Planet of the Spiders
The Infinity Doctors
The Ancestor Cell
|Authors||Stephen Cole and Peter Anghelides|
|ISBN||0 563 53809 0|
|Synopsis: Faction paradox prepares to move. The Doctor is about to become one of their own. The Time Lords have a mission for him too... but the Doctor's options are running out.|
WARNING: This book is so big and eventful that it's difficult to discuss without some spoilers. Proceed with caution.
A Review by Finn Clark 30/6/00
As with The Infinity Doctors in 1998, one could argue that even vaguely discussing this book without mentioning plot details could be a kind of spoiler. My idea of "spoiler-free" means "revealing nothing that wasn't public knowledge months ago", i.e. its role in the 8DA story arc and what this implies about its story. If even that's too much for you, turn away now.
The Ancestor Cell. Never knowingly underhyped, it's been called "eagerly awaited" and possibly "the show-stopper of the year". It does big, scary things to the Whoniverse and picks up plot threads from Alien Bodies and Interference. But is it any good?
Broadly speaking, yes. It bored me at the beginning, then picked up for an intriguing middle before falling apart at the end. I liked the aftermath, though. I was impressed by its ideas and I enjoyed my reading experience, but I can also see its flaws. It's a frustrating book, but also one I'd recommend to almost any Doctor Who fan.
I'll start with its good points.
What impressed me most about The Ancestor Cell was its ambition. For a book written to close off much of a screaming great story arc, it goes about the job with surprising vigour and freshness. Twilight of the Gods 2 got bogged down in its task of concluding the Gods storyline and ended up an unsatisfying parade of other people's ideas, but Cole and Anghelides have set their sights higher. Yes, it's the culmination of what's gone before in the 8DAs, but one never gets the impression that these are a couple of Lawrence Miles wannabes. These authors are doing their own stuff. I like that.
I also liked the world of the novel. This is a Gallifrey of ghosts and voodoo. The home of the Time Lords has become time-sensitive, a realm where past and future bleed into the increasingly unstable realities of an uncertain present. For me, this really worked. This is where the Time Lords should have come from on TV, not a couple of corridors with an ornamental fountain. The imminent war with the Enemy makes the future immediate and dangerous, but ancient history can turn around and bite you too. For once Gallifrey feels like the home of time travellers.
The Ancestor Cell's ideas are excellent and its plot twists startling. With the exception of the last twenty pages I'm full of admiration for the story being told here. This could make a terrific movie. So what's my problem with it?
I think the word I'm looking for is "sterile". Chapter after chapter feels stiff and dry. The incidental characters aren't very interesting. The regulars take a while to warm up, with Fitz being particularly annoying at the beginning. I don't think I ever cared about anyone who'd never been a member of the TARDIS crew, though it has to be said that companions and former companions do a pretty good job of carrying the narrative by the end. Even the Doctor gets some good moments, achieved by evoking the glories of previous incarnations and concentrating on the fundamental character at the expense of the shortcomings of this latest version.
The early chapters are clunky, though things improve once the exposition is out of the way. The plot is what carries you through the book, as with the early work of Justin Richards, and only occasionally does a particularly leaden chunk of prose slow you down. I may seem to be slagging the book off, but for the most part it works. It's intriguing and exciting, like a good thriller. One doesn't read it for the characters or style, that's all.
And then comes the end. I can't talk about it in detail without mentioning spoilers but suffice to say that I thought it was pretty poor. It's as if the authors couldn't be bothered doing a proper resolution and wanted to bugger off down the pub.
The Ancestor Cell will always be important for its place in the 8DAs, but I also think it completes a Gallifrey trilogy which was begun by Lungbarrow and The Infinity Doctors. All those books had big agendas and reinvented the Doctor's home planet for their own purposes. Lungbarrow was about the past, delving into the Doctor's personal history and concluding Virgin's obsession with the arcane forgotten mythology of Gallifrey. The Infinity Doctors went sideways, showing us an alternate present in which the TVM had spawned a series. The Ancestor Cell deals with the Time Lords' future and again provides a capstone to a particular era of the books.
I'll kick off the spoiler-filled section with some lesser things that sat badly with me.
First of all, the resurrection of Greyjan. This should have been awesome. Necromancy and the secrets of the grave! Scary ancient dude returns from the dead! I should have been going "ooooooo" here, but instead it's more like some guy wandering into the room and joining in the conversation. I felt like I'd turned two pages at once.
Similarly, I couldn't quite believe in Vozarti. The Castellan gets no respect because he looks youthful? On Gallifrey? Have these people never seen a regeneration before? I assumed that this would prove to indicate an inner lack in Vozarti, finding cheap excuses for what was in fact a fundamental personality failing... but no. Ah well.
On the other hand, I liked the theme of criticising the Faction Paradox (and McGann TVM's) version of how time travel works. It's a shame that The Infinity Doctors got there first, but I do appreciate the effort.
But then comes the ending.
Until the last twenty pages, the plot was terrific. I loved what was happening with Father Kreiner, the Faction were causing great havoc and I even liked the revelation of Grandfather's Paradox's (possible) identity. Events were building nicely to a climax. But then the book just ends, as if the authors couldn't be bothered with a proper resolution and wanted to bugger off down the pub. Grandfather Paradox kills Father Kreiner for no reason at all and the Doctor blows up Gallifrey. The end.
Huh? I mean, yerwhat? Douglas Adams got away with something similar in Mostly Harmless because it was thematically appropriate for the Hitch-Hikers 'trilogy', but this is Doctor Who! Okay, I'll forgive the cop-out death of Father Kreiner. I'll generously forget that Doctor Who is supposed to be about characterisation and humanity rather than shock-horror deaths and hard SF big concepts. It's a boring and cliched way to close off the book's most intriguing relationship, not to mention awfully convenient for the Doctor (who now doesn't have to worry about making good on his promise) but I suppose it's there to humanise the Faction's threat. Everyone's dying and Grandfather Paradox thinks it's a laugh.
But what's the deal with destroying Gallifrey? I mean, it's great to see the planet wasted. I've wanted that for years. But normally when the Doctor blows up a planet it means something, rather than just being the last escape avenue of a couple of tired writers. In Remembrance of the Daleks, it was a fundamental turning point for this new pro-active Doctor. He offered Davros redemption, was rejected and so the Daleks ended up destroying their own homeworld.
By destroying Gallifrey, the Doctor could have been choosing to stop a war before it started. Alternatively it could have been his final condemnation of these newly warlike Time Lords, deciding they don't deserve to live if that would mean innocents died. For as long as we've known him the Doctor has been at war with his people, in Invasion of Time going so far as to bring an alien invasion upon their heads. That's the action of a desperate man. Even that far back, he felt such drastic action was necessary. You could make a pretty good character arc out of that. Exploring the Doctor's attitudes towards his people and the reasons for them could have made for a terrific book.
But no, this is none of those. At best it's a "with one bound they were all free". At worst it's a cheap stunt for effect. What it doesn't have is any story weight or meaning. If you're going to make the Doctor blow up an inhabited planet, you can't just make him do it through desperation because you can't think of a better resolution. I can't help thinking that the other Doctors would have found another way. Again it makes the 8DA Doctor look like an incompetent dork.
But after all that I liked chapter 45, which contained real surprises. The Ancestor Cell is a good read, but frustrating in that it could so easily have been much, much better.
Past, sideways and future... appropriately the three planned elements of William Hartnell's TV stories in 1963. All three books in this Gallifrey trilogy are high-concept event books. They deal with the Cartmel, Segal and Lawrence Miles masterplans respectively. The Ancestor Cell is the worst written of the three, but I think it can take its place alongside them.
No spoilers! Well, apart from the obvious one that everyone knows about, which I guess is the most important spoiler in the book. And maybe there's one or two more. So... uh, beware spoilers!
This book is the culmination of almost everything. It wraps up Lawrence Miles's future War story, as kicked off in Alien Bodies and meandering through two years of 8DAs. It also wraps up the ongoing Gallifrey story in the Virgin and BBC novels, which was another staggered story arc going back to 1993 and Blood Harvest. Is it any good?
Well... sort of. Its main problem is that it's neither one thing or the other. It should be a grand tragedy, but it's not tragic. It doesn't have the inevitability of a Love and War, and the Doctor only pulls that lever 'cos he's in a panic and out of options. But on the other hand it's not a thrilling adventure, 'cos it's a bit dull. Cliffhanger serials need more excitement and less corridor-running (even if they're scary corridors inside history-threatening bone monstrosities).
You'd think the authors would have learned by now that Gallifrey just ain't exciting. Personally I think Cole and Anghelides would have been better off going for grand tragedy, clobbering us with awesomeness and the scale of history. In a way, it would have been the easy option. Readers always love an unhappy ending, if it's big enough.
But I'd better comment on the book in my hands rather than the one I wish I'd read. Whassit like?
It contains good stuff - the Continuity Errors notions with dwindling Gallifreys and temporal matters in general - but way too much that's bad. Fitz is poor, probably the most annoying he's ever been outside the first few pages of Coldheart. Chapter one's dreadful, with clunky exposition and worse dialogue.
Gallifrey is... sordid. Where Lance Parkin saw grandeur, here we have squalid power plays and the capitalism that's attracted such criticism. Although we'd seen units of currency in all the recent Gallifrey books (The Eight Doctors = golden Gallifreyan guinea, Lungbarrow = Pandaks, The Infinity Doctors = treazants), it never seemed important in any of them. This is the first time we've seen a lack of resources instead of just the historical survival of units of exchange. For the Scendeles to run out of money and bankrupt their college just feels wrong. It's a narrow, pinched view of the Time Lords and it's been attacked elsewhere.
Personally I assumed that the authors had deliberately gone out of their way to make the Time Lords petty and unimpressive, emphasising the clay feet beneath those gorgeous robes. Perhaps it's pre-emptive intervention by the Enemy? Time Lord society is rotting and going out of control because their history is already decaying and they haven't realised! However even stuff like the appearance of Greyjan falls flat - and there's no reason whatsoever why that shouldn't have been spine-tinglingly epic.
But in fairness the Gallifrey of Ancestor Cell is distinctive. I like its handle on temporal matters. This is the first Gallifrey where I've felt the folding of past and future, a world where the title of Time Lord is more than just an impressive name. Forgotten presidents are raised from the dead, while their entire culture has been reshaped by a War that hasn't happened yet.
Similarly this is a necromantic Gallifrey of blood and rituals - which made me realise how creepy the concept of the Matrix is, if you think about it. The Ancestor Cell is full of ghosts and dead people.
I also like the fact that plot threads from Interference are picked up and given consequences. Admittedly this is a somewhat negative reason, merely rectifying the failures of the intervening books, but I think it's still important that something came from the Dust regeneration. Fitz and Father Kreiner are good together, with the latter being spine-tingling. We've seen so many evil duplicates in Doctor Who that it's somehow appropriate (and disturbing) to have exactly the opposite situation.
Bitch-Romana does her best Iris Wildthyme impersonation. In Shadows of Avalon this third self was merely ruthless, but here she's crossed the line into outright evil. Maybe it's something that happens to Presidents? But her later incarnation in Tomb of Valdemar's epilogue seems nicer, so I suppose what goes around comes around.
Pages 199-201 tell us who the Enemy might be, but the scene is essentially the villains' insane stooge suddenly stopping the plot for a massive info-dump. It's as suspicious as the Chief Dalek's similar "where'd that come from?" attack of exposition in War of the Daleks. How generous of him to answer all our heroes' questions like that! [Perhaps the Emperor in War of the Daleks really had altered history and was trying to convince a Time Lord that he hadn't? John Peel's Movellan retcon makes more sense if the Daleks went back in time and won their war retrospectively by becoming the Movellan's creators.]
