After thoroughly enjoying the first two New Adventures, I must say I felt completely let down by this novel. I think the reason I dislike this book so much is that it sets itself up to be an absolute epic, yet fails to deliver on any front really bar some decent characterisation. Take the cover blurb for instance “The end of the Universe. The end of everything.” The novel then begins by quoting a passage from “Logopolis” – a particular favourite story of mine where the stakes are higher than anyone could possibly imagine – then goes downhill from there.
In “Timewyrm: Genesys” and “Timewyrm: Exodus” the eponymous villain plays a major role, particularly in the first novel, and the larger story arc develops considerably. By the end of “Timewyrm: Apocalypse,” we are left with a very similar state of affairs to at the end of the previous story, making the whole book largely redundant! Of course, the story could still be enjoyable and have nothing to do with the Timewym, though sadly the plot is blatantly transparent, the ‘massive revelation’ at the end being pretty obvious from the moment the second Doctor meets the little girl. Moreover, I think that when the Timewyrm does appear she is handled poorly and defeated all too easily – a mere shadow of the invincible goddess we met in the first novel.
I found myself getting really annoyed with the book at times too – I felt like Nigel Robinson was teasing his audience by including references to ‘living metal’ (Valedium?), the Homunculus (any relation to the Peking Homunculus I wonder?), Kirithons having two hearts and many other suggestive things and then making nothing of them.
On the positive side, Robinson’s characters such as Miril and Raphael are well realised and each share some wonderful scenes with the Doctor and Ace respectively. Ace is beginning to be treated as more of a ‘young woman’ as opposed to a ‘little girl’ as is evident from her interactions with Raphael. The novel also succeeds in creating moments of true horror – the author’s descriptions of the Homunculus and the deformed and mutated Kirithons create some really disturbing images in the mind’s eye. The concept of “Zavat” (the Kirithons being fed the processed corpses of their dead) was blatantly plagiarised from “Revelation of the Daleks,” though to be fair it did work well in the context of this story too.
As I’ve said, there are positive things about this story, and I’d like to be able to suggest reading it as part of the Timewyrm saga, however I think you could jump straight from “Exodus” to “Revelation” without missing a thing.
I can see why many people don't rate Timewyrm: Apocalypse, but I've always liked it. There's something rudimentary about it, at times distractingly so, but it has powerful concepts and themes. If you can get past its Target-level prose, there's a strong story lurking underneath.
That comparison with Target novelisations wasn't random, by the way. Nigel Robinson was the Target editor for many years and wrote several novelisations. It shows in this book. In a sense, it's a glimpse of the alt-universe Virgin line that could have been if Peter Darvill-Evans had had a different vision of what post-TV Doctor Who novels should be like. It's short, perhaps not even reaching 60,000 words, and its prose goes between simple and simplistic. Sometimes this directness is a strength, but with characterisation it's not. The TARDIS crew particularly stink up the room. Frankly, some of this book's character moments feel childish.
However it would be a mistake to judge this book by its prose. Underneath, it's far from shallow. There's a theme of innocence, with the TARDIS landing at the end of the universe on the paradise planet of Kirith. Everyone there is perfect... but the Doctor and Ace become serpents in Eden. In this book innocence is violated in all kinds of ways, some of it by the Doctor himself for these people's own good. He himself is haunted by his second incarnation, which is so perfect thematically as to be almost beautiful. After everything we've seen, innocence destroys the beast at the climax. And p197 nearly made me cry.
This book's treatment of amnesia effortlessly blows away half a decade's 8DA-related argument. Amnesia here is the worst evil imaginable, with the author hardly having to lift a finger. (There's also a related snook at what happened to Jamie and Zoe after The War Games on p148.)
The fanwank is relatively restrained, but it's jarring in a setting billions of years in the future. I can just about imagine, for instance, that Galaxy 4's Rills (p33) might survive for millions of years, but billions? Other wanks include hat-tips to famous lines from the TV stories, which probably seemed cute in 1991 but really haven't aged well.
To enjoy this book, you've got to cut it plenty of slack. It's almost best viewed as a historical curiosity, the misshapen offspring of two opposing forces: the Virgin NAs and the Target novelisations. In particular the characterisation is something that you've just got to accept, but its story is sad, simply told and not afraid to get nasty. I even ended up caring about some of the people. It won't be for everyone, but I really enjoyed this book.
This seems to be the forgotten Timewyrm novel, fading into anonymity besides its three more outgoing and well-known siblings. It doesn't have a great reputation, but it doesn't seem to be particularly disliked either.
