Dark Progeny.

Books  After a couple of experimental numbers, Steve Emmerson’s Dark Progeny despite what the cover might suggest is a novel so trad it might as well have Christopher H Bidmead running through it like a stick of Blackpool rock.  Or Llangollen rock depending on which decade we’re talking about  That’s the thing some of us love and some of us loath about Who – no matter how experimental it becomes, it will always return to first principles pretty sharpish (or eventually in the case of Big Finish’s wayward Divergant universe stories).

With Anji suffering from some kind of telepathic metacrisis which is also effecting the TARDIS’s systems, the Doctor stops off at the nearest planet with half decent medical facilities.  Ceres Alpha’s in the process of being terraformed by WorldCorp, some futuric, morally ambiguous version of Halliburton and after they’ve been rescued from one of the planets unending storms it takes little of the Doctor’s bluff to convince them he’s someone else, a visitor from Earth Central, and that his friend needs some medical attention after a crash.  Fitz meanwhile’s still stuck out in the sticks, mortally wounded.

The random element designed to stop the Doctor fixing Anji and Fitz and getting them all off the planet sharpish is the children.  Colonists who’ve become pregnant on Ceres Alpha are giving birth to creatures rather than human babies, aliens who judging by the cover resemble the typical imagery employed at Roswell for abduction happy greys.  WorldCorp’s response, led by Gaskill Tyran (Morgus with an inferiority complex) is to convince the parents their babies have died and then experiment on the creatures.  The Doctor’s response is that he has to stop them.

None of which really feels like an Eighth Doctor story.  Of course that begs the question of what an Eighth Doctor story is like, but even with his amnesia and the wayward back story that underpins this run of novels, there’s not much here which could just as well have been done as a past Fifth Doctor novel, with the Mara the cause of Tegan’s problems.  It’s essentially Warriors of the Deep directed by Steven Spielberg with the visitors from Close Encounters instead of the Myrka.

It even exhibits some of the problems of the fifth Doctor era.  Emmerson doesn’t seem quite sure what to do with Fitz and like I said, he spends most of the novel in the wilderness befriending and being interrogated by some colonists trying to get back in the city were his friends are – nothing he does as far as I can see has anything to do with the main plot other than shading in some of the world.  It’s the kind of narrative approach that parks Adric next to a buffet table for a couple of episode or Nyssa in the TARDIS feeling unwell.

Which makes sense on screen with time constraints and the union threatening to turn off the lights at ten o’clock, but in a novel with all of these pages to fill, it's weird.  Emmerson’s far more interested in fleshing out the incidental inhabitants of Ceres Alpha, like the parents of one of the children who’re attempting to break through the company’s subterfuge.  Except that section feels like it should be playing out as a mystery but like the Doctor’s runaround during Daleks in Manhattan, since we’re told up front the information they’re searching for, it’s not clear what the intent is.

But the novel does work towards saying something interesting about the march of progress and respecting the past, as Bains, an archaeologist works to preserve the legacy of the peoples of the planet against the human need to have somewhere to plant crops or open a Starbucks.  Predictably he’s about the only character apart from the creatures the Doctor has any affinity for, and undoubtedly their interactions are the best parts of the book as the Time Lord attempts to break him out the kind of shell I’m all too familiar with.

All of which sounds like I’m trying to deliberately trash the piece, and I’m not.  On its own terms, there’s nothing especially wrong with it, and there are plenty of tense moments particularly as we view the Doctor from the colonist’s point of view, this mysterious, shadowy, unknowable force.  The final few pages are lovely.  It’s a recalibration, a respite from the cookier excesses of the series and probably much needed too since as I can now see from the coming soon section at the back, in a couple of novels time we’ve the double whammy of a Miles followed by a Magrs.  Ooh.

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