THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC Books
Colony of Lies

Author Colin Brake Cover image
ISBN# 0 563 538?? ?
Published 2003
Featuring The second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe and the seventh Doctor and Ace

Synopsis: The year is 2539. Arriving on Axista Four the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie find the colony in a state of chaos. Who are the dog-like aliens who call themselves Tyrenians? What is the secret agenda of the sinister Federation Administraor Greene? And what really happened when the Colony Ship crash-landed on Axista Four one hundred years earlier?


Reviews

A Review by Finn Clark 21/7/03

I'm a huge fan of Westerns. Last year I bought three Will Henry novels and was totally blown away. However the thing about 'em is that they're more than just their trappings. Horses and six-guns do not a Western make. They're pure drama - just the hero and his foes; no authority or legal machinery but what they make for themselves, not even any real civilisation as we would understand it. A Western's protagonists can depend on nothing but their own grit and courage. And that's without taking in the cinematic language of the Western - wide open spaces, solitary figures, confrontations at a distance rather than the close-up intensity of horror, etc. Learned discussions could be had about the Western's influence on shows as disparate as Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels or Buffy The Vampire Slayer. (Occasional Western-inspired moments appear in Whedon-helmed episodes, though of course he really showed his love for the genre in Firefly.)

Despite the cover (dear God, that cover!) The Colony of Lies is not a Western.

First of all, these colonists ain't frontiersmen. Life isn't tough for them because they're manly men carving their rugged way in the universe, but instead because it's against their principles to use technology. They have it; they just don't use it! Forget about Clint Eastwood. It's more like some crazy religious sect, like the Amish. I loved the line where we learned where Stewart Ransom lifted his ideas; somehow I knew it wasn't going to be Unforgiven or High Plains Drifter.

There's a nifty SF backstory that's obviously hiding a big secret or two. There are Sleepers! Will they wake up? Do bears shit in the woods? [NOTE: I scribbled that line within half a second of reading about the Sleepers, so please - no complaints that I've spoiled the story's "killer twist". These are plot developments that are visible from orbit.] Oh, and more Sleepers! In fact there are several SF ideas waiting to unfold, more than enough to keep the story bubbling. I can't fault that.

Unfortunately it's largely these revelations that drive the plot. The Colony of Lies is variously "colonists vs. rebels", "marines vs. aliens", an Eastenders episode, SF investigation and uncovering the past... hell, throw a brick and you'll hit a cliche. The only thing it's not is a Western! The first characters we meet on Axista Four are Billy Joe (a Rebellious Teenager whose thought processes will make you ache for his immediate, painful demise) and his homily-spouting old grandfather. The colony has rebels (the "Realists") who seem to be violent... yet Grandad is the local Sheriff! Yeah, right. Take the danger seriously, why don't you? [In fact he's tougher than he looks, but this much-needed bit of description doesn't crop up until p174.] Fortunately, what with all the spaceships, space marines, technological investigations and info-dumps about the past, no character is required to do much that particularly affects anything. True grit? What's that?

But bless his cotton socks, Colin Brake never stops pushing his Western trappings. His book may be a totally bog-standard Who runaround, but that doesn't stop him hitting us over the head with its backdrop. It's almost sweet. There are horses and Colt revolvers. Grandad's name is Cartwright... sorry, Kartryte (heaven help us). There's even some deconstructionist genre referencing.

Oh, oh! I haven't mentioned the best bit! As a further hammer-blow to any possible Western atmosphere, The Colony of Lies has some really distracting Whoniverse history. I read Chapter Two utterly convinced that this was a Federation spaceship from the year 3409 and that this would be a novel set in three timezones (foundation in 2439, main action in 2539, after-the-fact investigation in 3409). I'd have enjoyed that, but nope. They're Space Marines from an Earth empire that's confusingly still called the "Earth Federation" (p97) (though I quite liked where this eventually went and for all I know it's a Frontier in Space reference or something). Oh, and Stewart Ransom has apparently built a New Atlantis in the Pacific.

