THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC Books
The Fall of Yquatine

Author Nick Walters Cover image
ISBN 0 563 55594 7
Published 2000

Synopsis: Fitz was there when Yquatine fell. Now, trapped a month in the past, with the Doctor lost and Compassion out of control, all he knows is the date of an entire world's destruction. A world he can't escape.


Reviews

A Review by Sean Gaffney 16/4/00

I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this book. I hadn't read either Nick's previous Who book, Dominion, or his Benny book, and I was also wondering how in God's name they were going to continue the plots strands left over from the arc and still have a traditional novel. Needn't have worried, as Fall is quite a good read, and sets moods beautifully. There's only a few problems with it...

Let's just go straight to the breakdown, huh? (At 106 bpm...)

PLOT: Actually, really good. Held my interest throughout, even when told in varying timezones. It's your basic 'black unnamed evilness kills things' that Who does so well, but is given enough tricks to make it fresh. Best of all is the mood of the book, very bleak and shaky. You really DON'T know what will happen next... even after you've seen it happen 40 pages ago.

THE DOCTOR: Hoo boy. I can't call him out of character, really, but... this is the first time I can see in the Eighth Doctor what the other reviewers see. This Doctor is a MORON. He spends the entire book doing Big Stupid over and over, then feeling guilty about it, then doing MORE Big Stupid. It's fascinating to watch, much like a train wreck. This Doctor scares me, especially as he's trying to save Compassion. Look out, girl.

FITZ: Very variable. Fitz is already beating out Cwej for 'a girl in every port', and it's hard to keep him likeable when he keeps falling deeply in love over and over only a few weeks after the LAST true love. There's also a very oogly sequence in the prison sequence where Fitz basically acts totally out of character for a while. Hint: if you have to lace you characters with personality-suppressing drugs to make them act the way you want, you're going the wrong direction.

COMPASSION: Fabulous! This new Compassion is emotional, can crack wise with far more humor than she used to have, and is the scariest thing on two legs you'll ever see. Welcome to Arc 2: Electric Boogaloo. Nick got her newfound confidence and her uncertain newness exactly balanced, and the FEAR section was perhaps the best of the book.

VILLAIN: The Omnethoth hardly count, so I suppose it'd have to be the Anthaurk leader, the old wise-woman prejudiced against anyone but her own and waiting for the time her people shall rise again. Yup, this is a Doctor Who book, all right.

OTHERS: Arielle was a bit of a non-starter, as we got a chapter at the start to get in her head, and then rarely saw any more of it. I think I would have appreciated as much focus on her as was given to Vargeld, who I thought was an annoying git (though he was meant to be). In fact, most of the others take a back seat to the plot - Lou Lombardo has nothing to do, despite his presence on the back cover.

STYLE: Good stuff. As I said, it's a fast-paced thriller with lots of angst, and if it has a weakness, it may be that it's so fast-paced that it doesn't dwell on aftershocks as much as it should.

OVERALL: Not the best 8DA in the world, but a nice acceptable little adventure, with only some OOC regulars marring it. Pick it up, you'll enjoy it.

7.5/10.


A Review by Finn Clark 21/4/00

Nick Walters has now written two Doctor Who novels - Dominion and The Fall of Yquatine - and both were terribly earnest. He invents complicated alien races and worries about their life cycles and cultures. He has moral dilemmas and tortured characters doing the worst things for the best reasons. He has love and heartbreak alongside the most awful death and destruction. His SF ideas are unimpeachable.

It's just a shame that it's all a bit dull.

Say what you like about the BBC's new boys - Collier, Baxendale, Walters - at least they've all been given a second crack of the whip. One has to admire the compassion and fairness of this approach, at least for the authors in question if not for the reading public. In the case of Nick Walters, I've unfortunately enjoyed each of his books less than the last.

Dry Pilgrimage (co-written with Paul Leonard) had a pleasant breeziness about it, a sense of light-heartedness to leaven the tragedy. The authors seemed to be having fun. Dominion was sometimes a pretty grim plod, but by the end I'd been sold on the anguish and passion. The Fall of Yquatine is a step up from Dominion in many ways - it's less of a grind - but it didn't sell itself to me either.

