Caught on Earth
A Story Arc
|Synopsis: The eighth Doctor finds himself trapped on his favourite planet for a hundred years.|
More Than The Sum of Its Parts by Dr. Terry Evil 12/2/01
We've had arcs before of course. Or things that claim to be arcs. The use of the word suggests something that has prior thought put in; a story that unravels itself over several books or episodes, with genuine progression and the feeling of building to something. Most arcs in Doctor Who have been nothing of the sort: they are generally, and very obviously, a load of standalone stories that have a few plot mentions shoehorned in. Things like The Key to Time, The Timewyrm, the Alternative History sequence, the Psi Powers sequence, the Sam is Lost books or the Compassion arc have been notable for containing most of their plot stuff in the first and last stories, with the stories in the middle being all too easily disposable. Possibly the most successful foray into all this so far has been Trial of a Time Lord, which says it all really.
An arc needs progression; it needs events to change along its course, to describe the parabola after which it is named. Unfortunately this is a very hard thing to achieve and its admirable to even try it. The Caught on Earth Arc, as it has become known, is by far the best arc Doctor Who has so far produced, but it still isn't quite there. The interesting thing about the arc is how like the individual books it is: fantastic idea, some good execution and falling apart towards the end.
For a start it's just a damn good idea. Stick the Doctor at the beginning of the last century with no memory and see how he deals with the situation. Right away an arc is described as he has to live through all those historical events which have become so familiar to us. We also have the opportunity to 'limit' the Doctor in such a way that the possibilities are multitudinous - the 'all time and space' setting of Doctor Who can sometimes be as much a hindrance as a help. I'm sure a lot of people had their creative imaginations fired by what possibilities the very idea threw up, which may explain why a lot of people have expressed disappointment at the execution. But that's decidedly unfair; the Earth Arc, ultimately, is not an idea but a series of books and criticising the arc for what it didn't do is alike to criticising oranges for not being apples.
Plus we also get stories that focus on something that's been sorely neglected of late: the character of the Doctor. Too often it's been easy to predict him (or at least, write him in an easily predictable way); too often he's become the bloke through whose eyes we see the story the author actually wants to tell. Personally I don't think there's anything too wrong with such approaches, so long as the Doctor has a least one moment to shine and show off his abilities. But lately he has been submerged by poor writing that fails to make him shine like we all know he can, making him somebody who can predictably rescue the good guys and see off the bad guys. He should never be so easily predicted, particularly in the expansive scope available to books.
So what about these books? They're a varied lot to be sure. Simply compare what are traditionally meant to the most important books in any arc: the first and last. The Burning remains a fascinating work, and possibly unique in its fierce single-minded vision. For maybe the first time in the books, the Doctor is as mysterious as he was first conceived to be. A character whose thoughts we are not privy to, and whose motivations are subtly expressed; sometimes predictable in their unpredictability, sometimes totally clouded. Exactly how he first appeared. In Escape Velocity we get the complete opposite: every interior motivation is signposted and explained. How ironic that they should be respectively written by a seasoned novel writer and a seasoned TV writer, with the novel writer leaving interior thoughts as opaque as they are on TV and the TV writer explaining every ambiguity in explicit detail.
Clearly we were wrong about The Burning. On first publication it was taken as a statement of intent by the editor and a guideline for how the line of 'current' novels should be approached from then on. Certainly, Casualties of War seems to be following this formula, but after that everything seems to be up for grabs. It's to Justin Richards's credit that he didn't impose his views overmuch on the line, as that would be essentially self-defeating (a great strength of the Doctor Who line has been its diversity). But it is kind of bizarre what still got through the net after The Burning. It seems inconceivable that books like Endgame and Escape Velocity should be a part of what looks like such a clear vision outlined in The Burning.
