A while ago, Jonathan Morris penned Festival of Death— surely the best 4th Doctor PDA to date (although Millennium Shock and Tomb of Valdemar are still up there). With Anachrophobia, Morris has done it again. Don’t let the Genesis of the Daleks-inspired opening scene throw you—he’s produced the best 2nd Doctor PDA I’ve ever read.
This is not a bad thing: despite being ostensibly an 8DA (and the real starting point for the ongoing (and ongoing and ongoing and ongoing) “Time out of Joint” story arc, Anachrophobia draws on some truly ancient Who-motifs in what is surely an uber-Season Five tale. Yup, it’s all here—the Doctor mistaken as a missing dignitary, an isolated base under siege from within and without, a middle-aged ‘leader’ who goes nuts in the second reel, soldiers coming down with a mysterious malaise which puts them in the service of an unseen, incomprehensible enemy, and a third act in which all hell breaks loose and the plot is resolved largely by accident. (A super-hero Doctor figures not at all). These elements were done brilliantly in the latter part of Season Four and throughout Season Five, and it all works wonderfully here, too.
If Season Five is an underlying inspiration for Anachrophobia, then more power to Morris. Anachrophobia is a terrific read, and like good books should it improves on re-reading. The Rene Magritte-influenced cover is also good, as it segues directly into the action itself—yes, the aliens manifest themselves as folk with clocks for faces. This could have been a little Monty Python-esque, but works in the context of the novel. And the clockheads are surely more creepy and plausible than "Hope’s" tedious Terminator impersonator, or Paul Magrs’ poodles.
The Eighth Doctor comes off well, too. He’s passionate, inquisitive, and inhuman by turns, and every inch the Byronic character brought to life so well by Paul McGann in the paltry airtime he was given seven years ago. The events of "Henrietta Street" and "Hope" are brought into play, also—although the Doctor’s growing another heart by the time "Camera Obscura" rolls around, his condition is very much front-and-centre to the action here. He’s even temporarily incapacitated at story’s end, leaving an appropriately smug Sabbath (hastily revealed, it must be said) to act as deus ex machina, explaining the novel’s entire denouement in a page and a half. That’s the only real problem I have with Anachrophobia. On a related note, however, the auditor Mr. Mistletoe is a fine creation—imagine an officious, callous (Vogon?), bowler-hatted version of Harold from the Aussie soap opera Neighbours and you’ll get the picture. His big secret is revealed by an apparently innocuous medical “checkup,” but Mistletoe is one of the standout characters in the book, whatever later disappointments he may provoke.
Some of the set-pieces in Anachrophobia are brilliantly constructed and disturbing—the initial descent of the time capsule, for instance, the metamorphoses of the various inhabitants of the Isolation Station into clock-faced aliens, and (most of all) the city of clock-faced citizens blandly going about their business.
"Anachrophobia" has a visual, fast-moving quality that leads one to hope Jonathan Morris is on the scripting team for any new Who series—this is the sort of story that would lend itself brilliantly to TV-Who.Even if it seems like Power of theFury from the Ice Warriors on the Moonbase Tomb of the Abominable Enemy of the World at times, Anachophobia is a bloody terrific Who book. So, the roots do stick out a tad, but that’s what great Who is about.
The Doctor peered through the window into the quarantine area. 'Anachrophobia?'
Lane retrieved a cigarette tin from her pocket. 'Anachronism phobia. The fear of temporal displacement.'
'Of being in the right place at the wrong time?' said the Doctor. 'I know the feeling.'
When the TARDIS is mysterious drawn towards an unknown destination, the Doctor finds that he has no choice except to give in and allow his time and space machine to materialise. Once there, the Doctor, Fitz and Anji find themselves caught up in the middle of a war where the weapons being used is time itself and where nothing is as it seems...
Jonathan Morris' second Doctor Who novel is quite a departure from his first one Festival Of Death, but Anachrophobia is the better for it. The second book is almost more important in some ways than an authors successful debut novel as there is an added pressure of expectation to meet and also to prove that the first book wasn't a one off fluke. There have been a few authors in the Doctor Who book range who've failed this test, but Morris passes it with flying colours as Anachrophobia is superb.
