Caught on Earth
|ISBN||0 563 53825 2|
|Synopsis: It's February the 8th, 2001 and at last the Doctor is going to St Louis to meet a mysterious person named Fitz.|
A Review by Martin Wicks 9/2/01
Yet another Dr Who book which starts brilliantly and gets progressively worse, involves incompetent aliens attempting to invade Earth and concludes with a page long acknowledgements list.
The plot involves Fitz, looking for the Doctor in Brussels, stumbling upon alien involvement in the race to build the first privately funded manned spacecraft. This is the novel that introduces new companion Anji Kapoor, re-unites Fitz and the Doctor and sees the Tardis back to her old self (sort of).
Normally when I read Dr Who books I spend the first chapter or so impatiently waiting for the Doctor to turn up while the author introduces cardboard characters I've never met before and couldn't care less about. Well, the Doctor doesn't appear for a while in EV, but the characters of Anji and her boyfriend Dave (and Fitz) are so true to life that I wouldn't have minded spending the whole book in their company. Not that it is a let down when the Doctor does meet Fitz. The Brussels setting is really well done too - it actually made me want to go there! It's nice to see aliens invading somewhere other than England, although they obviously like rain; I guess those freaks who like sunshine have to settle for New Mexico.
The problem is that although Colin Brake is a good writer, he's a poor science-fiction writer. This is Dr Who by numbers - the Kulan are the most boringly un-alien extraterrestrials imaginable, their plan to invade Earth makes no sense given their motives and technology, and the plot is wrapped up in the usual cliched way beloved of Dr Who writers who have run out of ideas. There are none of those moments when the Doctor does something breathtakingly clever or brave and you silently cheer. Even the new Tardis interior is about as mysterious as the inside of my terraced house. In addition there are a few spelling and continuity mistakes in the book that the editor should have picked up on.
Bottom line - An enjoyable read, but don't expect originality. 5/10.
Exciting, isn't it? by Richard Radcliffe 13/3/01
The "stuck on earth" story arc here reaches its conclusion, The Doctor, having spent over a century on Earth, with no memories, finally arrives in 2001 and his rendezvous with Fitz. We are in present day, and the action skips between London and Belgium (the author apparently lived there and so writes what he knows about). The modern day setting is functional, rather than fascinating.
The story is similar to Planet of Fire, in that there is much happening in the ongoing Doctor Who Universe - that needs to be included. The alien threat story is secondary, which is just as well, because it is fairly average. It concerns Anji's boyfriend - David. He has been kidnapped by aliens. The Doctor quickly gets involved and he and Anji go one way - Fitz the other. The aliens in turn are trying to get off the planet - their spaceship broken. In comes Tyler and Dudoin - 2 former friends building rockets. It's a traditional "alien threat" story that doesn't break down too many imaginative frontiers.
The book excels in its contribution to the ongoing story. There is much to get through here:- The TARDIS becoming whole, the Doctor re-starting his universal travel, Anji's arrival, Fitz's return. Top of these is Anji. Never has a companion had a better introduction. We are given a superb character study, a personality blueprint for the future. She comes across supremely well, very charming, as a real life person, with real life concerns. We enter her thoughts and Brake does a fantastic job of making her shine. Her rapport with the Doctor is wonderful, and the high point of the whole book. I'm convinced she could be one of the great companions of the Doctor.
The Doctor 's memory is still absent - but more and more references to past adventures hazily resurface. Rather than this being fan indulgence, it feels like the author and editor are bringing us back to mainframe Doctor Who. It's fun matching reference to adventure. There is also plenty of references to other Sci-Fi shows - Babylon 5 and X-Files being the best. But it's through Anji we join in the wonder of the Doctor. Her assessments of the Doctor are beautifully portrayed. She goes through a wild assortment of judgements about him, constantly weighing him up. Is he crazy? Is he brilliant? Is he alien? Is he just about the most fascinating individual she has ever met? The Doctor is trying to re-discover who he is, and Anji is doing exactly the same - clever stuff this.