But then The Burning isn't perfect. Its intentions are spot on but its execution leaves something to be desired. For every truly marvellous section like the Dinner Party or the Curiosity Shop, there's some ill thought-out plotting to remind you that true quality may still be only a pipe dream. For every real 'sit up and take notice' moment like the Doctor's did-he-or-didn't-he final reckoning with Nepath, we get unavoidably corny resurrections. Similarly with Casualties of War, which contains some beautiful evocations and wonderfully subtle character interplay, only to mess up on something so basic as a intriguing story. Like The Burning, the main fault of Casualties of War - its only fault really - was to still play the Doctor Who adventure story card. While the execution contains a lot of thought and effort, essentially they are hung around very traditional Doctor Who stories. And these stories just aren't good enough, doubly hamstrung as they are by the weight of history that such stories contain and the failure to do anything sufficiently new or different with them.
Both The Burning and Casualties of War contain monsters. While they are presented as ineffably as possible, they're still monsters. And if you're going to include monsters, you've got to give them original motivations to stop them looking like all the other monsters Doctor Who is renowned for, as well as giving the Doctor an original way of defeating them. The fact that both stories essentially feature the Doctor beating these foes in rather dull ways (predictable in The Burning, glossed over in Casualties of War) exposes these stories as fine facias wrapped around some very shaky constructions. The question has to be asked: why on earth make them monster stories in the first place? This is something that Paul Leonard could have helped both Justin Richards and Steve Emmerson with.
The Turing Test is the undoubted masterpiece of the Earth Arc, and it's a wonder that it only took the Doctor 50 odd years of living on Earth before he faced something that we hadn't seen before. Again, there are similarities with the first two books: a restraining hand put on the Doctor's interior monologues; strange and ineffable monsters/aliens; the Doctor as an unpredictable presence once again. But it's as if Leonard took these requirements and actually thought them through. No interior monologues, so let's hand the story over to outside narrators. Inexplicable monsters, so let's make them truly inexplicable and not really monsters (and make it clear that they are not as important to the story as how the characters interact with them). An unpredictable Doctor, so how would he react if given a chance to escape the world but had to tread on people's toes to get it? From such thoughts are great fiction made.
The Turing Test takes a lot of risks but never loses sight of the true essentials of what makes a good Doctor Who story. Battles between good and evil - as represented by the Doctor and the monsters - should only be the springboard for a story. To give that story life, you've got to twist things around, surprise the reader, give them thrills and shocks and basically surprise the hell out of them both in original prose and original plot. Just playing to what worked before isn't going to cut it. I think Justin secretly knows this if the intentions of the Earth Arc so far signifies anything; which makes his commissioning of Terrance Dicks all the stranger.
It's hard to know what to make of Endgame. Whether it would have been any better had Terrance had more time to write it; how much worse would it have been without Justin's additions; whether Justin honestly believed that the grandest daddy of Doctor Who fiction was really the right guy to get on board for what was shaping up to be a challenging new direction for the line. As it is, Endgame looks like a sap to the traditionalists, lest they get too upset by such books like The Turing Test and its undoubted riskiness. The three books up 'til Endgame tread all over the rad and trad debate, making it look as arcane and ridiculous as it is. Endgame not only revives it but sends it back into battle. So let's address it one more time.
There should always be room for books with the remit of Endgame in the Doctor Who line. Straightforward adventure fiction that doesn't try to work on hundreds of meta levels and just sets out with the intention of entertaining the pants off the reader. Too much referencing and allusions can alienate even the most intelligent readers. The Turing Test may well have not worked and just wound up an incoherent, pretentious mess that failed to please anyone. As it is it worked a treat, and it's the following book - that may have been commissioned to get back the readers so alienated - that fails in its aims. Endgame is a book that completely misses the point of the Earth Arc so far: we have the Doctor's thoughts spelt out to us (he's a bit depressed about things, apparently); he indulges in some thoroughly boring actions, including hand-to-hand combat (the whole point of the Doctor's aversion to violence is not that 'it's not in his character', it's that it is what we would do when faced by a murderous enemy - so much better for the Doctor to do something we would never do ourselves); and his enemy is the least mysterious bunch of no-marks imaginable (their whole raison d'être is spelt out on page one).
