BBC Books

Author Simon A. Forward Cover image
ISBN# 0 563 53843 0
Published 2002
Featuring The Fourth Doctor and Leela

Synopsis: In a village in New Hampshire, Thanksgiving is coming, but winter might not let it arrive. A covert military group is searching for something that might have fallen into the hands of a doomsday cult, but people are disappearing and even the Doctor can't seem to help them.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 1/4/02

This book had a lot of pre-reading baggage attached to it, for me. It was a fourth Doc PDA where the blurb was very late in being released to fandom, causing me lots of intrigue as to what it was about. It had to follow some of the best PDA/fourth Doc books in Tomb of Valdemar, Psi-ence Fiction & Festival of Death.

Drift, by Simon Forward, takes place in New Hampshire, a few days before Thanksgiving, when a powerful blizzard has come down on the resort village of Melvin Corners. A military organization is looking for a piece of Alien technology lost in the crash of a jet, as well as UFO cultists who want the tech for themselves. Throw into the mix a pair of CIA agents who have their own reasons to help find the wreckage from the crash, a family coming apart at the seams, and the 4th Doc and Leela, here to meet Indians.

Like The Face Eater, Drift is a character ensemble piece. There are many speaking voices and numerous plot strands running through the book. Some of the strands are resolved in unexpected ways, others have endings easily foreshadowed. Out of the original characters, most are one notes, others have development, but mainly in terms of plot, not in terms of character arc. Not that this is a bad approach, but compared to the first half of The Face Eater, it pales.

The Doctor was well done, a good mix of the goofy facade and serious undercarriage. He's given lots to do, which is something this character always needs in novel form, and even gets to quote Shakespeare. Leela, however was a bit of disappointment, missing for a good chunk of the novel, and having little to do, except for a small fight towards the end, which is a shame because her introduction in the novel is quite good, and we get teases of more in the course of the novel. Then again, Psi-ence Fiction came out not too long ago, and Chris Boucher's Leela would make anyone's version suffer in comparison.

The other characters that populate Drift all have their little moments, but you can tell that Forward wanted to give them more than their surface points. Most of the attention falls on the Agents, Melody and Parker, and the dysfunctional family unit of Makenzie, the village Cop, his girlfriend Martha, and her daughter, Amber. Which, although cliche-driven, comes together with a solid, but not overly-sentimental conclusion.

The menace was well-conceived, and better executed. Forward enters Big Steve King territory, with a touch of early David Cronenborg (using cold/snow as a horrific/terrifying element) thrown in to create something fairly original for a DW monster. There are other nice touches, which fall under the spoiler category, that help in the development of this creation.

In the end, Drift is a solid novel debut for Simon Forward and another 4th Doc PDA definitely worth checking out.


8 out of 10

A Review by Finn Clark 21/5/02

Drift begins well. You can tell the author is giving his all, slaving over the prose to such an extent that sometimes the poetic effects interfere with the clarity. Nevertheless I appreciated the effort.

The book's best aspect, hands down, is the snow. There's lots of atmosphere; you really feel trapped in this white world. In many ways it's a companion piece to Kim Newman's Telos novella, Time and Relative (despite the fact that their publication dates mean neither author would have been able to read the other's work at the time of writing). The book's monster is similarly enigmatic and late in being revealed. Until I'd read this book, I never thought an author could make me nervous of snow.

The original characters never get proper introductions, merely drifting into view as if the reader too was snowbound. I'm not convinced this is a good thing. The introduction of Makenzie, Martha, Laurie and Amber is nicely written, but a couple of pages later I realised I couldn't remember who was who and had to backtrack and reread. (Oh, and too many names begin with M).

They're well written though, with even the cliched Native American managing to be palatable. The worst two portrayals are, unfortunately, the Doctor and Leela. He feels a bit off, while she's merely adequate (and gets little to do). But I thought that same team was iffy in the same author's More Short Trips story, so if you liked that then you'll probably disagree with me on this too. They're adequate. They do the job well enough, and while the bar's pretty high on Leela's portrayal in PDAs (Eye of Heaven and three novels from her creator), no one's yet nailed Hinchcliffe-era Tom IMO.

The plot is relaxed, being more about atmosphere than twists and turns. There's a revelation on page 240, but it never amounts to anything. I'm afraid my attention wandered a little more than it probably should have, but there's nothing bad about this novel and quite a bit that's pretty good.

Low-key, mostly unremarkable and in places quite nice.

Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 18/6/02

All right, we get it. There's a lot of snow in this book. Indeed, the overwhelming impression is that of sheer whiteness. In fact, everything about the book is blanked out by whiteness. Or was it sleep?

