Caught on Earth
BBC Books
The Burning

Author Justin Richards Cover image
ISBN 0 563 53812 0
Published 2000

Synopsis: Only one man can unravel the mysteries. Only one man can begin to understand the gathering forces. Only one man can hope to fight against them. Only one man knows that this is the beginning of the end of the world. Only one man can stop the burning.


A Review by Sean Gaffney 18/8/00

OK, my review of Prime Time has been postponed for the foreseeable future. Instead, I turned to The Burning, the first of Justin Richards' new Who book manifesto, one that we've been hearing about even more than The Ancestor Cell over the past few months.

So, is it as vaguely disappointing as TAC was? Or is it a new beginning rollicking roller coaster of fun?

I make no bones about the fact that I'm a rad type of reviewer. Came back to the 8th Doc books mostly because the Interference/Blue Angel one-two combo intrigued me so much, and Compassion was such a great Turlough-done-right idea anyway. And now Lawrence is gone, Compassion's gone for the moment (and I really wonder how much everyone will want to bring her back, seeing as I seem to be one of the few people wholly in her corner). What's left for poor Sean?

Well, there is the small fact that my favorite Doctor Who book writer ever is not only the ongoing editor, but also the author of this tome. That's got to count for something. Let's see what we can dig through, shall we?

PLOT: As trad as a very trad thing indeed, and why not? Justin may have introduced Irving Braxiatel, but he's hardly the type to go gallivanting about with continuity, either. There is the sentient evil that possesses people, turning them into little more than living zombies, being stopped by the Doctor, a supply of dwindling confidantes, and the local military. The only difference is it's McGann's Doctor... :-D

THE DOCTOR: Well, as most people know by now, the Doctor is not quite himself through the book. This actually proves quite interesting, as he spends much of the time almost acting like his predecessor. Much brooding, accused of being "uncaring" by the others. And his observation/collusion in Nepath's death is quite chilling, taking the ending of Wages of Sin one step further. The Doctor who I occasionally referred to as Big Stupid is no longer in residence... but he's still got a bit to go before he becomes THE Doctor.

STOBBOLD: The Reverend, of course, not his daughter. Oddly enough, he didn't work as well for me. While the Doctor remained either totally emotionally detached or his usual big shouting self, Stobbold's emotions seemed vague and hard to define. Even his grief seemed muted, though this wasn't helped by being in the middle of a big end-of-book 50-page action sequence.

DOBBS: He worked a lot better, and I liked his transformation from the frosty old coot into the emotional, grieving, and alive old coot. His death was also rather chilling, as he sees the Doctor leaving him behind... actually, the Doctor's record for saving innocents in this book isn't that high at all.

OTHERS: Betty in this book reminded me a lot of the possessed girl in Yquatine - I might have felt a whole lot more for her if I'd gotten to know her before she went south on us. Colonel Wilson made a good Brigadier clone, and I really enjoyed Grant pre-Burning... he reminded me of William from some of those old Campion books.

VILLAIN: Nepath, really - the magma really doesn't get to do much until the very end. And Nepath is another villain cut from some very old Who cloth - the misguided megalomaniac doing godawful things for one personal vendetta or reason. He too didn't inspire me that much.

STYLE: Here's where I really get to the stuff I enjoyed. This book was filled with really cool writing bits, from the initial prologue describing a young Nepath watching the blaze, to the multiple big, obvious intros to someone who turns out not to be the Doctor and a small, quiet intro to the Doctor himself. The action scenes are written very well, and the fire motif throughout is handled nicely. It's simply a very well-written book.

OVERALL: ...except a lot of the supporting characters were a bit dull. But I'm willing to let that slide. The books' agenda, and the ones over the next few months, is to reintroduce us to what makes the Doctor who he is. This book had the Doctor doing a lot of Doctorish things and making the right speeches... yet there was so much that also seemed wrong. Not wrong as in poorly written, but deliberately wrong. And yes, I'm now sufficiently intrigued by this premise that (gasp) I want to keep reading. No matter how trad Justin is.


A Review by Finn Clark 22/8/00

Casual readers would probably be surprised to be told of The Burning's importance. After such recent world-shakers as Interference, Shadows of Avalon and The Ancestor Cell, this almost feels like the calm after the storm. It borrows from the horror genre, not in a big way but enough to make the threat seem appropriately menacing. It's deliberately modest in its scope. The drama is played out in a simple Victorian mining town. In some ways it's another interlude book like Coldheart and The Space Age, quietly doing its own thing and not making any waves in the Whoniverse at large. But those who've been following events behind the scenes will know that this is the beginning of the New Direction of Justin Richards. After three years of often tired and lacklustre books, we have a new editor with definite ideas about where the range should be going. So what does The Burning give us that is different?

It's a straightforward story, so simple that it sometimes felt almost simplistic. This isn't one of Justin's trademark uber-plotted novels, but an unsettling tale of well-meaning Victorians against a murderous menace. The locals really are nice folks, by the way. This impressed me. Most Doctor Who books have grisly murders, but not many make an effort to establish an emotional connection between these doomed folks and the reader.

But on the other hand, I'd been led to expect something special with and I couldn't help feeling vaguely disappointed. Admittedly this is hardly Justin Richards's fault. He's written a perfectly good book that kept me turning the pages, though the ending was visible a mile off. However there's one way in which The Burning differs violently from just about every Doctor Who book we've ever seen - the regulars.

Well, to be precise, the regular. The Doctor's on his own this time.

One of the defining features of the Doctor Who books has always been the companions. For almost a decade we've seen the Doctor defined by his relationships with Ace, Benny, Chris, Roz, Sam, Fitz and Compassion. They were his friends. They humanised the bastard and, for better or worse, defined the books that they were in. Sam Jones is the emblem of the early BBC books (which deserve her), just as Benny, Chris and Roz eventually became the true heroes of the NAs. Even the companionless books like Iceberg and Legacy of the Daleks hastened to create companion substitutes. We hardly ever saw inside the Doctor's head. He was the lead character, but always at a distance. We never knew him as we knew his human friends.

