THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC Books
The Domino Effect

Author David Bishop Cover image
ISBN 0 563 53869 4
Published 2003

Synopsis: Within hours one of the Doctor?s friends is caught in a deadly explosion, while another appears on television confessing to the murder of twelve people. The TARDIS is stolen by forces intent on learning its secrets. When the Doctor tries to investigate, his efforts are hampered by crippling chest pains. The Doctor must choose between saving his friends or saving Earth in the past, present and future. But the closer he gets to the truth, the worse his condition becomes...


Reviews

Tasty arc goodness... by Joe Ford 28/1/03

I've been extremely patient and waited nearly four months to read a new EDA (my bookshop foolishly puts them out very early making me wait even longer!). The Infinity Race was okay but re-reading it recently I was slightly disillusioned by it's lack of clarity that I'm used to in this stellar range. To be honest I was getting a bit disillusioned, no new book to re-capture my interest every month. The Domino Effect had to be something fantastic to remind me why I should be championing the EDA's.

Fortunately The Domino Effect is fricking amazing.

In every way David Bishop has confirmed his name as one of the authors to watch out for. He is a master storyteller managing to fit so much in his 280 page limit. This book is packed with spoilers I would love to share with you but it would just spoil your enjoyment of such a great book. It confirms my feelings that the EDA's are developing an incredibly involving storyline, that their concentration on effective storytelling and character drama are unsurpassed by any other book range I have ever read. That it would be a crying shame if they were to end.

Lots of people have compared Bishop to Terrance Dicks because his prose is similar, including myself but that is where the parody ends. This is a book that knows how to surprise you in the best possible way (but unfortunately for the worst possible way for the characters). I found the unfolding story an incredibly enjoyable shock experience and almost impossible to predict. The EDA universe has become so interwoven it is impossible to take anything for granted anymore. And I LOVE that uncertainty. Have no doubts, this book manipulates you in the most entertaining manner.

At first it is the huge, terrifying realisations that grip you. The TARDIS has landed on Earth but from the word go it is clearly not the Earth we are used to. In this sadistic land where racism and homophobia go hand in hand as a given it is quite impossible to forget how terrible things have become. The first third of the book deals effectively with the crew's realisations and sudden integration into this insidious world and almost tricks you into thinking the book will be relatively straight forwards. Hahahaha.

The incredible cover may give you a clue to the answers (and truly... what a cover!). Suddenly I was involved in a very human drama which seems to be Bishop's Doctor Who forte. As with the engaging PDA Amorality Tale, Bishop manages to flesh out characters with a quick description. The world they are in paints the rest of the picture and I was riveted to the book from about page 100, laughing with shock at the twists and desperate to see these characters to their final fates. I haven't been stuck to a book so avidly in about... ooh four months?

I must put my hand on my heart and confess I was unsure whether Bishop's talent for tight human dramas would translate effectively to the arc plot driven EDA's but he has not forgotten that the ongoing drama needs boosting and provides a hearty shove in another, dramatically sound direction before its conclusion. It was the last third that left me so impressed, all the plot threads are wrapped up but the book STILL ends on a helluva cliff-hanger that makes the next two months an incredibly annoying gap. Needless to say despite the top notch drama of the past five or so EDA's things have never, ever been quite this desperate. And that includes the Virgin New Adventures too. The shit, my friends, has hit the fan and while we might be forgetting the simpler, TV Doctor Who tales we are getting the most incredible stories under the Doctor Who banner. Could the TV show honestly get me this excited? I doubt it.

The Doctor. Fitz. Anji. A crew that has caused hot debate over their reign. Some people love them, other think some have lost their usefulness, others think one is a back stabbing career minded slag (wonder who that could be?). My answer to you... stop reading the books if you've had enough and let the rest of us enjoy the fun! Simply put, I am amazed at how they manage to continue to drive such drama from these three characters. Each new book seems to think up a new way of showing new colours without ever making me feel tired or bored of their adventures. How they mange to survive adventures such as this is an achievement in itself, one is put through horrific physical torture, one is treated with viscous contempt throughout and one is hampered by crippling chest pains (oh we all know who that is... it's on the blurb!) and is connected to events in some unseen way. The threat here is real and how it wears each of them down is gripping reading.

The Doctor and Anji have shared a number of classic scenes in the past (notably her dismissal of him when he discovers her betrayal in Hope) but things have never bubbled over quite so badly as they do here. Unlike the boring histrionics of the Doctor/Tegan relationship this pair actually have genuine issues to argue about. One scene near the end of the book made me sit up to attention more than any other in a while. Needless to say when the Doctor says "I shall miss you when you leave the TARDIS, Anji" I am in total agreement.

The leaps to the past were unexpected but delightful. The book is not entirely linear and these hops back and forth give the book an intriguing structure. My favourite was France 1819, a fabulous piece of writing.

The book has its fair share of violence but its all told with such a human element not one death doesn't carry some kind of resonance. The links to a past adventure were gorgeously done, and the Doctor's dilemma here provide much food for thought.