The other characters are average compared to this golden pair. Fitz returns. He wasn't really missed in the "stuck on earth" books, but it's a good return. He's the poor man's James Bond he became often in previous books - it's nice to see him again. The early separation from the Doctor doesn't even give him a chance to fill him in on the past either, which helps the mystery continue. Of the rest the Triangle of Tyler, Dudoin and Christine Holland are the best. Dave is your typical fanboy. Marshall Spear the heavy support. Sa'Motta the friendly alien. They are cyphers - nothing more.
Ultimately the alien threat story plays second fiddle to the key moments of the range in general - introductions and returns - a re-discovery of the Doctor and the TARDIS. Not the best book in the story-arc - that honor goes to Father Time. Not the worst either - Endgame. What it is though is a very good vehicle for the Doctor and Anji. The most magical scene is saved for near the end. When the Doctor and Anji enter the TARDIS again the magic is there, plain as day. Let's hope this extremely good start to their relationship continues. 8/10
This story-arc has been a complete revelation as a whole. It has been a superb way to re-imbue into the readership the mystery and wonder of the Doctor. It has restored my faith in new Doctor Who. It is as good as the TV, and in many, many ways better.
A Review by Mike Morris 19/3/01
Before I start, I'm just going to say a couple of things.
I like the EDA's, I really do. I brim with anticipation when one finally pops up in Dublin, and I like to perform a hellish ritual of getting the thing home without actually reading any of it, filling my half-hour bus journey with a delicious, painful anticipation. In the case of Escape Velocity this was heightened by the fact that it arrived on these shores before Father Time, and I bought it and didn't read it for three weeks, waiting for Lance Parkin's name to appear on the shelves. In the end I caved; I'm an EDA drug addict, I need one on a regular basis.
What's more, I think they're good. I don't subscribe to the widely-held belief that the Virgin NA's were far, far better. I like the Eighth Doctor, I like a lot of the portrayals of him, and I think that many Who authors have done their best work for BBC Books (Paul Leonard, Jim Mortimore, and... no, maybe Lawrence Miles is a bad example). I also think that, if you were take a general average of published SF writers the crop writing for BBC Books are a talented bunch. And, while many of the new 'BBC Boys' (Walters, Baxendale, Emmerson) haven't yet produced anything too brilliant, I think there's a hell of a lot of potential there. If you've read some of my reviews you might find this difficult to believe, but trust me; it's true.
This is all a bit irrelevant, I hear you thinking, but I want to make sure I'm believed when I say that I get no pleasure, absolutely none at all, from what I'm about to write about Escape Velocity. It's not nice to say that a debut novel, and a crucial one at that, is awful, but I just can't avoid it.
Escape Velocity is terrible.
A quick summary of the concept. It's Earth, 2001 AD. We have two brilliant plutocrat-scientists (hey, it's SF, believe it), whose history of competition goes back to their youth. We have a group of stranded aliens, split into two factions, trying to contact their people. Both these groups are engaged in a frantic race to get into space first... and so two unholy alliances between humans and aliens are forged. Also on Earth is another alien desperate to get into space; but he has long since given up trying.
Sounds promising. And, you know, the opening isn't so bad either. Anji (new companion, of whom more anon) and her boyfriend Dave are innocently involved in a hunt through the streets of Brussels. It's well-handled (a bit like the opening of Inner Space - top flick!), plausible, full of nice, crisp imagery. Anji and Dave are rather flat, but believable, and the presence of a couple of aliens running about in broad daylight is surprisingly easy to swallow. But even here, the prose was a bit on the clunking side, full of sentences like "His name was Jacques and he was an assassin. His alien partner, Fray'kon, shared his profession" when we've been told his partner is an alien about five times by now. Three pages later, it's "the oxygen-rich atmosphere of Earth was too strong for his alien respiratory system"... okay. They're aliens. I've got it.
