THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Mind of Evil
Black Orchid
Virgin Books
Falls the Shadow

Author Daniel O'Mahony Cover image
ISBN# 0 426 20427 1
Published 1994
Cover Kevin Jenkins

Synopsis: In a house called Shadowfell, all of history is about to break loose. Gabriel and Tanith are beautiful, intelligent, charming and utterly deadly. The Doctor is trapped in a dimension that shouldn't exist and Bernice finds herself dead and hating it. This is the way the world ends.


Reviews

O! Mahony by Tammy Potash 19/7/00

First novels are a fascinating phenomenon. In the Dr. Who run, you either get something utterly wonderful (White Darkness, Left-handed Hummingbird, Highest Science, Scarlet Empress, Timewyrm: Exodus) or something utterly godawful: (Dominion, Transit, The Pit). Very rarely you get something that is inexplicable. (Timewyrm: Revelation, anyone?) It's not bad by any means, but it's a bit of a puzzler.

This brings us to Daniel O'Mahony. His MA, The Man in the Velvet Mask, was quite good, but his debut novel, Falls the Shadow, is so strange that I'm not even sure whether to recommend it or not. It's a rad book, so rad it comes close to making The Blue Angel look like Coldheart.

This is not to say that I dislike the rad books. It's just the style of Falls the Shadow reads like the guy had taken some kind of heavy drug before sitting down to write. It's not bad writing per se, but rather utterly bizarre. It is, perhaps, Jim Mortimore or old school Kate Orman, combined with David A. McIntee, mixed liberally with LSD. Here's the first line: "Qxeleq would have screamed, had she a mouth." Now first this reads to me like something out of Venusian Lullaby. (Just how could you possibly pronounce that?) Second, it's awfully close to a Harlan Ellison ripoff. Hmm. that's another thing. Practically every chapter title is taken from a widely-known book or movie. While the NAs had a running joke to the point where one of them had the chapter heading 'Obligatory Chapter Named After Pop Song", it would not crop up more than once per book, generally. This unrelenting use is a bit grating, though since nearly every usage is from a horror book or movie, perhaps O'Mahony was trying for some sort of a point.

This is a horror novel, make no mistake. Not gothic horror, like The Face Eater, Deep Blue, or Fang Rock, but more like Stephen King if he ever sat down and wrote for the Doctor. He even cribs some stylistic tricks from King; his use of the parenthetical phrase comes to mind.

[Winterdawn said] "`Cranleigh's been there,' (don't tell him what it did to his mind), `Truman made recordings.' (Don't tell him what happened to *those*, either.)

The decision to have both a Wedderburn and a Winterdawn in the same book was unfortunate, and should really have been caught by the editors. They also are unaware of the difference between irises and pupils. And whoever allowed the cover to go through should be shot. Benny looks like Dodo, for pity's sake, and T & G don't look right; couldn't someone have let the artist watch Four to Doomsday? The Ministers Tegan helps create look closer to what ought to have been his goal. Oh, and by the way, since it seems fairly clear they meet thir demise at the end of the book, just how in blue blazes can they send a telegram for Happy Endings? (Unless like the Guardians, they can nver be permanently destroyed... hmmm.)

Just to show it's not comeplete rad, there is reference to Black Orchid (I can't say it's a throwaway line, because it's not), and the whole plot revolves around discoveries based on the Thascales theorems and TOM-TIT. (Now go watch or read The Time Monster; it's not as bad as its reputation.) Clever writing turns the fate of Roger Delgado into that of Prof. Thascales. Wedderburn is reminiscent of Harrison Chase from Seeds of Doom, with even worse taste in plants.

This book has more original characters, and does more with them, than practically any Dr. Who book I've read. You want villians? take your pick: Tanith and Gabriel, Jane Page, the Mandelbrot Set (you think I'm kidding). Then there are those whose alignment is unclear: Cranleigh and Truman, Winterdawn (for starting the whole mess, he's as culpable IMHO as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, even though the Doctor absolves him of all guilt), perhaps even The Grey Man.