Plus on a more personal level to me I have never seen homosexuality dealt with in a Doctor Who novel with as much feeling. I appreciate that a great deal.

Obviously I really, really liked this novel, it has invigorated the EDA range considerably and left it hanging on a considerable high. I haven't discussed any of the books plot details as it would totally ruin it's effect. Forget the Doctor Who trappings for a moment, if you enjoy a good story, well told then pick this up. If a two month gap suggest this much quality in the range then thirty days is a willing sacrifice.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Supplement 18/5/03:

After the public slatings of this book I feel I must write again (since I have re-read the book in the light of such accusations that the book is insipid and dull) and put my thumb up for The Domino Effect. Finn Clark and Steve Traylen will lead to believe it is boring, lifeless and without any redeeming features. I must disagree with this as I found this book (even on a second reading) to be top class entertainment and another great book in the EDA saga.

The book has had some good press of the past few weeks. TV Zone gave it 8/10 saying it was "a simple but well told tale" and "the ending has a real dramatic punch" whilst Dreamwatch gave it 7/10 saying "all the alternative realities stuff is fantastic". Even better is Starburst which gave the book **** out of ***** saying "David Bishop convincingly portrays a world without computers" and "it is a far more assured and consistent work than Amorality Tale". It is always nice to see Doctor Who books get decent reviews in magazines.

Yes the prose is simple but given the simplicity of the storytelling it is necessary. Finn says Anji must be a dribbling imbecile to not realise that the society she is in is not the earth she knows but I found these early scenes to be a delight. It convincingly explores this twisted world they have found themselves trapped in. Upon a second reading I have to admit the Doctor is a little character-less in this one, all he does is faint a whole bunch but this is more than made up for later on where he steps out of the shadows to deal with the monsters responsible for all the bloodshed. And I have to disagree again that Anji would not treat the Doctor as she does here, there has always been a running thread through the current EDA's that Anji doesn't trust the Doctor (it was there in The Year of Intelligent Tigers, City of the Dead, Camera Obscura...) and who can blame her given how annoying vague he can be at times! Their row at the end of this story feels necessary and justified. I love the references back to Hope.

But Fitz gets all the best stuff here. His television statement is heartbreaking and it is extremely disconcerting read about his continual torture. His scenes with the prisoner in the Tower of London are something very special indeed.

Even better is the excellent momentum the book achieves, something Doctor Who books rarely manage so well. About two thirds in and the tension is raised higher and higher, you know some people are enemies, you know the resistance is going to come to a bloody end, you know this world cannot be allowed to exist and the blood-pumping action of the last third kept me on tenterhooks, even a second time round.

The ending is perfectly judged and leaves you with the hope of more quality storytelling in two months time. The Domino Effect may have the odd clunky passage or a few moralising speeches but on the whole it is a brutal, effective story that grabbed me buy the shoulders and shoved me into reality for a few days. With all the fuss over terrorism at the moment this alarming shift into a world of bombs and guns and executions was a real eye opener.

Occasionally we Doctor Who fans don't need stylish prose or witty dialogue, just a simple, solid, dark story. The Domino Effect is another testimont that Doctor Who is a versatile beast indeed and can be enjoyed (and reviled) on such a large scale. I totally respect Finn Clark and Steve Traylen on their excellent reviews but I just wanted to give you a flip side of the coin. This isn't a bad book by any means, I thoroughly enjoyed it twice over.


A Review by Steve Traylen 27/2/03

I'm afraid not a double-six from everyone's favourite Kiwi.

It's boring, annoying and just plain dull. The plot and resolution make little to no sense in the context of Time Zero. There are at least 2 gratuitous companion cameos oh and the plot twist is so fresh that it's only been used in about 6 books already in the last 12 months.

Anji is bitch-slappingly annoying (and I like Anji!), and Fitz gets the crap beaten out of him.

What really bugs me though is that the author and editor seem unable to tell the difference between "alternate history" which this is supposed to be and "altered history", like the Virgin arc thus negating much of the point of Time Zero.

It's not a bad book per se just very badly executed.

5/10


A Review by Finn Clark 11/4/03

What the hell is this? Normally I try to point out good points in even the worst books, but here I admit defeat. Admittedly this book avoids the anti-heights of a Time's Crucible or a Warmonger, but personally I found it so uninspiring in every respect that I rate it the worst 8DA since Justin took over as editor.

The setup is over-familiar. Britain is ruled by a fascist British Empire, clinging to existence in 2003 like a vampire that doesn't know it's dead. Fascist alternate realities are a creaking old saw, but The Domino Effect brings little that's new to the table. I spotted a couple of possible parallel versions of old companions (one obvious, one less so), but my suspicions were never confirmed. A predictable plod... sorry, plot... ploughs through the usual brutalities, manipulations, murders and double-dealings. And of course it's not real. I didn't care about a single page of it. The whole world is so irredemably evil that you never believe for a second that any of it will outlast the end of the book. This is thus a story that means nothing, has no consequences and goes nowhere.

