The rec.arts.drwho Quote File Appendix - Oct 2001 - Jan 2002

Being part of the newsgroup's traffic, occasionally a review gets nominated
for the quotefile.  It's probably not their natural home, the quotefile
being a different beastie, but it seems a shame not to credit those dazzling
gems of wordplay, insightful visions of genius and wonderful bon mots.
(Smith?'s reviews aren't bad, either!)  So here, as a special service to you
all, is a reprinting of some reviews that were recently quotefile-nominated
or just plain tickled my funny bone.  They'll go back some way, because I
don't believe anyone's ever done this before.

I also haven't included any of Art Banana's, which could fill a separate
post all by themselves (and you're all encouraged to seek out his website
and read 'em for yourselves).  In fact I stuck with Smith? almost
completely, 'cos (a) I'm a fan of his, (b) I had them ready to hand and (c)
I'm too lazy to go look elsewhere for more.

By and large the quoted reviews will be violently negative, because those
are funnier.  I haven't included spoiler space though all of the reviews go
into considerable spoilery detail, so here's a table of contents (this being
part one of a two-part post, due to space considerations).  And a certain
acronym may or may not stand for "Fucking The Rotting Corpse Of Doctor Who".
I thank you.

1.  The King of Terror (Robert Smith)
2.  Divided Loyalties (Robert Smith)
3.  Deep Blue (Robert Smith)
4.  The Eight Doctors (Finn Clark)


[Subject: Books I've Read Lately: The King of Terror]

The King of Terror
by Keith Topping
ISBN: 0 563 53802 3, though if your bookstore computer melts down when you
try to order it, don't blame me.

In brief: Deep Blue II. Yes, it's *that* bad.

Spoilers follow

The King of Terror, surprisingly, is not the worst Doctor Who
book I have ever read. But that's not for want of trying.

What the hell is this? Who thought this had any redeemable
features whatsoever, let alone allowed it to escape from
solitary confinement and be leashed upon the unsuspecting public?
Justin Richards, you might have single-handedly redeemed the EDAs,
you might have had a number of very reasonable and interesting
directions for the poor maligned line, you might be a fine writer
yourself who understands plot construction and characterisation,
but what on earth were you thinking when you let this slip
through the safety net?

The King of Terror starts off badly. I mean, doing-something-
-describing-it-in-a-novel badly. The first 50 pages are an
incredibly painful continuity-filled travelogue of the author's
visit to a Los Angeles Doctor Who convention. Okay, the events
are masquerading under the flimsy disguise of two soldiers
reminiscing about being the third extra on the left in episode 3
of Robot, but we get great chunks of characters walking through
the airport, sitting in cafes, visiting the hotel where I'm sure
the convention was held. Two more chapters and they'd have been
getting drunk in the bar while ogling Wendy Padbury, mark my words.

And yet... these 50 pages are the best written of the novel. I
thought it couldn't sink any further than this, and yet this was
the novel's writing peak. Okay Paynter and Barrington are mildly
interesting when they're not retroactively mary-sueing their way
into seventies Doctor Who stories. And when one of them dies,
it's a genuinely well-written scene. The prologue with the
God-Emperor himself (also known as the Brigadier) is a little bit
interesting until the Waro get mentioned for no apparent reason
whatsoever and I was contractually obligated to  fling the book
across the room. And... nope, that's it for the good stuff.

The regulars. For the love of Terrance Dicks, the regulars. Tegan
has a romance that's so unconvincing that even the character
involved tells us. Huh? Keith, listen to your word processor when
it starts commenting on the plot, that's probably a very good sign.
The Doctor does, um, what exactly? Nothing of interest, anyway.
Turlough gets gruesomely tortured to within an inch of his life
and then gets to murder his torturer and conveniently let off
scot-free. I thought that was very considerate of the author to
intervene in the story like that in case something dreadful
happened, like actual consequences or something.

And what's with the gleeful descriptions of every last piece of
violence and torture that takes place in this book? There are
places to work out your inner rage and they're not called Doctor
Who novels. If I were Mark Strickson's testicles, I'd be worried.
(For a variety of reasons.)

This book ties in with Escape Velocity, and what a pair they make.
Of course, in The Keith of Topping aliens invade and nearly
destroy the entire world. As witnessed by, you know, everyone.
On television. And in Escape Monstrosity, set a mere year and
half later, aliens invade and everyone is rather surprised to see
that aliens exist. We're not talking about Lt Hemmings' first
name changing here. If you're going to have your books tied in to
one another, it helps not to contradict each other's entire plot,

Oh, but I haven't mentioned the dumbest bit, yet. Okay,
admittedly it's a tough pick in this travesty, but for my money
it's the pre-Millennial apocalyptic doom. In a book published in
October 2000. Not only is that a pretty loopy idea to begin with,
not only does the Nostradamus stuff feel *incredibly* out of
place and not only have five billion other works already covered
the exact same material, only better and, um, actually before the
Y2K non-event (including Millennium Shock in the same line of
novels!), but we're all so thoroughly sick of it by now that even
if you'd given us the brilliant TV series Millennium at its
height, it would be dull. Words fail me. I can only presume that
Keith wrote this novel sometime in 1999 and was so convinced that
an apocalypse was imminent that it didn't matter what piece of
hackwork he turned in, we'd all be dead before it was published.
By a startling coincidence, I was hoping for the exact same thing.

And what's with the title? It's almost begging to be called "The
King of Error", so much so that I'm wondering if this whole book
was some sort of perverse joke. It's such a non-title that it
might as well have been called "The Noun of Noun (see, this
really is a Doctor Who story in case all the pointless continuity
didn't convince you, although it's true that Doctor Who usually
had interesting characters and plotting and entertainment value
and witty dialogue and humour, but look, another continuity
reference!)" and be done with it.

If I ever track down the person on rec.arts.drwho who uttered
those infamous words "On your own? Yeah. Sure" that Keith tells
us inspired him to write the book, they're going to be very sorry
indeed. You won't appreciate being proved more right than you
could possibly envision when I'm finished with you, you complete
and utter bastard.

There's a lesson to be learned from writing fifth Doctor and UNIT
PDA's. Don't. This book retreads so many of the sins Deep Blue
committed, not least of which are the fifteen billion continuity
references. Okay, sure, mention the Waro on page 1 if you like
*reason*. I'm so convinced that this should be rule number one of
"the Doctor Who guide for lazy authors" that I have a sneaking
suspicion Justin commissioned this so he could have an easy
reference volume to everything that usually goes wrong in PDA

The King of Terror is an appalling novel. I hope the author got
some pleasure out of writing it, because there wasn't much to be
had reading it. It's full of gruesome violence, continuity
references substituting for characterisation (see also Deep Blue
and Divided Loyalties... and my condolences to fifth Doctor fans
out there - you poor, poor people) and it just drags interminably.
It's not just bad, it's boring too. Avoid this book like the
travesty it is.

