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ReviewsReviews

Warchild

Doctor Who: The Virgin New Adventures #47
Finn Clark

The most lightweight of the War trilogy, but also the most enjoyable. Warhead and Warlock were grim, humourless tracts, but this has a sense of humour. At times it's actually fun! On an intellectual level I think it's talking bollocks, but otherwise I'd recommend this book.

Its plot is more traditional than either of its predecessors. A fair chunk of the book is given over to Cujo-style antics with killer dog packs... and incidentally it's amusing to see that Warlock's animal rights message was followed by a sequel in which our heroes kill dogs with knives, pistols and machine-guns. It's like the canine equivalent of a Living Dead film. Monsters want to eat us! Admittedly they're on four legs and once answered to the name "Rover", but they're still pretty damn scary.

The only problem with the doggy stuff is the fact that anyone who read Warlock will have guessed the whole B-plot in advance. However even if you know where it's going, it's still good. That aforementioned humour is sparingly applied, but where humour's concerned, a little goes a long way. Mrs Woodcott and Pangborne are amusing, as is the banter between Roz, Redmond and Creed. I even laughed aloud at p294.

The rest of the book is about Creed, Justine and their boy Ricky. This book's big thing is the Alpha Male, just as Warlock was about drugs and vivisection, but I wasn't particularly convinced by what it did with it. Firstly, Andrew Cartmel doesn't really have anything to *say* about alpha males. We see 'em in action, but there's nothing to make you think. More importantly, I disagree with how the book portrays them. The alpha males of Warchild are so over-the-top that their powers seem more like magic than anything else. (Thinking back to Warhead and Warlock, that's not such a far-fetched possibility... well, psychic rather than magical, but you know what I mean.) Ricky doesn't want to do what he does, but his talents manifest whether he likes it or not. Meanwhile the White King appears to have telepathic control over every dog in London.

I think this is too much "nature" and not enough "nurture". Charisma isn't something you're allotted, so much and no more. You can be trained up in this kind of thing. Actors do it all the time. It's called stage presence. It's not actually very difficult once you've got the knack... admittedly the personal factor is important too, and the abilities of Ricky and the White King are practically superhuman, but I still wasn't really convinced. This wasn't any kind of alpha male concept I recognised, but more like an X-Men comic book.

One further thing about this book worried me. Reading the War trilogy left me vaguely uneasy about its view of relationships between men and women. Normally there's nothing I hate more than projecting an author's work onto the author himself, but here I couldn't help wondering if Andrew Cartmel was going through relationship problems in the nineties. Warlock broke up a marriage, driving someone into the arms of a third party and leaving the poor spouse out in the cold. Depressing, I thought, but I read on. Then Warchild does exactly the same! The Roy and Jessica stuff is vaguely disturbing, as is the Doctor's analysis of Jessica's motivations on pp250-251. I don't want to make too much of this, but I was slightly spooked. You'll have to look long and hard to find a lasting healthy relationship in this trilogy.

Warchild feels less futuristic than its predecessors, despite being set much further ahead (2032 instead of 2009 and 2016). Cyberpunk has abated. Overall, this is a well-written, enjoyable novel and the only one of its trilogy not to leave me vaguely depressed. Again it gives us strong characters in a vividly portrayed world, though again the TARDIS crew don't see much action. (Roz doesn't do badly, I guess.) Admittedly on one level I have slight issues with it, but as a piece of storytelling I think it's great. The books even work well as a trilogy, as opposed to being random sequels that happen to last three books (e.g. The Scales of Injustice, Business Unusual, Instruments of Darkness). Definitely recommended.

Lawrence Conquest

This intricately plotted novel wraps up Cartmel’s New Adventures trilogy, featuring numerous old characters introduced in Warhead and Warlock. This proves to be something of a double edged sword however, as by having the novel largely dependent on the reader being familiar with these earlier novels a lot of supposedly shocking reveals are robbed of their potency (for example, we know exactly who ‘The White King’ is going to be as we remember the ending from Warchild). However, this book still has a lot going for it.

The novel revolves around the idea of the ‘Alpha Male’, and this is explored in both the human and animal kingdom. The animal side is represented by a pack of bloodthirsty dogs roaming the streets of London, which immediately brings shades of Stephen King’s novel Cujo. The King feel is more than skin deep however, as Cartmel shares a natural flair for dramatic storytelling, with the tale being dangled enticingly in front of the reader for maximum page-turnability (is that a word?). He also has a great handle on creating engaging characters with realistic dialogue, as the human ‘Alpha Male’ storyline shows.

Where the novel occasionally comes unstuck is in its authors determination to push the story into such extremes that it becomes absurd. Having Roz and other members of the public suddenly shunted into an army role with no questions asked is bad enough, having them drive through the streets of London in an armoured car with guns blazing is just silly. There’s also a complete lack of any sense of a civilian population in these scenes – London seems to consist entirely of the ‘goodies and baddies’ fighting each other in a deserted city, which is pretty illogical. Other ideas such as Chris shaving his head to go undercover as a monk, and a fight to the death between hardened secret agent and a terrier, are further examples of when Cartmel just goes too far for his own good. And does anyone really fall for those ‘bad guy points a gun at hero’s head, followed by ‘a shot rang out’’ style endings anymore? Come on!

On the whole though, this is enjoyable stuff, and brings the ‘War-‘ trilogy to an enjoyable trilogy. Forget the uneven Timewyrm and Cats Cradle series – this is the New Adventures series most worthy of investigation...

