Doctor Who
The Year of Intelligent Tigers

Author: Kate Orman
BBC Books
5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53831 7
Available now

The tiny, remote human colony of Hitchemus is noted for two things: its love of music and the planet's curious native carnivores, which closely resemble the tigers of Earth. One day, the apparently benign tigers alter their behaviour...

Following last month's Eater of Wasps, we have an even more curious animal-related title this time around. But then, we are dealing with Kate Orman here, the author who gave us titles such as The Left-handed Hummingbird and (the non-animal-related) Return of the Living Dad.

Intelligent carnivores feature in both of the BBC's Who novels this month, with Nick Walters' Superior Beings offering us the vulpine Valethske, while Orman presents a feline threat to humanity. In either case, the aliens are satirically based upon an Earth species that has been hunted by humans in the real world.

This book, however, gives us no clear-cut bad guys or good guys. While we may empathise with the human characters, the tigers justifiably regard the colonists as the invaders of their world. Both sides of the ensuing conflict are vividly realised, with one clash in particular played out from two opposing, and equally understandable, points of view. Comparisons with the TV show's Silurian stories are obvious, with the Doctor spending a large part of the novel attempting to negotiate for peace between the two races, and facing opposition from either side. The author builds upon these familiar foundations and dares to go further by having the Time Lord "go native" and embrace the tigers' culture. The resulting hostilities within the TARDIS team make the arguments that occurred in Trevor Baxendale's Eater of Wasps seem, by comparison, like a minor disagreement over a restaurant bill.

Music is a theme that pervades the entire novel, and not only in the colonists' evident love of live performances, which the time-travellers embrace whole-heartedly. Just like a piece of music, the tempo of the narrative changes and develops as it progresses, and accordingly the story's various subsections are called verses and choruses. The verses present the calm that exists before and after a storm or battle, as well as the intrigue surrounding mysteries that beg to be solved, such as the riddle of the tigers' waxing and waning intelligence or the enigma of the Stela, a relic from an ancient civilisation. By comparison, the choruses are full of conflict, fear, violence, tragic death, and hopes that fall apart. Throughout all of this, several characters are afforded their own solo performances.

As usual with Orman's novels, I found this one a little difficult to get to grips with at first. Once into the swing of things, however, I found that the book's many lyrical passages are the cat's whiskers!

Richard McGinlay