THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Shada
Alternate History Cycle
Infinite Requiem
Virgin Books
The Dimension Riders
The Alternate History Cycle Part Two

Author Daniel Blythe Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20397 6
Published 1993
Cover Jeff Cummins

Synopsis: The mysterious enemy manipulates time to free the Garvond from the Matrix. The Doctor and Ace travel to Space Station Q4 which was devastated a week from now by the Garvond's time-permeable forces. Benny stays in Oxford, to discover a renegade Time Lord who has allied himself with the Garvond.


Reviews

A Review by Joseph Nunweek 15/5/98

"I don't have much time for anyone who doesn't like almond slices."

The NA's take Doctor Who far away from its television roots, and though often these books are better than many of the televised adventures, it is always nice to see old school adventures that, though bearing the unique NA flavor, remind you of that nice little series that started a phenomenon.

The Dimension Riders is one of those stories.

Certainly, the Oxford setting lends heavily to that old school feeling. Reading the early chapters with Benny's dealings at the university brings back memories of Shada's existing scenes. But the story also feels like a televised adventure due to characterization. The Doctor here has his usual dark moments, but these are balanced with his eccentric and humorous actions and dialogue, making him a far closer resemblance to the Doctor as played by McCoy than any of the more sinister portrayals in other books. Ace, whose post Deceit personality is disliked by some fans, has more of the Old Ace in her, and it is nice to see that she can overcome her distrust of the Doctor to help him when the chips are down. Benny isn't quite as strong, but is great anyway -- besides, it is intensely difficult to dislike her.

The non-regulars are delightful. Professor Rafferty is excellent as are Captain Terrin, Darius Cheynor, and Helena Vaiq. The characters are all given their own distinct personalities and backgrounds, making it feel much like a Robert Holmes story. The President, a Master wannabe (literally!) is my favourite part of the story, managing to outshine the usual ultimate evil galactic being from the end of time and space that appears far too much in the NA's.

This where the story fails. The Garvond, a heavy of Gallifreyan mythology that has escaped to destroy time, isn't especially interesting at all, but his demonic Time-Soldiers, which can age you to death in a second are very scary and, dare I use the word, cool. The end in the TARDIS is a confusing mess. I had little idea what was going on, and was only clear about the Garvond's fate after reading a basic synopsis of the book later.

It definitely has problems, like most debut books. But The Dimension Riders has fine characters and an usually interesting plot and won't disappoint you.


A Review by Dominick Cericola 5/5/00

Before launching into my review, I'd like to make a confession of sorts.. Unlike a lot of the Who fans, I didn't snatch up the NAs when they first came out. I lived in an area where it was very difficult to find ANYTHING Who-related, especially new stuff. Recently acquired NAs have come from numerous used bookstores in the Philadelphia area as well as donations from some of the kind folks @ #drwhochat over on DALnet. I have spent the last year or so reading them in order, making the whole run seem like a brilliant tapestry, one Adventure linked to another, overlapping further Adventures. I just wanted to say that it's been a lot of fun for me, and I quite honestly can not see why many of the so-called fans (?) criticized the NAs, claiming on the whole that they were a far cry from Who. Go figure.. Ah well, now for the review..

Following closely on the events of Blood Heat, the book opens with what appears to be a simple diversion: The Doctor, with Ace and Benny in tow, decides to pay a visit to another of his many scholarly Earth friends -- the time is 1993, Oxford University in England, and the friend is one James Rafferty, Professor of Extra-Terrestrial Studies. Within a handful of moments after lunch (supplied by the good Professor), The Doctor finds himself tangled in a series of paradoxes, at the heart of which lies a horror from Gallifrey's past, one which is directly linked to The Doctor's past..! And, worse of all, someone is still manipulating Time! Could the two possibly be related..??

Daniel Blythe's first NA was like a rollercoaster ride -- it had its ups and downs, but when it finally reached its peak, it was all worth it. I never once was so bored that I wanted to quit. I had doubts mid-way into the story, but once all the ideas were tied together, the payoff was there.

His characterizations were on the mark except for two minor quibbles: 1) The Doctor. He seemed a bit too doubting of himself at several points in the book. Having read the last of the Virgin run (including Marc Platt's Lungbarrow), I'd be more apt to see this sort of Doctor in the later adventures, as far worse happened to him than these events. Still, as I said, it was only a minor quibble, for in reading, I could hear McCoy's actually saying the lines.. and 2) Benny. It wasn't so much a characterization with her, as there wasn't a whole lot to her at all. I don't know if was intentional or not, but the majority of the book was Ace and The Doctor. Not a bad thing, mind you, but we went through that plot theme in Blood Heat. It would have been nice to have seen all three together throughout. Once again, a minor quibble.

