Im doing something a little different today: instead of audios or television episodes, Im taking a look at a Doctor Who novel. Ive done this before, with the penultimate Virgin New Adventures novel, Lungbarrow; however, at that time, it was the only novel I had available, so I didnt set out to make it a series of reviews. However, Ive recently acquired a number of Doctor Who novels in ebook form, and so Im considering giving it another try, beginning today. Of course, reading a novel takes more time and effort than watching an episode or listening to an audio drama; and so this series will be somewhat irregular. As long as the novels are short—as todays entry is—I may aim to complete one each week; but thats a pretty high bar for which to aim, and it will likely not happen that way, especially as I intend to continue my other review series. Still, it should make for interesting reading. The ebook collection includes most if not all of the Virgin New Adventures (VNA) novels, so well begin with those. Today were looking at the first in the series: Timewyrm: Genesys, by John Peel, published in July 1991, and featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace. The VNAs were intended to continue where the final classic serial, Survival, left off, and this story does just that, beginning sometime not long after that story. Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel! As novel plots tend to be longer than the equivalent audios and serials, Ill try to be more concise, and leave out more detail, than I do in my audio and television reviews. Here, we open with a battle in space; a creature calling herself Ishtar is losing, her ship collapsing around her. She is seen to control the minds of her crew, even to the point of seeing through their eyes and directly controlling their bodies. She sacrifices them to make a final blow at the attacking ship, and escapes in a lifepod, falling to the planet below: Earth. Its ancient Mesopotamia, and Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, is on the hunt. He meets Ishtar, who claims to be a goddess, but lacks the power to leave the crash site of her lifepod. He rejects her call to join him, and she swears revenge. On the TARDIS, Ace awakens with amnesia, unable to remember even her own name. The Doctor apologizes; he was using the telepathic circuits to edit his own memories, clearing out old junk, and accidentally caught her in the field. He is able to restore her memories. However, in doing so, he triggers an apparition of the Fourth Doctor, a message implanted long ago, warning him about a creature called a Timewyrm. He doesnt remember it, but the TARDIS takes over, and takes them to Earth…where they intrude on Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu, in battle against warriors of the rival city of Kish. As they cause the battle to end, Gilgamesh takes them for gods, and takes them along to spy on Kish. The Doctor notes odd copper patterns on the walls, and realizes something isnt right. Something, indeed, is not right in Kish. Ishtar, after meeting Gilgamesh, met Dumuzi, Kishs priest of the goddess Ishtar, who accepted her offer and took her to take residence in the temple of Ishtar. (Ill go ahead and say that Ishtar, of course, is not her real name; well get that later, but she has taken the name here from Gilgameshs mind. Meanwhile, the king of Kish, Agga, is feeling trapped by Ishtar; but he wont rebel, because he fears for his city. His daughter, Ninani, has no such qualms, and enlists a priestess of Ishtar, En-Gula, to help her destroy the false goddess. The Doctor confronts Ishtar, and is captured; he learns that she controls her servants by means of implants that let her overtake their minds and bodies. Ace rescues him before he can be implanted, but her use of Nitro-9 explosives tips Ishtar off to the otherworldly nature of the intruders. She orders Agga to hasten completion of the patterns on the walls; they will constitute a radio transmitter that will let her spread her influence across the entire world. As well, she has a cobalt bomb tied to her biosignature, which will detonate and devastate the planet if she dies. She reveals that she used such a device to destroy her home planet, Anu. The Doctor, Gilgamesh, and the others escape back to Uruk, bringing with them En-Gula and a musician named Avram. En route, they view Ishtars crashed pod, and Avram reveals that he has seen something like it before, in the mountains a week away. Ace secretly pockets a now-defused thermite bomb that was left as a trap on the pod. In Uruk, Gilgamesh deals with a conspiracy against him, and Avram tells the story of his visit to the mountains, and to a man named Utnapishtim. The Doctor concludes that Utnapishtim is an enemy of Ishtar—or rather, Qataka, her true name—from her own world, and may help them against her. He sends Gilgamesh and Ace on a mission to recruit Utnapishtim, while he and Enkidu and En-Gula plan a return to Kish. Ace is not thrilled; she has been busy fighting off Gilgameshs constant sexual advances, and doesnt look forward to a week with him on the road. In the mountains, they find that the Doctor was correct. Utnapishtim is the leader of a spacegoing ark, all that is left of his people—and their power source is failing, due to damage on the ship. Nevertheless, he agrees to help, and takes a pair of smaller craft to get them back to Kish quickly. He has a computer virus which should destroy Ishtar—whom, he reveals, is a cybernetic lifeform, a copy of her original humanoid form. Meanwhile, the Doctor, En-Gula, and