One thing that does comes through is that the author has read Phantoms by Dean Koontz (well, I did recently, anyway). I can't really say that this book rips that one off, but we merely need to call the main menace the Ancient Enemy and then start looking for Timothy Flyte. But to compare Simon Forward to Dean Koontz might lead one to expect a taught thriller with a tense atmosphere. This would be a mistake. Let me summarise what happens: people walk through snow, nothing happens. Other people walk through the snow. Nothing happens. People run and even ride through the snow, nothing happens!

Sure, there's an enemy. Sure, people die. Sure, the method of how the enemy kills people is interesting, and yet Simon Forward manages to suck any excitement out of the story by having most of the action off camera, and during action scenes cutting away to see people sitting around chatting. It was amazing how pages could just fly by without any actual events taking place.

The characters, on the other hand, are intriguing, specifically their relationship with the other characters: Morgan and Makenzie Shaw with their brother love-hate relationship. (I was expecting a reference to Liz Shaw at some point, but there wasn't one.) Makenzie, Martha and Amber, and Carl, with their whole fractured family dynamic. Agents Theroux and Quartararo were rather irritating in their smuness and sense of superiority, but had some nice touches about who they really were. Even Jacks, Lagoy and Hmieleski with their hostage situation was provoking. Perhaps Simon Forward was trying to compensate for a lack of plot with characters? Perhaps he had too many characters and thus forgot about the plot? Either way, more time was spent catching up with people than advancing the story.

The Doctor was very much Tom Baker operating in sober sulking mode. In that, Simon Forward captured the Doctor very well. However, there is more to the Doctor than just that, yet the Doctor remains in that mode for the entire book. Shame about that. Still, seeing the Doctor drinking was worth it, even more so him acting drunk. Leela, on the other hand, gets completely side-lined, first being stuck with a character that made at most one appearance per chapter, then later taken out of the action altogether until the very end, and even then is still kept out of the main events.

To say Drift is dull doesn't even begin to describe it. Character interaction is all very well, and indeed is a necessity in a good book, but there is more to a story than that. There's absolutely no story in this book, nothing happening despite the large number of people and that they move around a lot. Instead of reading this book, sleep in. It's all the same anyway.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 29/1/03

The 4th Doctor and Leela combination is a favourite of the BBC Past Doctor Authors, probably because of Chris Boucher in more ways than one actually. I think it's a great combination evoking memories of classic TV stories like Horror of Fang Rock, Talons of Weng-Chiang. I moaned when the Virgin Missing Adventures had none at all of this combination, and now I am wondering where the 4th Doctor and Sarah-Jane have gone to! I suppose that's the beauty of a 26 year old show, multiple combinations to choose - it's why the Past Doctor books will always have a place - so many great characters to focus on.

Here we are then, a 4th Doctor and Leela novel - and I am delighted to say perfectly suited to that combination. If it is the objective of Past Doctor Books to bring back the atmosphere and nuances of a particular time on the TV show, then Drift is a massive success, even though the setting is new and different. I have heard the 4th Doctor is difficult to capture on print, well he's absolutely spot on here. It's great to see, and the book is great because of this attention to detail. I wouldn't say it is the most Doctor-focus, or Leela focus, book on the market - but when they are in there, they are written excellently.

The book focuses on extra characters, most of which are quite interesting. The Mailloux family is the most fascinating. The lively daughter Amber, with her "beyond her years" attitudes and feelings. The long suffering mother Martha, with former partner Curt threatening to return, and new partner Makenzie struggling to tackle the new step family he has taken on. There's the soldiers, led by Morgan, investigating the crash site trying to recover Stormcore. There's the CIA agents, Parker and Melody, reminding me of Mulder and Scully at every turn. The inhabitants of Melvin Village come to life as well. It's an ensemble cast, and there's quite a few people in the mix. At first so many are flung at us, it is difficult to keep track of them all, but the reader is rewarded in the end, if they pay attention at the start. It's a good set of characters with vastly different motives.

When the book is focusing on characterization it is brilliant. When it goes off on military operation logistics, it becomes less interesting. I quite liked UNIT, but that was only because of the characters, not their military stuff - all gets very boring after a while. The military and CIA angle is not one of the book's strong points. The American Indian aspect, as presented through the eyes of Kristal (Leela's companion for most of the book), is pretty good too - there's some nice comparisons between Kristal and Leela's upbringings.