The chief reason to continue reading Endgame is to see how a) the villains are going to achieve their ends and b) how the Doctor is going to foil something that would normally take him about five minutes but which, in his current state, may take a few pages longer. Terrance is also dealing with Real People (TM) and this is usually when he's at his best. It's hard to indulge in Dicks's usual proclivity for one-line character descriptions when they're people whose depth is a matter of historical record, and the presence of the likes of Kim Philby, Harry Truman and Guy Burgess much enriches a book that would be far weaker without them (sadly, Josef Stalin still comes across as one-dimensional, but then he was completely raving by this time). It's here that Dicks's economic style really works, as he engages us with descriptions of real life events that we may not have otherwise known in an engagingly direct (and, sometimes, endearingly coy) way that would make Simon Schama proud. Terrance Dicks should really stick to the pure historicals and give one note villains like the Players a miss.
As if to humiliate Dicks further, the scheduling of the books meant that he was slotted in between perhaps one of the best books so far published under the Doctor Who banner and the new book by Lance Parkin. Parkin is one of the few 'event' authors currently working in Doctor Who; an author whose work is of such consistent quality that you genuinely look forward to his next book. He is also consistent in his unpredictability; you never know quite what you're going to get - traditional alien invasion (al la Dying Days), intimate character study (Just War) or grand space opera (Infinity Doctors)? With Father Time he surprises us further by giving us all three.
Father Time is an excellent book, no question. It is full of those wonderful little moments of character expansion that fully justify the 'show don't tell' rule: from the opening chess game which tells us so much about Miranda and the Doctor, to the repulsive Barry's surprising, yet believable, reaction to hearing of someone trying to murder a child, to the seduction of Miranda by the supposed bad guy, to the Doctor deciding to hitch a ride into space. These are the sort of turning point insights that Stanley Kubrick constantly demanded and which drove his collaborators mad. The fact that there isn't a single moment like any of these in Endgame ultimately proves that fiction isn't about trad or rad; it's about having the talent and using it.
Father Time is almost up there with The Turing Test as the best book of the arc. That it isn't is down to a couple of relatively minor things. The three act structure doesn't sit together as well as it should, sometimes pulling you out of the story with its insistence on obeying meta fictional rules rather than logical ones. Also, Lance seems to work best when he's working to his own agenda, and the impositions of the Earth Arc don't sit as well as they should here: once again we're privy to the Doctor's thoughts and, while Parkin tries to lay off the continuity references that are a hallmark of his writing, there are too many sly references to events of other novels, specifically The Infinity Doctors and The Ancestor Cell. Unlike other books in the series, the monsters/aliens here aren't deliberately mysterious but suggestive of a backstory that either has already been told or will be in future; Parkin fails to suggest that the reader knows all they need to know from this one book, and this lessens the effect achieved so far of the arc being relatively standalone.
Every book in the arc so far has left its weaknesses and disappointments for the last few pages. The Burning is almost perfect until the necessities of plot reveal its shortcomings. Similarly with Casualties of War. The Turing Test's weakest section is the Heller one (which starts well before Heller is unfortunately required to explain bits of the plot, which lessens his 'voice') and the less said about Endgame's thoroughly unconvincing resolution the better. Father Time has an ending that plays to unnecessary rules. Weak resolutions have been a hallmark of the BBC Books so far, and it's disappointing to see Justin Richards continuing this tradition while striving to improve the books' lot in other areas. Particularly as, if there's one thing Richards is good at in his own writing it's endings.
Which brings us on to the ending of the Earth Arc: Escape Velocity. It starts well, reveals itself to be nothing earth-shaking half way through, and completely falls apart towards the end. It's hard to know where to start when listing its deficiencies. How about the fact that it totally ignores the impetus built up by the Earth Arc so far? Or the shallow characterisation of hardly dull figures like the alien Kulan or the two billionaires? Or the patronising insistence on describing events that have just happened in case we missed them (e.g. p.97. It's very obvious that Brake writes soaps from this; a format where if you miss an episode there's no need to worry as they'll tell you what happened in the next one)? Or the run-around plot with characters being captured, escaping, being told vital bits of plot etc. (c. Neil Gaiman), along with a few juicy and completely pointless self-sacrifices so that the author doesn't have to resolve too may people's stories? Or the fact that it's so frighteningly dull and un-twisty that it practically begs you to throw it away and not finish it? When the Earth Arc started there was serious talk of a golden age in the offing. Escape Velocity belies its title as it returns Doctor Who books to earth with an almighty crash.
