Doctor Who

History 101
Author: Mags L. Halliday
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53854 6
Available now

An alien observer studying the Spanish Civil War cannot understand why the various viewpoints of human beings refuse to adhere to a single, objective truth. He sets about to reconcile these disparate perspectives into a cohesive version of events. Perceiving an alteration in Picasso's painting
Guernica, the Eighth Doctor decides to study the war first-hand...

You may recall that in last month's review of Steve Lyons' The Crooked World I commented upon how good it was to have the occasional light-hearted story to break up the depressing tone of several recent Eighth Doctor novels. In fact, a distinct pattern has emerged of late, with a cheerful book following each gloomy one. This month we're back to the doom and gloom.

History 101 is all about perspective, driving home the point that it is impossible to be entirely objective, especially where political strife is concerned. The confusion experienced by the alien observer, the Absolute, is shared to an extent by the reader and also by Anji and Fitz, because the Spanish Civil War is not an easy conflict to grasp. With several different nations and political parties involved, there is no straightforward distinction between "good guys" and "bad guys". For example, although the Russians oppose the Fascists, not everyone standing against the Fascists entirely trusts the Communist agenda either. These are factors that George Orwell covered in depth in his personal account Homage to Catalonia, the style of whom Halliday mimics most effectively in a number of passages.

These considerations, coupled with the frequently incomprehensible viewpoint of the Absolute himself, made this novel a real struggle for me to complete. When the perspectives of several human characters are distorted so that they see different versions of events, the book covers similar territory to Justin Richards' script to Big Finish's recent audio drama, The Time of the Daleks. But Richards managed to communicate this concept with more clarity than Halliday does here. I can still only guess about exactly what happened at the end of the story (but then, perhaps that's the point: that history is what we perceive it to be).

The author has certainly chosen a bold and intriguing subject. There are a number of effective scenes in Halliday's narrative, in which she succeeds in surprising the reader about the nature or identity of certain characters. The return of the Doctor's adversary Sabbath is also extremely welcome, if rather brief. On the whole, however, this novel is hard work rather than recreational reading.

Richard McGinlay

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