Bat Anti-Review Blog

(11 comments)

Credit to Anton B for the title. Only the ones I've read in recent memory here, which is to say, ones I covered on the blog. And thus a self-selecting set that avoided the canonically crap ones.

Timewyrm: Genesys: Everybody involved should be ashamed for putting out a book in which the Doctor, in all seriousness, tells Ace not to be so upset over being sexually assaulted. (I am in no way exaggerating this scene for dramatic effect, to be clear. This actually happened.) If this were a bizarre and dissonant note in an otherwise well-written book, it would still be enough to virtually disqualify the book from praise. But on top of that, the book sucks too. 1/10

Timewyrm: Exodus: Those who say this is the greatest New Adventure are simply wrong, and very probably lack souls. However, it is a stunning novel in which Dicks applies his ruthlessly and gloriously functional prose style to a truly disturbing story that captures the horror of the Nazis. Not of what the Nazis did, but of the Nazis themselves. It’s a strange artifact from the point before Paul Cornell showed the Virgin books what they wanted to be. But it’s a marvelous one. 10/10

Timewyrm: Apocalypse: I will never understand the sheer loathing for this book, which runs through perfectly traditional Doctor Who, only with one or two genuinely novel and laudatory conceptual leaps towards adulthood. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s nothing particularly grating either. 5/10

Timewyrm: Revelation: There are a handful of stories that changed Doctor Who - stories that single-handedly draw a line where you can say “everything before this was one way, and everything after was another.” And more to the point, that did so just by being so brilliant that nobody did things the old way again. Power of the Daleks, The Ark in Space, Remembrance of the Daleks… and this. The story that created emotional, character-based Doctor Who. So many great moments and lines and images in this, both Ace and the Doctor are portrayed better than they ever have been. If you’ve never read this, you don’t understand the history of Doctor Who. Astonishing. 10/10

Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible: It’s understandable why everyone fell into the trap of thinking people would care about dark secrets in Gallifrey’s ancient past on their own merits. Equally, however, it was a trap. Several iterations of Gallifrey past, where these secrets are just revelations about a particular version of Gallifrey that was popular in the early 90s, it’s tough to care, and the book lacks enough oomph elsewhere to justify the fuss. On the other hand, you can still see how and why people convinced themselves that this was a good idea, and you can just about get swept up in the mystery and strangeness. If you really, really try. 4/10

Cat’s Cradle: Warhead: There is a line of thought that Cartmel didn’t want to be writing Doctor Who, and so just wrote generic cyberpunk novels featuring cameos by the Doctor. Nonsense - this book is so much more than that. Under Cartmel, on television, the series became an exploration of what the limits of children’s television were. Now it becomes a question of what happens when you let Doctor Who into the current flavors of popular science fiction. The result is messy, yes. But part of the point is that Doctor Who has real work to do in responding to the innovations of cyberpunk, which was, let’s remember, a rebellion against the golden age sci-fi tradition Doctor Who hails from. This is an ugly, complicated book. But it’s fascinating, and worth doing, and crucial. 7/10

Love and War: Jaw-dropping at the time, and still shocking today. At the time what stood out was the darkness - how cruel the Doctor was to Ace, and Ace having sex in the first place. Today it’s the light - the fact that Cornell grabs onto the most romantic portrayal of the Doctor possible, framing him in Terrance Dicks quotes, and then rides that portrayal through such utter darkness. A masterpiece. If Revelation introduced a new way of doing Doctor Who, this book made it so that nobody with half a brain would ever try to go back to the old way. 10/10

Transit: The fact that so many Doctor Who fans were up in arms at a Doctor Who book that fit smoothly into the prevailing tastes of literary sci-fi at the time says many things about why the series was cancelled in the first place. Yes, it’s got sex and swearing. The horror. Sex and swearing in the year Snow Crash came out. How awful. What we have here is Doctor Who doing serious science fiction again, and engaging fully with the tastes of its era. And doing it well. Not always brilliantly - Aaronovich can be too clever for his own good - but often brilliantly, and never disastrously. Doctor Who would be far poorer if this didn’t exist. 8/10The Highest Science: One of the most exciting debuts in the history of Doctor Who, Gareth Roberts settles right into his “the Williams era done right, which is to say, just like it was done the first time” niche and gets right down to absolutely killing with this. Funny, inventive, at times quite scary, and never dull. It doesn’t show off, and it doesn’t have to. No wonder he wrote for television. 9/10

