THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Future History Cycle
Virgin Books
Deceit
The Future History Cycle Part Five

Author Peter Darvill-Evans Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20387 9
Published 1993
Cover Luis Rey

Synopsis: The peaceful planet Arcadia is being subjugated by the evil Spinward Corporation. The Doctor and Benny arrive to assist, but are met by an older Ace and Abslom Daak, who team up to defeat the superintelligence, Pool.


Reviews

A Review by Dominick Cericola 13/3/00

There isn't a whole lot I can say about Deceit that hasn't already been said. I recently decided to try re-reading it, having read it back when I had only read about 10% of the NAs. However, upon re-reading it, I have come to the conclusion that, while you may be able to edit the adventures of The Doctor and his Companions, you certainly can't write them!

Darvill-Evans' characters are bland and forgettable, offering nothing to even remotely redeem the forever-damned literary Souls. Even poor Abslom Daak, a fun character from the days of Doctor Who Weekly, suffers greatly -- which is quite sad, as it was a nice way to tie in the otherwise forgotten comic strips.

Then there is the poor treatment of The Doctor. He is moping again, dwelling in a bubble of self-pity and doubt. Yes, this plot device works when it is not over-used, which after a point, Virgin kind of exhausted this one! I'm sorry, but despite all that had gone by up to, and including this book, was not so awful -- The Doctor had done A LOT of good actually, and to say that he doubted it was way out-of-character!

AND, finally, there is poor Ace. Ace, who has spent the last three years of her life in Spacefleet -- who now appears to be able to give Ripley a run for money, all clean in a skin-tight black leather (?) combat suit and matching boots, complimented by a dazzling pair of mirroshades. Gone is the confused young woman, former waittress of Iceworld -- she's now a hardened space marine, having seen combat firsthand and up-close, even had the opportunity to go head-to-head with Daleks! .. But, it all comes off as forced, as if the reader were left to fill in the blanks on their own.

In conclusion, I can really say only this about Deceit.. If you are completist, by all means, grab it. It's still affordable, turns up in used shops frequently, and I believe 800Trekker.com still has new copies left. If nothing else, it DOES fill in the gap as to how Ace was re-introduced to the NAs, but after that, it loses all worth. Cheers..!


A Review by Bryan Burford 8/5/01

I'd read quite a few bad things about this book before starting it, so I was pleasantly surprised that it's not all bad. It's flawed, and could have done with some editing, but it's not the monster that some people have made it out to be.

I think it's main trouble is that it's not really a Doctor Who book. It's a mainstream SF book, with some well-paced and well-played action set pieces, with some characters called the Doctor, Benny and Ace who may or may not bear any relation to characters with the same names in other books. Well, maybe that's a bit strong, but the characterisation is definitely flawed. It's actually got quite a lot in common with Transit, though that benefits from being concise, and explaining Benny's lack of personality in the plot.

On the other hand, Abslom Daak seeming like a comic-strip character because he's a faulty clone is actually quite a good joke, Pool is portrayed effectively grotesquely (and the Lacuna/Britta stuff is ambiguously stomach-turning), and as I say the action sequences are very well painted. The resolution is crap, but we're used to that aren't we? Some of the prose is crap, but we're used to that aren't we?

Maybe most people's problems with the book are down to 'What Happened To Ace'. I was prepared for this, and have already read subsequent books. I can appreciate though that when it happened it would have been a hell of a shock. The return of a companion, the radical re-writing of a companion (and the only contact with the TV series). Scary things. But in retrospect, brave things that probably did a lot for the envelope-pushing of the NAs.

So, not half as bad as they say.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 29/5/02

The cover of Deceit is one of my favorite Doctor Who images of all time. Giant Rocks About To Sneeze; you can't beat that.

The book begins slowly, and the quiet opening sections had me fooled into thinking this was going to be an absolutely brilliant story. There are nice quiet little character moments that hint at a story written with a lot of care. There are instances of surreal insanity that actually work. Several plot lines are developed at once, and each one manages to be both interesting and engaging. Parts of the narrative seem slightly confusing at first glance, but careful reading reveals a fairly complicated story apparently being built up.

A large and pointless action/battle sequence at about the halfway mark signals the beginning of the book's dive into tedium. It's dull, it's overly macho, it seems unending, and, unfortunately, it sets the tone for the rest. At some point along the line, everything that had been carefully developed was thrown aside in favor of senseless and dull action scenes. Writing a captivating battle sequence takes a lot of skill; one can't simply have a list of things that exploded and expect the audience to stay interested. Regrettably, PDE's writing simply isn't up to the level needed to keep the reader's attention.

