|ISBN||0 563 53847 2|
|Synopsis: Imagine a war where time itself is being used as a weapon. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji arrive at Isolation Station Forty, a military research establishment on the verge of a breakthrough. A breakthrough which will change the entire course of the war. They have found a way to send soldiers back in time.|
Hot Johnny Morris Action! by Steve Traylen 20/3/02
Johnny Morris has built himself quite a reputation based on one past Doctor adventure, the macabre yet utterly Season 17 Festival of Death. For his sophomore effort he has turned to the heavier world of the Eighth Doctor adventures with Anachrophobia.
Let me start out right away by telling you that this book is utterly superb. I may be biased in that I loved Festival, but this book easily surpasses it. Plot wise it's quite straight forward on the surface, Doctor visits outpost, outpost is conducting time experiments, aliens invade, Doctor saves the day; but there is much much more than this. The book constantly plays on themes of "What If?" and regret, something that with the way the line is going at the moment the Doctor is very familiar with.
Fitz and Anji get very little to actually do except run around a bit, and the supporting character saren't terribly likeable. The ideas behind the Plutocrats and the Defaulters are interesting and added a certain satire to the proceedings.
The ending is ingenious and fun. Then when you think it's all over the book blows you away in the last 3 pages. One of the twists is pretty well sign posted; however the rest isn't so obvious and suddenly this book turns from a great read into potentially one of the most important books of the year. There is a great cliffhanger too; is it really a month til Trading Futures?
Who would have gussed...? by Joe Ford 2/4/02
If I had to write a one word review it would be wow.
This is a gripping cumilation of everything the EDA's have been in the past year. We are still being rewarded for our patience for sticking with the series. I was glued to this book for two days and have just finished and can only make one suggestion…even if you hate the books, even if you despise Paul McGann in print…buy this book now!
Where to begin? It seems to me that we Who fans are a little too complacent when it comes to the whole idea of time-travel. After all it is the central idea of the show, a stepping stone to get from one adventure to another. It is rarely demonstrated how dangerous such a concept can be, except in the historicals which is more culture based time-travel. Here we see time-travel in all it's horrific possibilities, there is no doubt about it, the passage of time is the most dangerous threat in this book and we take a look at the gruesome consequences there are in playing about with such power. And it's not pretty.
Johnathon Morris know his stuff. He knows how to structure a novel to grip and thrill. The tension rarely lets up and and we are greeted by shocking revelations around every corner. I seriously thought I had the book figured out about two thirds through but then the clever man twisted the book in a whole new direction that left me awe-struck. And then to my gob smacking horror he did it again with a final "NO WAY!" twist that left me reeling.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Think of Fury from the Deep, think of Robots of Death and think of Terror of the Vervoids…and what do they have in common? Tightly enclosed locations, claustrophobic to the point of suffocating and a tension filled atmosphere with monsters lurking in the shadows. Well to quote Colin Baker "They're all in the nursery compared to this!", this is quite frankly the most terrifying book I've ever read (and I LOVE horror books so I don't say that lightly). Isolation Station Forty is the perfect enviroment to send our heroes into, clanking chains, cramp quarters, dark dingy corridors, dripping taps, ticking clocks…I guess the reason it scared me so much was that I feel an attacthment to these characters now but at times I seriously thought The Doctor, Fitz and Anji were done for.
The stock characters started out a little anonymously but that made them seem more faceless and scary. I didn't know who to trust. Who was as good as their word. Morris cleverly using his time travel trick to explore their pasts and add some depth, letting us into their worlds before subjecting them to….ahh but that would be telling.
Every book seems content to offer at least one memorable Doctor/Anji moment and this is no exception. It comes about halfway through the book and as ever concerns Dave…I'm not sure how they keep this strand so fresh and alive but I find the Doctor/Anji relationship one of the most refreshingly brilliant strands of recent Who, they certainly bring the book alive in expected ways here. And lets not forget Fitz who is put through the wringer here and never once loses sight of his goal, to get his friends out alive. You gotta love that guy. Notice how different these three are since they first met in Escape Velocity (woah what a memory!)…that is what you call REAL development folks!
Our big location change two thirds in is refreshing and nessecary and we treated to one of the most disturbing lansdscape images the series has ever offered.
We've touched upon the "now the Time Lords are gone who will look after time" in previous books but it's followed up here and the answer is frightening.
Two more thoughts…I went to bed last night scared out of my wits all I could hear was the tick-tock of my clock…that sick guy Johnny Morris REALLY got to me. Damn fine author.
And two…I don't think the phrase "We are well within our budget" has ever had such a sinister undertone.
And that ending! What an ending! You think I sound like a raving idiot…read the book and find out yourself!