This is a confused, rambling book that spends too much time running up and down. The big ideas are great, but the story around them isn't. Faction Paradox are stupid and motiveless - quite apart from suddenly turning evil, why the hell do they want to invade Gallifrey at the exact moment when it's about to get clobbered by the Enemy? They've got "ten million years of absolute power" to choose from! Gallifrey's destruction should have been a far bigger deal, as opposed to a desperate afterthought. Good ingredients are in this book and the epic ideas go a long way towards sustaining it, but at the end of the day it's only okay.
Bones, Thugs and Disharmony by Thomas Jefferson 11/7/00
You know, I've been drafting up something which adequately reflects my impressions of The Ancestor Cell for a few days now, beyond "for a show-stopper there's a remarkable dearth of new ideas." It's typical that, in his barnstorming review for The Ancestor Cell, Lawrence Miles should put it far better than I could, because all through reading this book, all I could imagine was Lawrence reading it and blowing his top.
There's an air of petulance about it, which mostly seems to be emanating from Steve Cole. This is just my impression, but it seems to be an almost childish cry for attention. The first book Steve commissioned was Alien Bodies, and it's as if he feels he didn't get enough of the praise that the book generated. So when the opportunity to close off his era was presented to him by Justin Richards, Mr. Cole leapt on to it with his typing fingers positively twitching. So we get every innovation introduced in his era thrown into a melting pot of a book that positively revels in its daring complexity. The trouble is, all these innovations were thought up by somebody else: Lawrence Miles. Cole may like to take some credit for what his era has produced, but to write a book the equal to what the height of his era has achieved, he really should have gone to the source.
Two factors set off the warning bells about The Ancestor Cell in advance of its release: one was the now infamous Menace interview, where we discovered that Mr. Miles wasn't even consulted about the book. The other was the assertion that it would be the show-stopper of the year - an amazing boast, really, for a book that's only been seen by a few eyes. At least when Lawrence was talking up his book he came up with the innovative 'twenty rumours you may have heard' thing (I love the fact that he managed to totally spoil The Shadows of Avalon without anybody noticing).
So why is it a show-stopper? Well, this was obviously in reference to an event which over-shadows everything else in the book: something that doesn't exactly happen every other month. But that, really, is about it. The prose isn't that fantastic - indeed there is an almost nostalgic return to that staple of the Cole era: bad copy editing - and Cole and Anghelides' differing (damn near well opposing) writing styles don't mesh at all well, with inappropriately silly jokes being shoehorned into moments of great drama and vice versa. This is in contrast to Miles, who can be a very funny writer, but who allows humour to develop naturally, not impose it on to scenes that not only don't require it but are actively spoiled by it.
There is also a surfeit of technobabble that is almost overwhelming - for a moment I almost felt I was reading Unnatural History again. One feature of Miles' writing is his working 'round the technobabble - witness the mechanics of parallel universes being stuck in the wholly understandable shape of a bottle. For a while there, I thought Miles' introduction of concepts and conceits that didn't need reams of made up scientific rubbish (or real scientific rubbish, if you're reading Simon Bucher-Jones) would catch on, but alas it's not to be, so we're back with the stuff Star Trek actors are required to say with straight faces to explain all those plot contrivances.
And, worst of all for a book that is hoping to tie together so many loose ends, the plot simply doesn't make sense. Now, when I see the words 'show-stopper', I'm hoping for more than one gargantuan event that happens right at the end. I want to see an enjoyable and impressive book.
There are the odd good things: the return of Father Kreiner was definitely a good 'un and some of the dialogue he shares with both 'our' Fitz and the Doctor is delicious. But he is misused to horrible effect, his character lacking believable consistency in the service of the contrived plot. And that just about sums up The Ancestor Cell: all the best ideas are someone else's and what is done with them is almost criminal.
The Faction, who up until now were a shady (dis)organisation of dissemblers, are now suddenly a formulaic army of blood-thirsty mutants. They're reduced to the level of every other Doctor Who bad guy, which they most certainly were not... until now. I'm sure Lawrence is delighted with that, particularly as he wants to do something more with them.
And that's before we get to the biggie, the oldest unanswered question from the Steve Cole era: the identity of the enemy. Remember what Miles did with I.M. Foreman in Interference? Well this is absolutely nothing like that. The enemy turn out to be a most un-Milesian idea (more technobabble, basically), lacking imagination and, frankly, utterly disappointing. I mean, how do you fight a war - especially the ones seen in Alien Bodies and Taking of Planet 5 - against these guys?
Remember in the Menace interview, where Lawrence memorably describes having no limits on a author resulting in bland pap, while imposing structure forces authors to explore the corners? This is a perfect example of this, as, once the authors decide to ignore the previously held fact that the Enemy come from Earth, they're free to come up with a most unimaginative sci-fi cliché.
So now the reset switch on many aspects of the books has been thrown (I wonder if people will complain as much about this as they did about Planet of the Spiders?), and Lawrence Miles will never write another Doctor Who book while Justin will probably commission Trevor Baxendale again. The Burning will probably be very good, and the books that follow will probably evoke happy memories of the Virgin NAs. But the best writer the series has ever had (hyperbole yes, but very true) has not only been cast out, his Carthage has been destroyed and its fields sowed with salt.
Good luck Lawrence. Whatever you do now, I'm sure you'll never be treated as badly as you have been in the supposedly friendly world of Doctor Who publishing.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 25/7/00
I'm not sure if, in final analysis, this is a book it's possible to love. Instead, it's a necessary book. The sort that had to be written, no matter how painful. And as such, it succeeds about as well as was possible. But in the end, it's still a case of 'we want to wrap this up now, so we can move on'. And as such, there's simply too much happening to make it a joyful book to read over and over again for the sheer pleasure of it (with one exception).
Stephen and Peter do the best they can. Two of the three regulars are marvelous. There are moments throughout the book that are wonderfully written and enchanting. And yet in the ned I'm STILL feeling ambiguous about TAC. Let me try to work out why:
PLOT: Too much. Much too much. The book moves so fast that you've barely had time to comprehend the new power factions (so to speak) than we're onto another battle of politicos. Adding the Factions' chaotic brand of anarchy, done here without their usual suavity, and you're left with a book that almost seemed to embody the philosophy of Faction Paradox itself. Confusing and juddery.
THE DOCTOR: Wow, where has this Doctor been hiding? He certainly wasn't in the previous... oh, 10 or so books. I had intense difficulty imagining this snappy, petulant person as Paul McGann's Doctor at all. In fact, it seemed far more like the New Adventures 7th... Hopefully this won't be the sort of thing The Doctor takes with him to The Burning.
FITZ: Here we go. This is more like it. Fitz takes on the Faction, Gallifrey, and his own self-doubt about being a Remote, and comes out of it with flying colors. We now see what all the incredible tortures and horrors Fitz has been through have prepared him for: living through this book. And I'll read his reaction to realizing who Mali's in love with over and over again. :-D Glad he'll be back (apparently).
COMPASSION: When she finally shows up, she's equally wonderful. Keep in mind that one of the big reasons, if not the biggest, that I started reading the 8thDoc books was this character. I've been desperately trying to work out where she's going, especially since Shadows of Avalon. And that's why I felt for her as she desperately tried to avoid falling to the Faction or Gallifrey, and sympathized with her when she wiped out those TARDISes. And why the last 5 pages of the book made me laugh with joy. Justin, if you're reading this: I know the books are rebooting, but take Compassion as an exception to a variable line: she was a marvelous character, a cunning foil, and one of the most intriguing companions we've ever had. Long may she run.
ROMANA: Seems to have finally completed her own reboot, and it isn't pretty. For most of the book she's simply incredibly unlikeable, and even the breakdown doesn't really make me feel anything more than 'about time, too'. Still, I'm glad she survived (we can but hope), and look forward to seeing what future authors will do to her (if they'll be allowed to do anything. ^^;;).
OTHERS: Well, there were only two other sympathetic people in the entire book, Mali and Nivet, and I liked them both. And Greyjan was fun. Kreiner was intriguing, if only because he raised the question about whether Fitz's unshakeable belief in the Doctor was truly his, or something grafted on by the TARDIS 'remembering'. I do feel that having the answer be 'not truly his' would be more intriguing, but can't deny that Kreiner's answer, and his fate, is still touching. And he also lets the Doctor have the sole moment when I saw McGann there.
VILLAINS: Remember when the Faction were cool? When you could easily see people falling into their sway, being offered a lifetime of paradox and changing things to make them right? A suave, Roger Delgado-type Faction Paradox? Well if that was Lawrence's, this is the Anthony Ainley Faction Paradox: sneering, bloated villainy with all the subtlety of a knee to the groin. This is the part of the book you really feel was a 'we have to wrap this up now' stretch. And the ending, which amounts to... a big wrestling match. Hmm.
STYLE: Actually, aside from leaving major gouts of plot hanging all flibbety-flop, it's pretty decently written. There are some truly beautiful moments in this book: The doctor seeing the butterflies, Fitz meeting Kreiner, Romana's realization of the Panopticon's side problems, the last 5 pages (as I mentioned before)... there are some beautiful bits here.
OVERALL: It needs to be read really, especially if you've been following the arc since... well, since CoaRP, I guess. But as I said, it's not a fun read. It's a necessary read. But there are fun bits in it. And moving bits. And a wonderful Fitz. And it's Compassion's last stand. And for that, I'll give it:
A Review by Dave Odgers 28/7/00
Right. Having fallen rather behind, still hovering at the having read The Blue Angel stage, I've managed to rapidly reach the just finished The Ancestor Cell stage, and it suddenly all feels like a bit of a waste of time. In this great linked tableau with which we have been teased increasingly, there had suddenly emerged the ability to be exhilarating once more. Stuff like Interference and The Blue Angel, which seem to form the start of it, suddenly opened everything up and everything was exciting thanks to the great world of suggested possibilities. Even better, this wasn't the old clumsy, hinting, terribly grave secrets, Cartmellian kind of thing, this was stuff actually happening. And instead of being actually really quite obvious, but with the intricates details, the minutae alone, remaining unknown, this was a truely confusing and disorientating unravelling, facillitated by old Faction Paradox thing and then not needing even the suggestion of their involvement for what they've allowed to continue. They were still fresh in our minds for Blue Angel, but stuff like Parallel 59 and Shadows of Avalon was similarly given an extra edge because of our knowing Faction Paradox. That and the fact we kind of realised they were all part of a big arc thing.
What The Ancestor Cell, then, manages to do is once more render everything mundane. I was flicking through the other reviews on here, and I'm doing my best not to just retread, but one of them uses the word 'reset', which is as apt as it gets. The Ancestor Cell very disappointingly decides that the way to resolve everything exciting that has happened is to clear the slate. It will claim that it hasn't just done that, but it has - I'll get on to that later, unless I don't, in which case that bit contained too much spoiling stuff. The manner in which it manages to do this is to fail in quite a staggeringly incompetant fashion to respond to any of it creatively (I apologise that this sounds a bit harsh but I can't think of a better way to put it). It has, with some sort of inflexible, tightly-wrought stainless steel comb, grabbed everything that ever left us just that little bit shocked, and calmed us down about it. Even though we quite patently didn't want to be calmed down. The chaps that wrote this book, and this is the big problem, did not have their own story into which anything that had previously happened naturally progressed, they took everything that had happened and sort of structured it again. If this sounds harsh or unfair then I wave in my defence the one thing I haven't noticed anyone else mention and that is that the whole thing is utterly predictable. You can see what they're going to do with everything 250 pages off. They've turned it into the Cartmell plan.
