Books Done. After nearly eight years and seventy odd novels, my read through these particular Eighth Doctor stories completed with a six hour burst yesterday afternoon. It’s not the greatest of human achievements and something which a small percentage of fans have clearly also managed, especially those who read them in real time during their original publication rather than my start/stop approach, but it’s good to have another of these little projects crossed off the list. How does it feel? We’ll leave that for a final gratuitous review of the whole series, but suffice to say it feels strange not having another one ahead of me. Perhaps this is as close as a Who fan can come to having turned the final page on Harry Potter’s The Deathly Hallows.
Not that this is the end of anything. It’s a full stop or even a semi-colan. It’s the final chunk of a particular iteration of the franchise, something we’re reminded of on the last page with its advert for the first three Ninth Doctor spin-off novels, which entered publication at almost exactly the same time. I’ve often wondered if any young fans did pick up Lance Parkin’s The Gallifrey Chronicles along with them, especially since they were displayed together in Borders. What would they make of it? Would they think, as many fans did watching the chip scene from The End of the World, that it was referring to the same destruction of the Doctor’s home planet? We’ll talk about that again in a bit, but this is perhaps the least stand alone book in the series.
Which is presumably why I want to break format, or at least format for this blog, and assume you’ve read it, and write about it in much the same way as the television episodes, no vagueness in synopsis, or pussyfooting around character development. So if you haven’t read The Gallifrey Chronicles by Lance Parkin, stop reading now. There are some amazing twists in here, especially on page 202. Some of those twists I already knew about thanks to being a Doctor Who fan during publication but there are enough others that it’s important that you simply don’t know. Indeed, I wouldn’t even glance at this review unless you’ve read all of the other seventy odd novels so get thee to Gary Russell’s novelisation of the TV Movie now and don't come back until you've finish.
Let’s be honest, The Gallifrey Chronicles was a bugger of a commission. Unlike The Dying Days when Parkin previous completed a book line, he was to some extent still helping to introduce the character of the Eighth Doctor whereas this is all about reasserting the fundamentals of the character, wrapping up eight, if not fifteen years worth of stories from the wilderness years, narrative reset and conclude story elements from early in the series so that the character can logically head off into a regeneration into someone who looks like Christopher Eccleston without much baggage, but without actually concluding this version of the characters adventures in case BBC Books decide to continue the range anyway later on.
Astoundingly Parkin manages to do all of that with a story which is both typical and atypical and as much about the implications of Doctor Who as a franchise and this novels place within that as putting the relevant toys back in the box. He understands that unlike some showrunners and writers at the close of some television series that the show will go on (not least because he’s writing this book because of that) and so he has fun with it. As he says in the preview for the novel in Doctor Who Magazine, although the Virgin New Adventures were and still are greatly respected in fan communities, the Eigth Doctor Adventures still had a great many things to recommend them and it was important to respect that too.
In Marnal we have a prototypical Doctor Who author who in places sounds like a purposeful homage to Terrance Dicks (he even says, "you see" at the end of sentences) who wrote the very first (if not necessarily the best) of these EDAs, The Eight Doctors (whose cover this also references). His library is the massed collection of Who prose fiction, across novels and magazines, but as the “famous rock guitarist” notes in the opening quote (albeit from 1989) there were so many hundreds of them “you couldn’t pick them up in the middle or anything”, which could be seen as a comment on The Burning, which was supposed to be a reboot but turned out to be anything but because new readers tended to wonder why lost his memories.
When Marnal utilises his makeshift scanner to track the Eighth Doctor’s movements he becomes me, or rather us, piecing together his fellow Time Lord’s journey, perhaps in a similar way to readers who didn’t or couldn’t pick them up in order and might have missed a few, or skipped ahead like fellow traveller Philip Sandifer. He’s especially like us in relation to having more knowledge about the Doctor’s past than the man himself and although it’s a grinnable moment when he inevitably finds K9 hidden in the TARDIS, there’s also sadness because unlike us he doesn’t remember the robot dog (though Parkin still manages to have some fun with our expectations when he’s first namelessly introduced).
