Morris is now one of the franchise’s most prolific writers working for BBC Books, AudioGo and Big Finish, but Anachrophobia was just his second novel having scored something of a hit with his past Doctor novel, Festival of Death, which featured some Adams-like paradoxical shenanigans for the Fourth Doctor and Romana II of the kind that Steven Moffat has now made the series’s stock in trade (it’s no surprise that Morris would later take Moffat’s greatest creation, The Weeping Angels, and give them their second best story after Blink, Touched by an Angel, my favourite Doctor Who story of last year).
Anachrophobia once again tackles the perplexities of time as the Eighth Doctor and friends land on a planet at war in which time is being utilised as a weapon, halting soldiers in their tracks and increasing indefinitely the temporal length of battles without the participants realising and just to add some complexity the combatants are Plutocrats who’re intensely interested in the financial gains that war has to offer and the Defaulters who’re intent on foreclosing on their plans. Such ideas are presumably timeless but in the past decade when everyone’s finances have been buffeted by curious trading, few Who novels have felt quite so relevant.
Our heroes are quickly ushered into a military research establishment in which a group of scientists are attempting bend the time technology to its natural conclusion in creating a time machine. They’ve succeeded but it has a tragic side effect: anyone sent back in time returns infected, doomed to lose their past and become one of the men with a clock as a face. The Doctor must find a way to stop the infection from reaching beyond the facility into the wider world, to prevent the music of the spheres from giving way to an hourly chime followed by three thousand six hundred seconds of ticking.
For much of its pagination, and for all its nuWho-like interest in the mutability of time, Anachrophobia’s a pretty traditional base under siege story, a pretty experimental choice by Morris for an Eighth Doctor range which tends to wriggle out of the constraints Who’s usual genres. Even Dark Progeny eschews the implacable monster, protagonists trapped in rooms and desperate, last ditch attempts for victory which Morris employs along with the scientists doomed to become a body count and the random bureaucrats whose entire existence seems to be to make matters worse until he realises the error of his ways.
That Steed-silhouetted auditor called Mistletoe, is a classic of the type, with a thesaurus-like vocabulary, motivated only by his own personal gain but enigmatic to the point of obfuscation. Rather like a scene stealing character actor, he’s often the most compelling element of the action and has some wonderful speeches ruminating on the inconceivably selfless motivations of the Doctor and his companions and later about the financial consequences of a war, whose cause, like the interminable battles in The Doctor’s Daughter, has become lost in the mists of time.
Now we’re really into spoiler territory as I propose that the novel’s best scene occurs towards the end as the Doctor and his companions reach the dark heart of the Plutocratic cause and find a collection of advanced automata crunching numbers and its revealed controlling both sides of the war in a futile attempt to create the most profit, war always being good for profit, except they can’t remember why and who for. This sees Morris at his most Adamsy, the Doctor raging with righteous indignation at the pointless loss of life on the ground and the machine logic that has led to the war tumbling on for four hundred years.
I’ve had a quick glance through contemporary reviews which reveals that Anachrophobia was especially well received on publication and its power hasn’t diminished in the intervening decade. It’s still an extraordinary work, with frightening imagery that prefigures nuWho, The Girl in the Fireplace in its monsters but also the transformational body horror of The Empty Child. It’s also incredibly tense in places, notably when the Doctor and Fitz put themselves in the time machine to investigate the source of the infection and the capsule is attacked from an unknown force outside, but unable to return because the scientist at the controls is being hald at gunpoint.
But this is an EDA through and through. The Doctor isn’t just fighting the monsters, he’s fighting his own health, the loss of one of his hearts depleting his strength and affecting his decision-making abilities. Part of Morris’s book seems to be designed to clarify some of the events of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street for those of us readers who found the chosen style difficult to take. Sabbath ripped the “black” heart from the Doctor’s chest and with it some of his Time Lord energy it seems. At crucial moments he has to take rests and is rarely his buoyant self. One of the story arcs of the series ongoing is sure to be the Doctor’s quest to find a replacement heart.
There’s also Fitz ongoing existential crisis, his memory just as foggy as the Doctor’s thanks to him being a dodgy facsimile of a broken original which is used throughout to suggest that he’s become infected by the infection. Plus Anji, still regretful and raw after the events in Hope but determined to regain the Doctor’s confidence. It’s also a rare moment when her previous career in the city becomes vitally important knowledge in explaining the Plutocratic ideal, of the rich becoming even wealthier by manipulating the masses, treating them as no more important than figures in financial reports (which is often the only contact they have with them).
There’s also the final Coup de grace (that’s admittedly been thoroughly spoiled since) which glances backwards to that adventure and teases on the stories to follow. That Mistletoe is revealed to be Sabbath goes some way to explaining why Larry Miles is unhappy with how his character became the Master in all but name in later novels, a disguise being the bearded one’s stock in trade, but his motivation, to remove the clockwork infection from the universe by manipulating the Doctor into being his Doctorish self, is very new. Sabbath has “employers” and a plan within a wider context of the universe. Jiggers.