Despite this there's a few good things to like here. It starts well, with Anji and Dave's adventures in Brussels and the Doctor and Fitz's appointment proving real page turners. There is also a lovely anomaly in the final few pages, which contains the only moment of subtlety in the entire book, where Anji considers the Doctor's hair and thinks about persuading him to get it cut or put it in a pony tail. So out of place is this revealing moment (definitively setting her up as the new companion and defining her relationship with the Doctor) that it sticks out from the rest of the book like a sore thumb. There are also lots of charming reference to modern pop culture (yay for Nightshade!) although pointing out the similarity of a particularly bad plot point to a Babylon 5 episode probably wasn't a good idea.
Endgame was a disappointment because the personnel that Dicks had to back him suggested he may be able to reach the heights he once achieved with the likes of Exodus. Escape Velocity is a disappointment because of its important place in the arc and the fact that Colin Brake must be a writer of talent, judging by his credits. However, its severe lack of thought and truly dreadful and widespread use of the sort of clichés which helps identify characters on TV makes a mockery of Justin's decision to commission him. Escape Velocity takes the title of worst book in the arc by a country mile (Endgame at least is short and unassuming), and it's hard to think of a worse way of finishing a series of stories that started so promisingly. I remember noting how odd it was that The Burning should be so weak on something Richards is usually so good at. Little did I know that The Burning would mirror the arc as a whole, as the endings of such arcs are usually the best part of them (witness Revelation, Seeing I or Shadows of Avalon).
Despite Escape Velocity, the Caught on Earth Arc must be judged a success. It didn't succeed with everything it set out to do, but the fact that it succeeds at anything marks it out. One of the beneficial effects of an arc like this is to make you more easily forgive the bad books, as the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. Certainly, Endgame benefits enormously from the position it occupies, and an otherwise lightweight (storywise) book like Casualties of War benefits just as much from what it doesn't reveal about the overreaching story as what it does. The variety of styles on offer doesn't clash as much as was expected, which is indicative of Richards' tighter hold on the reigns. The books now have the feel of a united front and it's harder to miss an episode than ever; certainly since the BBC took back the licence from Virgin. The Caught on Earth Arc was a make or break time for many readers and, save for the horrendous blip that is Escape Velocity, gives much to be optimistic about for next year, aside from the upcoming swathe of authors of proven quality. If Richards had got the master arc resolver Paul Cornell to write Escape Velocity then the Earth Arc would be damn near perfect - as it is it's only very good indeed.
A Whole New World by Robert Thomas 12/3/01
This has been less of a story arc and more of a prologue for a new era for the EDA's. But all the same I enjoyed this little prologue a lot more than the arc which preceeded it. I think it suffered from the problem of too many ideas being thrown around that did not get a satisfactory climax. (Plus it had to many books that could be stand alone and not arc linked).
But on with the review of the Earth bound arc, although before I go on I must state that I did not read Casualties Of War or The Turing Test. This was mainly down to finance bearing in mind I am a poor student, incidently if you want to sent me money the address is --- deleted deleted, deleted deleted, deleted deleted, -------. (Cheques sent by registered post only). I had to decide which two of the arc to miss which was easy, after the terible Revolution Man with only its one good scene I decided it was only fair to skip Paul Leonard's offering and with Casualties I got the feeling I wouldn't like it anyway.
Now starting at the start with The Burning, which is a very good book indeed. Nice tricks with the introduction of The Doctor that no doubt pleased and infuriated many readers who thought they guessed who was The Doctor. The story itself is quite good but remembers at this stage we are more interested in The Doctor. A tragic villain, some good moments (including the toy shop sequence) and a very good start. But more amazing is The Doctor. Be warned he is dark, most people have mentioned how he leaves someone to die but the moment that struck me was the stalking sequence. Nice to see the TARDIS leading The Doctor to trouble and the condition and transformation it goes through is a really nice touch, the ending is particualy touching and conjures up a nice image in the mind.
Casualties Of War, like I mentioned above I didn't read it so I can't comment.
