Doctor Who
Dark Progeny

Author: Steve Emmerson
BBC Books
5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53837 6
Available 06 August 2001

The TARDIS and Anji suffer the effects of a powerful telepathic assault. Could the phenomenon be connected to the birth of strangely deformed babies on Ceres Alpha, a world currently being prepared for colonisation? And could these babies have anything to do with the recent discovery of alien artefacts on the apparently barren planet?...

Well, yes, of course they could. But Emmerson keeps us guessing about the precise connections by serving up a series of masterful diversions involving a large contingent of characters, including the separate members of the TARDIS crew, a colony city's medical and military staff, an archaeologist and the corrupt corporate head of the colonisation project. The city itself is a neat idea - a giant roving vehicle that conditions the soil as it goes.

The idea of a profit-making venture, in this case called WorldCorp, being involved in humanity's expansion into space will ring bells of recognition among fans of The New Adventures - for instance, the Spinward Corporation from Peter Darvill-Evans's Deceit. Indeed, WorldCorp boss Gaskill Tyran states that his company has many rivals, so the Spinward Corporation could be among them. Emmerson's novel also ties in closely with the TV serial Colony in Space, particularly with its references to an overcrowded Earth that is now devoid of animal life.

The futuristic setting could scarcely be more different to that of the author's previous novel, last year's gripping Casualties of War, which took place in a rural community during the First World War. However, Emmerson's talent for human-interest stories remains evident - this time around the focus is on the emotive subject of parenthood. Tragic parents Josef and Veta are devastated to learn that their new-born baby is dead, but they later discover that their malformed child has been secretly confiscated for scientific research. Meanwhile, Anji develops an empathic relationship with all the children that are being experimented upon.

The simultaneous telepathic affliction of both Anji and the TARDIS leads me to wonder whether this story was originally devised when the Doctor and Fitz were still travelling with Compassion, a character who was both a companion and a TARDIS.

I was a bit disappointed that Emmerson's intriguing references to an archaeological excavation - one of the teasing threads with which the author keeps us keen throughout the novel - never really came to anything. Maybe this was a red herring, but I was expecting a fuller exploration of the site. Perhaps I've been spending too much time in the realm of Professor Bernice Summerfield lately.

Otherwise, Emmerson's second offering for the Eighth Doctor range is a very healthy baby indeed.

Richard McGinlay