In some respects, like Star Trek’s These Are The Voyages, though in a good way, Parkin’s decided his book must also commemorate the whole run of novels through the wilderness years, with a cameo from the Seventh Doctor and utilising one of the more oddball elements of the first Virgin New Adventure, Timewyrm: Genesys, as part of his solution to how what happened to Gallifrey. Not having read those NAs, I assumed Ace remembering Paradise Towers was the author making fun of some continuity error, yet, thanks to @thejimsmith and a glance at the TARDIS Datacore, I’m told that the events as described herein are as they happened then, the Doctor in clearing out some of his brain gives some of Ace’s too.
None of which distracts Parkin from his main discourse, the series finale. Having decided the middle third of the book needs to be a conversation in a cellar, the first third is about reaffirming the structure of the series, the Doctor and his companions whizzing around saving the universe or a planet or even just a building full of people. To some extent, the last few novels have already done this duty but weaved within that is the companion’s own arc which we’ll also look at in a bit. It’s the prose equivalent of so many stories in the Moffat era, glimpses of adventures, a final shift around the universe before the everything settles down for the mainstream of the novel’s symposium.
That the Doctor does spend so much of the novel in that cellar and then isolated from his friends is interesting. Perhaps that’s why they’ve been together so much in the last few novels, the inevitable requirement to split them up here. It’s the process so many of these books have accomplished of stripping the Doctor down to his fundamentals. Unlike many of those occasions though, he’s unable to utilise his usual tactic of being captured so he can find out his foes plan or get someone on side. He tries and with dialogue which is just as poetically beautiful and covering similar ground as the turn of the Earth speech from Rose and the dialogue with the couple in Father’s Day, but unlike those occasions it's thrown back in his face. Parkin needs to break this Doctor in order to save him.
It’s in here, as we see for the first time the Doctor’s meditative attempt to mentally visit the part of his brain which is shut off, that Parkin’s writing turns positively metafictional, as he describes how the Time Lord is “the finest dream of hundreds of human beings, refined as they (tap) away at their typewriters”. I won’t quote the whole thing, it begins at the bottom of page 130, ending with “after far too long, a new generation of children were about to hear that music for the first time, and they would learn their sofa wasn’t just for sitting on.” Well, reader, I cried, because when Lance was writing this, he didn’t know if it was going to be a success. But like all of us he hoped and for once …
It’s a beautiful passage which entirely captures what it was like in 2005 when this book was published and even that happened oddly after the show had been broadcast and seen (thank goodness) to be a terrific success, not that Lance doesn’t luckily hint at that by adding “Before his sweetest victory, unfinished business here…” which is the book acknowledging its status within its own prose. But it’s curious to note that BBC Books itself hedged its best. This might have been the last of this continuing series, but Nick Wallace had already been commissioned to write Fear Itself, the first EDA PDA with other PDA’s still in publication. If the revival inadvertently flopped, the intention was clearly for all this to continue.
Once the Doctor enters his decimated TARDIS interior (one of the more visual examples of a torched narrative policy), Parkin unexpectedly decides to bookend the series referencing back to the TV Movie, or as I assume its novelisation because it references Gary Russell’s rationalisation that the Eye of Harmony in the TARDIS is a kind of back up power source in case the connection between the timeship and Gallifrey is broken (also explaining how it can still work when the home world has been discombobulated) and tells us that the spectre of the Eric Roberts's Master is still trapped in its innards (though it’s not made clear how that squares with the bearded bloke whose also referenced as a survivor of Gallifrey's destruction as he appeared in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street).
It’s reading these section I realised that the structure of The Gallifrey Chronicles itself is designed to mimic the TV movie. Marnal’s arc initially referenced as having met HG Wells, being surrounded by books, regenerating into a younger man without much in the way of a dramatic gesture, giddily making friends with a real medical practitioner whose caring for him, before shifting him into the Master’s position of convincing her, thanks to the visions in the scanner, that the Doctor’s an evil figure whose stolen his TARDIS (in actuality this time) (the stolen TARDIS bit not the evil) (well not really) (see above). Well, played Parkin.
It’s in the final third the book, as the prototypical alien invasion story kicks in that we really begin to notice how much the books feels like a season finale, specifically Parting of the Ways, Doomsday, Last of the Timelords, Journey’s End and The End of Time. The Eighth Doctor’s justification for destroying Gallifrey with its giant lever is a hairsbreath away from what the Ninth Doctor doesn’t do. There’s a big reunion of old friends and referencing missing ones. There’s the apparent heroic death of a character. There’s a moon drifting into orbit and destruction from above, decimating the planet within hours, focusing in on small human tragedies before calm after the panic.
