Doctor Who
The Indestructible Man

Author: Simon Messingham
BBC Books
RRP £5.99
ISBN 0 563 48623 6
Available 01 November 2004

In 2068, the PRISM agency and its legendary Indestructible Man save the Earth from mysterious alien invaders, the Myloki. The victory comes at a high price: economies collapse, governments crumble, and PRISM is torn apart by a best-selling exposť. In 2096, PRISM has gone underground, becoming the clandestine SILOET, led by Commander Hal Bishop. When he discovers another "indestructible man", Bishop fears the Myloki have returned...

In my review of the previous BBC Who book, The Deadstone Memorial, I commented that the typeface used was rather small. Well, that was nothing compared to the weenie text presented in this sprawling narrative!

Author Simon Messingham certainly has a lot to pack in. As you may have already gathered from the names PRISM and Bishop, and the image of a purple-wigged Zoe on the front cover, this book is something of a homage to the Gerry Anderson productions of the 1960s and '70s, in particular UFO and Captain Scarlet.

Like the Mysterons in Scarlet and the aliens in UFO, the Myloki can take over human beings. The Indestructible Man, Captain Grant Matthews, and his arch nemesis, the similarly invulnerable Myloki-possessed Karl Taylor, are clearly based upon Captains Scarlet and Black. SILOET and Commander Bishop bear obvious resemblances to the SHADO organisation depicted in UFO and that series' star, Ed Bishop.

Other performers from Anderson series receive similar name checks, courtesy of character names such as Ventham, Gabrielle, Drake and Graham. The latter is a bespectacled scientist nicknamed Boffin, this story's analogue to Brains from Thunderbirds. There's also a submarine called Manta - Stingray, geddit? However, the most groan-inducing name-spin by far is that of the Sharon family of international rescuers, who are, of course, based on Thunderbirds' Tracy clan!

A very '60s vision of the future is presented in this novel, in which interplanetary colonisation has been accomplished, but magnetic audio and video tape have not yet been superseded by digital technology. It is appropriate, therefore, that the 1968-9 Who team of the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe should materialise in this setting.

However, in spite of the obvious whimsy behind the book's premise, this isn't a light-hearted adventure by any means. The narrative is punctuated by violent acts and grisly deaths, and the TARDIS crew experience hardships of a kind they never faced on the television show. When the Doctor is apparently shot dead, Jamie falls in with a group of mercenaries whose charismatic leader charms the Scot into their way of thinking. Zoe becomes a slave, for slavery is commonplace since the world economy collapsed. The Doctor recovers from his supposedly mortal wound, but only after a coma that lasts for six months.

Chemicals injected into him by PRISM scientists hold back the full physiology-altering effects of regeneration while still allowing the Time Lord to make a miraculous recovery. This raises a fascinating possibility: could this event be the Doctor's true second regeneration? The purely cosmetic one enforced by the Time Lords at the end of The War Games might therefore not count as a proper regeneration at all, which would also mean that Romana didn't waste any of her lives when she altered her appearance for apparently no good reason at the start of Destiny of the Daleks.

The Indestructible Man is an intriguing book, but sadly not tremendously riveting. The narrative reads like a sequence of events that are not strung together very tightly by the slender plot. Still, it should help you to destroy a few long winter evenings, especially if you're an Anderson fan.

Richard McGinlay

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