The Coming of the Terraphiles: Or, Pirates of the Second Aether!! (Doctor Who)

Book Cover for The Coming of the Terraphiles
First edition hardcover picture. (Source: Wikipedia. Copyright 2011 by BBC.)

Written by Michael Moorcock

Where I Got It: The Library

Blurb: There are dark tides running through the universe—so strong they swallow light and threaten Captain Cornelius’s familiar existence; if unchecked they will absorb the whole of Creation. But for now he tacks into the solar winds, continuing his long search for someone to guarantee his life, his ship’s life and the life of the universe he loves. He sails in from the Rim, still searching.

Searching for the only being he acknowledges as his peer, who might join him or at least help him; who is known simply as ‘the Doctor’.

First Line: “Whoever named the planet Venice named her well.”

This book is a big deal. At least, it seems so to me. Michael Moorcock is arguably the most well-known writer to tackle a Doctor Who novel. Given that TV and movie tie-ins are generally looked down upon in the literary world, it is quite an honor that someone as established as Moorcock would deign to play in a universe that is not his own creation. And to a degree, he doesn’t. This is probably a Michael Moorcock book rather than a Doctor Who book. Why shouldn’t it be? Moorcock didn’t need to write this book to advance his career. Getting him was a boon. You don’t pursue a major artist then tell the artist that his work isn’t good enough—unless you are in television, of course.

This is the conflict that seems to lie at the heart of this book: Is it Doctor Who enough? I’ve read criticism that says The Doctor is hardly in the book and Moorcock’s creations get more page time. That’s not entirely accurate. I found that The Doctor was in most chapters. In fact, to anyone who read the Virgin books or the EDA/PDAs, The Doctor and Amy get as much page time as The Doctor and his companions got in those books. Moorcock is attempting to fully flesh-out his characters and ideas. The Doctor and Amy are involved, but in a more long-term sort of way. This isn’t an adventure like we see on the tele with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. The Doctor and Amy don’t just show up, have some scares, run around a bit, and leave after setting things right. No, in Coming of the Terraphiles, they join a sports team in a competition to win The Arrow of Law. There is a lot of downtime, a lot of character moments, a lot of intrigue, and a lot of philosophizing about Order versus Chaos (a Moorcock staple). In this way, Coming of the Terraphiles almost has more in common with stories like Marco Polo or Reign of Terror in that the story takes place over a great deal of time and we are able to be fully immersed in the adventure. The Doctor and Amy become a part of events as they unfold rather than showing up and forcing them to conform to The Doctor’s ideal. In many ways, I’d say that this is a story that was written to be a novel and work at a novel’s pace rather than be a television story told in a novel. Basically, the story fits the medium.

With the characters, however, we have a bit of a problem. The Doctor and Amy did not ring true to how they are portrayed in the show. Amy was nowhere near as snarky and bullheaded as she often is in the show. The Doctor was more subdued and not as eccentric. I spent most of the novel trying to put my finger on which Doctor I was actually reading. It wasn’t the Eleventh, but the dialog did seem Doctorish. With the dialog, I tried to hear each actor who has played The Doctor to see which vocal inflections fit. In the end, I could hear the Fifth (Davison), the Sixth (Baker II), a subdued Second (Troughton), and possibly Eighth (McGann). (These are in the order I feel fits best for this portrayal.) I was never entirely sure what to make of Amy. I eventually imagined that this was a Fifth Doctor story that took place when the Doctor was travelling with a previously unknown companion named Amy. Suddenly, it fit. We could say that this is an alternate version of the Eleventh Doctor, but the novel precludes that option by implying that the Doctor only exists in one universe.

With regard to other characters, if you are a fan of P.G. Wodehouse, you will immediately recognize the tone and agendas: bumbling aristocracy, domineering matriarchs, and endless nuptial machinations.

In the end, I love this story because it upholds what I feel is the greatest element of Doctor Who: imagination. This story is big on ideas and creativity, with centaur spaceship captains, an iron-masked pirate sailing a spaceship designed to look like a ship from the height of the British Empire, anti-matter agents of Chaos attempting to alter the balance between Chaos and Order in favor of Chaos, and places in the Second Aether that are named after condiments. The novel is lighthearted, fun, and immensely imaginative. These elements cover all its faults.

Final Verdict: While this novel may have missed the mark if you are looking for a straight portrayal of the Moffat/Smith era, it still rings true as both a Doctor Who book and a Michael Moorcock book. However, those who are strictly fans of the new series may not be entirely satisfied.

One thought on “The Coming of the Terraphiles: Or, Pirates of the Second Aether!! (Doctor Who)

  1. Thanks for your generous review and I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner. The reason the characterisation is hazy was because ‘Cardiff’ refused to let me know who was playing the next doctor and Amy and I had to write it in the dark, as it were. I was halfway through the book before I knew the actor’s name.

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