Robert Smith? (smithrj2@mcmail.cis.McMaster.CA>


Books I've Read Lately, by R.J. Smith

In brief: Bwahahahaha! A book so bad it's a riot. Everything
you've heard about this classic is true - and more. It
encompasses everything that's truly, truly awful about Doctor Who
fiction... and does so in a way that's a joy to read from start
to finish. Kitschy and trashy in all the best ways.

It's long been a personal tenet of mine that Doctor Who can
survive being bad, but it can't survive being boring. Gary
Russell's last novel was the mind-meltingly dull Placebo Effect,
where the only mild relief to be had was the hysterical
so-bad-it's-funny religious 'debate' at the centre of it. With
Divided Loyalties, he's taken that central idea and turned it
into a novel.

Make no mistake, this is a terrible book. Words cannot adequately
describe how bad this is. I've read some pretty bad fan fiction in
my time, but this surpasses even that. The Eight Doctors was bad,
but in a childlike and terribly naive way. The Pit was bad because
it aimed too high and fell on its face. The original novels of
Barry Letts combined appalling writing with idiotic plot points.
Divided Loyalties sweeps all of those aside without even trying.
It takes everything wrong with those books, and incorporates them
without even breaking a sweat. This is an *awful* book.

Yet, that really doesn't seem to matter. I loved it anyway. Every
page gave up a fresh horror, so much so that after a while I
stopped shuddering in disbelief and just went with the flow. And
seen with those eyes, the book works a treat. It's tacky fun,
like bad seventies art. It's fan-fiction taken to its illogical

But it positively *flew* by! I like that. Don't worry about
characterisation, or plot, or consistency - this book is clear
proof that these things really aren't that important. A speedy
read can save even the most lifeless book... yet DL is more akin
to a comedy villain who just won't stay dead. Every time you
think you've reached the absolute nadir of the book, the next
few pages reveal new depths of badness. The words "so bad it's
good" don't even begin to summarise it.

To list the faults of this book would be a novel in itself.
Indeed, it essentially is. The regulars are terrible, squabbling
and unlikable the whole way through. Adric's body odour is a
subject I thought the novels would simply have the good taste
to avoid: nope, it's here along with everything else.

We have flashbacks galore and every second one appears to be to
The Keeper of Traken for some reason. We've got ludicrous and
nonsensical backstories for more characters than we can sensibly
grasp. We've got an attempt to tie into The Nightmare Fair that
manages to destroy the central revelation of that book by having
the Doctor mention it no less than three times, in passing.

"Whatever phantom zone she had found herself in, she would
conduct herself with all the strength of a true daughter of Hull."
Bwahahaha! On page 83, Adric's keen analytical mind is carefully
and logically examined in novel form, when his brilliant scheme
for getting back to Alzarius involves... reversing the CVE
coordinates! I swear, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

The Young Doctor Who segment has to be seen to be believed. And
even then, I'm still in awe. The Doctor in these flashbacks isn't
played by William Hartnell. Oh no. He's played by Peter Davison
in a bad wig, hamming it up like a flashback episode of The
Golden Girls.

We've got yet another character named Townsend, partly to remind
us this is a Gary Russell book (I half expect there to be a
different Townsend in every Big Finish audio production), partly
to tie into Deadfall, just in case the three billion other
stories this book references aren't enough.

This isn't a Past Doctor Adventure, it's a Target novelisation
of A History of the Universe. The Big Fish has outdone himself
with this book. It's FTRCODW, but it's doing it shamelessly.
It's worth every cent I paid for it -- although to be fair, I
should mention that it was a birthday present.

Divided Loyalties is, despite every intention to the contrary,
not the worst Doctor Who book ever published. Shameless hackwork,
yes. Appalling in every measurable way, yes. But it's never
boring and I have the sneaking suspicion that it will age like
vintage seventies Who: in years to come it'll acquire a cult
following for its pantomime-like awfulness. Sign me up now for a
lifetime membership.

Robert Smith? (smithrj2@mcmail.cis.McMaster.CA>


Avoid, avoid, avoid by Robert Smith?

You know, if I ever need something mind-meltingly boring
described in perfect detail, Mark Morris is the man for the job.
It usually takes me about a week or so to get through the average
Doctor Who book. It took me an entire month to wade through this
muck. I'm not really sure why I bothered, except that I thought
that nothing this bad could have been published, so it simply
had to get better later. Well, I was wrong and I paid the price
for that mistake.

I have no idea why this involves the fifth Doctor and company.
I can't see anything that would have prevented the use of the
Third Doctor and Jo. It's not as though the two companions make
much difference - Turlough seems to spend the entire book
clinging to the Doctor's skirts in fear.

Okay, yes, Turlough was cowardly. But it was a controlled sort
of cowardice where he'd just rather not risk his life, not
because he was the reincarnation of Victoria Waterfield. Here
he's a quivering wreck, constantly terrified of everything and
anything. He physically attaches himself to the Doctor like a
mortified schoolgirl, alternately grabbing the Doctor's arm and
various items of his clothing everytime there's a loud noise.
I fully expected him to physically leap into the Doctor's arms.

The only time I thought this worked at all was when he had to
make the jump across the roof. There, at least, we saw why he was
scared, but also how he overcame it. But after the rest of the
novel, you'd have thought he'd belonged in an institution for
the terminally terrified.

The continuity has to be seen to be believed. Okay, I've
suffered the excesses of Russell and McIntee. I've read the
footnotes in The Nth Doctor. But this is taking it to new
depths. Every few pages what little action there is stops so
that we can get yet another little snippet of continuity --
that has absolutely no relevance to anything whatsoever. Bloody
hell is that painful. I've never, ever figured out what the point
of superfluous continuity references is. Are they supposed to
induce a warm fanboyish glow in the heart of the readers so that
even though your book has no imagination, wit, originality or
flair, they might still be fooled into thinking they're reading
Doctor Who?

The alien threat is vaguely horrific, although conveying the
menace by the continual losing of fingers and limbs seems
incredibly cliched by now. We get a sense of the viciousness,
but not the horror. And after a while, it just seems so tiring
to read about, with pages and pages of the same old thing
happening to new collections of faceless people.

The resolution also seemed to be rather lacklustre and pointless.
The Doctor just sort of tells everyone to go home and they do.
Ho hum.

In short, Deep Sleep has little of value. Some nice descriptive
bits and a little characterisation for Mike Yates, but that's
about all. The rest is pointless, forgettable and old hat. I
can't believe I suffered through this. Run away.


The Eight Doctors, by Terrance Dicks
Published June 1997
BBC Eighth Doctor Adventure, IBSN 0-563-40563-5

Widely reviled, yet the most-read BBC Book by some considerable distance.
It's fanwank, it's the worst book ever written, it's inferior to a stack of
blank pages.  Personally I always found it a laugh.  There was a lot of
politics floating about at the time of its launch, which perhaps coloured
its reception.  I was looking forward to reevaluating this one!