Enkidu return to Kish, and recruit Ninani; they are captured by Agga, but released by Ninani, and they advance on the temple. Ace, Utnapishtim, Avram, and Gilgamesh arrive at the same time, as does Agga, and the battle begins. Ishtar smashes the device with the virus, but is infected anyway when she hits Ace with an implant; the device was a decoy, and the real virus has been overlaid on their minds. Knowing the bomb will go off if she dies, the Doctor takes it and Ace back to the TARDIS, and uses the telepathic circuits to dredge up the more-technically-astute Third Doctors personality. As the Third Doctor, he uses the implant to create a copy of Ishtar in the TARDIS circuits, then links the bomb to it, giving him time to defuse it. She infects the TARDIS, but he ejects the infected components, apparently putting an end to her. The Doctor uses Ishtars technology from the temple to repair Utnapishtims ship, and gives him the cobalt bomb to use as a new power source. He then directs them to an uninhabited world where they can re-establish their civilization. Unfortunately, he cant change history; the future holds more natural unhappiness for their friends in Uruk and Kish. Back in the TARDIS, they are attacked when they enter the Vortex. Ishtar is not dead after all; she has merged with the ejected TARDIS components and become something terrible: the Timewyrm. She is free to roam time and space. The Doctor sets course after her, vowing to destroy her. Ive wanted for a long time to read the VNAs. I previously read and reviewed Lungbarrow, but that novel is near the end of the series, and while excellent, doesnt really capture the range of the series. This, then, was an exciting read for me. On the downside, it assumes a lot of the reader—this is no book for beginners in Doctor Who history. While there are some brief explanations of things such as regeneration and the TARDIS, it cant be called hand-holding; explanations are good for only the minimum necessary knowledge, and may leave a newbie with more questions than answers. (Aces amnesia at the beginning allows room for some explanation; the Doctor is briefly obligated to explain things to her. As well, there is an excessive amount of references to other stories here; Ill list some of them shortly, but here I will say that, although I personally love references and fanservice, its over the top here. Theres a good reason for that: as the VNAs were the only continuing legacy of the series at the time of publication, they were obligated to hit the ground running, and establish quickly that this really was the true successor to the series. Well find as we go on that that position is no longer really defensible, in light of the revived television series; the continuity is just too different—but at that time, this WAS Doctor Who, the only Doctor Who being produced. (To be fair, I like the view that this continuity is not invalid; its just different. Certainly I consider the television continuity to be of first importance, the “flagship”, as it were; but this is a perfectly good alternate version. We couldnt do better than to kick off the series with the Seventh Doctor and Ace. This duo is one of my favorites, and theyre just as good here as they are on television. Of course, its not all smooth sailing; they have some very vocal arguments. Ace is growing up, to be honest, and shes not as willing to take the Doctors word for things as she was in her earliest appearances. The book contains a number of sexual references, establishing it (as was pitched at the time) as “too broad and deep for the small screen”. Its not a bad move, as long as it doesnt get too far from the source material. Here, it mostly takes the form of a very sexually aggressive Gilgamesh (he frequently hits on Ace, as well as other women) and a priestess who is in reality a temple prostitute, frequently with breasts bared. Still, its the sort of thing that could easily be adjusted for television, should the need ever arise; it almost seems as though it was written with that possibility in mind, should the series have been revived during the Seventh Doctors time. The Doctor gets a great line here, which sums up his entire philosophy of interaction with the universe: “Its not just the TARDIS that has relative dimensions, Ace, but the societies that we visit too. ” He elaborates when he says “Im not supposed to interfere with [this societys] natural development. Unnatural development, on the other hand, is a different bucket of fish”—in explaining why he is willing to combat Ishtar, but not to change the societal norms. It gives perspective to the Doctors approach to interference in many stories. He also talks about clearing out old memories, as his mind contains too many; but he begins to rethink it when he finds it necessary to call up the Third Doctors personality. Reading that scene was bizarre; it was well-written for the Third Doctor, and it was hard not to picture him in the TARDIS. The locals are interesting to me. Gilgamesh, of historical epic fame (his well-known epic is mentioned as being written by the songwriter Avram) is a barbarian, to be blunt; but despite being a stock character, hes very entertaining, more so when put up against Ace. Enkidu is a Neanderthal, the last of his kind (as far as he knows; the Doctor and Ace mention the Neanderthal seen in Ghost Light) but very well-spoken and thoughtful, subverting the caveman trope a bit. En-Gula may be a prostitute, but shes very matter-of-fact about it, and is of a broader mind than even the other characters expect. Agga