But The Burning is different, so much that it's almost disturbing for a long-time book reader. He's lost his memory. Everything from the past has been scrubbed away, from companions to past adventures. This isn't a rerun of the amnesiac McGann scenes from the TVM or The Eight Doctors, but more like a reboot of the Doctor's personality. This is an eighth Doctor almost as he would have been in An Unearthly Child, not yet having learned the compassion to which we're accustomed. It hasn't even occurred to him to travel around with humans. There's no one for him to trust, hug or bounce jokes off. As far as he's concerned, his life began from nothing a few years ago. This is our first glimpse of the new eighth Doctor.

And I applaud this. For three years we've had a happy pixie for an eighth Doctor, a grinning idiot loosely inspired by a handful of mannerisms and a regeneration story. If this Earth arc brings a re-examination of what it means to be the Doctor, going back to first principles, then perhaps the changeover from McCoy to McGann in the novels might at last have been worth it.

Had it starred the former Eighth Doctor and Sam, this would have been a quiet little story, well-told and enjoyable without making any great waves. As it stands, however, it's strange and slightly dislocating. With a Doctor as ignorant as the Victorians around him, we aren't even allowed the comfort of technobabble and easy explanations. I don't think this is Justin's best book, but it's still pretty good.

Restarts by Dr. Terry Evil 30/8/00

It's stated by one of my fellow reviewers that Justin Richards' book Tears of the Oracle was written in such a hurry that the first 50-odd pages are obviously written with no idea of the direction the rest of the book is going to take. The Burning is the opposite in that it's the last 50-odd pages that look like they're written in something of a frantic panic. Indeed, this is something of a turnabout for Richards, whose books are notorious (to me anyway) for being a bit dull for the first 200 pages before coming up with the goods - in the shape of lots of twists - in the last pages. All in all, The Burning is a bit of an unusual book.

It's is not so much a novel as a statement of intent. The purpose of The Ancestor Cell was to get rid of a lot of the baggage the books had acquired over the years, so that Justin Richards could make a new start and introduce his own vision of Doctor Who in book form. Taken on this level The Burning is a very effective book. By slewing off a lot of the unfocussed direction of the Steve Cole years, the books now have an admirable leanness. We are presented to an amnesiac Doctor with no past and whose inner thoughts we are not privy to. He's an unfathomable mystery, at once echoing aspects of the past and also forging a new and intriguing direction.

Although there are more dangling plot lines from The Ancestor Cell than hairs on my head, Richards wisely chooses to ignore them in favour of presenting a story that is not in any way constrained to the past. There's no TARDIS, no companions, no sonic screwdriver, no Doctor we recognise. In fact Justin plays with any preconceptions we might have by introducing a number of people who could be the Doctor before the real thing almost sneaks into a dinner party and starts nattering. This, coupled with the lack of the familiar, is a remarkably daring approach to character who has now entered the Guinness Book of Records for longevity.

Throughout, the Doctor is an unknowable presence. Whenever he does something we might recognise he immediately shocks us by doing something totally out of character. Too often lately the Doctor has been predictable when he should really be the epitome of the unexpected. It annoys me no end when people talk about the Doctor's portrayal as being 'out of character': he should never be so easily anticipated. In essence, he is mystery incarnate and should ever be so; question mark jumper or no. Richards' main purpose is to reinstate this, and the fact that he does so without referring to the Doctor's extraordinary past is a real achievement. The Doctor doesn't necessarily need reinvention, but he does need new thinking applied to him by his writers from time to time. In this regard, The Burning must be considered a success.

In other regards, however, The Burning fails pretty spectacularly, most notably as a book in and of itself. While there are some wonderful pieces of writing in those first 200 pages - the banquet scene, the Doctor's encounter with the toymaker (as previewed in the Telepress), some wonderfully observed three-way conversations between the Doctor, Dobbs and Stobbold - the thought put into the story doesn't match the thought put into its spirit of reinvention. What is usually Richards' great strength, his vice-like grip on a plot, lets him down badly. Solutions are telegraphed far in advance and rendered predictable, coincidences pop up all over the place - betraying a lack of fore-thought - and characters' motivations are unclear throughout. There is also a credibility gap between the Doctor's actions and the amount of belief he gets from those who take the place of companions in the story, although this is a minor gripe.

It's unfortunate that so much of the good intentions put into The Burning should be undone by such elementary mistakes. It's as if Richards, in the spirit of the 'new approach' he was advocating, sat down to write The Burning without a pre-prepared outline and found himself lacking time to shore up the resultant story's inconsistencies. But I believe history will judge The Burning favourably. The Doctor's ineffability can explain a lot of what looks at first glance like inconsistency. The Burning could have been near-perfect: there's so much promise in these pages and the Doctor is a genuinely intriguing character for the first time in ages. For those who think they know the Doctor, his portrayal here a bit of jolt and not an entirely pleasant one at that. If this is, as promised, a virtual blueprint for the future then there is more than enough to keep us reading. However, I can only hope that its poorness in other fundamental areas is merely a one-off.

A new body, at last! by Robert Smith? 17/9/00

It's exactly as promised. A new start, with a sense of freshness about it that's long overdue, a solid story and a fascinating Doctor.

If this were a PDA, it would be a nice, but unremarkable book, with about the same impact on the world at large as something like Richards' own Grave Matter. At first glance, it appears that it's only the take on the Doctor and the book's status as the first post-Milesian EDA that gives it any weight whatsoever.

And it's certainly true that both these things are important and not to be undervalued. We've haven't simply been waiting for this book, we've been actively needing it for years. It's perhaps ironic that a book that is so much about fire should come as such a breath of fresh air. However there's a lot going on here, both prominent and subtle, and just about all of it is rewarding.

