What a ride! Justin Richards does the impossible, pulling off an "Event Novel" which opens a handful of new doors without sacrificing the story within its pages. It manages to answer its own questions without leaving readers confused. Along the way, great story lines for the regulars and significant movement on the current "arc".
No spoilers follow. Read and enjoy!
Time Zero is about the choices we make and their effect on the world around us. While we don't typically think about the possible futures arising from whether we turn right or left at the next intersection, TZ proposes that even mundane activities might have significant repercussions and must be considered carefully.f
Assuming you've read "Camera Obscura" (and you should, before you read TZ) and the back cover blurb, it's no spoiler to say that Fitz and Anji start the book by saying goodbye. Anji returns to her job in the City, and Fitz heads off to an adventure in Siberia. The Doctor's sad to see them go, but almost immediately gets wrapped up in a new mystery.
Richards weaves a complicated plot involving two timelines, a ghost, time experiments, and a Threat to the Very Fabric of Space-Time. At one point I counted six different threads all working toward the same location - and most of them having no suspicion of the existence any of the others. In less careful hands this could have been a mess, but Richards makes it work, keeping each separate story moving forward and raising connections that we eventually make between them.
The Doctor in particular is in good form here, whether dealing directly with the aforementioned Threat or the investigation leading him to it. He's deadly serious when required, yet thoroughly enjoys himself during an auction scene reminiscent of "North by Northwest." He seems to have rebounded well from the stresses of the previous three books, rid of the distraction of his absent heart and its accompanying connection to Sabbath.
Of the new characters, George and Hartford especially stand out. George has an awesome responsibility and wears it well, his interactions with the others as smooth as though he's been around far longer than he has. And Hartford, deliberately two-dimensional, is one of the more disturbing characters to come along for some time. It's a credit to Richards that he's disturbing rather than boring.
My only quibble was the withholding throughout the book. Characters recognize each other but leave us hanging, artificially creating suspense for a chapter or three. Characters have access to information that they fail to confirm to us while we're in their point of view, instead making veiled asides that let us know something's up, but not telling us exactly what. And most of the withholding added little to the story and distracted from my enjoyment of it. Some revelations might have improved the plot had they come earlier.
The ending, while veering somewhat into technobabble, does make sense, at least in the descriptions. Being a novel about choices, the Doctor must make a difficult one, the fate of the universe hanging in the balance. The emotions involved were well portrayed and the characters' responses felt very real.
Time Zero provides a thrilling trip and a satisfying conclusion that wraps up its own questions while opening the door for possibilities to explore in the next few novels. Yet another in this year's series of potential classics for the Eighth Doctor.
The EDA's have been slipping into my social life in a big way. You see i'm always boasting about this fabulous series of books that I read, versatile, exciting, superbly written and somehow each one just getting better and better...
I have a particular friend who is doing a degree in engineering...he is very, very clever, his brain works about seventeen steps ahead of mine. For ages he has scoffed and jeered at my love for 'Doctor Who' books, saying I just cannot leave my childhood behind. If I dare to mention the books to him he laughs and says 'kids stuff'. To prove what a complete and utter bastard I can be I pusuaded him (via several pints) to take some home to read (as an experiment) and gave him (chuckle) Adventuress of Henrietta Street and Camera Obscura. Bless him. He gave up on Adventuress ("that's not a kids book...it's too bloody complicated!") and was blown away by Camera Obscura ("it was really...deep, really rich"). He wants to read more. I shall be lending him TIME ZERO. It's, quite frankly another superb EDA, brilliantly written and mind bogglingly complicated. I predict it may turn him into a fan of the bokks...
Fitz and Anji have made an excellent team over the past fifteen or so books. Finn Clark points out quite rightly that they are just like coming home to old friends each time you pick up a book. It's a clever combination, as they come from VERY different situations (she's an uptight City girl and he's a sixties dropout who works at a garden centre) but it makes for great humour (they are always digging at each other, Anji's "You're so sixties" in Mad Dogs was priceless) and drama because as they have travelled from one dangerous place to another they have put aside any class differences and just hung onto each for sanity (and survival). It has been very interesting to follow. And TIME ZERO rewards our paitence as the team go their seperate ways (okay this is on the blurb so no spoilers here!) and it is quite disheartening to think they will never travel together agains. But of course things are never this simple...
