THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Cat's Cradle Series
Survival
Lungbarrow
Virgin Books
Time's Crucible
Cat's Cradle Part One

Author Marc Platt Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20365 8
Published 1992
Cover Peter Elson

Synopsis: Ace finds herself trapped within a cat's cradle of dimensions. Past, present and future friends and enemies intertwine while the villainous leech-like Process holds sway over the inverted grey world they find themselves in and a mysterious silver cat appears and disappears. On ancient Gallifrey, the Pythia's rule is absolute, but the young Rassilon seeks to challenge her, with the aide of the mysterious Other. But the Pythia's champion and the prototype time travel experiment have gotten lost. Only the Doctor can save Ace, but the Doctor was destroyed long ago, before Time began...


Reviews

A Review by Keith Bennett 11/4/98

If you thought Marc Platt's Ghost Light from the last televised season of Doctor Who was rather indecipherable, then this start to the Cat's Cradle trio of books might have you thinking that story looks like an episode of The Power Rangers. And if you thought the last novel of the Timewyrm quartet was hard to get through, then the news here isn't delightful.

The TARDIS is destroyed, or so it seems (of course). The Doctor disappears, and Ace finds herself on a planet whose city is falling apart, not to mention having three diferent time zones (past, present and future) and a couple of giant, two-headed slugs stomping around the place.

A lot of this of this would look super on television, the ideas seem good... but what a long, long haul! Now, I'm not against really long Doctor Who novels, or really deep ones. But when they're lengthy for just length's sake....

Platt gives us piles and piles and piles (really!) of emotional noodlings, descriptions upon descriptions of every minute detail, and endless paragraphs of long words and names of things that he must've spent months making up. The story constantly moves a bit, then stops a lot, as we have more in-depth wonderings about this, that and this again. To give but one example (and nowhere near the worst), as Ace is looking for the Doctor in the TARDIS, a whole page is taken up of the inconsequential items and rooms she finds on her journey.

I know, many people would argue that these New Adventures are "adult" and meant to be "real, deep sci-fi", but I'm a bit old fashioned-- I like to be entertained, and it seems to me that this book could have been seventy pages shorter, but still have depth and substance, and be enjoyable to read.


A Review by Kris Johnson 6/12/99

Having read Marc Platt's Lungbarrow, and the short story about the Master in the first Decalog, I arrogantly assumed I could handle his style of writing well. I expected the book to be difficult early on, I was right on that account. The going never really got much easier, and 3/4 through, Platt's writing took its toll.

Part of my expectations came from identifying this story's type; it reminds me of Millenial Rites. I think Craig Hinton borrowed from Time's Crucible; no problem there, Millenial Rites was the second Doctor Who novel I ever read, and it was a good experience for me that lead to many other novels. I like the concept of a whole isolated world that the characters are present for the Beginning, and contributing to bringing about the End. This gave Time's Crucible and Millenial Rites an apocalyptic feeling, they are both cleverly contained epics.

The Doctor's lack of involvement is truly justified for what this book is striving for. His lack of absence and then physical presence as a Will Be Doctor elevate his capabilities, even though his master strategy amounts to little more than ticking off the local pyrokenetic and getting out of the way. Oops. It also helps to increase the feeling of risk while Ace is on her own; in order to be safe, she must find the Doctor. The Doctor's apparent lack of involvement works for this Doctor much better than the Eighth, with Sylvester's Doctor you know he's not around because he is arranging a trap for the enemy, when an EDA has a lack of Doctor it means nothing.

The characters are okay. Ace is what I expect she would be at this point in the series, the book provides an interesting glimpse of her character that is consistent. The Chronauts (or Phazels or grumblies) are not really strongly characterized, they are just there to perform their part in the action. There could easily have been less of them without losing to much. Vael was an interesting character, it was clever to show ancient Gallifrey through his eyes. Later on Vael becomes a despicable, selfish person; but because I identified with him early on, I still had hope that he might turn around.