I'm gonna split this into chunks.  Terrance's books often consist of a few
more-or-less loosely linked stories (Timewyrm: Exodus, Blood Harvest,
Players) but The Eight Doctors takes that tendency to an unprecedented
degree.  This will thus be a multi-part review.

There will also be lots of spoilers.  I'm going into *detail* on this
turkey.  :-)

SECTION ONE: the Eighth Doctor post-TVM

"It had been a weird, fantastic adventure, full of improbable, illogical
events."  Yeah, and The Eight Doctors is positively Checkovian, eh Terrance?
It doesn't make a good impression to meet that little dig on page one.  The
Doctor encounters a trap of the Master's and loses his memory - hmmm, where
else have we met that idea recently?  We're getting coincidental resonances
with later 8DA events, and more will come.

Then the Doctor lands in Totters Lane (see Interference) for a rerun of An
Unearthly Child (corny idea which felt a little too calculated to push our
buttons even in Escape Velocity and Earthworld).  There however it was just
a resonance.  Here Terrance is recycling the story elements of the first
episode wholesale.  And you thought Sam Jones was bad.  You can just *feel*
Ian and Barbara - sorry, Trev and Vicki - being groomed as TARDIS fodder.
The badness is mind-boggling, and every time you think Uncle Terry's plumbed
the deepest depths it keeps getting amazingly worse.

"There was such authority in his voice that just for a moment Baz found
himself moving to obey."  Yeah, right.  However all is not lost - Baz has a
cunning plan!  He's channelling Baldrick.  Remember kids, drugs are evil!
Baz is the local Coal Hill drug dealer y'see, and Terrance has decided to
educate us about crack.  You couldn't invent this stuff.

Normally when we describe a Doctor Who book as "bad", we merely mean "not
very good".  However this is definitive badness, the kind of eye-popping
atrocity against which all other shite is measured.  The Coal Hill School
section of The Eight Doctors is unbelievable, crappier than Divided
Loyalties and somehow worse even than the last thirty pages of Escape
Velocity.  It's patronising, silly, implausible, cliched, too dumb for words
and unintentionally hilarious (though I liked the Doctor's interrogation at
the local police station).

Trev and Vicki.  I'm shaking my head in disbelief as I type.

SECTION TWO: An Unearthly Child

After rehashing An Unearthly Child, we now *visit* the original story.
Actually this isn't bad.


Ah, now we're following on from Blood Harvest (but preceding Happy Endings
and Lungbarrow).  That story's Committee of Three gets a mention.  It's
shite really, just more of the usual pompousness with bugger all happening
and lots of silly names (Volnar, Ryoth, Flavia, Spandrell, Ortan, etc.), but
I suppose anything set on Gallifrey is theoretically important for the other

SECTION FOUR: The War Games (as if you couldn't guess)

I make this Terrance's third sequel to that story.  You what?  But this is
good, a moody little piece that takes us back to the blood and the trenches.
Were this part of another book - Players, say, or Timewyrm: Exodus - we'd
all be saying how effective it was.  But alas it's part of The Eight Doctors
and we're all still in shock from Sam, Baz, Trev and Vicki.

That's this novel all over - lots of mini-stories that would have been far
better received as a short story collection than a complete narrative.  This
section is genuinely worth your time, but unfortunately it's been sandwiched
between other stories that are either inappropriate, grossly unlike it in
tone and storytelling level or just plain shite.

SECTION FIVE: the Pertwee era

This is a sequel to The Sea Devils *and* The Daemons, believe it or not.  Jo
displays even less than her usual acumen, forgetting that she's seen
TARDISes in other disguises than that of a police box.  It seems to
contradict that line in The Dying Days by having the Brigadier meet the
Eighth Doctor all the way back in Season Nine.  There's also something one
might view as Interference-foreshadowing on page 197.  Again once I'd
banished Coal Hill from my mind I enjoyed this.

This segment has become notorious for the Third Doctor threatening his
future self with death by Tissue Compression Eliminator.  Yes, it's dumb,
but it worked for me.  I could imagine Pertwee giving it a shot on the
off-chance, then accepting defeat when his future self didn't bow down.

SECTION SIX: State of Decay

Huge info-dumps!  Aaaargh!  (It also quotes Churchill again, using the same
democracy quote he's used before.)  So while the stuff on Gallifrey is a
sequel to Blood Harvest, this chapter is a prequel to it (and Romana first
met the Eighth Doctor back during Season Eighteen).  Everyone got that?

Again this is a better short story than instalment of a novel.  The tone
lurches to a Hammer Horror world of vampires and superstitious yokels, which
suited me since I'd come to this straight off the back of Blood Harvest and
Goth Opera.  If I hadn't, I'd have been wondering where the hell that came
from.  The Doctor's a bit axe-happy, but since he's killing vampires I don't
have other people's problems with this.

Honestly and truly, this is good stuff.

SECTION SEVEN: The Five Doctors

And yet again we visit a story which is sequelled by Blood Harvest - which
is itself being sequelled by the Gallifrey framing sequences.  As usual we
begin with a massive info-dump of characters telling each other stuff they
already know.  Er, Terrance?  This is a *book*, you know?  Not everything
needs to be as if you were still working for TV.  Oh, and Tegan has
apparently never met the Fourth Doctor.

It's a bit silly, but okay.  (Oh, and it also ties in with and resolves the
Gallifrey framing storyline from Section Three.  So we've got two
Gallifreys.  But get ready to duck, 'cos here comes a third...)

SECTION EIGHT: Trial of a Time Lord

Ohhhhh dearie dearie.

Yet again The Eight Doctors finds a new way to turn to shit!  The Coal Hill
stuff was at least funny, but this is simply a mess.  Abortive timelines,
two Sixth Doctors, another layer of deception and confusion on the events of
Trial of a Time Lord...  this is really dire stuff.  It's not badly written,
just confusing and dull.  Yet again Gallifrey becomes the kiss of death for
reader interest.  And yet...

Wearing my fanboy hat, it's nice to see someone at last deal with Trial of a
Time Lord and lay the ground for the Gallifrey of the Virgin novels.  A lot
of stuff happened in Trial which was since completely ignored: the Valeyard,
the Ravalox scandal, revolution on Gallifrey, etc.  Okay, I might wish that
this stuff could have been developed in a more interesting direction, but if
Terrance wants to lead this into the Virgin Gallifrey then he's constrained
in how much he can do.  The Valeyard's explanation also tallies well with
what we saw in a certain Perry-Tucker PDA.

