Placebo Effect.


Books  Did anyone watch much of the Winter Olympics?  Nope, me neither which is rather the effect the reader has during Gary Russell's Placebo Effect which uses the Intergalactic Olympic Games in 3999 as a backdrop but doesn't spend much time at the training ground or in the stadium.  It's an excellent book, which fuses the depthful characterisation of Seeing I with the kisses to the past of the first block of novels.  Again the real pleasure is in the detail, the odd conversation here, the beautifully expressive  action there.  It has that ever present state of fear which the best Doctor Who stories have, but also manages to be funny and philosophical at the same time.

If anything the book is most impressive over the first hundred odd pages because it addresses one of the ongoing issues which fans face when trying to work their way through the Doctor's biography in any kind of an order.  The timelord and Sam actually arrive on Micawber's World for the marriage of two former companions, Stacy and Ssard.  These two, a human and an ice warrior appeared in the author's comic strips for Radio Times printed just after the broadcast of the television movie.  They're good clean fun, featuring Eighth's first meeting with the Cybermen.  Sadly editorial changes at the television listings magazine meant that Russell had to curtail his planned plot arc and was finally able to give them some sort of send off here.

Cleverly, the writer works their appearance into the chronology of the novels in the gap I'd presumed to have existed after The Eight Doctors (already filled by The Dying Days which is also firmly cemented into the canon of the BBC novels for the first time here).  Sam is well aware of these sidesteps in which The Doctor could be gone for weeks, months or years and she'd not necessarily be aware.  It's the first time we've seen the companion really come to terms with the idea that 'her' Doctor has been travelling around the universe for oh ages and sometimes whilst she's supposed to be his best friend.

Looking at a standard Doctor Who chronology one of the aspects which is always ignored or left behind is the genuine logic of one companion taking their leave of the timelord and another appearing.  This is something which was treated particularly meticulously in the case of the original series, but since then in some areas of the off-television licensed stories, companions will be invented and disappear and reappear from the great narrative with little concern for logic.  The circumstances of their comings and goings become the stuff of the unknown story, the gap, a way to inject some mystery into the character after all these years.  I hope that Sam gets a good send off when the time comes and she doesn't simply leave the pages of the books on a whim.

If there is a problem with the book, it's that after spending three or four books reuniting The Doctor and Sam, they're split up again for an age when the reader really wants to see how their interaction has changed since their absense from one another.  The approach seems to be to leave Sam alone, effectively filling his shoes and dragging her own companions around and having the very debates about religious belief which you'd expect him to have, whilst he's off getting into the scrapes and misunderstandings we'd find her coping with before the jump.  It's a cute idea but as I've always said and I'll say it again, this series starts to fail when the main characters aren't together doing their thing and the novel flies very close to the wind here...

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