Reviews
Reviews

The Gallifrey Chronicles

Doctor Who: The BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures #73
Robert F.W. Smith

To my knowledge, Lance Parkin has never written a good Doctor Who novel. This is because I have only read two – ‘Trading Futures’ and ‘The Gallifrey Chronicles’.

Right, first of all I have to say that I approached this one with expectations ramped up far, far too high for any mere novel to fulfil. In my head I knew that it would be disappointing compared to what it should be, but still, nothing prepared me for the first third of this novel, which is truly awful. The Doctor and his companions (who are now engaged in a love affair which seems to have come out of nowhere) zoom around the universe toppling comedy dictators, defeating comedy aliens disguised as mules who say “Doc-torrr” and attempt to change the course of history by manipulating ridiculously insignificant events, and finally battling Daleks on Mars. “There’s only about four hundred of them”, says the Doctor. “I’ll be back in a moment.” Meanwhile, Marnal, a Time Lord trapped on Earth, and author of a rather rubbish range of novels about Gallifrey, knocks up a Cold Fusion thingy, and ascertains that a) Gallifrey is gone, and b), infinitely more shocking, the Doctor has three ninth incarnations!

If it weren’t for the sentimental ending, the whole would read like a deliberate attempt to undermine the Eighth Doctor range – in effect saying, “oh, it’s all silly anyway, what does it matter? Why do you all care so much?” In a way, this is a reasonable question, but still! As it is, it is a weak and inappropriate start, relying on old, old, old postmodernist humour, from which the novel never really recovers.

That sound perhaps more vitriolic than it really is – in a disbelieving sort of way, I almost enjoyed some of it. But in a novel which is supposed to wrap up all the dangling plot threads from – what? – eight years of EDAs, it seems like a waste. It’s all just so… trivial. I realise that my problem with it comes from a fundamental disagreement between Parkin and myself about what purpose this novel should serve. I wanted a dark-but-with-a-hopeful-ending Gallifrey-continuity epic, he wanted something fluffy.

To be fair, later on, Lance does do some moderately impressive retconning – moderately impressive only in the sense that it doesn’t provide a meaningful closure to the Gallifrey-gets-zapped arc, and leaves us with no real idea how things will progress; in the sense that it fits in with what has gone before, and manages to resolve things at all without hitting the reset button, it is a stupendous retcon! Nevertheless, I would have preferred the magic reset.

Sadly, the novel seems to want to dwell on what has gone before at the expense of where we go next, but without apparently respecting it or caring about it enough to do a proper job. So we visit the grave of Sam Jones for a paragraph, but it’s only an Evil of the Daleks-style trap to lure the Doctor in. Anji Kapoor makes an appearance, but is in no way recognisable from the original, who appeared from Escape Velocity to Timeless. We have a scene with the Master’s essence trapped in the Eye of Harmony, in what is patently the strongest of the backward glances. We flash back to Compassion rescuing the Doctor – so that was whose footsteps he heard!! – from the dying TARDIS, and discover that the Doctor rescued the Matrix by saving it as a zip file.

Oh, and K9 turns up. Blimey. To give Lance his due, I didn’t expect that.

Anyway, that ending. Yes, the ending is alright. No check that, it’s quite good. But not brilliant. Camera Obscura had a brilliant ending. So did Adventuress of Henrietta Street. Next to those, The Gallifrey Chronicles is less that nothing. (Oh yeah, forgot to mention that the Doctor’s also saving the world from an alien invasion of giant insects. That happened about half-way through. Sorry, got a bit lost in all the rest of it).

The main problem with novel, laying aside the first third, is the open ending. I never wanted this novel to end with a regeneration. But the way Lance does leave it lacks something – specifically, a clear signpost to exactly how Gallifrey is going to come back from this. The Doctor has the Matrix, and so, what? He’s going to kidnap some poor saps, operate on them so they have two hearts, annex a planet to be New Gallifrey, and build a computer to hold the Matrix, is he? The question of his missing memories is rather better handled, with K9 bumbling off to Espero at the end, presumably to seek out Madame Xing, who may or may not be Compassion. It would have been nice to know for sure, but there wasn’t really an opportunity. On balance, it’s fairly likely that that was her, so it’s hardly an oversight.

