Books  One of the great joys about returning to university the other year was being able read more books and more particularly books which had previously been read by many, many people. I like books that have a history, that have entertained and educated many previous people. It’s for that reason that I very rarely buy brand new books unless there’s no other option, such as not many other readers would actually want to read that sort of literature. No not that sort of literature, more in the area of finding out that a second edition of Lance Parkin’s Ahistory is soon to be available.

It’s been then a bit of a disappointment that so few of the books I’ve been reading have been more than second hand, despite having been found on eBay. And then I turned to the inside cover of my(ish) copy of Trevor Baxendale’s Coldheart and found this:

Which is wonderful, and not just because Ade seems to make a note on the inside of all of the books he reads to remind himself of when he read them. It's the detail that he read the book when Mr and Mrs Jones came which suggests that they weren’t great company and neither where Mr & Mrs Fry since it was Baxendale’s book which got the most attention when he met them. He completed it on Easter Sunday 2000 too. It’s the first time I’ve encountered this so it can’t really be a tradition but how wonderful would the world be if it was -- and how charming if every time you picked up a second hand book, it’s life story was scrawled inside in the various hands through which it had passed, a solid, real world version of Bookcrossing.

Obviously, Ade enjoyed reading the book more than I did.

What an attractive cover! At no point did I feel embarrassed reading this on the train yesterday, this yawning maw looking for all the world like the goatse photograph with the hands missing. Another Black Sheep special, not only does it give away one of the few mysteries of the story but it actually causes you pause in deciding where to put your fingers when you pick it up. Some argue that simply slapping a picture of the Doctor onto the cover of a tie-in novel is a boring business, but at least it doesn't make you want to chunder. Unfortunately the synopsis on the back of the book is pretty annoying too since it describes the plot right up to about page a hundred and seventy (I checked) which has the potential to make reading the actual book a pointless exercise. I’m remainded of Empire Magazine’s old adage that the longer the trailer last the worse a film is.

Coldheart isn’t bad, just a bit boring. As said synopsis reveals, the new randomiser takes the chronological coach party to Eskon, a planet of fire and ice whose civilisation is also divided between the health and those who are infected with genetic mutation that makes them undesirable to be around. It’s thematically about slavery and apartheid and also the treatment of the disabled in society. The main city, then, is ringed by the shanty towns of these expelled slimers something as you’d imagine the Doctor’s none too happy about and just has to get involved to discover the cause and bring about a resolution -- but not before Fitz inadvertently gives the disenfranchised ideas about over throwing their masters.

Which sort of underlines the main problem with the book -- it’s such a well worn formula that there really isn’t anything in here all that surprising. In earlier novel, much was made about how this Doctor seemed to travel the universe helping the helpless, bringing down governments, creating benevolent mayhem and this is an example of that. There are also inadvertent reminders of the kind of classic Star Trek story in which Kirk would break the prime directive in order to teach the locals what’s right -- the likes of The Apple -- the Doctor just has to get involved even though somewhere in here Fitz rationalises that these things would have happened anyway eventually -- he just speeds up the process.

It’s not an enjoyable read though and that’s largely down to the author’s technical ability. Baxendale is currently the writer in residence at Doctor Who Adventures where fortnightly he’s turning out, short, fun, complex tales in around twelve pages. This past story began in the Cavern with The Beatles in a geographically correct Liverpool of the 1960s and ended on an alien world where the locals were using human DNA to extend their lifespan. The story is well paced and the landscape is beautifully described and lucid and the closing moments in particular would be spectacular up on the big screen. I suppose you could say it suffers from the disease that most summer film blockbusters have -- wonderful visuals, technically well directed but ultimately predictable and slightly empty.

Part of the problem too is that outside of the regulars, Baxendale hasn’t created a too memorable cast. It’s the trap of the tie-in novel probably -- you’re not writing anything that would be in a script in the series, but without an actor to breath life into the words, there’s nothing for the reader to hold on to. The members of the city’s ruling forum, whilst genial are generally two-dimension and like the rulers of Trakken or the background time lords in The Deadly Assassin would only really stick in the mind if played by some legendary Shakespearean. The main villain of the peace, Tor Grymna works to a degree, but once his big secret is revealed (and not too hard to guess) he lacks teeth falling into irrational growl mode. Of the slimers, only the main rebel, Revan makes a mark but even he’s rather one dimensional, one for dull terrorism rather than impassioned speeches.

The principal interest then is in the ongoing story of the regulars and thankfully that’s very well handled. It’s made abundantly apparent that with her randomiser fitted, the Doctor relies on Compassion for his freedom and that if he really pissed her off again she could simply dematerialise and leave him and Fitz behind and there’s a moment when he fears that this is exactly what she’s done. But what she’s not telling him is that she can’t -- she’s inherited some of his old TARDIS’s properties, one of which is loyalty. She also notices that Fitz is changing too, gaining a far more complex view of situations than before, but not so much that he can’t have some fun with one of the slave girls of Eskon.

There’s a pretty remarkable conversation towards the end which almost covers the same ground as the one between the Doctor and Captain Jack in Utopia; like the man who would be Boe, Compassion can’t die and is concerned about what that actually means. Eighth is more philosophical than Tenth. He reminds her that he can’t die either (apparently) and that the way he saves himself from the boredom is by travelling and seeing the stars and the people who live around them. That’s not the only new series interest though -- a tragedy is described to the Doctor by one of the venerable old war horses who puts his arm around him and says: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Next: The Space Age. Oooh -- I hope there are flying cars.

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