THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NEVER..." AND "THE
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN APRIL
the Doctor, Fitz and
Trix are not the only
ones responding to A
DISTRESS CALL FROM
with royalty, the
Doctor's on the run
with a 16-year-old
girl, and Trix meets
a small boy with a
minds and souls of
an entire planet, the
Doctor and Trix are
that COULD change
them will be unable
The Doctor’s book-bound adventures beyond Sometime Never… are an interesting bunch of tales. Each stands on its own, afraid to start any more plates spinning in case there isn’t time for them to stop, yet some are unable to resist dipping into the rich continuity of the range and giving those waning plates one last almighty whirl.
The first such title, Mark Michalowski’s Halflife, is a novel that convincingly looks backwards and forwards. For the first time in years, the author was able to take his readers to a different planet, as opposed to another world; to pour his words into creating a culture that his readers knew wouldn’t have to be erased at the conclusion. Yet at the same time, it wholeheartedly delves into the dilemmas borne of the Doctor’s reluctance to try and recover his memories, threatening to resolve one of the range’s longest standing threads but ultimately only making it more deeply entrenched.
When reading through BBC Books’ eighth Doctor titles sequentially, the opening chapters
of Halflife sparkle with zest. Whilst I’m a keen proponent of the arc concluded by Sometime Never…, I can’t deny the exuberance that follows being thrown into a new culture, particularly one that is as well-drawn as that of Michalowski’s colony, Espero. I’m often guilty of whizzing
through prologues and the like until the regulars show up and anchor my interest, but in this case I was transfixed right from the start. A place where everyone’s skin is the same colour and everyone’s faith is the same, Espero is either the most damning indictment of religion that you’ll find in a Doctor Who novel, or the most glowing endorsement of it.
“To lose one set of memories may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two smacks of carelessness…”
The author handles the Doctor’s amnesia with similar ambiguity. In a truly inspired move, the opening of the adventure sees the Doctor and Fitz rendered temporarily amnesiac, allowing the author to delicately explore not only the reasons for the Doctor’s desire to leave his past a mystery (“Here there be dragons…”), but what it is that binds him to Fitz, even after all their friendship has been put through in recent tales. At times Michalowski’s manoeuvrings are a little exasperating - I’m not that sure I approve of the story’s needless sexual undertones, for instance – but he certainly gives this relationship the injection that it needs to carry it through the series’ final six novels.
However, despite the heavy focus on the Doctor and Fitz, Michalowski also does wonders with Beatrice MacMillan. Whereas previous books had only very lightly scratched beneath the surface of her character, Halflife forces her to look at who she is when she isn’t someone else, which, as we’ve learned, is pretty much all the time. Lost on world when the very colour of her skin obviates any artifice, this story alludes to the anguish that bubbles away behind Trix’s mask; to the apparently troubled past which would ultimately rear its ugly head.
But alas, Halflife falls
down in one key area:
world-building may be
meticulous and his grasp
of character sublime, but
his narrative borders on
the banal. Were it not for
his incisive execution of the memory loss subplot, I doubt that I would have made it past the half-way point of this one.
On the whole though, Halflife is a capable novel that does its job well. It tells a fairly humdrum tale on a magnificently realised world, and leaves each of our regular characters in far more interesting positions than they were at its outset. What’s more, it is carried off with fabulous humour and charm, posing the question as to how one can know where they’re going when they don’t know where they’ve been, and concluding that they can’t – and that’s the whole fun of it.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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