The book is pretty good too for its confrontation with a potentially sticky topic - a real life concern, and arguably soap opera element. It is a feature of recent books, that subject matter potentially out of place in such books, becomes sensitively handled - and actually enhances the book, and our understanding of that problem in society. Here the conflicts of a dysfunctional family are included. A girl awaits a visit from her real father, who is alienated from her mother because of abuse. Like the previous Relative Dementias, with its descriptions of Alzheimer's disease, it's a potentially uncomfortable notion - but you have to admire the skill and sensitivity with which such topics are dealt with. Most DW fans have grown up, especially those from the TV show, and it seems the books have joined us.

The setting, beautifully rendered with an excellent cover, is a snowy waste in Eastern USA. Isolated communities struggle against the tyranny of the elements. The harshness and beauty of such a landscape is described in equal measure. It's actually a nice change too, for the Doctor to land on Earth somewhere else other than England - unfamiliarity brings some knowledge and surprises.

The action is firmly set in this Eastern USA snowbound setting. The isolation is played upon, as is the weather to very good effect. There's a wonderful scene with Leela and her Indian friend under the snow, sheltering from the storm. This is one of the best descriptive books I can recall. Where the book isn't quite as good is in the ill-defined alien threat, which uses the ice and snow in a very similar way to Time and Relative. There seems an awful lot of build up too, making it an involved read, but with everything resolved rather quickly at the end. You have to admire the style of writing, but as for the story it didn't grab my attention quite as much as I would have wished.

Drift is a good first novel by Simon Forward. It has many great character moments for all the characters involved, including the 4th Doctor and Leela. The setting is perfectly presented and used to full effect. It's the story that lets the side down, resulting in a book that I felt could have been so much more greater than it actually was. Still pretty good though. 7/10

Snowed under by Robert Smith? 9/2/03

You know, there's some sort of cool theme that's drifting through this novel, but I can't help feeling a bit snowed under trying to melt its icy exterior. I don't mean to sound cold, but once the theme had frozen into my brain after appearing in the first 300 sentences, I began to chill out and shiver with anticipation. I wanted to give it a frosty reception, but eventually decided I was being frigid, so I decided to thaw out a little and enjoy the free zing it was giving me.

There's a lot to like about Drift. There's a fairly mature first novel happening here, that's got a lot of character stuff going on, an entertaining little plot that develops nicely, some really cool action scenes and a nice focus on the fourth Doctor. But it has one serious flaw that almost kills it outright: quite simply, Drift has too many characters.

What's up with that? New characters are still being introduced as late as page 230 with yet another short snappy paragraph that completely fails to grab the reader in any way whatsoever. You can't simply tell us that someone likes cats and teddy bears, but sleeps in their socks and expect us to care. Ironically, there's simultaneously some really interesting character development going on with Mackenzie Shaw and family, so it's not as though the author wasn't capable of it. It's just that after the first 5000 characters have appeared, you need a little breathing space to see some of them in action, not shift to the next new one.

I''m aware that UNIT sometimes consisted of three regular actors and two nonspeaking extras, but we also cared about UNIT. White Shadow must be the most amazing military outfit to ever appear in Doctor Who, given that it seems to be staffed by about four thousand speaking characters. Oh, and the line "UNIT huh? And who is she?" is incredibly mismatched, making us think that Morgan Shaw has no idea what UNIT is, when he actually does and is instead referring to Leela in the second part of the sentence. It took me a long time to figure out why just Shaw accepts the Doctor so easily, until I went back for a reread.

And that's before we get to the oh-so-shallow residents of Melvin Village, many of whom must nevertheless be introduced in detail, despite contributing nothing whatsoever to the book. That's not even counting the members of the cult, though we're spared meeting a couple of hundred of them, since most of them have been killed off before the novel starts. Fortunately.

The worst thing about this phenomenon is that is subtracts from the character work that is going on. Simon Forward has managed that rarest of achievements in a Doctor Who novel: (some of) his original characters are actually well developed enough to make us care about them. I really liked Makenzie Shaw and Amber and wanted to see more of their story, but we keep shifting back to yet another military manouvre with more new characters. There's probably too much time spent on Jacks and company, but at least we have a consistent character strand for a while. And it's a crying shame that Kristal gets killed off.

The cult stuff actually works quite well as backstory. Seeing Crayford Boyle (the cult leader, in case you missed his snappy description) post-shock conveys a great deal in a small amount of time. On the other hand, I'm not quite sure the timeline hangs together: the cult apparently summoned the ice creature through the dimensional rift and it then took control of the Stormcore from the plane, but later it appears that it was the Stormcore which allowed the creature to come through into our dimension. The exposition isn't dwelt on, which I appreciate for the most part, but there's a little too much cutting away at crucial moments, so either I missed something, or the author did.

