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When the entire galaxy finds itself under attack from the Deindum - a highly advanced but aggressive and paranoid race from the future - Bernice and her friends and colleagues are scattered across space, doing what they can for the war effort. Bernice makes her way home before heading back into history, searching for knowledge about their adversary and a weapon that might help them to defeat it. Braxiatel, leading a coalition of civilised worlds against the attack, has cause to question his methods. An exhausted Bev runs the Braxiatel Collection as a refugee centre, fearful of imminent attack. Adrian and Doggles must overcome their shared history and work together, whilst Hass embarks on a dangerous journey through the galaxy’s war zones to the heart of the Deindum’s new empire. Will it be enough? What can they do against one of the most daunting enemies they have ever faced...?
I embarked upon this anthology with a little trepidation, as I wasn’t sure whether I should be reading this before or after listening to the audio drama Escaping the Future. In fact, Present Danger is set between the audio releases Resurrecting the Past and Escaping the Future, with our various heroes trying to defeat the time-travelling, reptilian Deindum, who made their entrance at the end of Resurrecting the Past. The products’ packaging could have made the sequence clearer, though I suppose the clue is in their titles: Past comes before Present, which is followed by Future.
In some ways, this book reads more like a novel than an anthology. Rather than being a collection of disparate narratives, the stories in Present Danger all revolve around the same basic premise (the threat posed by the Deindum) and unfold in a roughly linear progression (time travel notwithstanding). It’s not as cohesive as Life During Wartime, however, because whereas the setting of that book was restricted to the Braxiatel Collection, the stories in Present Danger take place on a number of different planets and in a number of different times.
Though the events of Resurrecting the Past have revealed Braxiatel’s machinations in the Bernice Summerfield and Gallifrey series not to be (as I had previously assumed) connected to Doctor Who’s Time War (at least, not directly), the depiction of a temporal conflict does allow some insight into how the Time War might have been waged. In “The War of Art”, by Jason Arnopp, Bernice faces a lone Deindum that gains an advantage over her by travelling a few minutes back in time. In Niall Boyce’s decidedly post-9/11 “The Empire Variations”, Bev sees history being rewritten in an Andy Warhol film, as first the Deindum and then Bernice intervene in recorded events. The timeline is similarly restructured in “Excalibur of Mars”, by Jim Smith, while in Richard Dinnick’s “Past Caring”, Professor Summerfield suffers a mind-boggling fate not unlike that of the splintered Scaroth in the Who story City of Death. “The Better Part of Valour”, by LM Myles, features time travellers from a Deindum-dominated future, and the cool concept of a long-deactivated android that slowly but surely “repairs” itself as it gradually approaches the present and therefore becomes “newer”. Conversely, in Lance Parkin’s “Winging It”, Braxiatel takes on the Deindum (who still have limbs in this story, rather than being hovering heads), not by altering the timeline as such but by exploiting their recorded history to his advantage.
Another theme of this collection is that of art - as you may have surmised from the title of the story “The War of Art”, which features an ill-fated Braxiatel exhibition that had been en route to the planet Maximediras. In “Don’t Do Something, Just Sit There”, by Kate Orman, laidback aliens have stored unwanted gifts of art and literature from other civilisations in a cave system. More crucially, the events of “Winging It” revolve around historical events depicted on a set of marble reliefs, while “The Empire Variations” concerns the aforementioned Warhol film.
In the final few stories, Bernice searches time and space for powerful, semi-mythical weapons that could be used against the Deindum - beginning with Mark Clapham’s “In the Ledgers of Madness”, which sees the return of the tax inspector from Venus Mantrap. The Professor seeks similarly god-like powers in Jonathan Blum’s “The End Times”, a semi-sequel to the Who novella Fallen Gods that contains references to Chronovores in all but name. The Who references don’t end there, for they abound in “Excalibur of Mars”, which alludes to the Ice Warriors and features Brigadier Bambera and the sword Excalibur from Battlefield.
Ironically, my favourite stories in this anthology focus on characters other than Bernice: Bev in “The Empire Variations”, and the devious Braxiatel in “Winging It” and John Dorney’s “The Propaganda War”. Other characters under the spotlight include Doggles in Simon Guerrier’s “Six Impossible Things”, in which the scientist confronts his guilt over his past actions in a typically self-centred manner, and a troubled war veteran in Oli Smith’s “Digital Dreams”. The stories are interspersed by a frame narrative featuring Hass, written by the book’s editor, Eddie Robson.
Though the conclusion to the conflict is not presented here but deferred until Escaping the Future, this collection conveys an appropriate sense of scale to the Deindum threat. There’s every danger of excitement in Present Danger.