But on top of that...  it's Borusa, back from his nap in the Tomb of
Rassilon!  Again!  Since Terrance did exactly this in Blood Harvest, it
looks a bit, um, odd.  However the thing about Terrance is that he's as trad
as trad can be, which means he doesn't like changing the status quo.  (The
Ravalox stuff is undone at the end of the book, so Earth was never dragged
through space in the first place.  It's War of the Daleks all over again,
but at least Terrance has the sense to make his history-rewriting a
throwaway line in the epilogue rather than an anvil on your foot.)  Thus
both this section and Blood Harvest end with Borusa asking to be put back to
sleep - though in neither book do we see this happen.

Come to think of it, I'm not even sure whether Terrance means this stuff to
pre- or post-date Blood Harvest.  Thus I'm not sure which of Borusa's two
alarm calls is meant to come first.  Not that it matters.  [On second
thoughts I take that back; page 269 means it's probably post-Blood Harvest.]

There's also some deceptively important stuff introduced here.  Old Town is
introduced (page 238), later to return in Lance's The Infinity Doctors.  The
Golden Grockle there serves flagons of Old Shobogan and the Doctor pays for
it with a golden Gallifreyan guinea (page 241).  Yup, Time Lords have money.
Just to hammer the point home, we also see the CIA buying stuff with their
"secret funds" (page 222).

Page 220 - he's wrong; they should kill him.  Now we're foreshadowing The
Ancestor Cell!

Time Lord names are still bollocks, though: Niroc, Flavia, Plinoc and
Captain Vared.  Oh, and it seems the last presidents of Gallifrey were as
follows: the Doctor, Borusa, the Doctor, Flavia, Niroc, Borusa (?!), Flavia,
Romana.  Probably.  I'd have to check back in the book about that second
Borusa presidency.  There's important stuff here.  It's just unfortunate
that as a story this section flatlines inside five pages but goes crawling
on mercilessly for a further sixty-three.


This Seventh Doctor is a tosser.  But making this a sequel to Planet of the
Spiders (and taking the Eighth Doctor there!) gives this far more resonance
than it deserves, thanks to Interference.  Oh, and the spiders were
foreshadowed in the Pertwee section.

We've come full circle, the end of the book immediately preceding the
beginning by leading into the TVM.  Page 266 is a set-up for page 1.
Despite all the continuity-mangling, this section also has the only bit
that's hard to reconcile with the greater continuity - an alternative Master
straight from the Cheetah Planet, acquiring the Deathworm which will sustain
him through the TVM.  However I can't get too excited over this since First
Frontier, Happy Endings and Perry-Tucker together mean the Master's timeline
would be a mess even without The Eight Doctors.

Perhaps Ancestor Cell, Adventuress of Henrietta Street and his own temporal
manipulations mean the Master's timeline contains contradictions?  It could
even be deliberate on his part, a way of surviving the collapse of
Gallifrey's history in at least some form.

SECTION TEN: Coal Hill School again

It's back to the unbelievable shite!  Just in case you were starting to feel
good about The Eight Doctors, it's Sam Jones and Baz with their playground
lectures on crack!  Again this is laughable, but the introduction of Sam to
the TARDIS crew (pages 273-6) is actually quite eerie if you know about
Lawrence's Dark Sam theories about Sam's timeline being altered to make her
the perfect companion.

Hmmm.  Someone didn't do a very good job, did they?


Schizophrenic and brain-damaged.  The Eight Doctors is an unholy marriage of
some good and/or important stuff with more that's dumb, confusing, childish
and/or worse than you'd think possible.  This is the book that deep-sixed
Terrance's reputation, which had been gold-plated throughout the Virgin era
thanks to Timewyrm: Exodus.  I can only conclude that this was written
during a time of great personal stress for Terrance, while sauced to the
gills on bad acid and being occasionally possessed by Satan.

However there's some worthwhile stuff in here.  Individual sections
(Troughton and Tom Baker) are worth reading as short stories and link in
with Terrance's other novels by sequelising his very favourite TV stories.
There's plenty of mythos-shaping, and surprisingly little need to go into
denial about it.

The greatest surprise for me is how near The Eight Doctors comes to being
way cool.  (Being crap is its main obstacle in this direction.)  I could
even imagine a non-fan coming away quite impressed, albeit probably confused
as hell.  All the encrusted continuity makes this a brittle, fragile flower
of accidental resonances and convoluted self-reference.  Almost everything
ties into something else in the book, doubling back and forth through the
Doctor's timeline.  The foreshadowings and causal loops are super-complex.
If only this was original, it would be mind-blowing.

We have four Masters, two Flavias, ten Doctors and four Gallifreys (if you
count the one hovering offstage during The War Games).  Half a dozen
different sub-plots lurk in this book, often starting at the end and
concluding at the beginning.  If you can just make yourself take it
seriously, it's fascinating.

Finn Clark (> 7 January 2002


They're all Smith?'s this time.  There was more than enough good stuff from
him without stooping to include Finnstuff or that of the many other talented
reviewers we've seen here.  Note: anyone repeating this exercise should
include some of their stuff 'cos the reviews of Dr Evil, etc. deserve more
than this casual mention.  Casual reader, the 8DAs (a) are much better than
this maliciously selected assortment might suggest, and (b) dramatically
improved recently to boot.

Index o' contents:

1.  Placebo Effect
2.  The Janus Conjunction
3.  Beltempest
4.  Parallel 59
5.  Coldheart


Books I've Fallen Asleep Reading Lately, by R.J. Smith?

In brief: The single most boring piece of fiction I have ever had the
misfortune to read. Not actually bad, but it's so mind-numbingly tedious
that I rate it the worst eighth Doctor novel yet. Spoilers follow, should
anyone care.

I've always maintained that Doctor Who can survive being bad, but it can't
survive being boring. I've never had this view so strongly reinforced as I
did when suffering through Placebo Effect. At least with a bad book there's
a sort of perverse enjoyment, as things spiral downhill so rapidly that you
can't help enjoying the ride in some twisted way. Frustratingly (unlike a
lot of other truly bad Eighth Doctor books), Placebo Effect doesn't even
offer this small comfort.

I should perhaps mention at this point that while I've had my problems with
Gary Russell novels in the past, boredom hasn't been one of them. I've
enjoyed every single book he's written, to one degree or another, but
Placebo Effect is so dire I can find very little redeeming about it.

The core of the problems are the book's "original" characters (I use the
word lightly). They are simply so uninvolving and badly characterised that
there's nothing whatsoever to hook the reader. There are a bunch of cliched
characters, going through cliched motions - and worst of all, we get
subjected to their thought processes. Of all the bad things about this book,
this was the worst. Very little of it ever rung even slightly true. What
makes it worse is when people have been replaced by Foamasi or taken over by
Wirrrn. The sheer mind-numbing pain of having to read the thought processes
of the characters around them as they take forever to work out what should
be obvious even to these thickos is too insane for words. I could handle
this if it only happened occasionally, or was spiced up with good writing
elsewhere. It doesn't and it isn't.

