Friday, 15 October 2010


A little while back, I did a post on the perverse, experimental and rather wonderful Man in the Velvet Mask. But don’t get too excited: by contrast, this book represents a polar-opposite approach of traditionalist, continuity-ridden, pedestrian writing. But hey, what was I expecting – this is a Gary Russell, after all!

This isn’t a bad, bad novel (I could point to many that are much worse); it’s readable, even enjoyable – it is just wholly lacking invention or inspiration. Which wouldn’t bother me so much, except, given the detestation the former novel still receives, this is apparently what people want from Doctor Who novels. I mean, really?! Are people’s expectations so low?

This feels like less a novel and more an excuse to explain various inane FAQs from the series that have been niggling our Gary: namely, C19’s role in UNIT’s affairs (from Time-Flight and Who Killed Kennedy); the Brigadier’s family life with his first wife Fiona (all set for Battlefield and Downtime); the circumstances of Mike Yates’ promotion to captain (!); the initial encounter between the Doctor and the Triad from Warriors of the Deep; and (more laudably) Liz’s final story.

It’s like, once these boxes were ticked, he then draped an uninspired plot around them. It doesn’t help that despite its ‘traditional’ feel, the whole thing is rather mean-spirited; there’s lots of drearily wannabe-graphic shootings and decapitations, which are presumably meant to be cool, in a nihilistic way, but which don’t actually mean anything and are therefore utterly pointless.

The author’s note, which amounts to a bitchy rant against the rec.arts.drwho users who had the temerity to criticise the pseudo-science of his earlier Missing Adventure, (snigger) Invasion of the Cat-People, doesn’t help, starting things off on a slightly uncomfortable note. (It’s both annoying when authors wilfully ignore even the most basic scientific principles, and also when readers pick fictional science apart, but, I can’t help thinking: they were probably just having a laugh – get over it, Gary.)

The idea of alien invasions’ leftovers being used by the government for its own devices, while not desperately original (and this was years before Torchwood!), has potential. Unfortunately, this is undermined by Russell’s lack of restraint: there’s barely a relevant TV story which isn’t unambiguously catalogued. A little subtlety would’ve gone a long way here; maybe the author doesn’t trust us to work out anything too taxing – the monstrous dog infected with green slime, for example, really didn’t need to be called ‘Stahlman’s Hound’.

There is such a cavalcade of eager, fan-pleasing ideas (look – the base of an Imperial Dalek!), that they become very irritating, very quickly. Similarly, the book is crawling with unnecessary references to everyone from Sir Charles Sudbury to Group Captain Gilmore, Ann Travers, Ruth Ingram, George Hibbert… Gahhh! Give me strength! Struggling under this torrent of fanwank, the already barely-present Doctor seems rather anodyne; he rubs his neck a lot and a few ‘old chap’s are thrown in, but there’s nothing to make this ring true as Pertwee’s Doctor.

None of this would matter if Russell’s prose wasn’t deeply underwhelming (there are lots of phrases of the ‘He felt very hot’ variety), and, tonally, it’s irritatingly pompous and moralistically preachy. There is even an annoying tendency to reuse already all too ubiquitous quotes (sleep is for tortoise – come on!). Even the title’s crap! A book featuring Silurians with the word ‘scales’ in its title. Oh dear. (And speaking of the Silurians: a few names with apostrophes in them doesn’t cut it as world building. Although, to give him his dues, at least he didn’t ditch their third eyes and give them whip-like tongues and minidresses instead.)

Writing this, I feel a lot less well-disposed to the book than I did when reading it. It’s not hateful, or unbelievably bad. In a way though, it’s worse than that for being so depressingly unoriginal. You can really see all the joins – Russell obviously thinks he’s allowing us to relate to Mike Yates or whatever, or making the story into a sizzling rollercoaster ride. He isn’t. If this were a one-off author, I’d let him off. But this is a man who has had his fingers in all the Doctor Who pies – DWM, Big Finish, and even the new series. The day this man becomes showrunner, we’re doomed.

Read Who Killed Kennedy instead.


  1. Not read that one. I suspect I might enjoy it.

    I enjoy fan-pleasing references, though I think they annoy when they do not make sense within existing continuity. For instance, the Virgin Adventures make occasional references to Morestrans in contexts that do not fit the little we learn about them in 'Planet of Evil'. Or in Paul Hinton's 'Millennial Rites', Rachel Jenson being scientific advisor to the cabinet in either the late seventies or early eighties, which does not fit either her plan to retire in 1963 in Rembrance of Daleks or even the chronology of 'Millennial Rites' itself, which would make Rachel Jenson pretty old when she had that job. Those kind of references have been slipped in without a lot of thought.

  2. If anyone still wants to read this book, I obviously didn't write this review very well.

  3. I am just a Virgin Doctor Who novels junkie.