Doctor Who

Author: Jacqueline Rayner
BBC Books
5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53827 9
Available now

Under the none-too-reliable guidance of the Doctor, the TARDIS materialises on a planet that appears to be Earth but is inhabited by cavemen, dinosaurs and decidedly deadly-looking robots...

The previous novel in the Eighth Doctor series, Colin Brake's Escape Velocity, concluded with an amusing virtual remake of the cliffhanger ending to the first-ever Doctor Who episode, An Unearthly Child. Accordingly, this book opens like The Cave of Skulls, with the newly arrived TARDIS observed by, apparently, a prehistoric human. The author even has the Doctor (who, thanks to his erratic memory, is starting out afresh as an interplanetary adventurer) collecting soil samples in an attempt to deduce his location, just like Hartnell's Doctor did back in 1963. And just like Ian and Barbara, the Doctor's unwilling new companion Anji is desperate to get back to her own time.

Large portions of the narrative convey the often whimsical and always engaging perspective of Anji, whose exasperation at her fellow travellers, the Doctor and Fitz, and her desperation in the face of a bizarre new world of experiences, give way to a practicality that enables her to stay sane. She also has to come to terms with the loss of her boyfriend, Dave, the memory of whom she keeps pushing to the back of her mind. This makes for an interesting variation on the Doctor's mental state - his subconscious denial of the fate of his home planet.

Serious issues of memory are at the core of the story, particularly with regard to false memories. This is especially pertinent to the character of Fitz - or rather, to the being who thinks of himself as Fitz, but who is painfully reminded by the course of events that he is actually a replica programmed with the memories of the original. Rayner acknowledges the influence of SF writer Philip K Dick when Anji makes mention of Blade Runner (in which androids are similarly programmed with memories, rendering them almost indistinguishable from human beings).

There's also more than a little of WestWorld in this book, as its title suggests, but on a grander scale. The author lightens the tone of her own deadly theme park by showing its reconstructions of Earth history to be humorously inaccurate. With several different historical zones to explore, the plot (rather like that of The War Games, and for similar reasons) is a distinctly runaround romp - but an enjoyable romp at that.

Richard McGinlay