How much of this is inevitable depends on how closely you think Russell T Davies read these novels. He’s clearly at least aware of them. After the chip scene from The End of the World was broadcast he took to the Production Notes column in Doctor Who Magazine to explain very specifically that it wasn’t the same Gallifrey destruction from the books because this wasn’t allowed due to BBC Trust licensing rules and that having somehow reconstructed his home planet, the Doctor would later be forced to destroy it again. Which is fine, but I much prefer the explanation from Parkin’s own Ahistory that they’re the same event just seen from different points of view, something which the author plays up to here in a flashback.
There are a couple of flashbacks. The one about the destruction of Gallifrey borrows some of the prose from The Ancestor Cell (with permission, the copyright page explains, of the original authors) and would then lend some to Lance’s Tenth Doctor novel The Eyeless on the notorious page 46. As he says on his blog “You’ll know it when you see it and you might even think ‘I can’t believe he got away with that’.” I didn’t then, but now I can see it’s direct from here, I doubly can’t believe it. It confirms The Eyeless to be a direct sequel to the story arc in the EDAs, and Parkin putting into narrative his Ahistory beliefs. Since it was the best novel of that year and you could still read it, I’m not going to explain how. But still …
Another is flashback to during Father Time, and a small adventure for the Earth-arc Doctor and Miranda which glances ahead to School Reunion and The Sarah Jane Adventures in tone, children and their mental capacity being utilised as part of an invasion plan via mobile phones. It’s to introduce the nurse, Marnal’s companion, and to remind us the Doctor doesn’t always remember the people he saves even if he changes their lives or ruins them by opening a window into something extraordinary only to shut it again when he goes. In some respects, Rachel is a proto-Amy, in truth the Doctor does stay with her. She rationally re-enters her mundane existence until Marnal turns up and cracks the window open again for her.
Then there are Marnal’s flashbacks which feature, in a reference to the Leekley Bible that shockingly nearly became the tv movie, the Doctor’s Time Lord father Ulysses (choosing a name being a fashionable affection) and his human mother. Maybe. The TARDIS Datacore is very excited about the whole thing, anyway. They’re not new characters and all this was hinted at back in Unnatural History and they continuity overhang from the NAs was somewhat dealt with in The Shadows of Avalon when the Doctor says he remembers having a father but also being loomed but he’s not sure which was a dream. As ever with Doctor Who both might as well be true. We’ll probably be getting a third option in eight months anyway.
None of this is as shocking as it might be. For all his being a trickster, a mad man in a box and a magician, a lonely god, giving him an extended family arguably doesn’t change much. Both Ben Kenobi and Merlin have parentage, and he’s the Whoniverse’s equivalent of both, not that you’d necessarily want to see a Children’s BBC series about it. Yet the idea that the Doctor may be half-human still terrifies some fans. I’m not going to make some judgement about it being to do with the mixed heritage implication, though it is fascinating how in some respect we’re one of the more inclusive fandoms but scream bloody murder when our hero is anything other than an asexual wizard with a single origin.
Threaded through all of that Parkin must also provide closure for the Eighth Doctor's companions and delighfully he decides to include all of them, even including a cameo for Compassion. The death of Sam Jones is shocking, and leads to the Doctor and Fitz having the conversation, but tempered by having read the Big Finish collection Repercussions, with its implied retcon which suggests the Doctor’s removed her from Earth in order to preserve the web of time, or some such. Plus the gravestone says Samantha Lynn Jones, which seems to indicate that it’s dark Sam’s grave instead not that any of them notice and it also doesn't rule out left overs from the tampering done by the Council of Eight. Either way when he says that the 2002 expiration date might not mean anything, that she might still be out on her travels, it makes the gravestone seem about as flimsy as Rose’s voiceover in Doomsday.
The return of Anji’s the big surprise even if the connection was rather implied in The Deadstone Memorial. Would she be condemned by the Doctor for bending time? Well, in the new series, he’s not exactly been subtle about saving his companions via lottery tickets especially without the Time Lords around to wag their fingers so he’d probably look on her compassionately especially since she’s being a bit subtle about the whole thing. Plus it’s just nice to have a companion with a genuinely happy ending and completion without guilt (a rare thing thanks to spin-offs) and with all her memories of her travels intact even if she doesn’t want to talk about them too much.