Deceit: Of interest mainly as a historical curiosity - to see why everyone thought the New Adventures were sex-addled cyberpunk. Not particularly good, though usually more bland than awful. The failure to grasp that Absalom Daak was created by Steve Moore as a joke and a parody, and is only lightly adapted by from Moore and Alan Moore’s co-creation of Axel Pressbutton, a plant-hating cyborg who had an orgasm when you pressed the button on his chest, is rather indicative. Still, not actively painful, and historically interesting. 4/10

Lucifer Rising: A book that needs an editor. Unfortunately, the previous book shows who the editor was at this period, and so you can see how this slightly overwrought tome came out. There’s a brilliant book here, but there’s also about 50 pages scattered around that are obscuring it from view. Still, really quite fun. If Deceit was the stereotype of the New Adventures, this is the book that helps you understand why people tried that approach in the first place. 7/10

White Darkness: Nowhere in McIntee’s ouevre does he rise above functional, but this moves along, and Lovecraftian horrors are in many ways the perfect match for McCoy’s Doctor, or, at least, for the New Adventures’ larger than life version of him. The focus on a non-white culture is a relief for Doctor Who - this is actually the first time since The Aztecs that we’ve had a story focused on that. It never sparkles, but it’s worth reading. 6/10

Birthright: Oh, this is just lovely. The New Adventures vision of the Doctor comes into crisp focus through his absence. Benny finally becomes the companion we all love. And yet it retains the light readability of a Target novel. The logic behind Doctor Lite stories becomes immediately clear here - only the fans who declare that it’s not worthwhile because the Doctor’s not in it are going to complain, and they can go suffer through Iceberg as punishment. Delightful. 9/10

Blood Heat: The most overrated New Adventure in existence - drab and banal violence mixed with cynicism. This is just an ugly novel that trades off of the worst instincts of what makes storytelling “epic.” Yes, it works, in the basic sense of telling an exciting story and getting you to turn the pages, but it’s hard to feel good about it. 6/10

The Left-Handed Hummingbird: The first piece of post-Cornell Doctor Who fiction. That Orman hasn’t broken out big since the wilderness years is the most enduring mystery of them. This grabs the freedom and potential of the NAs with both hands, and rides it to brilliant effect. Orman’s knack for doing properly awful and sadistic things to the Doctor abuts gorgeously with Virgin’s vastly powerful version of him, and her skill at character-based storytelling is evident. It took far too long for feminist fandom to influence Doctor Who directly, but it was a damn good thing once it did. 10/10

Conundrum: Yes, it’s full of clever postmodernist tricks, many of which are terribly funny. But at the end of the day it is a novel about showing off the author’s cleverness, as opposed to about, well, anything at all. Lyons mostly gets away with it because he is actually quite clever, but equally, there’s a shallowness here, and I cannot help but feel like most of the people who are impressed with this would benefit from reading more books that aren’t Doctor Who in their life. 7/10

No Future: Paul Cornell is a blithering fool. I mean, seriously, what is he thinking? He doesn’t like this book! WTF! This book is marvelous and fun and full of heart - a love letter to the silliest parts of Doctor Who that takes the “big epic finale” that Blood Heat seemed to set up and turns it on its head. The perfect antidote to that book’s cynicism, in fact. Sure, it’s the weakest of Cornell’s English seasons quartet, but that’s a classic case of praising with faint damnation. Cornell’s endless fascination with reworking the Pertwee era at its second best. 8/10