The ending is symptomatic, really, of just how right royally fucked-up the timelines are these days. As far as I understand it, the situation is this: the New Adventures universe is inside the bottle universe seen in Interference, which was built by BBC universe Time Lords, and in it, the NA Time Lords are all gone – they’ve gone to another bottle and left the NA universe to the Gods/Kings of Space. Most of the New Adventures happened in the BBC universe anyway, except in that universe, the 7th Doctor was the reincarnation of the Other and Rassilon escaped to roam the universe – in the BBC universe, he may or may not have been, and Rassilon probably didn’t. In the BBC universe, Faction Paradox, the Doctor and the Enemy between them have vaped the Time Lords, with the result that there are no longer any Time Lords in the BBC universe, except for five, the fundamental laws of the universe (the magic-and-science thing) have changed, and the Doctor is no longer a Time Lord at all originally but a crystal man named Soul from the end of time. Also in the BBC universe, an infinity of different universes have been released, which helpfully explains how all the shock companion-killings in the novels ever since “Eternity Weeps” either did or didn’t happen in our universe, according to whatever criteria you like, but Gallifrey didn’t survive in any of them. Despite this, Gallifrey will still be rebuilt in the BBC universe in some form, but it will presumably be much less powerful because it will now be a planet without the original’s special relationship with time, and it won’t have always been there. Where the Big Finish audios fit in is anybody’s guess; the new series can just about be assumed to follow on from the end of The Gallifrey Chronicles, even though the Doc says he’s a Time Lord – not a crystal man from the end of time – in the second episode. There.

Time for a conclusion.

In conclusion, The Gallifrey Chronicles, which should have been a glorious fireworks-display celebration of the EDA range, ended up being more of a wimpy Roman Candle. The Gallifrey Chronicles suffers from the disadvantage of being the climax to a range that has already been superseded by the next TV incarnation of Doctor Who, making it the “Lungbarrow” of our times. Except not as good.

Lawrence Conquest

Way back in The Ancestor Cell, the BBC Books editorial team tried to refocus the literary adventures of the 8th Doctor by having the Doctor destroy his home planet of Gallifrey. Pretty radical, but not inherently objectionable provided the idea was followed through – unfortunately the editors tried to sweep any repercussions for this devastating act under the carpet by giving the Doctor a handy bout of amnesia, a situation akin to sticking an elastoplast over a gaping gunshot wound – and the result was that ever since then the ‘Gallifrey’ issue has infected the rest of the range like an festering sore, with various authors picking and prodding at it but no-one willing to deal with the issue once and for all. Until now.

With the arrival of a 9th Doctor on our screens, BBC Books have taken the understandable decision to wrap up the Eighth Doctor Adventures, so it’s up to Lance Parkin to provide some kind of a resolution for the act that has dominated the latter novels in the series, and transform the Doctor’s darkest hour into something more typically heroic – as the first words in this novel state – ‘the Doctor never loses’.

At first Parkin seems to be attempting to justify the Doctors act of destroying Gallifrey by revisiting the events of The Ancestor Cell and, in a rather underhand manner, revising the climactic moments (for example, now the much maligned revelation that Grandfather Paradox was in reality the Doctor himself is altered so that we are told that the Grandfather appears, like a mirror, to be whoever is observing him – hmmm), but eventually a rabbit-out-of-the-hat get out for the reappearance of Gallifrey is produced, and while it may strain credibility it does at least go some way to repairing the Doctor’s tarnished image.

Of course, continuity issues are not the only concerns of this novel, and we do have a surprisingly straight forward alien invasion plot that follows hand in hand, although this takes very much a back seat to the rather drawn out revelation of what happened to Gallifrey, alongside bits of background featuring the Doctor’s parents – indeed, the tale of the Vores doesn’t seem to get moving until the novel is two thirds over. The actual alien invasion plot is reasonable, but something we’ve seen dozens (if not hundreds) of times before in Doctor Who, and the final twist to negate millions of casualties is overly saccharine and unbelievable.

As for tying up the EDA’s, while The Gallifrey Chronicles reveals the groundwork for closing off all the storylines, there is a surprising lack of closure at the novels end. Now with a bit of wriggle-room necessary thanks to the multiple media adventures of the 8th Doctor (maybe those Big Finish audios do take place after the books) no-one expected the novel to end with the Doctor regenerating into Christopher Eccleston, but the way the novel ends one fully expects another 8th Doctor novel next month to continue the story. The companion issue is similarly tricky – Fitz and Trix ostensibly leave the TARDIS during the early stages of the book, and play little role in the majority of the novel, but there’s no real satisfactory leaving scene for either of them. Worse, Trix’s mysterious background is never revealed – oh, we get the odd hint, but this character is still essentially as faceless as the prosthetic wearing actress we first encountered a dozen books ago. Compassion aside, the books have had real trouble creating interesting female companions – Sam Jones was an eco-loving cardboard cut-out, Anji was a bland and boring accountant who didn’t even want to be a part of the TARDIS team, and Trix is still so much a mystery she doesn’t seem to actually have anything approaching a character. It’s very odd that if this really is the final EDA Parkin didn’t choose to spend a good amount of this novel exploring the character.

