Book Review – Doctor Who: The Crystal Bucephlus

  • Title: The Crystal Bucephlus
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Craig Hinton
  • Characters:  Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough, Kamelion
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/17/2015

The Crystal Bucephalus is one of several books in Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who the Missing Adventures series. It’s actually the first book in the series I read many years ago about the time it was published. All I remember from the first time I read it was that it was a bit confusing. Re-reading the book now, I was able to understand the novel, but I still thought the end was rushed.

The Crystal Bucephalus features the Fifth Doctor (as played by Peter Davison), Tegan, Turlough, and eventually, Kamelion. For once, the novel doesn’t start with the TARDIS landing someplace and the Doctor and company getting involved in local affairs. The Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough are enjoying a fine meal in France when they are literally picked up, only to appear in The Crystal Bucephalus, an extremely exclusive tenth millennium time-traveling restaurant, where the movers and shakers of the galaxy make their deals to form the galaxy.

The Crystal Bucephalus is a unique restaurant, it consists of a series of cubicles which can be projected back in time to any restaurant or other exclusive recreational area. There, the customers of the restaurant can eat, drink, and be merry without affecting history because their “reality quotient” is .5 – and when they return to the restaurant’s present, even their image is forgotten by those in in the time period they visited (time re-sets itself as if the time travellers were never there).

But one of the patrons has been murdered, and in the emergency retrieval of that patron, Arrestis, and his mistress – the Doctor and his companions are brought to the Bucephalus too.

There, the Doctor and Turlough are taken to the Maitre’D, while Tegan “escapes” with Arrestis’s “girl” – actually an agent of the Intent (but more about that later).

The Doctor reveals to the Maitre’D, that he is the Benefactor – the person who endowed the money to build the restaurant. The Doctor also asks to see Alex Lassiter, the time scientist responsible for making the Bucephalus work.

Politically, the Galaxy in the Tenth Millennium is split between three groups – the Enclave, a group of mobsters who run all crime in the Galaxy, The Lazarus Intent – a religious group with considerable Political Power, several small Empires of Reptilian Races (Draconians, Earth Reptiles, Martians, etc.) who have been steadily losing power, influence and territory, and the remainder of the Earth Federation/Empire. But the real power players are the Lazarus Intent and the Enclave. And, as Arrestis was the leader of the Enclave, and his mistress an agent for the Intent – it could be a charged murder mystery right there.

However, the Doctor soon discovers Arrestis is a clone – in a time where all cloning technology and research had been banned so long most people don’t even know what it is. (Tegan at one point explains what cloning is to someone.) The Lazarus Intent strictly forbids cloning and all research into cloning technology.

The Doctor also is intrigued by the technology of the Bucephalus because it’s very close to a working, TARDIS-like, time machine. Soon, though, other murders take place (it becomes confusing because most of the “murders” end-up with no one actually dead – just temporarily misplaced in time – such are the hazards of a time machine that’s breaking down). The Bucephalus uses Legions to pilot it’s time bubbles in the Time Vortex, but one is attacked and barely saved by the Doctor, then another is killed (really).

However, the plot does still get confusing – people “dying” but who are alive and trapped in another time. Or on the time machine operated by Matisse, Lassiter’s ex-wife and previous co-developer on the Bucephalus, now agent of the Enclave. Even the Doctor at one point is time-scooped by Matisse and dropped on a frozen planet of intelligent dog-like creatures, where, once rescued – the Doctor spends five years opening then building up the reputation of a restaurant so it will be included in the Carte d’Locales of the Bucephalus so he can find his way back.

The plot does eventually settle down into it’s two many points: the tangled love life of Monroe, Matisse and Lassiter (Monroe and Matisse are both his ex-wives), and the plan of the head of the Enclave to also take over the Lazarus Intent. And a few truly bizarre time travel hijinks – that work, but are a bit strange.

