Book Review – Doctor Who: The Man in the Velvet Mask

  • Title: The Man in the Velvet Mask
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Daniel O’Mahony
  • Characters: First Doctor, Dodo
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/27/2017

The Man in the Velvet Mask is part of the Virgin Publishing Doctor Who Missing Adventures series. It features the First Doctor (as played on the classic television series by William Hartnell) and Dodo, an under-used companion. The Doctor and Dodo land in the TARDIS in what appears to be Post-Revolutionary France. Yet almost immediately something seems very off. Historical characters who are known to be dead are alive. People who should be alive – are dead. And everything is just off. Yet, for two-thirds of the book, though the reader is aware that something is off, it’s not explained what’s going on – making this book a frustrating read.

Almost immediately after alighting the TARDIS, the Doctor and Dodo are separated. Dodo takes up with a troop of actors, eventually falling in love, or at least having a physical fling. She grows up and becomes an adult woman. The Doctor gets to meet a number of people, gathering clues as to what is going on. And, he eventually ends up a prisoner in the New Bastille.

Meanwhile, hidden in the Bastille is another prisoner, Prisoner Number 6, the man in the velvet mask of the title. Number 6 has his face hidden so no one will ever know who he is. Also, he’s held in the cell of the condemned – those to be guillotined the next day. Yet, the warden of the prison doesn’t ever plan to send Number 6 to his death, instead every day she simply changes the name on the records, so the cell holds a “new” condemned man. This has been going on for years, even decades. And yes, that a Prisoner is known only as Number 6 is no coincidence.

Minisk, the dictator in charge of this weird world is involved in weird, grotesque experiments, and keeps cruel law, with an early curfew. It’s breaking curfew that got the Doctor taken to the Bastille in the first place. After interviewing the Doctor, Minisk decides that he will be placed in the should-be-empty cell of the condemned man. When he forces the Warden to take them there, he discovers the warden’s deception and that Number 6 is alive. He orders Six’s death. This forces the Warden, as soon as Minisk leaves to actually aid Number 6 and the Doctor in escape, though she only lets them out of the cell and says she can’t let them out of the prison. But the prison is a warren of levels, rooms, cells, corridors, etc. It’s a labyrinth – and actually a good place to hide. By talking to Number 6, and observation, plus – eventually some information from Dodo and her actors, the Doctor figures things out.

The conclusion of the story is an conclusion, and a hitting of the reset button, but with a bit of a spook factor.

I read this book as an e-book, and I almost wonder if it was condensed or re-edited. It’s a short book, and it’s very, very confusing. At times this book is difficult to follow, though eventually the plot more or less falls into place. This is also very much a horror story, with some really disgusting descriptions – such as the head that continues to speak after it’s been separated from it’s body. One of the main historical characters of the story is the Marquis de Sade, so you can guess how that turns out. The story is creepy, often gross, but also difficult at times to follow. This is one of the few times I wish more time had been spent in a set-up chapter before the TARDIS arrives explaining what’s going on.

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Book Review – Doctor Who: The Empire of Glass

  • Title: The Empire of Glass
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Andrew Lane
  • Characters: First Doctor, Steven, Vicki
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 1/26/2017

The Doctor, Steven, and Vicki land the TARDIS in 17th century Venice, the Empire of Glass, and meet Shakespeare (currently a spy for King James the First of England and Sixth of Scotland), William Marlowe who isn’t quite as dead as Shakespeare thought he was, Galileo, and another Time Lord from Gallifrey who is hosting intergalactic arms limitation talks on a hidden island in Venice.

This story is short, barely over 200 pages in the e-book version, and a thorough romp. There are plenty of fights in bars, kidnappings, chases, mistaken identity (a cardinal looks very like the Doctor, apparently, so the two keep getting mistaken for each other by everyone), misunderstandings, and even a duel. It’s a fun and quick read. Even the opening chapter describing the infamous Lost Colony is successfully tied in by the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it was so much fun.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Millennial Rites

  • Title: Millennial Rites
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Craig Hinton
  • Characters:  Sixth Doctor, Mel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/24/2015

**Spoiler alert** Millennial Rites is the last Doctor Who Missing Adventures book that I have in paperback, though I have a few more to read as e-books. It was published by Virgin Publishing, and it’s an original novel featuring the Sixth Doctor as played by Colin Baker and Mel (Melanie Bush) as played by Bonnie Langford. The story is told in three distinct parts.