The Process is an okay villian made appropriately fearsome early on as well. One thing has to be said, this is certainly a different kind of monster, and definitely one appropriate in a novel because special effects are not an issue. What is dissappoint is the Processes' goal is not clarified. He shows up and gives Ace and the Doctor trouble, because he eats TARDIS's for breakfast?

The concept of the different city phases is very intriguing, but it wasn't taken advantage of. There was a point when I thought things would become clear, but things became so much more confusing I regretted reading on. There are a couple of points when my understanding was hinged upon knowing that the author had not made a error missed by proofreading. Like when referring to the Older Pekkary, and wondering if Platt really meant the older one, or he actually meant the younger one instead. Little things like that are really troublesome.

I expected a well rounded feeling of things falling into place, like the way the pieces of the puzzle in Sands of Time came together, but there wasn't. Maybe it was because the plot doesn't allow for it, but it would have been a better pay off after all the confusion throughout.

This book is interesting to use as a comparison between the EDA's and the NA's. This book is like the NA's counterpart of Alien Bodies; early in the range, and setting up the big questions that the series' will eventually go on to answer. The NA's paradoxically delve into mysteries of the past, the Doctor's and Gallifrey's; this started most prominantly with Time's Crucible. Alien Bodies reflects a trend toward exploring the future of the Doctor's universe. This does not mean one is better than the other, both have merit. It would be especially unfair to compare the series' only by comparing Alien Bodies and Time's Crucible. I have to say that the former comes out ahead. I like Time's Crucible. It's not earth shatteringly great, though; it's adequate, and important to read to know more about Gallifrey. 3 out of 5 for this one.


A Review (Based On A 2nd Re-Reading by Dominick Cericola 12/4/01

cru·ci·ble (Cru"ci*ble)
n.

1. A vessel made of a refractory substance such as graphite or porcelain, used for melting and calcining materials at high temperatures.
2. A severe test, as of patience or belief; a trial.
3. A place, time, or situation characterized by the confluence of powerful intellectual, social, economic, or political forces: “Yale is a crucible in American life for the accommodation of intellectual achievement, of wisdom, of refinement, with the democratic ideals of openness, of social justice and of equal opportunity” (Benno C. Schmidt, Jr.).

[Middle English crusible, from Medieval Latin cr cibulum, night-light, crucible, possibly from Old French croisuel, cresset; see cresset.]

Prior to his work for Virgin, Marc Platt was best known for his 7th Doctor and Ace televised episode, Ghost Light (which he later adapted for Target Books, expanding upon ideas unable to be visualised due to time and budget restraints). However, by the close of Virgin's run, one thing was certain: with only two books, Platt had firmly established himself as a WHO Writer (capitalisation intentional), ranked in the same Elite as Paul Cornell, Kate Orman, and Lawrence Miles.

What really made this book stand out was this was the first time that Ancient Gallifrey had ever been visualised. Up until this point, all we had to go on were the crumbs of info, hinted at through the televised episodes -- and even that wasn't wholly consistent! But with this, we have something to work with, tangible Names and Faces, Buildings even..! And, the really great thing is Platt returns at the end of the run to write the penultimate Virgin adventure, the 7th Doctor's return to Gallifrey, Lungbarrow (which I promise to get around to reviewing by Year's End, hopefully.. I have to re-read it)

Let me discuss the characters, and then I have some final thoughts on the book as a whole..


ACE: Paul Cornell's Timewyrm: Revelation opened the door for Ace's expansion , while Time's Crucible took the door and bloody ran with it! The final three televised episodes - Curse of Fenric, Ghost Light, and Survival -- really begin to define the special relation The Doctor and Ace share. Looking back, it would appear that The Doctor was grooming her, to prepare for the adventures (more like Horrors!) she would experience before ultimately choosing to part company with the Doctor (see Kate Orman's Set Piece).

As we saw in this adventure, Ace has grown considerably since her waitressing days aboard Iceworld. The Doctor's influence on her is shown greatly, as she is forced to decide an alternate route to problem-solving other chucking cannisters of nitro-9 at them. She has also become more compassionate, taking into account the feelings of others, not just the feelings of the one.