Next up Lance Parkin…my favourite author but I just don't see how he's going to top this. Given the EDA' s track record though I will probably but pleasantly surprised.
A popular book and no mistake... Dreamwatch magazine gave it 8/10, Doctor Who Magazine called it "a well written book, the regulars are particularly charasmatic" and SFX gave it four stars out of five and said it was "superbly judged". Lots of positive reviews appear on this site and over at Outpost Gallifrey. I love it.
I have just re-read the book over the past four days and found it even more enjoyable the second time round. I just have to mention a few great things about it I forgot about in my already long review of the book. Three things that make the book stand out so well.
One, the ideas. My mate Rob Matthews disagrees with me when I say I think the ideas are ingenious. I've never read a book before with such a clever use of time. Taking your standard wartime scenario promises this to be especially dull but use time as a weapon twists the genre superbly into a SF masterpiece. The accelerated time/deccelarated time attacks are frightening and brilliantly described by Johnathon Morris... the chapter that ends on a character with a withered arm is great. Even better is the idea of the clock people... really scary but it's the ideas that frightens the most... the thought of your past being stolen from you. Being tempted with an unfortunate memory from the past and trying to correct it will cost you your past... a chilling idea used to maximum effect, especially considering it gives the somewhat blank secondary characters some background before we lose them... it makes their loss all the more poignant.
Two, the imagery. The book is stuffed with utterly terrifying imagery... this story would look BLOODY FANTASTIC on screen. If this had been a Who televised story it would probably be heralded as an all time classic. The Sapphire and Steel ripoffs are obvious but who cares, the imagery is disturbing and effective. Some scenes blew me away with their stark simplicity... the three clock faced people all turning to face Fitz as one, shooting clockwork Shaw in the 'face' and shattering her piece with black ooze spitting out, Fitz wading through the water-filled claustrophobic tunnels with sparks exploded all around him, the mustard gas taking effect over and again. Two of the most scary scenes in recent Who fiction come when Shaw tries to slash her wrists and dsicovers only clockworks and wires underneath and the Doctor ripping open a victim's chest only to discover a pendulum swaying back and forth. This is a book that excels in atmosphere, in freaking you out. I read the book in my sitting room with only the Christmas tree lighting the room and it was gorgeously eerie.
Three. the regulars. Anji and Fitz are put through sheer hell. Both physically and mentally, trapped in this hellish atmosphere and completely out of their depth. And they shine, I've always said it is only when you put your characters through really disturbing trials do you get to see what their capable of. Fitz is quite wonderful, stupidly trying to find somebody to trust, he is betrayed by everybody. Anji is at her best, clever, sardonic but so lost in an enviroment that doesn't let her eat, bathe and relax. Her frustration mounts throughout the book and her sudden outburst at the Doctor is entirely justified.
I cannot understand how anybody could find this book dull, it has so much going on, is plotted superbly to let the clever revelations hit you at a point that you might lose interest in atmosphere alone. If you are genuinely interested in the fates of the Doc, Fitz and Anji you will be hooked.
And its still got that killer ending that leaps in and takes your breath away.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 15/5/02
For the first thirty or forty pages, I wasn't sure if I was going to like Anachrophobia at all. The beginning felt slow and unengaging. The characters that Jonathan Morris introduced initially failed to interest me. But as the book progressed I found myself becoming more and more intrigued by the story-line and the carefully constructed plot. By the time I reached the end, I had become completely engrossed, and I was still thinking about the complexities of the plot for some time after I completed the book.
Anachrophobia is mainly a plot-driven story and it seems clear that there must have been a very complicated outline behind this book. It's a story that involves a lot of messing around with time travel and related temporal jiggery-pokery, but everything fits together just perfectly. The plot has been meticulously structured, yet it is never obscure or confusing. While it takes a little time to get started, once you get into the story, it never lets you go. Even some spots in the middle of the book that seemed like unrewarding padding take on a new meaning as later events unfold. It's a clever and well told story that carefully reveals just enough of the plot along the way to keep one's interest, but not so much that the reader figures out what is going on before the characters do.
The characterization of the Doctor is another aspect of the novel that I initially thought I was going to hate. The Doctor spends far too much time at the beginning doing little apart from a lot of grinning. I was hoping that this wasn't going to be an unwelcome flashback to the ineffectual, smiling Eighth Doctor Idiot of many of the pre-Burning books. My fears were for naught. Morris manages to slowly increase the Doctor's role as the story progresses until, by the time one reaches the end, the Doctor has taken the center stage and is the powerful, intelligent and eccentric character he always can be. The Doctor is the center of the Whoniverse, and the last forty pages do a marvelous job of demonstrating this.
