Longest Day.

Books  Before we start, I just wanted to say. That really is a dog of a cover. I'm sorry artist Colin Howard but having that sitting around in my bag for the three months its taken me to finish reading, having to sit with that on public transport was the best kind of aversion therapy. I'm sure the brief you received from BBC Books was something like 'Can we have the Kusk aliens from the book?' and you tried your best with the description, and it really jumps out at the reader but not in such a way that they'd want to actually buy the book. More in a ugh -- get that way from me. Which is not really the idea is it?

Sorry, Michael Collier but your book isn't much better. Although actually it begins quite well. Here is the opening sentence: "Then time crashes through, like a roaring wave of pale water over the far-off spindly trees, ageing them and pushing up new saplings in the blink of an eye." It's a amazingly imaginative notion. The book is filled with these nuggets. Here's another one from page 190: "Clouds bathed pink and orange in the twilight had gathered menacingly over the horizon, stretching out from an epicentre somewhere in the west." Another arresting image.

The difficulty is that the text is so thick with these descriptions that they eventually fog up the story and characterisation to the extent that it becomes difficult to tell what is going on and what anything means. Unlike a film, for example, Vincent Ward's What Dreams May Come, were the images are so mystically they more than make up for a thin plot, here poetry disappears eventually, just becoming words, strangling the narrative like weeds. Collier isn't John Milton (who's about the only man in literature who can get way with this sort of thing). I actually learnt more about the plot from the blurb on the back of the book, and kept having to return there to remind myself where everything was happening and why. It took a look at this synopsis to understand what happened at the end. To be honest I wish I'd read it first.

The book demonstrates perfectly what Russell T Davies meant when he said that stories set on alien worlds can be horrible if not done right. Both of the usual sins are committed. Weirdly spelt and unmemorable character names? Check. Planet with complicated eco-system that's difficult to follow? Check. Much of the time the reader is trying to remember who everyone is and which faction they are part of to really care for anyone. No actually, Anstaar, The Doctor's substitute companion this time is quiet well drawn and reminds me a bit of the female scientists The Doctor glads about with sometimes in the Big Finish audios when some plot short-handing is required. But this really is one of those occasion when a character shows up, everyone's surprised that they're still alive and you don't remember them dying in the first place and you find yourself flicking backwards through the novel for when the moment occurred and it was in an odd paragraph a hundred pages before.

There are a couple of positives. The Doctor comes out quite well if a bit generic. There's a fun moment when he refers to his Cat broach to demonstrate his capacity to live again only to remember that it was on the coat his Sixth self wore. The book is about the timelord fighting against giant cosmic forces which seems to be what the Eighth Doctor is about -- small humanoid fighting against giant planetary or galactic forces. I keep thinking about Gary Sinise's character Lieutenant Dan in that scene in Forrest Gump when he sits on the viewing mast of the fishing boat, Jenny, railing against the storm. Except The Eighth Doctor's boat is the TARDIS, and the storm is the time vortex. Or in this case the Kusk's ship and gravitational shifts.

The difficulty with Sam is that she rather gets pulled along by other characters. When she's not being held captive and tortured she's searching for a way to get back to The Doctor. Her isolation from her friend seems perfunctory, a requirement of the plot rather than something which happened naturally. This is very much a Scooby-Doo style "Let's split up -- you go that way..." Sam does get to be quite forceful at times, and there some funny pop cultural reference and in the meta scheme of things it would be quite natural if The Tenth Doctor's predilection for Disney and Douglas Adams found its roots here.

The book begins the first mini-arc of the Eighth Doctor novels in which The Doctor is separated from Sam. Looking back over my previous reviews one of the running themes is how much more engaging these things are when the time travellers are together, the dialogue bouncing between them. So you can see why I'm might wonder if the idea of parting them for entire novels might not be such a great thing. I think they're parted in the first fifty pages here and frankly after that the readers or rather my engagement with the story died. At the back there is an advert to the effect that The Doctor will search for Sam through the following three novels beginning with (oh god) John Peel's Legacy of the Daleks.

Can't I just skip to Placebo Effect?

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