There is much use made of Christianity here: Cranleigh's initials and eventual role, Benny is taken to Golgotha in the world-city of Cathedral, Jane Page is said to be poorer off for not having read her Dante, and then there's the Grey Man. On one level, he seems to be kin to the Black and White Guardians. On another, he may very well be an avatar for, or even be, The Deity Himself, as seen by his approach to things and the fact that the Doctor is genuinely frightened of him, and he takes a dislike to the Doctor.

Tanith and Gabriel do very bad things to basically everyone in this book. Some of it is mental, most of it is physical. It's quite disturbing, so do be warned. Benny is killed, and if anyone can figure out precisely how she's resurrected, drop me an email as I'm still baffled. (It's not the Doctor's doing, but that's really all I can say with certainty.) Ipon her death, she is transported to the bizarre realm/dimension/city-planet Cathedral, where the fun really begins. The Grey Man calls it a metacultural engine; Benny's response to this speaks for itself.

The regulars are depicted well enough, though the Doctor is taken down a few notches compared to what we're accustomed to, though by no means reaching the level of total incompetence personified by the Eighth Doctor. This is an absolutely huge book; 356 mind-blowing pages. When the author isn't invoking his weirdest stuff, he throws in a little soft porn just to shake things up: page 135 in particular, and I could really have done without someone or other reflecting that "looking at Gabriel gave her a hot, sticky thrill." Bleargh. There is precious little humor in this book; Benny is very subdued quip-wise (with reason), and there is a lightbulb joke that might go over well at a Mensa meeting, but will leave 99.9% of the readers scratching their heads. (I include myself in that, BTW.)

So, OK, bottom line, trad fans of the 7th Doctor (I know you're out there, you're the ones who absolutely adore Delta and the Bannermen) will probably not like this very much unless they're into horror novels in their spare time. Rad fans, get ready for the read of your life.


Well, this time I can't think of a clever title for my review because this book is so boggling. "Yay!" Says everyone else by Ed Swatland 10/8/01

Take Ghost Light. Add a bit more gore, a more contemporary assortment of oddball characters, a big-budget ending and two baddies inflicting pain rather than one. You now have Falls the Shadow. Like Ghost Light, this is a story that is bound to get better on each viewing/re-reading. That is a very good thing. The first thing that struck me about Falls the Shadow was the writing style. It was very interesting, quite nice and poetic. For a first novel though, I was amazed. I don’t judge book on the author being experienced or not, but this is an astonishing achievement. It’s a strange book, but by no means a bad one. First and foremost it features some of the NA’s best villains, Gabriel and Tanith (more on them later), and everyone goes through hell; but not so much so as in Parasite. I mean, some of the book is very powerful, lot’s of characters you grow to like, die.

Now the characters. They were very good, all had well-defined backgrounds, and because it was quite a small cast they all seemed to work. I think I liked Sandra the best, and it was very, very sad when she died. Even characters like Jane Page evoked sympathy during their ordeals. There are bucket-loads of mystery created in the first few chapters, with the enigmatic Grey Man and ghostly lights in the cellar of Shadowfell. In fact the first few chapters are very much like Strange England in their spine-tingling eerie-ness. Now, when Gabriel and Tanith arrive, things in the house get a hell of a lot more scary. Let the torture commence! They must be some of the most chilling villains the Doctor has ever come across. In many scenes (the breakfast scene for example) they are absolutely terrifying. And the characters know it. There introduction is beautifully well written and expertly done:

‘My name is Gabriel.’

‘And I am Tanith,’ The woman continued. ‘We are not expected.’

Their faces cracked into self-satisfied crescent-moon smiles.

The plot was full to bursting with details, so much so, the book simply wasn’t long enough! Despite the fact it was a whopping 356 pages in all. Now, the Doctor was totally melancholic in this book, occasionally unrecognisable. That’s a bad thing, and if the lead characters don’t act in the way you expect them to, then a rad book like this loses it’s meaning, an opposite example of this is Revelation. Ace comes across a thug, whilst (on the other hand) Benny is the most strongly characterised. As much as the book seems to come across like some kind of senseless horror-fest which attempts nothing more than the methodical and gradual torture of the characters, it manages to be so much more. Some sequences are highlighted as being more important than certain other scenes, merely because they involve rather clever ideas (which this book is full to bursting of by the way) or interesting takes on a character's development or motivation. I like that, but if the book had a tighter plot it could have been even better than it was.