Everything's a bit "television," too... irrelevant things are described in great detail, the pace is wrong, little touches that would have been great on telly are written here and just don't work. Most Doctor Who writers are, of course, fans of the TV show and prone to this sort of thing, but in Escape Velocity it's very obvious indeed.
A bit later we meet up with Fitz and the Doctor, and it's all hovering on the unsatisfactory side of "all right". Then things slide in a big way. The next hundred and fifty pages or so are nothing short of atrocious. Nothing much happens, characters run about, people spy on each other, and I begin to wonder what's on telly. Surprisingly, given that Colin Brake (I'm assuming that this isn't a dodgy pseudonym for the actor behind everyone's favourite maniac with a multi-coloured coat) is a soap writer, his characters just aren't evoked. Rather, they're defined by a set of criteria - single mother, self-centred Frenchman, SF fan - as if waiting for actors to come and bring them to life, but sadly, novels don't work that way.
But ultimately, it's the prose where it really falls down. It's overworked, there's too much of it, dodgy POV... and we spend nearly all our time hearing what has happened ("They had travelled through the channel tunnel to London, and the Doctor had told Anji he could get her boyfriend back, and Anji had said...) and being party to every, single, obvious, banal inner thought of every single character - Fitz muses, Dave thinks, Anji wonders... I really did consider not finishing this, it was such hard work. The quality of the writing is shockingly bad. On page 107 for example, when the Doctor makes a throwaway comment "It's like trying to get an American format VHS to work on a British VCR", it's followed up with "This Anji could understand. A year living in the States had been full of such frustrations; her PAL tapes from home utterly useless on the Boston-purchased NTSC machine." What? Who cares? Who on earth let this get printed?
The end result is that the entire middle section of the book feels like every other sentence could have been removed without any real problem. It's a nasty chore to plough through it, and the fact that so many painful lines of dialogue are included doesn't help.
Anji, in her debut novel, might owe more than is comfortable to Dana Scully (actually stated at one point, which isn't clever), but she's something of a saving grace. I must confess I was expecting a bit of a token minority companion, and there's some annoying soapboxing about feminism, but this isn't the thrust at all. Rather, we've got a stock-market trader with a businesslike attitude that conceals a definite fragility, and I think this is a character that could really, really work. A relatively settled, normal middle-class type on the TARDIS is a great idea, better than the usual teenager and/or outsider, and it might give the books a nice edge.
And, thankfully, things do pick up. In the last sixty or seventy pages things start happening again, and suddenly it's all quite involving. We have more action, and the writing shows a marked improvement. Not good, as such, but better. There's a pace to things, particularly once we get into space, and the scenes in the space-shuttle are quite useful. We also gain a definite villain, giving things a focus, and as we near the end Escape Velocity starts to feel as though it's not a total waste of effort.
Even so, we're in dodgy territory here. A plot point is introduced and, amazingly, jaw-droppingly, isn't explained; or rather it is, but only as being like an episode of Babylon 5. I didn't watch Babylon 5. I don't know what any of this was about. If anyone could explain it to me, please e-mail me and do so (no, I'm not joking, I'd really appreciate it). I can't believe anyone could assume that their readers had watched Babylon 5, and thus short-cut a plot explanation. It's just... words fail me.
Occasionally things seem to mesh, and Escape Velocity hovers on the edge of being a fun runaround. The structure of the story is good, actually, but never has a book's prose let itself down so badly. Just when it's becoming passable, another spectacularly bad couple of pages appear. Damn it, it's so badly written!
Given that BBC Books don't tend to dump their writers after just one outing, we'll probably see Colin Brake again. If so, I hope he has a little more action in his next story. When Escape Velocity kicks into gear, things fall into place, and if Colin Brake were to have, well, a bit more running around, killing, mindless stuff like that, his next book might be quite enjoyable. He does the silly adventure stuff pretty well, but falls down badly when he tries gritty real-life stuff.