On the other hand, many of the secondary characters fall into the trap of being distinguished almost solely by their job description. Near the halfway point in the story, Morris attempts to give some of them a dose of much needed humanization, and only has mixed results. This additional characterization (done almost purely for plot related reasons) manages to triumphantly pull some of the individuals out of the whitewash, but for others the undertaking mostly falls flat. I enjoyed the clever attempt to base some of the plot around key moments in the lives of the characters, but I don't think it was an entirely successful effort.
Still, the thoroughly engaging plot and the wonderful use of the Doctor more than make up for any misfires on other fronts. It's great to get a book on time travel that makes heavy use of the device and manages to stick so well to its internal logic. Morris made the art of explaining complicated plots look easy, and he effortlessly constructed an engaging, compelling tale. Definitely a book to enjoy.
Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 3/6/02
2002 J. ENRIGHT TSV. Anachrophobia is, much like Festival of Death, extremely plot heavy. It also has a new an interesting take on time, in particular, what does it really mean to time travel? I like a decent plot in a book, and this has a meaty one to sink your teeth into. There is a lot going on, but it is developed in a way that lets the reader keep up with the events. However, the plot tends to outweigh the book, with the time element overshadowing the plutocratic empire element. Indeed, I got the feeling that Jonathan Morris had a good idea about creating the plutocratic empire, but didn't really have a good reason as to why the state of the empire came about, but draws the reader's attention away from this by putting more aliens in.
Much like Festival of Death. And completely reverse to the plot-lite and character-heavy audio Bloodtide.
2002 J. ENRIGHT TSV. The Doctor suffers even more in this novel from the events of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street. The whole book in fact has deep links to previous works, which are quite well done considering most of this book would have been written without knowing the exact events of immediately preceding ones (which is where good editing from Justin Richards comes in). Fitz is kept pretty minimal, but good use is made of Anji, especially towards the end.
Of the rest of the characters, well, basically there are too many. Despite the flashbacks to their pasts, mainly during anachrophobia attacks, I didn't make any connection to any of them, so wasn't bothered in the slightest when they were taken over or otherwise killed off. Here is where the heaviness of the plot is really detrimental, the needs for events to keep moving meaning less time for characters. And with the large number of characters, they needed as much time as possible (no pun intended... unless you thought it was funny). Oh, and I'd just like to say that I was right about Mistletoe, although I can't say about what. The only character that really comes to mind as interesting is Lane, whose distinguishing points are that she was a woman and that she smoked. Other than that, there wasn't anything else that set her apart.
2002 J. ENRIGHT TSV. If you liked Festival of Death, then this book is for you. Plot-heavy with too many characters that fail to grip the reader. In fact, if it wasn't for the links to previous novels, this could be Festival of Death II: Time Strikes Back. Okay, so that joke fell, but the point remains that Anachrophobia is so much like Jonathan Morris' previous book that I predict the book will fall into the same like and dislike categories. So you should be able to tell now if you're going to buy this or not.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 19/6/02
When Jon Morris last contributed to DW fiction, it was the wonderful Festival of Death, which used a great mix of humor, action, horror and a convoluted plot to amazing effect. Itąs been hailed up its release as one of the best PDAs under the BBC banner, and one of the best DW books overall.
With all that praise, it wouldnąt be surprising if Anachrophobia suffered from the sophomore jinx.
Thankfully, it doesn't.
Jon Morris gives us something different. Anachrophobia is creepy, malevolent and downright frightening in parts. If you're expecting the laughs that came from Festival, you might be disappointed. Morris shows us that he can use some of the creepier moments from that book and expand upon them for a full novel.
The basic premise of Anachrophobia is that the Doctor, Fitz and Anji land on a unnamed planet where two armies are fighting a war where time itself is the chief weapon. Like Festival, Morris picks a concept so obvious that it makes you wonder why no other writer tried to use it earlier. From there, the TARDIS crew arrive at isolation station 40, where experiments into time travel are being conducted as the possible next weapon.
Characterization is very strong. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji are all done very well. Like Hope previously, Anachrophobia takes into account the result of the events that occurred in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, and how they affect the Doctor. I loved the general attitude of the Plutocrats -- the side who works at Station 40 -- which is Ayn Rand's ideal of capitalism taken to an illogical extreme. This is idealized in Mr. Mistletoe, an auditor who arrives on the station partway through the novel. Mistletoe is a complete weasel, and so much more.
Morris does play around with cause and effect. However, not in the basic structure of the novel, but we see in several key scenes that help drive the main plot. The story itself moves and twists along, with Justin Richards corkers coming left and right in the last third of the book.
I will say no more about this book, as to spoil it for others would be wrong and should be punished by forced repeated viewing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (similar to poor Alex in A Clockwork Orange) till the brain turns into tofu.