The ending (not “the obligatory change of settings at the end so it makes the book crap” thing) is actually not so tacked on as it first appears. The setting is dark and gothic and it evokes the rest of the novel excellently. So, in conclusion, Falls the Shadow is, however, a radical among radicals, and a truly unique contribution to the canon of the programme and of the NA’s itself. This is, in and of itself, worth something. Adding to that the very high standard of writing which this book can boast, you have what amounts to a very special novel indeed. I really can understand why some fans hate it, but I really liked it, and would definitely snap up O’Mahoney’s other Who book The Man in the Velvet Mask, if I saw or found it anywhere. This is definitely a book to own, and your NA collection would not be complete without it. Despite its flaws I’m going to give this book full marks and proclaim it the most rad Who book ever!

10/10


A Review by Scott Sherritt 20/7/02

Last week I was attempting to sort my Who collection into chronological order (yes, there is a lot happening in my life) when I came across Daniel O'Mahony's debut work.

I looked at the rather uninspiring cover and realised I had no memory whatsoever of what it was about. So a re-read followed and here are a few random muddlings:-

SEX - A bit more than usual. Truman and Sandra almost get it on before being interrupted. Benny and Ace find Gabriel and Tanith to be dangerously attractive. The Doctor doesn't get any (and I'm glad of that.)

LANGUAGE - I think it was around this time that Virgin were told to lay off using that word that rhymes with duck. That's right... Cruk! So instead we have copious usage of the word shit. In particular, Ace uses it as an expletive on many, many occasions.

VIOLENCE - Lots of this stuff too. Gabriel and Tanith spend a great deal of time torturing people (gouging Jane Page's eyes out... errrrgghhh), mentally manipulating the companions, killing the Mandelbrot Set of giant stone heads and being very bad beings indeed. Oh, and they kill The Grey Man about three times. Ace shoots Tanith in the head - in cold blood - for no reason, when she is no longer a threat to her.

THE DOCTOR - It is surprising to find that in a 356 page DW novel, the Doctor does bugger all. In the first one hundred pages, he arrives in the crippled TARDIS, wanders around Shadowfell for a while, meets a few of the characters but none of the interesting ones and saves Benny from some vampire plants. He then spends the mid-section of the novel being very bored in the endless realm of interstitial time with Professor Winterdawn. That he is so bored only made this reader equally bored. On returning to the house he spends fifty pages mourning over Benny and appearing only irregularly in the text. For the final section of the novel he travels to Cathedral with a plan that does not work and then plays no significant part in the finale. This is an extremely underwhelming role for the central character and second only to Andrew Cartmel's books in keeping the Doctor from playing any significant part. I will say however that when he does appear, he is reasonably well characterised and consistent with the mid-Virgin Era Seventh Doctor.

ACE - Falls the Shadow is three books away from Ace's departure from the range. In this book however, she is not the independent woman who can go out into the world as a low-key time traveler, rather she is the super-militaristic space bitch of the Deceit/Lucifer Rising period. She constantly threatens to kill Jane Page. Thoughts of violence fill her head all the time. She does kill Tanith in a bloody and needless way and participates in Gabriel's death. In this book she is a barely human killer who would never be let out on the streets on contemporary Earth, a deadly psychotic being. How the reader is meant to have any empathy or consideration for this character I do not know.

BENNY - She is the Yangy thing to Ace's Yinny thing. Unfortunately, she is taken out of the picture in the mid-section of the novel like the Doctor. She does not go to a void place, instead she dies. The book goes to a great deal of trouble to emphasise that Benny is not unconscious, not in a coma, but explicitly, permanently deceased. Deader than the parrot in the old Monty Python sketch. She is an ex-Professor. This is all fine and dandy, but she then comes back to life in Cathedral with no explanation as far as I can tell. If she was simply taken out of her body for a time, then surely her carcass would have decayed and putting her back into it would do no good once the blood had congealed and rigour mortis set in. I suppose the fact that the book features a God-like being means that anything goes, but it is very disappointing to do something so 'bad' to a regular character and then not explain what happened. Benny went through a lot of bad stuff around this time with Parasite doing nasty things to her and Sanctuary also touching on personal loss. Why don't the Doctor's companions simply commit suicide to avoid the continous pain and agony of their lives?