Overall, though at times it was a bit confusing, there was an almost philosophical bent to The Crystal Bucephalus which was interesting and different. The characters were well-written and written like their television counterparts. Turlough, especially was well-written (he shows up in very few Past Doctor Adventures which focused on Davison’s early TARDIS crew or Peri). It was also neat to see Kamelion, I really think this is the only novel I’ve read that features him.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Sands of Time

  • Title: The Sands of Time
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Justin Richards
  • Characters:  Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 8/13/2015

I started this book as an e-book and finished by reading the paperback reprint that is part of the BBC Books Doctor Who Books Monster Collection. Sands of Time was originally published by Virgin Publishing as part of their Doctor Who Missing Adventures. Additionally, it’s a sequel to the aired episode, “Pyramids of Mars” featuring the Fourth Doctor as portrayed by Tom Baker. The novel features the Fifth Doctor, as played by Peter Davison and his companions Tegan and Nyssa. However, from a strictly linear sense the story takes place before “Pyramids of Mars”. Timey-Whimy indeed.

I enjoyed this story very much. It is very much a historical story, with the only SF elements being the TARDIS and the idea that the gods of Egypt are aliens called Osirans. All the “guest” characters are strong and memorable. I particularly liked Atkins, the Victorian butler who ends-up being a short-term companion of sorts.

The story begins with the TARDIS being drawn off course, and landing in the British museum. There, the Doctor, in trying to figure out precisely where he is prior to returning to the TARDIS, walks out of the museum and meets Atkins, who knows him well. The Doctor, though, has no idea who Atkins is. The Doctor and Tegan follow their path, Nyssa having been kidnapped, both trying to rescue her and trying to figure out what’s going on – only to discover they are caught up in events that seem to already have happened. They go to the Savoy, for example, to get some hotel rooms – and discover they are already registered. Tegan finds a green Victorian dress waiting for her in her room. At breakfast, the waiter offers the Doctor and Tegan the table they had the previous night.

It’s a wonderful twisty-turny plot that comes together beautifully. And interspersed between the main chapters are very short chapters that fill-out the story perfectly. These short bits are some of my favorites in the novel, because they give the story depth or fill-in background information that’s interesting but not part of the main plot (such as when a mummy is scanned by a CAT scanner).

I highly recommend Sands of Time especially as it is now available again in a reprint edition.

One important different between the e-book and the reprint. The e-book includes extensive author’s notes, which are instructive to an aspiring writer. And it also includes the author’s alternative ending. I must say – I prefer the original ending (the one in the reprint and the one used in the original final version of the first published version) rather than the alternative ending. But the author’s notes on why he wrote a second ending are fascinating – in short it’s a classic case of second-guessing yourself. I’m glad his editor said, “No, keep the first one – it’s better.” Because I liked it better as well.

Update: As mentioned at the start of this review, this novel is now available as a reprinted edition as part of the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. This time I actually read the reprint!

Book Review – Doctor Who: Goth Opera

  • Title: Goth Opera
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Characters:  Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 8/02/2015

When I decided to read all the Doctor Who Missing Adventures published by Virgin Publishing, I also decided to read them in Doctor and Doctor-Companion order. That is, chronological according to when they would take place in the series, not the original publication order. So, after just finishing the last book in the series, The Well-Mannered War, I’m now reading the first book in the series, Goth Opera, which includes a nice introduction by Peter Darvill-Evans, the book series editor. Goth Opera is also a sequel to the New Adventures book Blood Harvest, despite the fact that Blood Harvest features the Seventh Doctor and Goth Opera features the Fifth Doctor, as played by Peter Davison, as well as featuring Tegan, and Nyssa. I thought about skipping the book until I’d read Blood Harvest but decided to read it anyway – and re-read it when I read Blood Harvest.

Goth Opera opens in Tasmania at a cricket match. The Doctor’s taken Tegan there in order to give her a holiday after her second encounter with the Mara. But Tegan is not enjoying her vacation. Soon, the Doctor and his companions are involved in a plot by vampires to take over the world and turn all humans into vampires. Aiding the vampires in this is Ruath, a Time Lady that the Doctor has encountered before – or that he will encounter again in his Seventh form. Nyssa is kidnapped and turned into a vampire. And Ruath even turns the Doctor into a vampire, though the process takes longer to affect him. Eventually, the Doctor is able to turn the tables on the vampires, eliminate many of them, and even turn other new vampires back into humans, or in Nyssa’s case, back to being a native of Traken.