I have since learned that Blythe's Infinite Requiem (which I recently turned up at one of my trips to The Book Trader), one of the post-Ace 7th Doctor and Benny NAs, is a sequel to The Dimension Riders. It will be interesting to see who returns for the sequel, and how will it compare to the original. Expect a review in the near future, gang..!


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 7/10/02

The Dimension Riders is one of those stories that's quite a bit of fun while you're actually reading it, but which doesn't particularly stick in one's memory. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, and, in fact, there is quite a lot here that is very enjoyable. However, there's also nothing really fantastic about it either. I read the story, and I enjoyed it, but there was very little that stood out about it in my mind after I had finished. It works well as a simple adventure, but don't go into it expecting anything more.

The plot appears to be a tad more ambitious than it actually is. It's set in two main time zones with a lot of interacting going on between them, and that layer of complexity really doesn't have all that much impact on the plot. There didn't seem to be any real plot reason for having the action spread out over time rather than space, but it did make the story seem just a little bit more interesting. It's a case of style over substance, perhaps, but it works. The plot may not be especially complicated, but it is fairly clever in a few places. There are parts that are a predictable, yet I found one or two twists that genuinely surprised me. The modern-day Oxford setting is drawn realistically and goes a long way in helping add to the atmosphere. This contrasts well with the ghost story feeling of the passages set in the future.

The characters introduced here are competently drawn, but aren't particularly deep. They fulfill the functions that the plot requires of them, and aren't really fleshed out beyond that. Again, the characterization isn't anything that really hurts the book, and, indeed, there are a handful of moments that do stand out as being special. It's just that the vast majority of what we see is adequate, but not great.

Actually, my overall opinion of The Dimension Riders was adequate, but not great. There is indeed a small smattering of interesting pieces, and the storyline itself it quite fun, even if it isn't terribly deep. The hints dropped here concerning the ongoing Alternative History story-arc are intriguing. You could probably skip this one and not worry about missing anything terribly exciting, but you'd be missing out on an enjoyable few hours.


A Review by Finn Clark 8/9/04

Daniel Blythe is an underrated author who writes with intelligence and subtlety. Unfortunately his debut novel is probably a large part of why this fact is less widely recognised than it should be, since on one basic level this book is bollocks.

I have a lot of time for The Dimension Riders, but it's groaning under the weight of a technobabble plot. What's happening? Buggered if I know. Time is weird, there's a fuzzy temporal menace... that's right, even in Virgin's day an alternate universe arc could screw up books! Admittedly this particular plot would have always been bafflegab, but its ending is visibly damaged by the arc. Instead of a straightforward time-eating baddie (the Garvond), we get a pointless layer of complication in which the Garvond was mysteriously created and then uncreated by the Doctor at some point in his past, but this destruction was unhappened by the villain from No Future for this one-off adventure... What the hell is this? Who thought this was a good idea?

There's interesting symmetry. Both plot threads (1993 and 2381) start with a big catastrophe, then jump backwards a week and wait for it to unfold. Probably. If time behaves as it should. I don't think this parallel has any plot significance, though; it's just narrative structure.

The continuity's a bit of a dog's breakfast. There's more fanwank than in Infinite Requiem and unfortunately it feels like it. Avert your eyes from p110, gentle reader, and there's more of the same elsewhere. On p25, Daniel Blythe seems to think that the 24th century is "just before Benny's time and just after the Cyberwars". Huh? The first is demonstrably wrong (though 'twas a common error in the early NAs) and the latter is just one of many references that have ended up pushing Tomb of the Cybermen six hundred years further into the future. (For further Cyberwars references, see p91 and p94.)

Oh, and this book also kills Anji. (Presumably it's not our Anji, but I'd suggest bookmarking p143 in case some evil-minded author timescoops Anji Kapoor to the 24th century.)

But despite all this, despite the ending and the plot, I enjoyed this book. The reason is simple: the writing. You know that cliche of the novels in which authors suddenly give us a page and a half of the mental processes of some insignificant character we've never met, also known as the Circling Vultures, the Mark of Death, the Black Spot and the Fatal Countdown? This book is so well written that this obligatory page-and-a-half so sucked me in that I was shocked when Mr Cannon Fodder bought the farm. The characters come across well, even though they're trapped in a technobabble plot and have little to do but run in circles and get itchy feet. The Doctor and Benny are good as usual, but even New Ace is treated sympathetically.

What's more, this novel has my all-time favourite scene in any Virgin NA. See p140. It's merely a three-page hesitation in which a barmaid comes on to the Doctor and he gently turns her down, but for some reason it's always got to me. I can't think of many Who authors who'd have done that scene this well... it's warm and intelligent, but also understated enough to feel delicate instead of obvious. I've had that page bookmarked for years.