SETTING - Earth again (ho hum), but Shadowfell could be a house on any planet if it wasn't for the fairly explicit setting of the opening chapter. These creepy old houses seems to be unusually prevalent in DW with the presence of the Seventh Doctor and Ace bringing back memories of Ghost Light. The Interstitial Time could be any void type place or even one of those virtual reality environments so prevalent in early 90's books (Birthright, Timewyrm: Revelation, Transit, etc.) Cathedral is a bit more interesting with its talking stone heads. Doesn't it always seem a bit desperate for an author to introduce a new location for the last eighty to a hundred pages of a novel? Special thanks to All-Consuming Fire for that one. One more thought. If Shadowfell is a real house on Earth and it gets sent to Cathedral and dismembered, then wouldn't there be a bit of fuss back on Earth about this great hole in the ground where a mansion used to be?

PLOT - "The Doctor and his companions become innocent victims in a war between a god and his constructs." That is really about it. At the end of the day, all of the inhabitants of Shadowfell and Cathedral are irrelevant as are the TARDIS crew. This is about the Grey Man and Tanith and Gabriel. It could have been told as a Doctorless short story and perhaps should have been.

PROSE - Wonderful stuff. The saving grace of the novel. It has the best opening line I know of - "Qxeleq would have screamed, had she a mouth" and goes on wonderfully from there on. Descriptions of places and events are always vivid. The conservatory and its plants, Harry Truman's real appearance, the continual dread and damnation of this world, all are vividly, and at times, horrifically described. His characters all say interesting things and Gabriel and Tanith display their innate madness continuously throughout. "And the abyss looked back." Really superb.

THE GREY MAN - There is no real explanation for what he is. He describes himself as a member of a race of observers, but one who decided to make a difference. So, he is a kind of mirror of the Doctor, but infinitely more powerful. He must be regarded as a kind of god or deity. One reviewer thought he could be one of the Guardians but there is no evidence for this. He is clearly some kind of energy being. He is destroyed and reconstituted a few times. And he still exists after a fashion so a return appearance could occur.

GABRIEL AND TANITH - Sick bastards. They are very like the eternals from Enlightenment in the sense that they do not really exist or function without the stimulus of 'lesser' beings. In their case, they seem to need the fear and pain birthed from their manipulations of humans. Another unexplained aspect of the novel is how these seemingly indestructible beings suddenly become vulnerable to knives and bullets at the end. I have read it twice and still have no idea why that happens.

PROFESSOR WINTERDAWN - A tragic figure. Lost his wife, the use of his legs, the sight of his daughter, her life and eventually his own. Really, though, he is just someone for the Doctor to talk to during the endless mid-section of the novel.

HARRY TRUMAN - A non-man, created from the desiccated remnants of another. A blank with just enough will power to imagine that he has a mouth and eyes. A sublime creation.

JANE PAGE - Psycho killer. Yet another critique of Thatcherism in her madness and love for the British flag, and in particular with her conviction that society must die for the individual to rise. Nasty but even I felt sorry for her after extremely bad things happened.

SANDRA - Complete and utter screw-up. Just there to fill out the word count.

THE MANDELBROT SET - Big talking stone heads. I like big talking stone heads. I wish I had one for a pet.

WEDDERBURN - More page filler. Man tends man-eating plants. Man gets eaten by man-eating plants. That's a good character arc.

JUSTIN CRANLEIGH - Loony. No discernible purpose in plot.

MONSTERS - Well, that's what the series is all about! Not much here really. A few visionary things to scare people, the aforementioned big stone heads and a kind of giant fly that Ace has a run-in with. In this one the people are the monsters or vice versa.

CONTINUITY - Despite being fairly rad, there is a little bit. Winterdawn's experiments derive from notes left behind by the late Professor Thascales (The Time Monster) and there is a possible connection between Justin Cranleigh and the family seen in Black Orchid and The Sands of Time.

COVER ART - Not good. Not good at all. Lifeless and dull.

OVERALL - This needed ruthless editing. Cut out the whole mid-section of the novel and it would have been much more entertaining. Some coherent explanations would also have been useful. The Doctor is a complete non-entity and needed to be more important in the plotting. There is great prose here, however and The Grey Man and Harry Truman are great characters.

A worthwhile effort that lost its way.

