Doctor Who
Fear Itself

Author: Nick Wallace
BBC Books
RRP: 5.99
ISBN 0 563 48634 1
Available 08 September 2005

The 22nd century. A few short years of interstellar contact have taught humanity a hard lesson: that there are forces out there that are nightmare manifest. It's a realisation that deals a body blow to mankind's belief in his own superiority, and leaves him with the only option he ever had: to fight. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji get caught in the crossfire...

This is it: the Eighth Doctor is now officially a past Doctor. Not only has Paul McGann been succeeded by Christopher Eccleston - and before we knew it, David Tennant - but his prose adventures have ceased publication as a regular, chronological series. From now on, any further Eighth Doctor novels will jump back and forth along his lifetime as with any other past Doctor.

One slight difference to his predecessor, the Seventh Doctor, is that we are permitted to delve back into eras that were only ever presented in prose. Past Doctor adventures featuring the Seventh Doctor have steered clear of the companions Bernice, Roz and Chris, characters who were created for the New Adventures books, due to the changeover of publisher from Virgin to BBC Books. The Eighth Doctor faces no such restrictions, since the novels are still being published by the BBC. Accordingly, author Nick Wallace returns to the Fitz/Anji age, not long after the events of Escape Velocity and EarthWorld.

Personally, I would have preferred a Fitz/Compassion story, or an adventure set during the Doctor's century stranded on Earth, but Wallace depicts his chosen period well. Fitz is still struggling to cope with the fact that the Doctor doesn't recall their previous travels together. Fitz wonders whether their former friendship can truly continue, given that the Time Lord doesn't really know him. However, the development of Anji is somewhat at odds with novels set later on in her tenure. Here she moves on from the death of her boyfriend Dave in a big way, whereas she still pines for him in "subsequent" books, such as Hope, so Wallace is forced to push a big fat reset button at the end.

That said, there's no denying that this is a good story for Anji, who gets plenty to do. The traditional pattern for a Doctor Who story is for the Doctor and his companion(s) to split up and pursue separate aspects of the narrative. In this novel they are separated not by space so much as time, as the author switches between Jupiter space in the late 22nd century, Jupiter space four years previously, and the planet Mars during the years in between. Anji inhabits the "now" and "in between" bits, as she first learns to deal with the fact that the Doctor and Fitz have been lost in a disaster on board a space station and that she has no way of returning to her own time, then sets off to investigate what really happened. The Doctor and Fitz's chapters take place four years earlier, during the days leading up to the catastrophe.

This structure is confusing at first, with flashbacks taking place even within the flashbacks, but as all three timelines develop, revelations in each one gradually inform our understanding of the others. The contrasts between the station crew before and after the disaster are dramatic and often quite shocking.

Though it isn't directly identified as such, so as not to deter casual readers, the author throws in enough clues to suggest that the recent "occupation" to which the characters refer was the Dalek invasion of Earth. He also mentions the Martian blockade that was depicted in the New Adventures novel GodEngine.

In The Five Doctors, the First Doctor said: "Fear itself is largely an illusion." But it isn't an illusion any more - it's a book! And a rather challenging book at that, but well worth the effort.

Richard McGinlay

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