THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC Books
Autumn Mist

Author David A. McIntee Cover image
ISBN 0 563 55583 1
Published 1999

Synopsis: In the middle of the Battle of the Bulge, a third side comes into play. The bodies of the dead are disappearing, military experiemnts are being conducted and the TARDIS crew must seek out the truth in a battlefield where nothing is as it seems.


Reviews

A Review by Finn Clark 3/8/99

Discussing this book without mentioning spoilers is going to be a bugger. The back cover blurb mentions "a third side to this battle: an unknown and ancient force which seems to pay little heed to the laws of nature." Thus for the sake of this review, I'll call these guys the Third Side.

Time to begin...

This novel encapsulates what's wrong with the 8DAs. (I'll go into detail soon.) On the other hand, it's also a great read.

Like Dominion, this book just kept getting better and better, until by the end I was loving every page. There's some great jokes. There's a hard bastard who's a complete dude. There's a playfulness in the writing, far more mature than the rather irritating antics we saw in Unnatural History. There's also a very McInteeish glee in war, guns and mayhem.

The quote at the beginning is wonderfully apt. War may be horrible - but it's also very exciting to read about. Tedious moralising takes a back seat, thank goodness. This may be a Doctor Who book, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the tank attack scenes!

Of course, there's far more to Autumn Mist than that. Indeed for much of the time, the war is marginalised. Initially I thought it was a shame this book wasn't released with Players, but by the end I'd changed my mind. The similarities are a little too strong! Both are set in wartime, but concerned with higher matters. Also, Terrance's Players are in certain ways not unlike McIntee's Third Side...

With all this great stuff going for it, what's the downside of Autumn Mist? The answer can be summed up in one word - STORY.

It pains me to say this, but I don't think the 8DAs understand story. (The two main exceptions to this argument - Vampire Science and Genocide - were commissioned under the caretaker editor, Nuala Buffini).

When they've triumphed, it's been at the hands of writers who actively rejected ordinary storytelling. Lawrence Miles hates mere adventure (though 90% of Alien Bodies works very well on that level). Scarlet Empress is a plotless fantasy romp, a paradigm shift that drags Doctor Who kicking and screaming into a whole new genre. Seeing I is a deconstruction. And then there's Revolution Man...

But then we have the 8DA's failures. Oh, where to start? The bog-standard 8DA has been a conformist runaround that overemphasises SF flash-bang at the expense of more involving, personal storytelling levels. Some people like that kind of thing. They can get into that kind of story. Good for them. But let's not pretend that anyone's tried to write King Lear.

With the arrival of Fitz, things seem to have taken an upturn... so now we're starting to see a lack of storytelling in the good books!

If the point of your story is that it rejects storytelling, then go for it. You've just written Dead Romance, Scarlet Empress or The Mary-Sue Extrusion. Power to your elbow. But books like Unnatural History and Autumn Mist aren't trying to do that. They're not fucking up the story deliberately; they're just floundering. Unnatural History never recovered. Autumn Mist does... eventually. It's as simple as that.

I have hope. Justin Richards is encouraging writers to read Robert McKee, which should be made compulsory. But how does all this affect Autumn Mist?

It takes ages for things to get going. The war provides most of the excitement during the first half, but that's not the Doctor's problem. It's Established History. It's meant to be happening. (And it eventually gets sidelined.)

What about the Third Side? Erm... actually they're cool. They're not the Doctor's problem.

So what about the villain? There is one, isn't there? Surely he gives the story a bit of driving force? Well, no. The only real candidate for that position is not doing Bad Things because he must, but simply on a whim. Quite frankly, for most of the book we don't take him seriously. His stooges are almost distractions.

Thus for over half the book, things drift. Events happen, but in a "this happens, then this happens" kind of way. It's written well enough to keep you reading anyway (so it's better than many other 8DAs, then) but one isn't truly gripped.

Over half-way though, the real threat emerges.

I'll say that again.

Over half-way through.

This is where the story proper begins. At last we know what's going on. Events keep drifting, but the slack is starting to be reeled in. Gradually the plot gets tighter. McIntee is so utterly professional that the first half is never less than competent and pleasant, but the second half demonstrates that there's nothing quite like a storyteller getting his teeth into a story.