All-Consuming Fire: A proper romping pastiche that becomes something new every time you think you’ve figured it out. The Seventh Doctor trolling the Third in the club is perhaps my favorite moment, but it’s hard to pick, really. The Ry’leh stuff is a bit overdone, and points off for trying to explain most of Doctor Who continuity as Lovecraft continuity porn, but really, this is another novel that whiles away the hours with good, proper fun. 7/10

Blood Harvest: A marvelous little page-turner that fulfills the key mandate of actually being fun, a feat that the New Adventures manage slightly less than is ideal. Yes, it’s a continuity heavy mess, but Dicks’s ruthlessly functional prose pulls the reader through. A charming good time of a novel that’s absolutely worth spending the short amount of time it takes to read. 9/10

Goth Opera: Good times - Cornell is well-suited to this TARDIS crew, this time period, and this literary style. His Dicks pastiche in a middle chapter is a particular hoot. Fits in nicely with Blood Harvest to form a Doctor Who event of the sort that only Virgin could manage. A wonderful start to the Missing Adventures line, in other words. Sure, it lacks the raw sparkle of his 7th Doctor work, but it’s still a damn fine Doctor Who book. 8/10


First Frontier: McIntee usually leaves me cold, and this is no exception. It felt like a fairly generic runaround/X-Files pastiche. The Master is decently used, but buried under a story that’s meandering and tedious. The New Adventures at their most wallpaperish. 4/10

Warlock: Marvelous - one of the handful of NAs that could work as a novel in its own right, and that’s using Doctor Who to do interesting sci-fi as opposed to using Doctor Who to do masturbatory Doctor Who stories. Cartmel’s prose fails him occasionally, but this shows him being as bold in the novels as he was as script editor, and is a real, proper gem. The euthanasia scenes are absolutely heartrending. One of the line’s must-read books. 9/10

Set Piece: Kate Orman’s willingness to absolutely torture the TARDIS crew is on full and magnificent display here. The Doctor is battered like never before. Ace is battered like never before. The first chapter is particularly masterful, though the book never really loses focus, and Ace gets the departure she deserves - one that pays off the televised character and the older book ace in equal measure, and that ranks among the best companion departures ever. Absolutely wonderful. 9/10

Sanctuary: This… ummm… people think this is a satisfying tragic love story? An overworked potboiler with delusions of grandeur. The line between functioning and disastrous is so often thin for the NAs, and this is a prime example - it seems like the sorts of thing the books should do well, but it just doesn’t work. Worthwhile mostly for setting up the next book. 3/10

Human Nature: Oh my word. This is the book to hand people and explain why the NAs existed. So much warmth and humanity, above and beyond what the TV version has. “There’s a better way. Throw away your guns.” “Or you could burn their houses down.” And so many other moments that are just breathtaking, punch the air triumphs. A genuinely flawless book. There are not enough good words for this. 10/10

System Shock: I have a soft spot for bad 90s cyberpunk, and this hits the spot nicely. Very clever aliens. It’s all very silly and not particularly good - why this is a Tom Baker story is beyond me - but it hits a certain trashy fun spot, and almost every bad word I have to say about it gets interrupted by a giggle fit. 5/10

Original Sin: A satisfying romp with no disqualifying factors, but little that sparkles either. It thinks it’s far cleverer than it is, and there’s no excuse for not leaving Cwej as a giant teddy bear. But it moves along, and the return of Tobias Vaughan, which nobody on Earth was clamoring for, is handled reasonably well. It’s easier to list faults than merits, but it leaves fond memories in spite of itself. 7/10

Sky Pirates!: It tries. It doesn’t quite succeed. There are moments of brilliance, but they must be extracted through gritted teeth. It’s not as funny as it wants to be, and the dark turn doesn’t quite work. Like most Dave Stone books, it leaves you wishing Rob Shearman had written it. 4/10

Managra: Past the point where being clever and postmodern is worth loads of automatic points, but still fun enough to enjoy. Gets a bit lost towards the end. Marvelous take on the Fourth Doctor, though. Sarah’s a bit less convincing. But worth a read once you’ve gotten through the obvious consensus highlights of the Virgin era. Laughing out loud is basically guaranteed. 8/10