The Gallifrey Chronicles is a surprisingly light and fluffy read – plot-wise there is very little going on here, instead this novel derives all of it’s narrative drive from the simple fact of the long-term reader wanting to know how the story ends. A few cheesy Doctor Who in-jokes aside this is pleasantly written, and presenting the history of Gallifrey itself as a range of novels is inspired, but beyond Parkin furious tying up of loose threads there’s nothing particularly spectacular going on here– by no stretch of anyone’s imagination could this be called a brilliant novel, but as a bandage to heal the damage caused by The Ancestor Cell it does a good enough job. A reasonable but unspectacular end to a very varied series of 8th Doctor novels, a series that unfortunately never quite managed to drag itself out of the shadows of Virgin’s New Adventures – come in number 8, your time’s up.

Adam Riggio

Lance Parkin has done the impossible with The Gallifrey Chronicles. He has wrapped up one of the most convoluted story arcs in science fiction history by explaining the aftermath of the battle with Faction Paradox and made it entertaining.

Central to the appeal of The Gallifrey Chronicles is the character of Castellan Marnal. He is a kind of parallel to the Doctor here, and not just their mutual experiences of a century-plus of amnesia. In their confrontation scenes, where the Doctor is held captive by Marnal, we see them both accentuate the other’s dominant characteristics. Marnal grows angry, seething with rage at the man who destroyed Gallifrey, while the Doctor remains mystified. Marnal is the catalyst for the Doctor finally to work out what he did to himself as Gallifrey was being erased from history.

The Doctor’s amnesia is central to this story, and Marnal and his semi-companion Rachel assume that it was due to the trauma and self-denial involved in destroying your own homeworld, much like the rest of us as the post-Ancestor Cell Doctor developed. But Parkin here vindicates the Doctor triumphally, as he sacrificed his memories - or at least hid them away somewhere - in order to preserve the Matrix, where the memories of all the Time Lords are stored. This is the knowledge that can ressurect Gallifrey. With this in mind, the Doctor can no longer be seen as running from his past. Instead, he is a hero once again. As K9 states, the Doctor never loses.

Yes, I said K9. Everyone’s favourite robot dog (version 2.1 if my reading is correct) returns, having been hidden in a secret compartment in the TARDIS for a little over a century. But don’t worry. K9’s appearance plays a pivotal role in the story and is not just a good source of fanboy laughs. Those fan in-jokes come fast and furious through some stretches of the book, but they don’t feel tacked on to the action at all. A lot of it comes across as whimsical description of the Doctor. The alphabetical paragraph (an adventurer to a zealot) early in the book is probably the best example. Although Marnal’s construction of a cold fusion reactor out of a pile of junk he found under the sink comes pretty close. The jokes also include an homage in Marnal’s flashbacks to the living Gallifrey to the original plan for the American Doctor Who series in the mid-1990s. One of the proposed ideas would have started the Doctor’s life over again, and would have involved his father - a Time Lord named Ulysses and his human wife Penelope. This pilot was scrapped, as we know, but guess the name of the Time Lord responsible for Marnal’s own amnesiac exile on Earth.

But getting back to the main conflict of the story, Marnal is a mirror image of the Doctor, serving as a caustic conscience to the Doctor as the two of them piece together the last moments of Gallifrey. But Marnal is a complex character in himself, his initial bitterness and anger transforming into a righteous and noble spirit when he discovers the means to restore the Time Lords. The Gallifrey Chronicles sees Marnal develop from arrogance to self-sacrifice, as he gives the last of his lives to make sure the Doctor can escape the Vore planet.

The Vore. They are a sticking point in the book, if you don’t quite recognize why they are there. At first, I saw them as a distraction from the main conflict, that of the Doctor and Marnal. But think about what we learn about the Vore in the course of the book. They used to be reasonably benevolent creatures who massed around holes in the universe. Then Marnal found them on a survey mission centuries ago, freaked out, and started shooting at them. This made them far more hostile, and as punishment, he had his memories blacked out and sent to 1880s Earth. During the confrontation between the Doctor and Marnal, the Doctor overloads Marnal’s kitchen sink fusion reactor and throws it into the TARDIS where it explodes without taking out any of London. But it opens up a crack in the TARDIS’s power source, which draws the Vore to Earth because the Doctor takes too long to repair it. And the alien invasion sub-plot begins.

Marnal dies saving the Doctor from the Vore, and the Doctor is left at the end of the book with having to destroy the Vore mountain in West Africa - just slightly smaller than Kilimanjaro. The Vore invasion is the destruction of Gallifrey writ small. It’s a catastrophe affecting a world very close to the Doctor, the cause of which is ultimately his own fault. And he has to take care of it himself. It serves a similar purpose for Marnal as well, as he is killed by the race that he inadvertently made aggressive. The Vore allow Marnal and the Doctor a chance at redemption for their sins. And and ending to a Doctor Who novel almost impossible to top.