My only complaint about the ice creature is that the obvious comparison is Time and Relative. Both even have the revelation that the creature can only operate at temperatures below freezing. Drift adds a nice twist to this, with the alcohol lowering the freezing point (and even better, it leaves it to us to figure this out, which I really like), but there's still the fact that we've seen this before and quite recently.

I also really enjoyed the slow pace of the novel initially. Far from being boring, it managed to sustain an "are there aliens or aren't there?" plot quite well for a while, so much so that I was almost hoping there weren't going to be and it was going to be the cult all along. I think there could have been a better book than we got here, had the novel not felt constrained by the Doctor Who formula that says there must be aliens and horror and that sort of thing that we've only seen a billion times before, so even when it's done fairly well it's still a cliche. Oh well, it's a PDA, what did you expect?

The Stormcore is a great idea, but sadly underused. The avalanche scene is fantastic and I get the point that the creature was using the Stormcore to control the snow around the town, but it still seems rather underplayed. The avalanche unfortunately shows up how restrained the ambition of the rest of the novel is. I mean, if you have something that can control the weather, surely you'd do more than create one avalanche and leave a lot of snow lying around. I live in Canada and that sort of thing tends to happen quite a bit without everyone suspecting aliens and cultists and the like.

Then there's Melody and Parker, who come out of left field. They're so obviously Mulder and Scully for so much of the book that the twist actually works. Much to the surprise of everybody involved, I'm sure. They're obviously being set up for a return appearance, although they're probably the least interesting of the developed characters on display here. It feels like yet another element that would have been more effective with some breathing space. That said, at times their patter threatens to border on that of Cavis 'n' Gander from The Shadows of Avalon, so perhaps it's for the best that we didn't see more of them.

This is far more the Doctor's book than Leela's, to the extent where she barely appears for large parts of it, even conveniently falling into a coma for a while so the book could get on with more interesting things, like using its wordcount to introduce a few more characters. But I really enjoyed the Doctor's scenes, despite the fact that he feels weirdly out of place. Possibly that's because the timezone isn't nailed down, so the default assumption is that the book is set in the present day, rather than the seventies, for instance. It's odd in this day an age to have such a Doctor-focussed book, but I'm an old sentimentalist sometimes, so I still enjoy that sort of thing.

I enjoyed a great deal of Drift and after a while I didn't even mind the snow theme, which the author thoughtfully beats over our heads for us. There's a part of me that's wondering what happened to editorial control, since there's no way the book should have gone through with this many random characters... but another part of me fears that such editing may have already taken place and this is the whittled down version. I can't wait for a second novel from Simon Forward that doesn't have some of these problems, because Drift demonstrates that there's some great potential here. Recommended, but with caution.

A Review by Jason A. Miller 18/11/03

It's hard to rate Drift. It's a debut novel, nominally a 4th Doctor and Leela book, the second in four for the PDAs (coming behind Psi-ence Fiction). Leela is very much a minimal presence, which I think is probably a good thing, especially coming so soon after a book by the guy who created her.

What's most noteworthy, I think, is that Drift is set entirely in the United States (southern New Hampshire)... and actually feels like it's filmed in the US, as opposed to TC4! Let's face it, most Doctor Who novels set in the States miss the mark in terms of what characters would think and say. When Forward describes a stretch of I-93 in New Hampshire, though, you can actually believe he's driven it (as I have). The character names are more diverse than in Salvation -- although when a guy named Marotta shows up here, as sure as eggs is eggs, the word "Brooklyn" is close behind -- so there's finally a sense that not ALL Americans in have Anglo names and speak with stilted southern accents. On the other hand, the token New England general store clerk doesn't say "Ayuh" once, so maybe Forward doesn't know his cliches all that well.

I enjoyed the sense of menace that gradually builds up over the first 175 pages or so, and unleashes over a prolonged, violent, action-filled climax. 80% of the word count is devoted to descriptions of snow which, let's be honest, grate after a while, especially when the author has to resort to phrases like "cold inferno" on page 217. Before the action takes over, we meet several characters, military and civilian alike. The military leader is not a closed-minded buffoon, and even the drunken ex-husband gets a few moments of pathos before the inevitable happens.

The plot is hard to make out if you're reading too quickly. The details involve an extraterrestrial device of unspecified origin; a couple of incognito aliens (again, unspecified) looking for a way home; and psi-conscious cultists looking to cross over. Most of this information is kept in the margins -- perhaps too far in, especially in the case of the cultists, who are massacred offscreen practically before page one, and the survivors of whom streak across the first 4/5ths of the novel committing random violent acts for reasons we're never fully made aware.