There are other attractions too. There are some wonderful touches - and I'm using the word in its strictest sense. Also McIntee's portrayal of the Nazis is accurate and insightful enough to give resonances with later scenes that have nothing to do with them! It's not high-level politics like Terrance Dicks, but the bread-and-butter viewpoint of the men on the ground.

The continuity with other 8DAs is heavy, perhaps a little too much so. If you haven't read certain other Fitz books (I'll be no more specific) then you might be a tad lost. For once an important plot point hangs on something from a previous book. Autumn Mist is still a good read on its own, but it might have been fair to add a footnote or something: "The full story of What Happened Then is explained in the Doctor Who book < SPOILER DELETED >."

I'd recommend Autumn Mist. It's not a world-changing masterpiece, but it's a very enjoyable eight out of ten and a book to be proud of. Just remember that the best stuff is towards the end.


A Review by Michael Arndell 20/12/99

This book is a lot of fun, but a bit of a mixed bag as well. The regulars are written very well, and I think that McIntee understands Fitz better than anyone except for Collier. Sam isn't too bad in this one, and again we get a superb presentation of McGann's Doctor.

What often irritates me about McIntee is the level of description in his books. I just don't want to know the specifics about vehicles and artillery in WW2, and so I got a bit bored with action sequences that focussed on this. On the other hand, the Sidhe are a very interesting idea, and the lack of explanation about their race was very satisfying.


A Review by Dominick Cericola 17/5/00

The TARDIS brings The Doctor and Companions to Earth yet again. This time, it is December 1944, and the crew finds themselves in the Ardennes, at one of last big hurrahs of WWII. However, things are not all as they should be: disappearing bodies, American generals talking to thin air, and Sam Jones, killed in battle -- or is she?? And, how does The Philadelphia Experiment tie into all this??

I haven't read anything by Mr. McIntee since First Frontier (which I enjoyed immensely), as none of his later books interested me. However, this one held my attention through 'til the end. The first quarter is a bit slow, working to building the momentum, establish the scene, yet once it all comes together by the middle, there is no putting this one down!

When reading anything by McIntee, be forewarned: this fellow knows his history! As you read his books, you will actually feel as if you were a part of that particular time period. This one was especially well-defined, making me feel as if I was serving with the other armed forces back then. Hell, I even wanted to cry at the deaths of several of the characters, as if I had actually served with them. That is one of the things that makes a writer a Writer!

Now, on to the characters..

Fitz.. Fitz was great in this. This book follows closely on the events of Unnatural History, dealing with the consequences. Fitz really does care for Sam, and he worries about her. In a lot of ways, their relationship reminds me a lot of the Jamie-Victoria relationship. I feel bad for him, because he isn't the flirt/lout I had initially expected him to be. He's really grown as a character, and fortunately, nearly all of the authors have dealt him a fair hand, allowing for him to grow. I am looking forward to seeing how he handles the events of Interference (which I am starting tonight.. I have the Kleenex handy, too..!). Should be quite interesting..

Sam.. Sam, oddly enough, plays a minimal role in this book, yet her role is important, as throughout, little bits here and there lay the groundwork for what is to come in Lawrence Miles' Interference. She has a lot to deal with, coming to terms with everything she has been through: her three years on Ha'alom, her brief tenure as a God on Belannia, her manipulation at the hands of the Faction Paradox..all of it. She's been through a lot, and it would appear it has taken its toll on her psyche. Fortunately, McIntee is a seasoned-enough Who writer to handle this chore, as allows her to reflect without becoming whiny or even a potential martyr. Definitely a gold star from me -- that is, if I had a gold star to give out.. :)

And, finally, there's The Doctor.. He seems to be the most affected by all that has gone down over the last few adventures. Literally, it would appear as if Time has caught up with him. He is able to deal with the situation, righting it, with the least amount of losses. Yet, it takes him longer than normal, as if he has to shift all his attention to the situation at hand. With Paul Cornell coming back to Writer's Fold in 2000, I can only shiver at what is in store for our favorite Time Lord. BUT, we can rest assured, he will deal with it in the best way possible..

So, what do I make of Autumn Mist? It's important to read, as it ties into the coming events. I feel it is one of those books you have to read, not just skip to the end, for all that goes down in this book is pivotal to the ending and the last couple paragraphs. So, to the point, yes, Autumn Mist is well worth it, and proves that there is much hope for the future of the EighthDoctorAdventures...