and Ninani are perhaps the most boring of the bunch; but their family drama is crucial to moving the story along. Utnapishtim, while not a local, was an unexpected twist; hes essentially a businessman thrust into the role of captain of the ark. As such hes quiet, unassuming, and tortured by what he thinks he must do to save his people—that is, displace the more primitive humans and take their planet. I was glad to see him get another way out, and I hope well see him again. (Of course, the implication here is that his story is the inspiration for the Gilgamesh epics ark story, and by extension the biblical version. Ishtar is an exciting villain at this point. She may be a stock character of sorts; but shes honest about it. She doesnt have grand aspirations or motivations; she just wants to rule, and to inflict pain on as many people as possible. She may be insane, but shes methodical and determined. While I knew that this was the beginning of a story arc, and therefore she will return in the next book, the transformation at the end into the Timewyrm was still unexpected and well done. She brings out a determined and fatalistic side of the Doctor that we rarely see, even with the scheming Seventh Doctor; he is more than willing to destroy himself and Ace to stop Ishtar. References: There are many, and I may not get them all here. The Doctor mentions past companions Sara Kingdom, Katarina, and Adric, and regrets their deaths; the TARDIS even manifests images of Sara and Katarina. The Fourth Doctor appears in hologram form, which was implanted just after The Invasion of Time. The Third Doctor is briefly resurrected in the Seventh Doctors body, and calls others by the names of his past companions. The Doctor and Ishtar mention Chronovores living in the void ( The Time Monster. Ace makes mention of several onscreen adventures ( Silver Nemesis, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Dragonfire, Battlefield, The Curse of Fenric) and is still feeling some residual effect from the cheetah virus ( Survival. The Doctor last used the time path indicator in The Daleks Masterplan. He mentions Kanpo Rimpoche, last seen in Planet of the Spiders, but mentioned in other stories. He says that the cloister bell last sounded during the events of Logopolis, though this is incorrect; it sounded in Castrovalva, The Mutant Phase (which admittedly doesnt exist in Big Finish form at the time of writing) and Resurrection of the Daleks. He claims never to have been to Alaska, although Big Finishs The Land of the Dead would contradict this; perhaps that memory was erased. Overall, its a great start to the VNAs. It contains something for everyone: Fanservice, mature themes, multiple Doctors (sort of) historical events, science-fiction elements, and of course, Seven and Ace. While it may occasionally try too hard, its forgiveable here; and well see more to come in the next few novels. Next time: Well continue with Timewyrm: Exodus, by classic Who author Terrance Dicks! See you there.
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Terrance Dicks: Fact & Fiction Watch freelance. Last time on ZERO reads. Another review and this time the amazing conclusion to the Timewyrm story that's more than it deserved. Positive reviews, as people often comment, are a lot harder than negative reviews. This review is honestly a bit rambly and it's the one that on a re-read I'm the least happy with of all my reviews. But I'd need to re-read the book to properly do a new and improved review and I'd kinda like to read the whole series sometime within my lifetime so backtracking barely 10 books in wouldn't be the best decision. So I'll live with it as is and resolve to try to do better with future positive reviews. Timewyrm: Revelation by Paul Cornell Wow. This is definitely the point the NAs take that step forward into being something more than just tie in fiction. Of the first 3 books only Exodus had really been enjoyable, and while it was a really great Doctor Who romp, it didn't really push beyond feeling like a good tie in that captured the show. Revelation on the other hand really branches out, finding new things to do with Doctor Who while also at the same time stepping into feeling like an actual novel of its own. Similar to some other wilderness years stories, I feel like I need to take a step back and force myself to see the story in context of the time because much of what it does would go on to become very interwoven with the franchise much later. First of all I want to comment on how much Cornell's writing really caught me off guard. I am no stranger to Cornell as a writer, with him having done 2 of my favourite nuWho stories and some of my favourite runs in super hero comics. So in part because of expectations based on familiarity I was surprised by how much of this novel was very abstract, ethereal and unreal, with much of the book describing impossible imagery and attempting to visualise concepts like being within another's consciousness. For the first half of the book it had what felt like an almost Neil Gaiman-like prose in some of the ethereal aspects or at times even its contemplative nature where the book would pause to talk about unreal character's perspectives and the almost consciousness they'd develop. So where to really begin? This book honestly is mad, and I mean that in the best of ways. The cover is the absolute perfect representation for the first half of the book, and it really stood out to me in a way no other NA cover has. I see the Doctor on the moon dancing with death, a short astronaut looking