The first part of the book isn't great, mainly because nothing very much
actually happens, but compared to what follows it's probably the best part.
Stacy and Ssard work all right, even though they're there for absolutely no
purpose whatsoever. Yes, they get the Doctor to Micawber's World, but the
TARDIS could have done that randomly and we'd have saved ourselves a quarter
of the novel. What's worse is that they just simply disappear. There are no
farewells or leaving scenes, they just drop out of the action at the end of
chapter 4. In fact, I kept waiting for them to turn up once more, because I
couldn't believe that they'd just drop out of the action like that.

Sam and The Way Forward are fairly dire and very little of interest involves
them. Sam isn't actually all that bad. There are a few moments where she
refers back to the events of Seeing I, but I continually got the impression
that we were still reading about young Sam. Namechecking the events of the
past does not automatically translate into demonstrating that character
growth has taken place.

The Way Forward stuff actually provides the only moments of relief I got in
the entire book. While most of the novel is just tedious, there's a three
page section that has to be seen to be believed where Sam and a religious
guy engage in a debate over Evolution vs Creationism. Furthermore - and I
swear I'm not making this up - the arguments are so loopy that they actually
include ideas lifted wholesale from our very own J*ll D**l. I've heard some
sound Creationist arguments in my time, but oddly none of them came from
religious flamewars on rec.arts.drwho. Sam doesn't fare much better, but I
wasn't really expecting much. What's truly surreal about this entire
sequence is the way it comes out of left field and piles loopy argument upon
pseudo-scientific nonsense... making it read exactly the same way as the
infamous retcon in War of the Daleks.

Only at this point did I feel the book sliding into enjoyable badness. For
three pages I was actually entertained and my will to live revived slightly.
Disappointingly, the sheer awfulness evaporates shortly afterwards and we
return to the mind-numbing tedium again.

The continuity didn't really bother me that much, possibly because it was a
break from having to suffer through the "original" characters.
Unfortunately, it's like a quick fix. It raises a brief flicker of Whoish
recognition and then fades again, providing no sustenance whatsoever in the
long term.

On that point, I'm also confused about why the Olympics actually take place
in 3999, rather than a leap year. Yes, it was said that the tradition had
been on-again and off-again but I'm confused as to why it would get revived
in an odd year. A few words of explanation wouldn't have gone astray here;
as it is, I think it's only set in this time period so Gary can throw in
gratuitous references to The Daleks' Masterplan. Oh, and at one point Sam
claims that twenty thousand years have passed since her time. I can only
conclude that, like the equally mind-numbing Short Trips before it, Placebo
Effect is not intended for readers who have mastered the art of subtraction.

I've left the biggest problem until last: the Doctor. Before I started
reading this book, I was quite looking forward to Gary's interpretation of
the eighth Doctor. I enjoyed his novelisation of the film, but it was
written in something of a vacuum. Placebo Effect was the chance for the
original writer of eighth Doctor novels to turn his hand to the character in
more depth.

So why didn't we get that? Instead we get yet another bland and generic
version of Doctor Identikit. Oh, there are a few mannerisms from the
telemovie thrown in when the Doctor's looking a bit too much like a previous
one, but that's all they are. There's no exploration of the character, no
quirky scenes for us to marvel at, nothing of interest at all. One of the
interesting things about the eighth Doctor from the telemovie is hurriedly
retconned away, as though the author were embarrassed about the character he
was writing for.

With a difficult companion like Sam and a Doctor who doesn't translate very
well in print, I think the BBC Books have their work cut out for them. We've
seen a few bright spots where this setup can work, but it needs careful and
well-thought out writing. Lose even a bit of that and both characters
collapse into either nothingness or irritation. The eighth Doctor is a
subtle and complex character, but you'd never know it month after month
because he's apparently just too subtle for most writers of the range. While
some commendable (and some not-so-commendable) efforts have been made to get
Sam's character to work, I can't help but feeling the main problem has been
overlooked. Without the Doctor, these novels are *dead* and I don't think
anyone wants that. Unfortunately, Placebo Effect is a prime example of why
the books don't deserve to survive.

In fairness, I should point out the things I liked. There was the loopy
debate, which entertained me no end. I liked Stacy and Ssard, although the
lack of resolution weakened this for me. I also liked the way Sam realised
the Doctor had never once mentioned them to her. Some of the continuity
wasn't too annoying. I liked the spelling of Wirrrn (although the painful
introduction nearly had me gagging in disbelief). Um, that's it.

In summary, I found this book just awful in its tedium. I struggled to turn
each page with the awful prose, disgraceful characterisation and lacklustre
plot. In total I enjoyed about 3 pages out of 300, which by my reckoning is
about 1% of the novel (I fear my mathematical ability here has just
destroyed any chance I had of working for the BBC). This novel makes me feel
that bright spots like Seeing I are nothing more than that, as the line
slumps back into the same murky depths it offers us month after month.
Painful and boring and not even in an entertainingly bad way. Avoid, avoid,


Surprisingly good, in a very trad way by Robert Smith?

I'm really glad I read this one out of order. I'm convinced I would have
hated this if I'd read it after The Scarlet Empress. TSE isn't quite an
impossible act to follow - but the way to follow it is *not* with a story so
traditional that Malcolm Hulke's estate could be on the litigation gravy
train for life.

The Janus Conjunction manages to hold itself up quite well. It's got a great
setting, lots of action, people getting locked up, escaping, getting locked
up again, an improbable superweapon, arachnid people who've descended into
primitive states after their massive genocidal war with a neighbouring
people, struggling but heroic colonists, none of whom have any personality
whatsoever, military guys gone bad, an insane megalomaniac who wants to
destroy the solar system for no readily discernible reason and some really
dodgy science. Yep, it's Doctor Who in a nutshell, which is probably why I
enjoyed it so much, even though every sensible fibre of my being told me I

The Doctor is quite good here, mainly because Baxendale sensibly removes Sam
from his presence and teams him up with a far more tolerable and interesting
pseudo-companion instead. Julya's everything Sam should be but isn't:
interesting, likeable and capable of making a decision - even a tough one -
without endlessly angsting about it. The Doctor isn't brilliant but he's
competent and not too goofy, thankfully. Baxendale carries off this
characterisation fairly effortlessly - which is quite impressive considering
how problematic this appears to be for other authors.

Alas for Sam. She gets to say "Go on, do it. Show me what a man you are."
She gets to say this (twice) in The Face-Eater as well. Thanks for setting
the precedent here Trevor, you bastard. You'll be hearing from my attorneys.
In true EDA formula, she also gets to be severely tortured, almost to the
point of death, do some incredibly stupid things (which even the Doctor
remarks upon), whines, angsts, complains and generally makes things far
worse than they'd have been without her. This is Jo Grant without the
brains, Mel without the likability, Adric without the personality.