I think its chief problem is the characters. There's plenty of plot, but most of it involves interplanetary threat and temporal shenanigans. The actual people get rather sidelined. The aliens are bizarre, but uninvolving. Larger-than-life guys like Lou Lombardo are less colourful than they should have been. The whole thing feels po-faced.

But worst of all - the absolute killer as far as I was concerned - was their sheer collective stupidity. There isn't a level-headed one among them. You'd find more brains in a pork pie. Their political leaders are variously pig-headed, love-crazed, insanely militaristic or brainlessly sheep-like. Even the Doctor and Fitz comment on it. It's rather wearying to read about dumb-ass people heading blindly for self-destruction in the face of all sensible advice. Eventually you just want the Doctor and friends to pack up and go home.

However there is one saving grace - the regulars.

Obviously this book follows on from Shadows of Avalon, which is the biggest stroke of fortune Nick Walters will have all year. The companions are terrific! Fitz is pretty good, as usual, but the developments with Compassion are fascinating. This is genuinely new ground. This is a Doctor-companion relationship that's startling and sometimes shocking, bringing all kinds of issues bubbling to the surface. Some are dealt with; some are not. This is the reason to buy this book. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the incidental characters are so uninvolving, since it's really the story of our spanking new TARDIS crew. They still don't know each other. They're still finding their feet. Bad mistakes will be made...

It's not a bad book. It gave me Curse of Peladon flashbacks and it's a bit run-of-the-mill when the regulars aren't onstage, but those aren't the worst crimes in literature. You might be able to see much of the plot coming, but you'll never predict what's going to happen with Compassion...


A Review by Mike Morris 1/5/00

Okay, before I start, I've got to give Nick Walters a bit of credit. Following The Shadows of Avalon isn't an admirable situation to find yourself in. After all, the last few EDA's have done a reasonable job of taking everything we know about Doctor Who and throwing it firmly up in the air. Then poor old Nick has to take the right bits and pull them back to earth. Tricky. Strangely, it's these elements that are the most successful about The Fall of Yquatine.

I haven't read anything by Nick Walters before, so I'm coming fresh to this one. Overall, it isn't a bad book. It has moments where it touches genius. It also has an awful lot of flaws. Characterisation oscillates from excellent to non-existent, the plot is apparently complex yet ridiculously simple, and the book's main theme is... well... questionable (of which more anon.).

Good stuff first. Fitz and Compassion fare pretty well here. Compassion in particular is wonderful, a strange marriage of her previous character, a new complacent all-knowing facet, a frightened insecurity and - of course - terrifying power. She's brilliantly, brilliantly conceived and portrayed. At the same time she's pitiful and bloody scary. Impressive. Having said all that, I'm still unconvinced as to whether this plotline will be sustainable in the long run. Five, six more books maybe, but afterwards... hmmm. I'm hopeful but concerned.

Then there's Fitz, struggling against fate, alone and hopeless, and rather too accepting of the whole "mustn't cause a temporal paradox" situation for my liking. That aside, this is also pretty impressive; although I'm 100% in agreement with Sean Gaffney on the issue of how many times Fitz can fall in love. The guy seems to be gadding about the universe losing his heart like a spotty teenager, and it's becoming a little wearing. I'd far rather that he redeveloped his old taste for casual sex, which was a damn sight more plausible and - oddly - more likeable as well. That aside, though, I liked this element.

Then there's that other guy... you know, the one who trips around with them in the TARDIS doing nothing... the Doctor, I think he's called. The griping starts here, I'm afraid. The Doctor's charcterisation is terrivcxlszxz... sorry, it's hard to type when you're hanging your head in despair.