Even if rookie author Forward gets a little carried away with choice of language and stylistic techniques -- clarity and simplicity really are virtues, even though the BBC editors don't seem to encourage them -- there's also solid plotting, good characterization, and well-visualized action on display. And, lest you think Forward is taking this too seriously, the day is saved because the hero gets drunk. The palette is small (one New Hampshire village) but well-defined. Honestly, I enjoyed this far more than Stephen King's comparable "Dreamcatcher", which distended over 900 pages and was a lot more gross.

One thing that jarred is the sudden intrusion of body horror at the tail, tail end of the novel. Most of the early deaths are suggested at, not shown, or least played as CGI effects rathern than gore. In the last chapter, however, one character dies when icicles spike through their eyeballs. This jars, and I can only assume it was the fault of A) an editor who failed to take it out, or B) an editor who insisted, "Hey, this is a Doctor Who novel with psi-powers, so we have to trot out the same anime-style deaths that the New Adventures ran into the ground during their psi-powers arc!".

Otherwise, Forward manages to rise above more recent DW cliches, by leaving most of his regular cast alive, and reasonably happy, at the end of the day. All together this is one of the more enjoyable debut novels of 2002 and stacks up well with the fandom-acclaimed (and doubly oblique) History 101.

A Review by Brian May 18/7/07

Drift is a good read; it's consistent, nicely grounded and atmospheric. That said, however, it takes forever to get moving. The first few chapters are not what I would call a build-up, rather a snail's pace of exposition. While the author is clearly capable of tying up loose ends and satisfactorily completing a work, his problem is in threading everything together in the first place. It also feels like we haven't started reading a Doctor Who novel, but instead have been transported into a myriad of American fiction. Well, three novels at least. A Simple Plan (the snow-covered landscapes, missing aeroplane and the less-than-perfect brotherly relationship); Call of the Wild (the landscapes and coyotes) and Huckleberry Finn (Amber's wistfulness and escapist sense of adventure and exploration). And with the minimal glimpses of the Doctor and Leela offset by all the domestics going on, there's the alarming but thankfully short-lived prospect that we're going to be immersed in some rural family drama.

We're introduced to character after character in incredibly quick succession. Some are developed quite exhaustively as the story progresses: Amber, Martha, Mak and Morgan in particular, hence the family drama analogy mentioned above. Others are just there to say their dialogue, fulfil their actions and then patiently wait off-page until their next appearance. Most of the soldiers are like this, Joanna and Kristal being the exceptions as their respective interactions with Jacks and Leela allow them considerable scope. But the rest are largely interchangeable, and as there's so many of them they tend to blur into one and the same. Parker and Melody are an odd mix - imagine Ken and Barbie meets Mulder and Scully, with a hint of Gabriel and Tanith. While the revelation that they're stranded aliens is well done, as a whole they seem superfluous to the story rather than contributing to it. They're still standing at the end, the author obviously offering up the possibility for a return appearance, but I don't particularly wish to encounter them again - and Parker's "I can't hit a woman" is a ludicrously stupid cop-out moment.

However, it's a pleasure to read the Doctor and Leela. The realisation of the latter is up there with Chris Boucher's superb efforts. Like her creator, Simon A. Forward has astutely focused on the character as a hunter, highlighting her instinctive intelligence. I also liked her use of a contraction ("haven't" on p.211); it's good to see another myth debunked, for Louise Jameson said "haven't", "doesn't", "isn't" and countless others throughout her televised stint. The only problem with Leela is that she's not in the book long enough; there are stretches without her, and she is missed. I always found Tom Baker was the most difficult of the Doctors to re-create in print, and while the author occasionally puts awkward sentences in the fourth Doctor's mouth, he hits more than he misses. His murmured "The tip of a very nasty iceberg" (p.152) is my favourite moment, while the non-verbal "Amber raised half a smile. The Doctor answered with a full one." (p.276) comes a close second.

Forward is particularly adept at evoking the atmosphere of the novel's locale. He may know (possibly more than) a hundred words for snow, but regardless of how many he knows, they're all brilliant. The loneliness and desolation of a winter-ravaged rural New Hampshire are expertly realised in a variety of phrases. I could list heaps of them, but to cut down on continual quotations I'll settle for just one:

"The trees materialised around and in front of them like a developing image on a photographic paper, only to fade behind them as they trudged on." (p.116)
In my opinion, truly gorgeous.

The well-crafted prose helps to mask a fairly unoriginal plot, with yet another sentient, albeit non-evil, alien entity acting according to its nature and wreaking havoc. But it adds to the already vivid imagery, playing up to one of the book's strengths. Overall Drift is an accomplished first novel. Please excuse a bad pun, but I look forward to more from Simon! 7.5/10