First and foremost is the Doctor. He's alone and memoryless... and every single scene that he's in is fascinating reading. The introduction to the character is priceless. I guessed at once, of course, that the first description was a red herring, so I confidently expected the second to be the Doctor. And by the third, I was grinning like a madman... and it still took me by surprise when he finally showed up. That's pure Richards' genius, copyright 1993.

What's more, there are other clever things going on. Gaddis is set up as mysterious and fascinating, with a lot to offer... and yet he's promptly killed. Dobbs fulfills the companion role admirably... until he too gets lost while exploring the mine with the Doctor (and the fact that the Doctor didn't make more of an all-out effort to save him is itself telling). This reminds me a lot of Angela from Time of Your Life, with the corresponding sense of danger that the books need.

The Doctor is a fascinating character. He's suddenly alien again, which is a trick you'd think he wouldn't be able to pull off any more. We don't always know what his motives are or what he's thinking. He reminds me a lot of the Doctor in An Unearthly Child (not coincidentally, I'm certain). You can see the character that we know and love under the surface, but he hasn't had the humanising effects of his companions to mellow him. Yet he's still the eighth Doctor, perhaps more than he has been in a very long time.

I really loved his speech to Nepath, where he defends "our world". This Doctor is both more alien and less, since as far as he knows he's as human as everyone else. His even considering leaving Middletown to its fate is surprising and his actions with Nepath at the end are shocking... yet in character, for this brand new Doctor.

This is also a book that is absolutely continuity-free. Which is an utter delight, in my opinion. The Milesian view of the world is just a more intelligent version of the Gary Russell view: there might be new takes and radical reinterpretations on it, but there's still swathes of continuity all over the place. The Burning whittles Doctor Who down to its essential elements: the Doctor as focus, the TARDIS somewhere in the background, a rampaging monster and interaction with humans, including one of them as villain.

I adore the scene in the toy shop with every fibre of my being. That was an amazing piece of writing, far beyond Justin's usual workmanlike standards (and while I have no complaints whatsoever about those standards, it's amazing to see him pushing himself forward even here, where the rest of the book is good enough already). It has a real sense of beauty to it, which is something we don't get nearly enough. It's a gorgeous, touching scene, that's so good it could stand alone from the book it's in. Which is lucky, because I can't for the life of me figure out what relevance it has to anything (so much so that I'm hoping this is a setup for later on in the arc). If I didn't know better, I'd confidently point to that scene as the chapter which the author submitted to get his book accepted from the slushpile (although it was used in the telepress pre-promotional material, so that amounts to something similar).

This is a very solid book, but it's not a perfect one. Richards' books are usually plotted extremely tightly, whereas this one seems to meander gently. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's clearly something the author isn't overly familiar with. Middletown also doesn't quite gel as much as it should. We've got quite a detailed explanation for its setting in relation to the other towns that gets played out later, but it needed to be a bit stronger to work for me.

The ending, unfortunately, is damn obvious (ho, ho, ho - thankyouverymuch, I'll be here all week). Well, sort of. It's true that you spot a giant dam at the beginning of the novel and immediately think to yourself "That would be terribly useful if we had any sort of major outbreak of fire," much like the Doctor stumbling across some canisters that are only lethal to reptiles in episode one of Warriors of the Deep. However, the idea to use the dam isn't presented as a shock revelation the way I was expecting; when the Doctor first mentions it, he's had the idea for some time, but dismissed it because he couldn't control the water flow. It's true that things are a bit wobbly in the last fifty pages (and I for one desperately wish that the dam had been a red herring and they'd found some other way to defeat the creature), but I think it holds together. The only bit I violently object to is Stobbold's daughter coming back to life, after the point was made so clearly that these deaths were final.

That said, the non-explanation of the fire creature and its powers suited me just fine. With a monster in a non-futuristic Earth setting, it usually falls to the Doctor to clumsily explain the nature of it ("I know, I'll demonstrate a hitherto unmentioned and astonishingly useful power that will fill us in on the plot halfway through" ala The Devil Goblins from Neptune). Without an explanation, this reinforces the problems the Doctor has; for all we know he did encounter this creature before, but that's of no use whatsoever to him now. I like that.

I really like the TARDIS as a beacon pointing the Doctor to trouble. It always had a knack for landing it in the wrong place at the right time, which makes this a new and fascinating take even on this aspect of the series. I'm in awe. I'm also grateful that we didn't get any scene with Fitz in St Louis, checking his watch or something. I felt sure we would, and equally sure that that would ruin the effect the book was having. Instead we get to see the Doctor puzzling out the note with Dobbs, which just feels right on a great many levels.

The best word to describe The Burning is solid. It's a good read that's not let down at all when deadlines dictate that the last fifty pages have to hit overdrive. It's a great starting point, or a great place to start again after the leaden books preceding it. For once, the pre-book hype has actually been spot-on. The recent book it reminds me most of is probably Fall of Yquatine (my favourite in the Compassion arc, incidentally): an otherwise enjoyable story, made fascinating by its take on one of the main characters. What's great about this is the way it blends solid storytelling with new and fascinating ideas. Which is what Doctor Who should be all about, really.

An Exercise In Minimalism by Robert Thomas 14/11/00

Well a new era in the form of the Richards era for the books. This is the first changeover that I have read through at the time. What we have got is a fine book with fine characters, a good twist of keeping us waiting for The Doctor and good characters.

The story and characters are all nice and the twist before The Doctor arrives makes us pay more attention than we normally would to guest characters. Its nice to see that Justin Richards is not going through the dip in form that Red Dawn suggested.

We see a new Doctor also in this, darker, childlike and having no knowledge of his lives. This new Doctor even dusturbed me as he stalked a character. There are countless moments when we question The Doctor's actions, not all are cleared up to make him look good. By the way anyone notice how they wipe The Doctor's manerisms as McGann returns to Doctor Who via Big Finish. To all those who thought the audio's were unimportant, hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, you were wrong.

To finish maybe this is not an experiment of Richards in minimalism. But maybe what we can expect from the EDA's minus the baggage. This felt more like a PDA, fun.

