Four Doctor Who novels

I've fallen a bit behind with bookblogging again, so here's the start of an attempt to catch up before the end of the month/year. For the last few years, I've gradually and systematically working through the published Doctor Who novels; I had a lapse in writing them up at the height of Clarke Award concentration last year, but kept on reading. This month, as usual, I read four of them.

Instruments of Darkness, by Gary Russell (2001)

I've been reading the Virgin Missing Adventures, the BBC Past Doctor Adventures and the Telos novellas in internal chronological order; but actually finished the Missng Adventures with Killing Ground, which I never got around to reviewing, back in July. Instruments of Darkness is, by internal chronology, the second last Sixth Doctor novel, followed by Spiral Scratch, also by Gary Russell, which I read a few years back and wasn't wowed by.

I liked Instruments of Darkness much more. It's the last of three novels featuring the half-human Irish twins as possible villains; they first appear in The Scales of Injustice, and the story is taken further in Business Unusual which I read quite recently. It also features both Mel Bush and Evelyn Smythe, who had been introduced to the Whoniverse only the previous year by Big Finish, as portrayed so wonderfully by the lamented Maggie Stables. (The author was the producer of the Big Finish audios at the time.)

The plot is a fairly standard worldwide consipiracy to do something or other, and by the standards of such plots is pretty convoluted, and apparently involves another character from 1990s spinoff Who (I missed this but picked it up from online reviews afterwards). I confess I didn't completely follow it, but I enjoyed the Mel/Evelyn/Six interplay on the page (Mel is particularly well-served), and also felt that the Irish twins – apart from the Eighth Doctor's audio companion Molly O'Sullivan, the only Irish regular characters in Who as far as I know – got a decent ending to their story as well.

Next year I'll be reading the Seventh Doctor PDAs and Telos novellas that I haven't previously read, starting with Relative Dementias.

The Gallifrey Chronicles, by Lance Parkin (2005)

This is the last of the 73 Eighth Doctor Adventures published by the BBC between the TV Movie and the 2005 relaunch – actually this came out in June 2005, when New Who was already well udner way. I had previously read it in 2007, Back then it was instrumental in making me decide to go back and start reading the two main ranges from the beginning. Having now read the previous 72 novels in the series, I can report that my enjoyment was enhanced, but not massively so, by being better informed abnout the continuity. In particular, I was able to cheer for Fitz at finally scoring with Trix (though Trix herself remains a bit of a cipher for me) and also to cheer the returns of the former companion Anji Kapoor and the Doctor's adopted daughter Miranda. The core concept of the Gallifreyan survivor fictionalising the Doctor's adventures is also still pretty sound. And there are a number of concepts that have been borrowed by RTD and even more so Moffatt as they deal with the mythology of Gallifrey in New Who.

Summing up the Eighth Doctor Adventures as a whole: the series has a rather flabby start, and I felt perhaps unreasonably annoyed by some of the internal continuity that I never quite bought into or cared about – Compassion, the Doctor's amnesia, Sabbath, the origin of Trix. I'm also not an evangelical admirer of Lance Parkin and the Faction Paradox line of stories. But I did like some individual books of the series very much; Father Time, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, City of the Dead, The Space Eater, Escape Velocity (the only Who book set in Brussels), and – completely against received fannish wisdom – I really liked Legacy of the Daleks. I'm looking forward to Philip Sandifer's next volume of Tardis Eruditorum which will treat the McGann era at length.

Next year I'll be reading the Big Finish Short Trips anthologies, omitting those that I have already read.

The Medusa Effect, by Justin Richards (1998)

This is the twelfth of the Bernice Summerfield New Adventures published by Virgin, marking precisely the halfway point in the series of 23 novels. It's also the sixth book I've read in 2015 by Justin Richards, after four other Who novels and a Clarke Award submission. I've said before that Richards is in some ways the Terrance Dicks of today's Who, having written more non-novelisations than any other author. Actually I'm not sure if that is strictly true any more; he's written only one Who novel since 2010 (though also four Big Finish plays).

Anyway, I feared at first that The Medusa Effect, in which Benny and a bunch of others are sent on an expedition to find a lost spaceship (the Medusa), was going to end up in a similar place to this year's Deep Time, in fact it ends up much closer to the Buffy episode "I Only Have Eyes For You" (which, interestingly, also dates from 1998) in that Benny's expedition find themselves being taken over by the personalities of the Medusa crew and re-enacting their fate. I thought it was well enough done, though has few links to other continuity. The central third is particularly strong.

Next year I'll continue reading this series to the end, and then pick up on the Big Finish novels and collections about Benny.

Big Bang Generation, by Gary Russell (2015)

My second book by Russell this month (and fourth this year), this is the middle of three linked Twelfth Doctor novels collectively dubbed the Glamour Chronicles, following Deep Time by Trevor Baxendale and in turn followed by Royal Blood by Una McCormack (and also picking up threads from earlier New Who novels The Glamour Chase and Ghosts of India). But that doesn't really matter, because the only important thing about Big Bang Generation is that it brings Bernice Summerfield into contact with the Twelfth Doctor, and indeed into New Who continuity, for the very first time. And this isn't the early Benny of Justin Richards' 1998 novel, this is Benny after 23 Virgin novels, another 23 Big Finish novels and collections, and 16 series of Big Finish audio plays, now equipped with her half-human son and two sidekicks of her own.

I do wonder how readers who haven't previously encountered Benny will react to this. For my money, Russell writes her her with passion, wit and verve, and I think this may encourage a lot of New Who fans to get into her earlier appearances. As John Seavey writes, it's such a pleasure to read her interactions with Capaldi's Doctor that one barely worries about the plot, though I rate that higher than he does. (It's about interlocking cons and plots to unwind time, and a lot of it is set in Australia.) Anyway, nice to have a different archaeologist companion unexpectedly returning.

Next year I'll continue to read New Who books as they come out; I have a backlog right now with Royal Blood, the Lethbridge-Stewart books and the collection The Legends of Ashildr which I haven't got yet.

And I'll hope to write them up a bit more promptly.

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