6/10.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 24/3/03

Falls the Shadow contains almost everything I like to see in a first-time novel, though it also boasts many of the flaws that plague such novice works. From the first through the last page, there is a breathless collection of enthusiastic ideas that are simply impressive in their depth and their freshness. By the end, I couldn't help but notice that the story wasn't quite as good as it could have been, yet I would still recommend reading it simply for all the imaginative concepts present. The book is huge in scope and Daniel O'Mahony lets his imagination run completely wild. As a whole, it may appear to be slightly undisciplined, but it's an approach that has a lot going for it.

The Doctor and company land in a mysterious house where, as expected, Things Are Not Quite What They Seem. At least, one imagines that they aren't quite what they seem, since it is difficult to describe what it does seem like. It's a house that wouldn't be out of place in an Escher sketch, with rooms and corridors rearranging themselves, stairways that occasionally stretch off into infinity, and a dank, dark cellar full of strange and horrible things. Insane experiments are beginning to take place in the house, experiments which are being observed by unearthly visitors. To say any more would be to wander into spoiler territory, but take my word that it becomes a lot less conventional than the back-cover description would suggest, and a lot stranger. A whole lot stranger.

Some of the thoughts and ideas that constitute this novel almost make it worth reading just by themselves, regardless of anything else that the book succeeds or fails at. The grey man and his people are a fascinating creation, with the grey man himself earning extra praise for being a staggeringly interesting concept (I love how I managed to view him in a completely different light by the end of the story, even while O'Mahony had kept this character absolutely constant throughout). Gabriel and Tanith are marvelous ideas (even if their effectiveness in execution leaves a little to be desired). The settings used aren't exactly unique, but they gain a lot from the excellent descriptions. A few items that should feel tired and worn are instead made bright and enjoyable purely from the writer's skills.

Above all, Falls the Shadow is a book dripping with atmosphere. It's not a happy tale, but the depressive nature never feels gratuitous. It can be a bit overpowering at times, and there may be a few places where the pain and suffering that the characters experience is just a bit too much. Still, it makes for very absorbing reading. The revelations surrounding many of the people (one in particular) are mind-bending and fascinating. They go through hell and back, and I must give a lot of credit for the author managing to make me care about all of the trials and tribulations that he throws at his characters.

And, of course, there are certain flaws, many of which are common to first-time novelists. O'Mahony doesn't quite yet have the knack of moving characters seamlessly around the plot. Many of the attempts to introduce and/or remove people from the story are clumsily done, and, in particular, the way in which the Doctor is separated from the main action feels far too contrived. The ending is also a slight problem. The author has done a great job of making the narrative ease satisfyingly into its conclusion (the last 100 pages or so convey a real sense of impending doom), but not in making the mechanics of the ending seem smooth. I think the conclusion is logical enough on paper, but it seems a bit of a letdown after the amount of build-up that the reader was subjected to.

A flawed work, I still found much to enjoy in Falls the Shadow. A lot of the little subtleties really work, and many times during the read I would stop and just think about something that the author had presented me with. Sometimes what I thought about turned out to be a little shallower than I expected, other times there was indeed some impressive thinking behind the words. In any case, a book that makes me pause and wonder is definitely a good thing, even if it doesn't hold together completely from cover to cover. Not a book to be missed.

(As an aside, the extended length of this book made me hanker for the days of old when Doctor Who novels were published in the length that they needed to be, regardless of their page count. Falls the Shadow is 356 pages long, far above the length of the average book in the series. One imagines that if it were published nowadays, it would contain the same number of words, but they'd be crammed into the 278-page limit via the insanely small text font and margins that made The Adventuress of Henrietta Street possible. I don't know if I'd be able to handle Falls the Shadow written in a font that tiny; my eyes would be suffering as much as the characters in the book.)


A Review by Terrence Keenan 14/9/03

Falls the Shadow is a horror story rather than a sci-fi novel. Not Gothic horror, which DW does very well, not the splattergore of Rags. Falls the Shadow wants to be a Big Steve King novel so badly.

But it fails.

Which is a shame, because, on a straight literature and prose level, Falls the Shadow is well crafted and reads shorter than it's 356 page length.