A Review by Elsa Frohman 2/2/01

I finished The Burning last night.

Um... that was supposed to be the bold new direction?

Plot: Doesn't hold together. I've always thought of Justin as a writer who excelled at tight plots... but this is just sloppy. Nothing is particularly consistent or logical. I was never "sold" on the powerful evil threat. It didn't achieve any reality for me. It was just something a writer made up.

Characters: A few of them are engaging, but it hardly matters. They are discarded like used Kleenex.

The Doctor: Yes, we've restored the Doctor's alieness, but along the way, we've jetisoned anything that might be engaging about him. He's callous, and he lacks empathy for the people he is among. (See spoiler on this subject).

Setting: Pretty good. The atmosphere holds up well through the book, though sadly, I think it's the only element that really works.

OK, the specifics, and some SPOILERS:

Here's the thing... I don't think it's desirable to have the Doctor lead a friend, associate, companion, whatever... into an obviously dangerous situation, then leave them behind to make his escape, let them get killed, and afterward express absolutely no remorse for having pretty much screwed that person over. (Dobbs in the mine. Gaddis at the fissure). This doesn't tend to get me on his side. The business of bringing Betty back to life at the end is an enormous cheat, since everybody else stayed dead.

The whole ending, with the dam and Grant (A character who was barely developed before this, so doesn't have much impact in turning out to be posessed) and Wilson (another character who just drops into the story pretty much for the ending ... Oh yes, I know we saw him on the damn in an early scene... but he simply hadn't been prepared sufficiently to be a major player in the resolution) is just weak. All very convenient... all very contrived.

But my big problem with this book is: It's just one more that substitutes a high body count for storytelling. Can we give the horror genre a rest please? I'm just tired of shuffling, misshapen zombie monsters coming out of the mist to kill people. It's like everything bad about the Pertwee era (where no matter what the alien menace, it seemed to turn people into shuffling misshapen zombies... or green werewolves...) repainted and presented as something new.

The book is well paced, for all it's shortcomings. It's a fast read, and not one that tempted me to put it down and not pick it up again.

But after reading it, I'm feeling unsatisfied. It was like eating rice cakes. Looks like food... but...


A Review by Dominick Cericola 25/2/01

I've just finished reading The Burning, and if not for the notes I started composing yesterday at work, I would have nothing in this review other than one very large, bold-faced WOW!. It's been far, far too long since I have been able to breeze through an EDA, breeze through AND remember everything, characters included! This is a rare find, and as you will discover in my Review, it is a worthy beginning to the Second Season (can we truly call it anything else but??) of the Eighth Doctor..

Let me open by saying this is an incredibly creepy tale! I haven't had such a skin-crawling, goose-pimply good time since the 4th Doctor episode, Image of the Fendahl. Justin Richards is wholly in his element when he is writing horror or gothic horror as here or in his Prof. Summerfield NA, The Medusa Effect. He builds up, working the Reader, creating a sense of calm, then abruptly pulling the rug out from under us, then allowing a sense of calm to intrude, just in time for the next round of Chills! It was very untraditional Who, so much so that I had to remind myself every so often that it was still an adventure featuring The Doctor..

This a new beginning for the EDAs, as Richards not only helms the lead book, but also the seat as Editor (replacing Stephen Cole). With The Burning, he gives us characters who are strong and memorable, lingering in the embers of our Consciousness long after the book has closed. These are signs that we are perhaps finally past the bumpy ride of the initial EDAs, heading for smooth sailing ahead, with deeper stories and intricate plots.

As for the characters themselves, I once again resort to the "[Sean] Gaffney Method"..

THE DOCTOR: At first introduction, during dinner at Reverend Stubbold's, I was unsure of what to make of him. I think my Mind was still wincing from Richards' other EDA -- the terribly silly yet not-very-much-fun Demontage... But, any preconceived notions I had were immediately dispelled by the end of that Chapter's meal! ...Here we have a Doctor who, quite literally, is not all there. His memories are in disarray, not even complete in any way at all. His only link to his Past, Present, and Future is his as-yet-undeveloped TARDIS, still a glossy black cube (as seen in the conclusion to The Ancestor Cell), carried in the pocket of his coat. Due to the "blank slate" state of his mind, The Doctor's normal childlike innocence is even more pronounced here, yet somehow it is more believable.. Commendable work, Mr. Richards -- I look forward to speaking with you at Gallifrey 2001 in February..

Rev. STOBBOLD: Richards did a fantastic job in his creation here, a priest with Doubts and a willingness to seek answer answers in other Religions and Philosophies. Stobbold was the kind of character we've all been waiting for -- deep and emotional, an insightful character one could relate to, who wasn't so far-fetched as to be comical. My only regret was he didn't join the Doctor on his jouney at the end -- I thought he would make a unique Companion once the TARDIS and the Doctor are finished healing..

ROGER NEPATH: What a mean, selfish man!! Really..!! Rather than learn from his sister's death, moving on, giving up his far-too-intense for a boy of ANY age fascination with fire, he is allowed allows his grief and fascination to intertwine, becoming something worse, something that grafts itself to his Soul. A truly dark character who was giving a fitting end by the book's conclusion..

There are other others in this strange and oft-times disturbing adventure, yet those mentioned were the ones who really stood out the strongest in my mind..

The story arcs in the past have had rough starts, usually having equally rough and ill-timed endings, However, with this one, it appears we've given the EDAs a Regeneration of sorts, allowing the old fans a reason to stay on, as well as attracting new fans. I recommend EVERYONE give this one a try -- you won't be disappointed..

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 11/4/01

The new direction makes this book. Justin Richards, fittingly for the Editor of the “new arc” range, writes the first. Richards always populates his novels with a wild assortment of individuals. Here is no exception. Reverend Stobbold is the the most likeable of these. Roger Nepath is the most memorable with his collection of strange artefacts from far flung lands and people.