What these chaps might then do in their defence is to wave their little closing twist at me. This again is something you will have seen coming, but only because they get Compassion to tell you its coming. This is something you can await with apprehension rather than disbelieving frustration and boredom. There are two problems. The first is that it really does come right at the end pretty much, which means they've come up with something which to be fair anyone could have come up with, and then not even given themselves space to use it. This leaves it standing, another good word from someone else's review, 'sterile', quite clearly nothing more than a dramatic device to get the authors out of their unnecessary schtuck, and presumably give the book the gravitas the reader might have hoped would pervade the whole thing. The second reinforces the sterility of the device. The twist isn't even done properly. It's The TV Movie Grace and chap are amazingly alive again technique. The moment you stop and consider the world painted for us at the end of the book, all the cracks upon the shallow little twist, all the things that tell us that whilst it's been said to be done it quite cannot have actually been done, begin to yawn open. But the book insists it has been done.
A mistake has been made, and to be fair, The Ancestor Cell isn't wholly to blame. It's misplaced desire to provide some sort of closure was cultivated by the new found habit of treating motifs, new elements of the Dr. Who world, most basically, the elements of other writers in the series' stories, as if they were in fact a story in themselves. Whilst it felt good, it felt more like the Continuing Adventures of Dr Who than it had done for a while, and so we tuned in more a more voraciously each month and were even willing to plough through The Space Age just in case anything in it was relevent to next month, we were in fact being robbed of Continuing Adventures. We were being given the One Very Long Continuing Adventure of Dr Who, which then required closure. The closure in itself was a bad thing. That that closure was The Ancestor Cell just rubbed Linseed oil into the wound. And, even more depressingly, someone's going to have to do a War of the Daleks if we want to seize back the new-found exhilaration The Ancestor Cell has stolen from us. And Compassion turning into a TARDIS was pretty predictable and, in the end, mundane, too.
A Review by Mike Morris 2/8/00
Just in case any of you haven't already guessed, The Ancestor Cell is an important book. You know, one of those books where lots of stuff happens, and lots of continuity issues get resolved, yadda yadda yadda. Oo-er. Thing about books like that is, they tend to be very good, and written by very very good authors. Examples from the BBC Books range - Alien Bodies, The Infinity Doctors, Interference, The Shadows of Avalon. Authors involved are the luminaries of Who fiction - Cornell, Miles, Parkin. Now joining them are, er, Stephen Cole and Peter Anghelides.
Which I thought was odd for a kick off. I'm making something of a snap judgement here, as I didn't bother with either Frontier Worlds or Parallel 59. But I know that the latter book wasn't exactly rapturously received, and my impressions of Peter Anghelides will be forever shadowed by Kursaal, The Book Where POV Changed In Mid-Paragraph. So I didn't approach this with giddy anticipation, more a sort of eyes-shut don't-muck-this-one-up-guys sort of hope.
They didn't muck it up, though. They dealt with the million-and-one continuity issues competently. The plot hung together. The storytelling structure was nice. I kept turning the pages. But by the time I'd finished I was thoroughly exhausted, and I was also faintly bored.
See, that's just what this is. Businesslike. Competent. But there's no joy of telling the story, no loving description of the protagonists or concepts. It's a must-read book, but not a very enjoyable one, not really. It doesn't fill you with joy, or sadness, just a well-that's-that-finished-then sense of closure.
It is, as has already been said, the third instalment of a Gallifrey trilogy. But it's very, very different from either Lungbarrow or The Infinity Doctors. Both those books relied heavily on their surroundings, on Gallifreyan society, on atmosphere. They also introduced a lot of new ideas themselves. Meanwhile, The Ancestor Cell adds nothing new to Gallifrey and scarcely a room or chamber or Panopticon is described. And while ideas are flying all over the place, they're all from the head of dear old Lawrence Miles.
Maybe that's why I didn't really engage with the book at all. I sort of get the feeling that, once we were told that Gallifrey was under threat, we were automatically supposed to be worried. But I wasn't. Gallifrey has never really enthralled me as a society, and to be honest I just didn't care. Maybe I'm the odd one out here, but what's so important about it anyway? Just because Gallifrey's the problem doesn't mean you can bypass all storytelling conventions... you know, good characters, a well-evoked society, that sort of thing. Lance Parkin did it with The Infinity Doctors, and that was what made the threat to Gallifrey there seem real and urgent. Hopping media for a moment, Robert Holmes pulled off the same trick with The Deadly Assassin. The Ancestor Cell didn't even try.
To be fair, there just wasn't room. There's so much going on that it's difficult to see how any of the characters (such as they are) could have been expanded. The authors are too busy telling us about the Faction's plans, and the true identity of The Enemy, and resolving all those Interference-posed questions to do this as well.
And so we have the regulars, Romana, and a bunch of stock characters who are described initially in a page or so, then just used as vehicles for plot exposition. Heroically, the authors tried their best. Gestures were made at character development, to show the sad degeneration of Romana, to create a new, foolish, young breed of studenty-hedonist Time Lord with nothing to do. The attempts vanished into the maze of plot twists. The authors screamed "please let us write a proper novel! We have the ability to do it!" Sorry, said the demands of The Continuity Demon, I'm bringing back the real Fitz. I'm dealing with the Bottle Universe. Get on with it, will you?
And so we have some lovely images which are conspicuous by their absence. There's a gigantic planet-sized thing of solid bone hovering over Gallifrey. *Solid bone!*. Brilliant! Do we have it described? Does the book pull back for a moment, have the awe-inspiring horror moment of this... thing, this huge emblem of death, waiting there silently in the night sky? Well, no, because we're busy re-introducing Mother Mathara. Ho hum.
I'm loathe to blame the authors, I really am. I think this was a near-impossible task, and they've done it. They've pulled all the storylines together, they've dealt with it all, and it's all plausible and - at times - ingenius. It's also not too badly written, and there's a few nice little jokes. What I will say is that they flounder slightly when dealing with the magic-realist concepts that Lawrence Miles played around with. There's an awful lot of technobabble, stuff about TARDISes doing incomprehensible things with alternate timelines and power leaking from Klein bottles that I had to read three times to understand. They don't describe visual imagery that well either... which is odd for Peter Anghelides, I think, because that was one of Kursaal's saving graces.
Right, to summarise. This isn't a book to either like or dislike. It's a book to read once, and then forget. It's not a novel, just a series of continuity resolutions. It effectively clears the ground for the Justin Richards era, and as such does everything it had to. The best bits are the final codas, which if nothing else bodes well for the future.
Oh, and it has a joke in it at the expense of Tizer. That's certainly a welcome development. Jokes should be made about that horrible, foul, artificial-tasting muck in every Doctor Who book from now on. Seriously.
It could have been a lot better if it was a two-part novel, or if Lawrence Miles had written it. And you might ask the question:- Was it necessary at all? Would it have been better to just leave the storylines where they were and forget them, rather than this slightly unsatisfactory conclusion? Should it all have been left hanging and ignored, leaving us to happily write dodgy fan-fiction for years to come?
I was going to say that this book was a necessary evil, but that it was still essential reading. But you might be better off to just ask someone who's read it what happens, and save yourself six quid.
The ball-dropper of the year by Robert Smith? 4/8/00
The Ancestor Cell reads like the final book in a long and intricate story... that's hastily written by someone else when the original author died suddenly. It's confusing, it's making it up as it goes along and it only demonstrates how much more talent the original writer had. Yes, Pete 'n' Steve Baker have given us the EDAs version of Trial of a Time Lord episode 14.
Given the two authors recent output I was expecting a bizarre cross between (the excellent) Frontier Worlds and (the not even slightly excellent) Parallel 59. Admittedly, at the time, I did this expecting the worst. Little did I know that it'd be Parallel 59 with a couple of bodily function jokes thrown in at inappropriate moments. I'm not sure which depresses me more.
In some ways, TAC gets a lot of the early part of the arc spot on. Yes, like some of Interference and all of The Taking of Planet 5, it's got big ideas with no enjoyable story wrapped around them. Sadly, even its ideas feel tired and not particularly interesting. This is the book that proves what we'd all suspected all along: that even the editor had no clue what was going on in the arc.
The EDAs most interesting character makes her final appearance here... and she's turned into a statue and left out of a large part of the action. Yep, Compassion is Lawrence Miles: far too interesting for this range and the only real inspiration in the line, yet sidelined at every opportunity because she's more interesting than anything the authors can come up with on their own. From the author of her most vivid pre-TARDIS appearance, this is unforgivable.
Fitz doesn't fare too badly, although the same can't be said for the situations he ends up in. While it's true that the summoning of Greyjan contributes to the plot, aside from that it feels like nothing whatsoever happens up until we find out what the edifice really is. There's a bunch of lame Faction Paradox wannabes (a clearer case of unintentional Mary-Sueing I've never seen) doing absolutely nothing that entertains the reader. Fair enough that it might be necessary, but it just goes on and on.
On the other hand, I have to give the authors credit for the Doctor. He gets a lot to do and does it well, which is very welcome. The sidestepping of the Faction virus is amazing. It allows the Doctor to actually be heroic and the most important person in the novel. It's been a long time coming, but at last the Doctor feels like the sort of character you actually believe might be able to save the day. The novel contrives itself into a drastic conclusion, but the Doctor's actions at the end are pretty powerful. It's only undercut by the dialogue as the Doctor pulls the fateful lever: "...because you used it to do this" isn't exactly a line to quote to your friends in the playground. It's more like the sort of line written for Captain Janeway specifically to be included in that week's Voyager promos. Having the Doctor lose his memory is a bit of a copout. Okay, so they don't actually say "It is the will of Rassilon" and have Compassion suddenly decide to marry Nivet, but they might as well have. OTOH, if we're heading towards a fresh start, this is probably for the best.
The original characters are pretty faceless. Nivet does all right and Chancellor Vozarti has some potential, but the huge cast here tends to blur. It's not helped at all that this is a complex tale involving Kellen, Kaufima, Klenchron, Kreiner, Kreiner, Kristeva and Kandarl [Tarra's father]. I've noted in the past that both The Janus Conjunction and Demontage featured three characters apiece with similar-sounding names starting with the same letter. I even asked, rhetorically at the time, 'Who thought this would be a good idea?' I guess one of the burning questions of the EDAs has been answered. Even some of the returning villains don't have much character. Mother Mathara does her best Patrick Stewart impersonation (by doing sod-all and staying on the ship the entire episode) and I can't say that Uncle Kristeva was itching for a return visit (and if my life depended on it, I still couldn't write a fifteen word summary of what he did in this novel).
I really liked the number of Gallifreys and the sides of the Panopticon shrinking. It's a nice touch and also gives Fitz something to contribute. The way the novel ties in with The Infinity Doctors is also welcome. On the other hand, unlike that book, we've got Gallifrey in all its petty glory, complete with Time Lords squabbling about finances. Huh? The beings with mastery over time and space have suddenly become capitalists? What on earth is up with that?
Fitz running into Mali's boyfriend is woefully misplaced, IMO. We jump directly from crappy old gags about his teeth, that Peter Anghelides surely tells his sons before bed, to tragedy and messy destruction, presumably courtesy of Steve Cole.
In general, the revelations are mostly satisying answers to questions that could never be answered well. It's just a shame that the answers are as boring as hell. The interludes seem to exist only as a fancy way of deciding to ignore the fact that it's been established that the Enemy came from Earth (which I could buy if the Enemy had put this out as misinformation, but I don't expect the deception to be logged in Time Lord files). From then on it's a slippery slope of made-up-on-the-spot answers. This is Twilight of the Gods all over again, with another arc finale doing its best to deny all the innovating and interest stuff Lawrence Miles has contributed to the ongoing story.