on and a church sitting just downhill. Immediately I love this madcap imagery I'm overloaded with and am eager to understand how all this can possibly happen. The book opens with quite a lot of separate scene setting. Most of it presented in a very blasé manner despite some of it being clearly impossible, it's immediately attention grabbing when something like the childhood death of Ace is just thrown out there. While other parts are as mundane as the telling and just setting up our characters, oh and there's a sentient church in there for good measure because, why not. Then we move into the Doctor and Ace stepping out into our now set scene with the Doctor visiting a town he has many times before taking us through a slow introduction. Then the book quickly sets about events becoming stranger and stranger, throwing out the most mad and crazy of twists and turns before going on to justify each one. The sheer imagination of it all is captivating. As the real world aspect of it continues to escalate for the first half of the book we have Ace moved into our more ethereal setting of the Doctor's mind, which is where we find much of the depth of the story. There's a lot of analysis and commentary going on within this mindscape of who the Doctor is and what he represents. I believe it was the first piece of Doctor Who fiction to actually incorporate the "never cruel or cowardly" description of the Doctor (though I'm aware it has its origins in a 70s Terrance Dicks non-fiction book about the character. We get to see so much of the Doctor's guilt and grief manifested and the weight he feels from all the devastation he's left behind him in years gone, which became such a focal character point for him years later I often had to remind myself was barely a factor within the original series. Revelation builds an interesting mindspace for the Doctor with different aspects of his psyche represented by his past incarnations. It does also try to justify some of the use of them in Genesys and Apocalypse in doing so. I have been somewhat critical toward that use of previous Doctors up till now as I feel it undermines the idea of the Doctor being a single man, but at a point when something like that continues to be a factor and won't go away you do to an extent have to give up the fight. Not that I'm saying I necessarily approve, but that has become the direction and complaining about it in each instance becomes increasingly more futile as it already has a continuing momentum as part of the narrative. I don't however have an issue with Revelation's approach, I think representing his psyche using different Doctors for different aspects to be a wonderful idea. Not only that but it goes on to actually justify the uses in Genesys and Apocalypse with the justification the Doctor keeps his past selves as complete identities in his head as an avoidance from sending them to the Matrix. It raises a lot of interesting suggestions that that incidentaly synergise well with some of my own ideas of the character. Always having found it interesting how much more stress the Doctor places on his individuality and his resistance to regeneration which stands in complete contrast to other Time Lords who seem to find the whole affair mundane and other than rare exceptions not all that impactful to themselves. The Doctor's own identity isn't the only one under scrutiny, Ace has her own character analysis running through the book. Within the Doctor's mindscape Ace has to work to retain her own adulthood and the growth she's spent years to achieve both mentally and physically while at the same time being forced to confront her own childhood fears. This odd struggle of Ace being pulled in three directions was something I found genuinely incredible. We're constantly seeing Ace trying to cling to who she is now and become an adult while always being pulled into the immaturity and doubt of a child's mind. Ace really is emotionally hit constantly in this book, and it's a struggle you're really made to feel. The moments where you witness her feel all the maturity she's built up through years of hard work slipping away from her while she's helpless to stop it are really quite disturbing, and I really felt her sense of powerlessness, making it all the more impacting when Ace does manage to take her identity back. It was so gratifying to see Ace reject the dreamlike world that was forcing her into being everything she'd stood against and finally at the end of the book really grow beyond who she'd been. No longer trying to cling to the adulthood she'd once had Ace properly grows up and justs sets aside childish behaviour acting like the adult she wanted to become. The Doctor/Ace relationship in this book was just fantastic. Cornell really test it to the limit and really showcases the intense strength of thier bond. We see Ace's devotion to the Doctor despite how furious or emotionally torn up over his failings she was, the Doctor's willingness to risk his own identity and even the universe to save just Ace's life. It's impressive just how well told the hardships along the way were. I was particularly drawn in by the conversations around the middle of the book where Ace's fury was at its peak, you could just feel the tension and sadness in the interactions between the characters. Cornell's depiction of the Doctor is increible. I really love the chess master Doctor concept but I don't feel it'd ever really been put to its best use in the show or the previous NAs. I do love early in Remembrance where we see the Doctor question if that's the man he