Of greatest importance is sending off Fitz and Trix. Parkin replicates the usual structure of a Doctor Who story, some separation, the Doctor and his companions off doing their own things but in a rare example, their adventure is life, only vaguely interested in whatever it is the Doctor’s up to. This "explains" the structure of To The Slaughter, which places them in solidly heroic territory. It’s implied here that outside of the Doctor’s orbit, they become necessarily self involved, even Fitz who’s been with the Doctor for many, many years. An obvious parallel is with Amy and Rory later, who only become involved themselves when the Doctor’s around, even though as other spin-offs indicate there must be spooky-doos on Earth all the time.
Fittingly, Parkin doesn’t have much interested in explaining much more about Trix’s past. There’s the implication of the murder of her husband, of being a fugitive, but Fitz isn’t interested in the details and so neither are we. Trix will always be one of those companions whose story seems incomplete, introduced too subtly for impact then gone before we know it, like so many of the story elements in the EDAs, the structure of the series with its individual authors writing against each other, sapping it of any logical progression. Perhaps if after Halflife she’d actually become a shape changer, she would have been less of a blank, fulfilling the original promise of Chameleon all those years ago.
You could argue that their coupling is a bit arbitrary (cf, Mickey and Martha), but it’s sweetly handled, and I know this flies in the face of what I’ve been fighting against elsewhere in terms of romantic drama, gives Fitz some much needed closure, his story of effectively growing up in the Doctor’s company brought to fruition. There’s no doubt some psychoanalytical essay writeable about the Fitz shifting his connection between a father and mother figure, attributing Freud to the gesture, but I don’t have time or patience. But doesn’t Trix sign him up for the gig at the pub like a pushy parent and in writing his song, isn’t he trying to impress her whilst underscoring his disconnection from the Doctor? They fuck you up your Mum and Dad etc.
As you know I’ve always oscillated in my appreciation of Fitz, which has admittedly tended to depend on who was writing him. It was always engaging to have a slightly unreconstructed figure in the TARDIS, but without going the full Gene Hunt due to tone and compliance it’s sometimes come across as a bit forced. He was certainly there for far longer than necessary (around fifty five novels) even taking into account his many reimaginings along the way. I’ve yet to see why the authors decided to keep him on all those years, other than to have a figure with a silhouette similar to the Doctor but able to say and do the things which the Time Lord isn’t allowed to without breaking the format.
Which isn’t to say my jaw didn’t drop after reading page 202. This is Parkin expertly playing with our expectations of the sort of thing which happens in series finales (of which I could list a few but I’m not making the mistake of posting spoiler warnings for one thing and then spoiling a whole bunch of other things) (Jen Lindley in Dawson’s Creek) (sorry) and I absolutely bought it even having had an inclining of what was in the final pages. Again he’s offering a template for the future of Doctor Who, in which what seems like a major character death is easily explained due to narrative information having been kept from us and in this case in a form which is again purely the stuff of nuWho.
As is the global alien invasion threat thingy which fills the final third. The Vore are motivationally practically predict the intergalactic termites from Planet of the Dead, albeit shaped like the Prawns from cinema's District 9 and almost as organised. Having referenced HG Wells earlier and mentioning War of the Worlds, this is Parkin gorging on the commemorative cake he’s been given. But he also inadvertently stumbles into one of Torchwood’s central themes. What happens with the Doctor isn’t there to save us or wanders in at the last second. What about all the deaths in between and shouldn’t we take some responsibility for out own safety? Just to be clear.
Brilliantly, Trix assumes the Doctor’s in the thick of it, sorting things out, manages to find out where he’s been and goes there, but he’s off doing pretty much what they have, sorting out his own problems. The story is set incidentally in June 2005, the publication date of the novel (clever), at the end of the broadcast of the first series (cleverer still), but set nine months before Aliens of London (oh) and according to Ahistory at roughly the same time as the comic finale The Flood (um) and Death Comes To Time (ugh). Such are this franchises inherent narrative pile-ups. In my rationalisation, at this point the Eighth Doctor’s chronology, most of those events haven’t happened yet and time can be written. It’s not much, but it’ll do.