I liked the identity of Grandfather Paradox, which fits in nicely with Christmas on a Rational Planet. The resolution to the Dust retcon is also really clever, especially for the implications it carries for the Doctor's character. The spiders are a nice touch.
Sadly, Romana has none of the subtlety she had in The Shadows of Avalon. She's a cackling supervillain and although we're told that what she does is for the good of Gallifrey, we never get any sense from her that this is her motivation. She's boring, quite frankly. Kreiner's conversion also doesn't feel right. Either he's hating the Doctor for abandoning him for hundreds of years or he isn't. I don't buy his randomly deciding to join the Doctor. That said, Fitz's grappling with his identity and the Doctor's role in it was marvellous... because we've seen this sort of thing before, but for once the companion actually decides for himself that the Doctor is still worth his time.
In summary, this is Interference: Book 3, but without any of the cleverness. Lawrence Miles brought something special to the Who range and perhaps his greatest trick was making what he did look easy. Sadly, this is the third team of co-authors to have tried to play in his sandbox and each has gotten progressively worse than the last (despite the obvious difficulties that poses). The Ancestor Cell has little to recommend it and demonstrates once and for all that the Cole era was about ideas substituting for story and the sense that you didn't have to try particularly hard to churn out a substandard book, so long as you could deliver the word count on time.
This book was ironically advertised as the show stopper of the year. Instead it ties up the arc in a whirl of technobabble and paradoxes, forgets about the hapless readers and drops the ball like no other. It's got some big events (well, a big event), but that alone can't make for an entertaining story. While most of its conclusions are moderately satisfying, and it has a couple of really nice touches, the rest of the book is impossibly dull. This is the novel equivalent of Arc of Infinity. Furthermore, while I don't mind what happens at the end, it's just crying out for someone else to come along and write War of the Daleks II.
And so the Steve Cole era ends with a bang... but it's the sort of bang that tells you your car has finally given up and it's long past the time you got yourself a new one.
Seeing the Future in the Past, and Vice Versa by Matt Michael 14/8/00
The Ancestor Cell has been much maligned in many of the previous reviews for somehow cheapening the "Lawrence Miles Masterplan". Now, Lawrence is a great writer, and his Doctor Who books (although never approaching the genuine greatness of his masterpiece, Dead Romance) have all been enjoyable, but did he really have a masterplan?
Alien Bodies seemed to me to be self-consciously iconoclastic, and Interference even more so. Nothing wrong with that, but it's all so backward-looking. The problem with Lawrence's two EDAs are that they're trapped in the past, ironically they look backwards in an attempt to go forwards. The Lawrence Miles Masterplan, if there ever was such a thing, was therefore a masterplan that was so firmly rooted in continuity as to be indistinguishable from it. The Ancestor Cell can be seen as the natural outgrowth of that. I don't contest for a moment that it would have been a better book had Lawrence written it (which he wouldn't have done, as he stated very decisively online). Nor do I contest that The Ancestor Cell tries too hard to answer all the questions Lawrence posed. But at the same time, I can't criticise it for trying.
Lawrence probably has a more adventurous view of Doctor Who than most (all?) of his contemporaries, and in his EDAs he pushed the envelope, which I heartily admire. However, in pushing the envelope, he created a monster that threatened to overwhelm the EDA line. The Dust question, the Faction question, the War question - all these remained unanswered. The subsequent books tried to explore these ideas, but because there was no firm masterplan, we were presented with wildly different possibilities. One book suggested that future TARDISes were the Enemy, another that they were Time Lords from another universe. Everything began to be affected - a nightmarish continuity of X-Files proportions, with no end in sight and no respite, threatened to send the series vanishing up its own creative posterior. The Ancestor Cell was the necessary remedy - a book so comprehensive in its cleanup that it can't be considered a novel in its own right.
Yes, The Ancestor Cell cleanup is relentless, and yes, it would have been better had it been two books long. Nevertheless, the fact that it works even as a half-satisfactory conclusion is remarkable. Wisely, Cole and Anghelides opt for their own idea of the Enemy's identity, which is far more surprising than any other I've read. And the conclusion of the novel is its saving grace - an act of wanton destruction, to be sure, but one which finally puts an end to three years of incessant confusion and untangles a cat's cradle of continuity. As I said earlier, it was ironic that in trying to create a new future, Lawrence looked to the past. By looking to the past, The Ancestor Cell creates a new future full of exciting possibilities. Roll on the Justin Richards editorship.
This Book Begs To Be Kicked In The Nuts by Robert Thomas 5/9/00
Before I go on I must say that this is the only story arc in book form I have attempted to follow in Doctor Who. I just want to say that if you haven't read any others in this arc you can read this conclusion as it is a stand alone book. Indeed the questions posed from other books are answered so quickly you may miss them. Myself I only caught the references to The Blue Angel, Interference, Shadows of Avalon, Space Age, The Banquo Legacy and The Tomb of Valdamar. I know the last book isn't in the arc but the reference is there.
I've only experienced one thing apiece from the two authors, Frontier Worlds and The Genocide Machine. One an enjoyable action story and the other a mess. To be honest the same can be said of this book.
The Doctor is the highlight of this book, mainly because he is the centerpoint. He doesn't disappear for a distance of time and is excellent as a character caught between two sides in this clash. Indeed we see a Doctor taking part in action actively which hasn't been seen for ages. He excels throughout the book except the last few pages.
Fitz starts well but goes down hill rapidly. What happens to him at the end is utterly ridiculous. Although his verbal sparring with Romana is another highpoint of the book.
Compassion is great in all aspects of this book. Indeed it is here and only here that some depth is given to the character, although Paul Cornell had a bloody good try. She goes through all the emotions possible in this book and for once it seems right.
Romana on the other hand has officially lost it. Out goes the swarm sophisticated playful character of the series and cool incarnation from The Shadows of Avalon. In comes a tyrant who can't see the errors of her own ways. Although the panic shown in her last scene with Fitz is great.
Timelords, got to be honest there were bucket loads of timelords in here and only a few stood out. Nivet is cool and is what my idea of a timelord should be. Mali starts off well but gets more annoying as the book goes on. All the others fade away in the memory as soon as the book is finished. I can cope with timelords arguing over politics but accountancy? I despair I really do.
Faction Paradox are sadly a let down. Gone are the faction of Lawrence Miles and in come a bunch of goons masquerading as them. Cole and Anghelides just don't know how to use them and how they work. Although I must admit Kristeva is cool. When the mister big of Paradox turns up it seems like they are taking the p**s.
Gallifrey also sucks with the onslaught of the war coming it is wracked with fear. There is no feel that this is the home of a time travelling species at all. Even The Doctor doesn't remember the place. The authors seem to going for a medieval feel.
The plot is strong and centres on the arrival of a solid bone structure in Gallifrey's sky. When this mystery is solved the authors decide to put any development on hold and the story just stops for half the book.
It has to be said this is a poor book that so could easily have been amazing. The explanation of the Enemy is poor but does relate to the member of the enemy we met earlier in the arc, the one in Alien Bodies I'm not sure about. The ending like all the twists in this arc was great but spotted a mile off.
All in all this is a poor book with a lot of great moments. The start is excellent, but the ending is poor. In-between the book fluctuates wildly. Certain bits such as the chapter that begins on page 26 and the like are page fillers, but still good. Some scenes make the book curl up and die.
But this book is to be recommended for those brief good moments. At times for maybe a page this feels like the best Doctor Who book. There is a scene which is harrowing but amazing which ends on page 269. This is without doubt the high point of the book, maybe the arc and maybe the EDA range so far. I just wish the book could have been more in this tone as it's what's the reader deserved. As it is the title of this review says it all.
Cole, Anghelides, you're so lucky I have a rubbish aim!
A Review by Koschei Sabato 13/9/00
(sigh) This book is the culmination of everything the EDAs have been building up to since Alien Bodies, so it really, really pains me to say that this, this - 'effort', was simply not good enough. To put it bluntly, The Ancestor Cell sucked. But first, let me talk about the good points.
Um, it has an alright cover. The blurb on the back is pretty good. Er, I liked page 138, and the first two pages were okay too. Hmm…- can't seem to think of anything else. Oh well then, onto the bad points. Brace yourselves, cause I'm really gonna rip this piece of shit apart.
Where do I start? I think I'll start with the authors. I've never read anything by Stephen Cole but I have read Frontier Worlds by Peter Anghelides, which led me to believe (perhaps 'misled' would be a better term) that Anghelides could write some half decent prose. Not true in The Ancestor Cell. This is a book completely devoid of style (except for page 138), it just tells the story. There's no grace, no élan, they just say what happens and hope that that's enough to please the reader. I get the impression that the reason two people wrote this novel is because they wanted to get it over and done with, and neither author wanted to write an entire novel. (sigh) How hard would it have been to have just let Lawrence Miles write the damn thing like he wanted to?
The plot itself is a big pile of poo. There are no plot twists or developments here, instead we get theory after theory about what's going on (but no actual answers), all of which left me vaguely confused, annoyed and slightly violated as a reader. The Enemy is... completely irrelevant and the dumbest possible choice. Grandfather Paradox is... complete poxy and, if this was to be a television episode of Doctor Who, played by someone who has never acted before and has been allowed to write all their own material, regardless of the fact that they can't read or write and all their knowledge of Doctor Who has come from Dimensions in Time SERIOUSLY, WHAT WERE COLE AND ANGHELIDES THINKING? The ending didn't even shock me (which was a shock in itself), I just thought to myself, 'yeah, that makes sense, everything else about this book was shite so why not the ending as well?' I don't know about you, but I'm really beginning to question why they bothered to go through with the Compassion story arc, it doesn't seem like they (the editors/authors, you know, 'they') really cared by the time we got to The Shadows of Avalon
The setting is Gallifrey, as you probably know, but this isn't the Gallifrey of Lungbarrow or The Infinity Doctors or even The Deadly Assassin this is the faceless, inconsequential Gallifrey we saw in Arc of Infinity. As I said before, the authors just couldn't be bothered with anything, let alone injecting some life into the setting. The villains, Faction Paradox, well - I won't even talk about them, as I'm sure everyone else has highlighted their cartoonish one-dimensional evilness. Fitz is Fitz, but doesn't do anything. Compassion fares okay despite the fact that her role in the novel is to run around like a five-year old avoiding bedtime. The Doctor gets to do a lot but his constant theorizing is annoying due to its lack of solidity. Romana is a pain in the arse throughout. Father Kreiner is NOT the Father Kreiner we've seen before in either of the two Miles' books we've seen him in. And the other characters? Well, I can't even remember any of their names, which should tell you how much they imprinted themselves into my memory.
This is the worst Doctor Who book I have EVER read, and I've read The Longest Day. If you've been following the EDAs and are yet to read The Ancestor Cell maybe you should think about avoiding it. Just read up to The Banquo Legacy and assume the Doctor sorts things out afterwards.
A Review by Tom Splunge (not his real name) 3/10/00
I must preface this review by stating a couple of things. First off, although up until about five minutes ago I was almost certain I was about to become a university dropout, I have just been advised that I am graduating. I was informed by a university employee, of course. There's a fine line between those university employees who don't know all the loopholes and finer points of admission, residence, graduation and so on and the magical ones who know all the answers but, like the Delphic Oracle, can only speak in questions. So for the last six months I've been trapped in a fallacy that university is harder to get out of than it is to get into (sic). In some ways it would have been easier if my marks were better, in other ways there would be no difference.
The Ancestor Cell is the culmination of a shitload of BBC Books. The span of time since they began parallels eerily the span of time I've spent at university, the "best years of my life". I don't mind saying I haven't actually finished reading this book, but what with spoilers and the Jade Pagoda I see no reason why this fact should stop me from producing a few hundred words of vitriolic hackwork. This time at least I'm honestly more interested in making a fraction of DWRG readers amused, and another fraction pissed off, than tailoring a really classy review. There's no pleasing some people.
