A Story Arc
|Synopsis: Someone very powerful has altered the universe. Events from the Doctor's past have been changed and the watching and waiting figure is laying a trap that may consume the Doctor once and for all...|
A Review by Eric Briggs 15/3/01
There's a story about how this arc was planned. Apparently Jim Mortimore, Daniel Blythe, Steve Lyons and Paul Cornell had a secret brainstorming meeting and came up with this overarching plot. Kate Orman was junior, her story (The Left-Handed Hummingbird) could have been written outside of the arc, and she lives in Australia. Seems clever, as long as you don't mind the creakiness of the plot.
The references to the arc start out by just framing the arc, and the characters spend most of their time in the little stories. Then it gets a little more messy. Like the Key to Time arc. And two or three of the books are UNIT stories. Fanwank as a word, as a definition was in use at the time, but it still meant something. It's just a cliche now. This arc to a certain extent defined fanwank. Three UNIT stories and a jaunt off to the Land of Fiction.
Perhaps The Dimension Riders and The Left-Handed Hummingbird didn't really fit. But they really broke up the possible boredom of an otherwise monolithic few months. The Dimension Writers was only a bit fanwanky because of the references to Gallifrey. The villain in it is another Time Lord, and extrapolating from it readers may have arrived at a red herring. (The villain behind the whole Alternate Universe Arc is the Meddling Monk, as is revealed in No Future.) The Garvond is just another monster, quite a lot like the Charon from Sky Pirates!. There's also a sojourn at Oxford University. A lot of Shada-like stuff in that transferred from Cambridge.
Most of these stories could have been written outside of the arc, based just on the threats we meet in them. Although UNIT is in The Left-Handed Hummingbird, they're not presented in a referential way. Hardly anything for the Brigadier or anyone else we know. It's also original for the torture the Doctor undergoes. Torturing the Doctor is another thing Kate Orman introduced with this book, which stuck. Hummer is the most original book in the arc. There was quite an outcry over the drug-taking in it. For anyone reading it today, the intervening years wouldn't soften the blow of the Doctor taking drugs. Some people are offended, some people aren't. There are mitigating factors - the Doctor's only taking drugs so he can defeat a baddie, as well as he later decides that he made a mistake in taking them - but basically some people didn't like the idea. Shock, horror, Doctor Who has lost its innocence, whatever. Damn good book.
The fanwanky books are all fun, really good. Well, Blood Heat isn't so fun. But it's still a good book. First off it kind of confused matters by changing the TARDIS for an earlier version. I've heard that this was actually an editorial mistake and the Doctor was meant to get back his own TARDIS rather than an alternate. It made no difference. May have offended the pedants though. There were a lot of Silurians in Blood Heat. It was a bit of another go-around on the Alternate UNIT idea, the first take being in Inferno. In the context of the cycle, just doing it over again with a bit of a difference is acceptable. Jim Mortimore's lust for killings doesn't really enter into the greater issues of the arc. But the morbid ending imparts a seriousness to the Arc that, barring Hummer, doesn't really belong. This is an arc of romps interspersed with bits of killer Ace maturing and some serious deaths. Mortimore's idea of an alternate universe is probably a bit bigger-scale than the real one. For example he says there are 623 steps up the side of Cheddar Gorge, when there are actually only 274.
Damn right, I counted them!
I probably need to reread Conundrum again. I haven't read it since 1994. At the time I didn't like it, but I'm sure I've revised my opinion. No UNIT, but a whole novel about the Land of Fiction was pretty new. Old. Whatever. References to John and Gillian from the TV Action comic strips, and more bits with a Famous Five-like bunch of kids. Done much better than any Who author has done since. There's a bit of a downgrading of the fanwank fantasy when the new Master of the Land of Fiction turns out to be a grimy teenager in a rockband tee-shirt. It's no different than the original Master from The Mind Robber turning out to be a pulp magazine writer from the 1930s. The grimy teenager is a fanboy, though, which is more like us. And the forward reference to what to expect in No Future grates on the independence of the story, as the plot of the Arc begins to develop faster.
Paul Cornell has always clearly stated that No Future is his least favourite of the books he wrote. Not everybody agrees with him. No Future was the silliest of his books up to that point - it's like a toned down Happy Endings. I really liked it, it had some good issues in it as well. "Killer" Ace grows up quite a lot and does a successful double-cross. She does the Doctor's bit of manipulating the situation, making up for the fact that the Doctor's messages left by his future self are deleted before he can assess things. And in the several books between Lucifer Rising and No Future Ace has been portrayed as not at all nice to the Doctor and Bernice; in this book they resolve their differences and are nice to each other from now on. Exposing the Meddling Monk (or Mortimus, as he's named here and ever onward) comes across as a bit silly, after a fairly morbid buildup through the last few books. So this book's got the Meddling Monk, the Chronovores, UNIT, the Vardans and several cameos by the BBC. The Ben Aaronovitch introduction of Buddhism into UNIT methods is harmonized with UNIT's main perception from the Pertwee era. The Brigadier is a much more well-rounded character in No Future than he has been in several instances in which he was voiced or acted by Nick Courtney. Whereas this Brigadier is a bit more genuinely worn out and showing his midlife crisis, Courtney never really followed through on the trim, grim professional of Season 7. For more troubled-Brigadier stories, try The Scales of Injustice.
Enjoy them. They were written to be enjoyed, not just reduced to plotlines like some of the other story arcs.