Doctor Who
Empire of Death

Author: David Bishop
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 48615 5
Available now

In 1856, a boy discovers that he can communicate with the dead. He becomes a celebrated spiritualist. In 1863, Queen Victoria is inconsolable following the death of her husband, Prince Albert. When she learns about a supposed gateway to the Other Side, she sees an opportunity for the British Empire to expand into a new realm...

The Victorian era has provided the setting for many a classic tale, including the Doctor Who stories The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Ghost Light and Imperial Moon. David Bishop's previous novel, The Domino Effect was also set in the days of the British Empire, but on an alternative Earth of 2003, in which the Empire had never fallen.

A return to the 19th century is no less welcome, though. As ever, there is fun to had as prudish Victorians interact with characters from other times and places. Nyssa, for example, raises plenty of eyebrows by examining a corpse, wearing trousers and (shock, horror!) receiving a gentleman caller in her sleeping quarters. The literature of the period is even brought to mind during scenes told from the Trakenite's point of view, conveyed as they are in the format of diary entries.

The presence of the grieving Queen brings to mind the movie Mrs Brown, while also tying in with another fascinating subject: spiritualism. As the Fifth Doctor explains to his companion, this is a time of great philosophical upheaval. Science is beginning to overturn fundamental ideas about the very creation of humanity, so naturally great thinkers are also setting out to seek a rational explanation for what lies beyond death.

The Doctor and Nyssa also prove susceptible to the lure of the spirit world, having recently faced the death of Adric. In addition, Nyssa has still not come to terms with the death of her father, Tremas, and the destruction of her entire world. The author builds upon the character's relative lack of displayed emotion following Adric's demise to explore the not unreasonable hypothesis that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He also touches upon Nyssa's burgeoning psychic abilities, which either ties in with, or steps on the toes of, Big Finish's development of the companion, depending on how you care to look at it.

The pace of the story could have done with tightening up a little - half the novel has elapsed before the time travellers finally reach the underwater site of the alleged entrance to the Other Side. However, the narrative remains irresistibly readable.

Dead good, in fact.

Richard McGinlay

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