A couple of friends of mine enjoyed this book. Doubtless some of my friends enjoyed university. But having lived the past four years without a single cup of coffee or a single bong hit, I can barely contain my paranoia. There have been spans of weeks of mild alcoholism and two nights of chain-smoking, which is pretty much the same thing.
My record of Eigth Doctor Adventures has been easily as enjoyable as university. I'll walk you through the comparison. For some people university might be one long orgiastic all-night study session. For myself it was weeks of dullness and extracurricular activities interspersed with weeks of dullness and anxiety, with a very few good laughs thrown in.
The Ancestor Cell is fear and loathing. There is new Gallifreyan continuity by the bucketload, none of it original. We get a retread, albeit slightly improved, of the Famous Five episode Gary Russell pasted shamelessly into the middle section of Divided Loyalties. I can already see the generification of Faction Paradox, and Father Kreiner has just shown up. Just like the other reviews say, from sarcastic, nihilistic Victorians, Faction has turned into just more borg-like madmen trying to take over the universe. It's such a difficult problem to avoid. Graeme Burk is familiar with such a device from the beginning of So Vile A Sin in which an N-Form, like the one that killed ten thousand Londoners in Damaged Goods, is dispatched without any collateral damage to speak of by having a 16 million ton weight dropped on its head. Generifying (or "pottying", which is a word I just made up) Faction Paradox is arguably something Peter and Stephen had no right to do. As for the Enemy, many of us know people who know who the Enemy were supposed to be, but who cares? It doesn't really matter anyways. The way Peter and Stephen bring resolution to the Faction, the Enemy, the Artifact and Gallifrey itself is still only one possible resolution. Don't kid yourself. Given the thing about the Enemy coming from Earth and the half-assed explanation here, plus Lawrence Miles' insistence that it's all wrong, this book hasn't exploded any possibilities. Gallifrey will be back, the Faction will be back, and the Enemy will quickly be forgotten (since we never knew anything about them anyways. Yadda yadda yadda Gods of Dellah, brrm brrm Ferutu, and the suspicion that the Enemy were the readers all along.) Details like these are only intellectual property, and as the 1997 reversion of the rights from Virgin to the BBC proves, publishing rights and advertising wins over details of intellectual property every time. (I should dedicate that last sentance to Lawrence Miles, whose writing really showed his excellent grasp of the real power behind politics as well as literature.)
Best thing to do about this whole fiasco is to forget it ever happened. Which is just what the incoming editor organizes. Which is what I shall try to do with my university years.
Everything has gone spectacularly wrong. Not unlike the dream I've had recently in which I was late for my own graduation because I was finishing a late essay. The dream is true in all aspects except that In real life I gave up on the bastard weeks ago.
A Review by Dominick Cericola 3/1/01
This is a difficult review to write (and not just because I am suffering with the most horrendous of Headaches!).. So much happens in this novel -- so much that goes back to the very beginning of his Regeneration, in fact, that one wonders whether I can sum it up, especially without any Spoilers.
However, in an effort to save myself any embarassment, as well as potentially ruining the whole story for anyone, I need to make this announcement: ** CAUTION!! SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW!! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!! ** And, without further nonsense, on with the review..
When it first came out, I skimmed some of the initial reviews for The Ancestor Cell, but never reading far enough to gain any sort of opinion -- other than, most of the reviewers seemed to agree (myself now included!) that the ending was worthy of the pay-off! The ending did pack a powerful punch, one solid enough to restore my faith in the Eighth Doctor Adventures -- heck, I can't wait until my copy of Justin Richards' (now Editor of the EDA line, taking over the reins from Stephen Cole) The Burning, which starts the next Arc, and a whole new Direction for the series, to arrive by week's end. BUT, I am getting ahead of myself again..
The story starts out slow, taking a bit long to introduce the Principle Players, as well as the Settings. However, looking back on it, I can relate to that of a rollercoaster ride: you start out slow, seemingly lulled in a sense of false security, as you begin to climb the first rise, it dawns on you that you are for one hell of a ride! That's what happens here as well.. Once the book kicks into gear, it doesn't stop, not for an instant!
Most notable of this adventure is the Faction Paradox restored to their status as Dark and Terrifying -- more akin to Lawrence Miles' original depiction of them.. Personally, I have always seen them as similar to the character of The Corinthian in DC Comics' Sandman series -- he was fashioned out of the stuff of which Nightmares are made. He was an average looking fellow with short, whitish-blond hair and sunglasses. However, behind his shades were two noticeably absent eyes -- in their place, two eye sockets, filled with razor sharp teeth!
To me, the Faction were quite dark, and despite their love of the twists and turns that are Paradoxes, they were frightening. Here was a group, all with their own individual pasts, yet who, out of an admiration for and a desire to delve into an ancient superstition, rewrote their pasts, re-creating themselves to fit a Myth they had fashioned. And, it began to grow further still, content not with little Paradoxes, ones that only those of the order would notice. No, it became bigger, eventually setting their sights on that which others have tried and failed: Gallifrey!
All the threads that have been building for the last year plus -- the Future War, the Enemy, the Faction Paradox's true goal, etc. - comes to a head. Everything is dealt with, offering us a taste of what the Enemy is (without ruining the imagery, at least for me anyways.. Tho', I must confess, I still found the Faction to be more of a threat!), a look at what Gallifrey has truly become since The Doctor has been gone all these years, and a resolve of sorts to the Compassion storyline.
So, I guess the question should be was it worth the wait, after all we have had to endure? I feel secure in saying Yes. Looking back on the TV series as a whole, we had to endure a fair share of crap -- look at what we had to sit through in Tom Baker's final Season (Nightmare of Eden, The Creature from the Pit!) -- before we could get to Gems like the E-Space Trilogy, and his final two stories, The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis!
In wrapping up, I guess I'd like to focus on the characters (not all of 'em, but at least most, or at least the ones who meant something to me!). And, I would like to borrow from Sean Gaffney's oft-imitated style:
THE DOCTOR: Wow! What a headtrip he's been through, and then to go through all of this! He's always had a lot to deal with over the years, but after this book's conclusion, I imagine he is going to need the Time Lord equivalent of a good psychiatrist! Gods! How do you deal with the fact that you are the last of your Kind now? And, further that guilt by Fitz's departure.. Christ -- The Doctor didn't even get to say goodbye because he was still out of it! There's a lot of potential here (and I don't just mean a ride on the Angst Express, either!), potential that I hope the current Editor allows to be worked, giving all new dimensions to the Who Mythos..
ROMANA:: Many of the reviews that I skimmed complained about this portrayal of the Time Lady. They said she was too far from the treatment Paul Cornell gave her in Shadows of Avalon. I dunno if that's necessarily fair or even accurate. Here's a character we really haven't seen since Marc Platt's Virgin NA, Lungbarrow. Then, she was the current President of Gallifrey. A bit tougher, more Universally-Wise (as opposed to simply Worldly-Wise) than when we'd seen her and The Doctor part company at the conclusion of Warrior's Gate. A lot has happened to her, as well as The Doctor -- I mean, c'mon, he certainly isn't the Time Lord he used to be, so why not her? Plus, look at the political and social nightmare Gallifrey has become -- if you spent your time there, in the midst of it, who's to say you wouldn't begin to exhibit similar symptoms? 'Nuff said!
COMPASSION: When I first heard that Compassion would eventually become The Doctor's TARDIS, I thought the idea ludicrous, bordering on a lame-ass Marvel Comics-esque approach to writing! However, since that time, and with this adventure's close, I have changed my tune... She had a lot of substance, a Heart -- a worthy addition to the legion of Companions past the way the story ended, it looks like she may be coming back in the near future. I can only hope..
FITZ: Poor bastard! He goes through as much crap as The Doctor seems to lately -- it's almost as if he were related to a certain Christopher Cwej! I mean, first there's being dropped into the middle of a Faction Paradox ritual. Then finding out the girl you fancy isn't all girl (and I don't mean, she's a guy either!).. Then, there's the bit later on, when he and Romana unofficially pair up, and all the chaos that ensures. Not to mention reuniting with something from his Past best left unremembered: Father Kreiner! .. However, despite all that was thrown his way, I felt Fitz was handled well. He's grown up a lot during his time with The Doctor, and well, despite his departure, I don't think he will ever forget his time in the TARDIS..
Okay, that's it. I imagine I gave the book a fairer review than most. I also imagine I am probably the worst threat to what currently passes for Who Fandom, as I am the least catty, least opinionated of the lot. BUT, that is another tale altogether.. *HEH* Let me just close with this: I hope someone is reading these reviews, because without any feedback, I have no clue. But, it's cool all the same, as the introspection is good for me either way. Cheers..!
Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 24/1/01
This is it, the big one. The book that explains everything that has been, everything about the future war, about the events in Interference, about Faction Paradox, everything. In many ways I'm glad to finally get to this book, something to wrap up the arc that has irritated me for a long time. Finally we get some answers.
The answers are not what anyone could have expected. The nature of the enemy, the plans of Faction Paradox, the Doctor's role in it all. It's an epic tapestry. And one of the worst anti-climaxes since Trial of a Time Lord episode 14.
Every loose thread that has been hanging is forced into place, and any answer to hang the threads on is taken. The true enemy is an amazing let down, and the focus is moved entirely onto Faction Paradox, belying their otherwise background role in all other events (with the exception of the Third Doctor story in Interference). Is this really the ending that was planned? With plenty of bangs and flashes, The Ancestor Cell desperately wants to be.
Compassion comes into her own here, taking on her own fight when the Doctor refuses to, and justifies herself as her own person. I did care about what happened to her, but it was frustrating in the amount of time the book took to get around to what that fate was. In the end her actions fizzled out rather than give her any real meaning.
Fitz gets sidelined with a subplot that wanted to be intriguing but merely helped to undermine any sense of real oomph the book was going for. However it was amusing when he could see the changes that were happening when the others couldn't.
The Doctor swung from one characterisation to another so much it was hard to get any real sense of him. He was the fool, the hero, the manic, the guru, sometimes even in the space of one chapter. It's hard to tell if he was the centrepiece of the book, or just some way for everything to get done.
The other characters were so bland and stereotypical it was tricky to separate one from the other. Even Romana come across as one-dimensional. Greyjan was amusing, although largely an excuse for major amounts of exposition.
Despite the many problems of The Ancestor Cell I am glad that it has now been and done. Now it is possible to move on without the baggage of the rest of the books, and for that I'm glad.
A quick review so I can return the book... by Eva Palmerton 15/8/01
I just finished reading The Ancestor Cell, and I enjoyed it immensely!!!
First off, 1) I've never read anything written by Lawrence Miles and 2)I couldn't possibly care less about continuity. This may mean that I missed a number of little details (or even big details) in this book that would have otherwise made it less enjoyable. Oh, darn... Besides that, my brain was able to fill in any gaps that I actually cared about.
The writing styles:
The writing was quite good for both authors. I thought for the first half of the book that it was far too easy to tell the difference between the two styles, but they managed to blend much better by the halfway point - or I just failed to care about it anymore... I have no nitpicks in terms of grammar or anything of that sort, and the whole book was decently structured.
The best characters:
Fitz - Call me odd, but I'm quite fond of the introspective Fitz. I'm thankful that (despite a lot of the usual remarks) his hormones were kept pretty well in check.
The Doctor - his internal struggles were fascinating... and I had no trouble discerning just how hard it was supposed to be for him to face the pressures he was under from both the Faction and the Time Lords.
