Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Timewyrm: Revelation

If the novelization of 'Remembrance' was where modern Who started, this is the novel that provided it with a lifeline to cling to until it could return to television. Not that the books were in danger of cancellation before 'Timewyrm: Revelation'...you could see the series that the first three books exemplified hanging around for a couple of years in a sort of desultory fashion, steered by "safe hands" like Dicks and Robinson and Peel and primarily appealing to an ever-smaller audience of nostalgic twenty-somethings. Eventually, the flow of books would have dried up into a trickle, and Doctor Who would have joined the ranks of dormant British cult series like 'The Prisoner' and 'The Avengers', perenially relaunched but never quite catching on with the same fervor as before. Doctor Who would probably have survived without Paul Cornell...but it wouldn't have lived.

Don't get me wrong, this is not Cornell's best novel; that's still to come. (Hint: It's the one time the TV series, which is supposedly the primary source of the canon, broke down and wholesale adapted a story originally written in another medium.) But it's filled with a passion, an energy for revolution, that positively grabs the reader by the arm and demands they engage with the work. Compared to the three novels before it, it's positively astonishing; it's like going to a concert with Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones as the headliners, and finding out that the closing act is the Sex Pistols.

We get a radical, revisionist take on the Doctor's past, a view of him as a Lonely God tormented by the fall of every sparrow. We get an Ace that for the very first time feels like she could be from the TV series, and for the first time a Timewyrm who seems interesting. We get beautiful, fascinating characters like Saul the sentient church and the terrifyingly accurate Chad Boyle. We get past Doctors portrayed not as party-piece pastiches of their old performances but as Jungian archetypes in the unconscious mind of a god. We get the first hints of the Other and the Cartmel Master Plan, we get Gallifreyan flashbacks that are as endearing as they are unnecessary... We get a novel, for the first time in the series, that really does seem breathtakingly ambitious, far too broad and too deep for the small screen. Paul Cornell, already frighteningly talented even with almost no professional credits to his name at this point, swings for the fences and hits it out of the park on his first try.

And Peter Darvill-Evans, after three mediocre books produced by "safe hands", decides to trust a writer straight out of the fanzines with the final book in the first arc, and sees his choice rewarded beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Small wonder we're about to see more first-time authors than any other tie-in series. The New Adventures might have started three books ago...but this is where they really begin.

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