Doctor Who
Relative Dementias

Author: Mark Michalowski
BBC Books
5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53844 9
Available 07 January 2002

A former UNIT colleague, Joyce Brunner, contacts the Doctor regarding strange goings-on at a Scottish convalescent home called Graystairs, where Joyce's mother is undergoing a radical new treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Why are both residents and staff members disappearing? By the time the Seventh Doctor and Ace arrive, Joyce has vanished too...

For the second time in as many Seventh Doctor novels, an old friend of the Time Lord doesn't recognise him in this incarnation. In last year's Bullet Time, Sarah Jane Smith failed to identify him, while in this novel Joyce expects her message to be received by the Third Doctor, rather than the strange little man who actually responds. For a time, Joyce wonders if he is a delusional escapee from Graystairs. Ace has some fun along similar lines, pretending that the Doctor is her befuddled grandfather!

Returning to the subject of Joyce, might it not have been more effective to use a character who had actually appeared in a UNIT serial or two, such as Corporal Bell? I suppose this is a no-win situation for authors - if an old TV character had been brought back, then the "we don't like continuity references" brigade would have been whinging instead.

The dating of this story is also problematic with regard to the UNIT years. This book is set in 1982, and yet the author keeps stating that Joyce last worked alongside the Third Doctor mere months ago. Even if you believe that the UNIT stories were set a few years after their transmission dates (Sarah claimed that she came from 1980 in Pyramids of Mars), Joyce can surely not have worked with the Third Doctor for several years.

There is an interesting UNIT-related revelation, however. It seems that the lower-ranking troops have no great love for the Doctor, and generally hold him responsible for many of their comrades' deaths.

Aside from the missing Graystairs residents and staff members, there are a great number of other enigmas that are interwoven by the author. For example, near the beginning of the story, the Doctor transports a mysterious character in the TARDIS but will not reveal to Ace who this being is. Then there's the question of Mr Sooal, the reclusive albino owner of Graystairs, and the eccentric matron Megan. Which, if either, is the secretive figure with whom the Doctor later makes contact? Which, if either, is the alien life form that needs fresh supplies of organic matter to sustain its human disguise? And why is Joyce's son, Michael, camping out in the local countryside, unbeknownst to his mother?

These and other plot strands truly test the memory of the reader (or perhaps my own dementia has set in early). It doesn't help matters that Michalowski makes such frequent scene changes, which disturb the concentration and make reading tough going in places. So many strands also require a prolonged tying up of loose ends before the book concludes. Still, there's a nice time paradox towards the end, if you like that sort of thing (which I do).

Although not the slickest of reads, with so much going on you can be reasonably assured that there'll always be a good bit coming up within the next few pages.

Richard McGinlay

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