The Doctor is splendidly portrayed. A lack of memories caused by events from the previous novel The Ancestor Cell has deposited him in a time he favours – the late 19th Century. The memory loss puts the Doctor right back at the beginning – the enigmatic wanderer – except this time we know who his is, and he doesn’t. It’s a marvellously simple premise that works a treat.

His arrival on the scene is as it used to be – quietly getting into the confidences of the local populace. Richards skillfully introduces an array of characters in the first part of the book, and we have to figure out which is the Doctor. It’s clever, and I like that.

I fairly raced through it – eagerly lapping up the atmosphere of Middletown (a small mining community in rural England). The mine however is low on ore, and uncertainty is rife. The mine forms the focus of the story, and as the title suggests, fire plays a key part in the narrative.

Richards has carefully become one of the leading writers in the Doctor Who range. His books seem to get better and better. Overall this is a marvellous tale, supremely told. 10/10

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 13/1/01

The Burning is a new beginning for Doctor Who. After a year-long continuity-heavy story arc that ended up collapsing under its own weight, new editor Justin Richards has entered into the picture carrying a broom large enough to sweep away all traces of Faction Paradox, Gallifrey future wars, and companions that turn into TARDISes. The break certainly seems to cut off a lot of the history and continuity, but how drastic are the stylistic changes?

The Burning feels like an extremely low-key book after the excesses of the previous stories. No planets are in jeopardy here and no time traveling voodoo cults are attempting to rewrite history. The action is set entirely around a small English village at the end of the 19th Century that's experiencing some Who-style strange phenomena. There's one man to the rescue, of course, but who is he, and why is he helping?

The plot is surprisingly weak considering that this was written by Justin Richards. Several vital elements are given cursory descriptions and others aren't described at all. It really is a credit to Richards' skill as a writer that the end product is as readable as it is; in the hands of a lesser writer, this story could really have turned into a complete mess. As it exists now though, it is far from perfect. Much of the actions of the main villain are left unexplained, as are the relationships between the human agent, the creature and their control of the elements. The menace is never clearly explained, and while this may or may not have been done deliberately, I didn't care for the execution. Had the monsters merely been rationalized as forces of nature or something along those lines, I think it would have worked a lot better.

The Doctor's "new" character is, of course, one of the most debated points of this book. Certainly, he's a million times more interesting than the person seen in The Ancestor Cell, though much of the interest comes from the lack of knowledge that we have rather than an abundance of new facts. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; on the contrary, it's quite intriguing to have Doctor becoming a real mystery again. We don't know where he's coming from, we don't know why he acts in the way that he does and we don't know the extent of his amnesia. While this can be frustrating in a few places, it is a great hook to bring the reader back into the Doctor's story.

There were also some interesting passages concerning a determinism vs. free-will argument. The Doctor and a reverend muse over the possibility that if Newton's laws of motion extend to every particle of matter in the universe, then everything that is going to happen is predetermined - anything we do could have already been predicted, if one had access to enough information about the movement of those particles. The reverend can only surmise that the human soul somehow exists outside of these laws, but the Doctor doesn't seem so sure. While some these discussions were quite interesting, in places they were a bit too blatant. However, it was a nice parallel to the Doctor's emerging role in the story. While he enters the story without much to do and lacking the drive or ability to change what's going on around him, by the end he has managed to take control of the situation, albeit shakily. It's such a refreshing change after the past several books to actually see the Doctor involved in the plot and expressing himself on it. The Doctor has always been the ultimate expression of free will in the universe and it's nice to see an author remember that. Anything that compares the Doctor to the soul of the universe (even if it's just me reading too much into it) is all right by me.

In The Burning, we have an average story that is given a boost by putting some mystery and interest back into the character of the Doctor. It's notable that after a large, universe-spanning story-arc, we're back to a remote setting with the Doctor simply helping people. Despite the problems with the story, the book comes as a breath of fresh air and sparks hope and interest for the future.

Promising....very promising... by Joe Ford 16/12/01

Having been dragged back to the novel chain of current Who thanks to the stellar TARDIS line up of The Doctor, Fitz and Anji I thought only fair to see how they were drawn together in the first place. Imagine then my surprise when I discovered it was preceeded by a six story arc concerning an amnesiac Doctor, no time travel (really) or any companions!!! Devastated is the word, the Doctor on his own....prepostorous, thinks me! No companions to identify with??? Then imagine my greater surprise when I pick up The Burning only to discover it is one of the most refreshing pieces of Who I've seen in many, many years...

Doctor Who is a show that prides itself on continuity, given it's so old now it's hardly surprising there are mentions of the past so frequently. But at times this can be annoying, the Master popping up every five minutes or the Time Lords involvement in EVERYTHING! Well a big sloppy kiss for Justin Richards (bless him!) for returning the wonder and excitement back into the franchise. With all the baggage Who has dropped we have a story which stands completely on it's own, with the only thing to remind you it is Dr Who being the enigmatic man himself!

And what a Doctor! Arrogant, rude, at times heartless and breathlessly courageous...I was drawn immediately to this darker shade of McGann's Doctor. Several points in the book I gasped with horror thinking 'this isn't something the Doctor would do!' and immediately realising how much fun that reaction was! We've never seen the Doc so lost, so desperate and dare I say it (in places) so nasty! It reminded me at times of Colin Baker's portrayl which can be know bad thing since he is my favourite TV persona. As he drove off at the end I found myself desperate to know where he would go or what he would do next I went out straight away and bought Casualties of War.

But what of the story itself...? Justin has a remarkable talent for turning the ordinary extrordinary and this is no excepting. Middletown is a fantastically eerie location to set this fabulous 'monster' story. The villan of the piece, Nepath, is wonderful, eccentric and charming, as Who villans have a tendancy to be but what seperates him is his tragic backstory involving his sister. Even though he sold his soul to the devil, he had a reason, a purpose...which makes his final confrontation with the Doctor that bit more poignant.