(In fairness I turned out to be slightly wrong in my assumptions, but not enough to spark my interest. It also didn't help that I didn't like the characters and so didn't care whether they lived, died or unhappened.)

The TARDIS crew are dreadful. Their portrayals are flat, punctuated by moments so unconvincing and/or out-of-character that you want to reach into the book and slap 'em. Fitz's little speech destroyed my will to live and I just don't believe that Anji could be so untrusting of the Doctor. This is Anji's 21st book, published two years after her debut in Escape Velocity. No TV companion ever got a 21-story run! Jo Grant got fifteen. Sarah got eighteen. Mel got six. Anji would have to be a dribbling imbecile to say what she says here, or indeed to take as long as she does to realise that this completely alien society isn't the Earth she knows.

Oh, and on p207 the Doctor asks a question so stupid it's almost Zen. With ingenious sophistry, one could perhaps construct a philosophical framework in which the answer to this question is non-trivial... but we don't get that. No, we just get a screamingly stupid question.

The prose is lifeless, like a Target novelisation. Telos could perhaps have done something with this, chopping out two-thirds of the word count to produce a zippy facsimile of those children's books. However at novel length it flatlines.

The ending is a mess. I don't see why one particular murder should have the effect it has. I don't see how an "almost infinite number of possible Earth histories" and a domino effect mesh with the One True (but capable of shifting) Universe we're supposedly travelling through. Though having said that, in fairness I also didn't see how a certain person's identity could fit with everything they'd perpetrated, but this apparent glitch was explained in an ingenious and clever fashion.

IMPORTANT CAVEAT: I found this fascist parallel Earth cliched and formulaic, but my reactions won't be universal. If you're new to such stories, by all means dive into The Domino Effect. Some people really enjoyed this book, finding Fitz's plot thread sinister and the parallel Earth compelling. As with Amorality Tale, the prose style is so straightforward that your reaction to the book will depend almost entirely on the story being told. If it works for you, you'll like the book. As in all of my reviews, I speak only for myself.

Until now, every book I've disliked has had some redeeming feature. Byzantium! was quite well written. Warmonger was enthusiastic, ambitious and epic. The Space Age had one interesting character. However The Domino Effect contains no aspect that I admire or even like. My commiserations to David Bishop, who's already proved himself to be a talented writer and will surely write many excellent books in years to come, but this was dead from page one. What went wrong?


A Review by Paul Williams 28/4/03

This is one of the most readable and enjoyable new adventures to date. The prose style is engaging and there is plenty of action. However the story does not stand up to close scrutiny and the characters are either over the top caricatures or inconsistent. Both of the Doctor's companions have been with long enough to a) not give into blackmail (Fitz) and b) trust him a little (Anji). Further the treachery of some of the other characters is unbelievable. Yes it's nice to have a Resurrection of the Daleks style twist but not in respect of characters who have already revealed enough about themselves to be counted amongst the good guys. In two cases we're expected to believe that virtually everything these people have said were lies, and meaningless lies at that. The society does not need to be so habitually devious, especially as the resistance at least prior to the arrival of the Doctor was virtually non-existent.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 30/4/03

David Bishop is one of the best authors to grace the Doctor Who Book range.

There it is, I've said it, and it's true. This is the 4th Book I have read by him, and he hasn't let me down yet. From the glorious weaving of DW history in Who Killed Kennedy, through the impressive adaption that was Pirate Planet, the rollicking good adventure story that was Amorality Tale - and now this - yet another great book. The acknowledged greats of Who writing haven't had a hit with their first 4 books, yet David Bishop has - and for that I rate him very highly indeed.

The book begins in Edinburgh. Our 3 main stars are quickly flung into the Alternative Edinburgh that is on show here. Bishop refuses to pull any punches as he describes the bigotry prevalent in this society - a fair assessment of the world 50 years ago. The opening 100 pages, set around the magnificent city of Edinburgh, pull you in to the story. You are constantly wondering where this is all going. As the Doctor and companions go through major upheaval, you are drawn to their plight. This is just fantastic story-telling of the highest order.

This is predominantly a character driven book. Whilst I recognized places in Edinburgh, and also when the action moved to London, the setting doesn't over-ride the personalities. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji are superbly presented throughout. As they split up, so the book gives each equal billing. There's also some excellent supporting characters. The librarian Hannah, who I suspected for most of the book was being groomed for future companion status, is possibly the best. There's also Hastings - the evil sadist who makes Fitz's life hell.

The Alternative Earth scenario is handled well. This isn't a vastly different Earth than what we know though, it's very recognizable - and that often makes for some uncomfortable scenes. This is a book with its own fair share of violence. There is much travelling in the book too, as the Doctor and Anji chase the TARDIS and Fitz to London. I personally would have liked more of the travel described - but the book never lagged.

David Bishop is an author whose words fairly glide along. It's a smooth ride throughout, as you are pulled into the story. This book took me less time to read than the majority of Who Books, such was the interest the sequence of events held for me.

