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