Compassion was largely absent, but I greatly enjoyed her brief appearances (no pun intended). I particularly liked her final scene, though some may have seen it as a bit of a weak sendoff.
The Faction completely creeped me out. Maybe I wouldn't have found them so creepy if I had run across them before, but with nothing to go on but occasional references to them I found them to be a great enemy.
Romana - was evil, yes. She's not one of my favourite characters to begin with, but I think the authors did a good job making me love to hate her.
Mali - I liked her. She's a great example of a wonderful secondary character. So much of what she's seeing and doing goes against everything she's ever been trained for, but she copes. Her character's indecision and/or hasty actions served a great role in adding suspense to quite a number of scenes, and her motivations were so well explained each time! Why couldn't she have been saved instead of Nivet?!
The worst characters:
Ressadriand and Eaton (and others in this category whose names I don't recall and can't be bothered to look for) - total throwaway characters. I've never liked throwaway characters. Eaton should have played a slightly bigger part considering that he was the Castellan's son. Ressadriand was just an obnoxious git who was conveniently put in the right place at the right time to add to the Doctor's moral dilemmas.
Nivet - half the time I completely forgot about him. Considering where he winds up in the end, I'd have thought he should have at least been made even remotely interesting and likeable. Compassion finally lives up to her name and saves him of all people?! All because he was in the right line of work...
The overall story:
The story was incredibly interesting to me. I initially had a bit of trouble wrapping my brain around the random bits involving the individual reading the book, but all was fine by the end... The plot was pretty stable. Again, I imagine if I paid attention to continuity I would have found some gaping holes, but I just don't care. Taken as a random adventure featuring that Doctor guy, it was a lot of fun! I had no trouble staying interested, and thankfully was quite surprised by several twists. Again, many of the little surprises may have only been surprises because I've read very few pre-tAC books and was missing the vast majority of the backstory. In any case, I'm always amused by stories of time travel and strange cults and bringing people back from the dead and destroying whole planets and that sort of stuff.
Maybe somewhere down the road when I've had the chance to read the EDAs in their intended order, I might change my feelings about this book. But for now, it ranks pretty high for me. 8/10
A Review by John Seavey 1/9/01
In a word: Huh. I called it the "love-it-or-hate-it end to the arc", but after reading it, I kind of find myself doing exactly neither. There are certainly some clever bits to it all, and some bits I'm not happy with, but in the end, I think it almost defies judgement; it is what it is, the end to the Faction Paradox arc, the end to the Enemy arc, and in some ways, the end to thirty-eight years of Doctor Who continuity, give or take a bit. I'm not sure whether it's good or bad, but it's definitely important.
First, let me address a wee nagging point that people have been going on about ever since the book has been released, and to do so, let me quote Lawrence Miles' review of the novel: "at what point did Gallifrey acquire a capitalist economy, exactly?" The answer to this seems quite clear: at the point where the Edifice began altering the structure of Gallifreyan history retroactively. (Admittedly, it could be me reading too much into the novel, but I felt that the differences between the Gallifrey we see and the Gallifrey we've come to expect--the poor people in the streets stealing food, the need for money, the slums, etc.--were all part of the unpicking of the fabric of Gallifreyan history that occurs with increasing speed through the course of the novel.)
It's the unpicking of Gallifreyan history that provides one of the book's most clever scenes--Romana's Reaffirmation Ceremony, wherein she muses on her role as Queen of the Six Gallifreys, and walks across the pentagonal Panopticon. It's such an elegant moment of wrongness that I found myself drawn back to it over and over. A touch worth mentioning.
But, to get back to Lawrence's review--much as I hate to badmouth an author I really like, his review did seem to have a touch of sour grapes to it on re-reading it (which I did, shortly after finishing the novel.) He complains that Faction Paradox has changed in their motivations, which they have--and which Cole and Anghelides take great pains to point out is something that has actually happened, not simply an error in their plotting. He shreds the fact that Grandfather Paradox is the Doctor, claiming that it's predictable and not what he intended, when from the reader's perspective (or at least from this reader's perspective) it's inevitable, and seems to be exactly how things were meant to turn out all along. He claims that the revelation of the Enemy's identity is bollocks, and...
Well, OK, yes. The identity of the Enemy, as just a bunch of weird alien life-forms whose motivations are never fully explained, is bollocks. But then again, to be blatantly honest, there's no version of the Enemy that could possibly live up to the mystery of the Enemy. I mean, come on. A mysterious, all-powerful Enemy that can kick the Time Lords' collective asses; Lawrence can just count himself lucky that he never had to live up to his promises there, methinks. The present is almost never as good when it's unwrapped.
My biggest complaint about Ancestor Cell is its ending; not that they finally blew up Gallifrey, though. That has a nice, "Ragnarok/Armageddon" feel to it, something that we seem, in retrospect, to have been leading up to since Goth Opera. We always knew that Gallifrey didn't last forever. We always knew it was consumed in a cataclysm. It's nice to finally see it happen. No, my complaint was the rushed nature of it. It was sort of a "Wham, bam, here's me channeling some energy or other through this big lever that just popped up out of Plot Contrivance Land and blowing it all up" thing. This is the sort of thing that you start foreshadowing in Chapter One. This is what you structure your whole novel around. In Ancestor Cell, it seemed a bit too much like an afterthought, and it cleared up a bit too much. (Not only did blowing up Gallifrey take care of the Enemy and the future war and Faction Paradox, it also healed the TARDIS partway and repaired the Doctor's timestream. Heckuva handy lever.)
I also find myself hoping that Romana survived; I liked her despite her role as secondary villain here, and am hoping that she escaped Gallifrey before it went ker-blooey (and that the resultant ker-blooeyness helps snap her out of her "fanatical devotion to the Matrix".)
Oh, and I'm looking forward to The Burning.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 24/12/01
Well, this is the 900 pound Gorilla of the 8DAs.
The Ancestor Cell, written by the outgoing Editor of the line Stephen Cole and Peter Anghelides is the culmination of the ideas and concepts introduced to the line going all the way back to Alien Bodies. It's also the crowning work in the Compassion/TARDIS story arc started by the other beast of the 8DAs, Interference.
The Doctor and Fitz have finally returned to Gallifrey, though not by choice. An Edifice of solid bone hangs above Gallifrey, causing temporal disturbances. The Faction Paradox virus seems to be finally taking effect on the Doctor and his former travelling companion turned War Queen -- Romana to us regular fanboys -- demands that he turn over Compassion for TARDIS breeding purposes. Also, young and bored Time Lords are messing around with Faction Paradox rituals, the Enemy is finally getting ready to launch their first attack on the Time Lords, and The Faction itself is ready to make their final move.
As you can see, this story is not lacking for plot. In fact there's so much plot happening that it might have been a good thing if this had come out as a two part effort, like the aforementioned Interference. But, because it's the standard BBC novel length, ideas are piled on top of each other and then abandoned, which makes the overall book suffer a bit.
The Doctor is front and center, and his characterization is very strong, unlike the ineffectual version that has shown up in previous 8DA efforts. Fitz is, as usual quite good fun, providing the events here with a human POV and a few doses of needed humor. Of the guests, Nivet and Mali are well done, although they both get shunted aside.
However, many of the returning Faction members are one-dimensional baddies, no subtlety or context. Romana's character goes through the same treatment, becoming incredibly annoying by novel's end. The other Time Lords are of Arc of Infinity quality, which is not a good thing.
The book does have a specific mission, and that is to clear the slate for Justin Richard¹s takeover of the Editor chair. To this end, the authors do manage to succeed, although they are forced to use the ultimate Deux Ex Machina -- the reset button -- to accomplish this. Whether this was a planned action from the beginning of the arc, or something the writing team came up with after a night of too much coffee and no sleep, is hard to say.
Final verdict? Considering the task given Cole and Anghelides, The Ancestor Cell could have been so much worse, the equivalent of episode 14 of Trial of a Time Lord. But it is hugely flawed, and desperately cries out to be a much bigger effort.
6 out of 10
What does a second trip through The Ancestor Cell offer?
Bad characterization. A near impossible plot line resolution. An up front and involved Doctor. And the end of a whole boatload of ideas that date back to a 4 episode serial shown in 1977.
Let's deal with the characters. Nobody stood out besides the TARDIS crew. The Doctor is front and center, a whirlwind ball of energy. He's up to his eyeballs in a war that he wants to prevent. He's both pawn and king in this ultimate chess match. It's a solid version, although not top of the line. Compassion gets knocked out of half the novel, but does have her moments to shine and gets one helluva send off. Fitz is stronger in the first half of the novel and in his interaction with Romana.
Ahh yes. Now is a good time to talk about the War Queen. She's a one track character -- uppity bitch. And a bored one at that. Not to say that Steve Cole and Pete Anghelides don't try to work some stuff in with Romana -- the bits with her manipulating the male Time Lords is interesting -- however, there's nothing remotely sympathetic about Romana, even in that last scene where she admits defeat. I'm not saying she had to be Lalla Ward/ Mary Tamm reincarnated, but SC & PA don't even try to justify her actions in any way, which Paul Cornell attemped (and partially succeeded) to do in The Shadows of Avalon. In the end, she's just another supervillain who gets her comeuppance.
Father Kreiner -- drooling psycho who turns into Fitz Light before he dies on the edifice. More of a way to get rid of a character than anything constructive. The Time Lords in general are no more exciting than the ones who showed up in Arc of Infinity. The Faction Paradoxers are, well, Anthony Ainley master clones in bone masks. You know, villains with all the subtlety of a boot to the groin. I'll deal with Grandfather Paradox in a minute.
I liked the short chapter structure of TAC. The prose is solid, if a bit dry. The writers styles don't clash. TAC earns the page turner bonus. And SC & PA deserve credit for managing to wrap up all the dangling plot lines in a competent fashion....
But.....(and it's a big one)
Most of the ideas felt wrong. Pure D wrong. The Enemy -- what the hell were they thinking? Mutating Cells from the dawn of time? WTFO?!? And I'm not talking in a previous continuity context, either. It feel like the first idea they came up with after an all night whippets session. The appearance of Grandfather Paradox -- seems like a Valeyard ripoff. It screams of fan fiction, bad fan fiction at that. They could have used any old Time Lord, or better yet, not have him appear at all. The idea of having the Faction take over Gallifrey in order to fight the Enemy has promise, but the Faction's rationale that they would bring chaos to all of the universe screams one-dimensional villainy. If the Faction did it because they thought they could win the war, that would have made more sense, and put a whole original spin on things.
And then Gallifrey is destroyed. Again, not a bad idea unto itself. However, it has that last second, we-have-six-hours-till-deadline-and-we-haven't-slept-in-a-month-and- the-drugs-have-run-out-so-fuck-it-lets-smoke-Gallifrey feel. The build up to this Whoniverse shattering moment is too damn short to have any real impact. Hell, if you're going to whack Gallifrey, it needs to be built up, and in a credible fashion.
Again, the feeling that I had while reading TAC is "please expand me to two books, so I can really be awesome, like Interference." While I admire the effort to resolve everything, with so many plots threads to pull through, 280 pages is not enough to prevent the big plot line car crash at the end.
A couple of other things -- I enjoyed the five interludes. The last chapter, with Compassion's farewell, and its tie in to the prologue is astounding. It's written at such a high, and enjoyable, level, it begs to question why the rest of the novel is up to this chapter's standard.
Unfortunately, The Ancestor Cell has slipped on the scale. While there is much to admire, the glaring faults end up hurting by having readers think about what could of been, instead of what is on the pages themselves.
A Review by Rob Matthews 19/2/02
Previous reviews might have steered me away from this book, but I guess it just seemed too important to just miss. Having read The Burning a few months ago and wondered how the Doctor ended up that way, and having finally gotten hold of both volumes of Interference quite recently, The Ancestor Cell inevitably soared to the top of my list of must-reads (with Father Time and Adventuress of Henrietta Street jostling close behind).