The only part of the book which was less than 100% effective was the conclusion. Alternate universes produce alternate personalities - and it all got a bit confusing there. It also seemed quite rushed, as if another 30 odd pages would have been better to provide a fitting denouement to the antagonists within. Nonetheless for the majority of the book I felt I was reading one of the best books in the range - shame it couldn't quite finish spectacularly.

I hope David Bishop's name is on the DW schedule again soon. He has whet the appetite for the Alternate Universes stories - now let's see what Brunel has to offer in Bristol. 9/10


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 24/9/03

It has been quite a while since I've read a book that makes this many little mistakes. Sure, it does a few things right, and there are also a couple of major blunders. But what eventually killed the story for me was the number of times I would be reading a short portion, roll my eyes, and utter, "Oh, come on!" At the outline stage, The Domino Effect could only have been an adequate, mediocre adventure. But in execution, this book feels like death by a thousand cuts. I should have known right off the bat that this would be a poor one. The back cover gives us: "[the Doctor's] efforts are hampered by crippling chest pains." Our brave, fearless hero is facing the dastardly powers of crippling chest pains? Help! What next? Fitz stuck in the TARDIS with a hangover and Anji battling a ferocious Bad Hair Day?

I'll get the positive stuff out of the way first. The pacing is quite good. I never felt bogged down or bored. This is an important consideration, since if the book had not been as swift, it would have turned from being merely bad into being totally excruciating. Of course, the downside for this sort of pace in this sort of book is that the narrative jumps merrily from mistake to blunder to miscue.

The biggest "little" mistake that the author makes is something that I find particularly annoying. It's when characters are required to do really stupid things in order for the plot to advance. This is lazy enough when it happens to a character who exists only within the confines of the story. But it's unforgivable when it happens to a regular, continuing character.

Anji has, through the EDAs so far, been portrayed as an intelligent and capable woman. Why is she so slow to realize that something is wrong with this United Kingdom? Why do all the anachronisms and inconsistencies fail to clue her in? Why is she acting so dumb? The fact that history is in a state of flux has been known since Time Zero. Even if part of the audience came to this book fresh, this is listed on the back cover. So, before the book has even begun, the reader already knows that this is not the "real" Earth and must wait for the character to catch up. Seriously, how can Anji not pick up on any of the obvious clues? Okay, I'm not expecting her to nip outside and check the back cover of the current book (at least, not in a novel not written by Steve Lyons), but she at least lived through the end of Time Zero, and the clues she's given are blindingly obvious. Each time an abnormality presented itself to her, I would say to myself, "Ah, okay, finally she'll figure it out now and we can move on to something else" -- only to have her obliviously continue on her way. Argh!

I can't think of another book that I can see falling apart and falling out of control quite like this one. There are so many awkward passages that it gives the impression of being written in a single weekend. One can just imagine the author racing through to meet the deadline, clumsily throwing shallow, one-dimensional characters and implausible plot-points down on the page simply to have something to hand in. (Not to suggest that this is what actually happened -- that's simply how it felt to this reader.) The book never seems to know what it is doing. For example, the first thirty pages are told in a combination of flashbacks, and a straightforward, third person narrative voice. I actually liked the story being told in this way; it kept things interesting. But the journal extracts end within the first fifty pages, and the book continues normally. Why the switch? Why were they there in the first place? I enjoyed the first-person passages when I was reading them, but when they vanished without replacement, they retroactively came across as merely a pointless gimmick. Authors pick their narrative voice with reason, but I couldn't figure out what point this served in this novel.

Nowhere is the rushed nature of the book more evident than at its conclusion. It's actually quite easy for me to discuss without providing spoilers because I simply didn't understand enough to describe in detail. I read the conclusion. I reread selected portions. I then read some sections a third time. It still didn't make any sense. This conclusion makes less sense the more one thinks about it. The book tells me that the uberstory situation is now worse than it was before, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. It's bad enough that the ending consists almost entirely of technobabble, but I really object to it consisting almost entirely of incomprehensible technobabble. Even if it had made sense (and I concede the possibility that there exists a simple explanation that I am simply too dimwitted to understand), it's terribly unfair to end a book like this with a solid chapter of scientific-sounding nonsense.

I was quite disappointed with this book. David Bishop's Who Killed Kennedy was massively entertaining, engrossing, and utterly unforgettable -- in other words, the complete opposite of The Domino Effect. Oh, and can anyone explain to me what the "domino effect" is as far as what it has to do with this story? Anji mentioned it in passing, but what it actually means here remains a mystery to me. Outside of the confines of this story, I would have said that it has something to do with one event in history having effects and repercussions long after the event has completed. Yet, that doesn't seem to have anything to do with this story, which is more a series of constant interference trying to produce one single circumstance.


Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 17/10/03

Is the author trying to insult us here? The TARDIS crew land in Scotland in 2003, and Anji decides she wants to return to her own life (so soon after Time Zero?). And yet, when everything around them is as if it was 1950, when they know that they are dealing with parallel universes, when Fitz asks at the beginning 'is this your world?', we are expected to believe, along with the TARDIS crew, that this is perfectly normal! Um, no, not even for an instant, and disbelief cannot be suspended enough to accept that the TARDIS crew would accept it either. But, to forward the story, they must. Oh, please...