The invasion only really exists to provide an excuse for the book’s final end. Given the book’s status as a finale within a grander shared narrative, it would have been impossible for Parkin to attempt proper closure so he couldn't, end the Doctor's story, since this is now a series filling in a gap rather than pretending to be a continuation. That’s the approach Scott Grey took in the comics, in The Flood, in the end, commemorating Survival too in its own way, with the Doctor and Destrii wandering off towards adventure, having realised, despite being gifted it by the production team, that a regeneration would have been unworkable. The EDA version would have probably been the Doctor watching Fitz and Trix’s marriage.
Instead, we have the Angel’s Not Fade Away approach of the deliberate cliffhanger which says the adventure will continue, you know it will, we know it will, and so nothing I’m going to write will ever be satisfying enough. So it’s the Doctor taking a leap into danger amid dialogue that touchingly underscores our faith in him. He will win. He always does. Eventually. The Doctor never loses. He has losses certainly. But he never loses, not completely. Which is another metafiction point, I suppose, about how even after cancellation, even after a failed tv movie pilot thingy, he came back because we all had faith in him, and The Gallifrey Chronicles as a printed entity is a tribute to that faith too.
What next? There are still a number of approaches to experiencing the Eighth Doctor adventures across media. Some fans have decided that the books, comics and audios are all alternative, parallel versions. Some do believe they’re part of one long story, but somehow the comics and audios are all tucked in during the three year Greenpeace gap after Vampire Science or the slightly bonkers TARDIS Datacore version in which they’re all kind of weaved together into a complex, unworkable soup. None of these make much sense. None of the novels refer to audio or comic companions other than from the Radio Times strips for start, which is fine for the parallel timelines theory, but looks odd whenever someone like Marnal constructs a list.
As I’ve suggested before, the three are perfectly reasonably designed to be slotted in one after the other which in my head means the books, then the comics, then the audios (from the Mary Shelley arc through to Dark Eyes and beyond). Aha, says the TARDIS Datacore, but explain how Romana’s regenerated in the novels when the Lalla Ward version still exists in the audios? How come Gallifrey’s back? How come during the audio Minuet in Hell, the Doctor talks about Sam? Well the last one’s clearly Samson thanks to Gary Russell’s attempt to separate the lines, something which has since been nullified by the A Company of Friends anthology with its gut wrenching first yet final story for the Eighth Doctor. The rest, well …
After they’ve vanquished the Vore, Fitz and Trix, as implied say their farewells to the Doctor, who wanders off in the TARDIS again probably seeking to reconstitute Gallifrey. My guess? Somewhere in here it’s implied that the copy of the Matrix he has in his brain isn’t one which has been corrupted by the Faction Paradox because in destroying Gallifrey he wiped them from existence. If that’s the case, it also means one of their acts, which was to destroy the Gallifrey back-ups didn’t happen either. So “all” the Doctor has to do is reconstitute the planet from one of the back-ups, and upload his brain to the matrix, which would in theory contain his lost memories and the earliest back-up happens to be the one with Romana II as President etc.
Big red button on the timeline, the Doctor all back to normal ready for the comic strips and explaining why its still Romana on Gallifrey later on. Which isn’t to say I haven’t been trying to work out a more compelling idea, something with some more drama to it, and that would be that the Doctor enters the Kasterborous area to do all of this and somehow Gallifrey’s come back by itself anyway and the Doctor then spends two hundred odd pages (assuming this is a novel) suspiciously trying to work out if it’s the real thing and how it happened. But like the Time War in the revived series, the fun of these gaps between the books, comics and audios is that we simply don’t know. The question remains Doctor who? Or at the very least Doctor how?
Still here? I think you can see now why I tend to write spoiler free reviews of novels, this is a rare occasion when writing this has taken longer than reading the book. It’s probably as long as the book too. But The Gallifrey Chronicles, for all its narrative simplicity is a very rich text, certainly one of the best of the Eighth Doctor’s story in any media and of this line in particular. It’s that rare thing in series finales in any media. It isn’t anti-climactic. It repays the readers loyalty and it respects what’s gone before yet somehow adds something new and looks towards the future, a future which had already begun at time of publication. When I’m asked who my favourite Doctor is and I tell them the Eighth, it’s because of adventures like this. None to go.