THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
STORIES "SHADA" AND
"THE FIVE DOCTORS,"
AND THE BIG FINISH
AUDIO BOOK "THE
PAPERBACK (ISBN 0-
IN SEPTEMBER 2000.
The TARDIS arrives in
the aftermath of A
disaster and, to the
delight, he is
saving the population
from certain and
he hasn't actually
a drug-addled hippie
lizard, a hard-
reporter and a
computer, the Doctor
has no choice but to
travel back in time
and discover exactly
how he became a
He did it by
sacrificing his life.
Festival of Death
It’s a very rare thing when a debutant Doctor Who author impresses so much in the first instance. In fact, I am hard-pressed to recall the last time that a newbie made as urgent and as overwhelmingly affirmative impression as Jonathan Morris has here. And not just on me, but on readers worldwide. This is especially remarkable when one considers that Festival of Death is a pure, unadulterated dose of Season 17 – hardly Doctor Who’s finest hour.
Gareth Roberts must really be shaking in his boots. Just when he thought that he had the Season 17 market cornered, a new author comes along with an effervescent portrayal of the fourth Doctor, Romana and K-9 that is every bit as evocative as his own in oft-celebrated novels such as The English Way of Death and The Well-Mannered War. And what’s more, again just like Roberts, Morris also seems to have nailed the pace and pitch of a 1979/80 four-parter perfectly. As such, if you happen to share the author’s apparent adoration for all things Graham Williams, then Festival of Death is really going to come as a treat and a half… “Skullguards”, “Arachnopods” and all.
And whilst parallels will inevitably be drawn with the markedly middling Nightmare of Eden - a serial from which this book borrows much - the strength of Morris’ plot and particularly his proclivity for wry humour put it more on a par with the likes of Douglas Adams’ Shada, or perhaps even City of Death. Examples of this humour can be found on just about every page, and in almost every character. Indeed, at its best Festival of Death feels like Adams actually edited it. Not content to festoon the novel with an ingloriously callow Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-esque hippie lizard, we are event treated to ERIC – a depressed computer that positively reeks of the influence of Doctor Who’s erstwhile script editor.
What really sets Festival of Death apart though is its exceptional structure. Having the Doctor and Romana arrive on a planet only to find that they have just saved it from total destruction is a compelling enough hook in any event, but to have them find that they saved the world, but only at the cost of the Doctor’s life, is absolutely irresistible.
“Some events do not have a first cause. They only exist because they exist.”
Admittedly I am a real sucker for stories that play about with the workings and consequences of time travel, particularly when they are executed with the finesse that they are here, but it really has to be said that the sheer logistics of Festival of Death boggle the mind. Morris does not just limit himself to having the Doctor and Romana cross their own timestreams, you see – they do so several times in quick succession. We have ‘present’ Doctors scurrying past ‘past’ Romana’s, and ‘future’ Romana’s hiding from different aspects of herself… It’s utterly enchanting stuff, and all so very well written that you can actually see the various Tom Bakers and Lalla Wards running around in front of some very dodgy CSO.
I also love how Morris manages to explore death whilst still managing to maintain that apposite ‘Roberts’ breeziness. Take the Doctor’s deliberately hammy ‘death scene’, for instance. The Doctor is, quite fittingly, full of lyrical sound and fury… yet his hand is shaking. And when he says “Kismet” to Romana, his booming tones laden with deadly earnestness, she damn-near slaps him as she mishears him and thinks that he said “Kiss me”! The blatant contrast is delectable.
Altogether then, for a novel that is demonstrably derivative in so many ways, Festival of Death is frighteningly original. In fact, there is certainly not another adventure like it anywhere in BBC Books’ repertoire and probably not even in the whole canon. If Justin Richards’ so-called “slushpile” holds any more submissions with even half the ingenuity of this one, then
he really ought to get digging…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This novel’s blurb places it between the television serials Shada and The Leisure Hive. Within this gap, we have placed it prior to the later audio book The Pyralis Effect and the earlier novel The Well-Mannered War. Whilst The Well-Mannered War was released earlier, it was clearly intended to be the final Graham Williams’ era adventure, and has been placed accordingly.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.