Doctor Who

Author: Jonathan Morris
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53847 3
Available now

The Doctor, Fitz and Anji land in the middle of a war zone. The chief weapon in this particular war is time itself: decelerated time fields bring armies to a virtual standstill, while accelerated time can age a soldier to death within seconds. In a nearby outpost, scientists are attempting to send subjects back in time. But two subjects bring a strange temporal infection back with them...

As with his previous Who book, the witty and challenging Festival of Death, the subject of time lies at the heart of this novel. Time is described in similar terms to the ocean depths - when the experimental subjects go back through time, they are sent "down" into the depths of it, like mariners in a diving bell. Those suffering from the ill-effects of exposure to time need to be gradually adjusted back to their normal continuum, like deep-sea divers suffering from the bends.

As in Festival of Death, emphasis is placed on the futility of trying to change your own past. A decidedly Sapphire and Steel type adversary, a creepy race of clock-faced time entities, takes advantage of human feelings of regret by tempting its victims to amend past mistakes. When such errors are undone, the victims are tricked out of their own existence. As the Doctor points out, our mistakes, how we deal with them and learn from them, help to shape who we are. It is ironic that he should say this, since he effectively erased his own past when he destroyed Gallifrey in The Ancestor Cell (though, of course, he still cannot remember this).

Incidentally, the clock-faced creatures offer a tentative link to the artist's portrait of Romana with a cracked clock face in 1979's City of Death. Perhaps the artist was somehow influenced by these beings as a result of that story's "cracks" in time.

The Fourth Doctor and Romana team, who featured in Festival of Death, would not have seemed out of place during parts of this story, either. Despite its gloomier tone, there is a satirical edge to this novel, in which war is motivated by profitable enterprise. Robotic accountants, with cash-register faces, conjure up a flavour of the Graham Williams-produced era.

Despite the use of time technology, the setting is decidedly low-tech, with fixtures and fashions more suited to the 1950s and '60s, including Bakelite surfaces and a bowler-hatted auditor. Perhaps the author is trying to evoke the charm of Doctor Who serials that attempted to look futuristic but were limited by '60s, '70s or '80s technology!

Following a gripping and intriguing opening, the middle of the book flags badly, with a tedious over-reliance on running up and down corridors, getting captured and escaping. However, Morris stages a good recovery, and his dramatic conclusion had me counting the days until April's Eighth Doctor novel, Trading Futures.

Richard McGinlay

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