The Turing Test, I have read enough snippets and reviews of this to get the general gist of it. The Doctor and his situation as seen through three other people. After reading a snippet of it in DWM I intend to read it eventually.
Endgame, I really enjoyed as it was both a romp and a thoughtfull story. At this stage The Doctor knows he does not belong and has lost interest in life. Knowing he can't remember something he spends his days in libraries reading. Philby is one fantastic character and in my opinion makes the book. It is so strange to see The Doctor taking every opportunity to get out of the adventure with Philby trying everything to keep him involved. This is a story more concerned again with The Doctor and he is fantastic.
Father Time, nice cover - the best of the arc. Set over ten-ish years in the eighties and I enjoyed it, its even got a transformer in here (think Prowl and Jazz) and I used to have loads of them. This book is split up into three sections with the first being the best. I didn't like the middle one bit and no way should The Doctor be a yuppie. The end improved a bit although the conclusion in terms of the daughter is very good, although the feeling of anticlimax was evident.
Escape Velocity, the conclussion of the arc which was given to a newcomer, hmmm, how did he do. First of all very well, allthough please in future cut down on the scifi references, sentences such as, 'very Voyager' and 'Like Babylon 5' really got on my nerves but with a good story I can forgive this. A very good story and the return of Fitz improves The Ancester Cell in hindsight as I thought this was exit. A good solid plot and the meeting of Fitz and The Doctor in St Louis. The story is ok, the end with the Kulan fleet is stupid to say the least. But the rest is up to a good standard with a lot of cliffhangers and I was surprised by how much I missed Fitz, the moment when he realises how much of his memory The Doctor has lost is classic. By the way Anji made a nice impact and I look forward to seeing how she develops.
My only complaint is that the arc could have gone on for a few more books. There are references to other adventures The Doctor goes through that we don't see that sound fantastic. But this is a minor gripe.
Fitz only appears in the final installment of the arc although his presence is felt throughout and makes a fantastic return. Moments during the arc when The Doctor is pinning his hopes on the meeting with Fitz are at times tragic and funny.
Overall the future for the Eighth Doctor is looking good. With a further 6 stories announced by Big Finish the print version should match up to the definitive article.
Last few lines of the arc - nice touch and I am already looking forward to EarthWorld.
A Review by Richard Salter 15/5/01
An excellent relaunch of the series and the first (solo) Justin Richards book I've read since Theatre Of Snore. Thankfully he has much improved since then. The Doctor is marvellous and, while the plot isn't amazing and this is no Damaged Goods, it zips along and maintains a good balance between adventure and horror.
Casualties of War
Despite a slightly disappointing ending with some loose ends left dangling, Casualties is a beautifully written book with some genuine human emotion. I particularly liked the scene where the farmer takes matters into his own hands to get rid of the menace in his barn.
The Turing Test
The arc goes from strength to strength with another excellent showcase for the revamped Doctor's character. The story is told from three very different (and famous) points of view, and is fascinating because of it. The story itself is not that original, though the execution is what makes this really interesting.
I'd heard that this has very little to do with the Caught On Earth ongoing story, so I skipped it. Maybe I'll come back to it someday.
Lance edges ever closer to that perfect book I know he's going to write someday. Father Time is spoilt by an ending that would be good in any other book, but doesn't do the rest of this story justice. In particular, the fate of a particular major character is dealt with far too abruptly. The rest of this book is gorgeous, Lance's writing just gets better and better. There are so many good scenes here, so many lovely little details, so much to keep the pages turning. Case in point: just compare the shuttle launch in FT to the remarkably similar shuttle launch in Escape Velocity. Well there's no contest really.
I've covered this one already, and scored it too. Awful awful awful.
Apart from EA (Endgame I can't comment on) Justin's first arc is a remarkably strong one. Only Father Time reaches classic status to stand amongst the Virgin greats (Human Nature, Love and War, Damaged Goods, etc) but considering the EDAs are seriously lacking in classic titles, Justin's achievement is even more impressive to have delivered such solid novels. If only he had convinced Andy Lane to write the last book then this could have been the strongest arc ever to appear under the Doctor Who banner. As it is it's merely very good, with a criminally awful let-down ending.