That whinge aside, the story itself is pretty damn good. We are presented with a tyrannical world where learning is suppressed and terrorists are the worst kind of scum, and David Bishop makes it work. Injustices await just around the corner, and the state security regime controls all. Britannia rules eternal.

Not that I found myself pitying Fitz for the injustices he suffered. Telling a good story is all very well, but trying to evoke sympathy from unjust treatment is a bit too easy. If Fitz has been a stronger character, being denied as he tried harder to fight the system, then you might just get the effect you want. (Or I could just be being too jaded again...) Hastings is fairly iconic in the role of the dehumaniser Fitz has to deal with, but his initial meeting with Fitz is quite amusing.

So much for Fitz, what of Anji? She's a foreigner, with dark skin, so treat her as a third class citizen! David Bishop makes much of this opportunity to demonstrate racial intolerance, but Anji's having none of it. Although someone doesn't think to much of the Scottish if Anji still accepts racial prejudice from them without one considering that she might not be on her Earth (sigh). However, strength of character in the face of racism is about all that distinguishes Anji from any other strong Doctor Who companion around at the moment. Could easily replace her with Ace without too much change (speaking of which, given that this is an alternative Earth, is Dee perhaps supposed to be someone else with the same initial?).

Perhaps it was because I was just reading Fear of the Dark, but I kept hearing Peter Davison again when the Doctor here talked! Apart from rescuing Anji, he merely wanders from one place to the next, meeting important characters (such as the believable Hannah), and doesn't even have much to do at the climax except watch events unfold.

Let me re-iterate one point. Once you get past the pretence that this is the real Earth, this is a decent read. The story is engaging enough, and the pages fly by (helped by the large font, the word count on this story being lower than others). The events are all too believable and this could easily be an all too accurate recreation of an actual historical event (although I'm sure we would have heard if something like the trade riot clean up had happened... unless the state control is really good...). The last few scenes of Domino Effect are very Doctor Who-y, but kick home the point that something really cataclysmic is yet to come...


A Review by Mike Morris 17/12/03

Not so long ago I wrote a review of Anachrophobia where I talked about television and novels, and how Jonathan Morris has a remarkable ability to bring the two media together. One of the things I said was that Doctor Who novels all-too-frequently work as unmade television scripts rather than novels in their own right, and this was a factor that slapped me like a wet fish while watching, sorry reading, The Domino Effect. It pulls off the most amazing trick of not being a book at all. It also has me undecided and unsure about a few things. I can't claim to have enjoyed The Domino Effect, but in a curious way it's still a worthwhile piece of work.

I found many things not to like about it, sure. First of all, a large proportion of it is set in Edinburgh. Now Edinburgh is famed as an extraordinary city dripping with beauty and history, which is curious because it's the most horrible city I've ever been in, and I've been to Birmingham. It's a disgustingly superficial middle-class gentrified prettified self-satisfied posing pile of dirty stone and smugness, inhabited by about five Scottish people and six billion tourists, where at night marauding gangs of pissed hen parties from Essex terrorise the unsuspecting passer-by and the main hobby is looking down on Glaswegians (even though Glasgow is fifty times the city Edinburgh will ever be). So a book set in Edinburgh is going to have to try very hard to win me over. Okay, that's a personal thing, but there you go.

It's fortunate, then, that Edinburgh seems to be a shorthand for "somewhere in Britain that's not London". This book could really be set anywhere. There aren't even any Scottish colloquialisms used - an extraordinary oversight, especially since this is a world where communications between cities is limited and regional dialects would still be strongly evident. In fact the only thing obvious about the setting is that we're in an altered reality.

Obvious to everyone, that is, except our heroes. After twenty pages I was thinking this was a bit silly, at page forty I was shaking my head in disbelief, and by page sixty I was unsure whether the author assumed his readers to be as stupid as Fitz and Anji appeared to be. It wouldn't be quite so stupid if it wasn't for the fact that Fitz and Anji had already been exposed to the idea of an altered reality and should have been half-expecting this sort of thing. Anji, in particular, was being particularly dense about the whole thing, while Fitz's main stupidity was in deciding he could trust a man who'd had him secretly taken prisoner and then beaten up on a regular basis.

There were other things I found incredibly annoying. I found it annoying that the Doctor met up with a bunch of rebels right away and immediately gained their confidence, at just such a time as they had a big in-fight. I was annoyed at the silliness of the main monster issuing orders to his inferior from a darkened room, which is just the biggest and most overdone cliche in the universe. In fact, the first one hundred pages of The Domino Effect appear to be trying to break records for the inclusion of bad SF cliches. Oh my.

And this was when I realised what I was doing wrong. I was expecting this book to be, well, a book. But the whole secret of reading The Domino Effect is to imagine it as a televised story. And if you do that, it's actually rather good, and what leaves me uncertain is how valid this approach is.