Luckily I knew what to expect. The book would be abrupt and synopsis-like. Gallifrey wouldn't be portrayed that well. The ending would be rushed. Romana's characterisation would conflict greatly with the way she was portrayed on TV. See, I knew all this going in.
And with all that in mind, it's really not a bad read. It's just that it's by no means a great book. As a tying-up of loose ends and long-running plotlines it's no Lungbarrow. One would expect the book where Gallifrey is destroyed and the Faction vanquished to feel somehow more monumental. You'd expect a book that concludes Lawrence Miles' Future War concepts to be written by Miles himself. Ancestor Cell is the conclusion to a loose trilogy which started with Alien Bodies and continued through Interference, and as such it has that perfunctory feel that endings to trilogies sometimes do, that sense of things being artificially wrapped up so a line can be drawn under the thing. A Doctor Who equivalent of Return of the Jedi.
Nevertheless, it's a worthwhile read, and there are a fair few interesting developments to be teased out - though, it should be said, only in the context of the book series (plural - I'm counting the NAs too) as a whole. A lot of people criticised Interference for its unecessary length, but this one gets stick for being overly terse, so it would seem it's difficult to strike a balance.
Interesting to see how crass Gallifrey has become. Hopefully that's deliberate, and not a reflection on the authors. A previous reviewer asked how come the planet suddenly has a capitalist economy, and its a good question. Its not clear whether this is a result of Romana's presidency (Romanadvoradthatcher anyone?) or whether it's just something everyone was too polite to mention before. Since we're given no indication either way, I prefer to plump for the former explanation. It's still difficult to conceive of how the Time Lords would need such a thing, though, given that all their needs can be met by their technology - environments adjusted, foods synthesised -, and that their technology has an unlimited power source - no electricity bills to pay. But, while it should have been explained better, the sense that something has gone badly wrong with Gallifreyan society is nevertheless evoked.
Another bone (or should that be boner?) of contention is the Time Lords' newfound lechery. The Ancestor Cell leaves us in no doubt that female Time Lords have cherry lips, bouncy breasts, shapely legs and nice arses. The voodoo cultists are randy students out for a shag, and Romana manipulates her High Council of dirty old men by being too bootylicious for them.
This one makes sense, though. It's a couple of centuries since the Pythia's curse was lifted and Gallifreyans appear to once again procreate in the old-fashioned way. Why wouldn't they be as ruled by their nobs as we are? On the other hand, its rather backward that this rampant physical description applies only to the women, and that all the main females are portrayed as femme fatales. Romana should be relying on more than a well-turned ankle and some lip gloss to maintain her power.
Oh, and since I've brought her up - She's fine. She works for this story. I loved Romana on TV, but the fact that she's not the person we remember is clearly no accident. We're reminded continually of how much she's changed, and its hard to accept but a vital part of the 'wrongness' that has gripped Gallifrey. Her presidency and preparations for the war have changed her values completely, but we can see finally that her ideals are still there. She's adapted her entire personality out of sheer necessity, and her tunnel vision has blinded her to injustices in the here and now. It's awful that she doesn't care about the starving beggars in the Panopticon, but the Doctor is in the end even more guilty than her of focusing on the big picture at any expense. He kills everyone on Gallifrey and in the surrounding constellation! Its enough to make the Ka Faraq Gatri blush.
The explanation of the origin of The Enemy is cool and seething with irony - "There's always a price to be paid for progress" is a nicely dark understatement. The sullying of the Time Lords image, which started way back in the TV series, is given its final twist here. The Time Lords are spoken about, in the end, in terms of pollution - their time craft have, in effect, spent millennia trailing poisonous exhaust fumes around the galaxies. They're not a grand, benevolent civilisation anymore, not even a fallen or corrupted one. Their presence is just plain bad for the universe. They even bring the edifice upon themselves by forgetting to put a cork in the universe-in-a-bottle. Doh!
Amidst the fireworks, the Third Doctor's timeline is put back on track - he died after fighting the spiders in Metebelis III after all, no more death on Dust. I might well have regarded this as a cop-out or a timid retraction of Miles' big stunt in Interference were it not so clearly central to the plot, and were its fallout not so big. You get the Doctor's life back, but you lose his home and his people in the process. Goodbye Kasterborous, hello Planet of Spiders, as it were.
Father Kreiner's a real quandry. Ersatz-Fitz forgives the Doctor a lot more readily than I do. But that forgiveness does make Fitz's character all the more appealing, so I'll be like him and let it slide. Besides, it gives me a headache trying to think about it.
'Let's put this shit behind us'? Sounds a bit cheeky. But after all this you can see why the Doctor needs an extended break from being the Doctor. The end of Gallifrey comes, in the end, not as a tragedy or a shock but as a relief. I wish it could have been written with more finesse, but at the same time I'm eager for the books to move on.
A Review by Brett Walther 20/6/03
The Ancestor Cell is full of great ideas. There are things here that I dreamed of when writing Doctor Who stories of my own as a teenager: War TARDISes (I called them WARDISes!), an abandoned TARDIS that becomes the ultimate weapon, and the Time Lords fighting imminent destruction by scouring the universe to accumulate their "Slaughterhouse" armoury. In fact, The Ancestor Cell can be accused of having too many great ideas, and as a result, there's simply too much going on, and a book that was very readable throughout the first half sags with the weight of all the concepts at work. The framework for a brilliant novel is here: it just needs to be filled in with characters and description.
There's indeed a significant downturn in the novel after the half-way mark, when most of the interesting characters get killed off by the bone-spiders on board the Edifice. The characterization is mediocre at best, and to axe the best of the guest cast in a rather pointless sequence almost as an aside, is unforgivable. Chancellor Vozarti -- the crusty Time Lord struggling to maintain authority and respect despite the fact that his recent regeneration has made him appear younger than his son -- has great potential, but ultimately amounts to nothing by dying prematurely.
What's worse is that apparently Joan Collins in full Dynasty mode is now President of Gallifrey. What's that? Her name's actually Romana?
In both of her television incarnations, Romana was surely among the best of the Doctor's companions. She demonstrated genuine concern for the plight of others, and a willingness to apply her considerable intellect towards the liberation of the oppressed. Furthermore, she was funny as hell, always prepared with witty comebacks to counter the Doctor's blustering. I know that apparently she's regenerated between Warrior's Gate and this story, but even that can't justify her character being shoehorned into the role of power-obsessed, humourless, manipulative bitch. Angelhides and Cole even go so far as to commenting on how she's ensured that no other females are on her High Council, as she isn't above using her sex appeal to ensure the support of her councillors. In a similar vein, there's the cringe-worthy bit where she describes "a rather yummy guard". (Shudder) Romana's transformation is presumably an attempt to show how the Time Lords have become paranoid about the approaching War with the Enemy, but it just doesn't work.
Description also varies wildly from non-existent to highly illustrative, making it quite evident that the book is the product of two very different authors. I would've loved to have the core of the Edifice described in greater detail, as the concept behind the structure is absolutely fascinating. This is a shame because it really is a huge revelation that's made to seem somewhat insignificant by the lack of attention it is afforded.
Perhaps this is the greatest problem with The Ancestor Cell: the earth-shattering revelations end up coming across as less significant than they should, due to the frequency with which they arise. The reader becomes desensitized to the shock value that these events should present, culminating in the curiously uninvolving conclusion.
There are, nevertheless, some wonderful moments in The Ancestor Cell, and the first half of the book alone approaches greatness. I love the bit in which Uncle Kristeva tempts the Doctor to create his first paradox in order to save the life of a young Gallifreyan, then suggesting that he could do the same for Adric, Katerina, and all the others the Doctor has lost in his travels. To know that he could very well lose Compassion by the story's end makes the Doctor's dilemma all the more compelling.
It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel bored by Marcus Salisbury 9/6/04
Almost three years after its release, I've finally managed to read The Ancestor Cell. Given the polemics that greeted its initial appearance, I expected to find the book to be either excruciating or brilliant. It's neither. Rather, it's what the late W.H. Auden might have referred to as a Good Bad Book. The plotting's well done, in the sense that things unravel at an inexorable pace and don't seem wholly contrived in retrospect, there are some well-drawn characters (and a fair amount of faceless names), some mind-blowing set pieces, and the action moves inexorably into deeper and deeper horrors and tragedies, until the inevitable shocking conclusion.
The Ancestor Cell is not the feelgood hit of the 8DA range - in some ways, it's one of the darkest and most nihilistic texts produced in the Who franchise - but in other ways, it's inevitably going to be considered a travesty, a calculated and callous purge of the brilliant Lawrence Miles's influence on the 8DAs. I don't know if this is actually true, but it's the label the book's been stuck with.
These days The Ancestor Cell is part of 8DA history, rather than a going concern, so maybe it's time for some reflection on the book itself rather than letting the discussion become addled by retcon wars (real or imagined). Purely on terms of plot, The Ancestor Cell is a decent piece of work. It is written coherently, has a beginning, middle and end and a few well-drawn characters, a few excellent set-pieces (the opening TARDIS battle, the Edifice, the Faction manipulation of the Matrix in the last 40 or so pages, although there are some quite over-the-top images mixed up in this sequence), and ends with, quite literally, the most spectacular hitting of the "reset" button in the franchise's history. Ancestor Cell is not a exactly a tidy tying-up of the Miles masterplan, to be sure (and Lawrence Miles has gone on record as apparently hating it) but it is, on its own terms, a sporting attempt to chase the "Future War" Morbius off the edge of a cliff.
Characterisation is well done also - in parts - the late President Greyjan the Sane is the kind of character I would love to see played by an actor like Michael Gambon, David Warner or Ian MacNeice (Baron Harkonnen in the Sci-Fi Channel's recent Dune mini-series), all of whom could bring out the character's pompous insanity magnificently. The concept of Greyjan is really a quite disturbing one - resurrecting a suicidal ex-President during the event which caused him to take his own life initially - and the character himself is the ultimate version of all the elderly, muttering, scatterbrained-to-half-insane Time Lords we have seen since 1976's Deadly Assassin. Brilliant, brilliant, apart from a slight resemblance to the character Mad-Eye Moody in another series of successful novels. (Or maybe it's the other way around?) Mother Tarra is also good value in a Beneath the Planet of the Apes kind of way, with the obligatory face-off scene involving a suitably impressed Fitz. This was well-done on its own terms, but Faction Paradox in Ancestor Cell are cartoon bogeymen, disappointingly enough. What I liked about the Faction in previous novels was their subtlety, their apparent realisation that events and people can be nudged to produce outcomes, and the outcomes don't necessarily have to come through toasting entire planets. (OK, so they did this quite casually in Interference 2, which is maybe where the rot set in, in a way). Father Kreiner was predictably under-used, although Fitz himself was fantastic - this character has slowly and consistently developed into the strongest male companion figure since Jamie in the Troughton era (unless you count the Brigadier as a companion?)
The down side to all this is that The Ancestor Cell could be accused (by even reasonable people) of being The Imitation of Miles. Faction Paradox, with their massive battle fleets and seeming omnipotence, are light years away from the voodoo cult of Alien Bodies. The obverse of this argument is that Ancestor Cell aligns neatly with the whole "Ragnarok" idea - if the Faction are somehow equivalent to Loki, and why not, they begin as tricksters who meddle mischievously with events, and end as psychopaths who unleash hell. (And Fenric).