But first, one more character deserves mention. Rachel. Marnal’s nurse, she sees him regenerate and becomes an almost-companion to the exiled Castellan, providing well-timed insights about their hunt for the Doctor, and giving us a window into Marnal’s own psyche. She humanises him as well, as he gains respect for humanity through her interaction with him. As he says, she was not just the only one to believe him. She genuinely is his friend, probably the only friend on Earth he ever really had. She’s intelligent, quirky, keeps her head when in a dire situation, and truly cares about others, no matter how alien they may seem to her. In short, she’s good-quality companion material. Perhaps if the adventures of the Eighth Doctor ever continue past the Gallifrey Chronicles, she could take over from Fitz and Trix as the Doctor slowly begins the process of rebuilding Gallifrey. And I think she and K9 would get on splendidly.

As for the ending, it could not be more perfect. Fitz perfectly sums up everything we love about all ten of the Doctor. And since we never see a regeneration, it leaves plenty of room open for future developments in this, the self-styled George Lazenby of Doctor Who. Quite fitting that McGann’s Doctor was at the centre of the most ambitious and at times brilliant book line in the history of the franchise. That’s what makes Doctor Who special - there is always room for more. More stories, more growth, more characters. No hole in his biography is filled to the point where nothing else will ever fit into it. Keep that philosophy in mind, and the story of the Doctor can last forever.

And he leaps . . .

Paul Hayes

It’s been some five years since I was last a regular reader of the BBC’s Eighth Doctor novels. Before that, I had followed the range through every single novel since its 1997 start, but after a while the books no longer seemed like particularly necessary monthly purchases. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy them as such, more a combination of slight disinterest in the then current ongoing storyline, there being other things I wanted to spend my money on and other things I wanted to spend my time doing.

However, being a reasonably up-to-date Doctor Who fan, I kept up with what was going on in the books, so I was vaguely aware of all the arguments that had been raging about what to do with the Doctor’s apparent amnesia and so on and so forth, although none of it made me want to jump back in and rejoin the range itself. However, here I am back at the death for the final novel in the sequence, Lance Parkin’s The Gallifrey Chronicles, attracted partly by the fact that this is something of an ‘event’ novel, being the last of them, and partly through the fact that Parkin has long been my favourite Doctor Who novelist, whose books I have always enjoyed very much indeed.

One of the author’s stated intentions with writing this book was that it would work for people like me – coming back to the range especially for it having missed a fair chunk – as well as for those who are completely new to the worlds of Doctor Who, attracted by the television series perhaps, and also for those faithful readers who have, for better or for worse, been through every single sentence and paragraph since The Eight Doctors way back when. In this respect, I can report that he succeeds admirably – Parkin has always been good at writing Doctor Who fiction which stands alone, something I can attest to as I once gave an American friend of mine a copy of his Father Time, and despite her never having experienced any Doctor Who before she enjoyed it very much. Here he does it again, pulling off the neat trick of writing a novel that can be easily understood by anybody who hasn’t read the previous instalments, while at the same time concluding an ongoing storyline that’s been rumbling away for several years. Whether the latter aspect is completely satisfactory for those ongoing fans of the series who’ve been waiting so long for it I obviously can’t say, but from what I was able to pick up of the storyline from this novel alone – and it does appear to contain all the relevant information any reader could need – I felt that it was a satisfactory way of doing things.

Of course, Parkin doesn’t completely wrap up the story of the Eighth Doctor’s era; although the ongoing arc seems to have been dealt with, this isn’t quite Lungbarrow, and there is still room for further adventures – dare one say a whole Panini Comics or Big Finish Productions’ worth of them? – after this one has come to an end. One quote from Parkin which comes to mind was a post he made on the Outpost Gallifrey forum saying that this novel doesn’t take us all the way up to Rose, the first episode of the new series – it doesn’t end with the Doctor “finding Wilson’s body” as he put it. Which is all well and good, although it didn’t, I have to say, conclude as decisively as I had thought it would. I had half-expected that it would end with the Doctor off to further adventures, but it didn’t seem that Parkin had quite wrapped up everything – yes, the Doctor had discovered what terrible crime he had committed and why he had done it, yes he had solved the problem of his own identity, but he still didn’t seem to have all of his memories back, which seemed slightly strange given that they’re so clearly present in the new series – “I saw the fall of Troy!” and so on and so forth. Still, perhaps it all takes a little time to fall back into place, and I hardly think it’s something anybody’s going to be losing any sleep over!

Ongoing storyline issues aside, what of the plot of the novel itself? Well, the main enemies at work, the Vore, are an interesting but I have to say not particularly memorable bunch, although they perform much the same function here as the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness do in Rose: they’re just there as background, a framework upon which to hang the necessary character meetings and revelation of information which is the main business of the book.