I can't figure out why the Doctor not only puts up with her, he keeps on
forgiving her. Consider two similar scenes when the Doctor and Sam each
provoke a guard who ends up hitting them. The Doctor deliberately provokes
his guard in order to steal a vital piece of equipment so he can begin a
complex method of escape in order to save thousands of lives. Sam provokes
her guard into hitting her by saying "You can spell and hold a gun" because,
um, well because she's Sam, really.

If Sam were in the TV series, she wouldn't be a companion, she'd be a
misguided scientist and the Doctor would make her see the error of her ways
and convince her to sacrifice herself to save the day and atone for her
mistakes. Never have I wished for the show's return to our screens more than
I do right now.

The dodgy science bothered me less than I thought it would from reading the
back cover. It's not really dwelt on, so I prefer to take the decent story
over the loopy thinking. It's a bit of a shame, though - someday I'm going
to pitch a Doctor Who historical written about a real period of which I know
next to nothing. I'm sure it'll be accepted, I wouldn't want to accuse the
BBC of having double standards or anything.

Captain Zemler is a highly suspicious character. He's a faceless leader,
locking himself in a darkened office which his underlings can enter, but
never feel comfortable in. He's trapped where he is, but wields absolute
power there. However, he chooses not to use it, aside from occasionally
correcting his underlings' grammar. For no particular reason, he's intent
upon inflicting pain and misery on thousands of otherwise happy innocents.
Yes folks, I think it's pretty clear where Trevor Pseudonym is going with
this. Captain Zemler is Steve Cole!

There are three minor characters whose names are Vigo, Vikto and Varko. Who
thought this would be a good idea? Demontage has much the same thing and it
doesn't work any better there either. Oh, and Zemler and Moslei aside, the
entire cast of soldiers - and indeed their equipment! - are introduced by
way of little labels written in small caps. Fair enough for the random
guards like ANSON, but we also get doors marked MORTUARY and aeronautic
devices marked FLYER. The bad guys are (naturally) American. You can tell
this, because they get to say "Asshole", so they *must* be evil. Not like
the good and proper colonists, who are very British, naturally. And while we
keep being told that there are thousands of colonists, we never see more
than three in one room. I'm laughing so hard it hurts - someone switch the
Doctor-Who-plot-generator in Steve Cole's office off before it tries to take
over the world and launch a wildly improbable plan to destroy the solar
system for no apparent reason. Or is it too late?

What's marvellous, though, is that despite all these problems, The Janus
Conjunction somehow works. It manages to succeed where so many EDAs try and
fail. It's Doctor Who through and through, which is nothing to be ashamed
of. Really. It might be ultra-trad, risk-free Doctor Who, with 40% new plot,
but I don't really mind. Ripping off third rate B-movies is a Doctor Who
tradition anyway, so who am I to complain if someone's chosen Colony in
Space for a target?

The Janus Conjunction succeeds in being a nice little tale with a couple of
characters, a decent Doctor and a highly irritating Sam. In short, it's the
pinnacle of trad EDA achievement - everything the other books are trying to
do is accomplished here. It's a pity more of them don't succeed as well as
The Janus Conjunction, actually.


Terrifyingly Huge, by Robert Smith?

In brief: Hugely ambitious, with a story that's simply far too big to be
told in the meagre page allocation the book has. Unfortunately,
characterisation seems to have been shot to pieces. The regulars are utterly

No one has ever accused Jim Mortimore of thinking too small. Beltempest is
an absolutely enormous tale, with a cast of billions and a death toll almost
as high. There are people who take communion and live forever, living
entities the size of planets, a mad and dangerous companion and a congenital
idiot for a Doctor. This is Doctor Who on acid.

With all that Beltempest has going for it, it's a wonder that it isn't
nearly as good as it should be. The scope is huge and Mortimore writes
individual scenes like no one else. Yes, it's confusing and overwhelming and
I doubt even the author knows what happens at the end, but these aren't the
worst crimes in literature. However, I think I can see the problem.

Quite simply, Beltempest has no characters.

Of course, it has a cast of billions, but they're almost all faceless. I can
understand that; even Jim Mortimore has trouble when conveying the concerns
of the crowded populations of twenty two planets. There's a small attempt to
focus on a couple of characters, but it doesn't seem to be much more than a
token attempt. At best, we have some caricatures [1], at worst we have some
names and functions that barely struggle to represent themselves as people.

[1] I'm unsure as to whether to include the TARDIS crew in that - see below
for more thoughts on that topic, and you can probably make up your own

On the bright side, I think the book is big enough that Mortimore can
almost - almost - get away with it, but I can't help feeling that some
characterisation would really have helped. I wanted to like this book much
more than I did and I think the only thing actually missing was some
characterisation. Fifty more pages and this would have worked a treat.

There's a bit of a religious theme going on in the books at the moment, what
with this, Salvation and Where Angels Fear all appearing at approximately
the same time. Three book lines, three months, one theme. You could build a
Decalog around that. Mortimore is definitely up to the task, having run with
the same theme in quite a few books already. I have to admire the way he
goes about it, even if we do get absolutely no explanation for Eldred
Saketh's immortality wafers. I suspect I'm thinking too mundanely in my
desire for explanations: such things are simply beneath Jim Mortimore. I
have to admire the bravado, if nothing else.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the eighth Doctor seems to have finally
developed his own character trait. On the downside, this appears to be best
described as "congenital idiot" (with thanks to Art Banana for the
description). It's been a long time coming, and a lot of authors have put a
lot of work into it, but at last we have something.

I mean, really. What on earth is going on with the eighth Doctor in the
books? If it were just this novel, I wouldn't mind, because Mortimore has
always gone his own way in these things. Here, however, it's just a little
more obvious than usual. The Doctor is a grinning idiot, nothing more. Okay,
he does seem to do something at the end to help things along, but this comes
out of nowhere and as far as I can tell, he just seems to have come up with
it on the spot. I'm at a bit of a loss as to where this characterisation
seems to have come from; it wasn't in the telemovie that I watched. I
suppose I should count my blessings, though. At least he isn't the fourth
Doctor again.

If we're going to run with this characterisation, then I should probably
evaluate it on its own merits, not grumble about other books (sorry, force
of habit). The idea has some merit, in a Troughton-esque way, although
there's no sense that the Doctor really knew what he was doing all along.
There's also some genuine terror on behalf of the reader, because it's not
at all obvious that the Doctor ever will save the day. Part of this seems to
have been quite deliberate in Beltempest and it works a treat: I was nervous
as hell, all the way through. It might not be the eighth Doctor I thought we
were going to get, but there might just be some life the concept yet.

And then we come to Sam. Ah, the favourite of reviewers. Sam the caring. Sam
the idealist. Sam the bloody-minded. She's so wonderful to talk about,
because there's so much there to dislike. This is no generic
shrinking-violet companion, who twists ankles and screams for help. This is
no companion who rushes in blindly to try and make things better. No, this
companion is *dangerous*.