Millennial Rites: Raw and unadulterated fanwank done as well as fanwank can be done. The Valeyard… is not a character that is ever going to make things work. Craig Hinton was not a gifted prose stylist. But it’s fun, if you want to inject your fanwank directly into the brainstem. Which, I mean, I’m the sort of person who sometimes does. 5/10

Head Games: It’s strange, I like almost all the bits of NA canon introduced here, including Seven murdering Six. I think Mel and Glitz getting it on is hilarious. But characterization isn’t Lyons’s strength, and that’s what this book needs. Instead we get the cleverness of Conundrum in a book where that just doesn’t work. Did nobody else want the nightmare brief? Tough to tell. 4/10

Empire of Glass: It’s neat to see Hartnell’s Doctor play with the tropes of the Virgin era. But there’s not a lot here, as such. Stephen is fun, and his bisexuality is actually a nice touch that exposes just how much the characters of this era were undeveloped ciphers. I can’t abide the marginalizing of Vicki, one of the best 60s companions, but on the whole this is a fun little romp. Probably not for anyone who isn’t well invested in the Virgin line, but a fun little treat for regular readers. 7/10

The Also People: Gotten off the back of a truck, no questions asked. But magnificent, and got me into the Culture novels themselves, for which I am eternally grateful. This is a joy of a book. Like Transit, Aaronovitch takes a major bit of sci-fi of the era and crashes Doctor Who into it to see the result. And as with Transit, both Doctor Who and the original material benefit from the game. Doctor Who would be poorer if it hadn’t crashed into the Culture. One of the classics of the era. 10/10

The Man in the Velvet Mask: A wonderfully dark and twisted story that pushes the Hartnell era to its breaking point just to show it can be done. There are people who object to adding such “scandalous” content to the Hartnell era or to the depraved things that happen to Dodo here. They are silly in the first case, and missing the point (which is that the book is a comment on Dodo’s marginalization) in the second. 7/10

Warchild: Cartmel’s Waterloo - he doesn’t quite make this book work out from under all the baggage and loose ends he’s trying to wrap up. Where Warlock and Warhead were so invigorating because they were books in their own rights and not Doctor Who sequels, this is a sequel to his own line, and weaker for it. An adequate conclusion, but an unnecessary one. Still, a good book. Just a step down from what came before. 7/10

SLEEPY: The weak Kate Orman book, which means that it’s wonderful and brilliant and everybody should read it. Just, you know, after you’ve read her better works, and the other highlights. This is one to leave for towards the end, so you don’t get stuck with a bunch of satsumas. But a nice little number with some clever ideas. 7/10

Happy Endings: Hehehe! So much fun, and an absolute joy. A celebration of what made the line great, which was never its edginess, but the sheer joy that the writers took in being Doctor Who for the 90s. Ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than it has to be for what it is. No, it’s not a sensible or major book, and it doesn’t have great and important things to say. It’s a party, and after over four years of being this good, the Virgin line damn well deserves a party. It’s a pity it’s a going away party, really. 8/10

Christmas on a Rational Planet: The reasons that everybody loves Lawrence Miles are on full display here. Unfortunately, so are the reasons people hate him, from the at times infuriating sexism to the messy storytelling and tendency to let his big ideas get away from him. It’s the third most accomplished debut novel in the New Adventures, though, and if it didn’t shake the heavens as much as Revelation and Left-Handed Hummingbird did, you can at least believe that this is an author who’s going to do so someday. 8/10

The Scales of Injustice: A pointless mess that exists to tie up continuity and that has few if any ideas of its own that are worth exploring. Too grimdark for the Pertwee era, too Pertwee for the 90s, and on the whole spectacularly not worth the time or effort. The fact that anybody seriously thought this was an acceptable effort at being Doctor Who is a sobering reminder of how the show got cancelled and stayed off the air despite having so many absolutely brilliant aspects. 2/10

Return of the Living Dad: The scene of the Doctor working at a hospice at the start is quite simply my favorite scene in the Virgin line. It might be my favorite Seventh Doctor scene, period. The rest of the book is wonderful and funny and a delightful and loving tease at fandom that Love and Monsters owes more to than anyone admits. But that scene alone would make it a must-read. 9/10

