjoyed their time together and will miss him. Fitz wants to have done something for himself, that’s why he is off to Siberia. He hugs Anji like she is his sister and chokes up as he tries to explain how he feels. Described as inexperienced, unqualified and unable to hammer in a tent peg! He is the stalwart advocate of sarcastic wit. As usual, Fitz is far more capable of looking after himself than people give him credit (Anji says as he needs someone to look after him) and hold his own well on the expedition, fighting off accusations of murder and terrifying dinosaurs. When George tells him he is a decent honest person who would do anything to help if he thought it was for the best and never hurt anyone, that he was dependable and brave and the best friend a man could have…we know it is all true. Sadistically, the book plays on the readers feeling for Fitz, offering several scenes where he could very well have perished.

Career Nazi: Anji has beautifully come full circle, finally returned home and seen coping with life without the Doctor and Fitz. She slowly starts putting Dave’s stuff into boxes and out of sight. Going back to work she realises how much she has changed while everyone else has stayed the same, shallow and pointless…and the biggest shock comes when she realises that her work, which used to be her life and soul…is just work. Her experiences with the Doctor have sharpened her instincts and given her the confidence to make brave decisions. All she ever wanted to do was return home and she realises with a heavy heart that her home is now the TARDIS. She cries for hours when she realises Fitz is dead. She has been back at home for 18 months when she is head hunted by Hartford. Her quick wits allow her to trick the soldiers into thinking she has jumped off the plane. She feels numbed to think of the Doctor or Fitz’s mortality, she is used to death during their adventures but she will never accept it. At the stories climax it becomes clear that the Doctor cannot take Anji home despite her wishes he does so and she and Fitz can barely hide their delight at this.

Anyone who claims the EDAs feature no character development are obviously reading a very different range to me. Compare these three in Earthworld to Time Zero, they just aren’t the same people anymore. The Doctor is far more confident of his abilities and has found an extended family, Fitz has decided he needs to sort his life out and Anji has softened considerably. I think they’re fab.

Identity Tricks: Beatrice Macmillan is introduced in this book, a master of disguise who helps Sabbath manipulate Curtis to fulfil his plans. Loves money but not danger, she wishes she had just grabbed her payment and run. She has honey blond hair and green, catlike eyes. The Doctor follows her to a retirement home where she is using her mother’s clothes to help her disguise. She is very intrigued by the Doctor and asks if she can come with him at the end.

Foreboding: Anji’s friend Mitch has moved up to Edinburgh and invites her to visit (The Domino Effect). Sabbath cuts his hand and wipes it on the Doctor’s handkerchief (Sometime Never…). Sabbath leaves the Doctor a parting gift with the hint, “a race against infinity” (The Infinity Race). The Doctor leaves the TARDIS door open and gives Trix the perfect chance to stow away (Timeless). The Quantum universes have been messed up, they are now overlapping, intersecting, merging, vying for dominance (The Infinity Race-Timeless). The Doctor and co must get the journal back to 1938 in the right universe or the Doctor would not have read it and be on hand to stop Curtis destroying the universe (Timeless).

Twists: The opening scene, featuring Fluppy the puppy having his skull caved in by the Blue Peter totaliser is very memorable. I found the parting of the Doctor, Fitz and Anji poignant. Turns out Compassion wrote the Meet me in St Louis note. Hartford gets involved in the adventure when soldiers flying over Siberia experience lost time, omitting Hawking radiation, allowing Control at CIA to build a time traveller detector, which leads them to Anji and they make her an offer of a job in Siberia. Galloway on Fitz’s expedition is found dead with a tent peg in his head. In several wonderfully tense sequences, Anji discovers she is on a military plane to Siberia, filled with guns and bombs and pretends she has jumped ship. In one of the best “Oh crap!” twists in Doctor Who history she realises the soldiers have jumped after her and have left her alone on the plane, which (as she stares out of the cockpit window) is heading straight for a range of mountains. Fitz and co discovers a portal to another world, and attracts the attention of monsters from the other side. In lots of adrenalin filled scenes worthy of Jurassic Park they are hunted by several ferocious dinosaurs. Hartford proves himself a sadistic bully, determined that there is time travel experiments going on in Siberia (because his sniffer has detected Anji) and shoots lots of people down in cold blood. Schrondinger’s Cat is brilliantly used to expose the Doctor and Sabbath’s view of reality. The Doctor believes in indeterminism, the cat could be either dead or alive…whilst Sabbath believes in certainties, a set timeline where the cat’s fate is always known. Curtis is revealed to be a walking black hole, an absurd idea until it tries to suck you into the event horizon. Sabbath is revealed as the one who set up the research outpost in the first place, manipulating Curtis so he can travel back in time to the Big Bang and have his black hole energy released forwards in time to
create one single, definitive timeline. Proof that his plan is to fail and that Curtis travelling back in time is destabilising reality, the TARDIS is discovered as a ghost inside the glacier, proving that the multiverse is collapsing, existing as a yes, no and maybe…all of these possibilities existing at the same time, in the same universe. Fitz survives because reality is offering up every possibility and the Doctor and Anji refuse to admit he is dead. The Doctor eventually proves that they are living in a single universe…Curtis becoming a black hole at Time Zero is what attracts the light from the O-region to create the time machine…but Curtis cannot get back in time until the time machine is created…a paradox which cannot exist in a set timeline because one of these would always write the other out. The story reaches a dramatic climax as every action ever taken place in every place starts overlapping each other. Touchingly, we realise that George Williamson is the time machine that allows Curtis to travel back to destroy the universe…and in order to stop him George will have to sacrifice himself. The final, wrenching twist comes when we realise the Doctor has quite saved the day at the end and a new timeline has shoved ours out of the way and is currently existing as the ‘real’ reality.

Embarrassing bits: The second Holiday appears and knows the Doctor’s name it is obvious who he is. As I have said, the idea of a man turning into a black hole is absurd but somehow, Justin Richards makes it positively terrifying to witness. That said, the idea is still a bit silly. The murderer of Galloway is really, really obvious. Because she is a new companion (well not yet) Trix is dragged along to Siberia with everyone else but beyond her role as Grand Duchess to fool Curtis, she is redundant to the plot.

Funny bits: The way the Doctor just walks into a murder investigation and takes over is very funny. As is Lionel Correll’s sigh of relief when the Doctor loses the bid for the journal, having upped the stakes to £50,000!

Result: Shockingly brutal and gripping, this novel has three equally good action plots wrapping around each other beautifully. Written by the range editor, the regulars are every bit as fulfilling as you would expect and given a healthy dose of development. The tone is certainly dramatic, helped enormously by the reverse numbered chapters, which give the constant impression the book is building up to something. Some people complain about the heavy science in the last third but to be honest that was my favourite part, with some mind-expanding concepts being used to strengthen the character drama. The plotting is flawless and the content very adult and the whole thing is enhanced by that superb, almost photographic, cover. Easily the best thing Justin Richards has written to date; I would love this book just for the stuff with Anji on the plane: 9/10

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