In the end, I think a first-time writer is allowed to produce a questionable first effort. Maybe the author can do better... Strange England is another horribly written book, and Simon Messingham went on to produce Tomb of Valdemar. However, accepting that Colin Brake might get better begs a far more important question; why was such a crucial book given to a new boy?
The Doctor gets off Earth, and there's a new TARDIS interior which is a bit pants, frankly. Beyond that, and an interesting hint of... erm... something with Fitz that'll presumably be followed up on, there's pretty much nothing in this book to make it worth buying. Save time and money. Skip it.
Escape Atrocity by Richard Salter 26/3/01
I was going to wait to write a review of the whole Caught On Earth arc, but since I wrote this review for something else I'll post it here too.
Escape Velocity is supremely awful.
I didn't have high hopes for Colin Brake's first novel. I've seen too many episodes of Bugs after all.
But this is bad. So bad, it's not even good. It's not boring necessarily, just bad.
With Escape Velocity, what you see is what you get, and what you get is a one dimensional alien invasion plot with no life, imagination, originality or depth. This novel isn't about anything beyond the invasion.
The prose, which is clumsy and awkward, also has horribly mangled grammar with run-on sentences that, like something that goes on and on, don't know how to end properly and so keep going, even though the point could have been made in a few short words, which might have made the book a lot shorter and, like a large print edition of a newspaper, would have made the book nicer to read especially if they it hadn't been riddled with grammatical errors an typos.
Get the picture?
And I haven't even started on Anji. Now Anji is easily the best character in the book. Why? Because she's the new companion, so Colin has clearly thought her through and written a good outline for her. I know this because he's then proceeded to cut-and-paste this outline into the text of the book, without adapting it in any way. Thus we get lots big signposts that warn us: "Anji's character described HERE!" Subtlety? Who needs subtlety?
Escape Velocity rarely shows us what Anji is like, but it's always telling us.
The other characters are all one dimensional bores. All of them act out of duty to the rickety plot, with clumsy paragraphs of justification to explain why they're acting this way.
At times, Escape Velocity tries to be clever. Oh dear. The horrific usage of Professor X for example, the New Adventures' past-its-sell-by-date in-joke. Here we get a page full of painfully overt references that just made me want to hurl the book across the room.
Oh and hello? The ending? I'll talk about that at the end of this review for those who don't want it spoiled.
To me, Escape Velocity feels rushed, childish and pointless.
Big spoilers follow!
Oh yes, the ending.
Anji manages to start off a chain reaction that destroys the entire invasion fleet, before the Doctor has had a chance to solve the problem in a non-violent way. Despite the fact that thousands of deaths could have been avoided, nobody seems terribly bothered by this event, least of all the Doctor. Never mind that Sa'Motta, if he'd lived, would have been horrified at the outcome.
Colin takes great pains to try and convince us that not all the aliens are evil. They're not Daleks. And yet, when the entire invasion fleet is destroyed, nobody bats an eyelid! (and I'll steal Graeme's comment here about Anji's contribution to the resolution being rather less than fitting given her profession).
And then there's Dave's death, for which no explanation is given. It's on a par with Newt's death at the beginning of Alien3 in terms of its "After all that effort!" factor.
There's also a section of the book where a day or two passes (It's just after Dudoin goes bye bye). Anji goes home for a rest during this time, and Fitz and the Doctor presumably spend time together. Do they talk about any of the Doctor's missing memories? It seems not. Why not? Who knows.
A Review by Finn Clark 24/4/01
Gaaaaah! I've lost my notes! I finally got around to reading Escape Velocity because I've been playing in a bridge congress over the last couple of days and I needed something to keep me busy between sessions, but unfortunately everything I scribbled at the time appears to have been left either: (a) in London, or (b) in someone else's car. Even worse, my copy of Earthworld has vanished too. So the following will be all off the top of my head, I'm afraid.
