Doctor Who
Blue Box

Author: Kate Orman
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53859 7
Available now

California, 1981: the TARDIS drops the Sixth Doctor and Peri off in the wrong place and the wrong year. Left stranded, Peri finds herself drawn into the underground world of early phone and computer hacking...

In this day and age, tales of computer espionage are ten a penny, but this particular tale has a difference. Blue Box is set in the early 1980s, when industrial and home computing are still in their infancy. At this point, the World Wide Web is available only to a privileged few, and "electronic mail" is still a newfangled novelty. Hackers, or "phone phreaks" as they are also known, are already in action, and there are as yet no laws in place to deter them.

Like David Bishop's Who-related novel Who Killed Kennedy, the narrative is written as though from the perspective of a journalist - in this instance Charles "Chick" Peters. Hence when Peri's surname is given as Smith, this is not an error on the part of the real author, Kate Orman, but rather Peters attempting to protect the identity of one of the participants in this "true" eyewitness account.

The Doctor is used sparingly to begin with, which optimises his enigmatic qualities. And even when he does appear, he is always depicted through the filter of "Chick" Peters' perceptions. His pragmatic character is, in general, captured extremely well, although a couple of minor aspects don't quite tally with his characterisation in other stories. For one thing, he must evidently revise his disparaging attitude towards fast food, as exhibited here, at some point prior to Gary Russell's novel, Business Unusual, in which he enthusiastically tucks into a burger. And whereas Colin Baker's Doctor suffered from the freezing conditions in Attack of the Cybermen, here he does not appear to feel the cold at all (maybe he was just having an off-day during Attack).

I must confess that I am not a huge fan of the computer-hacking sub-genre. However, things grow more intriguing when it becomes clear that one particular hacker has set her sights upon a semi-organic alien device. The descriptions and capabilities of this device, the Savant, are as unnerving as they are fascinating.

You'll notice that I have given this book a rather average mark. Don't get me wrong, Blue Box is a decent enough novel, it's just that the subject matter is of limited interest to me.

Richard McGinlay

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