It starts as a slow piece, heavy on atmosphere and character work which is no bad thing because as I grew to like these quirky people I was all the more horrified as they were killed. Stellar work there. But midway through the pace picks up frentically and rushes towards a gruesome albeit enjoyably signposted conclusion. The Doc's late night visit to Urton's manor and the piece in the mine as the burning figure melted from the walls were great action pieces that had me turning the pages faster and faster!

I read a review once that said Justin Richards writes at such a frantic pace you don't notice his terrible prose and I have to say that this is simply nonsense. This was an incredibly descriptive book and intensely evocative in places...the snowy death scenes, the molten downpour over the town...vivid to the point that I wish it had been made for the movies!

A promising direction, a memorable horror story and some marvellous characters (Dobbs and Stobbold were superbly drawn!) add to make an intensely enjoyable tale. Bring on Casualties of War!

Supplement, 18/11/04:

This story would make an excellent pilot for a series. Seriously! A mysterious stranger wanders into a sleepy English village in the nineteenth century with no friends, no memories and no transport and battles the forces of the flame in a horrific drama. It would rock! Who is this mysterious stranger? What are his secrets? Why has he lost his memory?

Of course we know this is the Doctor, defender of the universe and all that but here he is totally unrecognisable from the heroic figure we are used to, not just a world apart from the eighth Doctor's jubilant self but from any of the Doctors. It is possibly the most interesting re-interpretation of the character we have ever seen, much more compelling than the McCoy transformation between seasons 24 and 25 because this Doctor is totally unpredictable from one page to the next and even more shockingly, he is a real nasty piece of work too. I was astonished at how far Justin Richards took this unlikable character, scoffing people's opinions in intelligent conversation, oblivious to the deaths of his newfound friends, patronising to his hosts and even assisting in the death of a man. This is not the Doctor we know and recognise; even Colin Baker's brash sixth Doctor had more redeeming features and to Justin's credit the amnesiac eighth Doctor doesn't reform at the book's climax, he helps defeat the evil intelligence and then moves on to the next spot of trouble, with barely a word of acknowledgement.

Needless to say this spiky Doctor is much more interesting to he previous Steve-Cole-inspired persona. I have never seen him so angry before, he seemed to be so aggressive throughout the book, perhaps in frustration to his lack of memories and lack of direction. He just drifts into the story without apology, gate crashing a dinner party at Lord Urton's with each character assuming he is there at the invitation of one of the other guests. He cuts quite a tragic figure, explosively resolved to discover more about himself. One scene that made me sit up and pay attention was his vicious verbal assault on poor Stobbold, when he tires of his scepticism and shakes him by the shoulders and tell him all his parishioners are dead.

Is there enough of a story to hold the book up without this spanking new Doctor to add some spice? Yes frankly, this is not your typical Justin Richards novel at all, he seems determined to shake off his image and try his hand at something new. With Richards we are used to entertaining, fluffy books, occasionally dramatic, often hilarious and always full of twists. Rather than his much-favoured lightning pace, he slows The Burning right down. Instead of obsessing over the plot he favours the characters and their take on the situation and rather than setting up the book for a quick fire succession of twists he reveals the solution early on in the book and leaves the intelligent dialogue and atmospheric writing to win you over. There are no regulars to capture (and he usually does this so damn well) so instead he creates some wonderfully memorable secondary characters (Dobbs, Nepath, Stobbold) and he fills the second half full of super scary scenes, perfect for reading on these cold winter nights.

Personally I think it is one of his strongest books and that is saying something.

The imagery is striking, Justin using the idea of fire as a enemy and taking it to extremes. I'm not sure what impressed me more... 1) Dobbs surrounded by human figures, made purely of fire and burned to death, 2) Mrs Urton confronted with the putrefying corpse of Patience Nepath and having her face burnt off with molten hot hands, 3) the bright red metal-lava vomiting from the mine and claiming the moorland, 4) the army of fire-creatures marching through the ash to kill the inhabitants of Middletown... we were treated to some of Justin's eye for atmospherically written horror in Sands of Time and Grave Matter but they pale in comparison to The Burning's horrific material. I have never thought of Justin as the best prose writer despite his successful turn on a number of genres (comedy, horror, character drama, thriller) but this book is much better written, stylistically speaking, than most of his others. He loves reminding us of the season, lots of scenes punctuated with strong wind, biting snow and hissing, crackling fires. Read this under the covers with the window open on a windy night, it is essential bedtime reading.

I have heard people comment that it is odd to read a book without companions but this is another plus in my eyes. As good as Fitz and Compassion were their presence in this book would have been unwelcome. The companion role is taken by a number of characters, most of which reach an unfortunate fate, highlighting Justin at his unpredictable best.

Of the four main characters Dobbs was my favourite because of his strength of character and his grumpiness (I love grumpy people!). Initially just in Middletown to investigate the fissure, he soon gets embroiled in a breathless adventure, spying on the army, breaking and entering and fighting vicious fire monsters. There is usually a rational character in Doctor Who, someone to turn his/her nose up at the ridiculous claims the Doctor comes out with and Dobbs strikes me as more intelligent than the average Lethbridge-Stewart, how he demands a scientific explanation never seems forced or unreasonable and his arguments in this vein with his young colleague Gaddis are inspirational. His humanity is highlighted against the Doctor's lack of, especially their very different reactions to Gaddis' murder. His violent, frightening murder in the mine was the shock of the book for me, far more jaw-dropping than the revelation (huh!) about the dam.

Stobbold also stands out well, a reliable, consistent character who only abandons his demands for etiquette from his guests when the situation spirals out of control. Maybe he was a bit slow figuring out his daughter's involvement in the plot but his reaction to her apparent death is genuinely moving, as is their joyous reconciliation at the conclusion. His uneven relationship with the Doctor, early on questioning his dishonourable actions and later believing with total conviction in his claims, shows incredible growth.