That’s not to say that the novel doesn’t rattle along at a fair old pace, and as I’ve come to expect from Parkin it’s written in a beautifully readable manner, never overly simplistic but never falling into the sci-fi trap of becoming too self-involved and convoluted. There’s a fair amount of metatextuality at work here, too, much more so than we’ve seen in the past from Parkin. There’s the highly obvious point of the history of Gallifrey being written as a series of books hundreds of instalments long, but also such moments as the Doctor’s meditation producing a vision of the return of Doctor Who as a television series, or the couple who live next door to Marnal, the author, having once bought his version of The Infinity Doctors – one of Parkin’s previous books – and thinking it incredibly dull and tedious. Parkin loves doing this sort of thing, and has done ever since his first novel, Just War, in which Bernice Summerfield attempts to remember what the Daleks are called but finds the word to be “a far and distant thing” (‘Dalek’ in Serbo-Croat, as any long-time fan will tell you). I have to confess that while I usually enjoy his little meta moments, here it seemed that there were just a shade too many of them, and the knowing wink to the reader had become more of a knowing a sharp jab in the ribs.

Another aspect of Parkin’s knowing relationship with the fan readership comes in his inclusion of cameos for some familiar faces from both the books and the television series. I was pleased to see Miranda from Father Time and Larna from The Infinity Doctors turn up in flashback sequences, and I absolutely loved the moment where what appears to be a description of a Dalek turns out to be K9, the Fourth Doctor’s faithful robot dog. The latter is the sort of clever descriptive trick that can only work in prose, and is a reminder of the similar little bluff Justin Richards pulls off in The Burning, the novel that started off this whole ‘amnesia’ plot arc all those years ago, in which Richards introduces three characters one after the other who could all possibly be the Eighth Doctor from their descriptions on the page.

What of the main characters of the book, though? It has to be said that I didn’t find the Eighth Doctor himself to be as likeable an incarnation as I did when Parkin wrote for him in The Dying Days, which remains one of my all-time favourite Doctor Who books. In some respects The Gallifrey Chronicles is similar to The Dying Days in that they both end an era of Doctor Who literature, and of course they top and tail the Eighth incarnation’s prose adventures, being published almost exactly eight years apart. However, that Doctor seemed to have more life, energy and verve to him, whereas the Doctor of The Gallifrey Chronicles has lost much of the ‘fluffy bunny’ characteristic that used to identify this version. That could simply be because of all the experiences he’s been through in the book range of course – the problem with having such a long-running series of novels is that the authors don’t half end up putting him through the mangle.

Of the companions, I have to admit that I never liked Fitz – I always found him rather pointless and irritating, so I was rather glad when he was killed off and slightly disappointed when he turned out to be alive and well at the end. This was my first experience of the relatively new girl, Trix, and she seemed to do what she was there for well enough, although there didn’t seem to be anything particularly memorable about her other than the fact that she is apparently a murderer, or a suspected murderer at least. Whether this point has ever come up in previous novels I can’t say, but if it hasn’t it does seem very strange that it’s almost completely glossed over here.

The main supporting character in the novel is Marnal, a fellow surviving Time Lord, although how he came to survive is never really made clear – again, perhaps this is something previous novels have touched on, although I rather got the impression that it wasn’t. Nevertheless, I rather liked him – a believer in the ends justifying the means perhaps, and at times I was reminded of a grittier version of the First Doctor, but I still found him and his story very interesting.

Overall then, what can I say about The Gallifrey Chronicles? It’s not the end-of-an-era, de-mob happy, thrilling, exciting ride that perhaps The Dying Days was, but I got the feeling that it was never really meant to be. We have all the exciting, interesting stuff happening on television now, so the books can perhaps afford to be rather more contemplative and ambiguous. It does the job it was designed to do though, resolving the novels’ dangling plot thread in order for the Eighth Doctor to have his memories back and go off to… Well, to whatever destiny awaits him before he becomes Christopher Eccleston. Perhaps he’s off to fight in the Time War. Perhaps he’s off to the R101. Perhaps he’s off to Stockbridge, or to fight the big-nosed Cybermen from the Radio Times comic strip.

Perhaps we’ll just never know.

Joe Ford

When the BBC shop phoned me to let me know this book was ready for collection I nearly wet myself! This was it; this was the one it had all been building towards for the last four years. This was going to be the ultimate Doctor Who book.

Which is why I was oddly disappointed when I first read it. I am such a fool; in my haste I pretty much speed read the whole thing so I could get to the goodies. And I ended up missing all the details that make this book such a treat. Anyone expecting a Dying Days type action adventure, the sort Doctor Who does so well, to climax the eight Doctor range on will be sorely disappointed. This is much more than that. It’s a thoughtful, contemplative puzzle book, one which provides you with all the answers to all the questions that have been building up regarding the 8th Doctor range, but only so long as you work for them.

