Doctor Who: The New Adventures Series 1.03 – Timewyrm: Apocalypse

Cover for Timewyrm Apocalypse

Where to Find It?

Physical copies can be found at Bookfinder.com.

A detailed synopsis can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Story By

Nigel Robinson

Book Copy

The end of the Universe. The end of everything.

The TARDIS has tracked the Timewyrm to the edge of the Universe and the end of time — to the lush planet Kirith, a paradise inhabited by a physically perfect race.

Ace is not impressed. Kirith has all the appeal of a wet weekend in Margate, and its inhabitants look like third-rate Aussie soap stars.

The Doctor is troubled, too: If the Timewyrm is here, why can’t he find her? Why have the elite Panjistri lied consistently to the Kirithons they govern? And is it possible that the catastrophe that he feels impending is the result of his own past actions?


 

I appreciate your concern, Doctor, but the facts are simple: Ace must die so that the rest of creation may live.

I suppose the place to start is reputation. Timewyrm: Apocalypse is not well regarded and has even been called the low point in the Timewyrm cycle, if not the entire New Adventures range. This reputation is undeserved as the novel’s greatest crime is placement, being slotted between the action-packed, highly engaging Exodus of Terrance Dicks and the mind-bending, era-defining Revelation of Paul Cornell. Thus, a perfectly average Doctor Who story that doesn’t really stretch the bounds of the concept stands out, and not necessarily in a good way. And I admit, when I first read Apocalypse a few years ago I couldn’t stomach it. When I picked it up this past weekend I was a bit apprehensive. However, of the three Timewyrm books I have re-read, Apocalypse was the most interesting to me because it was the one I had forgotten. I didn’t remember a thing about it. Contrary to expectations, my experience with this novel was deeply satisfying.

Nigel Robinson, like Terrance Dicks and John Peel, was a Target writer. In fact, Robinson was editor of the Target range as it drew to a close. As a result, he is familiar with the tropes and style of the classic series. He can replicate it quite well, and that is on display in Apocalypse, which puts the novel firmly in the Rad/Trad debate that surrounded the New Adventures. Essentially, the debate was whether the New Adventures should stretch the concept of Doctor Who into new territory as could only be accomplished in the written word, with no dependence on budget, BBC oversight, or strong boundaries of what is and is not proper Doctor Who (the rad or radical position) or whether the New Adventures should tell the types of stories that were told on television, adhering to the formulas and goals of the original series (the trad or traditional position). The entire debate falls into the same trap as all progressive/conservative debates in its assumption that the answer is either/or. Experimentation aids evolution, but tradition helps cohesion. In practicality this balance can be difficult to achieve. In a shared universe such as Star Trek, the novels were mere tie-ins. They didn’t supplant or influence the main corpus in any way. They were additional adventures which could be slotted in between episodes. With the New Adventures, there was every belief that this could be the future of Doctor Who, and whatever happened in the novels was cannon. Thus, the nuance interactions between rad and trad could be difficult to maintain, much like a mythology heavy story-arc in The X-Files being followed by a monster-of-the-week episode, the fan wants to know what happens next, not experience this stand-alone story.

Personally, I tend to think of the trad stories as a type of rest between complex or intense measures. They become moments of introspection and meditation. And even if the plot itself is fairly traditional, the characters have grown and changed, and they sometimes respond in different ways.

Apocalypse, then, is largely of the trad mold. It is a thematic sequel to Logopolis as it takes place during the Big Crunch when entropy cannot be reversed and the universe is contracting in on itself. This knowledge ultimately drives the Panjistri since their goal is to reverse entropy. The Logopolitans of the Fourth-Doctor Era tried to do this using math; the Panjistri try to do it by creating a god. It takes us a while to get there, but the ultimate revelation of the attempt to genetically create a god is interesting. The Panjistri view is that a being with every possible experience of every possible creature in the universe would essentially be a god. They essentially are attempting to create an autonomous, pantheistic god—an all-encompassing entity that is at the same time personal and distinct. For the Panjistri, if the divine word of math—a force mortal minds can understand—is unable to prevent entropy, then an immortal mind is required. Only an immortal mind can defeat death. The Doctor refutes this, saying all things must die, even the universe.

At the center of this genetic conspiracy is the Grand Matriarch. The Matriarch has been possessed by the Timewyrm, who hopes to inhabit the god once it has been created. Doing so will allow her to re-incarnate, something she needs to do since the Doctor destroyed her physical form. After he extracted her from Hitler’s mind, the Timewyrm hid from the Doctor in his timeline, transferring into a young girl named Lilith when the Second Doctor repaired her doll. The Timewyrm hid in Lilith for five thousand years, manipulating the Panjistri’s genetic experiment to her own purpose. It is fitting that a being that lived among and manipulated the ancient Babylonians would be drawn to a child named Lilith.