My favourite bits were the antagonistic scenes between the Doctor and Nepath which are in turns childish, tense and astonishing. I loved the Doctor's rather pathetic efforts to thwart Nepath's early attempts to get funding for his mine project, claiming his statuary at the auction are fakes (never before has the word bric-a-brac been funnier!). When Nepath steps up his plans, killing the Doctor's friends, he confronts the man on the nature of the fire creature, condemning him for believing their promises to bring his sister back to life. Terrifying and necessary are the Doctor's merciless jabs that his sister is dead and no amount of world destruction will change that. The best is saved for last though, with the Doctor, unrelenting in his sense of justice, viciously kicks Nepath under water rather than pulling him up, killing the man. Ouch, it's a hard passage to read but it confirms what we have all been suspecting, this really isn't the Doctor anymore...

It's good that the imagery and characterisation are so strong because the plot is a little on the thin side. Scenes are long and talky at first, revelling in the atmosphere of the period and intellectual conversation and perfect for those of us who enjoy thoughtful writing (erm, me!) but disappointing to those expecting a quick, pacey conclusion to The Ancestor Cell. Much of the book adheres to the cliches of horror books, horrid things happening to nice people, creepy houses, unknown evil, horrible deaths but it's all written with such confidence it's impossible not to get swept away by it all. The ending almost threatens to bring the book down with the obvious dam soloution out in the open but Richards pulls out his ace card with the Doctor's failure to save Nepath, much more memorable to the conclusion of his main plot.

I never had any issues with the mysterious origins of the fire creature but the revelation of its birth under the Earth, a consequence of the events in Time Zero, a book released three years later (and set one hundred years later) is rather ingenious and provides fabulous symmetry for what I still believe is the best run of Doctor Who books yet (Oh come on! The Turing Test, Father Time, Eater of Wasps, Year of Intelligent Tigers, City of the Dead, Adventuress, Mad Dogs, Anachrophobia, The Crooked World, Camera Obscura! What treats!).

The Burning is totally unexpected after the dramatic events of The Ancestor Cell. A (mostly) quiet horror tale in a small English mining town is a sharp contrast to the universal setting of the previous climatic book. But I think we all know which is the better book, The Burning capitalising on Doctor Who's strengths, strong characters fighting an alien evil in a recognisable setting. It's genuinely page-turning and delights in making you squeal with frightened delight

Plus, it's one of the first Doctor Who books that could be read by anyone, fans and non-fans alike. We have finally said fuck off to all that horrid continuity!

A Review by Terrence Keenan 24/4/02

Justin Richards is an author that never fails to amaze me: the consistency of his writing; the wonderful headspinning plot twists; an ability to capture both Doctors and companions to a T, and damn good solid storytelling.

Therefore, after the giant reset button of The Ancestor Cell, Richards gets to set the future of Doctor Who in his own image. And he does so by jettisoning all previous continuity, and giving us a version of the Doctor that is familiar, yet very alien.

The story, for once, isn't filled with the classic kick in the bum plot twists Richards is famous for. Instead, its relative straightforwardness shows a different side of Justin. Whether subconscious or not, there are nods to both Spearhead from Space and Inferno -- Spearhead being a complete reboot of Doctor Who at the time, Inferno for variations on the various plot points -- in The Burning.

The story begins with some wonderful false intros for the Doctor before we actually meet him at a dinner party where he's slipped in with the rest. The false intros also allow us to meet some of the other key players in the story, specificially the villain, Roger Nepath, and the companion figures of Stoddard and Dobbs. Richards is never going to give us the uber-deep characterization of a Paul Cornell. What Richards will give you is straight up solid archetype characters with enough personality to make them more than one dimensional. And each of the main characters -- Nepath, Dobbs, Stoddard all have their moments to shine.

The Doctor is the real treat. He has no past, except for the few recent years he's spent on Earth. And although the easy route would be to have the Doc agonize over this fact, Richards does the smart thing and make it part of him, but not have him angst over it. It drives the Doc, but it doesn't consume the character, nor does it overwhelm the story. This version of the Doctor has morals, but is alien, can empathise with the people around him, but also shut them off. He's unpredictible, spiky and definitely not a congenial idiot. Richards shows this new version of the Doctor to be one of action when need be, and of cold judegment as well. This is something very special.

The writing, in itself, is the ususal solid Richards prose. Justin is from the Uncle Terrance Dicks school of less is more. However, there are a few standout scenes and images in The Burning, particularly the scene in the toyshop early on and in the climax, where he neatly balances the action on the dam with the final confrontation between the Doctor and Nepath.

In the end, The Burning is another example of just how good Justin Richards is as a writer. As a kick off for a new era, and as a straight-up Doctor Who story, I can think of few better than The Burning.

Highly Recommended.

A Review by Brett Walther 17/8/03

I loved The Banquo Legacy. With its incredible cast of characters, a gorgeously depicted period setting and a pair of chilling villains, it remains my favourite Eighth Doctor adventure.

The Burning is like The Banquo Legacy's ugly kid sister. With only The Ancestor Cell between the two books, it's impossible not to draw parallels between The Banquo Legacy and The Burning, and unfortunately, the latter is vastly inferior in every way.

Like The Banquo Legacy, the plot revolves around an incestuous relationship between the main villain and his sister, whom he wants to raise from the dead. The setting is also remarkably similar: winter in a backwater rural town at the turn of the century. It's simply too soon to be revisiting these themes and locales, especially since nothing is added to what was already accomplished in The Banquo Legacy.

The Burning also has the dubious honour of surpassing The Face-Eater as featuring the most poorly defined monster in the history of the series. I would love to see Peter Haining try to classify (or even identify) the creature in The Burning in yet another volume in his dreadful "reference" series. "Fire", perhaps? "Sentient magma?" I don't know. I imagine it's terribly symbolic, but it just doesn't work for me, and reeks of lazy writing.

Further evidence of Justin Richards' uncharacteristic lack of ambition includes the early emphasis on the dam, making the conclusion highly obvious from the very beginning. I have consistently enjoyed Richards' contributions to the range, but in The Burning, it's like the plot is an afterthought to the effort of redefining the Eighth Doctor, which is admittedly done very well.