Fitz is off to Siberia, on a geological expedition. Not exactly want you would expect our lovable rogue to be up to in a quietly intimate scene with Anji (and following on perfectly from Camera Obscura) we understand how he actually wants to DO something with his life, time travel is great but who will remember him for that. It is the best Fitz development since his love story in The Book of the Still. His adventures are gripping. And I don't say that lightly, Justin Richards manages to capture the horror and excitement of travelling through such a harsh wasteland. He throws in some unexpected obstacles and some fascinating characters and they race towards the climax getting more and more tied up in the plot. Fitz, probably the most human of all Doctor Who companions goes through hell here, and it is all the more dramatic for seeing the pain through his unique eyes.
Anji has gone home to her job. I've read some posts on Outpost Gallifrey where people HATE Anji. They call her a career Nazi and other such insults. Why? Because she has the common sense to decide when enough is enough and return home? I call that sensible, I call it a very different slant on a companion leaving. Of course life is never that simple and it doesn't take long for her to get embroiled in dangerous adventures but at least she had the CHOICE. and why not? She may not have been mentally abused (like Bernice) or turned into a psycho (like ace) but I genuinely feel Anji has been through hell in these past fifteen books. Since Adventuress she has had to cope with a weakened Doctor, who seems to be near to death at least once in almost every place they visit! She is often terrified that she may be stuck in a particular time without hope of escape (History 101, in particular). Anji's plot is just as brilliant as Fitz's, more so in spots as Justin pours on the actio!
n thriller atmosphere. Without ruining anything for you I will just mention the end of chapter 33 (okay not chapters, the backwards countdown!) is a supreme moment, easily the best end of chapter I have ever read. And the horror she has to witness at the Institute is page turning stuff.
Also worthy of mention are the thoughtful moments where Anji's true feelings for Fitz shine through. The first chapter after she returns home is especially wrenching. Justin Richards clearly understands these characters perfectly and this story is a perfectly natural accumilation of character work that we have been waiting for for a long time.
What isn't uncharacteristic is the excellent use of the Doctor. Needless to say (wintout tripping over my tongue into dribble-praise) he is once again well utilised. His plot at first may appear inconsequential compared to the amazing stuff going on with Fitz and Anji but as ever he is utterly vital to the story. Justin puts words in his mouth like no other and several outbursts and sudden delights the Doctor lets out took me entirely by surprise.
There has been a lot of rumours about who will make it through this book. I am not going to say who lives, dies, leaves, stays, joins up with a bunch of monks, eats tons of candy floss and dies of sugar overload, has a shave (finally) and accidentally slits their throat (two of these MAY be true). Read the book. That's part of the fun of this one.
The plot is superb, hugely complicated, but superb. I cannot imagine how Justin Richards sat down and plotted this one out as quite frankly the way the story jumps about from different time zones is boggling. You have to keep a sharp mind whilst following this one because the story zooms along mysteriously and suddenly the answers are spilling out of the characters in the last third. If you haven't been paying attention you may find the climax extremely frustrating. Justin demands a lot of concentration but if you do the book rewards handsomely. This is not just another of his charmingly done PDA's. This is a gripping, dramatic, hard SF novel the you must have some knowledge of (that's strong SF concepts) to 'get it'.
I just love how the Doctor's, Fitz's and Anji's plots weave around each other, slotting into the later revelations with a lot of skill. Of course the chapter numbers, that's a count down not up (to TIME ZERO, geddit?) makes it all the more tense as the last few chapters racket up the tension to an almost unbearable state. Frustratingly, you can't whizz through these chapters, you have to truly take in all the explanations.
Hartford is a terrifying character. I did not like him one bit.
The ending comes as a complete surprise, throwing the books into the most cliffhangingly brilliant new direction since The Ancestor Cell. Big, BIG revelations on those last few pages as the book series once again goes off on a whole new tangent. I was taken completelby surprise (and I knew something BIG was going to happen). Needless to say future books (based on this revelation) should prove very interesting indeed.
Curtis was cool, but pretty scary. He gave me the willies.
Isn't it great how the books are returning to their roots of historical adventures. Okay this is chock-a-block full of science-fiction ideas but then so was History 101 and Camera Obscura. What these three books prove (consequtively, no less) is how much history can enrich the books. I find historical locations very atmospheric and a scene set in a tavern early in this book was another supeb example.
Loved the links to an earlier book. Brilliant.