It starts off as a pumped up Ghost Light. The story meanders a bit as the guest characters are introduced to the scene. The problem occurs when the main villains, Gabriel and Tanith arrive on the scene. Before Cavis and Gandar (The Shadows of Avalon), before the Arborteans (Human Nature), there were these two incredibly annoying villains that made want to pull out my eyes with rusty tweezers. There is no allegory I can come up with to link the baddies too. They alternate between doing saying silly things, shagging each other and torturing the rest of characters in the book. It went so far over the top I was bored by the time they tried to kill Ace for the tenth time.

Which is the right time to bring up Ace. It's on the record that I do not like this character. However, I can say without any hesitation that the Ace in Falls the Shadow is the worst ever. She's a one dimensional homicidal maniac who cries every so often to try and elicit fan sympathy. The Doctor doesn't do much, and acts like a scared weenie, which, although a nice change from the Time's Champion bit, grated on the nerves. Bernice was okay. Her scenes with the grey man were probably the best in the book, but she dies, then almost dies again, then nearly dies (notice a thread), but comes back to life miraculously. I kept asking myself whether it was time for Bernice to die again every six pages.

A side note about Bernice Summerfield: why is it that every time I read a book with her in it, she always takes on the personality of the author? I wonder if it's because she's such a comfortable and easy character to write for, that the authors themselves become lazy and write her on autopilot with no idea as to how she should really tic. But, I digress....

Anyhoo....

To sum up, I like to think of myself as the champion of the unloved Doctor Who book -- Transit, War of the Daleks -- but Falls the Shadow is awful. And I can't say anything else about it.


A Review by Finn Clark 19/12/04

Dear, oh dear. I can't pin everything on Ghost Light, but I blame Marc Platt for partially inspiring the "Tedious Weirdos In A Big Spooky House" subgenre of Virgin NAs [hereafter known as TWIABSH]. The three offenders are Strange England, Falls the Shadow and Lungbarrow and I don't really like any of them. Falls the Shadow is at least interesting on some level, mostly its feverish prose, but anything it achieves is in spite of the ball and chain that's also known as "its plot".

In case you think I'm overstating my case, let me analyse the TWIABSH subgenre. The Doctor lands in a big spooky house in which gratuitous weirdness is taking place. The inhabitants are all losers whose only significant contribution to the plot will be to die (and then possibly later return to life). None of the housebound scenes really go anywhere, but that looks positively thrilling compared with the subplot taking place on a different level of reality. Strange England had its virtual reality third act, Lungbarrow had the Old Time on Gallifrey and Falls the Shadow has the Cathedral. All three sap your will to live.

Strange England is the worst TWIABSH book, being simply a mess. Lungbarrow has poetry and a nice use of old companions, but Falls the Shadow attacks its problems in a different way. Completely abandoning any notions of restraint, the book goes for broke with completely insane characters and writing so energetic that it nearly brings the plot alive. The prose isn't as loud as, say, Dave Stone or Lawrence Miles, but it's vivid and capable of startling oddness. I liked that. Similarly it's hard not to like characters like Jane Page, if only because the book really needed someone to walk in and start shooting people. In fact most of the characters are good... this book may be populated by loonies, but at least they're distinctive loonies. I have no problems with the cast.

There's a political slant at times, but it's not presented politically. Instead it's shown more in terms of radical thinking, free will, bringing about a revolution and other such concepts. I rather liked that.

There are also indications that Daniel O'Mahony knows his DC Comics. Occasional characters or set-pieces felt reminiscent of Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, though never so strongly as to be distracting. I didn't object to that either (and at least we don't get actual cameos for John Constantine or Dr Strange, as we did in Millennial Rites).

While we're still in the house, I found Falls the Shadow readable. The characters' twists and turns were moderately entertaining, even when Tanith and Gabriel showed up to make things even more overblown than they'd been already. You have to admire the book's spirit. Had that pair merely been over the top, they'd have been ridiculous. Instead they go sailing through "over the top" to achieve something almost operatic, reaching delirious extremes of gratuitously sadistic villainy.

Unfortunately the poor story falls apart when we reach the Cathedral. It could have been worse (e.g. parallel universes) but not by much. The Cathedral is a boring place, regularly described as unreal, and for some reason we're supposed to care when the bad guys start destroying it. Nope, sorry. I'd have been happy to throw a few sticks of dynamite myself. There's realitybabble involving the birth of the universe, the destruction of the first sentient species and... oh, some other stuff. Can't say I paid much attention to those bits. It's all backstory, anyway. Doesn't make any difference to what's happening now.