In part one, the Doctor is unusually pre-occupied with his own future, having just gone through his Trial at the hands of the Time Lords and the Valeyard. He and Mel land in London on New Year’s Eve 1999. There they run into Anne Travers who after the events of the Doctor Who Missing Adventures novel, Downtime, has become even more determined to defeat the Great Intelligence. Mel attends her 10-year college reunion, only to have someone slip her a request to hack a computer company that’s closing it’s doors on New Year’s Eve, making the staff redundant (in other words, they are all fired except a small research group). Two of the fired employees: Barry and Louise, get involved in the situation (as does Louise’s very young daughter, Cassie).

Barry shows Louise a CD of computer code he lifted from the office – but when he does so, her computer becomes alive, then a monster attacks them. The three escape, Louise leaves her daughter with her mother, then they attempt to find the other fired employee that Barry stole the computer disk from. But another of the Cybrid monsters has already killed him.

In the fracas, Barry and Louise meet up with the Doctor and Mel. The Doctor fears Ashley Chapel of the computer firm is trying to bring back Verocyl – but he’s wrong. The Doctor tries to prevent Anne Travers from casting her banishment spell – and fails. Everyone rushes to Ashley’s computer company to stop him running the Millennium Codex – and again, the Doctor fails.

In Part Two, everyone suddenly wakes in a fantasy world ruled by three continuously fighting monarchs: The Technomancer, Majestrix Melaphyre (Mel), ruler of the Ziggurat of Sciosophy; The Archimage, Magnus Ashmael (Ashley Chapel), ruler of the Tower of Abraxis; and the Hierophant, Bibliotrix Anastasia (Anne Travers), ruler of the Labyrinth of Thaumaturgy. Mel is attended by fantasy versions of Barry and Louise, who have a daughter, Cassandra, in the fantasy world as well.

The Doctor appears to be unchanged at first, and quickly escapes the Archimage. However, in the fantasy world he is slowly being changed into the Valeyard. However, it is the Doctor who establishes an alliance between Melaphyre and Anastasia – who must prevent Magnus Ashmael from further destroying not simply the new and unstable fantasy universe, but the real universe. This time he succeeds.

The final part wraps up the story. As life in London in the New Millennium is returned to normal.

Millennial Rites is two stories in one – part one is a Cyberpunk “nightmare” as a computer guru attempts to take over the world with malicious code. Part two is an intriguing fantasy. I enjoyed both parts – and I liked the idea that the Doctor, especially Colin’s Doctor would be so arrogant about his ability to stop Chapel – then he fails. Though the Doctor gets to do the same thing again in Part Two. Besides the fantasy elements, Part Two is also fueled by the Doctor’s fears of becoming the Valeyard – something never really dealt with in either televised Doctor Who or the various novels, comics, and audio plays that I’ve read. It made Colin’s Doctor surprisingly vulnerable and approachable.

Recommended!

Book Review – Doctor Who: State of Change

  • Title: State of Change
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Christopher Bulis
  • Characters:  Sixth Doctor, Peri
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/08/2015

State of Change is an original novel in Virgin Publishing’s Missing Doctors series of paperback novels, featuring the Sixth Doctor as played on the BBC television series, Doctor Who by Colin Baker, and his companion, Peri. The novel begins with The Doctor and Peri in ancient Egypt with Peri hidden and taking photos of Cleopatra as she preforms a dress rehearsal for meeting the Romans. The Doctor hurries Peri back to the TARDIS and admonishes her for her habit of taking photographs that she can’t show anyone, plus the danger of her camera falling into the wrong hands. The Doctor then puts the TARDIS in flight and Peri heads off to the swimming pool to relax. The TARDIS is then involved in a collision in the Time Vortex which causes it to get stuck.