The EDA's most forgettable book by Robert Smith? 12/8/00

David McIntee has always needed a strong editor. Having this book appear slap-bang in the middle of the Steve-Cole-has-stopped-caring-era means that the result is self-indulgent, forgettable and ultimately meaningless. Even the back cover blurb can't work itself up into saying very much about the book.

Like Unnatural History before it, this book seems to be written solely to answer points made on rec.arts.drwho, only this one doesn't have the advantage of at least being well written. It's one thing to take criticisms into account when writing your next book. It's another altogether to write a book just so you can canonise your own pet theories and take shots at people's opinions from afar.

There's some stuff with Sam that has promise, with her dying horribly and contributing to her wishing to leave the Doctor. There are some nice ideas here and I do like the fake death idea, but nothing is written with any sort of interest whatsoever. It's as though the author were novelising a plot outline, rather than writing a book.

The Doctor as the Evergreen Man is also a nice idea, but again what we get in terms of actual story isn't that much fun. He gets to have some interaction with the fairies, but it's all rather lacklustre. There's a laughable attempt to suggest that he sleeps with their leader, as the camera pans away shyly, but she has no character to speak of. McIntee's patented "Tell, don't show" style hits overdrive here. We're told that the Doctor finds her beautiful from the first moment, but we're never shown any sense of character that demonstrates why this should be the case.

The plot tries bravely to go in unexpected directions -- but it does this by having pivotal characters who don't have a single appearance before page 200 or so. As in, the main villain. Erm. No, really, what was up with this? That's incredibly lazy writing. It's not revelation, it's a cheat.

Fitz comes off okay in his parts, which pretty much confirms his writer-proof status. His treating the war as a bit of a lark works well, because we do get a bit of a sense of how scary the situation can be when things turn a bit nasty. But it's not really his book (yet again), so he's pretty much sidelined (yet again).

The rest of the book is taken up with technical-manual-like descriptions of machinery and weapons and so on. These have never amounted to much of interest, but McIntee does like to show off his research. Here they're no more interesting than ever, which is a shame, because I'd have thought the setting would lend itself to such things better than usual.

Autumn Mist is a bizarre hybrid of action setpieces and men with guns crossed with fairies and stuff. It doesn't really hang together at all. It's not actively bad, but it's still not very good, either.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 28/8/01

Autumn Mist is a bit of a mess with an overly simple storyline being let down by some truly atrocious prose. Any attempt to wrap the reader in its narrative, ends jarringly when one comes across a sentence or fragment that would make the English students in the readership cringe.

The story itself isn't all that bad. There is nothing really the matter with it, but there is also nothing much positive to say about it either. Some books with a weak storyline can turn this perceived limitation into a strength by adding character conflict, angst or introspection (with varying degrees of success). Here the lack of plot is made up for with long war scenes that pay more attention to the tanks and equipment than it does to the people that are operating them. This contributes to the uncaring feel that the book has, as though nothing that one is reading matters in any tangible way. By the time one reaches the end, one does not really notice that the conclusion has been rushed through. Although this sort of sloppy writing at the finale is a problem that plagues many an EDA, it seems strangely appropriate here.

The prose and the sentence structure are really where this novel collapses. Strange sentence fragments joined together by random punctuation marks become distracting at times and very detrimental to the reading experience. This is a book that would have been enormously helped by an extra stage of proofreading and/or editing. It's a shame that this did not occur.

The characterization of the regulars was, for much of the time, fairly acceptable. However, there were a few points where the Eighth Doctor seemed more like the Seventh Doctor than we've ever seen him before. Fitz seemed to waver a lot between two extremes: one of total cowardice and the other of tremendous heroics. This seemed almost like a caricature at times, though it did work well in some places. Sam is much less annoying than she usually is (which is a pleasant surprise) though her decision at the very end seems to come from absolutely nowhere.

In the end, reading this failed to generate any excitement in me whatsoever. Events happened and some people were killed, but I couldn't make myself care about any of this. The "third side" referred to on the back cover tries to dance between magical and hard, scientific technobabble, and ultimately fails at being either. Not recommended.