Beyond these elements, Apocalypse follows a fairly standard Doctor Who set-up: The Doctor and Ace arrive in a utopian society, discover a group of elites who provide everything to the people while at the same time discouraging certain questions or scientific development, and in the investigation foment rebellion. Philip Sandifer rightly observes that the revolution actually fails, which is a reversal of Doctor Who tropes. The people don’t succeed as the Doctor confronts evil. They are subdued. It is only after evil has been defeated that all parties are reconciled, including the Panjistri elite to the people they manipulated.

While Timewyrm: Apocalypse didn’t push the format of Doctor Who, it still provided a solid story. The Timewyrm’s appearance, while not surprising, at least made sense. Her physical form had been destroyed and this experiment at creating a god would have been appealing to her. The Timewyrm possessing Hitler never quite worked for me, and I think Exodus would have been far more interesting as its own story rather than using the Timewyrm as the MacGuffin. Stretching this cycle of novels over four books is starting to feel a bit drawn-out and I look forward to Cornell’s conclusion in Timewyrm: Revelation.

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Doctor Who: Hunters of Earth (Destiny of the Doctor)

Written by Nigel Robinson

Directed by John Ainsworth

Susan Foreman is finding her place at Coal Hill School. She is growing close to a young man named Cedric. But suspicion falls on Susan and her grandfather as teenagers begin hunting anyone different . . .or alien.

Cover for Hunters of Earth

“It’s all in the beat.”

Note: Even though this is a First Doctor story, this review contains spoilers for series seven’s “The Name of the Doctor.” If you don’t want to be spoiled, read until the paragraph with the 50th anniversary logo next to it.

I go in to pre-“An Unearthly Child” stories with a large amount of skepticism. The inherent logic involved in story telling is that the story begins at the most-interesting starting point. Anything prior to this point may be relevant to the plot, but if it were essential to it, the story would have started earlier. Based on the basic premise of Doctor Who, we aren’t supposed to start with his origin. There would be no mystery if we did. As a result, any story taking place prior to the show’s beginning is filtered through 50 years of mythology, and these stories must walk a fine line, holding in tension the mystery of the character at this point without revealing too much later mythology that developed.

And it needs to be good, something special. I am personally in favor of visiting this period as little as possible and reserving such visits for writers who can tell exceptional stories. Many of the stories from this period of the show do not really contribute much to the Doctor Who mythology, nor are they distinctly Hartnell in feel. So far, “Quinnis” is my favorite because Marc Platt is able to capture the feel of the First Doctor while providing some great world-building and character moments.

“Hunters of Earth” is set during the Coal Hill days of Doctor Who—a period of the Doctor’s life that the show only covers in one episode. The problem with setting a story here is that it gives the Doctor too much to do, risks him exposing his presence when he is explicitly trying to remain anonymous. And so, in order to give us a story in which the Doctor keeps a low profile but still has a mystery to solve, Nigel Robinson gives us a story that isn’t terribly compelling. I tend to find Robinson hit or miss, but I admit I haven’t read anything of his work in over ten years. Of recent experience I have this story and “Farewell Great Macedon,” which was an adaptation he did for Big Finish of Moris Farhi’s unfilmed script. That story was excellent, but how much can be attributed to Farhi and how much to Robinson?

the Coal Hill announcement board“Hunters of Earth” is in the style of The Companion Chronicles line, but it is in the third person rather than the first. It is narrated by Carole Ann Ford (Susan Foreman), and deals with her attempts to integrate into Coal Hill. We are given nice moments between her and the Doctor in which she is able to influence him to be more considerate. I especially appreciate that the story is has a couple of science fiction elements, but is largely historical. We don’t have an alien invasion at Coal Hill or anything like that. Everything is kept low key, and even the characters who suspect Susan and the Doctor are not of Earth are few and willing to keep the secret. It is an interesting story which attempts to not overshadow the beginning of Doctor Who. It keeps things quiet. Unfortunately, it is this unassuming nature which is both a blessing and a curse. It doesn’t insist that the Doctor’s story begins here, but neither does it capture you and make you think it was a great experience.

Of course, I suppose the same could be said of any of Doctor Who’s secondary canon. Why bother? If it was so important, we would have got it already. Fair enough. Many Doctor Who fans only want to look forward, not back. They don’t want or need new stories with previous Doctors. They are happy with what the show gave them. For my part, I like the Companion Chronicles, and I am particularly drawn to the First Doctor stories because this era gives me something no other era does—straight historicals. It is a part of the First Doctor era, one that I would love to see brought back just because I love history and love learning about “real history” (i.e. aliens were not behind historical events). But I also like the different approach to science fiction in the 1960s. It was a time of optimism and anything could happen. In the First Doctor’s era you truly didn’t know where you would be transported to from story to story (in some cases, from week to week). And so, while “Hunters of Earth” isn’t a particularly compelling story, I’m happy it was made and I will listen to it again.

