The Cat's Cradle Series
A Story Arc
|Synopsis: Three worlds stand on the edge of destruction and only the absent Doctor can save them. The powers of the mind of children may prove to be his salvation or his undoing...|
A Review by Eric Briggs 14/8/00
Okay, the Timewyrm Cycle was nothing more than a segue. The Cat's Cradle books were a much more characteristic overture to the New Adventures. Three books which are difficult to understand.
There are a few different levels on which you can mildly insult these books. The umbrella plot that was attributed to Peter Darvill-Evans was that the TARDIS contracted some maddeningly specific little lurgi, which lead to a catastrophic adventure like Time's Crucible and an adventure which had nothing to do with the TARDIS at all - Warhead. Top it all off with a wet little Welsh fantasy (Witch Mark) that provided the arc with closure. The TARDIS was cured of whatever was wrong with it in the first place by an antiseptic little splodge left over from Tir na n-Og that nobody's ever going to believe. Oh, and there's a cat in it too.
The arc even had a little postlude that escaped the casual reader completely. Months later, it transpired that the ectoplasm that cured the TARDIS didn't cure it completely, and it started to erode the Doctor's mind so he had to lose Ace for three years so she could be seen to be acting independently when she came back and cured him... None of this makes great sense and the original motives in books like Love and War and Transit were good enough explanations anyways. Well, maybe not Transit...
Looking back on these early New Adventures from the Year 2000 it's amusing to think about how fast the Virgin books came out of the gate. None of this BBC Books mucking-about-for-six-months-until-someone-writes-a-good-book-and-then-taking-advantage-of-it-until-the-author-goes-completely-mad nonsense. Oh no. They started right off with a four-story arc, and then doodled with another bunch of ideas through Cat's Cradle and then reused the same ideas right up until Lucifer Rising and arguably even after that. New Adventures plots became confusing as a tradition, even the good ones. Sex had been hinted at in Timewyrm: Genesys but the first actual penetration was in Warhead.
The Timewyrm saga had a certain number of bewildering references in them, but Time's Crucible was the first New Adventure to consciously ape the style of an established author - Mervyn Peake. And then, bang bang, Cyberpunk and Fantasy, right after one another. Blended with a bit more fannishness, pirouettes in the Cat's Cradle books became a workable format for the New Adventures for the next several years. Love it to death.
String and Air by Robert Smith? 26/6/02
The NAs began their sophomore year with a very different sort of arc to the Timewyrm. The Cat's Cradle arc puzzled many readers, since it appeared to consist of three entirely disconnected stories with nothing but a mysterious silver cat who wandered in and out of the stories at random. However the Cat's Cradle arc was a lot more subtle than the previous one, with similar themes and set pieces rather than a continuing plot thread holding them together.
Time's Crucible was a book so complex even its editor got a headache. It suffers from a dense and complicated plot and takes at least two readings to decipher. Having a second groundbreaking book immediately after Revelation could have been a mistake, but it demonstrated the NA Agenda [tm] from the start. Having found their footing with the astonishing Revelation, the NAs were quick to follow it up with quality novels that built on the hints and themes that the early successful books had started.
Time's Crucible saw the TARDIS shattered into a bleak world of multiple time zones and recurring events, like a painting of historical events in motion. There were flashbacks to the old time on Gallifrey, with appearances from Rassilon, Omega... and the mysterious Other, who had previously appeared in the novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks. It's an astonishing book, even now, introducing an enormous number of ideas that set the tone of the NAs from the start. The controversial Looms, the idea of reincarnation preceding regeneration, the Doctor's connection to an ancient time that occurred long before he was loomed, the sterility of the Time Lords and the original division between magic and science. Most of its mysteries would be investigated throughout later books, but the actual questions would only receive answers at the very end of the series' run. Time's Crucible sets the NAs in motion, with almost all the early themes present.
Early readers were expecting the second book in the arc to follow up the TARDIS's near-destruction, the nature of the Doctor's past and the ancient Time Lords. What they got was rather different. Warhead saw the series first full-blown foray into Cyberpunk territory, pulling out all the stops. The Doctor's barely in it, the word TARDIS appears precisely once (on page 143 Ace asks how it is and the Doctor says "Waiting") and the only continuity to the previous story appears to be the presence of the mysterious silver cat in a few scenes. It's hard to imagine two more different books.
Or is it?
Time's Crucible is set in a bleak and depressing world on the brink of collapse. It features a key division between magic and science and a young boy with astonishing mental powers that he can't fully control. After the opening scenes, the Doctor is completely absent from the first third of the book, giving Ace the Doctorish role for the first part. There's also a very detailed slow-panning scene when the Doctor reenters the plot.
Warhead, on the other hand, is set in a bleak and depressing world on the brink of collapse. It features a key division between magic and science and a young boy with astonishing mental powers that he can't fully control. After the opening scenes, the Doctor is completely absent from the first third of the book, giving Ace the Doctorish role for the first part. There's also a very detailed slow-panning scene when the Doctor reenters the plot.
Warhead is no less astonishing than its twin. It's presented in bite-sized chunks, meaning each chapter is almost a short story in its own right. It pushes the envelope in a completely different direction to it's two predecessors... but the concept that the NAs could a) stand free of the series' continuity and b) actually thrive with a diminished role for the Doctor would be two aspects that would take the NAs on their successful journey through the next five years. The Doctor is also forced to desperately improvise the resolution when his masterplan fails because he didn't take love into account... making this one of the most Doctor Whoish books in existence.
Witchmark is not as memorable as the other two books in the arc, but it was a nice respite from the heavy going of the previous novels. It also features a bleak and depressing world on the brink of collapse, a key division between magic and science and a young girl with mental powers she can't fully control. The silver cat is shoehorned into the plot at the end and it's suggested in Deceit that the Doctor was accidentally infected with a demonic spark in this book that caused him to go all angsty in subsequent novels. Whether that's a subtle arc or a ludicrous retcon has been the subject of much debate, but it shows that even the weakest book of 1992 had something to offer the future of the range.
Perhaps sensing that the theme was a bit too subtle for all the readers who'd complained that the three books were nothing like each other, the Cat's Cradle trilogy saw the last of the explicit story arc titles. However, it's a much tighter story arc than the overt Timewyrm one that precedes it and two thirds of it are utter brilliance (which also beats Timewyrm, which was half brilliant and half utter dross). The Cat's Cradle arc was followed by a true standalone story... and then the book after that a new story arc began, only this time without the explicit title. The NAs knew precisely what they were doing, right from the beginning, and weren't going to compromise because some people didn't like it. The Cat's Cradle arc might not have been the interlinked story everyone was expecting, but it was still thematically linked, subtle and frequently brilliant. I know which one I prefer.