To digress; Joe Ford wrote a defence of Anachrophobia a while ago, in which he said that one of the book's better points was that "it would look fantastic on screen." I think that's true, but completely irrelevant. Anachrophobia isn't, and never will be, on screen, so what it would look like is utterly unimportant - what matters is whether it's a good novel. To me it's a bit like saying that George Best was a great footballer because he had a good tennis backhand. Different media are good at different things - great book characters often come across as drippy and indecisive in cinema or television, for example. And by the same token, explosions and chase scenes can be great on telly, but in books they're usually very dull.

The Domino Effect is the ultimate expression of this difference between screen and page - and reading it, I began to understand that Joe, in a funny way, had a point... and moreover that he is quite right in his insistence that The Domino Effect is an excellent Doctor Who story. It reads, not as a novel in its own right, but as a no-frills guide to help the reader visualise a television story in their own head. The characters are the forceful, one-note stereotypes that one sees on television. The prose is matter-of-fact, fast-paced, and mainly follows a formula of setting the visual scene in the first paragraph and then revealing dialogue and actions as quickly as possible. There's no love of words or writing evident; but hugely apparent is a love of television and television conventions, which pop up all over the place. I've just listed various stupid bits of the first half of the book, but funnily enough when one imagines the televised story they don't seem at all stupid. TV is a less cerebral medium, and Anji's stupidity - for example - would be disguised by the sheer weirdness of the environment she is in. We wouldn't wonder so much at Fitz giving the Doctor and Anji away, because the violence he suffered would be that bit more vivid. And while various conventions, such as the device of the British Empire's rulers chatting away in a little room somewhere, seem completely daft in a novel they'd be perfectly acceptable on TV.

I'd usually not make any effort to see things from this point of view, which to me is missing the point of the novel as a format; but the whole point of The Domino Effect is that it makes it incredibly easy to imagine the television story. In that sense it's actually extremely clever. It's a long time since I've read a book that had me imagining visuals with such ease - despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that those visuals weren't particularly interesting. I suspect I enjoyed the second half of the book, even if it becomes more and more silly as it goes along. Fitz gets some very sweet scenes, I was surprised by the conclusion, and it worked lucidly and well as an effective setup to the idea of a constantly altering history. It's hard to go into details without spoilers, but much of the book's conclusion revolves around an assault on the Tower of London which is fast-paced, exciting and has a satisfying number of double-crosses and twists.

I have two complaints. Firstly, I thought Alan Turing's inclusion was a mistake. This, and the mentions in Endgame, turn him into a stock "Doctor Who character" that devalues The Turing Test a little. I think Turing's story was beautifully (and respectfully) told in The Turing Test, and shouldn't be used as a pat way of involving the Doctor in a story a little more. The Turing Test made Turing feel like a person I actually knew, and so his gratuitous inclusion here seemed demeaning. Secondly, the "altered history" plot makes it difficult to care all that much until the very conclusion. It's hard to give two shakes of a haggis skin (another reason to despise Edinburgh is that they actually serve that muck without a health warning. Or a resuscitation team) about rebels tearing down an evil regime when that entire reality is only temporarily "real" anyway. The way that progress is held back is a bit simplistic, maybe, but it gives the book its best passages - and it's badly damaged by the altered history storyline. It's only towards the end, when the question of why reality is changing crops up, that I really got excited. It's a notion that's deceptively thoughtful and interesting.

Still, I think the real questions The Domino Effect throws up are more about its expression than anything the story addresses. It is, ultimately, a bit of a daft and forgettable story. What's perversely intriguing is the fact that we're reading a book written by a lover of television, for people who love television, that desperately wants to be television. And in a way that's quite a good idea. After all, most Doctor Who fans are - by definition - lovers of TV, primarily associate Doctor Who with TV, and it's probably a fair bet that many of them don't read all that much and actually want to experience novels as TV stories. It's not a mindset I'll ever adopt, but after reading The Domino Effect I understand it - and, really, why not? I don't think literature is an inherently higher art form than television, and in its own way The Domino Effect is clever, subtle and witty.

This book has garnered some negative reviews on the web. This doesn't surprise me, but I don't think it deserves them. Although I can't bring myself to like this book, the reason why is that I can get a bit precious about books - oh dammit, in fact I can be a bit of a literary snob. There. I've said it. So I'm not a good audience for this novelization-like rendering of an unmade television script; the lack of any discernible prose style, the constant use of cliched television conventions, and the relentless stupidity of just about everyone in it annoys me (I should also say that, from any viewpoint, Festival of Death shows how this should really be done, as it works on all levels in a way this doesn't). Still, I can see that this book isn't aimed at me, and although I don't engage with its aims it does what it sets out to very well indeed. Because of that, it does deserve a strange sort of praise.

The Domino Effect does not work as a novel in its own right, which would seem to be unforgivable, but it is a lot smarter, sharper, and stylish than it first appears. The best thing I can say is that it is a good novel for people who don't like reading - a comment that isn't as negative as it sounds. Make of it what you will.


