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The Great Virgin New Adventures Review: Blood Heat & The Dimension Riders

With the holiday quad-trilogy having come to an end with Iceberg and the Seventh Doctor fresh from his battle with the Cybermen, Virgin decided now would be a good time to wrap up the ill-TARDIS arc, as well as starting to delve into the history of the show. In currently reading Conundrum and I’m still confused with what’s happening with the TARDIS, I’ve not got that storyline all the way through these books I’ll admit, but it perhaps my least favourite thing about these books, which have been surprisingly enjoyable to read so far.

Blood Heat: Written by Jim Mortimore

Doctor Who and the Silurians is a story I’ve had a love/hate relationship with in the past. In more recent times, I’ve come to appreciate it, though I still wouldn’t call it one of my favourite Doctor Who stories of all time. It’s still a little too long and much like my problems with the recent episode, Praxeus, whenever a series goes into a plague-cure finding mode, all vaccines and tests, needles and microscopes, my eyes and mind glaze over. I’ve also never been a massive fan of the Silurians, even in the modern era and so I came to Blood Heat with a little trepidation.

That trepidation also came from the fact that I’d heard plenty of negative things about this book. From glaring plot holes to it just being boring. But I’d also heard plenty of good things and so, as I do with everything, I went into it with no expectations and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Parallel universes weren’t something that was really handled in the classic era, apart from the Jon Pertwee epic, Inferno and so Blood Heat makes for a refreshing setting, this time, the sick-TARDIS bringing the Seventh Doctor, Bernice and Ace to an alternate universe where the Silurians wiped out much of the human race thanks to their plague and then conquered and subjugated the rest of the planet. One of the most powerful moments of the original television serial was when the Brigadier blew up the Silurians at the end, but this book poses the question of what happened if he hadn’t done that. Oh and the Third Doctor died at the hands of the Silurians, so he wasn’t around to aid their defeat.

Cover art for Blood Heat
Cover art for Blood Heat

The world that Mortimore gives us here is very reminiscent of movies like Jurassic Park, Planet of the Apes with shades of War of the Worlds and Day of the Triffids. Its a bleak world, one that is difficult to live in and as such, Mortimore gives us some interesting looks at previously familiar characters. Inferno gave us a fully-evil-Brigadier, complete with eye-patch, but the Brigadier here isn’t necessarily evil and has the same feeling he did in Pertwee’s first series, just with a much more military-orientated mind, desperate to save what remains of humanity from the Silurians. Where he does definitely differ from the Brigadier we know and love is in how he behaves behind the scenes. He doesn’t trust the Seventh Doctor, who is much more manipulative than the Third Doctor, he asks Liz to do terrible things to find ways to defeat their oppressors and he even lets a different version of Jo Grant die.

Liz Shaw, one of my favourite companions on television continues to be absolutely brilliant here, she’s just as optimistic as she was, though a little more world-weary following the death of her husband. For you P.R.O.B.E. lovers out there, Blood Heat came out about 5 years before that BBV spinoff and its undertones between Liz and Patricia. Blood Heat doesn’t waste any time in showing us how alone Liz is in this new world, with the rest of the world either trying to blow up the Silurians or admitting defeat, her optimism sets her apart from everyone around her. But she’s still a great inclusion to the story and now that I think about it, represents the Third Doctor from the television series, determined to try and broker peace between the two-species before one nukes the other out of existence.

And then there is Benton. But this is a Benton where gone is the cuddly warmth John Levine brought to the role on television. He’s tired and vicious and proves an interesting foil for Ace for much of the book. This is a Benton who does deserve his fate in the end, driven insane by his hatred of the ‘Reps’ as he calls them. And then there is poor Jo Grant who we meet right at the beginning of the book. This is Jo before she met the Third Doctor and she’s gone feral and is pregnant. She loses her baby and then her life. Its a tragic twist but helps reinforce to the Seventh Doctor what he’s lost and what he stands to lose if he doesn’t set things right in this universe.

Given how this is a Virgin New Adventures book, it is odd then how the guest characters fare a lot better than the established ones do. Bernice Summerfield is hardly in the book, turning up about half-way-through, having been captured by the Silurians and then forgotten about and her going missing seems to barely register with the Doctor and Ace. As such Bernice has to save herself. When Bernice does appear, she proves a great addition to the book, but leaving her out of the action for such a long time does make you wonder why Mortimore bothered to include her at all. And as for Ace, in her Virgin Books era, there is little you can do with her. She’s got her space-suit and bombs and she isn’t afraid to throw herself into a fight, but there is little to her character here anymore. She’s still haunted by the death of her friend Manisha, who she mentions in Ghost Light and across this range of books and she gets a nice moment here where she gets to meet her again and finally say goodbye. Otherwise, she’s just the same Ace as she’s ever been.

