The Book Of The Still.

Books Among The Book of the Still’s many random pleasures is a passage towards the beginning with cleanly defines Anji’s character. She’s pondering nostalgically what her life was like before meeting the Doctor, of buying some food on the way home, cooking for her boyfriend Dave, then the two of them taking a walk through London until sun-up. It’s a moment filled with longing and metropolitan romance and might just be one of my favourite bits of writing across all of these Eighth Doctor novels, because the writer, Paul Ebbs captures exactly what also makes the new series so pleasurable. That we’re having adventures with very realistic, very human beings rather than ciphers whose characterisation begins and ends with their costume.

Which is odd considering the mayhem that surrounds it. The Book of the Still is one of the most sought after volumes in the universe. Because of it's tangential qualities, any time travellers in possession of the book who write their name and co-ordinates on its pages are instantly rescued, which is fine if you’re the kind of time traveller who spends much of their time observing, but of no use if you’re the member of a race like The Unnoticed who’d prefer to be forgotten and will go to the length of destroying whole planets so that they can go about their business of existing, well, unnoticed. The book has found itself sitting within one of the most secure spaces on Lebenswelt and everyone is desperate to get their hands on it.

Narratively speaking we’re into the experimental territory that defines most of this series of novels. Much of the first hundred odd pages demand that the viewer pay attention as our regulars, especially the Doctor act pretty strangely, motivations go unexplained and we’re never entirely sure in which direction the story is flowing. There’s a lot of trust put in the reader by Ebbs and his co-author Richard Jones (mentioned inside but not on the cover) as the Doctor and his pals become separated and find themselves imprisoned, kidnapped and drugged and sometimes all three. In places, due to the machinations of a kind of escort agency, the characters even slip into alternative personalities in dream worlds in passages with a definite tinge of the Paul Magrs.

Mostly it comes across, as so much of the Eighth Doctor era does, like an ur-text for the revived television series, especially Moffat’s latter years which now look like a misremembered synopsis for Ebbs’s book. Here be spoilers: the Doctor’s temporary companion while his usuals are off getting themselves into danger is Rhian, an expert in non-linear anthropology; part of the plot hinges on a pre-destination paradox created because of a message left the Book of the Still which might as well be multi-user edition of River Song’s diary; The Unnoticed, three metre tall eviscerations in trench coats are essentially The Silents with more destructive tendencies, but the same need to keep themselves to themselves; the Doctor even flies a box into the Sun.

But in the middle of it all, Ebbs exemplifies how, despite the massive tonal and quality changes between books, we’re happy to read along now because we simply enjoy the company of the regulars. Fitz in particular, even though he’s not in control of his own faculties throughout much of the story, is still massively entertaining as he attempts to navigate having a whole bunch of new memories and finding himself inconsolably in love with a mysterious woman, Carmodi, who’s effectively stolen him and the book for reasons she can’t control herself. The Doctor too is given some meaty material, real drama as he finds himself trapped in the web of time unsure, because of his amnesia, if he can break free. Tears are shed.

Some project notes: also rather like the Moffat series, there’s an increasing interest in time travel. Almost every novel now has some kind of time element either because of some amateur time machine or at the very least a time traveller that isn’t the Doctor has wandered through. Clearly this is supposed to be running thread, perhaps the idea being that the Whoniverse as an entity is seeking something to replace the hole left by Gallifrey, or simply that without the Time Lords doing their job, the ability to take advantage of the web of time has become easier. It could be loss of one of the Doctor’s hearts that is the primary factor in this. It’s exciting and intriguing in a way that also has been nuWho’s stock in trade to great effect and I'm loving it.

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