VAEL: Of all the Phazels, he stood out in my mind the most.

Angry and Lost, two feelings both Vael and I knew far too well, as we both chose to be Individuals in life. It's a lonely path sometimes, but ultimately, the Reward is great -- knowing you are your own Person, not a carbon copy of someone else's Ideals and Desires. Unfortunately, in Vael's case, he forgot that point, allowing his Anger and Resentment to grow instead of building off them. Add in his feelings of self-doubt, and you end up with one wholly unwound Individual! However, I think that had this whole incident never occured, he still would have "self-descructed" (tho' maybe not quite as horribly!).


THE PROCESS: Damned creepy! I actually cringed both times I read this book. Even despite its rather limited view and perspective, the creature was still quite frightening!

...and finally...

THE DOCTOR: I chose to remark on him last, because well, he doesn't really come into play until the last quarter of the book. But, it should be noted that this isn't the manipulative Doctor we would later come to know as the Virgin line of books progressed. Oh no, this time, he is the Manipulated. Without his TARDIS, his memories, his endless supply of "tricks", he is forced to rely on the others around him, including Ace, to bring it all together, to save the Day and, eventually, restore the TARDIS.

Looking back on this whole adventure, it would appear the Doctor, too, was undergoing an Initiation of sorts, an Initiation instigated by Time. The purpose: to groom him for his role as Time's Champion. Perhaps I am reaching on this one. Who knows? I'd welcome any comments regarding this idea..

As I eluded to earlier in this review, one of the key factors in this book being a much-sought-after item by Who fans is the flashbacks to Ancient Gallifrey. A truly Dark Time, just prior to Rassilon's ascension.. A world held in check by superstitions and ignorance, controlled largely by the prophetic sisterhood known as The Pythia.

What truly makes it all work is Platt's style of depiction. He gives enough to visualise, but never oversaturates, leaving plenty of room for the Mind's Eye to fill in the blanks. And we all know that our own Mind's Eye can far Darker, more Creative than the Best Writer out there.. *HEH*

One final point I'd like to raise, regarding Gallifrey's Dark Age.. Based on this novel, plus all the ones since, including The Ancestor Cell, it seems inevitable that Gallifrey would experience a Neo-Dark Age. The culture, prior to the discovery of the secrets of Time, was quite a bloodthirsty lot, relishing in conquest and a good fight (just look at the Games to know this!). By the time of The Ancestor Cell, things have become quite difficult, as they try to avoid the impending Future War. Soon, even the Rules they set up concerning Time have been ignored, as Survival becomes the Focus! This may be as a whacked a view as what I said about the Doctor being groomed for Time's Champion, but if you'd like to write me, I'd be happy to hear your arguments.

Final Comments.. This is a great book -- a bit angsty, but not as much as some of the later books. Characterisations were on the mark, and we even get to learn something by the end. So, if you don't have this, I would look for it -- it will be a well-earned addition to your Library..


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 23/1/02

Marc Platt's previous entry into the Doctor Who canon was 1989's Ghost Light, a story so squashed into the available time allotted, that much of it seemed confusing upon the first watch. Subsequent viewings made the material easier to understand, revealing a story in which virtually none of the action is wasted. In Ghost Light there's hardly a single line of the story that isn't vital.

The difference between that story and Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible couldn't be any greater. Because of the strict time limits imposed on the television episodes, Ghost Light ended up being boiled down to its barest essential elements. On the other hand, freed from those constraints, Time's Crucible grows into a massive sprawling work that spans literally millions of years, through the history of the Time Lords, from the beginnings of Gallifreyian time travel to the journeys and origins of the Doctor. The book suffers from an incredible lack of focus, and this is a pity because there are a lot of very interesting ideas present, that if executed properly would have resulted in a much more satisfying story.

