Doctor Who: The Janus Conjunction [Book Review]

Doctor Who: The Janus Conjunction
By Trevor Baxendale / BBC Books / October 1998

“The planets Janus Prime and Meridia are diametrically opposed in orbit round a vast Red Giant star. But while Menda is rich and fertile in the light of the sun, Janus Prime endures everlasting night, its moon causing a permanent solar eclipse.

When the Doctor and Sam arrive on Janus Prime, they find themselves in the middle of a war between rival humans colonizing the area. The planet is littered with ancient ruins, and the Mendans are using a mysterious hyper-spatial link left behind by the planet’s former inhabitants. But what is its true purpose?

The Doctor and Sam must piece together a centures-old puzzle. How can Janus Prime’s moon weigh billions of tons more than it should? Why is the planet riddled with deadly radiation? As the violence escalates around them, will the time travelers survive to discover the answers?”

I really liked The Janus Conjunction because it doesn’t strive to be anything more than a straightforward Doctor Who adventure and succeeds.

The Doctor and Sam arrive on a planet, get separated, thrown in prison, get caught between two factions and have a puzzle to solve in the process. Nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s well executed. The guest characters don’t take over the story, but are well developed enough that their motivations are understandable, even the villains.

While the recent outing Seeing I had a lot to do about looking at the Doctor and Sam’s relationship in depth, here they are just Doctor and companion working together with really well-written dialogue. The Doctor is the Doctor I’ve always known in any regeneration: the hero that takes charge of the situation.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about The Janus Conjunction, but it’s very functional, entertaining and moves along briskly.


Doctor Who: Seeing I [Book Review]

Doctor Who: Seeing I
By Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman / BBC Books / June 1998

Sam is homeless on the streets of the colony world of Ha’olam, trying to face what’s just happened between her in the Doctor. He’s searching for her, and for answers. While she struggles to survive in a strange city centuries from home, the Doctor comes across evidence of alien involvment in the local mega corporation, INC – and is soon confined to a prison that becomes a hell of his own making.

Where did INC’s mysterious eye implants really come from? What is the company searching for in the deserts? What is hiding in the shadows, watching their progress?

Faced with these mysteries, separated by half a world, Sam and the Doctor each face a battle – Sam to rebuild her life, the Doctor to stay sane. And if they do find each other again, what will be left of either of them?”

I was expecting a lot from Kate Orman, who wrote some of my favorite New Adventures, but Seeing I doesn’t quite deliver in the end. However, it’s still well above average.

At the beginning of the book, Sam and the Doctor are already separated, so there is a lot of Sam development going on. In fact, she ages years, not days or months, in this story. Meanwhile, the Doctor is stuck in a prison that even he can’t escape.

For the first two thirds of the book, Seeing I is a departure from most Who novels as it explores the plight of the Doctor and his companion on a psychological level. However, the last third of the book turns into a straightforward Who adventure. That’s not to say it isn’t well done, but it doesn’t quite deliver the ending as promised with the earlier character trials.

All in all a definite must read.

Doctor Who: Dreamstone Moon [Book Review]

By Paul Leonard / BBC Books / May 1998

“Sam is on her own, but here distance from the Doctor doesn’t make for a trouble-free life. Rescued from an out of control spaceship, she finds herself on a tiny moon which is the only know source of dreamstone, a mysterious crystalline substance that can preserve or dreams – or give you nightmares.

 Pitched into the middle of a conflict between the mining company extracting dreamstone and ecological protesters, Sam thinks it’s easy to decide who the good guys are – until people start dying, and the killers seem to be the same species as some of her new friends.

 Meanwhile, the Doctor has tracked Sam down, but before he can reach her he’s co-opted by the Dreamstone Mining Company and their sinister military advisors. Suddenly, it’s war – and the Doctor is forced to fight against what he believes in. He alone suspects that Dreamstone isn’t what it appears to be. But nobody’s listening – and nobody could dream who the real enemy is…”

After my first BBC Books Doctor Who outing, The Eigtht Doctors, I really needed to read a *good* Doctor Who book. Dreamstone Moon by Paul Leonard didn’t quite deliver, but it wasn’t bad either.

First off this is a Sam book – the Doctor and his companion were separated several books ago, I assume. It isn’t entirely a bad thing because at this point I wanted to get to know the Sam character. But I also read Doctor Who novels to read about the Doctor, and role in the book is very wanting. When he does have scenes in the story, he doesn’t seem on the ball about anything.

The story itself is really predictable although quasi-interesting. It didn’t really grip. Nothing about it really did. The one observation I can make is that Paul Leonard is skilled at creating truly alien characters.

In the end, I don’t know if like Dreamstone Moon or not, so it’s probably worth deciding for yourself.