I imagine the manner in which the Doctor defeats Nepath himself is supposed to be shocking and slightly disturbing, but given the fact that Nepath has engineered the violent deaths of a number of innocent and well-drawn characters, it's difficult not to cheer the Doctor on. This new Doctor -- free from the burden of his sense of moral superiority inherent in being a Time Lord -- is in a way both more alien and more human at the same time, and he's much more interesting as a result.

It's a just a shame that this brilliant new Doctor isn't put to a more interesting challenge.


A Review by Brian May 30/6/12 The Burning is a very low-key book, simply plotted but substantial in its content. It represents a new direction after the chaotic, sometimes messy twelve-book story arc immediately preceding it; the contrast between that series' finale, The Ancestor Cell, and this adventure couldn't be more pronounced.

I should qualify "low-key". It's not exactly the term you might use to describe a tale of a molten, sentient mass of destruction spewing out of the Earth and causing untold chaos. But, coming after all the Faction Paradox, Compassion and Gallifrey goings-on, it's subdued indeed. Justin Richards's usual high quality of authorship - which had slipped somewhat in his previous (solo) Eighth Doctor books - has well and truly returned here. You can tell it's a book he's really put his heart into, not just one required to plug a gap in the publishing schedule. The prose, mood and dialogue are all first rate. The feel of a midlands town forgotten by the Industrial Revolution is exquisite, the atmosphere very forlorn and desolate, helped no end by the winter setting.

The supporting characters are solidly written; Stobbold is probably the best realised of all, especially after the death of Dobbs, when he steps up to be the temporary companion. Nepath avoids being the stock-standard villain by his backstory, his yearning for his dead sister giving him a sympathetic edge. The rest are all respectably passable.

But what of the Doctor? At this point in the range, he's been written with an annoying inconsistency. What consensus there was in most writers' approaches usually made him vague and ineffectual. The underlying scenario here, that the Doctor has lost his memory, gives Richards carte blanche. If he wishes to write him along a completely new line, unrecognisably out of character, well he can! What is actually achieved is quite admirable: there are obvious signs of reinvention, but there's still an authentic rendition of Paul McGann's only televised appearance as the Doctor, ensuring the speech patterns and mannerisms are all correct. So what are we to make of the ending, when he fails to save Nepath? A throwback to the sinister seventh Doctor of the New Adventures? A new, dangerous edge? Whatever the case, I find the character very convincing on the whole. There's a wonderfully funny moment when Nepath chides him for "playing" with the material he's spruiking, which brings to the Doctor a child-like air. Conversely on p.157 there's a deadly serious moment, when the Doctor is more alien than ever. It's lifted straight from Pyramids of Mars, I grant you, but it works to great effect here.

Richards displays his usual trickery with his readers. When Nepath first appears, we're all thinking it's the introduction of the as-yet-unseen Doctor, due to his depiction as a mysterious stranger with a touch of the unearthly. It happens again on pp.38-39 before we discover we're actually meeting Stobbold. And when the Doctor finally comes into the picture, he's been seated at Urton's dining table for ages. They make for some nicely understated gotcha moments.

Overall The Burning is an enjoyable read, atmospheric, evocative and tragic at times (Dobbs's unexpected death in particular). The Doctor's amnesia represents an all-out clean sweep, not just for the character but also BBC Books, setting up future stories as we start to follow him through Earth's history, waiting to see where and when he will arrive next. 8/10

A Review by Steve White 10/2/17

The Burning looks good doesn't it? I mean it has an awesome cover, possibly the best of the range. The blurb sounds good too, an amnesiac Doctor trapped in the past on Earth. Oh and Justin Richards is the author as well as the new range editor. This is like Christmas.

Sadly, it turns out The Burning is actually more like Boxing Day when you realise all the goodness has gone and you're left with a hollow feeling inside. I know people love this book and laud it with praise, but I struggled to get on board with the vast majority of it.

The story of The Burning just isn't all that exciting. A town called Middletown is experiencing a lull as the tin mine is out of ore, but rich stranger Roger Nepath offers to buy and reopen the mine. Meanwhile, a large crack appears in the landscape and people start dying. It soon becomes clear that Nepath has sinister motives, and is in fact trying to resurrect his dead sister using elemental forces, and Middletown just happens to be where the forces are manifested. It's run of the mill Doctor Who novel stuff in fairness, so it should be interesting, but the pace is so slow. The Doctor takes a while to arrive, with the scene being set long before he does show up. When he does make an appearance, he is far from any Doctor we know and love (more on that later) and instead just seems to add to the generic period cast. The Burning then seems to repeat itself, with numerous run ins between Nepath and the Doctor before the final devastating showdown, where the Doctor resorts to murder. The core story is great, but it seems to be padded with lots of unnecessary bits, which without the Doctor and Fitz are really quite boring.

As touched upon earlier, The Doctor just isn't the Doctor. Now I know this is to be expected as he is alone and memory-less, but he has practically none of the Doctor's traits. You'd expect a slight carry over, but there is nothing. From William Hartnell to Paul McGann (and now to Peter Capaldi), there has been something Doctorish about them all; this isn't the same man. He could be anybody, and that's maybe the point, but it didn't sit well with me at all, especially when he lets Nepath drown.

The Burning has no other regular characters so relies on the guest cast, most of whom are forgettable period characters. The only one of note is Nepath, who is acting on love for his sister more than any real villainy, and he is done fairly well. The true villains are the magma creatures, but I struggle to get behind the science of them and therefore didn't enjoy them as much as I could.

For a novel that looked like it could be the best in the range, The Burning just failed to deliver a Doctor Who novel. The story was so-so, and the Doctor we know was nowhere to be seen, which is a brave but stupid move, in my opinion. I have read all the other "trapped on Earth" books, so I know what Justin Richards was trying to do, he just did it very badly. That cover is still great though.