Doctor Who
Only Human

Author: Gareth Roberts
BBC Books
RRP: 6.99
ISBN 0 563 48639 2
Available 08 September 2005

Somebody's interfering with time. The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack arrive on modern-day Earth to find the culprit - but discover a Neanderthal man, 28,000 years after his race became extinct. Only a trip back to the primeval dawn of humanity can solve the mystery. Who are the mysterious humans from the distant future now living in that distant past...?

Even more so than Jacqueline Rayner's Winner Takes All, this novel captures the fun aspects of the new Doctor Who television series.

As one might expect from Gareth Roberts, author of the splendid Fourth Doctor novels The Romance of Crime, The English Way of Death and The Well-mannered War, and writer of episodes of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) and Swiss Toni, the comedy quotient is high. Prehistoric humans seem, to Rose's ears, to speak with London accents (thanks to the TARDIS' translation systems), the Doctor quotes the Gerald the Gorilla sketch from Not the Nine O'clock News, Rose dons a fur bikini, and Captain Jack gets naked in order to cause a big distraction. "Nah, that's not the biggest distraction I've ever seen," the Doctor comments. Just as in the TV series, Jack's sexuality prompts several light-hearted moments, such as when he dons a sailor suit from the TARDIS wardrobe (having lost his coat in Justin Richards' The Deviant Strain.)

Roberts continues the exploration of Jack's settling-in period as a member of the TARDIS crew between the television episodes The Doctor Dances and Boom Town. He and the Doctor seem to be getting on quite well, but the Time Lord chooses to leave Jack rather than Rose behind in the 21st century to rehabilitate an anachronistic Neanderthal called Das. As a result, Jack is unfortunately absent during most of the final three-quarters of the book, as the Doctor and Rose travel back to the year 26,185 BC, though the author does provide intermittent cutaways in the form of amusing data records conveyed from Jack's point of view.

Despite its silliness, the novel uses some of the latest research into the lives of prehistoric peoples. For example, Das speaks with a surprisingly high-pitched voice (due to the Neanderthal larynx being positioned higher in the throat than our own) and is not the unintelligent dullard that his species is traditionally assumed to be.

Roberts' future humans are almost as fascinating. Hailing from a point in time in which all technology is analogue-based, following the catastrophic destruction of all digital devices and data, these people have also conquered all aliments of the body and mind. Drugs instantly deliver relief from fear, anger, grief, doubt and any other "negative" emotions. The result is a dehumanised populace that is as creepy as it is comical.

Only Human never quite recaptures the easy-going readability of its opening quarter, due to the absence of Jack and Das. Still, the author is only human too, and this is my only real criticism of what is otherwise a very entertaining book.

Richard McGinlay

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