I appear to have a knack for finding enjoyment in mediocre books. I happily pottered through the recent King of Terror and Ancestor Cell (without in the end thinking either was much cop) despite the fact that other reviewers seem to have hate, hate, hated both of them. As far as I can see, it's the same with Escape Velocity.
For quite a long time, I pottered along cheerfully. Anji is a good character. Her character outline appears to have been cut-and-pasted into the novel at times, but there's only one point at which this is actually painful. The setting feels real, the characters are pretty good by 8DA standards and overall I found it kept me happily reading.
My only problem was the brainlessness. People kept being stupid, the kind of convenient imbecility you get in really bad movies. Weapons were a common cause of this. It was as if Colin Brake had wanted to include guns and knives, but hadn't thought out very clearly what was going to happen to them. Thus it is that our heroes acquire a space ray gun from a would-be assassin... and then go out, leaving it on the bed. (But the bad guys might leave their weapons behind too, so that's okay.) Oh, and your gun instantly becomes useless if your enemy has a BIGGER gun! You might as well throw it away and wait for death.
The alien Kulan are stupid. They're supposedly operating on an economic basis, but... well, let's put it like this. I'd love to be their competitors.
Normally when I read a book, my notes contain various random thoughts and observations. This time, they were simply a string of page numbers. "Page xx - stupid." "Page xx - stupid." "Page xx - cliche." Eventually I just stopped writing the word "stupid", since it went without saying. This is what writers mean by idiot plotting: a story in which the events couldn't take place if the plot didn't override the characters' brains.
The prose has been heavily criticised. I thought it was serviceable myself, though there's an odd sequence about two-thirds of the way through where one senses that even the author has given up on the book. It's as if he's lost confidence in his own story. We're supposedly reading an action sequence, but it's being told in the kind of ironic omniscient third-person voice that's more usually used for comic value. In a straight dramatic scene, the effect is peculiar.
But the above were only niggles. I kept reading, waiting with interest to see what would happen... but then came the ending. Oh dear.
Most of the book is okay-but-flawed, but the last few chapters were so riddled with stupidity that I simply couldn't believe them. Not a single action rang true. You can't even pretend they're morons, since it would require conscious and deliberate self-destructive behaviour to jump through the hoops required by the plot. I've never seen this before in Doctor Who fiction... in fact, I've never seen it before. It's unbelievable, in every sense.
Overall, this ain't a good book. I managed to enjoy most of it, but the last thirty pages are the worst ever printed under the Doctor Who imprint.
Where to begin? I've lost my notes, but even so the following has been seared into my memory.
Fray'kon leaves his knife in Dave (why?), then later tells the tribunal that Sa'Motta was killed by the Earthmen years ago when in fact he's floating with his throat freshly cut in Tyler's shuttle. Again, why? The lie is pointless and gains him nothing. What's more, he can't know that the tribunal is going to let him conveniently blow up the shuttle.
Oh, but that's not the best bit. Soon afterwards, he gets to escort the Doctor from the cells to the courtroom... and delivers him completely unharmed!
We shall next consider the tribunal itself. Let us suppose that you are prepared INVADE A BLOODY PLANET simply because something bad might have happened to your exploratory team (mmm, yes, I guess you must end up invading a lot of planets then). Let us suppose that the sole survivor of the mission comes back covered in blood (some of it visibly Kulan blood, not human) and is accused by the humans of lies, murder and sundry other crimes. You take these accusations seriously enough to investigate them.
With me so far? You'll like the next bit.
Naturally you allow the accused man unrestricted and unobserved access to the witnesses and all the evidence, not to mention letting him BLOW UP THE SHUTTLE on which is crucial evidence!
Tyler is stupid. When Fray'kon tells him to fly the shuttle up to the Kulan fleet, he doesn't even consider the possibility that more lives might be at stake than simply Fitz (the chap at whose throat is Fray'kon's knife).
Fitz is stupid. Everyone is stupid. Jeez...
Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 23/5/01
Colin Brake had many things to do in this book: reunite the Doctor and Fitz, introduce new companion Anji Kapoor, end the caught on earth arc, and tell a good story. The last might seem a little obvious, but this point has surpassed many an author before. Not that I'm saying that the story in Escape Velocity isn't good, but the word I would really use to describe it is: 'traditional'. More than that, the ending is almost 'disappointing' and extremely convenient. However, the journey is enjoyable enough that, although the ending is a let down, the entirety isn't bad.
The Doctor has undergone a few changes over the past few books, and his characterisation here is fairly middle of the road in terms of the new personality. There is a hint of violence in his character that is shown here fairly bluntly, but no worse that in The Burning. The Doctor is aware of his alien-ness, but has no idea about his true nature. I expected him to remember nearly everything, but it looks like Justin Richards has other plans for the next few books. Similarly the TARDIS finally returns to, more or less, normal, the first time since The Shadows of Avalon. This does give other authors a new chance to describe the TARDIS, as well as the Doctor, anew, which could prove interesting.
Fitz is turned into a generic companion, running around, finding things out through luck more than anything else. The reunion of him and the Doctor isn't much more than a 'hi', but there is something going on with Fitz's memories that suggests there are plot points dangling around ready to be picked up. Fortunately, there is no sign of Compassion.
New companion Anji Kapoor comes across as little too good to be true. A little too useful for every occasion, a way of handling most situations that seem pat. But this might be merely an artefact of her being on earth in her own time. As the books now travel throughout time and space again, we'll get a chance to see how she develops.
Of the other characters, only really Christine Holland stands out, being the most believable and developed. The others are all pedestrian. Dave Young comes across, to me, as really annoying, and I knew something had to happen to him, if only a break up in his relationship with Anji. As for the aliens, the Kulans, they are extremely stereotypical. There's the violent one, the non-violent one, the nameless extras...
One small note: all of the chapter headings are movie titles. How many have you seen? How many have you heard of? There were a few that I hadn't known. At least no 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'.
The caught-on-earth arc is now over, the Doctor has lived through over a century of earth's history, and has now reached Escape Velocity, in the full sense of the pun. The story doesn't really hold the attention well, but it's an interesting read to see how the characters interact. We're now set for the next step in the series.
Escape to No Danger by Jason A. Miller 27/11/01
Escape Velocity was supposed to be a watershed book for the 8th Doctor line. There's an awful lot of agenda on the plate of Colin Brake, writing a novel for the first time. Oh, you may recognize his name from an old Decalog collection somewhere, and his TV credits... well, even Americans know just how good "Bugs" was supposed to be. Having your first novel be a turning point in a continuing series can be a good thing (Timewyrm: Revelation), but then again many of us here had to read Longest Day. With scathing advance word hitting the streets months before I picked up Escape Velocity, I began this book with my eyes half-closed.
I made a laundry list of all the points Brake had to cover in the book's meager 245-page length. There's the return of Fitz, last seen holding his nose at the remains of The Ancestor Cell. Don't forget the new companion, Anji -- a soulful, sexy... stockbroker?? I work near Wall Street and usually I hide my eyes when I pass by the New York Stock Exchange. Was Anji one of those demon capitalists who stepped on my foot this past year? Did she once annoy me by gabbing into her cell phone? Finally, the return of the TARDIS, the original TARDIS (last seen a year ago). And the escape of Doctor Who into Time and Space once more.
Well, it ain't Revelation (or even Shadows of Avalon), but at worst, Escape Velocity is a genial romp. Two factions of an archetypal alien race (the insane warmonger and the peaceful philosopher-king) are stranded on Earth, working on competing teams striving to send the first privately-built spacecraft out of orbit. The would-be human astronauts are former friends -- with both each other, and the woman they both loved. This is a terrific setup: both a clear storyline, and a thematic backdrop for the Doctor's own escape into space.