However p102 really blew my mind. If Carter is telling the truth (a big if), then mankind has been at war with the Daleks for 75 years. Huh? What is this? How come Vicki only knew of Daleks from history books about the 22nd-century invasion? 2493 minus 2464 is approximately thirty years! And what about the detailed history of the Dalek wars (2540+) in Beige Planet Mars and other books? The Colony of Lies takes place in the previous year! Is this supposed to be a clue that Carter is a lying son of a bitch, or that Dalek history is ever-shifting, or that no one cares about keeping this kind of thing straight these days?

Despite all that I've said, however, there's a cosily Whoish feel to The Colony of Lies. There's no attempt at depth with the regulars' characterisation, but given what's been perpetrated elsewhere in Troughton novels that may be a good thing. They're all painted in broad brushstrokes (thick Jamie, etc.) and are fairly entertaining. By aiming at nothing more than amusing surface characterisation, the book is quite successful at achieving that. I particularly liked the regulars' first scene, which sets the tone quite well.

I also liked the episodic structure, complete with cliffhangers and start-of-episode recaps. It's not a sophisticated gimmick, but it suits the book.

The Colony of Lies is perfectly readable and never hits the lows we saw in Escape Velocity. "Inoffensive" is a good word for it. Its plot is awful, meandering ineffectually between various undynamic groups of losers and relying on sci-fi backstory revelations instead of drama, but at least it's ingenious and makes sense. The soapy bits ("I loved him!" etc.) actually provide some nice moments. The ending is unintentionally amusing, too. The colonists realise they've all been a bit silly. Hey, we could have told you that!

Sadly it's the second-best BBC Book of the year so far. (I say "sadly" because it's the kind of forgettable bulk filler that pads out the lesser end of a normal year's releases and I'm having trouble remembering its details even now. In a couple of months I'll hardly be aware that it ever existed.) I kinda enjoyed it but I really hope BBC Books aren't aiming for this level in these conservative post-cutback times. If they are, then next year the flipping DWM comic strip will probably have a higher profile than the books.

And it's not a Western! If that's what you want, try Heritage or Interference.


Time for Troughton... by Joe Ford 26/9/03

What an odd book. In some ways it shows a much needed step forwards and yet in others it was huge leap back. What is this fool dribbling on about? Let me explain...

The books this year have been dividing fandom in a serious way. Justin and his cronies at BBC books have decided in their infinite wisdom to have the EDAs linked by an alternative universe theme, one which gathers momentum with each book. Perfect for those of us who follow the books religiously (like me who hopes for great things with next month's Timeless) but for those who don't love arcs, who don't want an inconclusive ending to a story that will be followed up later on are getting a mite pissed off (Finn Clark in particular). To make matters more complicated instead of littering this heavily structured EDA arc with standalone PDA's they decided to do their own alternative universe story with the seventh Doctor and Ace (in the unremarkable Loving the Alien). For some this was just too much.

So when the idea of Colony of Lies comes along, a complete standalone story, no arc threads, no complicated plotting just a simple story from a simple era it seemed like a little piece of heaven. I have to admit even I was looking forward to a break from the continuing plot threads, a breather before heading back to some juicier stuff. And in this respect Colony of Lies fulfils its ambition perfectly, it ain't deep or confusing, it's just a SF story with a lot of action and a ton of twists.

However those of us who expect the PDAs try out something a little more experimental (which is nice from time to time... Blue Box being a stunning example) will no doubt be disappointed by this traditional Doctor Who tale. Aside from asking for a few too many impressive effects this story could certainly have been made in the Troughton era and doesn't push the boundaries of the imagination in many ways.

Makes it sound like a bad read doesn't it? Strangest thing is it's not. I joined in with the crowds when the Colin Brake bashing started, Escape Velocity had the near impossible task of rounding off the Earth Arc and did so quite unspectacularly. Yeah we got the TARDIS back and Anji joined (two big pluses in my book) but the book didn't offer up much in the way of character exploitation especially for the Doctor who was regaining much of his former life. Instead it was a shallow tale of space battles written with flat prose and stereotypical characters. A shame. I half expected the same treatment here but it appears Mr Brake feels a lot more comfortable in season six territory and it shows.