I've given up all hope that we'll ever see the more mature Sam that Seeing I
led us to expect. Obviously something didn't click or somebody never got a
memo, but Seeing I appears to have been an aberration, nothing more. Here,
she's gained three years of life, but no more sense. From the moment she
decided to cast the Doctor's bag of goodies aside (for no reason
whatsoever), it's clear that this is teen-Sam in all but name.

She's starting to remind me of the seventh Doctor in some ways. When writing
for the great masterplanner, the authors had it easy: they didn't even need
to construct a problem and have the Doctor swanning in to sort it out.
Suddenly, the rules had changed and the Doctor *became* the problem. You
could use this newly pro-active character as a catalyst for the events,
setting things in motion and watching the plot spin out from there. In many
ways, Sam serves the same function. She's not a spectator. She doesn't rush
in blindly. No, she rushes in deliberately and the ensuing problems result
because of her, not in spite of her.

And I have to say that I quite like this. There's been too much attempt to
make Sam work, to make her likable and endearing. It obviously hasn't
worked, so it's time to do something different, something nastier. The Sam
of Beltempest is incredible. Not because I sympathise with her, or like her,
or that she reminds me of myself or my friends. No, this Sam is like
watching an accident in slow motion. Not just any accident, but an accident
that started with the best of intentions and continued to snowball, with
cause piling upon effect until there was absolutely nothing to be done but
stand well back and watch in a mixture of horror and wonder. This is the Sam
that I can enjoy reading about. This Sam will make things right and make you
happy, whether you want to be or not. This Sam *cares*. And that should
scare the willies out of everyone. More like this, please.

In summary, Beltempest is a well-written, fast paced, page-turning book,
that seems to stumble when it comes to characterisation of any of the
original characters. The regulars are now a terrifying combination of goon
and evangelical crusader. I don't know how this tale was squeezed into 249
pages, but I'm not sure I want to. On reflection, I think I really liked
this book, but I'm not entirely sure why. I recommend it, but I'd like to
stick government warnings on the back cover. Proceed, but with caution. Oh,
and after the events of this book, Sam is now immortal. God help us all.


Books I've Read Lately, by R.J. Smith

In brief: The greatest Blake's Seven novel of all time.

Editors have written for their lines before, with decidedly mixed results.
Deceit was mostly rubbish, but provided a template for the sort of thing
they were already doing well and set the tone for future books with the
introduction of New Ace. Where Angels Fear was a great book, sadly hindered
only by the editors' inability to write decent prose. It shook the Benny
line up enormously, providing future direction and kicking off a magnificent

Now that it's the turn of the hapless BBC line to have its hapless editor
pen a novel. Would it be a range-shaking novel, clearly outlining the vision
we keep being told exists in the EDAs or would it provide a template for the
design of future novels? The answer to the first question is 'hell no' and
the answer to the second is 'let's hope not.'

I've always thought that Steve Cole probably made a better writer than
editor. His pseudonymous Short Trips work was of consistently high standard,
but sadly his pseudonymous novel is little more than a lacklustre book with
laughably macho characters, lovingly crafted from the finest cereal boxes.
I'm sorry, but the characters really are pretty lame. Or rejects from old
Blake's Seven scripts, which amounts to the same thing, I suppose.
Characters with fairly silly names show some brief flickers of interest
moments before being gratuitously killed off. It all gets a bit embarrassing
towards the end, as though the authors were getting rather desperate to hold
our interest, so the body count doubles with every passing page.

The only character whose death means anything to anyone is Rojin's
girlfriend -- and only that because it effectively writes Rojin out
altogether, reducing him to spending the rest of the book in grieving
silence. Maybe that would have had power and presence in a more visual
medium, but in a book it sucks. Oh well, he wasn't that interesting anyway.
Jessen meanders all over the place, from efficient killer to sympathetic
victim. Dam finally works out that he's the only character with moral
integrity so naturally he has to die. Terma is entirely superfluous. And
Ansu is an anagram of anus, which sadly seems far less out of place than it

Compassion has a go at playing Sam, which seems a bit odd in an editor
written book. The possibility that Steve Cole has had this book on the
backburner for months and months, just itching to publish as soon as there
was a gap in the schedules, makes me weep like a baby.

And then there's the Doctor. Here, at last, we see Steve Cole's great vision
for the EDA line. We've had it in almost every book in recent memory, but
finally we have the definitive take on the troublesome character of the
eighth Doctor: lock him in a cupboard with no clothes and keep him there
while the rest of the novel merrily unfolds without him.

Thanks, Steve, you know I just needed to hear you say it.

You know the worst thing? I really like the eighth Doctor. I think Paul
McGann's performance was fantastic and the entirely dissimilar character who
pops up in these books also carries potential, yet no one writing for the
line seems to care! I can understand why everyone gave up on Sam, but why do
they want to give up on the Doctor as well? Even once he finally escapes
from the plot device, he doesn't really do much other than attempt to hug
random people and hurl non-sequiturs at them. Even when he gets to the
Bastion a) Compassion does all the work and b) it's only to get him
conveniently out of the way so lots of stuff can blow up.

This book is redeemed only by the Fitz sections, although they're nowhere
near good enough to save it. Fitz's various romances are reasonable, but
they're not a patch on the heartbreaking love story from Frontier Worlds.
Peter Anghelides cleverly recognised that not only do we not need to see the
cheesy pick-up lines and all the getting-to-know-her scenes, but the book
becomes far stronger for not seeing them. Alura's importance was
astonishing, since we saw her through Fitz's eyes. Here we just get the shag
of the week, complete with cheesy pick-up scenes. And so the success of the
previous book just isn't repeated, despite Fitz's continuing quest to become
Bernice Summerfield and commit his adventures to a first person narrative
once more.

Still, the Mechtan scenes are pretty good, on the whole. They break up the
grizzled macho action on Parallel 59 fairly well. The fifteen thousand
chapters that divide this book also work to its advantage, meaning that we
can flip to Fitz's adventures soon enough. Okay, I'm reaching here, I admit

Parallel 59 is a pretty substandard book, when it comes down to it. Which is
a good thing, really, because it shows that the line has been slowly but
inexorably improving. A year ago this wouldn't have looked out of place at
all, but we're getting there. Painfully and sometimes stupidly, but it's
happening. This is a forgettable book let down by silly posturing and boring
characters. It's not actually terrible, but not for want of trying.
Fortunately, the next book is a Paul Cornell one, so things should be on the
up and up from there. Move along, nothing to see here.


Books I've read Lately, by R.J. Smith

On the function of Coldheart as the defining trad novel in the EDAs.

I'd like to begin this lecture by welcoming you all to the trad authors
annual convention. If you'll check your schedules, you'll see that
activities this week include a Chris Bulis workshop, where we'll see how the
cut-and-paste function can be used to great effect in your novel-writing
career. This workshop will, naturally, be done online and we regret that Mr
Bulis is unlikely to appear in person.