However, the book tends to zip along with all the energy of a pulp story, when it could be argued that this novel, of all others, required a little more thought and dignity (and better-edited prose). Nothing unpredictable or novel ever happens. It's best to see Escape Velocity as a collection of set pieces. The Doctor's reintroduction to Fitz, and the TARDIS's rebirth, are both smile-worthy passages at worst. The return of Control... never mind, he probably won't be back.
Anji is a great stockbroker and a slightly less successful girlfriend. We know this because Brake tells us so -- every couple of chapters, when it becomes important, a new piece of character outline is stapled into the text. This style of character exposition shouldn't shock anyone -- technical fiction are always data-dumping (Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton to name obvious examples). It speaks better of the surrounding books that we've come to expect more than this from our Doctor Who potboilers, and that's why it's disappointing here.
Escape Velocity is a fast, easy read, safe and predictable. Not necessarily in a good sense. When the Doctor is returned to space, we don't get a taste of new, dangerous uncharted waters -- we simply get a replay of the very first Doctor Who cliffhanger, from 1963. Anji's boyfriend Dave is an internet-loving, convention-going Doctor Who fan. A sense of adventure and the unknown has been lost, you might say. This is not a reboots of the series -- Escape Velocity could have been the premiere episode of Season 17, or the December 1998 EDA release. Or if Patrick Troughton's first story had been a winking remake of The Tribe of Gum. The in-jokes and continuity references remain the same, even if the Doctor is different.
I won't blame the book for my own expectations: surely the editors sent Brake in this direction. Maybe it would be better as a stand-alone novel. I merely hope that future writers will return Doctor Who to the cutting edge where it has thrived for parts of five decades. The rest of the 2001 books feature more female writers than ever before, mixed in with some not-so-welcome returning authors. I ended up liking Escape Velocity but I sure hope it turns out to be one of the year's worst books.
Writing is so twentieth-century! by Andrew McCaffrey 6/12/01
I'm not quite sure what to make of Escape Velocity. On one hand, it is certainly a very flawed work, with many more holes and problems than I'm usually comfortable reading. On the other hand, I can't say it was an entirely unpleasant read, or even an unenjoyable one. It's a fun romp, if you turn your brain off at the door.
There are a lot of major problems with this book. The motivations of the main villains are not stated until near the end, and even then they are so ill-defined, that it's difficult to grasp what they are doing and why they are doing it. Unfortunately, this fault extends to a lot of the other characters as well. The book spends far far too much time telling us about people rather than showing their actions to us. There are places where it feels as though it is still in outline form, waiting for the author to come over and flesh out these sequences. The prose doesn't do any favours in this department either, as it's workman at best, but occasionally slumps down into incoherence.
The poor pacing is probably one of the main aspects holding this book back. Every time it starts to do things well, the action will start skipping ahead randomly, utterly killing any positive momentum that it had gained. It's not so much a case that the book takes two steps backwards for every one step forward -- rather it takes one step backwards, three steps sideways, a step and a half in a diagonal direction, and spins around on its tiptoes before being gang-tackled at about the 40-yard-line for a minimal gain (and if you like that NFL analogy, wait until you read the ones in the book). This was really a shame, as the bad parts really started to outshine the places that had potential. About half-way through the story I found myself mentally cheering the book on, hoping against hope that it would succeed despite itself. I felt like a soccer mom, bravely shouting encouragement to her skinny, smaller-than-the-other-kids child to defy the odds and not let the team down. And fortunately, despite some moments where it gets really rough, Escape Velocity did not score an own goal.
On the plus side, the introduction of the new companion, Anji, is done fairly well. It's obvious that a lot of thought has gone into what makes this character tick. Alas, not as much thought has gone into what makes this character tick inside the context of this story. What everyone has said about her character outline being randomly cut'n'pasted into the text here is completely, one hundred percent correct. It would have been nice to see Anji's thoughts and reactions better integrated into the story.