Well what else can I say but read this. Read all the latest EDA's. Savour the tightly plotted, exciting, edge of the seat arc that is emerging from the books that superb authors Justin Richards and Jac Rayner have created.
Read TIME ZERO and remind yourself that the books can reach into you exactly the same way the series did when you were a kid.
Oh and I LOVE the new page layouts!
What else can I say? I'm a half-fan of Justin Richards' work. Some of his books really work for me (Banquo Legacy, System Shock) others don't (Burning, Shadow in the Glass). This one was a real page turner. When I got only had time to read one chapter I'd get to the end and then carry on reading another one or two it was that good. I *had* to know what happened next.
The plot was really interesting (but may not sound like much): Fitz goes on an expedition to Siberia in 1894, meets dinosaurs and somekind of time anomaly, Anji returns home, and some scientists are trying to create black holes.
Not since Interference or Shadows of Avalon have I cared so much for companions (not that Sam girl). Again, they're playing with Fitz's mortality - it was bad enough going through the trauma of losing him in Inty.
Anji's not really been a favourite of mine, but she comes across OK and I did feel sorry for her in some places.
The Doctor doesn't do very much in this one, spends time behind the scenes organising things, moving events (a bit like the 7th Doctor). Oh, and he's growing a new 2nd heart. How long before they give in and give him his memory back? I'm getting a little sick of this amenesia storyline (especially since he's encountered people from his past during that time - and they can't decide how much he does remember...)
Anyway, buy it, read it, cherish it.
'So, it's a paradox?' Fitz said. 'Sounds like the granddaddy of all paradoxes.' He blinked. 'Sorry, forget I said that,' he murmered.
'More than that,' the Doctor said. 'It's a paradox that can only exist within a single universe.' He was talking to Sabbath again, and no Sabbath wasn't smiling. 'If you're right about how time travel works, which is afterall what your whole scheme is predicated upon, then none of this can happen. Can it? If your theory is correct, then when Curtis travels back in time, that creates a new universe - a new universe where a black hole was there at Time Zero.'
The Doctor's companions attempt to break from the rigors of time traveling by branching off to lead their own lives once again. Fitz, though it can be difficult to measure one's age while living a cross-temporal lifestyle, realizes he's around thirty-three and decides he needs a personal journey of self-discover and joins a Victoria expedition in Siberia of 1894, searching for prehistoric fossils with famed palaeontologist George Williamson. He has made a commitment to himself, his team and, indirectly, to the Tsar that he will maintain an ongoing journal chronicling events and discoveries. Hanson Galloway, leader of the expedition, is a royal pain in the ass and his sudden death seems to be blamed directly upon Fitz. Knowing he didn't commit the murder, Fitz realizes he's involved in a danger deeper than the icy terrain.
Anji, meanwhile, has returned to her mundane office job. In over a year and a half of life in the normal world, she is fast-tracked through the company's ranks, building a large list of personal clients. As time passes, she reflects on her time travelling with the Doctor and Fitz and does research to check up. She discovers that the Williamson and Galloway expedition was never recovered, and she begins to fear that Fitz has gone to his death. While many believe she is grieving Dave, she is actually crying over the loss of Fitz. Eventually promoted to a special position that will take her into a "hush-hush" operation in Siberia, she is tricked into falling in with a group of time mercenaries with faked credentials who recognize she has traveled time. They believe she has been sent through time by the Naryshkin Institute, which they seek to infiltrate. The mercs are relentless in their murderous tactics, and Anji resorts bluffing to save lives. She tells them she was sent back by future versions of the Naryshkin researchers, and that they wouldn't know anything about it just yet. Anji hides from them, faking her escape by throwing an empty parachute from a plane, only to later discover the ruthless killers have abandoned the plane, it's crashing, and Anji is alone with no parachute.
The Naryshkin Institute, situated with a haunted Siberian castle, has been established to study Quantum theory in particle physics. Scientists are attempting to generate an optic Black Hole, preparing to slow light to eight meters per second to send it into a vortex. A substance is required to slow the light, something with similar properties to ice has been discovered in the frozen wastes. Meanwhile, a pilot who lost nine point two seconds in a gap of non-time, and it's questionable where the time has gone. The timestreams are gradually beginning to match up, to reach "Time Zero", the phenomenon releasing Hawking Radiation, "Chronic Radiation", the type emitted from Black Holes. Layers upon layers begin to unfold, building a complex plot bringing various separate plots into a singularity.