Grandfather Paradox is my single biggest beef about the book - the fact that he's a possible Doctor is plausible, but I'd always thought (and feel free to disagree, folks) that the "Grandfather" was going to be psycho-Pertwee, a Third Doctor who had taken to the Faction Virus in his years of pre-regeneration wandering. I'm sure the flashes of violence and arrogance in this Doctor (especially the earlier stories) haven't gone unnoticed elsewhere. The fact that the Grandfather is a later (Alien 3?) version of the eighth doesn't quite gel for me, somehow, and Interference seemed to promise a little more about the Third/Eighth/Grandfather Doctors than Ancestor Cell delivered. Instead, all we get is, literally, a "Dust Doctor", blathering on in the Edifice and being no help at all. The real star of the show, is, of course, the Edifice. The revelation of its origins is truly poignant, as is (I suppose) the "Dust Doctor", given that Cole and Anghelides are more successful than Miles in capturing the character's fluent Pertwee-ese.
The Eighth Doctor himself is a bit of a wet blanket here, but that's the nature of the story - we're meant to see him at his lowest ebb, hunted into a corner, caught in a no-win situation that causes him to do the unthinkable. He's shot at, used, abused, beaten up, kicked, and eventually caught up in the Edifice's own regeneration - hardly a happy time, and surely more lethal than falling off a radio telescope (or an exercise bike). It's almost as if Ancestor Cell ends with a regeneration, given the self-identity story arc which follows Ancestor Cell directly. Maybe it should have - a step that the 8DAs will surely have to consider at some point.
The depiction of Gallifrey in The Ancestor Cell seems to have caused some consternation, with its capitalist Time Lords, creepy corridors, suburbs, mass transit systems, bored Young Rich Things, and so on. To me, this was one of the high points of the book - incorporating not a little social comment in the age-old Robert Holmes manner. There are not a few places of "higher learning" on this planet that are obsessed with funding, resourcing and event marketing than with increasing the sum of human knowledge and happiness, just as the spectacle of Romana using her pulchritudinous charms to influence the aged High Council puts one in mind of Margaret Thatcher manipulating the similarly-minded British Tories in the 1970s (or of Condoleeza Rice performing the same trick in the US in more recent times). Romana, incidentally, seemed to have regenerated into Blake's 7's Servalan as-played-by-Nicola Bryant for the purposes of the story (i.e. for the writers to give Fitz something to think about as he follows her down corridors), although her fate was left sort-of open at the end of the tale, dammit.
That the Faction so easily manipulates impressionable Gallifreyan youngsters is hardly so very surprising, either, given how easy it is for loopy Earthbound cults to recruit in campuses the world over. The whole point of this is that, just as Robert Holmes used The Deadly Assassin as a vehicle for some pointed social observations, The Ancestor Cell slavishly does the same. It's a very traditional Who story in that regard, albeit a terribly dark one. The darkness of the story becomes self-conscious toward the end, in which Gallifrey is swamped by Faction projections after they gain control of the Matrix - Tarra's throwing unsuspecting victims into fires is gruesome enough, but the queue of Gallifreyan men, women and children mutely lining up to get their faces burned off by Faction medics was a little over the top for me. See what I meant about bogeymen?
The Elizabethans thought that nostalgia was a diagnosable disease. The Ancestor Cell is a hell of a cure - the Time Lords, Gallifrey, Faction Paradox, the Future War, maybe even the TARDISes, are wiped out, leaving not a wrack behind. It has to be noted that the overall quality of the books since Ancestor Cell has improved not a little, and that the character of the Doctor himself has been given a new direction and new impetus. The "Future War" arc was in some ways a sad loss, and so was the franchise's semi-regular use of the talents of Lawrence Miles. Then again, the "Future War" arc has its endpoint at least tentatively flushed out in Ancestor Cell - a universe in which all life other than the combatants has been snuffed out, and in which Time Lords are walking weaponry. Not a great future to look forward to, but the logical terminus of the "Future War" arc. So, in that respect, we should be glad it's over.
So, although this book was greeted with a great wailing and gnashing of teeth in some quarters, The Ancestor Cell is a surprisingly straightforward, albeit rudely forced, conclusion to a story arc that was inevitably bound to collapse under the weight of paradox.
A Review by Jason A. Miller 15/5/05
I'm really glad I reread this. It actually approached awesome! Well, the universe-in-the-bottle stuff still made no sense, and the origins of the Enemy, either. But I love how the Doctor has about 10 different revelations that will allow him to save the day and can't do anything about them. And how you keep waiting for someone to save the day without bloodshed, and it doesn't happen.
I originally rated this a 5 or 6 out of 10, but now I can posthumously give it an 8.
Tangled drama! by Joe Ford 22/3/06
This book could have been so much better than it is. It could have been so much worse than it is too. What you've got here are two writers who are desperately trying to pull together heaps of unresolved arc plotlines and to wipe the slate clean for a brand new beginning for the eighth Doctor. In places the book reeks of desperation as another stray idea from a book long past pops up to confuse matters even further and during several points I was ready to give up as the tangle of continuity threatened to overwhelm me.
None of this matters a jot however, because the very best parts of The Ancestor Cell are truly excellent and it would not be an understatement to suggest it has some of the very best scenes ever to appear in any Doctor Who book.
The biggest problem I have with this mighty Lawrence Miles-influenced arc, now I have finally reached its conclusion, is that we never actually got to experience this terrifying War we were promised for so long, barring The Taking of Planet 5, which is so twisted and complicated we don't really get to see the BIG picture and the character ramifications.
In a perfect world we could have skipped Coldheart and The Space Age (two eminently dispensable books) and moved The Banquo Legacy next to The Fall of Yquatine. Then we can change the ending of The Ancestor Cell so it ends when the Faction get a foothold on Gallifrey. We now have two slots in the schedule to fill, featuring an all out War between the Faction and the Enemy with the Time Lords a mere insignificance to their conflict which would reach a point where the timelines are so twisted out of shape that the Doctor heads back in time to the point where Faction landed on Gallifrey and blows the planet up, taking the Faction and the Enemy with him! But never mind, it just seems such a pointless waste to lead up to a dazzling War and then deny it to us just as things get juicy.
Saying that, the mere threat of the War has implemented some great changes to Gallifrey, which is probably at its most interesting at this point. The Time Lords have become paranoid and fearful, creating nine replicas of their home planet to acts as decoys in the coming War and are utilises a Klien bottle universe as a possible escape route. Romana has become cold and calculating and yet still retains a haughty air, a fascinating new take on her character which I genuinely adored (and anyone who was upset because she wasn't note-for-note Lalla Ward's portrayal, go and watch Destiny of the Daleks and stop reading the books, because this is an example of the books using continuity to unsettle). There is a real feeling of anxiety at the coming War, like events are spiralling out of control and that even the mighty Time Lords cannot bring things back under control. The feeling of chaos breaking free is dizzying in places.
It is ironic then that we learn that the creation of this all-powerful Enemy is all the Time Lords' fault in the first place! Spawned Ancestor Cells, super evolved by a leaking Klein bottle (which the Time Lords stole from Foreman's World as an escape route) combined with chronon decay (caused by the Time Lords time travel over the millennia) mutated them into active beings inimical to life. Gosh that's a bloody mouthful isn't it? If you are still in the dark then just learn this, the Time Lords are total hypocrites and their interference in other times and their attempts to escape from the future they know is coming ends up bringing that future about. HA BLOODY HA! When the Faction eventually gets a foothold on Gallifrey and they start flame-throwing children to death, you cannot help but think they brought all upon themselves.
Despite all this apocalyptic devastation taking place in the capitol, I was rather more gripped by the character confrontations that have been long overdue, specifically the whole issue of Fitz and the fact that he is mere a double of his original, who the Doctor abandoned to the Faction. Father Kreiner is snatched back from the bottle universe and the delicious moment when he is brought face to face with "our" Fitz is pure drama, Father Kreiner spitting into his face that he is a fake to which Fitz responds, "You've forgotten what it is to be the real Fitz Kreiner". In book that is chock-a-block full of scenes full of the Doctor being forced to face up to his responsibilities, his reaction to the fate of the real Fitz is haunting. After the recriminations and violence we soon realise there is still the old Fitz in there as he aids the Doctor at the climax. However a devastating scene sees him beg the Doctor to return to when they first met and prevent him from travelling with him in the TARDIS. Fitz remains a fabulous companion in whatever form he takes, the story proving the guy has a heart of gold even when taken to the brink of madness.
You really cannot fault the Doctor's portrayal here, especially his vicious condemnation of his own people, which feels perfect ("Why don't you just do something?" he screams at their impotence). His disgust at hearing Romana's title as War Queen was brilliant (he takes the piss wonderfully when he hears her 101 portentous titles and says he hopes she has a badge big enough to fit them all on). He is described as acquiring companions by dragging them into fearful situations and turning them into sheep, which I suppose you could say is true of many of them. Sweetly, he kisses Compassion on the cheek when he thinks she is dead and the sense of failure is heartbreaking; especially if you have been reading these books in order and have experienced what he has gone through to try and protect her. Frankly his situation is so dangerous, his responsibilities so great that he cannot help but turn out to be the most interesting character. Saying that, it is a shame he is so rushed, frantic and manipulated these days; I much prefer to see a more contemplative, thoughtful Doctor (so just hang around until the next book then).
There are lots of moments that stand out: Compassion returning from the dead, forcing the Doctor to experience the true horror of the coming War (making him face up to his responsibilities of preventing it) and coming face to face with her tormentor (Romana) and telling her she should kill her for all the pain she has put through. Oddly Compassion is vacant for much of the story but her eventual fate, free of the chains of Gallifrey, a new companion to travel with her and laughing her head off as she lets the time vortex embrace her... it's so beautiful and rewarding that it was well worth every second with this fascinating companion. A shame we would only see her once again (and then only briefly).
The climax of the book has been much talked about and is certainly memorable. I am not the biggest fan of the Faction (sorry to be boring but I preferred the Council of Eight and their machinations) but the book certainly gives them a big send off. They revel in chaos and they certainly bring that to Gallifrey, using both ex-Presidents and the Enemy to gain their foothold and punish the people who have so condemned them. The issue of Grandfather Paradox is dealt with dramatically, seemingly a version of the Doctor who gave in to the Faction's infection of his timeline. The ending which sees the Doctor fighting the emaciated version of himself is truly haunting to read. The final wrenching twist comes when the Doctor is forced to accept the lesser of two evils. The Faction has control of Gallifrey, already the population is being tortured and killed, we have already seen plenty of demonstrations of their love of chaos in the timelines. To spare the universe of their evil, the Doctor wipes out Gallifrey, taking the Faction, their War Fleet and all their temporal jiggery pokery with it. The results of this act are devastating and far-reaching, leading the series into a very different era. It is certainly not the last time we will be reminded of this act of genocide and The Gallifrey Chronicles returns to this moment in true style to force the Doctor to confront his actions...
You cannot say that Stephen Cole did not leave with a bang!
It's a chaotic book, needlessly complex but full of fabulous ideas and ridiculously entertaining throughout. Considering what it has to achieve, it dovetails loads of stray plotlines together really well, nothing seems to have been forgotten and for a long-term reader there is much here that is rewarding. Saying that, it threatens to lose the reader under too much continuity in spots and the ending does feel like things have gotten out of control for the writers and they wanted to sweep the whole lot under the rug. The writing itself is pretty basic with descriptive prose that is miles better than Dicks and Lyons but nowhere near as good as Cornell or Parkin. Saying that, the dialogue is scorching and it is great to see so many characters say things that have needed saying for ages!
It needs one more draft to make it truly excellent (there are some bizarre plotting choices, hopping from one location to another, from one plotline to another) but I have to admit I raced through it in less than a day and found my excitement mounting exponentially towards the climax. A fascinating end to an uneven era, which encapsulates the best and the worst of its period.