Doctor Who

Psi-ence Fiction
Author: Chris Boucher
BBC Books 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53814 7
Available now




The privately funded Parapsychology Department of the University of East Wessex is conducting experiments into psychic abilities. One of the students thinks she has heard the voice of a ghost. The Doctor is more worried about a dimensional disruption that could threaten the whole of existence...

I hadn't been expecting much from this, the third Doctor Who novel to be penned by former scriptwriter Boucher. He is much better at writing scripts than novels, and his last two books have made for stilted and sluggish reading. But I was pleasantly surprised by this one, which shows considerable improvement in terms of storytelling.

The familiarity of the Earth setting, as opposed to the alien worlds visited in Last Man Running and Corpse Marker, undoubtedly adds to the readability of the work. In common with this month's other novel, The City of the Dead, this book deals with paranormal subject matter: black magic and psychic powers. Telepathic teenagers tune into the appeal of the horror classic Carrie and suffer from Nightmare on Elm Street style mental attacks during their sleep. In scenes reminiscent of Blair Witch 2, the students and their tutor realise that something has either played tricks with their minds or altered their videotaped evidence. And several chilling seance sequences featuring the mismatched students prove to be real page-turners.

In fact, the author spends more time with the students and their tutor than he does with his usual TARDIS crew of the Fourth Doctor and Leela, who don't make much of an impact on the story until its latter half. The Doctor spends rather a long time incarcerated by over-zealous security guards, while Leela wanders around on her own.

Of course, as Leela's creator, Boucher understands the warrior's character better than any other writer and vividly depicts her uniquely alien perspective of the campus community. However, his characterisation of the Doctor is at odds with the eccentric personality portrayed on TV by Tom Baker. The Doctor becomes concerned about his mental health when he finds himself babbling "like an idiot" - as if he didn't normally babble like an idiot! (Perhaps the Doctor never recovered from this experience and thus became the complete loony we see in the stories produced by Graham Williams!...)

Psi-ence Fiction continues that curious trend of Boucher's novels of echoing the subjects of his scripts for the TV series. Last Man Running mimicked the jungle-planet setting of The Face of the Evil. Then Corpse Marker saw the return of the robots and other characters from The Robots of Death. Now this book features a supposedly haunted wood and a sardonic scientist that are both reminiscent of Boucher's third script, Image of the Fendahl.

The conclusion is hampered by some fairly impenetrable technobabble about time lines and multiverses, yet this remains Boucher's best book to date.

Richard McGinlay

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