Fitz's expedition has happened across a portal of sunshine, a ragged hole in the fabric of space-time, a "window into otherness". From this other reality comes prehistoric beasts, dinosaurs. Escaping for their lives, the explorers discover an ice cavern hewn from a great glacier. Inside, they find an ice-like substance that has slowed light, and time, to a standstill. Inside the ice, frozen, are flames of burning fire. There is an image hidden within the ice that haunts Fitz, a British Police Box.
The Doctor, having read Fitz's journal of the expedition during his memory-less century on Earth, realizes that it was Fitz's destiny to go, and time accepts only what has already occurred. The Doctor is inquisitive, however, that the handwriting in the journal does not match the note he once held for so long, the one from Fitz asking him to meet in Saint Louis of 2001. The Doctor still has no recollection of his type 102 TARDIS Compassion, who wrote the note for Fitz. He's grown, nonetheless, and his concern for the timelines is limitless.
The Doctor bids for missing pages of Fitz's journal at an auction, losing them for a hundred thousand pound bid by an agent of the Grand Duchess, daughter of Nikolaivich, the son of Tsar Nicholas II. Knowing that Nikolaivich died at age thirteen, the Doctor is highly suspect of the Grand Duchess. The Doctor joins Industrialist Maxwell Curtis, the man responsible for the private funding of the Naryshkin Institute, and they travel to Siberia. The Grand Duchess joins them, and while her identity is questionable, Curtis' assistant Holiday is not who he seems, and is in fact the Doctor's arch nemesis, Sabbath.
Though TIME ZERO is certainly not the monumental accomplishment that was THE BURNING, fans of Richards' books like MILLENIUM SHOCK and SHADOW IN THE GLASS will not be displeased. Scientific intrigue, espionage, time travel, arctic adventure, personal reflections, dinosaurs, portals in the fabric of space time, ghosts and your favorite villain, Sabbath, all contribute to create a complex thrill ride in a widescreen scale. The frigid setting plays nicely against the thematic structure of the Doctor's necessity to adopt a cold, analytical and much less passionate perspective to save the day. Fitz and Anji are featured quite nicely in their own independent storylines, their situations prove quite thrilling and action packed, causing the reader to overlook their mostly stock characterizations. Released as the first of the Eighth Doctor books to be released bi-monthly instead of monthly, TIME ZERO offers a complex series of inward folding plots all leading to a conclusion that will please fans of Justin Richards.
Sadly, Richards simply doesn't understand the sheer innovative majesty of Sabbath, Doctor Who's otherwise most refreshing ever antithesis, who Richards degenerates into a second rate Master-clone. And TIME ZERO is so relentlessly plotted by an author's hand that it feels "written" and doesn't unfold like a natural narrative. TIME ZERO is forced by a writer's hand, creating intentional coincidences over the unintended consequences that kept Lloyd Rose's masterful CAMERA OBSCURA so refreshing. This creates just the opposite effect of everything the propelled the previous novel, and TIME ZERO is hurt simply by having to follow up after a masterpiece by comparison. As an adventure tale, it would be difficult to beat TIME ZERO with its high action content. Standard fare for Justin Richards, TIME ZERO launches the Doctor Who novels into its one per month release with promise that less output of product won't necessarily mean less quantity of adventure. It's not necessarily ground-breaking or otherwise memorable, but it's a nice thrill ride and quite entertaining nonetheless.
The folks at BBC books really ought to stop hyping certain books as event books because the result is inevitably disappointing. In this regard, Time Zero, by Justin Richards, lives up to expectations. In every other regard, it is a huge disappointment for me.
It pains me to write this, but this is the second time I've been sorely disappointed by Justin Richards, an author and editor who I usually admire. His previous Big Finish play, The Time of the Daleks, contained many of the same themes and ideas as Time Zero. And, like that audio play, Time Zero shares many of the same weaknesses. In short, Justin Richards seems more interested in writing about quantum theory than he is in writing good, solid, Doctor Who adventures. Like that audio play, Time Zero tries to juggle one too many plot strands and has too many factions of characters vying for attention. The result is confusion and chaos, although it's stylish, exciting confusion and chaos.