The reviewer of The Gallifrey Chronicles in TV Zone said this wasn’t the accumulation of his adventures in print and I could not disagree more strongly. The book spends a lot of time exploring the Doctor’s past (notably the events in the Ancestor Cell) and gives you hints about his future too. It also lavishes time on the ground he has covered (with a visit to Sam’s grave, a flashback to his time on Earth with Miranda and a cameo by Anji) and hints at his life in the DWM comic and the TV Movie too. Bizarre then that Big Finish have put the mockers on any references of their audios in the books because that would have made the set complete. This certainly explores a good deal of the eighth Doctor’s life and it is quite surprising to remember just how far he has come since The Eight Doctors.

Parkin did not have an easy task, writing this book for a pre and post TV series audience but he has struck upon an ingenious answer to this problem. By telling much of the story from Castellan Marnal’s point of view the reader gets to discover with him the loss of Gallifrey, the Doctor’s involvement, the Faction Paradox, his amnesia, his life on Earth…it is effortlessly easy for a newcomer to be brought up to date with the development of the novels over the past five years. I daringly gave this book to Simon to read (he adores the new series…I wanted to know how he would find Doctor Who fiction) and whilst he had a few questions (bizarrely they were about Sam Jones and K.9) he understood pretty much everything and after that cliffhanging ending was eager to read the next one…oops! Guess I gave him the wrong one.

Talk about tying up loose threads! Writing the last of the continuing adventures of the eighth Doctor is not a task I would thrust upon anybody but clearly Parkin is up to the challenge and this is far from the series of explanations that it would have been in the hands of a lesser author. Two things help this book immeasurably, the hints and clues early on that help the reader to understand the BIG REVELATIONS at the climax and the fact that the answers were GOSH WOW OH MY FUCKING GOD!

For a start Parkin had to prepare the book line for the upcoming ninth Doctor range, a series with a different looking TARDIS, a non amnesiac Doctor, a restored Gallifrey (so it can be destroyed all over again) and the Daleks. It pleases me to report that The Gallifrey Chronicles manages to address each of these WITHOUT the eighth Doctor range tucking its tail between its legs and admitting it was wrong to push the show in its unique direction. Needless to say the last few pages of this book don’t see the ninth Doctor destroying Gallifrey in a Dalek invasion and popping to Earth to discover the dead body of Clive the chief electrician in Henreiks store. Anyone who was expecting this, get your heads examined!

* In a fantastic domestic scene between Fitz and Trix we have Daleks blowing up all around them. What’s more Fitz asks the Doctor about them towards the end of the book which suggest their menace is never far away…
* In an almost throwaway moment the TARDIS is subjected to a terrifying nuclear explosion and with it the Doctor and his companions’ treasured possessions are destroyed. It is left little more than a shell and ready for the spanking new ninth Doctor version.

The Gallifrey Chronicles grabs hold of threads from loads of old books and pulls them into a coherent and satisfying whole for regular readers…

* The Doctor’s fear of regaining his memories is addressed which has recently been brought up in Halflife.
* Why on Earth did Trix phone Anji in The Deadstone Memorial? What on Earth could the two of them be cooking up together?
* Just what was scratching behind the wall in Trading Futures? Can you guess? Needless to say the answer to this one is a moment of sheer, utter joy.
* Just who are the Doctor’s mother and father? Could it possibly be characters from The Room with No Doors and The Infinity Doctors?
* What was the seventh Doctor protecting in the eighth Doctor’s mind so angrily in City of the Dead? What is the relevance of the blooms in the garden behind the Iron Gate? Whether this was deliberately planted or made up as it went along this THE best ever use of metaphorical imagery in the books and THE ultimate revelation of the book. Absolutely brilliant.
* The black eye sun watching over events in Adventuress of Henrietta Street and History 101, was it the Daleks, or is there some other purpose to these sinister apparitions?
* What has happened to the Master, trapped inside the Eye of Harmony? Was he the man with the rosette?
* Who were the four remaining Time Lords hinted at in Adventuress of Henrietta Street?

All of these issues are handles with great aplomb and provoked some hilariously emotional reactions out of me.

It might come as a shock for some people that Fitz and Trix have started going out with each other. I found it pleasantly surprising and a good justification of their life together these past twelve books or so. And given their intimacy in To the Slaughter and Trix’s offer for Fitz to stay with her in The Deadstone Memorial it was only a matter of time. This is Lance Parkin we’re talking about so their relationship is handled with great sensitivity without being sentimental and I found their discussions of building a life together quite heart-warming. Certainly it was good to see Fitz finally come into his own, decide to move on from his life with the Doctor and find happiness with a woman he loves (and one who doesn’t get killed before the end of the book). The novel does some surprising things with Fitz and I shant spoil the surprise but needless to say at the end of chapter nine my jaw hit the floor.