People say Troughton is a hard Doctor to pull of in print but Brake achieves the apparently impossible with ease. The 2nd Doctor is wonderfully playful here, mischievous at the right moments, rubbing his hands together with excitement and offering suggestive hints towards the colony's plight rather than outright telling them what to do. He just felt so right in so many scenes, quiet scenes with Dee and Veena are well counterpointed against all the "Oh my!"s during the action scenes. His care for Jamie and Zoe overrides all his other feelings and that to felt quisessentially Troughton. So thumbs up there.

Jamie and Zoe both get a moment to shine and prove just how useful they actually could be. I don't know if it was intentional however that they should be missing from action for long stretches of time, it almost felt like Brake was giving the actors an episode off each (tee hee). They both prove instrumental in the ending however and their joy at being reunited with the Doctor is captured perfectly.

What a plot. There is LOADS of plot here, enough to fill two or three books but unlike the cluttered Loving the Alien, Brake tells the story at a brisk pace with only a few quieter moments for reflection. Things seem to be added to the plot every few scenes or so, loads of different elements (The Colonist, the realists, the Tyrennians, the ESCV) moving around each other tensely until you know they are going to collide in the most explosive manner. Fortunately all the different elements are not only explored but embellished well so that a number of twists in the last third are genuinely shocking. The book's title is wonderfully appropriate and all the secrets that start pouring out ensure the book finishes on a real high.

But once again there are prose problems, not enough to ruin an enjoyable read (in fact if the book had been more densely written half the plot would have to be scrapped) but it does mean the book is as deep as a puddle. Deaths are skipped over with an odd briskness and characters are not explored enough to give their actions much dramatic weight. There are a number of good shocks at the climax that would carry more of an impact if we had really got under the skin of the characters but as it is these scenes are still exciting just not as horrifying as possible. It's odd because every time I groaned at a painfully simple piece of prose a truly gorgeously written piece would come along and perk me up again (such as Zoe's interface or Jamie's dogfight). I'm not going to moan however because it is nice to have a book that just whizzes by keeping you entertained rather than forcing you to go back at the end and work out all the nuances you missed out on.

This is a quick, clean read that pulls a few good punches. It captures the Troughton era well and the accelerating plot climaxes in an especially satisfying manner. It is some much needed therapy after some of the torturously complicated EDAs of late.

Plus it uses the seventh Doctor better than I have seen in AGES.


Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 13/8/04

There are many things about this book that bring it up from average. The fully developed history, the gumption of the characters, the strong roles Zoe and Jamie (although Jamie more than Zoe) get... Unfortunately, there are more negative points that positive. Colin Brake proves unable to resist pop culture references, and about every one I spotted just made me wince and want to throw the book away.

There's a lot going on in this story, the colony, the Realists, the Earth military and the Tyrenians, but Colin Brake juggles them well. Action flips back and forth from one group to the other, but no-one really comes across as monsters, which could so easily have happened (and as so many authors have done out of laziness). Although there isn't a climax as such, events do build nicely towards the end (although I have grave doubts about the effectiveness of that ending once we get there). The book is split up into six 'episodes' and there is a nice touch at the beginning of the second 'episode' where the ending of the first is repeated, but this nice device isn't used anywhere else.

At this point, let's quickly jump through some of the downsides to this book. Was there any need for the Seventh Doctor and Ace? I don't think so. Did the main family have to be called Kartryte? I can't think of any reasons beyond the painfully obvious reference. As for the reference on page 157, there is absolutely no excuse for that, I nearly gave up right there.

With all the groups involved, there are a lot of characters to keep up with, but Colin Brake concentrates on just a few and so we are easily able to keep track. Some are more black and white than others, but my favourite character would have to be Lorvalan, who entirely fails to be a monster. As I mentioned above, Jamie and Zoe get good roles here, although they do get captured or moved about a lot in an attempt by the author to bring other groups into play. The Doctor does a lot of running around, which is fairly typical of the Second Doctor, but he also uses the sonic screwdriver every other interaction, which isn't.

