78) Jacqueline Rayner — Doctor Who: The Stone Rose

78) Jacqueline Rayner — Doctor Who: The Stone Rose

Seventh of the tie-in novels to go with New Who, and the first featuring the Tenth Doctor. Mickey finds a Roman-era statue of Rose in the British Museum, so Ten and Rose go on a trip to make sure she’s around to act as the model. But the first thing that happens when they arrive is getting mixed up in a missing persons case. A wealthy man is searching for his son, who was last seen going for a appointment to put the finishing touches on a statue of him.

It’s not hard for the reader to guess how the sculptor is achieving his astonishing output of exquisitely detailed statues, but that’s not the point of the story. The real meat of the story is in the Doctor’s quest to find the source of the sculptor’s powers — and, of course, rescue a few people along the way. There are some good plot twists, and nice handling of time travel paradoxes in this story. Raynor does a good job of bringing ancient Rome to life in this book.

One of my favourites of the new series tie-ins so far, and the second of Raynor’s which I’ve enjoyed. I’ll have to look out for more of hers.

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book log: 72) Steve Lyons — Doctor Who: The Stealers of Dreams

72) Steve Lyons — Doctor Who: The Stealers of Dreams

Sixth of the tie-in novels for New Who, and the last to feature the Ninth Doctor (and thus also pre-immortality Jack). Nine, Rose and Jack find that their latest stop is a world where fiction is outlawed, and those who indulge in it are regarded as having a dangerous drug addiction that must be treated, by force if necessary. Naturally, the Tardis crew end up interfering. But it gradually becomes clear that on this world dreams really are dangerous, and the Doctor’s usual tactics may be more harmful than helpful.

Good writing, nifty concept, a solid plot, and some excellent secondary characters, with a nice twist at the end. And the monster isn’t overly familiar from tv episodes before or since, which is a problem I’ve occasionally had with coming to the books relatively late.

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book log: 63) Gareth Roberts — Doctor Who: Only Human

63) Gareth Roberts — Doctor Who: Only Human

Fifth of the New Who novels, with Nine, Rose, and Captain Jack. A Neanderthal turns up in 21st century Bromley, and the Tardis crew turn up to investigate why someone is using a particularly primitive, and stupid, method of time travel in the area. It transpires that there’s no way to take Das the Neanderthal home without killing him, so Jack gets detailed to teach him how to survive in present-day Bromley, while the Doctor and Rose go back 28,000 years to find the source of the problem. What they find is a historical research project by a group of humans from Rose’s future, and some very nasty things hiding in the project’s storeroom…

It’s an engaging enough story with some good one-off characters, although the Big Bad feels a bit cardboard to me. One of the best bits for me was the sequence of paired diary entries from Das and Jack, showing their very different perspectives on 21st century humans and each other. Often very funny, and occasionally poignant, and while I don’t think they’d have supported a full story in themselves, I would have been glad to see more of them.

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book log: Justin Richards — Doctor Who: The Deviant Strain

48) Justin Richards — Doctor Who: The Deviant Strain

Fourth of the new series tie-in novels. This one has Rose and Captain Jack as the companions, in a story set in a remote Soviet naval base abandoned after the end of the Cold War. The nuclear submarines were simply abandoned to rot as the cheapest method of dealing with them, as were the people from the village that had been there since before the base was built. The last real link with an unheeding government is the research institute which still receives limited funding and supplies. At least until something very odd is spotted by a satellite, and a Russian Special Forces team is sent to investigate.

The Tardis crew show up as well, because Jack has unthinkingly answered an emergency beacon’s signal. While there is some suspicion from the Russian group, this is because Nine’s psychic paper ID has declared him to be from a rival agency, and Jack is considered to be the sort of Intelligence agent who wouldn’t know a real fight if he saw it. The two groups manage to work together reasonably well in spite of the tensions, investigating a series of mysterious deaths that show all the hallmarks of a mythical monster.

Enjoyed this one a lot, and not just because it has Captain Jack (who does not get to be on the cover). There’s a good science fantasy mystery here, with the Special Forces team being more than just foils to show off how clever the Doctor is.