The story was good, with several interesting characters. However, I’m not a big fan of vampire stories. Still, I enjoyed this novel.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Well-Mannered War

  • Title: The Well-Mannered War
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Gareth Roberts
  • Characters:  Fourth Doctor, Romana II, K-9
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/19/2015

The Well-Mannered War is one of the best TV tie-in novels I’ve ever read, and the best I’ve read so far in Virgin Publishing’s Missing Doctors Adventures. It isn’t often that a tie-in novel makes you think, but not only does this novel do that – it is a deeply philosophical work.

The novel begins in a typical way, The Fourth Doctor (as played by Tom Baker), Romana II (as played by Lalla Ward) and K-9 are in the TARDIS when something goes awry. The Doctor manages to materialise the TARDIS successfully, and he and Romana decide to look around where they’ve landed, even though they have hit the Temporal Boundary – past which no Time Lord should explore. It seems even Time Lords shouldn’t see their own future. However, what seems to be a typical “excuse” to start the adventure is returned to at the end of the novel – and the accident and the Doctor’s reaction to it – wasn’t as much of an accident as it seems.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Romana are on Barclow, which is meant to be a colony planet. However, for over 100 years a war has been brewing on the planet – between human soldiers from nearby Metralubit who claim the small rock as their colony, and alien Chelonians, turtle-like intelligent beings. But it an novel twist – no one has actually fired a shot at the other side for all that time. In fact, the two “armies” have actually become close enough friends to attend teas and similar gatherings – while preforming their tours of the war zone, and pointing deadly weapons at the other side.

Romana with K-9 and the Doctor are separated and each end-up visiting the other side. However, video of K-9 attempting to save the life of the Metralubit candidate for the premiership surfaces – allowing K-9 to claim the principle of “Constitutional privilege” meaning he gets to assume the place of the dead political candidate and run for office against the sitting premier. K-9’s political campaign is rife with political satire – and a lot of humor. This novel is quite funny especially in what is basically the first and second parts of the novel (there are no formal parts designations).

Romana and K-9 journey to Metralubit, where K-9 runs his campaign, and Romana begins to figure out what is going on. She, however, makes one miscalculation. And Stokes, the artist from The Romance of Crime, also takes an action with far-reaching consequences. When more is revealed – it’s a race to stop an ancient, unassuming, and very surprising enemy. To say more would spoil the fun – so I won’t reveal it.

For most Doctor Who books that would be it – and it would be enough – a fun read, lots of humor, lots of action, an intriguing plot, and a truly original enemy. But perhaps because this is chronologically the last book in the Missing Doctors Adventures series of original Doctor Who novels, Gareth Roberts goes farther – and it’s the final few chapters of this book that made me really love it, despite the bittersweet tone, and give this book the highest rating possible – something I seldom do for tie-ins and original novels based on a TV series. I don’t want to spoil anything – so I won’t go into details. But the end is truly philosophical, it’s brilliant, it’s bittersweet, and it makes you think. Highly recommended!

Book Review – Doctor Who: The English Way of Death

  • Title: The English Way of Death
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Gareth Roberts
  • Characters:  Fourth Doctor, Romana II, K-9
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 6/29/2015

The English Way of Death is an original story in Virgin Publishing’s Missing Doctor book series. It features the Fourth Doctor, as played by Tom Baker, Romana II, as played by Lalla Ward, and K-9. The Doctor unplugs the randomizer that is supposed to keep he and Romana safe from the Black Guardian so he can return some over-due library books.

Soon he and Romana are involved in events, which include admonishing a group of time-travelling tourists from the future – and stopping an evil alien menace from destroying the world.

The alien had already destroyed his own planet, when his attempts to draw energy from a new power source went horribly wrong. In the midst of his engineering, he gets trapped in a time and space trap. The time travelers had accidentally allowed part of the alien’s essence to escape the trap. While that part uses gaseous energy to raise zombies that he uses as slave labor, Romana ends up releasing the other half of his personality.

The guest characters in this story often reminded me of British stereotype characters – but that made them fun and relatable. For example, there’s a bombastic British military man who insists on telling everyone all about his adventures in India, especially his dates (he’s boorish, arrogant, brags about his exploits, and reminds me of the Colonel in the Tennessee Tuxedo / Underdog cartoons.) Then there’s the Spanish countess, the British gentlewoman on the prowl for a rich husband, so she can write, etc. Throw in the time travelers, and you’ve got an interesting group of people running around.