The Doctor is horribly, horribly portrayed here. Once again he's shoved to the sidelines, unable to influence events. Yup, it's the same old story. Not only is this getting tiresome, but it invalidates the content of the books that came before this one. Part of the beauty of the recent arc, IMO, was the ongoing theme of the Doctor struggling to overcome his own impotence, and finally turning a corner. Here, this development might as well not have happened at all. But what's more, I didn't even LIKE him in this book. He struts about blabbing about pies and ducks, he jumps to all manner of incorrect conclusions, he's wrong about almost everything and he's incredibly naive and stupid. First blot on the copybook, folks, and it's a big one.

Next; guest characters. I liked Lou Lombardo (perhaps because I love pies, and for what it's worth I rate steak and kidney just above chicken and mushroom), but after a terrific opening he simply vanishes. The same fate befalls Arielle - we spend the first chapter getting inside her head, and then for the rest of the book she's written as a mysterious femme fatale. Sorry, but one portrayal or the other had to go. There are other characters, but they're scarcely worthy of a mention. The president is a standard blue-eyed boy who's really a git, and the Anthaurk are so one-dimensional they belong in the pages of a World Doctor Who annual.

The plot is solid, a standard Doctor Who storyline, repleat with pig-headed military types and nasty faceless evil. Yet it somehow manages to seem confused, as if it's deliberately trying to seem cleverer than it really is. This spreads through into the prose style, which at times is lovely but is generally far too wordy. This book could have been half the length that it is without losing a single scene. Nick Walters and Paul Magrs could learn a lot from each other.

Then there's the book's main theme, crudely summarised at one point as "shit happens". Hmm, questionable. I hate it when I say that various themes shouldn't be addressed in a Doctor Who book, but I really think this is a little perverse. Let's not forget that the series' premise is about a man who "saves planets, mostly" and this is hardly a sound footing for an existentialist argument. I think that there is a possible avenue for exploration here - something about people struggling against fate, and the struggle being more important than whether they win or lose - but if this was the idea then it needed a lot more development to make it plausible.

I can basically summarise all these problems into one. There's simply too much going on in this book, and as a result all the different strands subtract from each other. The Fall of Yquatine doesn't know whether it wants to be a book about Fitz, or Compassion, or a standard runaround, or a menagerie of alien races, and as a result it falls between about six hundred stools. The theme of Fitz languishing in a prison waiting to die would be enough to provide the guts of a novel. Here, it's "dealt with" in a single chapter. The result of this lack of discipline is that all the invention and the occasional wonderful moments are lost in a mish-mash of plots and themes, none of which are fully developed.

I'm undoubtedly being harsher than I should be. As I said before, The Fall of Yquatine isn't a bad book. But it frustrates me, because there's a definite sense of a talented Doctor Who writer lurking at the core of this. There's energy, and ideas, and enthusiasm, and best of all a sense that Nick Walters really cares about what he's doing. I hope we see another book from him, because I think he could produce an outstanding book with a bit more discipline and a lot more clarity.

Overall, I'll give this a qualified thumbs up. The good bits just about outweigh the bad, and this is a novel that's really trying to do things. I'd certainly rather be reading this than a polished bit of nonsense by an experienced writer looking to make a few quid (Deep Blue, anyone?).

Seriously flawed, and badly realised, but worth six quid.


A Review by Henry Potts 4/5/00

The Doctor, Fitz and Compassion land on Yquatine, a planet whose President Vargeld faces some difficult decisions, some concerning a beautiful, young student called Arielle. Our trio are soon caught up in the tragic events of the book's title.

The Fall of Yquatine is an unprepossessing book after the shocks and melodrama of The Shadows of Avalon. It presents itself as a traditional space opera, yet that hides a rather more complex plot introducing us to a new Compassion.

The Fall of Yquatine is very much a tragedy at heart. A light first chapter may read more like a Mills & Boon (a good one, I should point out), but Nick Walters is more of a modern-day Jim Mortimore. Even the initial author's note on the planet's seasons seems ironic given the events to come.

The main plot is quite 'trad', but don't let the horrors inflicted on us by some worse authors put you off that label. Walters presents a strong alien environment in which to set his tale, although perhaps relying more on cliche than Dominion and Dry Pilgrimage. But The Fall of Yquatine isn't about alien worlds and space battles. It's about how good intentions can have bad outcomes. It's about facing up to the random events that life throws at us and it's something of a surprise which character makes the best choices and learns to cope with the vagaries of fate... and of other people's choices.