Doctor... Who? by Graeme Burk 16/1/02
"The rising sun framed the figure in pure new brilliance of the sky. The rising sun framed the figure in a seething halo, making it impossible for Briggs to discern any detail. For a second, the thought the man was an appartion... he briefly glimpsed the stranger's shadow cast behind them, stretching way down the chasm. A shadow far too huge for a man."
- Doctor Who - Casualties of War by Steve Emmerson (September, 2000)
The first year of the new century (or the final year of the past century, depending on your particular pedantic viewpoint) brought back the Doctor to the Doctor Who range of books. It might have seemed that the Doctor was never gone to some - he was a character in almost all of the books at some point or another - but over the past year, the central character of the range was being whittled away into nothingness. It wasn't just that the standard characterisation, as Robert Smith? correctly points out, seemed to be that of a congenital idiot. The Doctor's place in his adventures were becoming increasingly perfunctory too.
In 2000, Justin Richards became consulting editor responsible for the Eighth Doctor Adventures and he decided to tackle this growing cancer within the books. His approach was simple: go back to basics. Using an idea for a story arc suggested by Lance Parkin and Jon Blum - where the Doctor is trapped on earth for the entirety of the 20th Century - Justin Richards took the Doctor out of adventuring in Space and Time for a little while. Over the course of six books, the Doctor would be stuck on earth for over a century without his memory, his regular companions or the TARDIS. Stripped down of the encumbrances of continuity, we would have what Doctor Who has always been: a mysterious man with a box, encountering the strange and sometimes monstrous in a world that mirrors our own.
It was an intriguing idea, but there was reason to be nervous about the execution. The authors chosen seemed rather like so many films where unlikely people manage to do something spectacular. They were the Unlikely Six: two of them were new to the range (one an established writer, the other not); two of them were workmanlike but unspectacular writers (one of them seemingly incapable of ever ending a novel properly); one of them was considered the Elder Statesman of Doctor Who; and one of them was a popular writer who hadn't written for the range in quite some time.
And just like the movies, the Unlikely Six accomplished what they set out to do - sometimes by sheer charm more than anything else. The Caught on Earth arc rebuilt the Doctor from scratch, and produced some very good novels that have restored much excitement for the range.
It all starts with The Burning by editor Justin Richards. The plot is incredibly pedestrian -- some alien force manages to possess people in a Victorian small town using a substance that can mimic objects or people. But the plot doesn't really matter. It is, in television terms, a pilot for the 'new' Doctor, as he wanders amnesically into the town with a box that will in a century's time become the TARDIS once more.
Bereft of memories and identity, the Doctor is rather like how he was in An Unearthly Child all those years ago. He breaks Terrance Dicks' central tenet - he's both cruel and cowardly at times. The Burning is very much a journey for the Doctor and the reader follows the Doctor as he shakily becomes a hero once more. The reader is left with a central character who is once more an enigma - we no longer know what the Doctor will do and what will happen to him. More than that, the Doctor is for the first time in years the most compelling character in the book.
To burst into clichÃ©, it was like someone opening the windows in a stuffy room.
The Burning was followed by Steve Emmerson's Casualties of War. The Doctor is once again an enigma, travelling to a Yorkshire village in 1918 haunted by very evil things indeed. The novel is a delight from start to finish. It's perhaps the best debut novel since Kate Orman wrote The Left-Handed Hummingbird seven years before. Combining the quietly horrific with imagery that linger in one's mind for months after the novel has been read, this is a novel that rewards the reader richly. The characters are all charming, particularly Mary Minnet, the woman who becomes the Doctor's companion for this adventure. By seeing the Doctor through her eyes, the reader falls in love with the Doctor as much as Mary does. The Doctor is by turns funny, exuberant, scary, dangerous, passionate, mysterious and brave. He is still working out how to be a hero and the nature of being compassionate, and we love him all the more for it.