One of the most pleasing things about Anachrophobia is how Morris plays with the expectations of the reader. The early scenes in the novel are quite reminiscent in tone of the manner in which Genesis Of The Daleks starts, demonstrating the horror of the war and introducing both of the warring factions - the Plutocrats and the Defaulters - but just when it appears that the novel is being set up to be an epic struggle between these two with the Doctor and his friends trapped in the middle, it becomes something different in that the action moves to an isolated research facility where the main part of the story will develop. This is a very effective method of introducing the story because it gives a real sense of the scope of the battle which is being waged on the planet and adds a greater sense of urgency to the proceedings as the Plutocrats seek to uncover the ultimate weapon to destroy their enemy, which wouldn't have been present had not the reader been exposed to the horrors of the war and the time weapons being utilised by each side. Through Morris' animated writing, he really conveys this setting well which helps to really set up the story that follows.
From the superb cover of the man with the blood stained clock face, it's evident that time will play an important part in Anachrophobia and, for a series where time travel is one of the basic principles behind it's premise, it's surprising that it isn't explored more often than it is. In these post-Time Lord times, there is much more potential in time itself to be used in interesting and different ways and Jonathan Morris does this well here by utilising time itself as a weapon in the planet's war. This is imparted by some very well written scenes depicting the effects of the time weapons on the soldiers of each fighting side as parts of their body are subjected to accelerated time leaving them with useless withered limbs or worse still as they age to death within seconds.
At the heart of Anachrophobia is the Doctor, but he's still suffering the after effects of the trauma he went through recently in The Adventuress Of Henrietta Street and Jonathan Morris conveys the Doctor's new found frailty with great care and attention and the sense that the Doctor is still finding it difficult to overcome the problems that this is caused is very palpable. Morris evokes great sympathy for the Doctor throughout the novel by contrasting the Doctor as he was, with who he is now, by showing the Doctor struggling to get back to his normal self, full of boundless energy, yet it's a facade covering up the truth because he just doesn't have the physical ability to be that person now. The poignancy of some of the scenes where the Doctor and Paterson are discussing the effects of the Anachrophobia problem are not lost on the reader, especially when the Doctor says things like 'it is our past, after all, that makes us who we are', when so much of what made him who he was is now very much in the past and locked away from him. And yet through it all, he's still the Doctor.
Fitz and Anji both come out of this book well, and while neither of them are treated to the star treatment that Anji received in Mark Clapham's Hope, Jonathan Morris characterises both of them well as events force them both to confront their insecurities about themselves, and particularly in Fitz's case, this might show that he's ready to accept that he's finally maturing as a person. One of the best aspects of how Morris handles them here is that he really shows the depth of their feelings for the Doctor well. He isn't just their means to return home, but he's someone they care and worry about, demonstrating the strong bond that the Doctor has formed with his companions of late.
If there is an area where Anachrophobia does falter, then it's in some of the supporting characters who fail to make a real impression. Some of them - such as the enigmatic auditor from Station One, are well drawn, but some of the minor ones feel a little underdeveloped and this means that when story developments affect them, the impact is not as powerful as might have been intended. This isn't really a significant problem in the book as a whole, but when the main characters of the story are as well characterised as they are here, it is noticeable.
As the nature of the true threat becomes apparent in Anachrophobia, the significance of the books cover becomes apparent. One of the best single scenes in the whole novel comes when the clock-faced people emerge with Morris' prose taking on very dark and disturbing overtones as the character deals with what they have become. As more about the clock-faced people is revealed, the more difficult it becomes to see how they can possibly be defeated and Morris ensures that the tension of the situation is felt by all the main players of the story with the temptation to succumb to them proving a great distraction given what they can offer...