Two more points of contention. First, I didn’t particularly enjoy the in-jokes, primarily the “my dear Doctor, you have been naïve” joke. This line is particularly associated with the Master, and having a character utter this completely misleads the plot development. For a moment I was ecstatic as I contemplated a confrontation between the First Doctor and the Master. (And really, how awesome would that be? Harnell’s crotchety, irritable Doctor against a Delgado-style Master would have been wonderful. Think of the insults! The witticisms!) When I discovered this was merely a joke, I was completely taken out of the story.

50th Anniversary LogoSecond, “Hunters of Earth” is part of the larger Destiny of the Doctor line, which is a series of eleven audiobooks commissioned for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. As such, they attempt to weave an arc through the eleven stories that will pay off with the Eleventh Doctor. I like this idea. I think it is an interesting opportunity. I can’t speak for whether or not it works because I haven’t listened to all of them yet (indeed, I only have the first three), but so far the extent seems to be the Eleventh Doctor contacting his former selves and offering a clue for their current crisis. I’m not sure this is the opportunity I wanted to see. I think what I wanted, but never saw, was what Steven Moffat implied (and failed to deliver in a satisfying way) in “The Name of the Doctor,” namely an Eleventh Doctor villain who is attempting to destroy the Doctor in different time periods. Sure, this would be difficult to accomplish in eleven stories, but I think it could be done by coming up with a compelling villain with a distinct method for operating, then placing symbols or symbolic plots throughout the different stories (which also serve to fill in the back story), culminating with the Eleventh Doctor being victorious. It would be complex; it would need a lot of coordination, but it would be a lot of fun.

Instead, I fear these will turn out to be standalone stories that may be loosely connected rather than essentially connected. Granted, anyone who has kept current with the releases may see if I am completely wrong.

On another note, how cool would it have been if Destiny of the Doctor set up something in The Day of the Doctor? Or of Clara’s splintering through time happened in these stories and the Great Intelligence took different guises in the Doctor’s past as Clara did. Missed opportunities.

Bottom line, “Hunters of Earth” may prove forgettable, but if you are a First Doctor nut (as I am) it is a perfectly average story. Nothing amazing, but nothing horrible. Since there are a lot of 50th anniversary releases to get this year, pick it up through digital download to save yourself some money.

Target 003 – The Edge of Destruction

Written by Nigel Robinson
From the Back: In a final bid to regain control of the Tardis’s faulty control system the Doctor is driven to experiment with a dangerous untried combination.  With a violent explosion the TARDIS blacks out and the crew find themselves trapped inside.  A simple technical fault? Sabotage? Or something even more sinister?  Tensions mount as the Doctor and his companions begin to suspect one another.  What has happened to the TARDIS?  Slowly a terrifying suspicion dawns.  Has the TARDIS become the prisoner of some powerful fifth intelligence which is even now haunting the time-machine’s dark and gloomy corridors?

First line (not counting the introduction, which is just a recap): “The tall glass column in the centre of the six-sided central control console rose and fell with a stately elegance, indicating that the TARDIS was in full flight.”

An uninteresting start to a rather uninteresting book.  I must confess, that my primary reaction to Nigel Robinson’s novels has been one of boredom.  This is rather astounding as he was the author who adapted Moris Farhi’s outstanding Farewell Great Macedon.  Honestly, I believe Robinson did a stupendous job with Macedon.  Unfortunately, I still found his work on The Edge of Destruction to be dull.  Perhaps it isn’t his fault.  Edge of Destruction isn’t one of the more engaging stories.  It has an intriguing premise, but I’m not entirely sure David Whitaker delivered on this in his original script.  This leaves Robinson with the unpleasant task of novelizing a story that didn’t really deliver.

Part of what made the televised version Edge of Destruction interesting was the direction.  Many of the shots were arranged to heighten the inherent suspense in the story.  Scenes with Susan and the scissors or Ian choking The Doctor were handled quite well, even if the actors didn’t quite know what was happening.  Robinson understandably focuses on these suspenseful elements.  He expounds upon them.  At some points it is hard to tell if a new intelligence has invaded the TARDIS or if The Doctor is deliberately playing with Ian and Barbara.  Of course, in the end we know that neither is truly the case.  Honestly, this is one are where Robinson excels.  Occasionally the televised version of the story was unclear or difficult to make out.  Robinson more fully conveys both the terror and the explanation.  Unfortunately, is was tedium getting to that point.

Another thing Robinson does well, something that is implicit in the original script, is showing us what Barbara sees after she regains consciousness on the TARDIS.  She is in Coal Hill School, something that was only conveyed in dialogue in the episode.  In the novel, with no special effects constraints, Robinson can more fully deliver the ideas that Whitaker was unable to.  In truth, if I had to choose between the two, I would be torn between the hour it would take to watch Edge of Destruction or the realization of the concepts and effects in the novel.  Each version has its strengths and weaknesses.

Prescient chapter title: The End of Time

Final Verdict: If you are a fan of Nigel Robinson or the televised version of The Edge of Destruction, then you will probably find plenty to enjoy here.