The plot is intensely complicated. Unfortunately, the complexity doesn't necessarily mean good, and the payoff at the end isn't especially rewarding. If you have the guts to make it all the way to the ending, you'll find that the conclusion and explanations are worth it, but only barely. It all makes sense (apart from one or two minor problems that I noticed) but when one reaches the ending, one wonders why we had to go through such an elaborate process to get to it. It feels complicated, not because the story had to be, but because the author just felt like making it convoluted simply for the sheer hell of it.

The story somewhat centers around several survivors from a wrecked experimental time vessel that had crashed into the TARDIS. The poor characterization, and unsure prose style meant that I had a lot of trouble keeping track of which person was which. After a few pages they all seemed to melt into the same puzzlingly enigmatic character. This was quite annoying as there was a great opportunity here to explore the characters as they appeared and reappeared in different stages of their lives.

It's frustrating when one sees good ideas go to waste, and Time's Crucible falls into that trap. There are some very interesting concepts here that never really get close to fulfilling their potential. The setting is excellent and the descriptions of the dead and decaying city are very effective. The passages dealing with the apparent destruction of the TARDIS convey a sense of impending doom quite well. Ace's reactions to the story unfolding around her are handled interestingly. Some of the sequences set on Ancient Gallifrey feel quite epic. All of these things make for fascinating reading, but the problem is that they simply don't work well together. As individual set pieces they are engaging, but the momentum keeps getting lost somewhere. The gaps between the exciting parts are simply plodding and dull.

This should have been a much better story than it ended up being. There are a lot of fabulous ideas and the central concept is quite an intriguing one. The problem is simply the poor execution. If there had been some major editing to remove all the dull, incoherent parts, and to tighten up the pacing, the book could have been very much improved. The ending really needed something with enough impact to make the sitting reader bolt upright and shout, "Oh, so that's what was going on! That was incredible!" Unfortunately, the result was the reader having a yawn, a stretch, and mumbling, "Oh, so that's what was going on. Well, that all makes sense, but so what?"


A Review by Finn Clark 15/4/02

AAAAAAARGH! I'm an idiot! Why the rancid stinking motherfuck did I choose to reread this?

No spoilers, should anyone care.

For such a clever book, Time's Crucible is unbelievable. As with Lungbarrow, I'd like to remind Marc Platt that it's not enough to dazzle us with his imagination. Some story would be nice as well. Again as in Lungbarrow, the incidental characters are a waste of space and barely capable of tying their own shoelaces, let alone actually contributing anything to the narrative. They're like the useless bastards at the end of the universe in The Infinity Doctors.

I quite like Serial C (aka. Edge of Destruction, Inside the Spaceship, Beyond the Sun or whatever else it's being called this week). However it doesn't work because of the weird stuff, but the character drama. Hartnell turns hostile and mistrustful, Susan goes scissor-happy, etc. This is like Serial C without the regulars. The Doctor goes awol for half the book. Ace wanders aimlessly through a world of self-indulgent weirdness, stretched to the limit just to keep her head together.

How did I force myself through this? Answer: I didn't. This book sent me to sleep - and I'm not just talking about late at night. I was trying to read Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible at nine a.m. when I suddenly found myself curled up in a ball, wondering where the morning had gone. I'm sure this book is awfully clever, but it sucks like an industrial-strength vacuum.

Redeeming features:

  1. the ancient Gallifrey stuff. As someone who'd just finished reading Lungbarrow, The Infinity Doctors, etc. I managed to dredge up some masochistic pleasure spotting mentions of tafelshrews, treazants, sepulchasm and Haclav Agusti Prydonius. However back in 1992 I remember this stuff going straight over my head. Take away the name of Gallifrey and you're left with a shrill, meandering subplot that barely connects with the main novel and is suffering delusions of Greek myth.
  2. There are some nice visuals, especially the Process (dumb though it is even by the standards of Doctor Who villains). Unfortunately this is a book.
  3. I liked the idea of a city where to visit the past or future you merely cross a stream.
Many Virgin novels were criticised for underusing the Doctor, especially those aforementioned Cartmel War novels. Those never bothered me, since you could always feel his presence hovering offstage. In Time's Crucible however the Doctor is the only person with any chance of working out what's going on, so it's a deadly mistake to remove him from the action for almost the entire first half. Reader interest nosedives. The second half works much better (i.e. it's readable) because the Doctor's back and there's a chance of story developments once more.