Star Trek New Frontier: Fire On High [Book Review]

Star Trek New Frontier: Fire On High
Peter David/Pocket Books/April 1998

Fire On High isn’t Peter David’s best work, but it still proves how his Star Trek: New Frontier setting is so much more entertaining then Voyager ever was.

This is the second full-length novel since the debut of the initial four novellas, and while the story stands on its own, there are subplots that have been going since previous books. Fire On High revolves around the reappearance of Lt. Robin Lefler’s supposedly dead mother and a deadly ancient weapon. It actually takes a while for those events to get under way, but in the meantime, Doctor Selar deals with the consequences of her recent Pon Farr, and there are various other character bits percolating.

Overall, the story isn’t exceptional, but the crew of the starship Excalibur is just as lively and interesting as any crew that’s graced either the big or small screen. And they’re definitely more fun than Voyager.

Doctor Who: Lungbarrow [Book Review]

Doctor Who: Lungbarrow
By Marc Platt / Virgin / March 1997

This is it folks. The last New Adventure to feature the Seventh Doctor.

Lungbarrow attempts to answer the main questions raised by the Sylvester McCoy incarnation of the Time Lord, which it does well for the most part.

A warning, however: this is a book you have to read carefully to understand the ending. I don’t think this is Marc Platt’s fault. In this case, I think it’s my own. A second run through cleared up most of the questions I had.

Some high points, besides explaining much about the Doctor’s origin, are the reappearance of past companions, including Ace, Leela and K9. The book also introduces the Doctor’s ‘family’, who play a key part in the story.

There were some disappointments, however. There’s a nice goodbye between Ace and the Doctor, but Chris Cwej sort of just disappears at the end. Bernice doesn’t even appear in the novel, so there’s no real closure between her and the Seventh Doctor, although she does play a major role in Lance Parkin’s The Dying Days, which introduces the Eight Doctor.

If there is one thing Lungbarrow illustrates, it is how the character of the Doctor has evolved since the The New Adventures debuted in 1991. Oh, the last page is a hoot too!

Originally published in The Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Resource Guide.

Doctor Who: The Dying Days [Book Review]

Doctor Who: The Dying Days
By Lance Parkin / Virgin / April 1997

The Dying Days is an apt title for the last New Adventure featuring the Doctor, in any incarnation. It’s a story of endings and beginnings, and unlike many of the NAs featuring the Seventh Doctor, this novel featuring the Eighth Doctor is a straightforward adventure story, reminiscent of the television series.

Bernice Summerfield is waiting for the Doctor to arrive at his house. He’s late, which Bernice thinks is rather unacceptable, since he is a Time Lord. When he does finally show up, he has changed a little.

So begins the story that will launch the continuing adventures of Bernice Summerfield, while the Doctor continues on in the new BBC line of books. Before the story ends, you will reacquaint yourselves with old friends such as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the Ice Warriors.

Lance Parkin does a fine job with this novel, sticking to tried and true storytelling techniques, while incorporating elements from the FOX TV movie to maintain continuity.

The ending is rather interesting as well.

Originally published in the Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Resource Guide.

Doctor Who: So Vile A Sin [Book Review]

Doctor Who: So Vile A Sin
By Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman / Virgin Books / May 1997

‘If you step into history,’ said the Doctor, ‘I won’t be able to protect you.’
‘This isn’t history,’ said Roz. ‘This is family.’

The Earth Empire – the Imperium Humanum, upon which a thousand suns never set – is dying.

The Great Houses of the Empire manoeuvre and scheme for advantage; alliances are made; and knives flash in the shadows. Out among the moons of Jupiter, another battle is just beginning, as an ancient brotherhood seeks limitless power and long-overdue revenge

The Doctor returns to the thirtieth century, searching for the source of a terrifying weapon. He fears a nightmare from his own past may be about to destroy the future. Nothing must be allowed to get in his way.

But the Doctor has reckoned without the power of history – which has its own plans for the wayward daughter of the House of Forrester.

The fact that this book was rushed to publication so fast was probably the most vile sin of all. Delayed due to Ben Aaronovitch’s hard drive crash, Kate Orman stepped in to finish this much anticipated New Adventure, which heralds the death of a companion.

The book has a promising start, but deteriorates into a muddled mess of a narrative. It’s not like I hated the book; I was just very disappointed.

There is so much happening in the novel, and it is very difficult to follow. There were even times where I couldn’t figure out why certain parts of the story were there in the first place. So Vile A Sin is definitely full of great ideas and great moments, but put together, it seems that it deserved a little more polishing before going to print.

Although So Vile A Sin was a disappointment and a difficult read, it is probably a must for those who have followed the New Adventures loyally. And while I may have panned this particular effort by the authors, I must say that Aaronovitch’s The Also People was brilliant, and I have enjoyed every New Adventure I have read by Orman: The Left-Handed Hummingbird, Set Piece and Sleepy.

