THIS STORY TAKES
NOVELS "THE TAKING OF
OFFICIAL BBC HARDBACK
(ISBN 1-846-07759-3) RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
Hyperville is 2013's
top hi-tech 24-hour
lex – a sprawling
palace of fun under
one massive roof.
But things are about
to get a lot more
horror is lurking
on Level Zero? And
what will happen
when the entire
complex goes over
to Central Computer
For years the Nestene
been waiting and
from its wounds. But
now it’s ready, and
it’s deadly plastic
Autons are already
in place around the
complex. Now more
than ever, visiting
Hyperville will be
Of this batch’s three new voices to the range, Daniel Blythe’s was the one that I was looking forward to hearing the most. His brace of New Adventures for Virgin Publishing in the mid-1990s were both interesting (if largely derivative) efforts, and so I was intrigued
to see what he would produce when given the Nestene Consciousness and its deadly Auton servants to play with.
“You know, when I first met the Nestenes, they were tuned into Seventies retro. Telephones, coloured vinyl, hideous troll-drolls…
And some really, really horrible nylon shirts. Mind you, I can talk…”
When I reviewed the Planet of the Daleks DVD last month I likened that serial to a “Dalek’s Greatest Hits” compilation, and the same could be said of Autonomy and the Autons. With the same ardour that saw him throw half of the aborted Douglas Adams script Shada into
his New Adventures, here Blythe gathers together elements from just about every Nestene story ever told, along with a fair bit more besides.
Surprisingly though, the resultant novel is an astonishingly fluent and thoroughly gripping tale. Predominantly set within the confines of ‘Hyperville’, an “everything under one roof” shopping centre (the sort of place Phoenix Nights’ Brian Potter might posit belongs to “the future”; and indeed it does, this story being set in 2013), Blythe’s story tells of the Consciousness’ most insidious assault on the world to date.
Of all the Auton stories that have preceded it, Autonomy most overtly pays homage to Russell
T Davies’ Rose. As the revived series’ opening episode, Rose never had the luxury of dwelling too much on the story’s alien menace, and as such the Autons’ appearance was largely limited to the their shock – but no less iconic – value. But here, Blythe is able to take that wonderfully grotesque idea of plastic dummies running amok inside a shopping centre and flesh it right out to its natural limit, taking in concepts as diffuse and macabre as plastic amusement ride vampires and those creepy, new headless window dummies. Even the shopping centre itself is made a weapon of the Nestene Consciousness, the thermoplastic frame supporting the building able to be bent to its will.
Blythe also playfully rehearses some of Rose’s more memorable (and often criticised!) moments. At one point, for example, the Doctor finds himself stood in a bar asking those around him where he can get some alcohol. His companion’s sardonic “we-are-in-a-bar” response positively reeks of Rose’s sarcastic nod towards the London Eye as the ninth Doctor stood befuddled. And better still, towards the end of the book the Doctor elucidates upon that convenient old “anti-plastic” – we even get a list of the chemical constituents!
Autonomy also draws inspiration from the classic series’ Nestene stories, as it features control spheres and human agents (Spearhead From Space) and an everyday object
being used a Trojan Horse (Terror of the Autons) in the Hyperville Hypercards, which are designed to transfer a substance called Plastinol-2 to onto a person’s skin which will then slowly turn them into an Auton. UNIT even have a part to play in the proceedings, Captain Erisa Magambo from Turn Left and more recently Planet of the Dead turning up right at
the death with a mop-up contingent.
For most readers though (and particularly those only familiar with the new series), the most arresting aspect of Autonomy will not be its impressive incorporation of traditional Nestene staples but its foray into (relatively) new ground. As Blythe’s title suggests, the Autons of this tale are not all the mindless drones that we have become accustomed to…
“An Auton who’s always thought he’s human…
A fake human with fake memories. An Auton who’s developing autonomy.”
Extraordinarily, in this story the Nestene’s subtle plot to gain control of the planet pivots on subterfuge. Rather than extend its gestalt tendrils into any old plastic mannequin or facsimile, the Nestene Consciousness has been playing a longer game. It has created a new brood of ‘human’ Autons, so very convincing that their true nature is a secret even to themselves.
Now whilst these ideas are not entirely new – last year unsuspecting ‘human’ Autons of the same ilk appeared in the Big Finish audio play Brave New Town, and James Moran used the notion of a ‘Sleeper’ agent in his Torchwood episode of the same name – the author marries the two marvellously to create an incredibly suspenseful and harrowing tale. When the two (brilliantly observed!) characters of England Football Captain Paul “Goldenball” Kendrick and his pop star wife Shaneeqi are unmasked as Autons, the reader is really
given a feel for the scope of the Consciousness’ plan, and to the author’s credit the story
is left tantalisingly open at the end. They could still be out there, and we’ll never know how many…
Furthermore, Blythe’s characterisation is consistently good throughout.
The Doctor is delightfully portrayed too – animated, quick and intelligent. He also gets some fantastic dialogue; at one point he evens refers to using “the old Wookie Prisoner Trick” to get into somewhere! His relationship with Kate is fascinating too, Blythe (surely deliberately) likening her Rose Tyler and thus giving us a nice counterpoint to Rose at the end when the Doctor, very honestly, tells her that he wants to travel alone. That’s not to say that Kate does nott get to experience time travel though – there is an enjoyable little paradox woven into her younger self’s timeline involving a Hypercard and a dark-haired stranger in an old brown overcoat!
On the whole then, for me Autonomy is the pick of the September 2009 batch of novels. Fair dues, it is derivative in many, many ways; but it’s also unashamed, unalleviated action and adventure, with a sack load of barefaced fan service thrown in to boot. Younger readers are sure to love it as it will be all new to them, and for those old cynics like me who always like to get an extra bang for their buck, the slightly smaller typesetting means that there are a few extra words to be had!
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
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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