Hear me, Lord of Time. We are a vengeful people. Our reach is infinite and our patience eternal. For your actions, we will have vengeance. And the vengeance of the Chronovores is terror beyond imagining.
One of the most interesting concepts the show has thrown out across 50 years is, I think, the Valeyard. A dark mirror – wait, I’ve used this opening already, haven’t I?
Like Time of Your Life, The Quantum Archangel uses the concept of the Valeyard to explore the Doctor’s character, and in particular his relationship with Mel. The book opens with the pair reeling from the destruction caused by a nuclear war on the planet Maradnias – a war which was, ultimately, the Doctor’s fault. In what proves to be a wonderfully written opening, Mel decides to leave the Doctor, and return home. You get a real window into their thought processes, and you can understand every choice they make.
… except the novel doesn’t quite open with that. Beforehand, there’s a prologue with the Eternals, the Guardians, and the Chronovores, which sets up a lot of details that will become important later on in the book – the Six Fold God, Calab-Yau space, and so on and so forth. These bits really come into play in the latter half of the story. It’s brilliantly realised, and full of very intricate detail that definitely adds to the proceedings.
So with that setting the scene – immensely powerful beings from before the dawn of time, the Doctor feeling the guilt of his actions and mistakes, Mel trying to start a new life outside of the TARDIS – the plot begins. And it’s one hell of a plot.
Essentially (and I’m simplifying a fair bit) the Master is fleeing the Chronovores, and decides that in order to survive, he must become a God – the Quantum Archangel. And, naturally, this is all goes very, very wrong…
Beyond that, I won’t go into much more detail about the plot for fear of spoilers, but I might talk about it in more depth another time. It’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t want to ruin; there’s some really wonderful, reality-bending stuff, which is best experienced with no foreknowledge I think. (I will say this though – the section with Mel includes the most frightening scene I’ve ever read in a Doctor Who novel)
The characters are all handled really well; I loved reading about this chapter in the development of the Doctor and Mel’s relationship. Equally, the Doctor and the Master’s relationship is painted quite well, typifying the way they interact somewhere between enemies and old friends.
It’s not perfect, sure – it’s built around a pretty massive coincidence – but a lot of the flaws that people tend to pick with it are a bit exaggerated. There’s a lot of continuity references, but they don’t feel all that obtrusive to me. It’s also a sequel to The Time Monster, which isn’t the most popular of serials, but it’s still pretty accessible if you haven’t seen it (like myself!).
Overall, it’s a great book, and it’s really worth a read. Especially for fans of the Sixth Doctor, I think, but that’s everyone, surely. The Quantum Archangel tells a truly epic story, but tells it in a uniquely Doctor Who way – it’s close, intimate, and full of a hope.