Consider all the different subplots. We have the Anji subplot where she is press-ganged by US military special-ops and taken to Siberia on some secret mission. While the action sequences in this plot are very exciting, one gets the feeling that we've seen it all before. From films like Air Force One, Executive Decision, and even Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, almost all of these action sequences have been done elsewhere. There's nothing new. Furthermore, the characterization of the special-ops personnel as ruthless, dangerously unstable, psychopathic thugs is poor for two reasons: it's cliched and it's inaccurate. No officer who displays the sort of vicious instability as shown by Colonel Hartford would make it as far in the military as he does. He'd be too much of a liability. This sort of portrayal of the US military as sadistic thugs who go around shooting civilians in the head at every opportunity is misinformed and a throwback to the days of Virgin's New Adventures.
Another subplot is the Fitz subplot. Again, it's nothing we haven't seen before. Basically, it's The Fellowship of the Ring as Michael Crichton. Who cares? And, by using the conceit of a countdown, there is very little suspense. Oh. We see that Fitz has "died." Well, considering the number of times this guy has "died" before, it borders on the absurd. Furthermore, the characters in this section aren't very distinctive and, apart from George (who is the main pivotal character), easily are forgotten.
The Doctor, meanwhile, is stuck back in England dealing with mysterious auctions, mysterious benefactors, mysterious duchesses, and so on. Apart from an amusing auction sequence that is lifted straight from Octopussy, nothing of much interest happens. Eventually, the Doctor's party meets up with Anji's party, and part of Fitz's party, at the Naryshkin Institute in Siberia. There, they get involved with the various members of that Institute. So, at this point, we have a US special ops group, a group of Victorian explorers, a group of scientists at an institute, and a group of mysterious benefactors all vying for attention along with the Doctor, Fitz, and Anji. The result is that no characters are really developed, and none are really interesting. Then, towards the end, a group of British soldiers shows up.
And what of the plot? I don't know. It's one of these situations where the majority of the book is all mysterious and then the explanations come fast and furious from the Doctor in the final fifth of the book. I couldn't follow all of it, but it has to do with time travel creating infinite possibilities and multiuniverses. And Schordinger's cat. And indeterminates. And various timelines, singularities, and other stuff that I'm probably too dense to understand. Except that I do. Just after wading through all of it, I realize, "I don't care."
It's the EDA's by numbers. We have more paradoxes. The Doctor and Sabbath get into a philosophical argument about Time. The Doctor is confronted with a choice: either sacrifice an innocent or sacrifice the universe. In short, it's all been done before. In particular, the recent Farscape episode, "Unrealized Reality" covered the same ground in a far more eloquent, clear, and exciting manner.
The Doctor having to make the choice of sacrificing an innocent in order to save the universe is a dramatically rich one, although it had already been explored in Neverland, along with multiple timelines. It's a question that was put forth in Camera Obscura and several other novels of late. However, in the franchise, I'm a bit tired of the Doctor being faced with this choice, only for the writer to ensure that the Doctor doesn't actually make the choice. In this case, he turns the choice over to the individual in question who then has to decide to choose between his own fate or the fate of the universe. And, of course, it's no question. Of course, he does the noble thing. The Doctor, once again, doesn't actually have to make the choice himself. He tells his companions that it's a choice that only the individual can make. Is this nobility? I'd say it's the Doctor unwilling to want to take any responsibility or face up to life. And, in having the Doctor continually abdicate from making these tough choices, the authors weaken the character and cheapen the drama. I mean, what would the Doctor have done if the individual in question decided not to be noble and sacrifice himself for the sake of the universe? That's a question that needs to be addressed. And, for the EDA's to retain any credibility with the character, it needs to be addressed soon.
Hat-trick!!! 3 out of 3, right on target! Suns Of Caresh, Camera Obscura and Time Zero. 2 months ago I was despairing how far (and for how long) the Doctor Who books had fallen, culminating in Combat Rock and the literally dozens of poor to average books preceeding that. Now these 3 come along all at once.
Well written - good sense of mystery etc. The plot kept my interest throughout, keeping me wanting to come back for more. This book has the usual 8DA page count but its smaller font meant even more story for my money.
Nice use of Quantum theory and 'parallel worlds'. Just enough of a spin on the common 'parallel universe' idea used a few times already, to make it new and interesting.
I have to admit I'm getting a bit tired of Sabbath doing a 'Master' in each book (who is he disguised as this week?). Not a very original way to handle the character. If we're going to have a Master-clone, why not just use the real thing?
One of the best books in years! Hopefully the start of a Doctor Who Renaissance, especially since Time Zero is obviously the start of an 'arc plot'.