A highlight, I'm sure, will be the Terrance Dicks memorial banquet on
Friday, where we'll present the prizes for the least original description of
the sound the TARDIS makes when it materialises, the Peter Grimwade award
for the most gratuitous use of UNIT continuity in a fifth Doctor story --
don't look so worried, Mike Morris, we all know you've won it -- and the
John Peel award for the book that best characterises the eighth Doctor as
one of his predecessors (please note that extra time has been scheduled for
this award due to the large number of nominees).

Today's lecture, however, will be a seminal analysis of what makes a novel
trad. Now, this may seem a little pointless to some of you -- sit down back
there, Robert Perry, there'll be time for questions at the end -- since you
wouldn't have been invited here if you weren't all illustrious members of
the trad author society. However, it has come to our attention that some
have claimed that there's no easily discernible "trad agenda". I intend to
demonstrate that at last we have the defining trad book on our hands.

Whichever one of you is Trevor Baxendale should be congratulated for your
sterling efforts towards trad awareness in the EDAs. I'm aware that this is
hardly an area that needs it, and Ms Buffini, who will be presenting
tomorrow's symposium, has already secured the lifetime award in this
category, but of late there has been some talk that the EDAs have become too

/pause for laughter to subside

Yes, yes, an oldie, but a goodie, I'm sure you'll agree. And there's nothing
wrong with that, nothing at all -- oh, thank you, Peter, that's very witty,
I'll have to use that one next time I'm about to visit the lavatory.

Anyway, returning to the latest Baxendale opus, we have here Coldheart, an
excellent example of exactly the sort of thing we should all be striving
towards. If you'll follow along the flow chart I've outlined on this
transparency, I'll demonstrate just how we can all make our books tradder
than ever by following the Baxendale lead.

Let's look at the setting. A harsh, almost impossible climate, meaning our
civilisation of three stock characters -- I'll return to that in a moment --
and thousands of nameless extras can struggle gamely to eke out a meagre
existence. A good one this. Fire and Ice. It's simple, it's effective, it
could be filmed at any of several quarries within 30km of the BBC Television
Centre. We have a winner.

Story elements are perhaps the most important element of any novel and it's
important to give the punters something they'll enjoy. An entire
civilisation living in a studio set? They'll lap it up. A group that's been
outcast because of some hideous deformity, despite the fact that many of
their numbers are good at heart and are only led by a reckless
trouble-maker, who himself is not really evil? Bring it on. A huge,
monstrous entity lurking under the ground, adversely affecting the entire
civilisation above it? This stuff is gold, people, it's gold.

Characters? They're easy. Political leaders, of course. Best to make one of
them power-hungry and ruthless (with a great secret that will prove to be
his undoing, naturally) and the others can be doddering old men of inaction.
We'll need sympathetic outcasts, naturally. Just the one should suffice. The
uglier the better and Trevor's come up with another winner here. Slimers. It
doesn't get any better than this.

And don't forget, we'll need this society to appear quite benign on the
surface, but to hide a shocking secret. And a mine! Don't forget mines. You
can never go wrong with mines, that's what Terry Nation told me.

/pause for a moment of respectful silence

Ah, but I hear you say -- yes, you, Gatiss, I heard that -- what about the
regulars. You might disagree, but we're living in the golden age of trad.
When I was a lad, you couldn't move for NAs and their seventh Doctor and
their personifications of death and their angst and their moral ambiguities
and their complexities of characterisation. Many of us were rudely confined
to the MAs. But now we're everywhere. We're lucky; we've got the eighth
Doctor now. Depth? Complexity? Reader interest? Even the rad authors can't
seem to manage any of that with him. I'm telling you, we're living the

Now the companions are more of a problem. We suffered a significant blow
when we lost the use of Sam Jones at the hands of Lawrence Miles --

/pause for general hissing and booing

Fitz is a problem, and in my previous paper I described just how insidious
this companion is. He's got depth, he's almost writer-proof and he's got a
slow and careful character arc through these books that makes him
disturbingly effective whenever anyone actually uses him.


Yes, well, we're pretty safe there, for the most part. But I'd like to
mention, as I point out in my paper, just how clever Baxendale has been.
He's taken this character arc and reduced it to its simplest and most inane
reduction and reproduced precisely that and nothing else. Yes, Fitz is
becoming a bit like the Doctor! It's brilliant and it quietly undoes the
modicum of work done in previous novels featuring Fitz. So well done, yet
again, Trev.

Sadly, Coldheart fails to be the definitive trad novel only because of its
scheduling position. Yes, this book uses Compassion and frankly she's far
too interesting for the EDAs. However, Trevor struggles bravely with this,
and successfully reduces the complex and morally uncertain character
developed in the previous two books to a much more simplified one, who falls
off cliffs and ponders the death of a humanoid like a Dave McIntee character
who's having a particularly shallow day. It's not wholly successful, I'll
grant you, but it's a valiant attempt.

In summary, let me reiterate that Coldheart almost single-handedly defines
the trad agenda. It's quite logical when you think about it, really. They're
Doctor Who fans. They like reading about it, they like watching it. So we
should all be trying to do exactly what Coldheart achieves so effortlessly:
take well-established elements from the series, shuffle carefully (but not
too carefully) and then deal out a brand new novel, with 40% new material.

Are there any questions? Ah, Mr Tucker, yes it actually does have the words
"this is another in the series of original adventures for the Eighth Doctor"
on the back cover. We're putting together a team of very experienced lawyers
for the defence, yes. Yes, that's right, they'll be the same ones who
handled the War of the Daleks case and who got Steve Cole off after Short
Trips, so we don't expect any problems in that area.

Anyone else? Yes, Natalie? Ah, no, he takes a different approach to yours
and I argue that it's a more effective one, despite your, erm... earnest...
attempt. You see, the real brilliance of Coldheart is that, on the whole,
it's actually a fairly enjoyable novel. Relentlessly dedicated to the cause,
of course, but it takes its elements and delivers something that's fairly
readable and broadly enjoyable.

I'd like to thank you all for attending this talk. There will be a short
recess, after which we'll be hearing an exciting talk, in which one of our
number details his efforts at successfully infiltrating the DWM survey and
establishing himself as the returning officer.


And that's that!  There wasn't anything vitriolic enough for inclusion from
The Burning onwards, 'cos the books were all too good.  I repeat: you've
just read the most scathing reviews from a reviewer of strong opinions.
There's much good reading to be had from the BBC Books, especially in the
last couple of years.

If still in doubt, go look up reviews of Alien Bodies, City of the Dead, the
works of Magrs or the OrmanBlum and many more.  Or better yet, read the
actual books!

Hope you enjoyed the reviews -

Finn Clark.

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