This book is weird, and not in a good way. We spend so much time towards the beginning in an unreal land where anything can happen that we become conditioned into thinking none of it matters. Oh gee, someone's face just turned into a clock. Is that meant to be significant? This book gave me a headache. Imagination is all very well, but if nothing's happening then you're basically creating a hundred-page painting. Speaking personally, about five minutes is about my limit for staring at a single motionless thing.

Oh, and the ending is bollocks too. Forget The Eight Doctors and War of the Daleks, this might be the worst Doctor Who novel - which is a shame since much imagination and painstaking prose were clearly poured into its writing. Run away!


A Review by Clive Walker 20/5/02

Marc Platt, the writer of the daringly original TV adventure, Ghost Light, here produces another story to make the reader's head spin. I'll avoid too many spoilers (mainly so that I won't have to try to explain what is going on!) but suffice to say that the main action is set in a bizarre city existing simultaneously in three different time periods within a collapsing mini-universe that is ruled over by a giant leech, the Doctor has lost his memory and the whole thing is somehow linked to events in ancient Gallifrey!

I love the parts of the book that deal with Gallifrey and it is a shame that these are so short. Marc Platt skilfully brings the Doctor's home planet to life as he tells the story of the events that ended the reign of the matriarchal line of Pythias and brought Rassilon to power. This pre-Time Lord Gallifrey is a pulsating cosmopolitan place sitting at the heart of a great empire. Platt's writing evokes brilliantly the contrasting hopes and fears of a civilisation on the verge of cataclysmic change.

The main part of the book, set within the city, is, unfortunately, a little less successful. The principal weakness lies in the book's setting and its supporting characters. The city, for all its strangeness is actually rather dull. This is clearly, to some extent, intentional as the author makes much of the city's greyness, but it does give the book a somewhat flat feel. In addition the Doctor is absent, at first physically and later mentally, from a large chunk of the book. This leaves Ace and the Gallifreyan crew of the Time Scaphe to carry the action. Whilst the characterisation of Ace is fine the Gallifreyans are, with the exception of Shonnzi and Vael, a pretty uninspiring bunch. As a result of this I found that the first half of the novel dragged somewhat.

On the plus side though the excitement builds during the second half of the book and the climax, as the Doctor recovers his personality and takes control at last, is genuinely thrilling. Marc Platt's writing is also excellent, with beautiful, evocative prose that verges, at times, on the poetic. In addition he is a skilful story-teller and he handles the complexities of the multiple time lines so effectively that, against the odds, it all mostly seems to make sense in the end. What's more the author never condescends to the reader by having the Doctor explain everything. You really do have to work it all out for yourself. There are, perhaps inevitably, a few loose ends. I still don't have much of a clue about the origins and nature of the Process or why it was turning people into insect-men, but I guess you can't have everything.

In summary then I have somewhat mixed feelings about this one. In the hands of some authors it would have ended up being distinctly average but the quality of the writing and the Gallifrey segments in particular drag it up a couple of notches. I'll give it 8/10.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 13/5/04

After reading this one, I have a feeling that Marc Platt had been thinking about ancient Gallifrey for ages. I can picture him as a fan, staying up all hours on many a night putting together his vision of pre-Rassilon Gallifrey, just on the off chance he may be able to write about it.

So, Time's Crucible is another weird, dense read, no surprise since this is the same Marc Platt who gave us Ghost Light. There's a lot of odd events that occur with little explanation at first, although if you pay attention, you can figure out exactly where Platt is going at all times.

Ace carries the first half of the novel on her own. Not a promising concept for yours truly, but Platt knows this character very well, so I was hooked into her and along for the ride from the get go. This is the same Ace I found so fascinating in Ghost Light, putting up a false bravery, trying to think like the Doctor in tough situations, showing her more adult side, yet still a teenager, showing the fear and turmoil beneath. It's the best Ace in book form, even topping the Ace in Set Piece and Love & War.