Just buy it, read it and enjoy. It's that brilliant.
A Review by Finn Clark 22/6/02
Great title. I didn't quite buy its use in the text - the symptoms described don't correspond to any definition of phobia I know - but clearly Jonathan Morris felt a title like that was too good to waste.
Mr Morris's debut novel was the rapturously received Festival of Death, which this resembles only in superficial ways. They both do weird stuff with time, but the tone of the two books is completely different. Festival of Death was a comedy. This ain't. For quite a while it's a spooky, nasty, effective piece of creepiness that comes nearer to Sapphire and Steel than anything else I can think of. However it's not fantasy. Anachrophobia revolves around very clever, well thought out timewarpings, as intriguing and clearly laid out as the best of science fiction. Judging by his two books to date, one quality Jonathan Morris brings to the table as a writer is clarity (with material that in other hands could have deliquesced into impenetrability).
That first half is horror. Scientists go where they really shouldn't, and you just know they'll bring back something bad. Yup, got that right. (Though its consequences aren't the usual "horror" scenario of gory slasher set-pieces, but something far more alien and unsettling.) There's actually quite a few traditional Who plotting standbys here - locked up, unmasked, threatened with death, etc. - but Morris's meticulous worldbuilding draws you in so completely that those familiar old scenarios are invested with new life. (Well, all except one.) This is a careful, chiselled piece of work that is never less than 100% convincing and keeps you thinking and wondering throughout.
(We'll gloss over the in-joke on page 108, which is the worst artistic mistake Jonathan Morris will make in his entire life.)
There's a sweeping broadside against free-market capitalism, which I rather liked. Too often in Who we've had corporations that are evil for no reason except greed. Not much thought in evidence there. You could cut-and-paste 'em with agents of Stalin or the Imperial Tsars without having to change a word. On the other hand Anachrophobia's villains have a coherent, rationalised capitalist philosophy that underpins their motives and decision-making. We're given no explanation whatsoever of the all-or-nothing extremism of these views, but I still appreciated the added depth.
All this is good stuff, but I'm afraid I can't recommend Anachrophobia wholeheartedly. It feels cold and clinical. The characters are a big step up from Festival of Death (probably because none of them are comic relief) but they're not particularly likeable. What's more, once the horror runs its course about half-way through then there isn't much else to sustain the book. There's always plenty to engage the intellect, but it doesn't involve one emotionally. It's pretty bleak, to be honest.
I liked the Magritte imagery. I loved the temporal weirdness, which is followed through when the Doctor finds clever, logical ways to exploit what's going on (rather than just blowing everything up and going back to the TARDIS). Festival of Death was a one-off and Anachrophobia knows better than to try to repeat the unrepeatable; the result is clever rather than amazing, but on balance it's still a good book.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 4/9/02
Bolstered by the excellence that was Adventuress of Henrietta Street (which I actually read 10 months after it first came out!) I pursued 2002 8th Doctor Adventures with some vigour. One I was particularly looking forward to was this Jonathan Morris novel. After all Festival of Death and Bloodtide were very good both.
I was a little wary of the book to begin with - it's set in deep space, on a planet that was a bit dull. I have to confess that Earth Stories are my favourite, and planets far away are not. I love the alien mixing with the commonplace. Being English I identified with the usual territory for such invasions - and I liked that. But DW catches the imagination so much with its vast array of storytelling locales - Home and Away. Too many Earth based Stories become too much of a good thing - even Pertwee had to go to the Stars eventually (even though he wasn't quite as good doing it as other Doctors). Another genre visited much by the mass of DW writers is the Base Under Siege one. This was mostly Earth, but every now and again the far reaches of Space (the recent Embrace the Darkness being the best example recently). But then the proof of excellence is not so narrow to assign it to one story-type, DW can be about pretty much anything. This is a Base Under Siege story, but not as conventional as the usual types. This is a story about Time, and the Fear of it - the title is extremely apt.
Anachrophobia is a non-Earth based story, even though the characters are very clearly Human. This is about an unusual war that has been fought over many, many years. Time is the weapon and DT and AT are killers (Decelerated Time and Accelerated Time). This was a Colony world and it is now riddled with pockets of Time destruction. Isolation Station 40 is the haven from the Time-Killer, and it is there much of the action in the book occurs.
The crew of the Station are a pretty standard bunch. Morris gives them realistic motives, but ultimately I didn't remember many of them after I'd finished. Only the stressed-out Commander Bragg, and token female Lane strike out from the norm at first. They are joined by the most memorable character half way through - the Auditor. The marvelously named Mr Mistletoe is an office nightmare, and I could think of quite a few people he reminded me of - it was rather frightening - but then Auditors are very frightening indeed.
