Doctor Who
The City of the Dead

Author: Lloyd Rose
BBC Books
5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53839 2
Available 03 September 2001

The Eighth Doctor's dreams have been infiltrated, and the TARDIS's defences have been breached by - Nothing. The ship lands in New Orleans, where the crew attempt to find a connection between these strange occurrences and a magical charm sculpted from human bone, which the Doctor has found amongst his possessions...

Following a couple of opening scenes that take place in mental rather than physical domains - a magician's conscious thoughts and the Doctor's nightmares - our introduction to New Orleans is so abrupt and surreal that at first I didn't realise the Doctor had actually stopped dreaming. The author thrusts us into a culture in which various esoteric beliefs are widely given credence, where we find a detective investigating a murder in a shop that specialises in human bones and other trinkets relating to the dead. I then wondered whether this story might be set in the same magical universe as that of Battlefield's Arthur and Morgaine, which was also used as the setting for Julian Eales's supernatural detective story, Mysterious Ways, in the charity fiction anthology Perfect Timing 2.

However, this book is set very much in "our" universe. In a not dissimilar way to Live and Let Die, it reflects the superstitions that permeate New Orleans, with its rich mixture of cultural influences, including Cajun and Creole. For instance, a Tarot card reading accurately describes the Doctor's former incarnations. The TARDIS crew encounter a range of eccentric characters, including a blustering showman and a deranged artist, each of whom has dabbled with forces that, although the Third Doctor might have pedantically objected to the term "magic", are certainly beyond the realm of human science.

The Tarot reading is one of a number of sequences that evoke the novels of Paul Cornell. In another such scene, the sleeping Doctor disturbs his subconscious former self, whom he does not recognise, but his old memories remain out of his reach.

Rose makes numerous references back to the Doctor's 100-year convalescence on 20th-century Earth. (These include a name check of the Doctor's "daughter", Miranda, from Lance Parkin's Father Time. Hopefully this could mean that we won't have to wait too long for her return, or at least a flashback novel to her time with the Doctor - how about it, BBC Books?) The author also reminds us of the Time Lord's present condition, and compares and contrasts his situation with that of the villain of the piece. Whereas the Doctor lacks many of his memories and therefore most of his history, the magician who stalks him is cursed by his own past deeds and the history of his family. Fleeting remembrances continue to surface unbidden in the Doctor's mind, which makes you wonder just how much longer his amnesia is going to last...

The tale takes a particularly weird turn during its last 70-odd pages, as the identity of the villain becomes clear and the Doctor becomes ensnared in one bizarre realm after another.

There is indeed a kind of magic to this book.

Richard McGinlay