The Doctor is out of sorts. Part of it is due to the "amnesia" plotline. But, he really doesn't pick up steam till the end - his discussion with the Pythia is great, and very Doctorish. It is one of the better Virgin 7th Doctor turns, but for long chunks of his screen time, we don't see it.

The Pythia... well, she rode a fine line between interesting and annoying, but in the end, she was a bit much. Vael reminded me of Fenn-Cooper from Ghost Light, a man being used for another bidding for control. The Chronauts were pretty faceless, except for Shonnzi. Shonnzi came off as a bit too modern and normal for an ancient Gallifreyan, although that might have been the point. Rassilon was a hoot, a very real and scruffy, lovable bloke, not a magic genie that Terrance Dicks turned him into.

I found the Process gross, but annoying, until the younger and older versions of itself started getting into conflict. Made a bog-standard villain into something far better.

As far as the Pythia's curse stuff... Well, it's quaint. Well thought out, not nearly as annoying as I thought it would be, but quaint nonetheless. Fanwanky, but done with enough conviction (and thought) by Platt to make it work without me swearing at the book.

Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible is a well-presented, dense read that still holds up as one of the better New Adventures years later. Give it a go yourself, if you can find a copy.


A Review by Brian May 19/4/05

Fans expecting a respite from the intense, mind-blowing reading that was Timewyrm: Revelation would have to wait. For what followed the first truly radical tale in the New Adventures series would be just as unusual a read. The first three books in the series you can all imagine as lengthy televised stories. Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible and its immediate predecessor are the exact opposites - they seem totally unfilmable, thus delivering the "too broad and too deep" promise. In my humble opinion, this is the better story.

It's excellently thought out and written, from the incredibly surreal set-up at Ealing Broadway, followed by the slow disintegration of the TARDIS, the build-up to which instils a feel reminiscent of stories such as The Edge of Destruction, The Mind Robber and Castrovalva. The labyrinthine plot is a cat's cradle in itself, but after you finish reading, it makes a sort of twisted sense. Like with Revelation, the setting is an outlandish one, realised in a disturbingly brilliant way. The architectural nightmare that is the City, down to the warped, inverted buildings, the Watch Tower at the centre and the spiral staircases that feature prominently near the end, are garishly depicted. "Distressing reading" is a descriptive phrase that can often be used for Who fiction, and for the most part it involves graphic and painful deaths of various people, beings, or entities. But it's unique to appropriate such a phrase to descriptions of buildings and landscapes! The descriptions of the tower are the best example of this - p.126 contains several paragraphs, attributing the place a grimy, industrial feel; the Eiffel Tower/Victorian iron foundry allusion is certainly an apt one, invoking every Dickensian nightmare accentuated with a hellish alien otherness, as do the "chorus of untuned anvils" and "perpetual grinding". Conversely, other descriptions of this domain are brutally stark in their simplicity; the City having "no horizon" (p.103) is one such example. The further revelation that this place is in fact the TARDIS is well executed, and the great imagery continues as the "moon" descending over the contracting realm at the end appears both as an egg and a roundel - the means by which the Process can re-invent itself and create the new "Now", and the means of escape for the Doctor and company.

Like the City, the Process is extremely well conceived. Its origins are ambiguous, but this is all the better. Platt succeeds in making it a truly vile entity, but it's certainly effective. Both as a literal monster and a metaphor, the Process is an excellent piece of realisation.

What the story does with time is also first rate. Platt goes beyond your average time paradox and gives us a scenario exponentially more perplexing. The existence of the city in three timelines, as well as the Phazels' interactions with the guards they are eventually destined to become, are all ingenious strands of the complex story structure. The doubling, and sometimes tripling up, of characters - the Process, Pekkary and Shonnzi in particular - all make the Brigadier scenario in Mawdryn Undead seem simplistic. A great deal of concentration is required to fit everything into its right place, and it's another reason to admire Marc Platt for his imagination and effort.

