Doctor Who

Author: Simon Forward
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53936 8
Available now

Melvin Village, New Hampshire is in the throes of a harsh winter. Army Captain Morgan Shaw and his squad discover that members of a religious cult have mysteriously disappeared. His brother, local cop Makenzie Shaw, is more concerned about his town as the snow gets deeper. Have people died as a result of the bitter cold, or is there a more sinister threat...?

Interesting fact (possibly): the Fourth Doctor and Leela were late entrants into the world of original Who novels. They failed to appear together in any of Virgin's Missing Adventures. But since the launch of the BBC's range, they have more than made up for lost time, appearing together with greater frequency than any other Fourth Doctor/companion team - in five novels to date.

That said, I should also point out that the first half of the novel doesn't feel much like a Who book at all. The Doctor and Leela spend most of their time trudging through the snow, while the majority of the action is divided between three parties: Morgan Shaw's group of paranormal operatives, a variant of UNIT called White Shadow; Makenzie Shaw and his adopted family; and finally Curt Redecker, the drunkard ex-husband of Makenzie's girlfriend.

To begin with, the story is more The X-Files meets Fargo - full of ironic connections and tragic outcomes. Redecker is very much a man on the edge, struggling through the snow to reach his daughter in time to give her a birthday present. His desperation mounts until it becomes a life-threatening situation, culminating in a gripping Tarantino-style Mexican stand-off. Forward's off-beat writing style offers some bizarre metaphors and similes, such as when he likens a covering of snow to "a glove of white" or a car skidding on an icy road to "a cow on ice-skates". The presence of two sardonic CIA agents, Melody Quartararo and Parker Theroux, further emphasises the X-Files angle; Melody and Parker show great potential for a return appearance.

Around the middle of the book, a turning point is reached. There is a perceptible shift in emphasis towards sci-fi, and the narrative style becomes much more Who-ish. The Doctor finally makes an impact on proceedings, while Leela finds a kindred spirit in the form of Kristal, an empathic Native American member of White Shadow.

The nature of the threat to mankind is unfortunately (but coincidentally) similar to the foe that appeared in Telos' recent Who novella, Time and Relative. I also found that one of the plot's loose ends was not resolved entirely to my satisfaction.

Despite these minor problems, however, this book is a stylish and intriguing combination of elements. It takes a little while to get into, but you'll eventually get Forward's Drift.

Richard McGinlay

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