Twilight of the Gods: The boring and pointless slog that everyone wrongly accuses The Web Planet of being, and doubly insulting for wasting the sheer joy of the basic idea of letting Troughton romp around on Vortis. A crushing and painful disappointment. 1/10

Damaged Goods: In hindsight, it was obvious as soon as this came out that it would all be OK someday. Full of brilliant ideas and brilliant characters, this is a concrete demonstration of why Davies was the person who figured out how to make the show work on television again. Dark and twisted as the best NAs are, but also fundamentally a celebration of the world as, again, the best NAs are. Another stone cold 90s classic. 10/10

The Plotters: A Dennis Spooner pastiche that gets in all the campy goodness that the Hartnell era never quite got to enjoy despite being ripe for it. Better than the stuff it imitates. For my money, the best Hartnell novel, and one of the highlights of Roberts’s illustrious Doctor Who career. Giddy fun through and through. 9/10

Cold Fusion: The basic idea of a Fifth Doctor story haunted by a New Adventure ends up doing neither era any favors, but there’s so much to admire, and the book is such fun that it’s tough to complain. Most of Parkin’s novels involve taking what should be an impossible premise and figuring out how to execute it, and here, as in many of them, the slightly stunt nature of the book gets in the way. But with so many absolutely brilliant bits one can sum up the parts and get to very, very satisfying. 8/10



So Vile a Sin: A fantastic collision of big ideas and characterization. Messy and unfinished, just as the NAs were, it contains all their best elements and as clear an argument for why they should have been allowed to go on. Roz's death is magnificent. The Doctor's heart attack is brilliant. The ideas are as you'd expect from Aaronovitch. God, what a great era this was.  9/10

The Room With No Doors: How did Kate Orman write this many books this quickly and have them all be this good? I'd suspect her of being a robot, but that's impossible - her books are too full of warmth and humanity for that. So the Virgin image of Seven gets an ending that leaves the character at some semblance of peace. I still miss him. There was room for more with him. But this is a good ending. 8/10

Lungbarrow: If the Virgin era had a problem, it was its inscrutable belief that anyone cared about its take on Doctor Who's underlying mythology. So long after that take was clearly going to be overwritten both by the TV Movie and by whatever BBC Books hacked up we got this - a book whose sole purpose is to explain Gallifrey's primordial mythology in a way that was obviously only ever going to be taken up by an already ending book line. The Seventh Doctor deserved a better end, both here and on television. 4/10

The Well-Mannered War: Oh, bless. Roberts really was made for this TARDIS crew, and his snarl of protest at the end is at once hilarious and cutting, simultaneously taking a dig at John Nathan-Turner and the BBC Books line. Beyond that, K-9 as a politician, cheerily middle class Marxists, Chelonians, and the sort of bleakly horrific comedy Roberts is best at. If only Douglas Adams had writers like Roberts available to him. 9/10

The Dying Days: The problem, if you think it is a problem, is that Lance Parkin is the wrong person to write this. With the celebratory end of the Virgin line having been done in Happy Endings, this should have been a howl of outrage - one last case that the line deserved to live. Instead we get a sort of "we can do frothy Eighth Doctor stories too" book. It's redeemed by the fact that Lance Parkin is actually very, very good at this sort of story, and thus this book absolutely hums along. But in the end, especially with hindsight, this feels like an EDA with Benny in it, not like a summation of the Virgin line. In this regard, thank God it wasn't the actual last book - that one is a far more effective end, in all its unfinished messiness. 7/10

Comments

Ununnilium 3 years, 7 months ago

You are so terribly correct about both Blood Heat and No Future - heck, I'd disagree on the latter in that I'd rate No Future higher than Love and War.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

I inspired a title! I actually just did a happy dance/victory lap around my living room. It's the small things...