You've got to feel for Ace. She goes through a hell of a battering - meeting her future guard self in particular - but she's characterised so well that this sympathy is easy. She's instantly likeable, without the enforced late 80s street smart trendiness that often marred the televised version. The Doctor takes a back seat, and is not himself for much of the time, but paradoxically enough we get to eavesdrop on his inner thoughts more than we usually do. But it's mostly in his confused state as "Wilby", and the transition of his memories into Ace's mind. Of the other characters, there are only two of note - Shonnzi and Vael, equals and opposites of each other. The former is "chief ally" and is easily likable, while the latter is "chief henchman" and is easily hated. However Vael is a highly complex man, and his telepathic relationship with the Pythia is certainly not an easy one to endure, explaining a lot of his issues. The rest are reasonably depicted but, with the exception of Pekkary, not delved into very much.

The most important function of this novel however is to reveal more of the history of Gallifrey, the Time Lords, and the Doctor himself. The editorship of the New Adventures clearly knew where they wanted to go with this. The added depth of mystery given to the Doctor's character in seasons 25 and 26 is expanded upon here, but it's sparingly done, so there's never too much information dumped onto the reader - and in any case it's more tantalising this way. We have the first mention of Lungbarrow Mountain and the Doctor's life with his cousins. And that's about it. But it's certainly a revelation, given the little readers knew at this point.

The history of Gallifrey is given more attention, and what is revealed is fascinating - the Dark Times, the Time of Chaos, the Pythia, the early time experiments, the heroic Prydonus, the Time Lords' sterility, and the rise of Rassilon. All of this is more than intriguing, and I like the idea that Rassilon was a short, unassuming man (a Gallifreyan Napoleon, perhaps?) The Pythia coming into contact with the Doctor's mind, and the telepathic confrontation that ensues, is terrific drama. The forbidden past the Doctor seeks and the future denied to the Pythia creates an agonizingly taut scenario, threatening the history of the Time Lords as we know them, the tension in the writing emphasising this as a very real and frightening possibility. It also provides some great exchanges - the "Who are you?" and "Who am I?" simultaneous questioning is a stunner, while the whole climactic build-up is excellent.

All the complicated stuff aside, Platt manages to maintain a creepy atmosphere, almost horrific at times. The clock face on the wraith-like image of the Doctor is one such moment, which also hearkens back to The Edge of Destruction. But the story still manages to keep a sense of humour, especially so with Ace's various musings. And much of the prose is just beautiful.

All in all, Time's Crucible is highly recommended. It's a demanding read; it requires lots of concentration and should really be given a second effort soon after to fully appreciate (as is the case with Platt's televised adventure Ghost Light), but it's ultimately very rewarding. A few indulgent continuity references here and there (he really should have left out the Sisterhood of Karn one), and an awkwardly sudden lead-in to the next story don't spoil what is a great representation of what the New Adventures could really deliver. 9/10


Headache-inducing... by Joe Ford 30/4/06

I have rarely (if ever) read anything as utterly inept as this book. What you have here is a waste of the trees sacrificed to create the paper to print this garbage on. Thank God Marc Platt was reigned in with Ghost Light because if this is an example of what he can achieve when allowed to run free with his imagination we got off pretty lucky with that explanationless show!

Where to begin? The NAs are (apparently) famous for exploring the shows mythology in new interesting ways. Where else to start but Gallifrey? Here Platt manages to make it as deathly dull as we always thought it was. One of the popular aspects of this book is its treatment of Gallifrey, finally revealing to us some of its trouble beginnings. Get this, Rassilon and Pythia were two figureheads in Gallifreyan history and they both fought to forge the future of the planet, one with science in mind and the other dealing superstition. An intriguing concept barely dramatised here, with the scenes set in ancient Gallifrey written with a clinical prose style that failed to incite any excitement. Besides which, who says it is a good idea to delve into the Doctor's planet anyway? After ripping open the Doctor and exposing his emotional angst in Revelation now we are doing the same to his home planet, demystifying everything that was intriguing about the planet and providing unsatisfying answers.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Platt wants to tear open the TARDIS too and reveal the inner turmoil of the ship! Is nothing sacred? It's just another symptom of the eternally funless world of the New Adventures where everything has to be damn miserable, pessimistic and downright depressing; the Doctor, Gallifrey and the TARDIS included.

