Doctor Who
Reckless Engineering

Author: Nick Walters
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 48603 1
Available now

The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Fitz and Anji to Bristol, in what should be 2003. However, to the superstitious local population it is the year 160 - the 160th year after the Cleansing, a devastating event that wiped out every animal species and most of the human race...

The first line of the synopsis doesn't inspire much confidence, does it? The previous Eighth Doctor novel, David Bishop's The Domino Effect, was set in an alternative Edinburgh in 2003. So does this book merely do the same thing but with a different city?

Fortunately, it's not as straightforward as that. Bristol in the year 160 is a quite different type of dystopia, and Nick Walters throws in plenty of temporal distortions and time paradoxes for good measure. The novel involves a fair few detours to the 19th century, when we meet the pioneering engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

And, rather like the traveller in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, the TARDIS crew discover that the survivors of the apocalypse have diverged into antagonistic groups, practically different races. Instead of the Morlocks, they face the Wildren, feral humans who have survived the shortage of meat sources by turning to cannibalism. Refreshingly, the Doctor's attempts to appeal to the latent humanity of the Wildren fall on deaf ears for a change.

What is equally refreshing is the friction that develops between the Doctor and Fitz, who grows tired of the Time Lord's seemingly never-ending quest to stamp out all the "wrong" versions of reality, erasing millions of innocent people in the process. Who is to say which is the right reality and which are the wrong ones, argues Fitz. This subject was briefly touched upon in The Domino Effect, but it is discussed much more thoroughly here.

The plot of Reckless Engineering becomes a bit of a runaround affair towards the end, and some of Walters' ideas - including the Wildren - are not exploited as fully as they might have been. Brunel's acceptance of the strange events that befall him also stretches the reader's credulity.

However, I don't think it would be reckless of me to state that this book is well worth picking up.

Richard McGinlay

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