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John Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

Sobering to think that *my* Doctor existed only in prose. To paraphrase a line from the range, "He may be a bastard, but he's *my* bastard." The scene from The Room With No Doors, where the Doctor realises that an arrow has killed the innocent he's carrying and gone through his own chest too brings a tear to my eye still.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

My FLGS has a number of books from the Virgin line (Including Return of the Living Dad and No Future) still going for the Cover price. Having only read "Empire of Glass" and "The Plotters" how much will I get out of reading them?

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 7 months ago

I feel I should defend Lungbarrow - it was the first NA I read and the Gallifreyan mythology was exactly the kind of unsettling weirdness I needed to stop me being a "Doctor Who should be hardish sci-fi" kind of fan, and I still have a soft spot for it.

Of course, the only other Virgin novels I've read are Human Nature and The Menagerie, so a nice trend from the wonderful to the barely tolerable...

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Matthew Celestis 3 years, 7 months ago

Cat's Cradle Warhead deserves at least 9/10. I think it's much better and more interesting than Warlock.

You are a bit harsh on the Steve Lyons novels. They are fun!

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

I've only read eleven of the ones you name, but I've bought probably close to that many of the rest of them, largely based on your original commentary. I've apparently got some great stuff ahead, including Revelation, Damaged Goods, and The Also People. I need to make more time to read!

As much as I love Gareth Roberts, I don't think I'd rate The Highest Science quite that highly, nor Blood Harvest or Goth Opera. But on the rest I can't disagree. I wish I'd stuck with the line all the way through so my collection could have been more complete when these were in print.

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encyclops 3 years, 7 months ago

Nothing. You might as well just buy them and send them to me. ;)

For what it's worth, the NAs I've read have all been out of order. I started with Love and War and read through Lucifer Rising before I started to jump around a lot. I don't really think you need to worry about spoilers, since pretty much any of them worth reading are still good even if you know what's coming.

Note that many of them, particularly the good ones, are being sold at ridiculous prices online. I think I saw Lungbarrow for 3 figures once upon a time, but even though I think 4/10 is about right for it, I like having it too much to sell it. In all seriousness, I would gladly pay cover price for Return of the Living Dad or No Future, since I haven't read those either.

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matt bracher 3 years, 7 months ago

I'll feel free to disagree about "Cat's Cradle".

Not that it was great, sadly not, nor that it always worked, but it and "Revelation" took seriously the mandate to do things that could not be filmed. Paul Cornell explored the Doctor's psyche, and Marc Platt imagined what could happen if a TARDIS went into serious disarray.

It's a hard read. I've read it twice, maybe three times, and I can still remember slogging my way through the first time, being annoyed at the fact that the Process was only present in two time frames, and then only realizing in the moment it happened how wrong I had been. [Apologies if I'm slightly off-kilter, but I'm trying to not give a blatant spoiler, and I think I've got the framing correct.]

And it was fascinating to be able to physically move between and interact with past, present, and future.

Did we need the Pythia? Perhaps not. Did we need the early time experiments? I'd see them as a means to an end -- I can imagine Platt coming up with the sequence of events, the overall structure, and then building the foundations into place. I *think* this was the first time that it was suggested that Gallifrey was barren, and the Pythia's vengeance as she toppled from power was wonderful.

A. E. Housman is quoted as a frontispiece in "The Once and Future King", and I can see his words in the Pythia. [Note that until this moment I'd only ever known the first two verses -- the third is new to me through the magic of Google.]

Her strong enchantments failing,
Her towers of fear in wreck,
Her limbecks dried of poisons
And the knife at her neck,

The Queen of air and darkness
Begins to shrill and cry,
"O young man, O my slayer,
To-morrow you shall die."

O Queen of air and darkness,
I think 'tis truth you say,
And I shall die tomorrow;
But you will die to-day.

So I'd give the book a seven, because it reaches for great heights even if it never quite reaches them. It has vision. But *man* it's a hard read!

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Ununnilium 3 years, 7 months ago

GET THEM GET ALL OF THEM.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, I quite liked it on first reading, back in the day. Didn't hold up as much more recently, but that was less because of the Gallifreyan mythology and more because it's really just kinda draggy.

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