Doctor Who: Eternity Weeps [Book Review]

Doctor Who: Eternity Weeps
By Jim Mortimore / Virgin /January 1997

If there’s one thing I’ve come to expect from Jim Mortimore, it’s a high body count. This book is violent. But overall, it’s a pretty good NA, save for a few complaints.

The first complaint is the almost complete absence of the Doctor throughout the novel. When I pick up a NA (at least until BBC Books took over), I expect to read about the Doctor. Not only are his appearances few and far between, I wouldn’t call them ‘quality moments’.

What particularly bothered me was the death of a character, which should have provoked some reaction from the Doctor and didn’t. The book also moved a little too quickly, and is hard to follow in some parts.

But although the Doctor was difficult to find in Eternity Weeps, Bernice is used well. In fact, the first-person narrative alternates between her and husband Jason Kane, something Mortimore handles rather well. There were some aspects of their relationship which I found a little implausible. Their arguments and foul moods seem somewhat contrived throughout the story.

In the end, however, I would say Eternity Weeps is definitely worth reading, especially if you’re a Benny fan.

Doctor Who: Return of the Living Dad [Book Review]

Doctor Who: Return of the Living Dad
By Kate Orman / Virgin / August 1996

‘It’s me, daddy. It’s Bernice.’

Bernice Summerfield was seven years old when her father disappeared. They said he turned and ran from the Daleks in battle. They said he was a coward.

They were wrong.

For years Benny has searched for her father. Now a clue snatches her from her honeymoon, back to the TARDIS, and on to England in the year 1983. There she at last discovers Admiral Isaac Summerfield, leading a motley crew of aliens, psychics and fanboys. Their mission: to save extra-terrestrials stranded on Earth.

But what is Benny’s father doing five hundred years in his own past? And why has he been waiting for the Doctor to arrive? Can Benny really trust the man she’s been looking for all her life?

Although I had to pan Kate Orman’s efforts on So Vile A Sin, I think Return of the Living Dad has to be one of the best New Adventures I have read since the series began.

Orman has proven to have the ability to weave humor, adventure and good storytelling together to create a great NA, and Return of the Living Dad is no exception.

At last, Bernice has the opportunity to find her father, and the result is a novel strong on both characterization and plot. There are also plenty of surprises in store for everyone, including Chris and Roz.

As usual, Orman writes the Doctor as a three-dimensional character, and uses the entire NA cast to their fullest, including Jason Kane. This book is also a good indicator of what’s possible with the character of Benny as she sets out as the main star of the NAs beginning with Oh No It Isn’t! by Paul Cornell.

The verdict: Read it!

Doctor Who: Sleepy [Book Review]

Doctor Who: Sleepy
By Kate Orman / Virgin /March 1996

‘Stay the hell out of my mind,’ hissed Forrester. ‘Just stay away from me.’ She turned and stalked out of the room. Chris put his head in his hands.

The Earth colony on Yemaya 4 is a very ordinary place. The colonists spend their time farming, building homes, raising families.

But when the Doctor and his companions arrive they find a virus sweeping through the population, unleashing the colonists’ latent psychic powers. The Doctor and Chris fall prey to the infection, and discover telepathy is not the only symptom. Chris is unable to resist the call of an ancient place of sacrifice, while Roz and Benny travel back in time to the origin of the virus, and uncover a desperate bid for immortality.

And all the while the Doctor is playing a dangerous game with troopers of the Dione-Kisumu company, who have come either to reclaim the stolen biotechnology — or to sterilize the planet.

Kate Orman is still the only New Adventures author who is not male and not British. Whether or not it makes her a great writer, I can’t say, but Sleepy was an enjoyable read, perhaps because it had a simpler plot than her previous Who novels, The Left-Handed Hummingbird and Set Piece (which I heartily recommend).

The Doctor and his companions arrive on an Earth colony where the colonists are coping with the emergence of latent psychic abilities. For once, the Doctor knows little in advance about what’s going on, but is committed to helping the colonists. He and Chris fall prey to the virus unleashing the colonists’ psychic abilities, while Benny and Roz go back in time to find answers.

The situation is further complicated by the arrival of armed forces sent by the company that sponsored the colonization, and may have in fact planned the disaster as an experiment.

So far, this doesn’t seem like the most original plot line, but Orman throws in enough twists to make it a worthwhile read while also writing the Doctor and his companions the way they should be written.

Benny has got to be the greatest companion to date, despite the fact she’s never appeared on-screen. Roz and Chris don’t have major roles in the story, but at the same time it doesn’t seem as if they were plugged into the novel as an afterthought. Some fans have complained the Doctor has become a very dark, manipulative character in The New Adventures, but Orman keeps him balanced, throwing in humor reminiscent of the television series, but giving him depth by keeping him the most reflective, pensive Doctor to date.

All in all, Sleepy is one of the best New Adventures for 1996, and Orman fans won’t be disappointed.