Continuing my exploration of The Virgin New Adventures world and all that that entails, we’ve come to the end of the Timewyrm series with Apocalypse and Revelations which is where the books got really adult. Gone where the days when a family could sit down and watch a safe television series and these were days when child murders and bad language littered these pages. They were about as far from the much-loved Target novelizations as you could get!
For some fans of the series, Apocalypse seems to be held as one of the worst books in the range. For me though, I thought it was a pretty decent story, even if it took a little while to get going as the first few chapters really jump around a lot.
The Virgin New Adventures also introduced us to the idea that the Doctor was in fact, Time’s Champion, an element to the books which became much more prevalent in the latter end of the series. But here we get a number of elements like that which don’t really get explained. The main one being a character referring to the Doctor as “Much more than just a Time–Lord.” We never really know what she means by that and it might be possible that Virgin was putting these pieces in place as far back as the third novel. But I suspect, like many of the other pieces of this book, it was just a throwaway line, with nothing to do with the later releases and as much of this book, something that never really comes to anything.
We also get a rather bizarre reference to Logopolis at the beginning of the book. With the final CVE having finally closed, it places the time period of the book somewhere towards the end of the universe. But no reference is made to it ever again. It seems like far too an obscure reference to then go absolutely nowhere with and the idea and threat of the universe would have given the book some needed tension and might have even added an extra and needed element to the otherwise bland story.
What also poses a rather big problem is that this is the second book in a row where the Timewyrm is secondary to the main plot. It’s troubling because this is set of four books that are supposed to be connected by the creature. Introduced as Ishtar in Genesys, she at least played something of a role in the previous book Exodus. Here though, she gets a couple of lines and that’s really it. In fact, the evil plans of the Panjistri have only been taken over by her, not created by her. While it didn’t bother too much as the book went on, it does begin to pose something of a problem when you think that this is supposed to be a quadrology.
Where author, Nigel Robinson does a really good job is in the characters. The Doctor is back to the master manipulator he was in his final season but here at least he actually cares about Ace. The previous two books made him feel a little too cold and heartless. Robinson gets the balance just right. And this time it isn’t Ace he manipulates but Raphael, a character who befriends Ace into his final act of self-sacrifice. That act seems to be putting Ace and the Doctor at opposition with each other, something which I know comes into play in a few books time. But here it feels like the perfect lead into the test of friendship that provides the backbone of the next book, Revelation.
Ace also feels like Ace and that isn’t a bad thing. She is running around, leading uprisings and blowing things up. While the books went to great strengths to give her some great character development, one of my favourite being continual after-effects or the Cheetah Planet, it feels like a nice story to go back to classic Ace and it isn’t hard to imagine Sophie Aldred in the role here.
Robinson’s secondary characters also feel a lot more than just stock-Doctor Who cannon-fodder with each one having a character arc, not something that’s easy in a relatively short book. We’ve got Revna who, as well as being Raphael’s childhood friend and perhaps more, gets jealous of his friendship with Ace and this leads her down her eventual path of revenge and villainy. The Doctor befriends Miril, a teacher who comes across as so much more. He is someone who has plenty of regrets but is someone who is willing to do something about them. While making up for those mistakes and regrets leads to the end of his life, it’s nice that he doesn’t consider it to have been a mistake to try.
Huldah is too concerned with making himself wealthy and it leads to his downfall while the leader of the Unlike, Arun, is torn between her desire for change and revenge. Reptu, considered a great leader, is nothing of the sort when he meets his real boss but it is Raphael who gets much of the action and our sympathies. He falls for Ace and his feelings aren’t completely unreturned but this is what leads to his downfall.
As a television serial, Apocalypse would have made a decent filler episode in a wider arc. As a book, it doesn’t quite manage that. While its entertaining thanks to its great character work, which Robinson bases much of the actual story around, the linking thread of the Timewyrm isn’t really picked up so much as it is knocked to one side. Had it just been a book on its own, maybe it would have stood more a chance? But its definitely worth picking up and reading, even if it is only once, you might find yourself actually enjoying it and wondering what its reputation is all about…
The quadrology of Timewyrm books comes to a conclusion with Revelation by Paul Cornell in his first contribution to the Doctor Who mythology. This is also where many fans and readers decided that the range went from suitable for teenager fans of the show to a more adult readership. It’s also a rather strange entry, which will leave you much like I was, unsure as to whether you’re enjoying it but not wanting to putting it down. Oh and it sends the characters to Hell…
It won’t take you long reading this book to work out how complicated and convoluted the thing is. There are so many twists and turns, sometimes right after one another that might actually work to the book’s detriment now that I think about it. Perhaps the problem is that they come in such short succession they don’t give each one room to breathe.
What is interesting is that much of it takes place in a mind-scape of the Doctor’s design and each different sector is inhabited by a different incarnation of the Doctor. We even get to look into a different room of the scape where Ace sees a number of hidden forms that represent future incarnations and a near-miss with a forced regeneration when she wakes up the Eighth Doctor. And I think some of them were female. Even in the 1990s, they were playing with the seeds of the idea of a female Doctor.
One of the books other strengths is how it addresses the Doctor manipulative tendencies, not just those of the Seventh Doctor but other incarnations too with companions like Katarina, Sara Kingdom, Adric and Peri, seemingly working against the Doctor they once called a friend. It is an interesting way to look at the Doctor and the book almost makes him the villain, though this is the plan of the Timewyrm all along.
Ace gets some nice development being forced that she both loves and hates the Doctor. Getting herself into the trouble, the Doctor has to deal with this revelation but goes back to save her anyway because of her faith in him and that leads to the downfall of the Timewyrm. We also learn a little more about her past, in particular, her primary school days when she was nearly killed by a bully called Chad Boyle, a demon from her past her older self has to face here. But Lieutenant Hemming’s, a particularly nasty character from Exodus is along for the ride with the Timewyrm and he wants revenge on Ace for what she did to him in that story.
It might seem like I have no problems with this story but there was an air about it which I didn’t like particularly. I know that sounds vague but maybe it was just the complexity of the whole piece which required your full concentration that I didn’t like. I certainly couldn’t read huge chunks of it, as I do with other books, because it made me tired as my brain tried to understand what was going on!
Cornell makes sure to give the Timewyrm a great send-off, in a way that only the Doctor could manage and for a such a seemingly dark story, it is one of the rare examples of everyone living. Each character, apart from the Timewyrm, gets to live at the end which is sweet as Cornell makes sure he goes to great pains to make you care about them. And there is the rather interesting imagery of a church stuck on the moon!
As the cover might suggest, this really is a book where the Doctor dances with death. Ace’s faith has been restored in the Doctor but it makes his ultimate betrayal of that trust all the more bitter in Love and War, another Paul Cornell contribution…
NEXT TIME: CATS CRADLE: TIME’S CRUCIBLE & WARHEAD: REALITY DISTORTION, DARK FUTURES, MARC PLATT AND ANDREW CARTMEL…