A Review by John Seavey 28/4/04

The Domino Effect is another book that, like The Infinity Race, was getting somewhat weak reviews, and it was with some small amount of trepidation that I approached it. Perhaps it was that the previous novel had cleansed my palate a bit, leaving me eager to enjoy a book, but I more or less liked this one. It had its frustrating aspects -- the alternate Earth that Anji, Fitz, and the Doctor arrive on seems to be populated by two species, the Blithering Gullible Idiots and the Sadistic Murderous Evil Bastards, but it's a quick, atmospheric read.

On the other hand, I do feel that more needs to be said about the Blithering Gullible Idiots and the Sadistic Murderous Evil Bastards. Hastings, the primary SMEB, is so transparently evil that you halfway expect him to grow a moustache that he can twirl. He's clearly a sadist, in it for the power and ambition... and yet, for most of the novel, he continues to seem to genuinely believe that Fitz is a terrorist. Now, there is no point at which Fitz's being a terrorist is even remotely plausible (well, OK, once the resistance movement shows up to rescue him, yes, then it seems plausible), but this guy seems to buy it. Perhaps he's a half-breed, part SMEB, part BGI.

The BGIs are worse than the SMEBs, though. The policeman who wanders through the tale to help the Doctor and Anji, all the while not noticing that they're the terrorists everyone's been looking for. The resistance group that hears on TV that the Doctor is a terrorist, and immediately kicks him out. There's a bunch of them about... admittedly, Bishop states that educational standards have been systematically lowered over the decades by Sabbath and his merry men. (Incidentally, it's not quite clear -- is Rameau meant to be Sabbath? Rameau, in French, means "little branch", which doesn't seem to fit. Ah, for the good old days, when all you needed to do was figure out what language the Master was using.)

I do forgive the SMEB/BGI stuff for the most part, though (Hannah's sudden transition from one to the other still lacks verisimilitude to me -- she had way too many chances to get the Doctor and Anji caught for me to buy that), because the central concept is a very cool one. The whole alternate timeline, which seems pretty well thought out, all stems from the divergence of Sabbath's enslaving himself to the Oracle in 1762. One vitally important divergence, and foom.

Unfortunately, "foom" kind of sums up the ending, too. I sort of understand how Turing became the focal point... I think... but why does the destruction of one reality create a domino effect? (Previously, we've seen it to be exactly what you need to do. It's been leaving the alternate reality to exist that's been the Bad Thing.) Why does the presence of Fitz and Anji soften the effects? Is Trix really popping in and out of the TARDIS? How? She's got no key, and snuck aboard the first time. What happened to the Oracle? Why does the Doctor think Sabbath is "still out there somewhere" after the ending of The Infinity Race? (Well, yes, I'd think so too if I were the Doctor, but usually he exhibits willful blindness about the survival instincts of his opponents.) Lots of questions, not huge amounts of answers. Still, the book does up the ante in the current story arc, as reality is now wriggling about like a pot full of mice. And, again, I did like the central timeline/concept. It just... well, needed fewer idiots, on both the good and bad sides.


All fall down by Robert Smith? 1/6/04

Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd like to welcome you to this year's Goofiness ceremonies. While many of you have enjoyed our hospitality in past years, I realise some of you will be new to the concept. In these awards, we don't worry about the bad, we don't go looking for the good and we leave the downright dull in Christopher Bulis's hard drive where it belongs. Instead we celebrate all that is goofy about our favourite series. Long time viewers will doubtless recall past highlights such as those two schoolteachers who'd never heard of crack cocaine in The Eight Doctors, the chatty Dalek Prime, Steve Cole becoming editor, and so on. Indeed, those were the days.

This year we have some fine contenders, covering all manner of book lines. Sadly, our judges were forced to exclude Warmonger altogether, partly on the grounds that it would qualify for too many nominations, but mostly because they didn't want to go there again. Let's just take a moment to remember the scene where Peri gets drunk and tries to hit on the fifth Doctor and leave it at that.

In a similar manner, we were unfortunately forced to exclude The Crooked World from our surveys, due to the shock of it actually being good. We also had high hopes for Anachrophobia, given that it seemed to be set almost entirely in the space of about three rooms, but were sadly forced to disqualify the novel when it turned out to be duller than the intellect of whoever suggested Virgin turn the MAs into a run of sequels. Which, while a feat I'm sure none of us ever thought possible, nevertheless belongs in a different sort of awards ceremony altogether.

Our first award is the goofiest behind-the-scenes prospect that actually came to fruition. And the nominations are:

And the winner is... the alternate universe mark 2. Let me tell you, the committee are waiting with bated breath for the BBC Books' version of the Psi Powers arc.

Next, the goofiest use of continuity in the novels. The nominations:

And the winner is: Steve Cole, for not knowing the meaning of pentagonal! Well, we laughed.