The pacing of Anachrophobia is fantastic, striking the balance between dealing with the events as they happen and the exposition of the plot perfectly, contributing to a real sense of dread as the threat emerges which the Doctor must defeat. Given the quality of Morris' writing combined with pace, and the result is a novel that the reader will find difficult to put down. And what's most remarkable about this is that Morris sustains this quality and readability throughout almost the entire book with only a slight loss of focus about two thirds of the way through where events start to become a little confused. But happily Anachrophobia doesn't fall into the category of a strong novel ending weakly as Morris picks up the pace once more and sets in motion events which lead to a stunning climax which is superbly executed. But even then, there's more to come with a shocking denouement which adds another dimension to the novel completely.
Anachrophobia takes an oft used scenario in Doctor Who - the Doctor and his companions trapped in a location, cut off from the rest of civilisation - and utilises it to tell a fascinating, unconventional story which cannot fail to entertain and thrill it's reader. With Jonathan Morris' excellent prose driving the story forward on each page and causing the majority of the characters to stand out in striking fashion (particularly the Doctor), it embraces the concept of time to it's fullest, exploring it in a new and interesting way, and all of this contributes to making Anachrophobia a highly engaging novel and another very memorable adventure for the Eighth Doctor.
Having sworn off the PDA's at the time of Festival of Deaths publication, Anachrophobia marks my first encounter with Jonathan Morris as a novelist. I have heard some criticism elsewhere that Morris' latest novel shares too many similarities to his debut, something I am obviously unable to comment on, but as a novel in its own right Anachrophobia is something special.
The novel itself is a mix of familiar elements from the TV series, but used in a manner that firmly places the story in the post Henrietta Street milieu of no the longer superhuman Doctor, Sabbath, and the empire, (or should that be the Empire? The copy-editor cant seem to decide on a consistent use of capitalisation - something that should be rectified now before we end up with another enemy/Enemy debacle!)
Forced down onto a planet that may or may not be Earth, (even with service revolvers, flat caps and Bedford vans there is some room for doubt), the TARDIS crew is thrown slap bang into the middle of a war between combatants who use time itself as a weapon. While this concept may echo Miles 'War in Heaven', the small-scale conflict in Anachrophpobia instead evokes Genesis of the Daleks, complete with gas-masked soldiers and desolate battlefields. Soon the Doctor, Anji and Fitz are embroiled in experiments at Isolation Station Forty, experiments designed not to use time merely as a weapon, but as a means to end hostilities by physically sending back soldiers in time to win the war before it even begins. Inevitably things immediately go wrong when, following the books most suspenseful moment - an incredibly tense section with the Doctor and Fitz being hurled back through time in a device reminiscent of a diving bell - something breaks through time itself and begins infecting the inhabitants of the base. It soon becomes clear that we are back in the 'base under siege' staple of Who - though despite the familiarity of the structure, the decidedly different nature of the creatures intent on taking over the base ensures that the novel still retains its tension. And if, like me, you thought the excellent cover was merely symbolic you'll be in for a surprise...
The limited personnel of the base are all distinctly drawn, though prone to overplay the angst card on occasion, (especially the slightly clichéd alcoholic base commander Bragg), and the constant air of doom and gloom may prove heavy going for some readers. This focusing of the characters on their most unhappy memories is revealed to be a plot necessity however, and as the man said - "War is hell". By far the most interesting character is bowler-hatted auditor Mistletoe, an example of Thatcherism taken to its logical and hideous extremes, but who paradoxically is the only character to lighten proceedings with some welcome comic relief. Interestingly the post Henrietta Street 8th Doctor is increasingly being portrayed as having been remade in the 1st Doctors image, with a telling description from Fitz: "He was quick to tire, and given to irritability, even sudden explosions of anger".
After an excellent opening things start to get a little stale in the middle of the book, with a lot of running up and down corridors between a few repeated locations. Thankfully the action does eventually spread beyond the confines of Isolation Station Forty, and Morris has set up enough carefully placed red herrings and plot twists to ensure an explosive climax. While the dénouement does share a certain similarity with the finale of Toy Soldiers, Anachrophobia is by far the more successful novel, and manages to provide both a satisfying end to its own central narrative whilst providing a compelling slingshot into the next novel in the series.
To commit to reading a novel requires an investment of time from the reader - a commodity far more precious than money. Anachrophobia is a worthy investment, and will give good returns to all but those who enjoy only the fluffiest style of Who. Buy it.