The Doctor is extremely well written throughout. Flying in to IS40, he takes on the role of Time Specialist (no lying there for a change), and gets right to the heart of the problem. Subtle references to his recent trauma are there, but not the mainstay of the story. They enlarge this multi-dimensional character further, continuing the impressive Doctor arc of which story is a part. Fitz and Anji are quite prominent too, each having their share of time with the Doctor and with the enemy. I really like this TARDIS team, and rarely have companions been so well thought out and developed.
The writing is fluent. The imagery conjured up (clocks instead of faces, time standing still and speeding up) is frightening. The story is more straight-forward than the multi-layered Festival of Death - it's linear, in spite of the subject matter. There are some surprises though, the real enemy shifting, keeping the reader on their toes. The pacing is excellent, and it really builds up to a satisfying conclusion. Jonathan Morris has emerged as one of the brighter lights of new Who Writing Talent, and rightly so judging by this book.
The isolated setting is impressive. Whilst Time-War rages outside there is always the threat of a breach. The way that breach is portrayed is novel - and truly frightening aswell. As the Doctor and Companions strive to sort the whole thing out, so they put themselves in grave danger time and time again. The threat expands during the course of the novel too, and it actually improves the novel throughout as my attention got more and more acute towards it.
This is a book you can get really stuck into, whilst still being full of wonderful character moments and action. I read most of it during the height of Summer, an unusually warm week in August, sat on a Park Bench. There were times when I looked up and was genuinely surprised to find the day had got warmer as I sat there, the wasps were closer than I would have liked, and that I only had a few minutes left of my dinner hour. That week's Dinner hour breaks flew past, and I wanted longer to read. I wish now that I had read it somewhere more confined - cosy armchair with just a lamp for company or late at night when all were asleep. That would have been better than the open space that I was in, contrasting massively with the isolation of the base within the books pages.
As it is, Anachrophobia was a pretty good read (despite the less than ideal place I read it in). It kept my attention well throughout, and the limited setting of the base actually proved to be great setting. The threat too was unique and scary. Another fine book in a very impressive range. 8/10
Secondbookophobia by Robert Smith? 9/10/02
Anachrophobia is quite clever in places, it's got time travel malarkey, a great title, surprising twists, it spends most of its time trying to recreate the feel of televised Doctor Who and is by the author of the brilliant Festival of Death.
None of which matters, because this is also the most boring Doctor Who novel in some considerable time.
Anachrophobia's biggest problem is that it's trying so hard to have clever stuff going on underneath the main plot that it's forgotten to include an entertaining story to keep us awake. I'll admit right off that the time travel paradoxes at the end are interesting, that the central idea is a great one, as is the fact that the time war itself is barely dwelt upon. By all accounts I should have adored this book.
Unfortunately, what we actually get is most of the action taking place in about three rooms. What's worse, the time travel nature of the story means that many of the events are simply repeated over and over again. Furthermore, the events are repeated over and over with only slight differences. What's more, the events are repeated over and over, but weren't that great to begin with. And it takes place in about three rooms, with lots of things being repeated over and over and long past our grasping of the point.
This is a book that seems to be trying to recreate the feel of Classic Who [tm] by having a base under seige and a tiny cast and the Doctor running experiments that could easily be filmed on even a modest BBC budget... yet it's simultaneously trying to undercut that by deliberately not splitting the TARDIS crew between the Plurocrats and the Defaulters. I appreciate that there's an attempt to avoid this particular cliche, but replacing it by others doesn't seem to be the ideal approach. Honestly, I think the book should have just bitten the bullet and had Fitz kidnapped by the Defaulters with his own self-contained subplot. At least it would have broken up the interminable base scenes where nothing continues to happen. And paragraph after paragraph ending oh-so-dramatically with clocks that keep ticking to remind us of just how much still isn't happening.
With little action to speak of, a book like this needs strong characters. My only complaint about Festival of Death was that the characters were a bit too shallow, but there the complexities of the plot meant that this didn't matter as much. Here we've got particularly weak characters, but little overt complexity to cover for it. Of the base crew, only Lane showed any flicker of interest, but she's possessed fairly early on and then that's it for her.
I'm also really surprised that the prologue is from Oake's POV and not Bishop's. Given the subsequent events, this seems almost criminally negligent. The revelation about Hammond is quite a surprise, but it only happens after he's basically out of the picture and so goes nowhere. This feels like it's from the Eric Saward school of cliffhanger revelations and basically exists for the shock value alone.
