Dee: So yeah. I think you liked this one more than I did.
John: Only in the sense that there’s not really enough there to dislike. The prose is functional, the characters are stock, the plot is almost stolen word-for-word from an old Troughton story, and it just sort of trails off with one of the secondary characters wandering away with the MacGuffin and refusing to give it back. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was only 200 pages even with thick margins and wide line spacing, I’d probably be a lot harder on it.
Dee: I really don’t even have room to go off on my usual “they get Ace wrong!” thing, except for the “codswallop” point, which you brought up. Dear goodness, that speaks for itself. I find myself really wishing the author had thought outside the box, just a teeny bit.
John: Well, it is worth looking at his background. Remember, this was the range editor for the old Target novelizations, writing one of the very first novels. His book had been commissioned as part of the initial batch, back before anyone really knew what the series was going to be like. The previous original Doctor Who prose fiction had been things like “Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma”, or the Doctor Who Annuals. He turned in a glorified Target book because nobody knew, at this point, that the series could be anything more.
Dee: I... no, I’m sorry, John, I don’t buy it. At least, not in full. I think that if he thought enough outside to get a flashback to the second Doctor, he could have done more. In fact, I think you just proved my point: He was thinking inside the Target box and didn’t go bigger.
John: Oh, it’s not a defense. After all, Terrance Dicks was given pretty much the same brief and hit it out of the park. I’m just saying that I can understand why this particular writer turned in this particular book. He was setting a much lower bar for himself than future writers would set. This book isn’t really any worse than, say, ‘Escape Velocity’, or ‘Eater of Wasps’ (to pick a couple of books you’ve read that might not be memorable enough for you to remember) and they have a lot less of an excuse.
Dee: Mmm. I think “Escape Velocity” had Dave going for it, and “Eater of Wasps” had a creepy factor that made it better, but OK. The plot is about the same level, yes. I just think it’s such a waste. Imagine, spending another 10,000 words on characterization!
John: Except that...well, I think we might be better revisiting that when we read this author’s next book, ‘Birthright’. It’s not really much longer, but he does a lot more with his page count. He’s an economical writer, and that’s something I actually approve of as a rule. It’s just that here, he’s gone downright skeletal. And speaking of “skeletal”, we get the Timewyrm as a lecherous old lady here. But as you said, there’s still nothing that makes her the kind of threat that the Fourth Doctor would warn his future selves about.
Dee: Oh, I admit there’s a lot to be said for concise writing. You can get too concise, though. I never grasped why the Timewyrm took over the mind she did in this book, long before said old woman was old. We saw the results, but not the why, really. And we were back to the Doctor messing up names and locations again, like in the first book.
John: And some gratuitous fanwank thrown in, too. “Jamie and Zoe totally threw off the Time Lords’ memory erasure and recalled all their adventures! There! I put it in an Official Doctor Who novel, so it totally happened and you can’t take it back!” As to why the Timewyrm took over the little girl and the Doctor felt guilty, it was because she was actually possessing him at the time. Which is, of course, a much more interesting idea for a book, but...um, look! Over there! Something interesting!
Dee: See, it melted away and I forgot. Oh noes, I have been attacked by telepaths who do that all the time because that’s how they accomplish their nefaaaaarrrious plots! What were we talking about?
John: We were talking about the lesbian undertones to the Timewyrm/Matriarch’s plans for Ace, which is a staple of gothic stories that, in turn, form the memetic underpinnings of Doctor Who and a host of other horror and adventure stories. Or maybe I’m reading too much into that?
Dee: This isn’t TARDIS Eruditorium, love. Talk about books that would have been more interesting...
John: Well, I suppose it would have been a bit more interesting if they’d developed Revna’s subplot; the fact that she was undermining the authority of the ostensible and obvious villain character, all the while planning to take power for herself, was kind of interesting. I also think it would have given some depth if we’d seen Ace and the Doctor have visible reactions to the fact that Ace’s “Hey everybody, let’s start a rebellion!” enthusiasm led directly to the Panjistri mass-slaughtering the rebels...
Dee: Or anyone have visible reactions other than “Well, we have each other!” So many wasted opportunities.
John: Wasted, I think, because up until now nobody knows what this series is capable of being. The bar has been set pretty low. But that’s about to change...