When it gets unstuck and crash lands, Peri and the Doctor are in Rome but it’s a Rome with steam ships, air ships (zeppelins), telegraphs, wireless (radio), and even a nuclear bomb, ruled by the uneasy triumvirate of Cleopatra and her brothers Ptolemy and Alexander. The crash has also left the Doctor and Peri in an unstable situation: Peri begins to turn into a bird, as she did in the televised episode, “Vengeance on Varos”, and the Doctor begins to regenerate backwards – briefly going back to his Fifth Incarnation before re-stabilizing as the Sixth Doctor. The Doctor develops a device to allow him to roam freely and not regenerate backwards, where Peri embraces her new bird-form, even more than the Doctor recommends. While the TARDIS recharges the Doctor and Peri get involved in events.

This story might sound grim – but it’s a rip-roaring action-adventure story set in an “alternative” Rome. The last third of the book wraps up some anomalies from earlier – explaining exactly where the Doctor and Peri are, a known Doctor Who villain briefly appears, and the situation is resolved quickly and basically happily. I enjoyed the story immensely, and even found it amusing (you’ve heard of steam punk – well imagine steam punk with Romans). It’s simply a wonderful Doctor Who story. I also liked seeing Peri grow up a bit, become comfortable in her own skin, take initiative, and even kick a little butt. Highly Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Lords of the Storm

  • Title: Lords of the Storm
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: David A. McIntee
  • Characters:  Fifth Doctor, Turlough
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/12/2015

The Lords of the Storm is a original novel in the Doctor Who the Missing Adventures series, featuring the unusual combination of the Fifth Doctor as played by Peter Davison on the BBC television series, and his companion, Turlough. I enjoyed seeing Turlough and just Turlough as the Doctor’s companion in this book – it’s an unusual combination (one I’ve only seen in one Big Finish audio adventure and no other novels), it also means there’s less of the “the companions and the Doctor get separated and spend half the story looking for each other” running around. Not that I don’t enjoy that too!

This story is set on a pair of Indian colony moons (Indian as in the country of India) that circle a gas giant planet in the far future. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the moons, their star system is about to be caught in the crossfire of the long-running Sontaran/Rutan War.

The Doctor and Turlough arrive, almost by mistake, and quickly become involved in events – but coming at them sideways, not head on, which made for an interesting story.

This book also gives a lot of information about the Sontarans and the Rutan, with whole chapters written from Sontaran or Rutan point of view. I enjoyed learning more about the Rutan, their collective mind, and their interesting method of reproduction (they spontaneously divide into exact copies), and their space ships were fascinating. The Sontarans, being a clone race, had considerably less individuality than the humans and were in a sense less interesting. I did find it interesting though that lower-level Sontaran combat troops, basically the cannon fodder, had their brains literally bred out of them. They were bred to follow orders blindly, without question, and even without regard for their own lives. The officers were slightly more intelligent, but not much. And the Sontarans totally felt that their society was better than that of humans with their individuality. The Rutan, as literally a single group organism that was split into many parts didn’t even seem to understand human individuality.

All of this is set against a pair of terraformed moons (well one terraformed and the other partially terraformed) settled by India and still using the Caste system. I actually learned something about India and Indian culture reading this book, which was interesting to note. And I really liked the main guest character, Nur, a pilot who’s father was randomly appointed the governor of the terraformed moon, which means he’s in charge and since Nur is female, she’s expected to be a good-will ambassador (touring hospitals, etc.). Nur who is fiercely independent despite her background, despises the fluffy work she has to do – and points out she’s not good at it. However, the hospital tour she takes at the beginning of the story does provide information that’s important later.

The Sontarans basically have a plot to trap the Rutan Host, but it’s not a very good one – and besides causing a lot of death, it’s success would destroy the gas giant, not to mention the moons orbiting it. The Doctor, Turlough, Nur, and Shama Nur’s fiance (arranged) have to figure out and then stop the Sontarans’ plan.

Although the book was slow in places, I liked the setting, I liked the featured guest characters, it was fun to learn more about the Rutan (a frequently mentioned but seldom seen Doctor Who monster), and I enjoyed learning a bit about the culture of India. The glossary in the back of the book was very useful. But I did find it harder to get through the chapters about the Sontarans.

Chronologically, this Missing Adventure novel precedes the New Adventure Shakedown.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Crystal Bucephalus

  • Title: The Crystal Bucephalus
  • 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!