Overall, a stylish and laudably energetic mess. Falls the Shadow is vivid enough to stick in the memory, but it's the characters and feverish sadism you'll be remembering rather than the story. To be honest I don't think it's very good, but at least it's a book with personality. It has virtues - and they're wholehearted enough that in a way I'm glad I reread it.


House of Hell by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 3/3/07

Daniel O'Mahony's debut novel has gained the reputation of being a dark, mould-breaking read that will appeal to the rad fans and have the trad fans fiddling with horror. Is this true? Well, yes it is. Fortunately I have no problems with this. I have no desire to place myself in either the rad or trad camp camp. Doctor Who is Doctor Who. I love it in all its forms. Well, apart from Delta and the Bannermen but that's a story for another time. I've heard that O'Mahony's second novel, The Man in the Velvet Mask is an equally dark, gory tale with its own unique take on the Hartnell era. I haven't read it yet but I have a copy sitting serenely on my bookshelf so I'll get round to it eventually.

I enjoyed Falls the Shadow but it's by no means an easy read. It's abstract, dark and complex, guaranteed to entertain, confuse, frustrate and depress you in equal measure. The whole novel revolves around the idea of an ancient race who were motivated by duality. To counteract this, the Grey Man built Cathedral, a pan-dimensional engine designed to alter the structure of reality, generating ambiguity and breaking down certainty. Very metaphysical I hear you say. True. But as I've said, this is a complex novel. It wants to make you think and can't just be skim read. And there's lots of pain and suffering. Oh yes. Enter Gabriel and Tanith, physical representations of the universe's pain and suffering. Their function in the novel is simply to inflict unbelievable cruelty on the rest of the characters. I quite liked the part were they gouged out Jane Page's eyes.

Speaking of the characters, this isn't the best outing for the regulars. Benny is ok but as for Ace and the Doctor... Well, the Doctor is barely in it and he doesn't do very much. Ace is simply irritating. I've never liked the NA's portrayal of Ace. Sophie Aldred portrayed the troubled young woman marvellously in the TV series and the majority of the NA's simply undermine this. OK, so Ace has spent three years in Spacefleet and is older, wiser and more cynical. But she's also a thug basically and thugs are very boring to read about. By the time of her departure in Set Piece, she had long outstayed her welcome in my opinion.

The setting for this story is magnificent, reminiscent of Ghost Light. Shadowfell House is a wonderfully evoked mansion that drips menace and takes a turn for the Escher-like. And of course there is the little excursion to Cathedral, the land of the Mandelbrot Set. Imagine the Easter Island statues on acid in an abstract version of Baghdad and you're on the right track. I noticed some similarities with Clive Barker's horror masterpiece Hellraiser. Spooky old house. People playing around with things they shouln't have been. Terrible things unleashed as a result. Musings on the nature of pain and suffering. Mysterious beings arrive to inflict said pain and suffering. In fact, Gabriel and Tanith are a bit like more glamourous, less flayed versions of the cenobites.

Another inspiration for this novel seems to have been the Thascales Theorem from The Time Monster. Well, there aren't many things that have drawn inspiration from The Time Monster. There was The Quantum Archangel of course, but I've heard that it is awful, truly beyond description...

So there you have it. I thouroughly recommend this book. If you like this you may also like Strange England which has similar themes of very bizarre, very unpleasant goings on in an old house. You will however, need a great deal of patience to get through it.


A Review by Brian May 30/5/10

There's a lot of praise for Falls the Shadow in most of the above reviews, and I have to admit it's an audacious, violently experimental book. However I can't say I like it, although I suspect that's the exact response author Daniel O'Mahony wanted to elicit. But my dislike probably won't be attuned to his designs. Yes, I was shocked, alarmed and repulsed, but more often than not I was actually very bored.