Trix never really had much of chance to develop considering how short her run has been but she has had the great privilege of being around during the fantastic run of books since Sometime Never… The one misfire The Gallifrey Chronicles makes is not answering the big question of what Trix is running away from. No, I take that back, we do get sort of an answer but it isn’t elaborated on or explained. A shame because she is excellently written otherwise, clever, funny, intelligent and most importantly extremely humane. This should put an end to all those people who thought she was Romana…Trix is her own woman and whether she is taking Fitz out to dinner with Anji and Greg, trying to survive a plane attack or bathing herself in monster smoke to protect herself, she is great fun to be around and far more interesting than I ever thought she could be. I certainly wouldn’t mind Trix PDAs in the future.

But of course this book belongs to the eighth Doctor and boy does it do some great stuff with him. Most importantly, in a twist of audaciousness The Gallifrey Chronicles manages to vindicate the amnesiac eighth Doctor, not by excusing what he did to Gallifrey but by providing a new answer to his amnesia that sees him leave the book as the ultimate hero. I have said before this is the incarnation most likely to sacrifice himself for the greater good and the sacrifice he made in The Ancestor Cell is astonishing. Has a novel range ever managed to wrong foot its audience to such an extent before? Has the Doctor ever had such a turnabout in character? This twist manages to turn the Justin Richards period of books into a much more worthwhile (especially to one irritating chap called Jack Bevan) place to explore because the Doctor is no longer a coward or ignoring his destructive actions but protecting some far greater than himself. Totally, totally brilliant in every way. Whoever thought this idea up, a big snog from Joe.

And while there will probably be some people who are annoyed that the Doctor takes so long to get involved in the main invasion plot that isn’t what this book is about. It is a personal journey for the Doctor, one where he can finally get some answers about his life. His scenes with Marnal are some of the best of the book, as they fight over the Doctor’s previous actions and the consequences. I literally stopped breathing when the Doctor was shown first hand his actions during the last minutes of Gallifrey’s life and his reaction was very surprising.

The Vore plot doesn’t turn up for ages but is cleverly woven into the book with Marnal and the Master each doing their part in the invasion of Earth. There are some fast paced action scenes of mass devastation which always make for good reading but the Vore plot is only really there to remind you there are still monsters for the Doctor to fight and he will keep on fighting no matter who he is and what he knows. I did find the trip to the second moon to be rather exciting though. The Vore themselves were icky enough to work, I hate flies and the thought of giant ones swarming about slicing roofs of cars, bringing down planes and turning humans into vomit is enough to make anyone squirm.

The novel pulls out a fantastic ace at the climax allowing the Doctor to bring people back from the dead. It is a subtle reminder of the TV Movie (one of many) and provides the book with an overwhelmingly optimistic climax, allowing the Doctor to be a magician again. The scene in which he joyously knocks on doors and reunites families is extremely touching and his ability to bring joy back to Trix slapped a huge smile on my face. What’s more the uplifting climax with the Doctor and his three companions reunited and ready to face the monsters kept me grinning for the rest of the day. I am grateful for Lance Parkin for not bringing the eighth Doctor’s life to a close like Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow did for the seventh…with all the answers he now has it is clear the eighth Doctor has a lot of work ahead of him and I would love to be able to explore some of that at a future date.

Other worthy mentions…

* Fantastic digs at the book range (convoluted and impenetrable), Gallifrey (the Doctor nearly falls asleep after reading half a page about this dull planet) and continuity (why the hell does it matter if Ace remembers her visit to Paradise Towers?). The issue of continuity is especially interesting as I have made it clear that I hate it when writers drop in a million and one references into books that don’t need them. The Gallifrey Chronicles, of course, has a huge amount of continuity but the difference is it is not there just for its own sake; it drives the books, allows us to explore the eighth Doctor’s life and gives his adventures a nice sense of closure. Criticizing this book for its use of continuity is like criticizing the new series for using the Daleks…it would not be half of what it is without it. The Gallifrey Chronicles (and there are a good handful of others) shows you how to get continuity right.
* Caustic Compassion? I’d never have a companion like that.
* Somehow the flashback to the destruction of Gallifrey was far more exciting and made much more sense than it did in The Ancestor Cell. There was more of a sense of scale and considering by cutting out all the excess trappings that made The Ancestor Cell such a chore it comes across as a simple, dramatic face of between good and evil. What it should have been all along really.
* A conversation between Fitz and the Doctor finally puts to rest that old moan about why Fitz knows about Gallifrey sometimes and other times he doesn’t.
* Guess who owned the TARDIS before the Doctor?
* The first line of the book is a huge hint towards the revelation at the climax.

The Gallifrey Chronicles was everything I could have asked for and more. This is a triumphant climax to the eighth Doctor’s continuing life in print and a fantastic follow up on some well worn ideas.

Breathtaking.

Finn Clark

That was unexpected! Just when we were all expecting a big event book, out comes a fluffy piece of throwaway nonsense. Admittedly Lance has a track record of this kind of thing, but even by his standards this is staggeringly trivial. I'm sure he found the plot on the back of a cereal box. A sneeze would blow it away.