It's also a book about differing perspectives. Arielle is a xenobiology student, interested in how we perceive other species, and there is a running theme in the book contrasting different people's perceptions of the same things. At its simplest level, Walters has each of the main characters describe the many alien races of the Yquatine system and those descriptions reflect back each character's background. At a more complex level, the book draws many parallels between Vargeld and our regular cast: between how the Doctor treats Compassion and how Vargeld treats Arielle; then between Vargeld and Compassion; and also between the Doctor and Compassion.

We see Vargeld from a number of angles: from the Doctor's, Fitz's, Compassion's, Arielle's, his own. He's a tragic figure, but the reader is left uncertain whether to hate or pity him in the end. Interestingly, Walters avoids presenting an omniscient view, or using the Doctor in that role. The reader must make their own choices, with no-one in the book able to see the big picture.

Fitz in all this serves the familiar role of a companion, grounding the adventure, the wonder that is Compassion and the complexities of a plot spanning space and time. There is also an irony that it is Fitz who is most aware of what is going on with the events and with the people, yet Fitz who is the most powerless to act.

Yet, while I enjoyed The Fall of Yquatine, I fear my description above sounds better than the real thing! I believe the central problem with the book is that it doesn't know what tone to take. Walters can be a subtle author, yet he sometimes crassly spells out a metaphor just made. He has difficulty maintaining a sense of doom or grief when it's needed. The ending tries to press the reset button and to shut all the Pandora's boxes opened by the events in the book. It's a book where you have to work hard to appreciate what Walters intended.

The Fall of Yquatine is both a more sophisticated book than its predecessor and a more flawed one. Excuse it its defects and I think it repays the faith placed in it, but you may be frustrated that it cannot fulfil its potential. 7/10


The Rise of Quality by Robert Smith? 20/5/00

Going in, everything I knew about this book led me to believe it would be a rather dodgy read. Having enjoyed Dry Pilgrimage quite a lot, after Dominion, I put most of its success down to the serendipitous merging of the different styles of Leonard and Walters. Nick Walters' first full length novel inspired anything but confidence. While containing some interesting ideas, it lacked the focus sorely needed to realise it as a novel proper. Following the climactic events of The Shadows of Avalon could be dangerous; in many ways this book has to set the tone of things to come. In the hands of a careless author, this could be a recipe for disaster of Sam-Jones-in-Vampire-Science proportions.

The Fall of Yquatine, however, is an excellent novel. Contrary to the EDA house style, it starts off interesting and manages to remain so throughout the entire book. There's a confidence here that was lacking in Dominion and a real sense that Walters has really grasped a great deal about how to get his interesting ideas across in a reader-friendly manner. It reminded me a lot of Frontier Worlds in the way that there was more going on than just good ideas or big events; the execution of those ideas and events also manages to consistently entertain throughout -- something of a radical idea in Who fiction these days.

Fall has a lot of stuff that's masquerading as familiar Who, with power struggles between humans and aliens, clever time travel malarky, well thought-out worldbuilding and a strong focus on the regulars to hold it all together nicely.

The Minerva system is quite well done, with the Anthuark walking just the right side of cliche to work. Unfortunately, Walters has a tendency to forget that even though he painstakingly described all manner of aliens in a very exciting paragraph back in Chapter One, by the time we're expected to remember facial descriptions, ceremonial dress and personal hygiene in Chapter Twenty, a reminder or two wouldn't go astray. But that's a fairly minor complaint.

President Vargeld is far more interesting than he appears, being seen from multiple points of view and appearing to be all things to all characters (Fitz sees him as a bully, the Doctor as a bit thick-headed, others as a savvy politician and so forth). It's a fascinating approach and carried off very well. It's a bit of a shame that Arielle doesn't get as much care. She's quite interesting in the first chapter, but then we don't really get much of a handle on her. And Lou Lombardo is completely wasted in this book, despite star-billing on the back cover! I suspect JNT stunt-casting at work.

