Doctor Who

Author: Mark Michalowski
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 48613 9
Available 05 April 2004

The back-to-basics colony world Espero is the unlikely source of a sophisticated distress call. The Eighth Doctor, Fitz and Trix are not the only ones to respond to it. But the Doctor's ability to help is hampered by an inexplicable new bout of amnesia. To lose one set of memories may be regarded as a misfortune - to lose two smacks of carelessness...

It's a good job Mark Michalowski makes light of the subject of the Time Lord's amnesia by including the above variation on the famous line from Oscar Wilde, because the Eighth Doctor does seem uncommonly prone to memory loss. To date, he has suffered fits of forgetfulness in the 1996 TV movie, the Big Finish audio drama Minuet in Hell, the BBC novels The Eight Doctors and The Ancestor Cell, the latter of which he still hasn't recovered from, and possibly also the Telos novella The Dalek Factor. Temptation comes the Doctor's way when a mysterious woman known as Madame Xing (her real name is unpronounceable) offers to restore all of his suppressed memories. Though the Doctor turns her down, the author leaves us with the distinct impression that Xing may return. With a new TV series and a new incarnation just around the corner, the restoration of the Time Lord's memories seems fairly inevitable.

The Doctor's current wilful ignorance is echoed in the depiction of the Earth colony Espero, which has turned its back on certain technological developments and separated itself from the white-dominated culture of the home planet. Its back-to-basics ethos is not a terribly original idea, having recently been the founding principle behind the settlements in the novels Heritage and The Colony of Lies, but at least Michalowski acknowledges this within his narrative. The fact that Espero is entirely populated by dark-skinned people means that, for a change, the Doctor, Fitz and Trix are the ethnic minority.

The best thing about this book is the sheer range of moods it evokes. At one end of the spectrum we witness the tragedy of an extraterrestrial slain by fearful farmers, the racist attitudes of many of the colonists, and the threat of a destructive "wavefront" of alien energy. At the other end, we have the pathetic conniving of certain members of Espero's ruling family and we can smile as the Doctor and Fitz behave very oddly indeed. Add to this the mystery of how the Doctor and Fitz's amnesia fits in with the discovery of an alien artefact, attacks by strange beasts from the wilderness and machinations within the palace walls.

All we sci-fi fans should, of course, get a life. But you could also do far worse than to pick up HalfLife.

Richard McGinlay

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