Escape Velocity at the anti-climactic end to the EDA’s Earth arc or New Earth on the heals of The Christmas Invasion, but after the brittle masterpiece of Time Zero it’s such a pity to have to struggle through what amounts to a precursor, in tone and content, to some of the mid-range nuWho spin-off novels.
The presumed sequel to the previous novel would have been for the Doctor and his companions to immediately find themselves mixed up in an obviously alternative world, perhaps a different version of Anji’s present. Instead, the model boat is a clue which invites them to the planet Selonart, a water world where huge luxury yachts participate in a trans-global regatta where they’re immediate faced with apocalyptic explosions, the loss of the TARDIS and an increasing awareness that Sabbath is still attempting to unify the timelines on an epic scale. With Earthers enslaving the locals because of their unique navigational abilities, Messingham is also commenting on colonial attitudes.
So we’re presented with a story which might as well be taking place in the primeline, give or take a military organisation which we’re told doesn’t exist there. This isn’t uncommon for this line of books. When the lost Sam arc began early on, the next book along, Legacy of the Daleks, was an unrelated jaunt to Earth post-Dalek invasion, revisiting the older Susan. On television, we’re still awaiting an explanation of how silence will fall when the relevant question is asked. There’s an element of stringing out the audience, or in that case, the reader, except in his case, we’re meant to accept that this is the natural continuation even ending on a note which suggests that Time Zero’s cliffhanger has been resolved. What? Like this? I hope not.
Perhaps if Messingham had stuck to a single story idea, the results would have been more enjoyable. But having set up the infinity race, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s merely cosmetic and that the eventual cosmic experiment which provides the antagonist climax could just as well have been supported by a base full of dodgy scientists (you could even argue that The Infinity Race overall is simply Kinda at sea). The author’s clearly well researched his marine vehicles. Wouldn’t it have been fun to have the goal of the Doctor and his companions actually be geographic locations, perhaps racing against Sabbath in his submarine. The cover of the novel promises much in that regard.
There are other problems. It’s a relatively short book, with larger font size and expansive line spacing, but it curiously took as long to read as others thanks to the authors decision to write half of it in the first person from the metafictional points of view of Anji and Fitz for no particularly good reason and in with neither of them sounding entirely correct. Both seem to have lost a few IQ points since the last book, and although some of the contemporary references are about right, Anji’s attitude is more akin to when she first stepped on board the TARDIS. At the close of Time Zero she seemed to have embraced the adventure. Now she’s moaning about wanting to go "home" again.
This Eighth Doctor too sounds surprisingly generic, floating between Third (he calls Anji “my dear” at least twice which is just wrong) and Fourth and although some of that could be attributed to him being seen from his companion’s perspective, it also occurs in the third person sections. It’s a testament to how well-defined this multi-media version of the character is that when an writer doesn’t quite seem to capture his voice, it’s as obvious as in one of the past Doctor stories. He too is less sure of himself than in recent novels. Messingham also seems to suggest he’s still only got the one heart when its been established triumphantly in the past two that his other one’s grown back.
The book could also be at the epicentre of explanations for why L. Miles is so critical of the treatment of his creation Sabbath, of the character becoming a Master knock off. His appropriation of help from a race of Warlocks smacks of similar joint ventures with especially the Delgado incarnation (Autons, the Daemons) as does their sudden but inevitable betrayal. He’s disguised again. The Doctor’s treating him as some great rival or adversary. He’s monologuing. While it’s a treat to have an antagonist for the Doctor who isn’t the Master, it has to be remember that he isn’t the Master, even if he has a single goal once again rehearsed through here. He’s an apparent human from the eighteenth century. I hope there’s going to be more about that.
I genuinely hadn’t meant to be quite some mean when I began writing this. There are some good elements. The realisation of the cube-headed alien species, the Selonarts is an interesting Kiplingesque variation on the usual xeno-biological approach to Who aliens, their simplistic English paying off well at the end. Indeed the realisation of the world, the differences between the light and heavy water which layer the biosphere, the descriptions of the plasticy resort work well. But there’s just something about the writer’s style which I didn’t enjoy. To be honest, perhaps it’s as simple as being addressed as “folks” by one of the Doctor’s companions. This version of Fitz just doesn’t seem to fit the one writing the journals in Time Zero. Yes, perhaps it’s just that.