The only character of interest is Mistletoe, who works quite well, but page 140 is a dead giveaway. I mean a ridiculously dead giveaway, to the extent that it really spoils the shock revelation. I assumed this was deliberate, but his true identity is clearly supposed to be a surprise to all concerned. Things did pick up a bit when Mistletoe was around, to be sure and the scene where he expounds about the economics of the war was astonishingly well written and moved like lightening. Unfortunately, it didn't last and it was back to yet more boredom in the same three rooms. While yet more clocks continued their ominous ticking.
The clock-faced people started off as quite a spooky idea, but then there's very little development for the next 150 pages. We're treated to interminable descriptions of how their clock faces stared blankly as the hands slowly ticked down the seconds every fourth paragraph or so. Yes, we get the point.
Once the action moves off the base of dullness, things are a bit better, although it seems fairly convenient that only the TARDIS crew and Mistletoe survive. Not that I was crying out for Shaw's continued presence, but given how things turn out, it feels a touch convenient that none of the others are there at the end.
All this said, I loved the Doctor's solution to it all. It's very clever and helps salvage an otherwise fairly uninteresting book. The novel is obviously well thought out, but I found it incredibly slow and uneventful throughout. I can hardly believe this is from the same writer as Festival. Oh, and without exception, all the jokes here are in-jokes. Festival had a couple, for sure, but they worked because they were surrounded by clever and amusing original jokes. None of the jokes here work on that level, which is also a shame as some humour might have really helped to alleviate the boredom.
A few good bits notwithstanding, I found Anachrophobia to be bore-your-pants-off disappointing. Unfortunately, there simply aren't enough redeeming features to overcome the sheer dullness of it all. It's constantly restricting itself to a ridiculously small playing field and it feels as though even a few minor improvements could have made this a vastly better book. It's a pity, because there's no greater literary crime than boring the reader.
Pasticheophilia by Rob Matthews 15/10/02
This may be a radical break with convention, but before I begin this review a disclaimer- I haven't read Festival of Death!
I came to Anachrophobia pretty much fresh, with no preconceptions about the author but with an impression, gleaned from this site, that it was going to be a good quality Doctor Who book.
Hm. 'Underwhelming' sums it up really.
The book follows somewhat in the footsteps of Father Time, unashamedly taking highly familiar SF ideas and revelling in their - how would you put it? - classicism? In Father Time it was flying saucers and big robots, here it's corridors and Empires and Time Travel with a capital T. Perhaps it's an acknowledgement that there must have been a reason we were impressed by these things before they were 'ironic'. Perhaps it's a neurotic wish to keep things nice and simple for the EDAs so there won't be need for another shake of the Etch-a-Sketch like The Ancestor Cell.
I wasn't overly impressed with the central concept of using time as a weapon. We've seen rapid ageing in Doctor Who before - in City of Death, in Timelash - so it's hardly the original and bold concept some have made out. And while I don't expect convincing science from Doctor Who, there's surely something wrong if an oaf like me can pick holes in what we're presented with - time is accelerated for the soldiers, but only relatively - surely their brain functions would speed up too and they wouldn't perceive the acceleration themselves? Wouldn't time appear to pass normally for them? And how can the Plutos send radio signals backward and forward in time? Are they in league with the Cryons or something?
Well, maybe I'm nitpicking. But there are problems on the bigger scale too. There's that oldest of Who cliches, the base-under-siege scenario. Part of that back-to-basics ethos perhaps, but I just found it dull. And it's even written as if for a television budget, with 'corridors that all look the same' and so on. Why? This is meant to be a novel. Additionally, I found it hard to tell one character in the base from another, there wasn't much in the way of description to help differentiate them. I didn't find any of them at all interesting or engaging, they were merely ciphers.
The 'clock people' themselves were a good visual idea (great cover!), but novels can't rely on visuals, and the creatures came across simply as dull drones. Murderous ones, yeah, but no different to Cybermen or Voc robots. They even proclaimed "You will be like us" in much the same way as the Cybermen of Tomb did. Added to which, their nature as 'beings from outside of time' or something made them come across like clockwork versions of the Babewyns from Adventuress. Perhaps that's intentional. Maybe it's just a personal thing, then - I'm just not interested by nasty, apparently-motiveless beasties from the arsehole of time. To be honest, I didn't buy the babewyns either, but because they were savage and bestial they were scarier. But still not my cup of tea. Like I say, nice idea for a TV episode, but not for a book. And this is a recurrent problem with the BBC line - too many attempts to emulate movies or television.
As Robert Smith? has pointed out, the 'shock twist' is obvious early on, though I like the way Mistletoe is written - with his distinctive name and un-usual mode of speech, I could at least tell him apart from everyone else in the base.