wants to become, and stories like Ghostlight and Fenric come close in terms of being great representations, but nothing had fully captured it. Usually with too little evidence for me of the Doctor manipulating events right through and a lot of it feeling very justified after the fact. Revelation however goes all in on having a grand plan of the Doctor's evident throughout and really succeeds. Even when the Doctor is spending most of the book seeming like he's been had or that he's scrambling to keep up having been outplayed, there are so many small pieces we've seen the Doctor move early in the story that still clearly have a part to play. Both with characters we've seen that he's engineered to be part of this situation or items he's left them. Finally seeing how all these seeminly unrelated pieces come together in a masterful grand plan is such a highlight of the book. As for his characterisation, Cornell perfectly hits the right mix of warmth and distance. This is a Doctor who cares, and feels the weight of what he puts others through, but is still alien and resigned to the inevitability that he has to put others through these things. Another area that Revelation really stands out is its characters. The NAs have definitely had a problem with character depth, with a complete absence of it in most of the prior books, other than Hitler in Exodus. Revelation on the other hand, I really found it crafted what felt like real people (even some of the ones that weren't actually real. Characters have genuine nuance and personality ticks, they talk like real people and not sterile one-note archetypes. I found myself really taken with the intimacy of the group caught up in these mad events hauled up a church trapped surrounded by certain death (which had an interesting loose resemblance to an aspect of Father's Day, I think maybe Cornell quite liked that himself. Ace's childhood bully himself is so rounded, throughout the book we're constantly getting to see different sides of him. The innocent malice of a child, his naivety, his fears and pain, he manages to really toe that line of building contempt and sympathy. Even the returning one-note characters from previous books such as Hemmings and especially the Timewyrm herself benefit from a rounding out they hadn't had in previous books. I really loved Cornell's approach to the Timewrym in this book. Not only did it set about justifying the scale of her threat immediately, unlike each book prior which had largely side stepped or not even attempted, but it took such an interesting approach on how the character being predominately code affected her being. Revelation draws clear mental separations between Timewyrm as an entity and Ishtar as an identity the Timewyrm can choose to employ as only a tool. However, while it's probably clear from me having gone on (for what is likely too long) I'm filled with praise the book, it is a few steps short of perfect for me. One of the more minor things I will pick at is Cornell at times feels a bit pretentious. He's very eager to be seen to have the book feature academic and high brow literature references frequently, and it feels like it's an attempt to prove both himself as a writer and the book as a genuine novel in its own right and not just tie-in fiction. While I do think the book definitely succeeds at pulling these things off, that aspect does lean into feeling like Cornell is trying a bit too hard at times. The more significant fault I want to pick at is some of the abstract events in the later part of the book feel a little poorly handled. Towards the end very grandiose events happen, a lot of them very quickly and with description that I feel fails to adequately capture the scale of what Cornell is attempting to convey. I feel earlier parts of Revelation that were very etheral and abstract, such as Ace falling into the Doctor's mind and having a struggle to retain her own sense of self, were well handled so I do wonder if these later sections not being as strong was the effect of struggling with a deadline or Cornell just struggling with putting the grand ideas he had to the page. As the book itself pulls to a close we have a very upbeat and uplifting ending, which in large part contrasts with the struggle characters have faced most of the book. There's a strong theme of redemption in the final stretch, with our main characters finding ways to save the day that aren't just defeating the villains but offering them second chances. It's a nice note to come away from the book on, after having seen the Doctor and Ace's relationship tested to the limit and the intense personal struggles both of them have experienced throughout the book it's rewarding to end with the bond repaired seeming stronger than ever (man, wish I could believe that'll last. Overall I think the book was amazing, it's definitely achieving the range's marketing of "stories to broad and too deep for the small screen. I feel that it's a book I'm going to have to revisit a few more times down the line to really appreciate just how much it has going on and the story it crafts. While not without it's shortcomings it is easily the strongest book the NAs have up to this point and has found its way very quickly into my top Who stories. 9/10 (Also 4 books into the range and every Doctor but 6 has managed to put in an appearance. poor Colin. Jon and Tom even managed to get in there twice. I do hear Colin's absence is tackled much later in the range but avoiding spoilers as best I can so that's all I know...
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