I really liked the Doctor's role in this book. Despite a characteristic act of gross stupidity early on and some childish wittering about ducks [copyright BBC Books 1997-2000], once he gets a lot to do he comes off rather well.

Fitz is also well done, knowing far too much and unable to do anything about it. I like his reasons for not telling anyone about the coming disaster and the way the book provides us lots of twists with the benefit of foresight, but I think Fitz's resolution to stick to silence right up until the desperate end is a little unrealistic. I'd be hollering out to anyone who'd listen in the last few days if it were me, but it comes together nicely anyway.

And Compassion! Wow! Man, oh man, do things get interesting. Compassion's role turns an interesting story into a gripping one. Anyone who has doubts about the events in The Shadows of Avalon need only read this book for the perfect example of why the books need to be allowed their freedom. Gadzooks, this is good stuff.

I really, really like the balanced focus given to all three regulars. It doesn't matter that some of the supporting cast are under or not at all, in the case of Lou Lombardo developed and that the aliens are a bit too comfortingly familiar in their motivations. I read these books first and foremost for the regular characters and things like Vargeld's characterisation really help solidify things in this department as well. Overall, The Fall of Yquatine comes highly recommended. It builds magnificently on The Shadows of Avalon, taking a really good story and skillfully turning it into an excellent one. More books like this, please.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 9/10/01

The Fall of Yquatine was a bit of a disappointment to me. While Nick Walters' previous book (Dominion, his first solo work) created a very detailed alien race with a culture all its own, in this book the many details feel unnecessary. Rather than coming together and forming a coherent picture of a different society, it feels more like a list of trivia facts about a solar system that he made up. The things we learn about the alien life-forms don't hold together to form a greater story and this really is a great shame, because that is something that Walters had done extremely well in Dominion.

The plot itself unfolds rather enjoyably and is one of the few examples in Doctor Who where time travel itself is an important element. Fitz becomes stranded a month in the past and is forced to live for that month knowing the future and being utterly unable to stop the terrible events he knows are going to occur. Unfortunately, while the story at times is rather interesting, the narrative suffers from a great deal of telling and not showing, which is something that I find rather annoying.

One of the complaints I have about the characters presented here is that not one of them notices the larger picture of what is going on around them. I suspect that this was done deliberately, and in fact this strategy does have some potential. For example, one of the characters is presented slightly different depending on whose point of view we are seeing him through. It's an interesting idea of how no one can truly know the objective nature of someone else; we've rarely seen in this sort of thinking in the book range before. On the other hand, it doesn't quite mesh with the rest of the book. If every character had been presented this way, it probably would have worked better, but to limit it to just one made that particular character seem a bit strange. While other characters were drawn fairly objectively regardless of what any individual thought of them, the one anomaly seemed inconsistent with himself and everyone else until I figured out what was going on. It just didn't seem to match.

Another problem with having characters that don't recognize the big picture is that all of them end up acting like complete morons. No one has a bit of common sense about what the consequences of their actions are. Unfortunately the characterization of the Doctor is one of the worst examples of this. At the very beginning of the book, having physically and mentally assaulted Compassion (albeit completely unintentionally), he doesn't go for more than a page before he's changed subjects and started wibbling on about ducks. Then he gets back to the subject only start yapping about the ducks less than two pages after that. While I don't mind the Doctor being easily distracted, it feels completely wrong for him to be unable to focus his mind after having made such an enormously negative impact on one of his traveling companions. This should be a major event in his relationship with Compassion, but he can't even concentrate on it for more than a few moments. It's very unsettling. Fortunately most of his worst qualities disappear after the first hundred pages or so, but it still does not result in telling a story about a character that I care enough to read about.

Fitz's subplot is familiar to any regular reader of the EDAs, so there will be no real surprises here. Separated from the Doctor, Fitz must learn to survive on his own in an alien environment. He finds a job and a gal and must then leave the planet and the girl before a giant catastrophe occurs. Those last two sentences could describe the Fitz subplot in at least three EDAs, though, fear not, I'm still reviewing The Fall Of Yquatine here. The Fitz sections aren't terrible, but they aren't especially engaging either. Unfortunately, the fact that we've seen this exact scenario played out many times in previous books works very much to this book's detriment.