The Turing Test by Paul Leonard takes this to the next level. This time the Doctor is viewed by three people, all of them famous and all of them with different stories to tell about a shared adventure with the Doctor. One of them, mathematician Alan Turing, is in love with the Doctor and is caught up in the Doctor's intrigues behind the lines in World War II. The other, author Graham Greene, despises the Doctor and Greene's dogmatic view of the world cannot comprehend the Doctor's actions or the events going on around him involving artificial lifeforms. A third, author Joseph Heller doesn't really care - he's a little bit crazy and he just wants to escape from a seeming suicide mission into the heart of Nazi Germany. Like so many adventures in this story arc, the Doctor's amnesia means he's as in the dark about the alien menace in the story as other characters (and the readers) are. Which makes The Turing Test all the more fascinating because the reader is left to make their own judgments - all the 'authors' are both right and wrong about what is happening. The Turing Test is Paul Leonard's most ambitious novel and it mostly succeeds - although Leonard still can't bring a novel to a satisfying conclusion if his life depended on it.
Readers of my other reviews should know of my long - standing respect for Terrance Dicks, so it pains me to say that Endgame is probably the arc's biggest disappointment. It had many of the right ingredients - a cold war setting with real life spies like Kim Philby, returning characters from Dicks' successful Sixth Doctor PDA Players - but it fails to combine into anything pleasing. Part of the problem is that Terrance immediately embarks on describing events from the Doctor's point of view, where all the other novels avoided it. This quickly takes away all the mystery built up over the past three novels. Worse is that in the absence of a Doctor who can drone about the historical significance of events and people to his companion as a painless history lesson, Terrance is forced to have the actual historical characters explain their significance to the Doctor! Still, it's a Terrance Dicks novel and there's always a lot of droll action going on - but it's not a patch on his finer Target novels, or even Players for that matter.
With Father Time by Lance Parkin we find ourselves once more with a mysterious Doctor, who is now living in the 1980s with a daughter - who has two hearts. What Lance Parkin brings to this book is a real feel for the era the story is set in. While the other books in the arc all have a small scale feel to them, this book feels very epic - which is also appropriate for the era. And if the 1980s was the most continuity-heavy era of the TV series, Father Time is also the most continuity-heavy of the arc, although thankfully it doesn't affect the development of the Doctor - whose humanity soars as much as it is tested in this book.
Lance Parkin is a very talented writer and it's good to see someone with such a deft handling of prose contributing to the range. Which is why the disappointment of Father Time is so keenly felt The first third is totally captivating and may be the best writing in EDA range. The second third is thrilling, but the last third is merely exciting. Part of the problem is that Lance's interest in shocking the reader "between the lines" mean that characters with something important to contribute end up being silenced. Which is a shame. What is particularly maddening is that if Lance had ended the book with part two, this book would have been the best EDA ever.
The arc concludes with Escape Velocity and the less said about it, the better. Colin Brake's prose is mind-numbingly bad. He dumps information on the reader in huge shovelfuls that masquarade as character insight. On the one hand, much of this is to do with the series new companion, Anji Kapoor, so perhaps we should be grateful. Mostly though it's annoying. Good prose should make the reader ask questions. Brake on the other hand wants to nail down every single doubt and bores the reader as a result - which is something the bog-standard story of a privately funded space race and an alien incursion was already doing quite nicely in that department. It does improve, but that may be because reader expectations are systematically lowered as the book progresses.
And as the Caught on Earth ends - leaving many questions still unanswered - we find the arc something of an odd assortment of individual books. There's one that is very good (Casualties of War), one that should have been very good (Father Time), one that was challenging (The Turing Test), one that was pedestrian but rewarding (The Burning). The only failures were Endgame and Escape Velocity - the former because it didn't fit in with the arc, the latter because it was terrible.
But all of them did something that had never been done in Doctor Who fiction before - it truly told a unified story progressively over the course of many books. And more than that, it charted the development of the Doctor as he became a hero once more. A hero who can be mysterious, and passionate, and dangerous, and silly, and brave. A hero worth reading more books about - that's the real triumph of the Earth Arc. It made us start caring about reading Doctor Who books again.
If you haven't read the books ever, or gave up on them a long time ago, pick up a copy of The Burning or Casualties of War. You might discover that there's still a few surprises left in the Doctor even after 38 years.