While the beginning of the book showed promise, this isn't a New Adventure that I can recommend. It has several good moments in it though, and if you skip ahead during the gunfights, then the book may just be about worth it. However, reading Deceit in its entirety will almost make you forget about the good stuff that was buried in among the nonsense. Read it to see what happens to Ace, but don't be afraid to skip ahead during the fights; you won't be missing out on anything.


The Exception that Proves the Rule by Jason A. Miller 18/11/02

Deceit is a pretty dull book. It's one of the longer New Adventures, checking in at over 300 pages. Although the book has been out for nearly a decade now, it's still more noteworthy among fans for editor-author Peter Darvill-Evans's afterword, in which the clear directive of the NAs is spelled out to fans for the first time. When the best thing you can say about a book relates to its afterword, usually it's time to go home...

However, once you get over the fact that the story is pretty standard, and that the TARDIS doesn't even make it to the planet Arcadia until page 100, and that the Doctor and his two companions are separated for the entire book until the very last minute... well, you begin to appreciate in retrospect just why the NAs were so good.

Deceit takes place in roughly the year 2453, three calendar years after the seminal Love & War. Within Deceit's 300-odd pages, we see clearly the entire vision of future history, as the NA universe understands it. All the tiny little hints and elements carefully placed during the first two years of the NA's publication, come to fruition here. A textbook-style appendix, if you read it, makes things even more clear. A lot of thought went into planning the NAs and turning them into a coherent universe of novels, rather than just a random set of monthly TV tie-in publications. This is, to be honest, a stunning feat.

The internal pacing is what turns the book into an also-ran. The Doctor should ideally be the star of Doctor Who, but in Deceit he doesn't have a line of dialogue until page 81. There are no scenes told from his standpoint, and the way we see him through other characters' eyes is far from flattering. The return of Ace, absent for the previous three books, is more disturbing than rousing. Benny, as ever, is all over the map. One particular supporting character is dragged across an entire book with nothing to say, and then, when it's all over, her fate is left rather up in the air. Yes. Thank you.

But, turning again to the Darvill-Evans afterword, even here you can see that the author learned from his own mistakes, and fewer and fewer books after Deceit would make them. Deceit may not bear re-reading, but its impact on the next 5 years of Doctor Who books was very positive indeed.


A Review by Finn Clark 1/7/04

I sorta enjoyed that! Not much, admittedly, but more than I expected to. It's drab, macho and mediocre, but less aggressively flawed than it seemed in 1993. Admittedly it introduces New Ace and doesn't make best use of Abslom Daak, but I can forgive those sins. The book's heart is in the right place, even if its brain isn't.

Most obviously, it's the first Editor's Novel. Having devised a story arc so crap that you'd think it came from BBC Books, Peter Darvill-Evans took it on his little head to write the book that explained it all. Aw, bless. With hindsight it hardly makes sense. The Doctor refused to let Ace leave in Nightshade even though she was in love with Robin, only in the following NA to end up killing her next lover (Jan) so he could manipulate her into leaving the TARDIS! Huh? This undercuts the tragedy of Love and War without justifying Nightshade - but hey, at least it explains The Pit! Well, there's a fair trade-off. Not.

Of course the underlying editorial agenda was turning Ace into New Ace, a 26th-century space bitch. All the Virgin companions were SF characters. This was of course a catastrophe for the books on a par with amnesia, Sam Jones or Trix, but the New Ace of Deceit isn't actually that bad. She's not particularly likeable, but she's better than she'd be in many later books. She's not Psycho Ace yet, just an efficient soldier with nifty weapons and more overt sexuality. In particular her relationships with the Doctor, Benny and Daak make her seem almost human!

The Doctor and Benny are fine, though they don't feature much. They don't appear at all in the first fifty pages and after that the Doctor takes sixty more to leave the TARDIS. Ah well.

Abslom Daak is the big guest-star, of course. He's on the cover, though you could be forgiven for not realising. (That same illustration makes New Ace look like some deep sea fish.) Despite what I thought in 1993, it's clear that Peter Darvill-Evans adores Daak and is having a ball writing him. He's vividly described. More sexually crude than you might remember, but given the novel's tone this ain't surprising. He's made to look pathetic late on, but this reread showed that to be one short passage after plenty of good (albeit one-dimensional) stuff. Ace even comes to respect him, in a twisted kind of way.