All in all, this is a book with several interesting pieces, but a lot of little flaws. It's exciting in some places, yet it never really feels like it gets going. Although I've spent most of this review pointing out the things I did not enjoy, there are some very entertaining portions of this story. The parts of the book that deal with Compassion and the changes that have occurred are quite well written and are far and away the best sections.


Glittering space opera! by Joe Ford 24/10/04

Nick Walters isn't a name you hear mentioned when top flight EDA writers are discussed which is a shame because he is far more worthy a writer than his reputation suggests. That he is a good writer isn't in doubt but what is rarely mentioned is that he manages to create some truly interesting situations for the regulars to get embroiled in. His prose has improved with each new book and his characters are usually a memorable bunch. The biggest problem is his endings, Superior Beings and Reckless Engineering would both have been firm 8/10s until their final 50 or so pages where things spiral out of control into sloppiness. The Fall of Yquatine doesn't suffer as much as these two but it still has one hell of a lazy finish, which dampens but does not ruin a captivating read.

The Shadows of Avalon is not a book I would want to follow up on but Walters takes on the task with formidable skill taking risks with the regulars that Cornell could only dream of in the previous book. One of the reasons The Fall of Yquatine impresses is Walters' daring treatment of the regulars, Compassion in particular but much of the work with Fitz and the Doctor is first class too. Let's face facts these regulars are every writer's wet dream, right? Compassion turned TARDIS with a real attitude problem, Fitz the intergalactic hippy with his heart on his sleeve and a romantic hero, trying to save as many lives as possible in an impossible situation.

It's by far Compassion's best book, even better than her debut novel(s). Rarely did we get this sense of her character and Walters bravely decides to make her more unpredictable than ever. Now the Doctor and Fitz rely on her to get them from place to place she suddenly has a real say in their destination. And rather foolishly the Doctor plants a randomiser in her console, which, in a frightening scene, sends her into a violent rage, disgusted at his abuse of her body. From this point on Compassion is not to be trusted, spitting out Fitz a month in the past (not before attempting to suffocate him unless he rips out the randomiser) and looking for someone who can help her have it removed. In a painful moment the rather pathetic Compassion kills a doctor who is trying to help, unable to control her reaction to the pain of his treatment. Later she confronts the man who gave the Doctor the randomiser and ties him up inside her console room, threatening to kill him unless he helps regain control of her flight. It's been a staple of the NAs and the EDAs that the companion should be in violent opposition to the Doctor but now the Doctor needs his companion and she does not trust him at all... the tension is incredible, for once you genuinely doubt that things will be amicably resolved and that the Doctor might be stuffed. Compassion has always been a bit of cold-hearted bitch but here she is SCARY. I like it!

It's been said a thousand quadrillion times before, Fitz Kreiner is writerproof. What seems to have been forgotten in recent years is how much of a GOOD thing this is. Even Bernice was not written as consistently good as Fitz and it isn't because he is an easy character to write for but because his relationship with the Doctor is so strong and his utterly humane reactions to the horrors of the universe are so easy to empathise with. Walters gives Fitz a healthy dose of the action and wisely chooses this emotional character to take the vital role of KNOWING the fate of Yquatine and having nothing he can do about it. Living a month in the past and fully aware of the death of the planet leaves Fitz desperate and depressed. His stint in Il-Ruk's bar is lovely and his romance with Arielle confidently written, no sweaty sex or anything, just two adults seeking each other's company during a rough patch in both of their lives. I was rooting for Fitz throughout, heart sinking as Walters flirts with the idea of Fitz escaping Treaty Day only to have him torn back to Yquatine with no hope of escape. We have seen the companion trapped with no hope of escape situation before but with the Doctor presumed dead and Compassion the reason he is doomed in the first place Fitz's heartbreaking circumstances feel very real. Poor sod. It is important to remember this sterling work with the companions because at times the book comes dangerously close to being Doctor Who and the exciting adventure on Yquatine!, the Target novel with lots of funky aliens and planets! Actually I'm being far too harsh because Walters has a good stab at fleshing out the Minerva system, including lots of interesting species and their interactions with each other. His page length and sub plots prevent him from going into too much depth though and the Luvian, the Kukusti, etc are given a basic description and personality but nothing more substantial. Considering the politics at work in the book it is shame much of the story is set around Yquatine because some of the races (especially the crystalline Ixtricite) are tantalisingly underdeveloped.