Simon Catlow

Time has moved on for Creed McIlveen and Justine since their last appearance in Warlock, and although they now have three children, the state of affairs between them is a million miles away from the domestic bliss that they'd prefer. Their eldest child, Ricky, is a huge problem to them as he continually gets removed from school after school, all seemingly for no reason whatsoever, or at least no reason that anyone wants to talk about. His youngest daughter Eve seems to know what Creed is thinking before he thinks it, and temptation presents itself to Creed in the form of his work colleague, the lovely Amy Cowan. But there are bigger problems ahead for Creed, Justine and Ricky. Just who is the shaved headed Buddhist Monk teaching Comparative Anthropology at Ricky's prospective new school. Why has Roslyn Forrester been roped into helping Mrs Woodcott into patrolling the streets of London searching for a danger which has caused London to be declared under a state of emergency. It all adds up to one thing. The Doctor is back, and this time he's ready to finish some unfinished business.

Andrew Cartmel's Warchild is the third and final part of the trilogy of New Adventures that began with Cat's Cradle: Warhead, and was continued in Warlock, and although it may not be as powerful as it's predecessors it is still a very satisfying and excellent conclusion to the trilogy.

Warhead focused very much on the character of Vincent, and in Warlock Creed was the main character. In Warchild, Ricky McIlveen is the one that Cartmel focuses on, a 15 year old struggling to come to grips with the unusual powers that he possesses, but it also the continuation of Creed's story too.

As usual for an Andrew Cartmel Doctor Who novel, the Doctor is largely absent from the story, but more unusually, with the exception of Roz, his companions are kept in the background too. Bernice is used almost as sparingly as the Doctor, and Cwej hardly appears at all. In a lesser novel (like Dark Progeny for instance) the failure to feature the companions in meaningful roles severely undermines the book itself as it's own characters aren't strongly characterised enough to make it work without them. This is not the case with Warchild, because the strength of the story and the powerful characterisations of Cartmel's own characters shines through superbly, so although the absence of these characters is noted, it never becomes a problem because of the quality of the novel.

When I began reading this novel, I quickly realised that this was the first time that I had read a novel featuring Roz Forrester and Christopher Cwej since the publication of the delayed So Vile A Sin, and I had forgotten just how strong a character Roz Forrester was. There are two main plot strands within Warchild, the one involving Ricky McIlveen, and another one involving a menace to London itself whose threat was so severe that a state of emergency was declared to deal with it. And it's this element which Roz finds herself press-ganged into helping with by the irrepressible (and returning) Mrs Woodcott. Cartmel really brings her character to life through his writing, so much so that it becomes hugely enjoyable to read.

In his previous New Adventures, the Doctors appearances were brief, but memorable as they affected the plot profoundly of those stories. Here the effect isn't quite the same. Although Cartmel characterises the Doctor well in those scenes that he appears, none of them really make much of an impact until the later stages of the novel where what the Doctor has been working on becomes apparent, and one of the loose ends of Warlock is resolved. But this as a whole shows the Doctor at the height of his manipulative powers

Cwej's appearances are also fleeting, but his undercover work as a Buddhist Monk teacher within Ricky's new school are particularly notable as he puts the Doctor's plan into effect through very subtle methods. But if there is a disappointing aspect of Warchild, it's Cartmel's use of Bernice. With the crowded TARDIS situation at this point in the New Adventures of the Doctor, Bernice, Roz and Chris, it was always problematical to have them all involved sufficiently within the plot, but Bernice's involvement here is almost minimal, which is a shame given how well Cartmel characterised her in Warlock.

But the stars of Warchild are the characters that Cartmel brought to life throughout the trilogy. Creed, Justine, Vincent and Ricky (who made a brief cameo as Justine's unborn child in Warlock) are superbly written and there is a sense that these characters have taken on a life of their own. Creed is an ordinary guy, but one who has to contend with everything that's happened to him and Justine in the past and try and prevent something similar happening to Ricky and Cartmel conveys brilliantly his emotions as he struggles to keep his marriage together whilst all the while avoiding the manipulating hand of another who seeks to drive a wedge between it. Although Justine is not as prominently featured as either Creed or Ricky during the novel, her presence is felt through Creed as their marriage begins to fall apart around them.

And then there's Ricky. In all respects he's a normal person too. But his presence makes people feel uncomfortable around him, and this makes him shy away from contact with others. He tries to hide his abilities but it only makes the situation worse for himself. All three of the War books dealt with powers that human beings could possess. Vincent's was the power to turn people's fear on themselves with horrific consequences. Warlock was the drug that could make a person's inner feelings manifest so they produced bliss or terror. And in Warchild the power is to control groups of people, for a single individual to become the Alpha Male who all instinctively on a primal level look to for leadership. The moment where the Young Master monk reveals this is a defining moment of the book, as the pieces begin to fall into place and the Doctor's plan begins to unfold.

One of the best parts of Warchild though is the ending. Cartmel brings his three main characters back together for one last time as Creed, Justine and Vincent all face each other again. This scene towards the end is brilliantly written and serves as a magnificent ending to these characters story that began all the way back in Cat's Cradle: Warhead.

All of Andrew Cartmel's New Adventures were brilliantly written, and while Warchild lacks the sheer sense of power that was found within Warlock it is itself an amazing piece of Doctor Who fiction whose complexity enforces it's ingeniousness and guarantees that the trilogy that the Cartmel Trilogy ends in a highly satisfying manner. The way that the three books all sow seamlessly together shows the true excellence of Cartmel's work as it would seem that he had all three planned out perfectly through the stories evolution. Despite the absence of several of the main characters for much of the novel, Warchild remains a tremendous Doctor Who book, and along with Cartmel's other New Adventures cannot be recommended highly enough.