There's continuity amusement with another of those Virgin-DWM coincidences. Occasionally such parallel stories were deliberate, e.g. strip sequels to Goth Opera, Warhead and the Cat's Cradle trilogy, but here it's not. 1993 saw two Daak revivals: Deceit in the NAs and Emperor of the Daleks in DWM 197-202, but they don't fit. Emperor of the Daleks precedes Deceit because New Ace hasn't yet returned to travel alongside the 7th Doctor and Benny, but unfortunately this novel believes that Daak died in Nemesis of the Daleks (DWM 152-155). The TARDIS crew should know better!

Fortunately this possible contradiction comes off like an interesting wrinkle. Benny's reactions on p261 and p267 can be read either way, while the Doctor gains another layer of deviousness if you realise he's letting Ace believe a pack of lies.

Peter Darvill-Evans screws up the future continuity of which he's so obviously proud. Deceit claims to be set in the 25th century, but blatantly takes place in the 26th. Even the book's own dates, referring to other NAs, aren't internally consistent. In fairness the dating of Benny's native era was a dog's breakfast throughout the early NAs and wound up getting patched by Lance Parkin in Just War. There's a historical appendix which I expected to love (like Darvill-Evans's Asylum mega-essay) but in fact it bored me. Ah well. I admire the worldbuilding, anyway.

The book feels as if it's been written by a dirty old man. The first character we meet remembers having sex with an under-age girl and it's only the seventh page when we see our first naked woman. This is something of a Darvill-Evans-ism, though not the only one. At times I was reminded of Asylum (medieval world, Nyssa flashback) and Independence Day (the Doctor recruits a temporary companion from the local peasants and there's lots of sex, plus New Ace). However I don't much mind all this. It's almost a feature, in a regrettable misogynistic kind of way.

No, Deceit's big problem is the plot. Its human drama is barely enough for a short story. Our heroes wander along pre-ordained paths, doing what the book's villain wanted them to do all along, and occasionally shoot things. Ace and Daak interact a bit, but no one makes much of a difference to anything. The plot doesn't develop through character drama, but through random events. Our heroes get captured, herded, teleported and whisked from pillar to post. There are guns and soldiers. Gee. The medieval losers on Arcadia didn't thrill me either.

The resolution is ridiculous, with the bad guy (Pool) practically defeating itself. In fact Pool was crap throughout the book, never giving our heroes any decent villainy to oppose, but this is a particular problem in what's theoretically the dramatic climax. There's a laughable sequel-hunting ending, as if Darvill-Evans thought the world would be crying out for more Pool, which went forgotten until Lawrence Miles used it for a throwaway line in Dead Romance.

Deceit is macho dreck that fails as a novel, but it's smoothly written and sometimes works quite well on a page-by-page basis. If you can overlook a couple of unfortunate moments, Abslom Daak is brought to life well. The dirty old man tone is odd, but not overwhelming. I couldn't recommend this book, but it's not as bad as you've heard - or even as bad as you remember.

It's not that far off, though.


A Review by Brian May 18/12/04

Deceit has an interesting set-up. Firstly, it's heavily dependent on the continuity of the New Adventures series up to this point. It's a culmination of sorts, explaining the current story arc that began in Love and War, the so-called "future history" cycle. It elaborates on the Draconian and Dalek wars, outlining what has happened since. It also describes the future of the Butler Institute, from Cat's Cradle: Warhead, and how it has transformed, with the unintentional help of the Doctor, into the Spinward Corporation. And, most importantly, it re-introduces Ace, returning her to the TARDIS crew after a three-year absence.

Interesting concepts, but unfortunately the novel itself is so boring. It's dull, tedious and overlong. Reading it the first time wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience; picking it up again for review purposes seemed like a chore. It hasn't aged well, and it has not improved in any way. At over 300 pages, it's way too long; it could have shed up to a hundred of them. Padding, a word often used to describe long and slow television adventures, can be appropriately applied to Deceit. It's different from the nightmarish prose of the previous NA, Neil Penswick's The Pit, in an equal and opposite way. Whilst Penswick's choices of words were all short, sharp and disjointed, Peter Darvill-Evans drones on and on - his words are longer and his sentences more fluid, but it's still ponderous to the core. Darvill-Evans uses too many words to describe too little action.

Deceit also suffers from "Space Pirates syndrome" - leaving the regulars out of the action for too long a time. The first TARDIS scene is not until p.49, with Benny roaming the corridors. The Doctor doesn't appear until p.81 - in an interesting but ultimately frustrating sequence, where he explains the recent problems affecting his time machine, his solution, and gives a waffling reason about manipulating Ace's departure in Love and War, effectively invalidating the dramatic impact of that story. The TARDIS doesn't land until p.100; the Doctor steps out ten pages later. If you're going to keep the regulars out of the story for an extensive period (and for argument's sake I'll exclude Ace's return on p.34, as she's not yet rejoined the Doctor), you've got to make sure the situation - and the characters - are as engaging and riveting as possible.