The zombies – well, zombies aren’t my thing, even when they are glowing green.

Note: This novel has been recently re-printed.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Romance of Crime

  • Title: The Romance of Crime
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Gareth Roberts
  • Characters:  Fourth Doctor, Romana II, K-9
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/25/2015

The Romance of Crime is an original paperback novel in the Doctor Who Missing Adventures series published by Virgin Publishing. The story features the Fourth Doctor as played by Tom Baker, and the second Romana as played by Lalla Ward, plus K-9. The Doctor and Romana land in a corridor, and soon find a “spaceship” bar where the drinks and the air are drugged. They are about to leave, when, as often happens, they get interrupted. The ship is actually an asteroid that’s rocket-powered, it’s also a high security prison, a series of court houses, and even an execution chamber. The worst criminals from the local system as sent to “the Rock” for trial, prison, and in most cases, execution. And it’s meant to be escape-proof. So, of course…

The plot starts with an impossible murder, and moves very quickly. It seems an executed master criminal and mass murderer isn’t as dead as everyone assumes. And, there are Ogrons!

I really enjoyed this book! It’s a fun and enjoyable read. It’s not too deep, but it feels like a Doctor Who adventure. Everyone was in character – I could “hear” John Leeson’s voice as K-9, though at times, Romana seemed to be written more like Mary Tamm than Lalla Ward. The other characters worked as well. Overall, it’s a fun read, recommended – especially to fans of Classic Doctor Who.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Shadow of Weng-Chiang

  • Title: The Shadow of Weng-Chiang
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: David A. McIntee
  • Characters:  Fourth Doctor, Romana I
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 4/17/2015

The Shadow of Weng-Chiang is one of the Doctor Who Missing Adventures original novels published by Virgin publishing. It is also a sequel to the Tom Baker and Leela story, The Talons of Weng-Chiang. This original novel features Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor and the First Romana (as played by Mary Tamm).

After the last Doctor Who novel that I read (Managra) and found truly, truly dreadful – I was very happy that The Shadow of Weng-Chiang was much, much better. It was an excellent story on it’s own, and even manages to fix some of the issues with the original story produced by the BBC.

The novel starts with the Doctor and Romana in the TARDIS, having discovered the third segment of the Key to Time, they are ready to find the Fourth Segment. They are surprised when the TARDIS again lands on Earth, this time Shanghai, in China, in the 1930s. Romana uses the tracer to find the Fourth Segment, but the signal is weak and even disappears at times. She and the Doctor are confused, and the Doctor thinks it unlikely that the Guardians would have hidden two segments on the same planet.

Soon the Doctor and Romana figure out that the tracer is actually picking up Chronon Radiation. The Doctor and Romana investigate. A woman named Hsien-Ko has risen to leadership of the Black Scorpion Tong on the promise to bring back the “god” Weng-Chiang. Meanwhile, a cop named Li keeps arresting the Doctor and Romana, and, a club owner named Woo is also involved in what’s going on.

Hsien-Ko was affected by Chronon Radiation from birth and can travel, unaided, via the Dragon Paths – shortcuts through space. She creates Geomantic compasses so her followers can also travel instantly between long distances. But her ambition is to also travel through time. To this end, she has a nuclear reactor built inside a mountain that also has naturally occurring quartz running throughout it. The reactor and quartz will be used to magnify power so she can obtain time travel. Her plan isn’t as far fetched as it sounds in summary, given the Time Cabinet of Weng-Chiang.

Everyone assumes they know Hsien-Ko’s plan – to return the “god” Weng-Chiang. But her actual ambitions are more complicated, more understandable, and much more dangerous. Li and Woo also have deep secrets and hidden motivations.

The story is a quick read, but the characters are deeply complex, especially as no one’s motives are what everyone else assumes they are. The characters reach past stereotypes, especially those that other characters in the book hold about them. This was something I really liked about the novel – though everyone’s true motives aren’t clear until the last few chapters of the book. I also found The Shadow of Weng-Chiang to be a very fast read and I enjoyed it very much!

This Doctor Who novel is highly recommended to fans of the program and also to fans of historical fiction.