Paul Cornell's No Future sees the conclusion of the Alternate Universe Cycle, and finally reveals just who has been manipulating the events in the Doctor's past. The plot sees the Doctor, Benny and Ace arrive in London in 1976 but a 1976 where the country is gripped by a fear of anarchy rising as Black Star terrorists continue their campaign against authority. Relations between the TARDIS crew have hit rock bottom, and the Doctor can't even rely on UNIT anymore. Benny has become the lead singer in a punk band, and Ace is going it alone. Then there is Robert Bertram, head of a record company, and a man who has invented the CD player ten years too early...
As the final part of the Alternate Universe Cycle, Paul Cornell has a lot to do in this novel, and for the most part he does it successfully, but there is a feeling that there is just too much too the book at times. The plot of No Future is multi-layered with the infiltration of UNIT, the return of several old enemies, the Black Star terrorists, and the individual sub plots of the Doctor, Ace and Benny.
The most fascinating part of this book is that it finally reveals just exactly who has been changing the Doctor's history and the mystery of the woman in red who keeps appearing to Ace is resolved as well, and inevitably the two are linked. Over the previous four books in this arc series, the identity of the individual responsible for the events of the Alternate Universe Cycle has been hinted at, and when I originally read it I was very surprised by the fact that it was the Time Lord named Mortimus. The relationship that he forms with Ace is one of the books more disturbing parts as it looks all of the recent events that Ace has gone through has finally turned her away from the Doctor and into the company of another rogue Time Lord. The book becomes quite bleak at one point where it appears that Mortimus has left the Doctor trapped and mortally injured on a desolate ice world so that he can share the same fate that the Doctor dealt him.
With the presence of such a prestigious villain such as Mortimus, the addition of another old race, the Vardans, seems superfluous. And although their invasion of Earth forms a large part of the story, it's finished off rather quickly and a little unsatisfactory. My only other real criticism of the book comes with the handling of Benny. The problem is that Paul Cornell doesn't seem to have adopted the character development that has occurred in the books featuring her since 'Love and War' and she comes across in much the same way as she did there.
Although there is a lot of things put into the plot, it never comes across as confused, and although it lacks the impact of Cornell's 'Timewyrm: Revelation' No Future still comes across as a likeable book. It's well written, and has some nice touches too it. The main problem is that with so many returning characters (did I mention that the Brigadier, Benton and Mike Yates are in it too?) and villains, it comes across as just having some of them in for the sake of it.
As the concluding part of the Alternate Universe Cycle, it is a satisfactory conclusion. How Mortimus had been manipulating the Doctor's universe was very interesting, and saw the return of yet another old adversary of the Doctor's, but this one was crucial to the whole point of the Cycle. No Future taken on it's own is a good novel, with a few minor flaws namely a huge procession of familiar characters and villains. As the conclusion to the Alternate History Cycle, it is very worthwhile and a satisfying conclusion to the arc series.
Oh dear. I really didn't like NO FUTURE at all. I didn't find it to be offensively poor, but it tried to do too many different things, and I couldn't make myself care about any of them. A scant few days after reading it, and I simply can't think of much of anything that stuck out in my mind. Everything was so underdeveloped that it just went in my brain and then just went right back out of it. Well, it will make for a short review anyway.
There's so much going on here that it's difficult for me to recall enough about any one particular item to discuss. The book begins with a punk band filled with anarchists, but they (save Danny, who becomes a bit faceless) and the rebellious spirit all but disappear part of the way through. There some interesting stuff done with the UNIT characters, but then they're replaced in favor of the Broadsword division. The Broadsword division is set up in an interesting way, but there simply isn't enough time left to give them the development that they need. NO FUTURE feels like a rough draft, or a brainstorming session.
Interestingly enough, the one thing that the book does spend a lot of time on, Ace's "murderous plans" that the back cover mentions, is actually done extremely well. If there's a single reason to read this book, then it's to see the resolution of several character storylines that had been running through the NAs for quite some time. It's a shame about the rest of the book really. It almost seems as though the entirety of the non-character sequences were written purely to place the Doctor, Ace and Benny into the situations that Cornell wanted them in. When they actually get to those places, the book is great. But the actual plodding around to get to them was too boring and too scattershot to be really enjoyable. It's like taking a long car ride to a wonderful beach in a cramped and smelly automobile, only to arrive half an hour before sunset. The reward at the end of the journey is quite good in itself, just not enough to make up for the problems encountered en route.
It's a pity that so much of the book simply doesn't work. Individually there are a lot of elements that were done better in other Cornell books. The perceived betrayal, the revamp of the Brigadier/UNIT, the interaction between the characters, and the desire to break the rules of society are almost all familiar elements. We know that Cornell can do them better because he either had done them better or would go on to do them better. They just weren't given enough of a chance, so consequently they all seem underdeveloped. Reading other books in the Cornell back-catalog would be a great way to see what he's capable of doing on these same topics. You just won't find that same greatness here.
(Oh, and the cover is hideous. For some reason, everyone except the person I assume to be Benny has weird teddy bear fur sticking out of the top of their heads. I assume that person is Benny purely based on the fact that she's obviously using the force to levitate a can of beer out of the audience. And who can blame her? If I suddenly morphed into Liza Minelli, I think I'd be driven to drink as well.)
No Future is quite simply the most enjoyable New Adventure novel I've ever read. I always looked forward to Paul Cornell's novels, ever since Timewyrm: Revelation, and No Future is his best ever.
The reason? Lots of continuity references and lots of old monsters! I know it is the fashion these days to slag off all Dr Who literature that dares bring back old foes, but all I'll say on that is these old stories did make the small screen and weren't just penned by enthusiastic fans. Now, many spoilers follow, so beware!
Firstly, The Vardans. It was a brilliant twist to bring them back, and Paul transferred them from laughable aliens in the Invasion of Time to rather more menacing ones here. Still, Bernice does still take the mickey out of them quite often which begs the question, why didn't they just zap her, which we know they're capable of doing?
Also worth definate mention is the Monk/Meddler. He was transformed from Peter Butterworth's amiable clown to a figure of pure chilling evil, worthy to be a time lord. Every time he opened his mouth in this book I was captivated. His hatred/desire for revenge was spellbinding and I am quite sorry that he will all too clearly not be coming back in any more tales!
The whole book in fact is filled with memorable quotes ('Chap with Wings! Five rounds rapid!'), and it is quite telling that after reading the book four times there are still passages and plot twists I always forget. However, there are a few loose ends left dangling. How exactly was Ace planning to rescue the Doctor? What was this 'door' she was looking for? Who in fact released the Chronovore? But, for the sheer voluminous twists and turns, I would make this book a definate must to read. Nine and a half out of ten.