Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Timewyrm: Apocalypse

'Timewyrm: Apocalypse' is not a bad book. That's half its problem; it's not worth even calling "bad". It's simply there, barely managing to fill up 200 pages by fluffing out the margins, cranking up the font size to the point where you might accidentally imagine that you've picked up the Large Print edition, and going through a Doctor-Who-by-the-numbers plot that makes a mockery of the back cover's claim that it's "too broad and too deep for the small screen."

In point of fact, this is a story that could have fit anywhere into the JNT era of Doctor Who without even a modification. We have the perfect society with a dark secret at its heart ("Full Circle") and mutant outcasts that have been exiled for not fitting in (a muddle of stories from "Genesis of the Daleks" up through "Trial of a Time Lord"), with villains who seem benevolent but are actually conducting sinister experiments on people to gain ultimate power. ("Timelash", to name one of dozens of examples.) They're even secretly feeding people the remains of those they kill ("Revelation of the Daleks", and it's sad that even your shock-value cannibalism is stolen from an older story.)

The Doctor discovers the secret at the heart of the society due to his experience and outsider's perspective ("Castrovalva", just to shake things up from picking "Full Circle" again.) He engineers a revolt among the people (oh, Lord, where to start?) and then, even though he fails to stop the villains, he's inspired someone else to sacrifice themselves heroically to end the villains' power. ("Castrovalva" pops to mind again.) Just to cement this as a novelization of an old Christopher Bidmead story that somehow never got made, we even get a reference to the CVE, and the villain's ultimate goal is to set themselves up as God in order to halt the universe's progression towards entropy. Add in a stilted, laborious attempt at a joke and you get "80s Doctor Who Bingo."

Oh, wait..."It's called a hiccough in Paradise". What do I win?

Again, though, it's not like any of this is actually bad. Robinson is capable of turning in prose that doesn't irritate, and he knows the characters reasonably well (although anyone who puts the word "Codswallop!" into the mouth of Ace is definitely missing something. After reading this, nobody should ever complain about "Toerag" again.) It's just that you read this novel and think that it is the work of someone who cannot conceive of Doctor Who as anything more than it was on television, or anything more than a mild, inoffensive science-fiction series for children.

What the books need is to up their game a bit. Fortunately, that's coming soon...

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