What is inexcusable about this book is how poorly constructed and how bloody impenetrable it is. Robert Smith? may have read this book three times but by golly I could barely get through it once. There is some incredible imagery in this book, some clever ideas... so why, oh why, is it so bloody unreadable? What is wrong with a clear-cut narrative with interesting characters? These dreamscape books read as though they were made up as they went along and are no excuse for decent writing. I never cared about anything here, the people, the places, the events. Who the hell were these drab, characterless Gallifreyans? Where the hell is the Doctor? With no recognisable, likable characters to give a damn about, you are just stumbling around from one yawn-inducing set piece to another, again and again and again with no explanations as to what is happening. I felt like I was trapped in a time warp, especially bad when Ace started jumping the time zones and repeating her meetings with the same people. I thought the pain would never end.

The prose is there but this could be written in Urdu for the sense it makes! The first 100 pages are a bunch of bland nobodies slumbing around a ruined city, not actually doing ANYTHING or explaining ANYTHING, just going through the motions of a load of incomprehensible weirdness! Where the hell was the editor? I think in total I understood about 5% of what was actually happening in this book (most of it was filled in with Lars Pearson's I, Who); the answers when they come are quite okay but I have never had to wade through so much inexplicable rubbish to get there.

Platt forgets to characterise his characters, he forgets to explain his plot, he forgets to entertain us. I sound like a bitter old git who refuses to let Doctor Who become deeper and more complex than it was on the telly, but nothing could be further from the truth; I do enjoy seeing the series expanding its horizons but while it was doing so if it could avoid putting its head so far up its own arse it disappears into an alternative dimension, that would be nice. Frankly this is another New Adventure that forgets that whilst it is being clever, metaphorical and deep, it does need to follow some basic rules of fiction. Which include plot, character and explanation. Thought Taking of Planet 5 was like wading through treacle? Try reading this.

The regulars are still so dull they make a dinner party with Adric, Dodo and Mel seem like a night of delightful fun (actually that does like fun...). Ace is such a boring character, isn't she? I just can't muster up any enthusiasm for this woman, the sort who distrusts the Doctor but still travels with him, that wants to blow things up all the time, the sort that uses words like "shit" and "fuck" next to "naff" and "dogbreath". I think one of my biggest problems with this book was that Marc Platt gets Ace absolutely perfect here: all the angst, the hackneyed background (her mum pops up again to antagonise her) and proves without a doubt that she has nothing to contribute to these books as she is. She stumbles around the city exhibiting no personality at all except wanting to run and hurt people. There is no humour there, no fun, just a ravaging ball of negative emotion in human form. How far away is Love and War? Also the Doctor is pretty much absent from the first 100 pages, turns up at around page 150 out of his mind (literally; he has know idea who he is) and only shows up as the devious little jester we know and love in the last third. He is so busy being enigmatic these days I find him unrecognisable as the hero I know and love. I want him to comfort Ace, to interact with the characters, to have some FUN in his life.

Some of these ideas are quite fun. The TARDIS being invaded by a mysterious force is a strong one and should be truly frightening but I was so out of the loop of what was actually going on I never got involved. Visuals such as the mercury stream, the desolate, crumbling yet technologically-twisted city with the giant Process slithering through the streets and the Watchtower (described as the Eiffel tower crossed with a Victorian iron foundry and allowed to run wild) are excellent, Platt's finest writing in the book. If only they could have been hooked onto a story worth reading and we could really be somewhere.

I forced my way through this in a day and a half, literally forcing myself to continue so I could get the damn thing over and done with. What I wanted to do was burn the bloody thing and never think on it again. And I will and I won't. Inexcusable drivel.