Goofiest cover:
Let's not even bother with the nominations, we all know Mad Dogs and Englishmen has this one in the bag. Which is pretty impressive for a year that included The Crooked World and Heritage.

Goofiest action by one of the regulars:

The most brazen attempt to avoid dealing with consequences ever to appear in Doctor Who:

Goofiest use of technobabble:

And the winner is: The Domino Effect, for managing to live up to its title and have everything fall over suddenly.

The Anthony Ainley memorial award for the Doctor simply knowing that his archenemies always escape to fight another day, despite last seeing them facing certain death:

And finally, the big one. The one we've all been waiting for. The award for the goofiest novel in recent memory.

Second runner up:

First runner up:

And the winner is...


A Review by Dave Roy 21/1/06

Another Doctor Who novel, another alternate universe? Sadly, this will become the norm, as the current storyline is about alternate universes. As begun in The Infinity Race and Time Zero, alternate universes are springing up all over the place. This just adds another burden to a story that takes place in a continuing series, as we have to be given a reason to care about any of the characters in it, as we know it's not going to "matter" to the story in general. Otherwise, it's just going through the motions. Sadly, Bishop fails in this, as I didn't care about any of the characters, sometimes not even the continuing ones.

It's hard to decide where to begin on The Domino Effect. Characterization takes a back seat to imagery in the book, with none of the incidental characters eliciting anything other than disgust or boredom from this reader. The bad guys are super bad, moustache-twirling evil minions (Hastings is the worst), and the good guys are sniveling dweebs (except Dee, who is a violent good guy, thus not necessarily twirling her moustache). Instead, we're given an almost brutal book. Hastings, the main character who interacts with Fitz, is just sadistic and nothing else (except when he turns into a sniveling dweeb). All of the scenes with Fitz consist mainly of beatings and torture in some fashion and that's about it. There's a point to Fitz's captivity, though he ultimately doesn't really do anything except introduce us to a character who becomes important elsewhere. But the beatings? They're overdone. The atmosphere of the world has the same brutality, and Bishop constantly lets us know how oppressive everything is, sometimes to a fault.

All of this is being done in the name of stopping progress. There is a nice confrontation at the end spelling everything out, identifying just what the purpose of the scenes taking place in the past (where various instances of potential technological advances are nipped in the bud) is and how they interact. However, this scene suddenly takes a sharp left turn into the realm of technobabble that really doesn't make any sense whatsoever. I'm still not sure what the other prisoner has to do with the whole thing. This technobabble goes on for pages at the end, trying to explain the whole plot, and worse: trying to set up subsequent books. This does not make me feel good.

Are there other silly aspects to this book? Of course there are. How about a policeman who's conveniently forgetful, who just happens to be the one policeman who runs into the Doctor and his cohorts. Gee, isn't it nice that he's so forgetful that he doesn't remember seeing the Doctor and Anji's pictures on the "Britain's Most Wanted" television show? Not to mention the briefing I'm sure he received just that morning! Nope, doesn't remember them. But gee, the Doctor sure looks familiar. Maybe he saw him on the telly! I'm sure Bishop thought this was a cute scene, but trust me, it wasn't. Not to mention the fact that the police force in this "timeline" is so brutally efficient that there's no way this person would be on the force. Whatever shred of my disbelief that was left suspended, the fraying rope finally snapped. This was absurd.

Even worse, however, is Anji's complete stupidity in not knowing that something was wrong when she first arrives. She blunders through the first 50 or so pages, weathering all the overt racism (she's the only person of any ethnicity that is not a servant in the country), the scorn heaped on her when she does things like ask where the ATM machines are and tries to pay with money that has the Queen's picture on it instead of the King's. Anji is not an idiot, but you certainly couldn't tell from the beginning of this book. The TARDIS crew has just been through an adventure where the universe starts splitting, and their last adventure was in an alternate universe. You'd think she'd twig to the fact that this wasn't her 2003. But no, she doesn't. She keeps forcing her way through. Gee, great portrayal of the real Edinburgh there, David, that she might actually believe that this is the real Edinburgh for any length of time whatsoever. There is one line that attempts to rationalize this (blaming it on being shaken by her first encounter with the racism), but it doesn't wash. Even shaken, she is smarter than that.

So what did Bishop get right? Not a whole lot in this case. The book begins with a flashback sequence for Anji, even though the Doctor & Fitz's scenes are told in the "present," but this only goes for about 50 pages and then disappears. It doesn't really work, but the rest of the prose is ok. Fitz is ok for what he does, though unless it has some ramifications for him in other books, it doesn't really work. He should lose some of his gung-ho attitude after his treatment in this book. If not, then Fitz becomes even less than useless. The Doctor doesn't really do a whole lot, but the final confrontation (before the technobabble virus hits) is quite well done. Heather is also mildly interesting, though there turns out to be a reason for this that is, sadly, predictable. Until she turns into a pod person, she's actually an effective character, though that could be because she's the only true character in this book. There are multiple betrayals in this book, but none of them work because I didn't care about them at all.

Unless you're a completist, give this one a miss.