There's no real plot but hey, this is a New Adventure, so there's not meant to be one! Rather, it's an avalanche of existential angst and moodiness, with all the necessary religious symbolism, pseudo-science and cosmic musings. There are interesting ideas - in particular some rather unsettling notions about the nature of (non)-existence - but there are major problems that halt this book's aspirations to greatness. It is unpleasant, sadistic, rambling, overlong and, worst of all, incredibly tedious. In a nutshell, this isn't a particularly good read.

The writing is of a varied standard. There are some excellent pieces of dialogue that make for memorable quotes; go to Paul Clarke's Discontinuity Guide entry at whoniverse.org for the list. The author can competently string decent sets of words together, although he needs to check a few things (p. 152: "pan" is left and right; "tilt" is the word for up and down) and using "pentecost" as a noun to precede laughter (p.345) is just bizarre. (I know you're keen on the religious imagery, Daniel, but don't get carried away!) But the main problem is that the prose is consistently florid, with far too much over-description of practically everything: the house, its contents, characters, the various landscapes of Cathedral and the interstitial limbo. A lot of sentences could have been trimmed without losing any impact whatsoever as to who, what or where we're reading about. This tendency for verbosity is widespread, with virtually every individual scene outlined and elucidated to a repetitive degree; for a book that's over 350 pages long, this is a serious issue.

The book's occurrences also repeat themselves ad infinitum. Gabriel and Tanith appear, do and/or say something utterly evil, then disappear; Ace and Benny wander round the house, usually to end up unconscious or (apparently) dead; Jane Page appears out of nowhere, blathers incoherent, psychotic nonsense and also vanishes; Qxeleq makes similar appearances and spouts allegedly cosmically significant utterances (and, of course, vanishes!) It's a real chore to get through. Then there's the nastiness. Benny licking Gabriel's blood is queasy enough, but the torture of Jane Page is truly sickening. Now, I'm not one to get all prudish. Torture has happened in Doctor Who before, even during the televised series; when the bold and brazen New Adventures upped the ante by embracing violence, they had their limits, which are exceeded here; although O'Mahony will defend this as more boundary pushing. True, we don't read the actual torture itself, but the details are set-up beforehand and the after-effects are lingered upon often; no subtletly or implication here!

But you can't say that Falls the Shadow isn't written in the spirit of the New Adventures. Included are the requisite song titles, pop-culture grabs, quotations from Shakespeare and a plethora of poets and authors; although he isn't quoted directly, John Pilger is referenced to prove O'Mahony's obligatory NA writer lefty credentials. The usual gratuitous references to televised stories are present, in this case The Time Monster, Shada and Black Orchid, while the first third desperately wants to be Ghost Light. All groovy, funky and with-it, circa 1994 of course!

It's the book New Adventures apologists will uphold, as it represents just how experimental, non-linear, concept-driven and radical this series was. Critics, of which there have been more and more in the past few years, will denigrate this book for exactly the same reasons. I actually like the NAs quite a bit, especially the earlier ones; two of my favourites are Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible and Transit, which have copped a lot of the recent backlash. And frankly I can't see why these are pilloried while Falls the Shadow is lauded so much. There's nothing in O'Mahony's novel that hasn't done before in these books. The descriptions of Cathedral aren't much different from the nightmarish landscapes Marc Platt gave us, and Platt wrote them better; Ben Aaronovitch's book is more technologically based but nevertheless it's a concept-dominated, psychedelic maelstrom of sex and nastiness, although the nasty elements were much more subtle than the atrocities mentioned above. (On the other hand, O'Mahony treats sex with more maturity and sensitivity than Aaronovitch, so that's a point in favour for this book!) You know, I'd rather read The Pit! Neil Penswick's effort is one of the worst written Doctor Who novels ever but, despite this, there were similar themes, and overall it's far more palatable.

Actually, this and The Pit have something else in common: second-hand humour. In both novels it comes from Benny, the serial wisecracker. And although O'Mahony's grasp of her character is much better, having her reference not one, but two Monty Python gags in the space of 21 pages is pretty poor.

Overall, Falls the Shadow sets out to shock. Indeed, while it may repulse and repel, it fails in its attempt to be the be-all and end-all of radical, experimental Doctor Who fiction, chiefly because this has been done before and it was done better. Add to this a very lurid, overblown and tedious story that's an effort to stay awake through, and it's not the triumph it thinks it is. Like the Macbeth quote Daniel O'Mahony uses, it's full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. 2/10