Speaking of author attempts, he doesn't even try when it comes to exposition. At particular points, we get an infodump, just straight text telling us what happened, not even putting it into conversation or anything. There's 'show don't tell', but this is an example of 'essay, don't show or tell'.

To get specific about something I mention above, the Tyrenians could have been another animal race with purely animal traits. There are some canine components to them, but they are more than that. (Unfortunately Colin Brake completely undercuts this. Why, oh why?)

The colony of lies is based on some pretty stupid lies, but The Colony of Lies is built on some really pointless references. This could have been a decent book, but instead Colin Brake can't resist media influence, and we pay the price.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 27/6/05

Please believe me when I say I wanted to like Colony of Liea. I'm one of the people who thinks that Colin Brake's previous Doctor Who book, Escape Velocity, got a lot of unfair criticism because of expectations that the book never really was going to match. Unfortunately, while I thought Escape Velocity was a moderately entertaining adventure, I found Colony to be a couple of notches below that in quality. I slightly enjoyed it while reading, but on reflection it's not easy to see why. There isn't much that stands out; the things that do distinguish themselves are missteps. The book's central premise is absurd and there's really no sense that this adventure is in any way important. You could probably enjoy this book (and I've certainly read reviews of those who have), but you probably couldn't do so while thinking about it too much.

Colin Brake does a decent job of bringing the regular characters (the second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe) to life. Unfortunately, he does tend to fall into a common trap for Doctor Who novelists. The regulars are quite good when interacting with each other: Zoe plays well with Jamie, and the Doctor trying to keep Zoe and Jamie in line is very evocative of their TV personas. But then Blake splits up his characters for long stretches of the novel, and when he does so they become much more generic and much less like the original characters.

There are also a plethora of silly little oddities that have varying degrees of annoyance. For example, near the beginning, an important character is hit somewhere on their person by a ricocheting bullet. But even after long scenes of the character recovering, the audience is never told where on her body this injury occurred. This makes it quite difficult for the reader to assess how injured the person is. We must rely on the narrative telling us, "No, she isn't recovered yet... No, still not recovered... No, maybe next scene, she'll be better... No, still in bed." For lack of any evidence at all, my brain automatically made the juvenile assumption that someone had had a butt cheek blown away, possibly making the subsequent recovery scenes less thrilling for me than possibly the author intended.

But to be serious for a moment, it's this sort of telling-but-not-showing that makes the book somewhat frustrating, because I want to work things out for myself. This is even more apparent when dealing with the book's central conflict. Thankfully, this is revealed on the back cover blurb, so I can complain about it without revealing spoilers. This planet, Axista Four, is home to a single colony (actually one colony and one tiny, breakaway faction, which is only a stone's throw away). They started with a population of a few thousand but have been slowly decreasing over time due to the unexpected hardships. The sword that now hangs over their heads is word of 80,000 new colonists who will arrive and disrupt their back-to-basics lifestyle.

These are not huge numbers of people. Is there really no room on the entire planet for two small towns? To pick an Earth example, Pennsylvania manages to easily encompass Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and an entire Amish community -- and Pennsylvania is substantially smaller than the size of a planet. If the back-to-basics people are worried about catching a glimpse of these new people and their technology, couldn't the arrivals simply build their colony -- oh, I don't know -- on the opposite side of the planet? Nothing is shown to the reader to explain why this is a problem. The only reason this exists as a story conflict is that the characters and the narrative keep insisting that it is without elaborating as to why. It wouldn't have taken much to fix this problem (and the others like it), but it simply isn't done. And it feels more like laziness or rushed work than anything else.

Also, if we're going to criticize stuff from the back cover, I'd like to wager that the aliens are "doglike" purely to give Jamie the lamest pop culture joke in the history of Doctor Who. This also manages to date the book far quicker than any hairstyle or costume choice on the TV series. Oh, and the blurb mentions the appearances of the seventh Doctor and Ace. The seventh Doctor's involvement really weakens the final conflict, and I'm not convinced that this portion of the story makes any sense at all.

