Beltempest.

Books Let's get the cool element of this book out of the way first. Here, the Doctor saves an entire solar system. Sure, he's saved a galaxy and even the universe in the past, but there's just something really impressive about the way he strides in, apparently works out the problem and save a couple of billion people at close range. In the best scene in the novel he appears before the heads of state for the various worlds and in between the usual digressions manages to convince them to bring their planetary resources together to solve the problem which they do, gladly. Amazing.

There are two strands to the novel - the aforementioned planetary chaos brought about by a sun going supernova (the Beltempest) for reasons unknown and in the midst of that a vampiric cult leader is killing making people immortal by tapping into some mystical energy. The stories aren't completely unrelated, but both would have been enough to fill out a novel and Mortimore tries to ram them together with the Doctor at the centre of the former and Sam running headlong through the latter.

The problem is that the way they're executed it's difficult to care too much about either. For a start with the exception of said cult leader, there's nary a memorable character anywhere. With so much plot happening there's little time for the reader to empathise with anyone even though there are billions at stake. He also commits the apparent error of describing action outside of any of the main characters point of view rather than letting them experience it themselves which makes it difficult to relate to - a lot of energy is spent setting up incidental details and lyrically describing the background dropping in details which eventually aren't paid off and in the end cloud whatever the novel is about.

The author also falls into the same trap I've seen elsewhere in these novels of including an enigmatic prologue set in the pre-history of the planet which isn't vivid enough to be remembered during the following pages but does have the effect of distancing the reader from the action. It's a taste issue but the best Doctor Who stories are those in which the world and its inhabitants are discovered by the reader along with the Doctor and his plus one (or two) - and uncontextualised foreknowledge like this is just confusing. It also isn't helped by what looks like a copy editing error in which the identities of two characters are switched meaning that the one who died is suddenly alive again and mournfully burying the corpse of the character who'd previously survived.

Mortimore also mishandles the Eighth Doctor terribly. New series script editor Helen Raynor mentions that when she first began received drafts the Doctor was very much written in the Pertwee mould, all 'my dear Rose' and whatnot and that's exactly what we find in his and Sam's first scene together in which the timelord acts like he's never met a human before and there's an excruciating exchange in which he interrogates Sam about childbirth(!). From there he develops into a version of the genie from Disney's Aladdin, complete with the film references to the likes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, before finally settling down somewhat into becoming something recognizable - even if he irritatingly keeps humming 'Flight of the Valkeries' during low fly pasts which for some reason feels less in character than the Tenth Doctor's infamous Ghostbusters riff. What?

Sam's even more of a stretch with the three years of character development from Seeing I all but ignored, the childish qualities from the earlier books back in abeyance. Here she not just irritating, she's psychotic, naively falling in with the cult leader at the first hint of danger. The idea is obviously to suggest why a perfectly normal person would want to follow the likes of David Koresh but it's as though she's never seen death before or even understand that she can't take personally everything that's happening around her, forgetting everything the Doctor's taught her. Eventually, after being subjected to a range of false memories which sadly have nothing to do with the potential alternative Sam suggested in Alien Bodies, she goes completely bonkers and enters a different state of existence which Mortimore conveys by casting her thoughts across the page, words dropping randomly with tracts of white space between them, bumping up the page count somewhat.

Then, in the closing thirty or so pages, something clicks as the explanation for why the sun is going nova is finally explained and the Doctor is placed at the mercy of a moral dilemma. The exchange between the timelord and a doctor he's befriended is lovely even managing to the work in the words 'have I that right?' and a summation of historical nutcases: 'Nero was mad. Genghis Khan was mad. Hitler was mildly paranoid. I on the other hand, am merely very, very concerned'. The actual reason for the original problem which I'll not spoil taps into the very environmental issues that are setting the political agenda now, and this book was written ten years ago.

But then it's all for naught as the story is wrapped up in a Fanthorpian finale that, with little regard for pacing stops the narrative just as its getting interesting. Instead of the expected bit of action adventure in which the Doctor comes to a decision and races to stop the cult leader from ruining everything, he sits and has a chat with the goddess Sam has apparently become, coming to no conclusions other than she's probably incurable and then within a matter of pages, Sam is cured, the emergency is over and the Tardis is off to the next thrilling adventure and this reader was wondering what they'd missed or if the copy of the novel he'd bought on Ebay was missing pages.

Next: The Face-Eater. Sounds inviting. I hope it's more legible than this.

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