Scientific breakthroughs have opened up a whole universe of
possibilities for the Doctor - some beautiful, some mysterious,
some horrific. The Time Lord and his companions encounter,
among others, a living language, a robot that can dream, virtual-reality
people, an auctioneer of body parts and a mermaid...
its title suggests, this collection of short stories revolves
around medical science, anthropology and other scientific
theories and principles concerning the very definition of
is some repetition and/or crossover of ideas here. Perhaps
not surprisingly, the Frankenstein myth provides the
inspiration for more than one story, though the tone of Andy
Campbell's creepy and horrific The Age of Ambition
could scarcely be more different from Richard Salter's blackly
comical, but still very gruesome, A Star is Reborn.
Predictably, given its continued topicality, the subject of
genetic modification crops up (no pun intended) in several
narratives, including Syntax, by David Bailey, and
The Southwell Park Mermaid, by Kate Orman.
though, it would appear that editor John Binns has deliberately
arranged his anthology in order to draw comparisons between
the stories, or to develop common threads between them, rather
than to shy away from some of their similarities. For example,
pheromone communication, which plays a major part in Syntax,
is also a factor in the subsequent tale, John Seavey's Primitives.
Similarly Mortal Thoughts, by Trevor Baxendale, is
followed by Lant Land, by Jonathan Morris, each of
which features a comparable character named Simon.
There are some interesting and/or rare Doctor/companion combinations
in this book. Gareth Wigmore's Scribbles in Chalk is
craftily wedged in between the William Hartnell serials The
Myth Makers and The Daleks' Master Plan, so as
to make use of the short-lived companion Katarina. This story
is full of poignant dramatic irony concerning events to come
in Master Plan and The Tenth Planet. Syntax
teams the Eighth Doctor with his Doctor Who Magazine comic
strip companion Izzy, though the tale is marred slightly by
the fact that Big Finish has already tackled the subject of
a sentient language more than adequately in the audio drama
...ish. The Southwell Park Mermaid sees the
return of the New Adventures pairing of the Seventh
Doctor and Chris Cwej, though Orman's plot is let down by
a rather silly concept for an intelligent life form.
the real runt of the litter is Lance Parkin's Echo,
a very short story told from the point of view of Ace, not
long after she has boarded the TARDIS. I am at a loss to explain
what this confusing little tale is trying to say.
slightly less impenetrable are the two Fourth Doctor stories
The Northern Heights, by Mark Stevens, and The Destroyers,
by Steve Lyons. These two tales, both of which make use of
the storytelling device of the incomplete or unreliable historical
document, are supposed to be cryptic, but their eventual conclusions
fail to clarify certain key issues.
the other hand, Alexander Leithes' The End is perfectly
understandable, but I don't really see the point of the story.
I have much more enthusiasm for Matthew Griffiths' The
Reproductive Cycle, which places the Sixth Doctor and
Peri in the unusual position of surrogate parents. This story
throws up some interesting ideas about the effects of parental
separation and custody battles on a developing and impressionable
child. It evidently takes place not long after A Star is
Reborn so far as the time travellers are concerned, and
an interesting character arc is developed between the two
Mortimore's A Rose by Any Other Name may possess a
rather irrelevant title (Clothes Make the Man would
have been more suitable), but this concluding entry proves
to be both touching and memorable. I did wonder how the writer's
vision of humanity's future could fit in with certain other
Doctor Who stories, but then he never actually specifies
that his tale is set on Earth.
of the aforementioned Frankenstein variants, the gripping
Age of Ambition is even more enjoyable, affording a
strong role to Victoria Waterfield. Slightly ahead of this
is the equally chilling Mortal Thoughts, by Trevor
Baxendale, a Sixth Doctor and Mel story that takes a trip
into Isaac Asimov robotic territory.
My very favourite is another Sixth Doctor story, A Star
is Reborn, which remains extremely witty throughout, despite
its grisly subject matter, as the Doctor jumps to a series
of unfortunate but quite understandable erroneous conclusions.
I didn't enjoy this collection quite as much as I did the
previous volume, Past Tense, but it does prove there's
plenty of life in the old Doctor yet.
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