I don't wish to be overly negative, and I'd like to reiterate that I did in fact find much to enjoy while doing the actual page turning. The pacing is good. The secondary characters are not thrilling, but nice. Still, even on that level, I kept bumping into little screw-ups that ripped me out of the story. Like the energy weapon that fires bullets (okay, I suppose one could technically call a gunpowder explosion a form of "energy" -- but this is a science fiction novel and the vocabulary of science fiction novels suggests that an energy weapon is a futuristic ray-gun type thing). Couldn't this sort of thing have been fixed at the editing stage?

The prose is workmanlike. Extremely workmanlike. I doubt that there's an original turn of phrase in the entire two hundred, seventy-two pages. This does make for an exceedingly quick read, but not an especially memorable one. The characters say exactly what the plot needs them to say. The words outside the dialog describe the surroundings adequately. There's little introspection and nothing particularly special. While the number of existing Doctor Who books seems to grow exponentially, there is not one thing that manages to distinguish this adventure from its peers.


A Planet full of Lies by Andrew Feryok 23/2/06

'But if the colony was a lie don't they deserve to know that?' Zoe persisted. 'Sometimes,' the Doctor suggested, with infinite patience and wisdom,'sometimes it's actually better to let the legend stand...'
- The Colony of Lies, Chapter 19, page 270
This is an unusual break in form for me. Most of my past reviews have either been about the Target novels or the new series. But I wanted to take a break from the Target books and read something more substantial and with an ending I did not already know. This story is actually the first BBC Book I've read in quite a while. I originally read them when they first came out and my collection stopped around the 1998 years. I've recently begun to pick them up again after seeing several titles and blurbs which have intrigued me. And since Troughton is my favorite Doctor of all, it should be only appropriate that my first book should be one of his!

I should first tackle the things I enjoyed most about the book first. One of the best aspects of The Colony of Lies is the way in which Colin Brake recreates the regular characters. He manages to pull a miracle and gets Troughton's Doctor spot on, mixing his childish humor with the clever manipulator. It is also interesting how the book contrasts Troughton's Doctor to McCoy's. While many fans have compared them as being very similar to each other, we see here that they are actually opposite ends of the same spectrum. While both manipulate, the Second Doctor tends to hope for the best and fly by the seat of his pants, while the Seventh Doctor is much more arrogant, aloof, and plans every move that he makes with extreme precision. The story also establishing an interesting dilemma for the Second Doctor which fits in nicely with The War Games that is presumably not long after this story. The Second Doctor has been given future knowledge in the form of a memory crystal and is told by his future self that he may have made a mistake when he initially dealt with the problems on the colony. The Second Doctor clearly does not like the idea of meddling in his own timeline, something which he fears his people might pick up on, but the weight of the knowledge soon comes down on him and he begins to become impatient as he tries all throughout the story to discover what is on the data crystal. Fortunately, Brake does an excellent job of stringing us along to the very last chapter and the revelation that comes from the crystal is not disappointing.

Colin Brake also does a good job of capturing Jamie and Zoe. At first I feared they were going to be sidelined from the story in favor of the Doctor, but they soon begin playing a much larger and more heroic part as the story goes on. They are painted as innocent characters who wear thier attributes on thier sleeves, which is just as it should be. Jamie is naive, but incredibly brave, battling all sorts of terrors with a reckless courage. Zoe is a know-it-all who tends to get in over her head, but displays an incredible photographic memory and courage. Ace is also well captured, but I find her whining in the opening prologue to be a little grating.

The format of the book is also very well done. I have a feeling Colin Brake must have written this as a script first and then fleshed it out as a book since it follows and episodic format. It also uses many of the original tricks that television stories uses to pad out six part stories such as traveling back and forth between locations after only just arriving at one, and running up and down corridors.

The story itself is also rather intriguing. A society based on the principles of going back to an earlier time is somewhat like the Pertwee story Invasion of the Dinosaurs. But rather than it being a government program trying to unleash dinosaurs on the innocent population, this is a very different story about surviving in an unforgiving environment and sticking to your principles rather than taking the easy way out. In true Doctor Who style, the Wild West environment is contrasted abruptly with the constant presence of the colony shipwreck which is always looming over them like a conscience from long past. The arrival of the Federation ship only accelerates concerns as the reader is kept wondering exactly what the Federation's plans are for the planet and how the colonists are going to deal with the abrupt and massive changes which are going on once they arrive. And given the title and blurb, we are also kept wondering what Ransom's lie is. The colony seems to be functioning according to his principles. At first we think it is simply the fact that he passed down technology for the exclusive use of the Sheriff, but it soon becomes much more than that.

