Click here to return to the main site.

Book Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who
Nuclear Time


Author: Oli Smith
BBC Books
RRP: £6.99, US $11.99
ISBN: 978 1 84607 989 4
Available 08 July 2010

“My watch is running backwards.” Colorado, 1981. The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive in Appletown - an idyllic village in the remote American desert where the townsfolk go peacefully about their suburban routines. But when two more strangers arrive, things begin to change. The first is a mad scientist - whose warnings are cut short by an untimely and brutal death. The second is the Doctor. As death falls from the sky, the Doctor finds that he is living backwards through time. With Amy and Rory being hunted through the suburban streets of the Doctor’s own future and getting farther away with every passing second, he must unravel the secrets of Appletown before time runs out...

Thanks to the careful plotting of head writer Steven Moffat, the closing two-parter of Doctor Who’s 2010 television series unites story elements and themes from practically all of the preceding 11 episodes. Certain events that had seemed innocuous or even pointless, such as the Doctor and Amy using the power of memory to enable an artificial human to resist his programming in Victory of the Daleks, can be viewed again as thematic foreshadowing of events to come. Whether by accident or design, this novel also foreshadows the events of The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang, by depicting the Doctor experiencing life in reverse.

Author Oli Smith makes use of three main timelines. There’s the regular forward-moving timeline, in which the TARDIS initially materialises and in which Amy and Rory remain. There’s a backward-moving timeline, in which the Doctor accidentally finds himself after (or do I mean before?) attempting to use the TARDIS to avert a nuclear explosion. Finally, there’s a series of flashbacks involving guest characters, beginning eight years before the arrival of the TARDIS crew and jumping forwards in time during the course of the novel, intersecting the Doctor’s backwards timeline along the way. Rory and Amy meet one of these guest characters, the scientist Albert, fairly early in the novel, though the reader finds out more about him as the flashbacks unfold.

Albert is involved in the creation of deadly androids, a popular subject in numerous films made around the time of the novel’s setting (1973-1981), including Westworld and Futureworld, as well as android-themed episodes of TV shows such as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman and The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, not to mention the Doctor Who serials The Android Invasion and Four to Doomsday.

Taking place between the episodes The Vampires of Venice and Amy’s Choice, Nuclear Time sits rather conveniently between volumes 2 and 3 of the single-disc DVD releases, a fact that is also helpfully reflected in the products’ release dates. This placement is evidenced by the statement that Rory has “never encountered danger in an environment that reminded him so much of home before”.

The plot necessitates separating the Doctor from his companions for much of the novel, but this allows for some enjoyable banter between Amy and Rory, who have now well and truly bonded following their adventure in Venice. Rory is particularly heroic here, sustaining injuries while breaking a window and even hurling a television set at advancing androids. This arguably contradicts Amy’s Choice, in which he isn’t quite so brave under similar circumstances. The book also foreshadows Amy’s Choice in a way, with Amy and Rory trapped in a bedroom by deceptively peaceful-looking townsfolk.

It can be hard work getting your head around some of the reversed Doctor’s actions, utterances and perceptions, but generally the narrative is as comprehensible as it could possibly be. Some of the author’s depictions do seem inconsistent, however. Usually cause precedes effect, such as sand being displaced by the Doctor’s footsteps, a process that is only reversed from the Doctor’s point of view. However, when he writes a message on a piece of paper, effect precedes cause: the message is present in the forwards timeline before the Doctor has written it. When he writes it, the ink vanishes from the page into the pen.

Despite a few plotting difficulties, you should be in for a good time with the imaginative Nuclear Time.


Richard McGinlay

Buy this item online

We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal
Click on the logo of the desired store below to purchase this item.

£4.39 (
£4.99 (
£4.89 (
£6.99 (
$8.09 (

All prices correct at time of going to press.