For the first thirty or forty pages, I wasn't sure if I was going to like ANACHROPHOBIA at all. The beginning felt slow and unengaging. The characters that Jonathan Morris introduced initially failed to interest me. But as the book progressed I found myself becoming more and more intrigued by the story-line and the carefully constructed plot. By the time I reached the end, I had become completely engrossed, and I was still thinking about the complexities of the plot for some time after I completed the book.
ANACHROPHOBIA is mainly a plot-driven story and it seems clear that there must have been a very complicated outline behind this book. It's a story that involves a lot of messing around with time travel and related temporal jiggery-pokery, but everything fits together just perfectly. The plot has been meticulously structured, yet it is never obscure or confusing. While it takes a little time to get started, once you get into the story, it never lets you go. Even some spots in the middle of the book that seemed like unrewarding padding take on a new meaning as later events unfold. It's a clever and well told story that carefully reveals just enough of the plot along the way to keep one's interest, but not so much that the reader figures out what is going on before the characters do.
The characterization of the Doctor is another aspect of the novel that I initially thought I was going to hate. The Doctor spends far too much time at the beginning doing little apart from a lot of grinning. I was hoping that this wasn't going to be an unwelcome flashback to the ineffectual, smiling Eighth Doctor Idiot of many of the pre-BURNING books. My fears were for naught. Morris manages to slowly increase the Doctor's role as the story progresses until, by the time one reaches the end, the Doctor has taken the center stage and is the powerful, intelligent and eccentric character he always can be. The Doctor is the center of the Whoniverse, and the last forty pages do a marvelous job of demonstrating this.
On the other hand, many of the secondary characters fall into the trap of being distinguished almost solely by their job description. Near the halfway point in the story, Morris attempts to give some of them a dose of much needed humanization, and only has mixed results. This additional characterization (done almost purely for plot related reasons) manages to triumphantly pull some of the individuals out of the whitewash, but for others the undertaking mostly falls flat. I enjoyed the clever attempt to base some of the plot around key moments in the lives of the characters, but I don't think it was an entirely successful effort.
Still, the thoroughly engaging plot and the wonderful use of the Doctor more than make up for any misfires on other fronts. It's great to get a book on time travel that makes heavy use of the device and manages to stick so well to its internal logic. Morris made the art of explaining complicated plots look easy, and he effortlessly constructed an engaging, compelling tale. Definitely a book to enjoy.
Jonathan Morris' Anachrophobia is not for the claustrophobic.
From the moment they arrive at Isolation Station Forty, the Doctor and his companions find themselves in confined spaces. With the two forces on the planet fighting a war with time as their primary weapon, everyone finds themselves in sealed zones and safety suits.
And that's not the worst of it. Thanks to the time experiments at Station Forty, there's something far more dangerous to be dealt with.
Morris does a fine job of setting the tone of Anachrophobia early on, and the suspense doesn't let up, even at the end of the novel, but unfortunately the claustrophobic narrative doesn't allow any of the characters to breath off the page. While the motivations of the Station Forty crew are reasonably explained, they don't really grow beyond a means to an end, and unfortunately, the Tardis crew fares no better.
I'm a big fan of both Fitz and Anji, but my biggest complaint is that I haven't really seen any growth of the characters in this outing. While they are both concerned about the Doctor's health, thanks to events in previous outings (The Adventuress of Henrietta Street in particular), there's not much for them to do except react and do their best to survive. The Doctor, however, is drawn quite well this time around, something that had been hit and miss, particularly prior to The Burning. He's the hero of the piece, but Morris paints his frailties with equal care.
Where Anachrophobia does succeed is in its Hinchcliffe era style storytelling, reminiscent of The Robots of Death or The Horror of Fang Rock. There is a sense of desperation throughout the story, but also intelligent storytelling that makes it more than just a good yarn.
What's ironic is that despite how essential time travel is to the plot, Anachrophobia is not a morality play reminding us of the inherent pitfalls of scientific research without discipline; rather, it's a biting commentary on the dangers of worshipping an economic system above all else.
And that's timely in and of itself.