Perhaps the Oxford setting helped me, since I live near Oxford and visit it regularly. (The same factor probably helped Asylum for me.) However I think that city is portrayed well enough to seem authentic to Oxfordians and normal people alike. That's good too.

Many authors peak with their debut book and fall back thereafter instead of advancing. That definitely wasn't the case with Daniel Blythe, who improved hugely with Infinite Requiem. Plotwise this book is a cross between Anachrophobia and Vanderdeken's Children, but don't even think about the plot. On the level of its writing, this is an intelligent, well-crafted novel. Despite all my criticisms above, I'd recommend it.


A Review by Brian May 21/11/06

The Dimension Riders was the very first of the New Adventures I read, and thus it occupies a special spot in my memory. Every re-reading has taken me back to my first taste of the "too broad and deep for the small screen" experience.

Despite a lack of foreknowledge and spoilers regarding previous books (Love and War, Blood Heat), it's quite a good story for a first glance at what was at the time the way ahead for Doctor Who. It's nice and traditional, and filled with all the pop culture tidbits, philosophical quotes and rock-song titles that were par for the course, combined with the acknowledgment of sexual relations - thankfully treated with some maturity in this case - and graphic violence. And, of course, exasperating continuity references!

It also draws heavily on several earlier serials thematically; nothing wrong with that per se, but this is perhaps too dependent on the chosen stories. Chess has been a strong metaphor in the past; notably prominent in The Curse of Fenric, and it's this season-26 tale that Daniel Blythe tends to pilfer. The Doctor's battle with Fenric was one whole chess game, which the story accordingly reflected. But in this case Blythe seems to think just because there's a chessboard on the Q4 and he references moves against actual games he's done something similarly clever. The Time Monster is also drawn upon, with a man being turned into a baby, but it's Shada that is the story most plundered. It's obvious the author went to Oxford: his presentation and emphasis of the town and its University life are practically an act of revenge for the prominent role Cambridge has played among the cream of British TV talent - especially Douglas Adams. It takes so much from the unfinished Tom Baker story: the presence of the Porter, the Doctor visiting an academic friend, a young male postgraduate student who becomes temporary sidekick and an academic who's in fact a Time Lord. It's slightly different, but not by that great a margin.

But, despite all this, it's an enjoyable, breezy, easy-to-read story. The pace is brisk, the regulars are all written extremely well and it's nicely structured; the three separate locations each given just the right amount of coverage and logically merging at the appropriate juncture. The other characters are good, although Blythe tends to overstress some points, like Vaiq's background and the ghosts that haunt Darius Cheynor's past. The President is a second-rate renegade Time Lord, interesting enough for one story, but no more - and Blythe realises this and definitively dispatches him. The quiet moment with the flirtatious barmaid just doesn't work, I'm afraid. She is sweet, but it just brings to mind the gorgeous cafe scene in Remembrance of the Daleks, the character also being too similar to The Next Generation's Guinan.

Despite the overemphasis, the travelogue of Oxford is nicely detailed. Blythe's prose is of a high standard, but he tends to overdo it with the similes (three in one small paragraph when describing the coming of the Garvond! - p.117) but they're imaginative and some are brilliantly shocking, especially that of the toffee wrapper on p.150 as Quallem dies. Her death, plus that of Rosabeth and the pregnant crew-member are extremely grisly, the graphic descriptions emphasising their shocking nature and driving home the emotional effect of lives lost; indeed, every death of an individual receives such sobering treatment.

There's some great tension, which often veers into psychological horror. The arrival of the Garvond has a tremendous build-up and it remains an ominous presence throughout; the prologue and epilogue effectively reinforce the as-yet-unknown captive that's being forced to alter the Doctor's past. However there's an opportunity missed in the invasion of the TARDIS library. The actual incident (p.19) is nice and eerie, but nothing else is made of it until the climax, and then it's wrapped up too simplistically, with a lot less mood. On the subject of the showdown: it doesn't work either. We've had our fill of psychedelic confrontations at this point; the most recent occurring just a few books ago in Birthright (and which I believe is that story's weakest moment). And although Blythe is trying something different with the Dramatis Personae list at the beginning, it's blatantly obvious that Tom and Darius are linked by having the same, uncommon surname. So why then does he bother giving us two moments (p. 84; 197) that attempt to drop hints or reveal a "surprise" that we already know in advance?

I've stressed a lot of the novel's weak points, and aspects that just don't work, but there's still much to enjoy. The writing is first rate and the pace doesn't drag for a moment - and given we've had to slog through The Pit, Deceit and Blood Heat recently, this means a lot! It's an impressive first Doctor Who novel. 7/10