I also liked the method in which the Doctor arranges to meet Fitz "at St. Louis"; this was quite clever. The reaction to the restored TARDIS was done very well, and the characters of Anji and her boyfriend had a nice chemistry going. The problem is, however, that for everything that I liked, there was something lurking around the next page to annoy me. The aforementioned lack of proper motivations, the pointless inclusion of the UNIT competitors and, worst of all, the sheer silliness of the ending.
Escape Velocity was a hard book to dislike. Although it made several major mistakes, it managed to somehow tell an entertaining story that held my interest throughout. It goes from good points to bad in a seemingly random, unpredictable manner, but for all its flaws, it seems to have its heart in the right place. Recommended as a fun romp, as long as you aren't looking for something to take completely seriously.
A Review by Brett Walther 30/9/03
To see that Colin Brake has been allowed to pen a second novel for the Doctor Who range proves that just about anything is possible. Needless to say, having just barely made it through Brake's debut novel, Escape Velocity, I must say that Colony of Lies isn't going to be high on my list of priorities.
Escape Velocity is the Saffron Monsoon of the Eighth Doctor line, managing to be both boring and irritating at the same time. "Dull as ditchwater," Eddy labels her daughter at one point in Absolutely Fabulous: a phrase that kept repeating itself as I struggled through this sad attempt at tying up the Caught on Earth series.
Even if we somehow managed to avoid the BBC Books publicity machine and didn't already know that Anji Kapoor was to become the new companion, it's made very clear from the opening paragraph that she's destined to join the TARDIS crew. She's actually said to be "tired of international travel". What kind of a comment is that? What other sort of travel is there? (Of course, the enlightened reader is aware of the whole "through time and space" response to that question, but Anji is supposed to be a mere humanoid and all, and a skeptic at that...)
This just goes to show how damn blunt the whole novel is -- there's no mysteries or surprises to be had. Even the aliens are incredibly black and white in their motivations. The one faction led by Sa'Motta is against invading the Earth (because... erm... he's such a nice guy, I guess); the other faction is all for it ('cos they're bad). It's all incredibly shallow and uninteresting.
Not only are motivations disappointingly clear-cut, it's also ridiculous to have characters revealing these motivations within seconds of meeting the Doctor and company. Tyler, for instance, reveals he's collaborating with the Kulan moments after being introduced to the Doctor, who in addition to being a complete stranger, is an intruder in a high security zone. Furthermore, a great deal of interaction between characters takes place over several paragraphs of boring expository writing. There are shockingly few exchanges of dialogue throughout the book -- instead it reads like a summary of events. Characters don't talk. We're TOLD that they've talked. There's actually a line after the Doctor's initial meeting with Tyler that reads: "Tyler had asked the Doctor for help. The Doctor had been delighted to be asked." What the hell is this? It's like a first draft, and one that should've been chucked at that.
When action does take place (which is rare), it's similarly muted. There's a bit where Fitz and Dave are duking it out with two of the aliens atop the Brussels Atomium. Sounds like fun, but instead it's yawn inducing, with Brake failing to convey any sense of height or danger. He fails spectacularly as well with the reunion between the Doctor and Fitz, a sequence so flat it's almost as if Brake regarded writing it as an inconvenience.
And besides acting as a travelogue, leaping from the Mannekin Pis to the Waterloo Monument to the Atomium, what was the point of the Belgian setting? It would have been justified, had Brake made an attempt to capture any of the unique flavour of the country. Instead, we don't even meet any Belgians! It's all just a pretty backdrop, I guess, and a pointless attempt to move the series away from London.
The ultimate offense Brake commits is a lack of ambition. I can't think of any other Doctor Who story in any medium that has had such a generic plot. Two multimillionaire Bond-esque masterminds competing in a race for the stars aided by rival factions of the same alien race (who have, naturally, crashlanded on Earth as opposed to landing gently) simply fails to inspire. If this lacklustre plot had at least been written with some amount of enthusiasm, it wouldn't have been nearly as disappointing.