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Book log: 44) Gary Russell — Torchwood: The Twilight Streets

44) Gary Russell — Torchwood: The Twilight Streets

Sixth of the Torchwood tie-in novels, set late in second season and with a lot of canon references. And my most favourite of all the canon references is the return of Idris Hopper, the Mayor’s secretary from the Doctor Who episode Boom Town. :-)

There is a small block of streets in Cardiff, built by a Victorian businessman as model housing for his workforce. And never occupied for more than a few weeks at a time. Things happen to the people who try to live in Tretarri. Jack doesn’t know why, because Jack can’t get in. He gets a three day migraine every time he tries. But now the Council is renovating the block, with full-on gentrification and street parties to show off the results. Not just on the rate-payers’ money, either — private sponsorship is paying for the celebrations. But the block becomes more than a minor mystery for Jack’s off-duty hours when it becomes apparent that Bilis Manger is behind the plans for change. And Bilis is still using visions of the future to prod the team into action.

It seems simple enough. Another round of stop Bilis Manger and save the world. But the old man’s relationship with Good and Evil is rather more complex than that…

Really enjoyed this one. It’s got an interesting plot, some excellent character development, and entertaining interactions between the various characters. All the regular characters get some page space, and there’s some good stuff on the Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys and Tosh-Owen relationships. Also a delightful little scene in which Ianto tells Torchwood’s Little Miss Sensitive (yes, he calls Gwen that) some home truths about what it’s really like to be bisexual. :-> There’s a lot of stuff referring back to canon, but most of it is tied into the story in such a way that it enhances the story for those who’ve seen the episodes without excluding those who haven’t. It also includes a good in-universe explanation for why the Tardis crew didn’t encounter Torchwood during the events of Boom Town (the external reason, of course, being that Torchwood the series was still a twinkle in RTD’s eye at the time). The reason for the AU future’s potential existence got a bit woolly in places, but the story in that timeline is really well done, if possibly over-angsty for some fans. Which is why I liked it, of course. :-)

Oh, and a word of praise for cover artist Lee Binding, who has done a lovely job in depicting some key elements of the story.

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book log: Jacqueline Rayner – Doctor Who: Winner Takes All

40) Jacqueline Rayner – Doctor Who: Winner Takes All

Third in the New Who novel line. Now this was a definite improvement over the previous title in the series. It’s a revisit of the Last Starfighter scenario, but with some nasty twists, and not just the one you find in Ender’s Game. Rose and Nine drop in to the Powell Estate to visit Jackie, and find that there’s a new video game being promoted by people in porcupine costumes, using scratchcards given away with any purchase at local stores, no matter how small. Mickey is one of the people who’s won a console, and as he explains, the console has only one game, but it’s still good value, because it’s so realistic, and complex enough to be a little different every time you play. Of course the Doctor can’t resist showing off and beating Mickey’s score, doing so thoroughly that he becomes number one on the aliens’ list of useful humans to acquire.

The plot’s interesting and the characterisations for Nine and Rose are good. But where the story really shines for me is in one of the one-off characters. Robert is a young teenager, complete with young teenage boy anxieties and fantasies, and his interior monologue is wince-inducingly realistic. He’s someone a lot of fans will be able to identify with.

Enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. This one I’ll probably re-read.

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Book log: Justin Richards — Doctor Who: The Clockwise Man

16) Justin Richards — Doctor Who: The Clockwise Man

The first of the tie-in novels issued for New Who, and as such featuring Nine (Chris Eccleston) and Rose, who have landed in 1920s London and promptly get tangled up with not one but two deposed heirs to a throne. One is a young boy with haemophilia; the other appears to be the prince of some small east European country. And there are assassins on the loose — assassins who are accompanied by the sound of clockwork. Add in a woman who always goes masked and who recognises the sonic screwdriver as inappropriate technology, and the Doctor and Rose have quite a task on their hands in sorting out friend from foe.

It would be unfair to criticise this novel for giving me a slight sense of deja vu, because it was published during the first series of the Who revival, long before the tv episodes which revisit some of the same ground. (I can think of at least three at the time of writing this review, though naming them would be too spoilerish.) This is a competently written tie-in with some interesting themes and a nice sf mystery, and while I don’t get a solid sense of a specific regeneration’s personality, this is clearly the Doctor and his world. An enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours.

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Book review: Peter Anghelides — Another Life

Peter Anghelides — Another Life

First of the Torchwood tie-in novels, and set a few weeks after the start of the series, i.e. after the second episode and before the fourth.

