Doctor Who Book Review: The Quantum Archangel

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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 LifeThe 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.

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Doctor Who Book Review: Time of Your Life

I’m trying to change my future… It’s a physical impossibility and in absolute contravention to the First, Second and Every Law of Time.

One of the most interesting concepts that Doctor Who has thrown out across 50 years is, I think, the Valeyard. A dark mirror of the Doctor, with all his capacity for cruelty and violence, all of his intelligence and his abilities, but without his moral code or his values. It’s pretty compelling stuff.

Admittedly though, the show did drop the ball a little bit with the Valeyard, in part due to some unfortunate behind the scenes consequences, and also because of Colin Baker being wrongly removed from the role. What that means, essentially, is that a lot of the potential of the Valeyard wasn’t really examined. (Personally, I’m hoping that he’ll return to the show again with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. It’s not all that unlikely, I don’t think; the Dream Lord from a few years ago was the Valeyard in all but name, after all.)

Because, however, a lot of the potential of the Valeyard wasn’t used in the show, he turns up a lot in the Expanded Universe… which brings me, finally, to the subject of this review.

Steve Lyons’ Missing Adventure novel, Time of Your Life, is set immediately after Trial of a Time Lord finishes. The Sixth Doctor has dropped off Mel, and has had his mind wiped. He doesn’t remember most of his trial, only bits and pieces – but he’s desperate to change the future. The spectre of the Valeyard is hanging over him; he’s exiled himself to the planet Torrok, living as a hermit, and refuses to take on companions, avoiding any red headed computer programmers he comes across.

But then, of course, the Time Lords have a mission for him. And a young girl, Angela, wants to travel with him…

The most interesting thing about this novel is reading about the Doctor struggling with his future. It’s always really compelling stuff, seeing him weigh up the consequences of his actions, wondering if the means (saving these lives in a violent fashion) justify the potential ends (becoming the Valeyard and doing untold damage), and his guilt over what happened to Peri (because of the mind wipe, he doesn’t know) as well as his fears about what may have happened to Angela when they’re separated. It’s one of the best portrayals of the Sixth Doctor I’ve read in a long time; not necessarily because this characterises him as he is typically, rather that it shows exactly how he would behave in one of the most trying periods of his life. One of my favourite scenes comes at the novel’s denouement, and it’s related to how the Doctor defeats the villain… I won’t say how, other than that it’s very, very fitting.

The rest of the novel has quite a few shades of Bad Wolf to it actually. Torrok is a planet which has gone to waste because it’s populace are addicted to bad soap operas – that’s where the Doctor lives as a hermit. The Time Lords then want him to investigate the broadcasting planet (it’s the usual thing; technology they shouldn’t have) and so along he goes (not without some complaining though).

The broadcasting planet, the Network, is a hell of a lot of fun. All the different characters are really well written, and you get a real sense of them and their existence. There’s Zed Martinelli, talk show host; Ray Day, soap opera star; Miriam Walker, campaigner against corruptive Television shows, and the fans of TimeRiders, a science fiction show unfairly cancelled, which suggests the Network bears a grudge against it. (Interestingly, there is no disclaimer suggesting that any similarities between the characters and real life people are entirely accidental. Odd that)

All in all, this is an absolutely excellent book. More than that, I’d say it’s an essential book; it’s a key part of the Doctor’s life, and it explores the consequences of his trial extremely well.

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Doctor Who Book Review: Blue Box

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They had an unusual relationship, these two travellers. The Doctor was twice Peri’s age at least, but he didn’t act like a father or an uncle – more like a big brother with a bad case of sibling rivalry. 

Recently I bought quite a few of the old Classic Who books, that were published when the show was off the air. I bought quite a few with the Sixth Doctor, and one of those books was Blue Box, by Kate Orman.

I was looking forward to reading this quite a lot – one of the few EDAs I’ve read, Vampire Science, was co-written by Kate Orman, and it’s an exceptionally good book. The same applies here; Blue Box is an absolutely fantastic read.

The plot is pretty clever, and not the sort of thing I’d ever really seen on Doctor Who before. It’s a novel about computer hackers, basically, and the Doctor has to join in with that world. There’s a lot of moving about from place to place (on a road trip!) as the Doctor, Peri, and two new characters track down Sarah Swan, another hacker, who has gotten hold of an alien computer device. It’s very well suited to a novel, and not the sort of thing you’d find in a TV episode.

For the most part, Blue Box is written in the first person, from the perspective of journalist Chuck Peters, who’s trying to write an article on the world of hackers. Because it’s all from his perspective, you see the way he rationalises it, swinging between assuming the Doctor was a Russian agent trying to find an American superweapon, or a British agent with his own agendas. Admittedly, this style of prose doesn’t always work – there’s quite a few instances where the character narrates things he wasn’t present to or couldn’t have known – but on the whole it was a nice change to the norm.

The key thing about Blue Box is characterisation though. Every character us absolutely pitch perfect. The new characters, Bob (a hacker friend of the Doctor’s, enlisted on the road trip for tech support) and Chuck both shine; they’re very distinctive, realistic characters. (There’s an interesting twist about Chuck and his background, which I wasn’t quite sure what to think of, but I’ll hold off in case of spoilers.) Sarah Swan is a perfect villain for this story – she’s petty, greedy and vindictive, and I guarantee you will hate her by the end of it. Other background characters like Mondy and Luis Perez also fit the story and add really well to the tone of the novel, creating a detailed view of the hacker world.

What’s really fantastic though is the Doctor and Peri. Because this story is set in America, near Peri’s home, what Kate Orman does is examine Peri’s homesickness, and why exactly she still travels with the Doctor, now he’s quite so abrasive. Their bickering is really well described, but it’s also made very apparent that the pair do care about each other a lot. It’s quite touching at times, and it’s absolutely how I think of them – sometimes the bickering is quite terse, but behind it is genuine affection. All in all, this is an excellent book. I loved the focus on technology, on computers when they were brand new. It’s particularly nice to read that now, when computers are such a big part of our lives. I’ll give it an 8/10.

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Doctor Who: The Sixth Doctor on Akhaten

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What if The Rings of Akhaten was written for Colin Baker’s Doctor?

I imagine it’d look a bit like this…

(It’s not a brilliant video, I’m aware of that. But it’s the best I could manage…. I wanted to try and put Peri in, but I figured that’d be really difficult. So for this video, let’s say Six is travelling with a Clara echo)