Doctor Who

Author: Terrance Dicks
BBC Books
5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53852 X
Available now

When Peri is mortally injured, the Fifth Doctor has little choice but to return to Karn, at a point in time before his previous visit, when the planet hosted a famous hospice. But the TARDIS crew are soon embroiled in a galactic war against a cruel general, whom the Doctor suspects to be a renegade Time Lord. The Doctor must tread a dangerous path if he is to end the General's expansionist ambitions without altering established history...

Terrance Dicks has built up a reputation for writing nostalgic novels that are invariably sequels to previous television and prose adventures. Well, this one is different - it's not a sequel, it's a prequel! A prequel to The Brain of Morbius to be precise, the 1976 Tom Baker serial which Terrance himself wrote under the pen name of Robin Bland.

You don't need an encyclopedic knowledge of Who to realise which characters are likely to put in an appearance during this story. Dicks also throws in a glut of old monsters and characters, including Draconians, Sontarans, Ogrons, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, and the Doctor's old teacher, Borusa. Fortunately, all of these figures are used in entertaining new ways.

The Doctor and Peri also undergo some surprising and refreshing changes. By hardening the Fifth Doctor, this tale continues a trend that began in Big Finish's Primeval (which, coincidentally, also had the Doctor taking an ailing companion back in time for a prequel to a well-loved Tom Baker adventure). If you are dubious about the possibility of the Fifth Doctor taking an active role in a war, remember that is the incarnation who took on a Cyberleader hand-to-hand in Earthshock. This is the Doctor who has killed or attempted to kill Omega (Arc of Infinity), Davros (Resurrection of the Daleks), Kamelion and the Master (Planet of Fire), and memorably lost his rag with Salateen in The Caves of Androzani. One is only left unconvinced by the transformation of Peri because we know that she quickly reverts to being a wimp in subsequent TV adventures.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the convoluted history of Gallifrey that has accumulated over the years, the author gets a few elements muddled. This novel depicts Gallifrey at a point in time before the Doctor has even been tutored by Borusa, so then how does the Celestial Intervention Agency's spokesman Ratisbon know of the Doctor's theft of the TARDIS, since this event will not occur for many years? On a similar note, why does the General claim that the Doctor is a wanted renegade - how does he know that he will be? (I posed these very questions to our resident nit-pick solver Johnny Fanboy. He suggested that Ratisbon gleaned the information from a Matrix prediction, and that the General could have gained his knowledge from a mind-touch with the Doctor.)

To prevent the book from becoming too bogged down by such continuity issues, Dicks lightens the mood with his wicked sense of humour. For instance, he trots out what is now a customary Sontaran catch phrase: "The hair is finer..." Watch out also for a song which another Sontaran sings, as well as allusions to Douglas Adams and even Carry On Up the Khyber!

After an attention-grabbing opening section, the lengthy and complex plot flags a little in the middle, but this escapist romp recovers long before its conclusion. In fact, a return visit to the Doctor's prolonged participation in the war would not be unwelcome - Mr Dicks, please take note of this idea for a future sequel! Until then, this is his most enjoyable Who novel since the New Adventure, Shakedown.

Richard McGinlay


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