The Anthaurk are the main baddies of the book but made little impression on me. Could be because of their predictable macho dialogue and attitude, much like the Klingons from any Star Trek series that isn't DS9 all they talk about is fighting and honour and death. Oh yawn. They also seem monumentally stupid, trying to capture a life form that has destroyed an entire planet and wage war on a treaty of worlds whose combined forces would annihilate them eventually. The Grand Grynarch is especially awful, her clich├ęd"Hahaha! We will conquer all!" attitude trying from her first appearance and painful in her death scene where her monstrous ideals bite her on the arse!

The Omnethoth are much more interesting and I was reading hungrily in the middle chapters as the Doctor and the President discover them on Muath. Loved the super-scary moment where they communicate through the Doctor and the clever explanation of their attack on Yquatine, not malice or hatred, just accidental. The universe is a bitch, get used it. It gives the story, particularly this space opera half, a real shot of maturity.

There is one character that emerges from all this space opera with style and that is President Vargeld, fortunate to be caught up in all the plots and seen from many characters' POV as a very different person to each (as pointed out by an earlier reviewer). His obsession with Arielle over the fate of billions did seem a little misguided but love can do funny things to people and it does at least give his character some personal depth. He has some great moments, tense arguments with Fitz, tough decisions to make over the fates of the survivors of Minerva, his "I am not insane" moment as Compassion opens herself up for him... Vargeld is a regular guy caught up in some extraordinary situations and his mood swings capture the pressure he is under well. Right up to the end where he still questions the Doctor and Fitz's motives he is a compelling character.

I fail to comprehend how Mike argues the Doctor is basically useless in this book. He is everywhere! Saving Lou and Naomi from the Yquatine massacre, sticking close to the President as he rushes off into danger, making contact with the Omnethoth, attempting to find a peaceful solution, his troubles with Compassion... he seems to be on edge of insanity throughout, boggling at how stupid the people around him are being. His lecture on how unfair the universe is was one of the highlights of the book and his troubled relationship with his TARDIS shocks and delights throughout. It's a shame the post-amnesia Doctor isn't present in this book because he would punch Vargeld's lights out! He'd deck Zendaak too! Just in time to tell Compassion where to get off for being so out of control. But alas he still cuts quite an imposing figure trying to minimise the death count in this lethal situation, further proof that the eighth Doctor was coming out of his shell in the latter half of Steve Cole's era.

It's such a shame that after such an incredible build the ending is so... obvious! Its not an unrealistic climax to have the Anthaurk turn on the Grand Grynarch and kill her rather than follow her mad scheme of genocide but it just seems rather easy. In a story, which has dealt with people making tough choices in tense circumstances to have Compassion whip in and sort everything out sells the characters short. I would have liked to see the inhabitant of the Minerva systems sort themselves out, for Fitz to have to survive the Treaty Day attack on his own wits (Compassion whips in and saves him too). Only the Doctor manages to achieve something Compassion-free and his arrival on a cloud of Omnethoth is a classic moment. It seems bizarre that Compassion would even give a shit about the political situation since she has spent most of the book rather selfishly worried about herself.

But even the ending cannot take away how readable and engaging this book is, it has a clear plot which is full of good surprises, some excellent characterisation (especially of the regulars) and is written in a snappy prose style that leaps of the page (I read the thing in four hours). Flawed, yes but far, far better than its reputation suggests, this is just the sort of hard-as-nails story the book range should try out more because this mix of tragedy and drama is quite intoxicating.