The description of Station One towards the end of the book is wonderfully evocative, like something from a Coen brothers film. It's so dripping with atmosphere and detail I have a sneaking suspicion that Morris wrote that part first. But, without going into much detail, the revelations there are nothing we haven't heard or seen before either. The bureaucrats with names like Whifferpipple and Dandyweed owe much to Mr Popplewick from TOATL. There's another 'shock' scene that harks back to that story too. And the bureaucrats are acting much the way Drathro did in Mysterious Planet.
And that's the main problem. Everything is just far too familiar from TV stories. I was left with the same feelings I got from Adventuress and Hope - boredom, combined with a sense that the seeds were being sown for greater things in the future. Hope I'm right.
Small Screen by Mike Morris 3/2/03
I've fallen behind on the EDA's lately, and so not so long ago I embarked on an EDA crash course. From Hope to The Infinity Race in a fortnight, skipping one or two books on the way. This may mean that I missed out on some of the subtleties of the EDA range, but I don't think this will affect my reading of the first stop. Anachrophobia.
The title is a lousy pun, but I have a hell of a lot of respect for Jonathan Morris' work (he's no relation, by the way. Well not to me anyway. I assume he has some relations somewhere). What comes through strongly is his love of television as a media. This is hardly anything new in Doctor Who, since the authors are primarily fans of a television programme, but in general this is a handicap rather than a help when it comes to writing their stories, as they produce badly paced novels with too much emphasis on visual description and, as a counterbalance, too much internal dialogue with their characters. The better Who authors tend to be those who actively jettison the television conventions of Doctor Who; the one attempt to blend the two media, Interference, really showed up the differences between television and novels rather than actually fusing them.
What makes Jonathan Morris unique is that he successfully incorporates televisual structures into his work without actually weakening what he does; in fact, it actively strengthens his work. His tight plotting, visual style, dialogue-heavy work and shallow-but-vivid characters are creations of television shamelessly incorporated into the written word. It's done with skill and produces strange works that work as novels in their own right, but feel like television. Festival of Death has been deservedly praised, but in particular his short story in the Missing Pieces anthology is a manifesto of what this man does; an astonishingly vivid example two forms of art blending seamlessly. It's magnificent.
(I can hear people accusing me of overanalysis, but the way that television is devalued as a creative medium always makes me angry. I love television; and I love novels too, and it's a rare and beautiful thing to see one influencing the other in this way. I unashamedly think that Jonathan Morris, at his best, is bloody revolutionary and an author that "proper" novelists could learn a lot from if they were able to dump their literary snobbery. It's only when you read so many average books that try to do the same thing that you realise how skilful he is.)
Anachrophobia, Morris' latest work, is the best example yet of how difficult it is to do what he does. Unfortunately, this is because it is his first failure. It's a dull, dull novel, which effectively shows just how wrong television-as-novel can go. After an atmospheric opening the whole thing fades into a mish-mash of corridor scenes and people being chased all over the place. Sorry for joining the ranks of the 'Anachrophobia-bashers - what the hell is that about?' (copyright Joe Ford) but that's how I see it. Incidentally, I find the question puzzling, given that Robert Smith? and Rob Matthews state very clearly and eloquently what the hell that's about. I agree with most of what they say and I'll try not to duplicate their arguments here.
Generally speaking, things go pretty well until the clock-people appear. The initial accelerated-time scene is very well put together, and the scene of the Doctor and Fitz in the diving-bell-time-machine-thing is very frightening. It's also a fine example of what I was saying about television; by using familiar surroundings the reader finds it very easy to see-and-hear what he's reading. The clangs of something beating against the door of the time machine are almost audible. The characters, unfortunately, are very much an anonymous bunch of androgynously gritty battle-hardened soldiers, and even during the more successful early stages I was worried by this.
Morris dispatches this problem through the unusual method of turning them all into clocks at an early stage, which probably makes them more believable as human beings. They're initially frightening, but it soon becomes clear that they're not going to do much except chase people. Irritatingly, any explanations about their nature are either absent (why do they turn into clocks exactly?) or unconvincing - I'm really not sure about this 'our actions make us who we are' notion of transformation. The clock people are an inspired invention, but the horror doesn't go beyond their visual appearance. As a result they quickly become dull.
The only other element of any colour is Mistletoe, a stereotyped accountant dropping most unexpectedly into this adventure - although his true nature does become obvious way too soon. He is also the only really interesting aspect of the plutocratic war, a one-note idea stretched far beyond its limits and not treated with much subtlety. Another example of this sledgehammer tactic is actually calling the plutocrats "Plutocrats", which makes their amorality both cartoonish and predictable. The result is that the twist regarding the war is deeply expected, whereas if the plutocracy had not been so stressed it would probably have been an effective shocker.
