Clapham’s approach to the future is of a galaxy in which an enemy (which we might strongly suppose is the Daleks) have wreaked so much destruction that travel between worlds has become impossible and in most cases scraps of what’s left of humanity, or at least the race which has evolved from humanity who aren't lucky enough to be stranded on planets of plenty, eke out a horrible existence short of supplies on worlds like Endpoint, where the oceans are made of acid, supplies are scarce and the air’s nearly unbreathable. Wanting to test his TARDIS’s functions, the Doctor pushes her to visit this apocalyptic future (“further than we’ve ever been before”) and lands in the city of Hope which on top of its usual problems is experiencing a string of murders.
The author quickly ushers the Time Lord and his pals into a local casino were they meet the town’s civic leader, a cyborg called Silver who runs the town with same beady eyes as Nucky Thompson in Broadwalk Empire, albeit with greater access to technology and hemmed in by the lack of potential growth this society has given him. The TARDIS having sunk in the ocean, the Doctor agrees to Silver’s proposition that he should investigate the killings, but as with the best of these novels, reasons for the murders are the least of their problems, as they collectively seize disaster from the jaws of victory, Clapham’s straightforward but often quite brilliant writing ruminates on the organic temperament of societies and insidious nature of control.
After a string of experimental novels, it’s refreshing to find a relatively traditional romp, even if it’s capable of a few modifications like the Doctor and his companions finding themselves standing over a body and not being arrested as the potential cause of death. In Silver we find a relatively traditional megalomaniac without literary pretensions, the whys and wherefores of his existence in this godforsaken town giving what would be an otherwise relatively claustrophobic story, epic scale, prefiguring A Town Called Malice to some degree (the phrase “A town called hope” is even muttered at one point). But the novel is also structured rather like a nuWho two-parter, the narrative direction changing immeasurably at the half-way point.
This is the spoilery paragraph or two so skip to the last one for other comments of a blander nature. If I’ve a problem with the novel it’s that I’m not entirely convinced by Anji’s betrayal, especially after what she says in Lloyd Rose’s The City of the Dead about their roles as trusted companions. Her grief over her boyfriend Dave’s death has been a running thread since Escape Velocity, but so has her growing devotion to the Doctor. It seems inconceivable that with everything she knows about Silver that she would make the trade she does, despite what he’s offering especially since it’s not her Dave that’s being cloned. At a certain point I was hoping for a reveal that the Doctor knew all about it, that it was part of a plan to tip Silver’s hand, but none is forthcoming and it feels wrong.
Except there's also a certain ambiguity as to how much the Doctor helps or causes the stress wrought on Hope later in the book. If he hadn't turned up, would Silver have gained access to the old humans and their technology in order to fulfill his plans for universal domination? The mistakes Fitz discovers in the sewers seems to suggest that perhaps he might have reached the same point eventually and the Doctor's simply a catalyst but is that good thing? Also, when Silver's dictatorship does become apparent to the Doctor and his companions, their reaction isn't revulsion but collaboration. When the Doctor forgives Anji for her indiscretion, is it because he sees his own part in events? When he finally steps in, it's almost as though the part of his personality which is still the Doctor finally gains supremacy.
All of which said, unlike some of these authors, Clapham clearly loved writing for this iteration of the franchise and its regulars. He gifts Fitz one of his funniest moments since he appeared in the series when he attempts to impress a girl and it comprehensively backfires. There are also some lovely Doctorish moments in here, from his and Fitz attempts to lure the murderer out in the open, to his reaction to being faced with another aggressor’s autopsy of him and a poignant moment of forgiveness, which prefigures Father’s Day. There’s also a fair amount of foreshadowing, especially in relation to the Doctor’s health. The loss of one his hearts is clearly having a detrimental effect on his well being and for the first time ever, no one but the TARDIS knows it needn't be the death of him.