Putting aside the Silurians in this book, we do get the first hints that things aren’t right and that someone is manipulating the events currently happening in the Doctor’s life. I’m curious to find out who when I get to No Future, though I do have my suspicions! And like I stated above, this is the book where the sick-TARDIS arc is wrapped up with the Seventh Doctor’s TARDIS sinking into tar and then the Doctor, Ace and Bernice leaving this universe in the dead-Third Doctor’s TARDIS. It’s something a little confusing to get my head around but I know this new TARDIS will be with us for a while, so hopefully, I’ll finally understand all the things going on at some point! And the Doctor is contemplating giving up time-travel, though perhaps a universe as dark as this isn’t the best place to do that, and he, of course, can’t help but solve the situation and bring peace. It was also fun to hear from established Silurian characters like Morka from The Silurians and Icthar from Warriors from the Deep. And the Sea Devils put in a nice appearance towards the end, trying to stop a nuclear submarine.

Blood Heat is a bold and enjoyable book and Jim Mortimore makes sure to keep things interesting, throwing in enough twists and turns to keep you on the wrong foot, that sense of genuinely not knowing what’s going to happen lends the book some excitement. However there is something that holds this book back and I think that a lot of the world-building on offer feels more like a summary, rather than a genuine exploration. And there is a few strange narrative choices and the style its told to us in that made me feel like I’d missed something important and despite a number of beloved Third Doctor characters, there was no one I felt genuinely concerned about, despite the few shocking moments Mortimore litters the script with.

I know that there is an extended directors-cut out in the wild now and I’ll track it down at some point which does offer a different take of this story, once again written by Jim Mortimore. For now, though, Blood Heat satisfied me, even if there were one or two missteps along the way. It gives us a brilliant What-If kind of story and things in Doctor Who and the Silurians were certainly uncertain for a while. But this book is nothing more than a cool answer to the question of what if the Doctor hadn’t defeated them?

The Dimension Riders: Written by Daniel Blythe

For the first act of Daniel Blythe’s The Dimension Riders, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for an adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Shada. We’ve got an ancient time-lord myth, a spaceship from the far future, a setting at a university and some scary monsters.

Blythe himself has admitted to borrowing ideas from Shada and the book itself has lines where the Doctor references how he shouldn’t be surprised that other time-lords are hiding in Earth universities and then a line about the Skagra-business. And later mention of The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey. It wasn’t a surprise then to see other people refer to this book as something of a sequel to Shada, I don’t think I would go quite far, as the book is much different from Adams’ unmade-classic. For one, I wouldn’t say it stands up to Shada, The Dimension Riders isn’t a bad book, but it’s inconsequential and the villain is big and ostentatious but lacked any real threat for me.

Blythe’s prose isn’t too shabby and is quite witty at times, in a similar vein as Adams’ script. I quite like Blythe’s writing and I quite enjoyed his other book, The Man in the Velvet Mask in the Virgin Missing Adventures range. He also gives the supporting characters little splashes of back story and does make them feel people, making it all the sweeter when some of them bite the dust.

Cover art for The Dimension Riders
Cover art for The Dimension Riders

But all the witty dialogue and writing and surprisingly enjoyable supporting characters can’t help but prove how weak the villain is, who is being controlled by the big bad for these next few books, who does nothing but theatrically shout. One wonders if this was a deliberate choice, trying to make him feel like a baddie from Tom Baker’s series 17, but here, it just across as annoying. On the other hand, the baddies, I think are called Time Soldiers abilities to rapidly age someone to death or regress them back to being a baby is used well and sometimes to frightening effect. But one can’t help but feel that aliens chasing and killing people on a space-ship in the far future is all a little bit middle-of-the-road.

But there are also plenty of times when the witty dialogue and descriptions desert Blythe and can feel very jarring. We’ve got a character who to the surprise of herself and the Doctor gives us a monologue about her overly dark childhood, and Blythe seems to struggle with giving characters names. This was the biggest part of the book that kept making me checkout, the names like Vaik, Quallem and Romulus Terran were so bizarre that even after turning a page over, I was struggling to remember which one was which, and that might also go into the fact that many of them featured in the darkest parts of this book, which still managed to keep the idea that the Virgin books could be very adult, there is a fate of a pregnant crewman which I would rather forget too and probably shouldn’t have been included.

For me, the highlight of this book is all the stuff that takes place in Oxford. And that’s mainly down to how well Blythe includes Bernice Summerfield in the narrative. I don’t know why other writers seemed to struggle with her character when her dry sense of humour should easily bounce of the page. She is a great character and really amazing in her Big Finish audios, so I don’t know why other writers struggled so much with her. Blythe gets her just right though and she helps push the narrative towards its conclusion like a companion should do.

Ace, on the other hand, proves a little more of a problem, stuck on a space-ship in the future, she kind-of fancies one of the crewmen and there doesn’t seem to be a book that’s gone by since she came back in Deceit where the writers aren’t trying to get her and someone else together. The Doctor does fair a little better but not much and his metaphysical journey through trust issues with Ace are just getting annoying now. And those trust issues certainly explain why the Doctor is just plain miserable through these books. I expect this new attitude Ace has is finally beginning to get on his nerves.

The Dimension Riders will probably be a really fun read for people who aren’t trying to read the whole series in one go. But for me, it was clever and quite witty but not really much all happens thanks to the arch-villain turning up and rendering the previous 200-odd pages completely inconsequential. Shame really, because there was a lot here to enjoy.

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