Does Darvill-Evans succeed? From the tone of the review so far, I think you can guess the answer! All the characters we're stuck with before the regulars arrive are boring to the extreme. A good writer will keep his or her readers wondering how a disparate group of characters will all meet up at the end; Darvill-Evans does not have this skill. The prologue is incomprehensible, and not in an enjoyably thought-provoking Ghost Light way. The expository scenes on Arcadia, from Francis's point of view, go on for ages, as do those with Defries aboard the Raistrick. These characters don't do much, except accompany the Doctor and Ace respectively until the author deigns to bring them together for the climax; but hardly ever do we feel any sort of sympathy, empathy - or even liking - for these two. Which is a great pity, as Francis and Defries are the two characters that could have been wonderful. Nobody else in Deceit, with the possible exception of Abslom Daak, come across as anything special. I wanted to feel for Elaine, to be shocked at the monstrosity she witnessed, to rue a child's lost innocence, but I couldn't be bothered! That's what the writing did to me!

The inclusion of Daak sees the NAs' first merging of continuity with the Doctor Who comics. I remember reading of his exploits in Doctor Who Monthly way back when, and am fundamentally not hostile to the idea of such a crossover. And, to the author's credit, he does have some moments. But, unfortunately, he seems to spend most of his time spouting macho, gung-ho rubbish whilst making lecherous comments to Ace. But then, that's all part of the grown up, "mature" Doctor Who we are privileged to enjoy with the New Adventures. So, lots of sexual insinuation and the inclusion of the word "fuck" is almost obligatory, isn't it? Especially as Darvill-Evans is the commissioning editor of the series! That must be why he included all that sado-masochistic lesbian nonsense between Britta and Lacuna. All of this is just creepy and unpleasant. I don't know how repressed the author is, but it all feels like nothing more than a lurid male fantasy, his obsession with nudity continuing past his first book (cf. Asylum). But then, "maturity" is a very flexible word for Doctor Who authors - they can make it mean anything they want it to.

On a positive note, I'm not going to condemn Peter Darvill-Evans for the basic premise and surrounding ideas that comprise Deceit. The "future history", whilst confined to a bigger picture background, is fairly interesting, as is the appendix which sums up the whole backdrop. So too is the history of the Spinward Corporation and the evolution of Pool. A disjointed, partially grown space station is satisfyingly alien; what's nothing more than a giant vat full of brains is nicely disgusting, but then I've never had a problem with being repulsed in Doctor Who (to an extent, naturally!) Giant maggots oozing around in slime; organic, fleshy controls of a Zygon spaceship; Morbius's brain spilling onto the floor in a trail of green goo; a man's slow and revolting transformation into a Krynoid - that's all spectacular stuff, and Pool is no different. The Corporation's manipulation and abuse of the Arcadians is one of those dreadful injustices to make the Doctor's blood boil, and the enemy's eventual defeat is very much Doctor Who - the Doctor bluffs, manipulates and puts on an act, eventually tricking the entity into a trap. Deceit has many enjoyable elements that do justice to the whole ethos of the programme - but, as I have mentioned already, it didn't have to be so badly written, or take so long!!!!

At times, the drawing out of narrative is painful. The Doctor and Francis's journey to Landfall takes forever (if I wanted long journeys, I'd read Lord of the Rings!) Benny is kept prisoner in Arcadia for a similar stretch, but the most excruciating moments are the action scenes with Ace, Daak and Defries. The worst is the shootout between them and the android Counsellors after they land on the surface of Arcadia. This goes on for eleven pages - I kept flicking forward to see when it would end! Then there's their infiltration of Landfall, Ace rescuing Daak, their securing of the shuttle, their encounter with the giant space prawn, followed by the little creepy-crawlies in the shuttle. Then there's Ace's space-walk and the giant "spider". Not until they're safely aboard the space station does the tedium let up.

But, ironically or appropriately (probably both!), I enjoyed the epilogue. The wrapping up of the story is well done, as is the mixing of past and present tense, which didn't work at the beginning. Love or hate New Ace, Deceit is where she begins, and for the moment she's here to stay. Her questionable motives for rejoining the TARDIS crew are interestingly explored from both the Doctor's and Benny's points of view. They both display a high degree of cynicism and scepticism, which sets up the next adventure quite well. But, for the book as a whole, it's too little too late. 2.5/10