So is it any good? Well, it's a pleasantly diverting read, easy to get into, with some nice set pieces (the Homonculus, Ace's journey into the Darkfell, the Doctor being attacked by a monster by a cliff edge) and well-sketched characters (I liked Miril), even if the characterisation is a little superficial.
It's also nice to see an alien planet for the first time in the range. The alienness and, not to give away any plot points, the strangeness of the Doctor's and Ace's surroundings is well brought out.
So there are a lot of things about Apocalypse that are good. The plot is one of them. The problem is, though, large parts of it are taken from The Krotons. Now, reusing plot points from televised Who is one thing; reusing plot points from televised Who in a novel aimed at fans of said programme is, to say the least, not entirely wise.
This aside though, there's little to criticise. The characters tend to be a little two-dimensional, perhaps, but in a novel driven by plot revelations this doesn't really matter overmuch. As in Exodus, the involvement of the Timewyrm is brief and a little contrived, but unlike in Exodus the necessity of shoehorning her in doesn't really have any adverse effect on the plotting.
Overall, then, this is not a bad little novel. Not the best Doctor Who novel ever written, but nowhere near as bad as it's cracked up to be. Frankly I'd take this over Genesys any day of the week.
The first thing that strikes the reader about this book is the picture on the front of it, which is dreadful. It is a childish, garish, cartoony daub. So who said that you should never judge a book by its cover?
The Doctor and Ace's pursuit of the Timewyrm takes them away from Earth for the first time in the New Adventures series. The setting is the planet Kirith who's beautiful, but dull inhabitants have everything provided for them by their rulers, the wise and powerful Panjistri. From time to time, however, individual high-flying Kirithons are required to become companions of the Panjistri after which their countrymen appear to forget all about them. The main plot is deeply derivative as the Doctor and Ace join up with some independently minded Kirithons to solve the mystery and find that the Panjistri are not the kindly benefactors that they appear to be.
On the previous occasions that I've read this novel it has left no real impression on me at all. It is the kind of book about which one can remember nothing a day or two after finishing reading. I have always thought of it, therefore, as just one of that fairly numerous group of worthy, but average, Who novels. Reading it this time however, in the knowledge that I would be writing a review, I thought about it a little harder, and I have realised that it is actually a very poor book indeed.
As already noted, the main plot is entirely unexceptional and so, in an attempt to spice things up a bit, Robinson throws in a twist towards the end where we discover that the Panjistris' experiments are actually aimed at preventing the eventual death of the Universe from old age. This twist doesn't work, firstly because when you've been reading a dull novel about dull people on a dull planet it takes more than the author telling you that events are actually jolly important to raise interest levels. More fundamentally though, the end of the Universe scenario fails even on its own terms. As the Doctor kindly points out at one stage, the Universe, even in the far future in which this novel is set, still has 10 billion years left in it. This is a very long time indeed and renders the actions of the Panjistri (even if they are being manipulated by the Timewyrm) utterly incomprehensible.
Robinson appears to think that he is writing a book for children, and not very bright or demanding children at that. The prose is extremely simplistic. No character is ever allowed to do anything without the writer taking a paragraph or two to explain his or her motivation. This makes for a very dull read. Occasionally one gets the sense that Robinson realises that he is meant to be writing 'adult Who' and he tries to spice things up by a throwing in a bit of supposedly graphic violence. Unfortunately, occasional mentions of 'blood, brains and guts tumbling from bodies' and arms crushed 'into a bloody pulp' do not make an adult novel.
Characterisation is almost non-existent. The supporting characters are uniformly bland and I can think of nothing at all positive to say about any of them. The Doctor is entirely generic. He also does almost nothing throughout the whole novel. We do, though, get some more of the tedious guest appearances from previous Doctors (in this case the second) that have been a feature of the Timewyrm series. Ace does fare a little better though and is the focus of much of the action.
Unless I have missed something Robinson fails even on the basics of plotting the action. Ace and her party see the skimmer taking the Doctor off on the short trip to Kandasi island. We are then explicitly told about two full nights that pass whilst Ace forments revolution in Kirith town before she eventually meets up with the Doctor again. Told from the Doctor's point of view, however, only one night passes before he is reunited with Ace. This kind of thing is so basic that it is unforgivable - and for those who think that I must be incredibly anal for spotting such things I apologise, but thats what happens when you think too hard about a book as flawed as this one.
So can I think of anything good to say about the book at all? Well, if you read it with a completely empty head then it might just pass as average. Oh, and at only just over 200 pages it is refreshingly short. I'll give it 3/10.