The Infinity Race squandered an excellent cliffhanger, The Domino Effect gives the impression that its author David Bishop failed to get an important memo. The novel opens just as we might have expected the previous novel might. The Doctor and his companions stopping off in Anji’s present of 2003 only to discover that reality has indeed changed with Britain having become the kind of totalitarian regime that might ensue ifs some of the Daily Mail’s core philosophies are followed through. Except, the Time Lord, Anji and Fitz walk around as though they didn’t experience parts of Time Zero and particularly the conversation in the epilogue and that being an alternative reality is entirely unexpected.
Having said goodbye to her friends for apparently the final time, again, Anji decides that since the TARDIS has, typically, landed in Edinburgh instead of London that she should look for her contemporary pal Mitch as his place of work. When she visits her place of work and finds a crater, does she begin to suspect that she’s in the wrong reality still? No, she tries to ask the locals for directions. When some of the people are horrendously racist, does that offer a question mark for her? No. When she notices that everyone is wearing out of date clothing? No. When she tries to pay for a newspaper and the seller won’t accept her money? No, not at all. When she’s told she can’t fly to London from Edinburgh? Nope.
For fifty pages, Anji is made to stupidly wander the streets of Edinburgh faced with evidence that reality has changed, something which would have been entirely obvious from the moment the TARDIS lands and at no point does she even countenance that the reason they’re still using old money is because reality wasn’t put right at the end of The Infinity Race. At first, it seems as though the author is offering a satirical commentary on how some people in the London assume that people north of the M25 all live in a time warp, with Anji communicating a few barbs to that effect. She even wonders if the TARDIS has deposited her in the wrong time despite all evidence to contrary.
Brilliantly, the Doctor Who Reference Guide's synopsis tries to rationalise this by suggesting that the racism she encounters is so awful (which it is) "that at first the other anachronisms and bizarre comments fail to sink in" which isn't what happens and still doesn't excuse the sheer level of obliviousness involved not least because of everything the character will have seen in the previous two years worth of books. She's not early Dana Scully. Her rational brain doesn't simply reject anything which can't be explained, like the fact that she's apparently the only Asian in Scotland. When she decides to go and catch up with Fitz, despite what the DWRG says, it's because she doesn't understand what's going on, not because she's realised the timeline's still wrong.
From there, even after having eventually met up with the Doctor, at no point do they have a conversational follow up to Time Zero about what Sabbath has done to the universe and what they’re going to do about it. The Doctor at one point even says that they need to find out when the universe has diverged so they can travel back in time and put them back on track, which makes no sense in relation to his Time Zero conversations about there being multiple universe. After about a hundred a pages of this, I even went off and grabbed Time Zero and reread the final few pages just to make sure I’d misunderstood what was said. No I hadn’t. These characters have contracted collective amnesia.
How could this have happened? Someone reading this might even know and I’d be interested if you want to contact via social media or in the comments. Bishop can't have written this entirely in a vacuum since it mentions events in Siberia and the Absolutes of the System from History 101 and he thanks the other authors in the acknowledgements. Presumably the book was read by the editors before publication who someone didn’t see the discontinuity. A have a few guesses. The publication order of the novels changed, ala The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors in season 6 of nuWho, but there wasn’t time to make the necessary rewrites. There was a publication gap of three months between this and The Infinity Race so the editors could have decided that the ongoing premise needed reintroducing in case new readers were coming on-board, ignoring the fact that the methodology makes no overall narrative sense.
All of which said, I still enjoyed The Domino Effect because I tend to enjoy alternative history stories anyway, from Marvel’s What If? comics through to Sliders. I've even written my own. Although it takes a few hundred pages for the protagonists to cotton on, it’s not much of a spoiler to indicate that this Earth suggests what might happen if computers hadn’t been invented or at least the technology was suppressed. No internet, no credit cards and televisions and radios still utilising valve technology. Without easy global communication, the British Empire is still ascendancy and immigration is at a bare minimum. Women have lost the right to study or wear trousers. So although it means there’s no Mail Online, like I said, philosophically it’s a Mail reader’s dream world.
Except it’s also dystopian in its clamping down on dissident thought with Fitz captured and sentenced as a terrorist for a bombing in a café (ala The Battle of the Algiers film) that he didn’t commit. The book’s been criticised for being pretty clichéd in this regard, but it’s still shocking to see the UK twisted into this ultra right wing fundamentalist vision, with Kreiner hauled in front of a television camera to confess to the crime. For all of its weaknesses in story arc terms, there’s an engrossingly realistic approach to Fitz’s treatment which sharply contrasts to the usually jokey approach the Doctor and his companion have to being captured on most days where its more of a means to an end.
There are anomalies. This Earth apparently exists in the universe where aliens haven’t been invading the planet for its entire lifespan, so there’s no apparent need for UNIT, something which again isn’t mentioned, though its implied that one of the characters is some twisted alternative version of the Brigadier. What life is like outside of this Britain is a bit fudged and the idea that computers have been suppressed successfully across history isn’t quiet justified through the included flashbacks since it doesn’t take into account what might be happening in the Far East where population ratios would sure dictate that someone would develop a computer eventually outside of Babbage or Alan Turning.
Sorry, yes, forgot that. It’s also a celebrity story with the return of Alan Turning much as he was in The Turning Test, still played in my mind by Derek Jacobi. Much of the novel is spent explaining how he managed to survive albeit in captivity and is pretty poignant though it does lead the Doctor to turn into Picard in Yesterday’s Enterprise and start questioning if he has the right to change the timeline back even though as has already been established this is just one timeline of many and it's simply that they’re in the wrong one, or that the wrong one has muscled in and taken a-list status. Or something. Frankly, if Time Zero made all this seem perfectly lucid, The Domino Effect has confused everything again.
There are a couple of good twists, a few narrative dead ends (who is the attractive woman with the red hair supposed to be? Compassion? Trix?) and an eye-rolling moment which then becomes another decent twist. The action sequences are exciting and lucid (two things which aren’t always the case in these novels) and Bishop has an excellent sense of geography with the reader completely aware of their orientation in both Edinburgh and London, despite the variation livery in both cities. Even the pubs are real. At one point the characters visit the Lord John Russell and here it is on Google Street View.
Throughout the book, I rationalised that the collective amnesia had been a thing. The Doctor also experiences fits, which seemed to indicate that the three of them were physically and psychologically being interfered with in order to misunderstand events. Instead in the babble intensive finale they were revealed to be something else, something wrought by the mystical being controlling the timeline via a Star Chamber populated by John Le Carre characters. So at the conclusion, instead of remember their real mission, they simply restate those mission intentions albeit in a slightly skewed manner and now I’m left in a state of confusion and regret. Oh goodness.