This may sound like I'm winding up to bash The Gallifrey Chronicles, but actually I quite enjoyed it. Two factors for me raised this above the level of The Dying Days or Trading Futures. Firstly I admire the cheek of the idea. We've seen plenty of self-consciously "epic" event novels that fell flat on their faces, but even so it takes a certain level of chutzpah to take such a pivotal slot ("The Eighth Doctor's Last Adventure!" according to To The Slaughter's inside back cover) and turn in an extended Target novelisation.

The other thing I liked about The Gallifrey Chronicles was its agenda. Admittedly it's a really stupid agenda, the kind of thing any sane author would swallow razor blades to avoid, but that's not Lance's fault. He's wrapping up the 8DAs in all their suicidal wrongheadedness. You've got to admire a man on a mission, and at least the result is a book that's *about* something. The Dying Days and Trading Futures were about nothing at all. The Gallifrey Chronicles can feel undercooked, fanwanky or just plain annoying, but at least that's better than undiluted vanilla.

It explains away the post-Burning 8th Doctor being a wazzock! Having said that, I'm slightly sad about the ingenuity of Lance's retcon, in the same masochistic way that I miss Sam Jones. The books' 8th Doctor unintentionally evolved into one of the most distinctive Doctors we'll ever see, i.e. a mentally unbalanced drama queen. The likes of Tom Baker may stretch normal definitions of eccentricity, but the 8th Doctor needed professional help. (My dad's a clinical psychologist and we once spent the best part of an hour discussing diagnoses for the 8th Doctor.) Alas, no longer. Lance's solution is blatantly a rabbit from a hat, related to the assumptions of no previous author, but it's almost beautiful in how neatly it ties everything up.

The book takes Fitz and Trix somewhere... sort of. The most startling bit of their story has already happened offscreen before the book begins (!), which seems like an odd choice to me but there you go. Lance is no longer even pretending that Fitz has anything new to offer, but Trix has come on in leaps and bounds since her vile beginnings. I no longer hate her. She's merely a charmless nonentity without even any background for the writers to fall back on. (Lance hints at some backstory, but never follows up on it.)

My only real grumble about this book is its lack of closure. Despite the hopes and prayers of sentient beings as far as the Andromeda Galaxy, Lance writes an ending that leaves the door open for further 8DAs... so his ideas are explanations rather than resolutions, while Fitz and Trix inexplicably fail to get their intestines pulled out by mad druids and wrapped around a tree. Even more bizarrely, neither companion gets skinned alive, fed to piranhas or bled to death in a crocodile pit. A shocking oversight, I call it.

The book can be tiresomely wanky. There's also a scene set on Gallifrey (which isn't a spoiler; it's a flashback scene) which will have you clawing the walls and cursing Hulke and Dicks for inventing the bloody planet in The War Games.

Oh, and regarding the amnesia itself... despite the Doctor's claims, there's an escape option so obvious that it's hard not to believe Lance didn't put it there deliberately. p254 153841 v 153842.

To be honest, the clever retcons and explanations aren't particularly interesting in themselves. The real entertainment is in watching Lance hurl himself through hoop after burning hoop as he tries to make sense from nonsense. There's a retcon of The Ancestor Cell which is much more inventive than the version we actually got. Also, no less importantly, there are a couple of funny jokes and a writing style that slips down like ice cream on a sunny day. This book is unbelievably easy to read. The pages drift by as if in a dream and you've finished almost before you know it. Terrance Dicks would be proud.

So there you have it, the end of the 8DAs. Weary and battle-scarred, we can look back and reflect on nearly a decade of sloppiness and appalling judgement that may yet have killed Doctor Who in the form of full-length novels. 'The Eight Doctors' may contain some of the horrible writing ever perpetrated, but in terms of entertainment it's almost a highpoint of the range. As the 8DAs stumbled to their deaths with ever-widening gaps between releases, it became hard even to remember that you once cared about them. The Dying Days was Lance's tribute to a respected series of novels that had integrity and ambition (albeit more than a few missteps as well). The Gallifrey Chronicles is once again the capstone of an ongoing Who novel series, but this time it's more like the final gasp of an alcoholic old fool who used to be a good friend before he went blind and incontinent.

There's still a role for the books. The new TV series is excellent, but they can't take time out to smell the roses. I miss those little scenes that helped to flesh it all out in our imaginations. Novels have the scope to tell stories and explore settings that would be impossible in a television episode, but please Lord, let them be PDAs. I'm sure they'd start selling again if BBC Books overturned tradition and started publishing good novels.

So... The Gallifrey Chronicles. It's all right. You'll probably enjoy it if you're not expecting literature. However it's curious to observe that out of the four most recent Doctor Who books, Lance's "proper" novel is far more like what a good children's book should be than one or two of the Richards-Rayner-Cole hardback 9DAs...