The book opens with a second-person role-playing game scenario — except this game’s not in the computer, and when the “you” loses a life and hopes for better luck next time, it’s a real body that dies. Of course, it takes Torchwood a little longer to work out why their serial killer has just cheerfully committed suicide…

In a second story strand, Owen’s been spending a lot of time in a more conventional multi-player game, though he’s taking advantage of Torchwood technology, and Toshiko’s technical skills, to ramp up the online experience a little. When he runs into an old girlfriend in the game and discovers that she’s living in Cardiff, he sees it as both a personal and professional opportunity — he wants to prove his theory that the game is a good initial screening tool for potential Torchwood recruits, and Megan’s just the sort of person who would make a good recruit for Torchwood.

While Jack, Gwen and Tosh are tracking down who their serial killer was working with and what he’s done with a set of stolen nuclear fuel rods, Owen and Megan stumble across part of the solution quite by chance. And all the while the rain pours down on Cardiff, as the Rift’s latest problem plays havoc with the local weather system…

The mirrored plotlines make it obvious early in the book what’s going on (intentionally so). But the real puzzle is who’s doing it, and what their motive is. Anghelides carefully weaves the different strands together so that the reader can see the pieces falling into place, as what seem like separate stories start to interlock. By the end, what seemed like pieces of characterisation and scene-setting turn out to be crucial to Torchwood winning the day.

This is a nicely constructed novel, with an interesting story and good characterisations. There’s a good spread of scenes across most of the characters, and even Ianto gets some nice characterisation vignettes, even though the book’s set at a point in the series timeline when he was mainly a background character. Notably, that includes a fair bit of the flirty banter between Jack and Ianto that was in the tv episodes at this point in the timeline.

I liked this book a lot, and think a fair number of my friends would too. While it’s a tie-in, Anghelides does a good job of working the universe set-up into the first few scenes, and I think the book should also work well for someone who hadn’t seen the show, although obviously you’d get more out of it if you’re already familiar with the characters.

It’s also available as an audiobook read by John Barrowman, which I haven’t heard.

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Book review: Andy Lane — Slow Decay (Torchwood)

This is one of the trio of tie-in novels released for the first season of Torchwood, and is set early in that season, after Gwen’s settled in but before Cyberwoman. Tie-in novels can disappoint, but this is a solid story that’s well-written and that fits the Torchwood universe well; a dark tale about the things that come through the Rift and their misuse by the locals. It’s actually better than the first couple of tv episodes, because the sex and violence is used to good effect in the story, rather than feeling as if it’s tossed in just to see how far the show can go in a post-watershed slot.

There are two interweaving plots here. The main plot concerns an outbreak of killings involving cannibalism, and their link to a very dubious weight-loss clinic. The team’s hunt for the solution is given added urgency when Gwen realises that Rhys has taken one of the clinic’s pills. The minor plot concerns Tosh’s research into a series of alien devices.

There’s good exposition and world-building, and I think this book will work for someone who hasn’t yet seen the show. The characterisation’s not that deep, but it’s not bad for an early tie-in where even an author who’s a fan or involved with the show’s production wouldn’t have had much to go on, and it’s accurate. With one exception there’s not much reference to specific events in the tv series, and even the exception is blended in nicely as something that will be simply a character quirk to people who haven’t seen the relevant episode.

The book focuses strongly on the relationship between Gwen and Rhys (and does so very nicely), but generally doesn’t neglect the rest of the team. There are some decent bits for particular characters: Tosh gets a decent word count, even if she spends it being girl geek as usual; there’s a good storyline for Owen where circumstances force him to interact with an attractive woman as a person, rather than just a shag. On the other hand, Ianto’s barely mentioned; but when you do see him he’s spending a lot of time lurking in the remote archives and discouraging other team members from wandering into them, which is appropriate for this point in his storyline, and he gets some good interaction with Tosh.

Physically, it’s a hardcover with a perfect-bound book block, which is what you’d expect at this price point for a hardback. It’s solidly constructed with no loose pages, and there’s a good cover design which links in with the other two books in the set. Designer Lee Binding’s done a nice job with stock art here.

Slow Decay is a good read for both the plot and the characterisation, and I expect I’ll be re-reading it soon. Well worth the money.

at Play.com
at Powell’s