I could list all sorts of flaws, most of which would revolve around a lack of depth, which meant I never felt emotionally attached to anyone in the book. The truth is, though, that this is inevitable if you write a book so rooted in television conventions; it will inevitably result in brash but unsubtle settings, characters and plots, which are initially vivid but lack any additional. Morris' skill beforehand has been effectively concealing these problems from the reader through sharp dialogue, striking "visuals", complex plots and fast-reading prose. However, these elements are lacking here, and without the pace all the defects just stand up and slap the reader in the face.
There are isolated scenes where the author's gift becomes very apparent and everything comes together. Of particular note is where a clock-figure slices himself open and finds cogs and springs inside his own body, but many other incidental scenes work very well. The city of clock-men is terrific, as is the cobweb-covered accountant's office, but these end up being swamped by scenes of dull grey corridors, dull grey lorries, and dull grey writing.
And yet this book has got a lot of positive reviews. I think this is because it would probably have been a good television story, given a decent budget and a good director. Also, Jonathan Morris' work is so generally likeable in such a Who-ish way that I think we want to like Anachrophobia; it's telling that one of the reviews above refers to Festival of Death more than Anachrophobia. However, if you want your novels to work as novels, instead of scripts for unmade televised stories, then this is one to avoid. Morris has failed to work his television-to-novel alchemy this time and the result is a novel that is, ultimately, dull.
Jonathan Morris is a talented author capable of producing extraordinary books. However, I'm afraid this isn't one of them, and as such it is a major disappointment.
Time, Gentlemen, Please by Marcus Salisbury 16/6/04
A while ago, Jonathan Morris penned Festival of Death, surely the best 4th Doctor PDA to date (although Millennium Shock and Tomb of Valdemar are still up there). With Anachrophobia, Morris has done it again. Don't let the Genesis of the Daleks-inspired opening scene throw you - he's produced the best 2nd Doctor PDA I've ever read.
This is not a bad thing: despite being ostensibly an 8DA (and the real starting point for the ongoing (and ongoing and ongoing and ongoing) "Time out of Joint" story arc, Anachrophobia draws on some truly ancient Who-motifs in what is surely an uber-Season Five tale. Yup, it's all here - the Doctor mistaken as a missing dignitary, an isolated base under siege from within and without, a middle-aged "leader" who goes nuts in the second reel, soldiers coming down with a mysterious malaise which puts them in the service of an unseen, incomprehensible enemy, and a third act in which all hell breaks loose and the plot is resolved largely by accident. (A super-hero Doctor figures not at all). These elements were done brilliantly in the latter part of Season Four and throughout Season Five, and it all works wonderfully here, too.
If Season Five is an underlying inspiration for Anachrophobia, then more power to Morris. Anachrophobia is a terrific read, and like good books should it improves on re-reading. The Rene Magritte-influenced cover is also good, as it segues directly into the action itself - yes, the aliens manifest themselves as folk with clocks for faces. This could have been a little Monty Python-esque, but works in the context of the novel. And the clockheads are surely more creepy and plausible than Hope's Terminator impersonator, or Paul Magrs' poodles.
The Eighth Doctor comes off well, too. He's passionate, inquisitive, and inhuman by turns, and every inch the Byronic character brought to life so well by Paul McGann in the paltry airtime he was given eight years ago. The events of Henrietta Street and Hope are brought into play, also - although the Doctor's growing another heart by the time Camera Obscura rolls around, his condition is very much front-and-centre to the action here. He's even temporarily incapacitated at story's end, leaving an appropriately smug Sabbath (hastily revealed, it must be said) to act as deus ex machina, explaining the novel's entire denouement in a page and a half. That's the only real problem I have with Anachrophobia. On a related note, however, the auditor Mr. Mistletoe is a fine creation - imagine an officious, callous (Vogon?), bowler-hatted version of Harold from the Aussie soap opera Neighbours and you'll get the picture. His big secret is revealed by an apparently innocuous medical "checkup", but Mistletoe is one of the standout characters in the book, whatever later disappointments he may provoke.
Some of the set-pieces in Anachrophobia are brilliantly constructed and disturbing - the initial descent of the time capsule, for instance, the metamorphoses of the various inhabitants of the Isolation Station into clock-faced aliens, and (most of all) the city of clock-faced citizens blandly going about their business.
It has a visual, fast-moving quality that leads one to hope Jonathan Morris is on the scripting team for any new Who series - this is the sort of story that would lend itself brilliantly to TV-Who. Even if it seems like Power of the Fury from the Ice Warriors on the Moonbase Tomb of the Abominable Enemy of the World at times, Anachophobia is a bloody terrific Who book. So, the roots do stick out a tad, but that's what great Who is about.