There were also some things to dislike about this story. The first and most glaring problem I had was the prose style. While Colin Brake did write a very intriguing and exciting story that kept me turning the pages, I found his overuse of narration a bit hard to get around. It reminded me of some of the Target novels I had just read. Rather than having characters reveal things through dialogue, the narrator would suddenly step in and summarize the entire conversation as if the reader is incapable of deducing this from dialogue if it was provided. Brake also tended to use large information dumps at intervals rather than allowing revelations to play out more slowly as the story progressed. This in turn led to many scenes in which large amounts of information were revealed to a character and then several pages are wasted as the narrator has to state "and then this character told this character everything that had happened." Instead, Brake might have hinted at revelations and then only revealed that information when large groups of characters where together at one time, or the relevant characters were together. The only time in which Colin Brake seemed to do this effectively was at the end of the story when the Doctor finally discovers what is on the data crystal.

I was also rather disappointed by the villains of the piece. While Captain Cartor comes across as an effective villain, I thought that there was going to be more of Administrator Greene in the story, as the blurb on the back implied. In fact, no one, other than Cartor, interacts with him until the epilogue and other than giving Cartor the occasional order on behalf of the Federation, he doesn't really play a prominent role in the proceedings. This is disappointing as I kept waiting for the entire story to see what his character was about.

The Tyrenians are also rather difficult to envision. Although they are described as being dogs, I must admit I repeatedly envisioned them as the Cat-People from the Virgin Book Invasion of the Cat-People. After a while, I finally settled on the halfway vision of them being wolf-like, but better descriptions of the Tyrenians could have been provided. I must admit thier final revelation is very shocking and worth the wait, but for a good deal of the story, they do not play much of a role at all as most of the focus is on the colony and its dilemmas. It almost feels like an unnecessary intrusion when they finally start playing a role in the story.

My last complaint is not against this book, but to the book series in general. I find it rather interesting and disappointing that the Second Doctor books have not tackled the base under siege format. So many fans have lamented that Troughton's Doctor is so difficult to capture on page. I would beg to differ. Other than The Menagerie, the Second Doctor has been captured quite well in most of the books I have read of his. I think the problem lies less with his characterization and more with the setting and atmosphere. So many Doctors have settled on standard formats which they perform the best in within the novels: Hartnell gets the historicals, Pertwee has the nostalgic UNIT family, the fourth Doctor has his camp humor, and the seventh Doctor has his dark manipulations. It would therefore seem logical that the Second Doctor would have numerous stories set in claustrophobic locations with creepy monsters. While the monsters have certainly been present in his books, the claustrophobic setting has not. Only The Murder Game and Dreams of Empire seems to capture the feel of his era at its best. And while Colony of Lies is definitely a good use of the Second Doctor and a superb story for his hero to tackle, I am beginning to feel that maybe authors in future should write more Second Doctor stories using the base under siege scenario that we love and remember his Doctor so well for.

Overall, this was not a bad Second Doctor story. I must admit in the end that while the story kept me flipping the pages eagerly towards the end, it was a hard slog at the beginning, the prose was a little troublesome, and the villains were somewhat disappointing. The story itself was very good with lots of twists, revelations, and characters hiding lies upon lies. Just when you think you've got a handle on the history of the colony, a new revelation appears which totally changes your perspective. It also has a nice message about legends in the epilogue. Overall, an above-average book that is well worth checking out if you are looking for a quick Second Doctor story with lots of adventure and twists. 7/10

PS: I loved the mentions of the terrible Zodin in this story by both Jamie and Ace. Although I have always dreamed of there being a story about this creature since I first became a fan of the show, part of me wants Zodin to reman merely an off-screen legend which the Doctor will always tantalize us with, but never reveal to us. The last great mystery which will always remain unanswered...