Caught on Earth
|ISBN||0 563 53810 4|
|Synopsis: Old scores are going to be settled and the Doctor can only hold onto one thing: the love of his daughter.|
The Best 8th Doctor Book Yet by Richard Radcliffe 20/1/01
This book was so eagerly anticipated. The cover blurb promised much (the Doctor with a daughter!), Lance Parkin was the writer, could it really be as good as we thought it would be? The answer is a resounding YES.
From its beginnings in rural Derbyshire, to the space sequences at the end this is pure Doctor Who in all its glory. The story begins with the Doctor still trapped on Earth. He has lived three quarters of the century, his memory has not returned, but he knows he is not of this planet. He is living in a Cottage taken straight from Withnail and I. A Police Box sits in the garden. When UFOs start to be seen in the neighbourhood, he inevitably gets involved. We are introduced to Debbie, a local schoolteacher. She has an interesting pupil named Miranda who has two hearts. And so the adventure has its foundations.
The characterization of the Doctor is wonderful. You can hear and see McGann delivering the lines. You feel his emotions – this is a Doctor who wears them on his Velvet sleeve. The 8th Doctor has never been portrayed more vividly. The supporting characters are the richest. This Earthbound story arc of the last 5 books revels in marvelous personalities. This book is the pinnacle of it. From the everywoman depiction of Debbie, her brash husband Barry, through to Miranda, 80’s teenager but something more – these are characters you can identify with and relate to. The book sucks you in and you become part of the world it depicts. Abounding in 80’s references it took me back to that decade.
Doctor Who is about magic, about the wonders in life – an imaginative world second to none. This book has all these elements in abundance. The whole Earthbound arc has been a revelation, a return to the best kind of Doctor Who. This book is the pinnacle of that arc – and indeed the pinnacle of the 8th Doctor series to date. Brilliant. 10/10.
A Review by Finn Clark 25/1/01
A few months ago, I complained that the back cover blurb for Festival of Death gave away important spoilers and recommended not reading it. To my surprise, I find myself tempted to give the same advice with Father Time, though for a different reason. It's not spoilers. There's a rather notorious teaser on the back cover that's guaranteed to grab your attention, but there's nothing careless about its positioning there. Lance wants you to know what's coming as you start on your reading experience. It's... um, startling. Explaining how this plot point came to pass would be a spoiler of the most heinous sort and I'm not going there.
So yes, read the back cover blurb. But bear in mind that the book it describes is nothing like what you're about to read. This is, quite simply, the worst blurb ever to appear on a Doctor Who novel.
In some ways it's quite accurate. Giant robots, Galactic Empires and sinister UFOs make this is a deliberately retro novel, proud to be Doctor Who. If a Lawrence Miles novel seems slightly embarrassed to be connected with a creaky old TV show from the seventies, this one by Lance Parkin positively revels in it. I'm not talking about in-jokes or self-aware camp, but simply the joy of playing in a universe of time travellers, aliens and big, silly monsters. When alien hunters stalk the countryside mysteriously and say they're looking for the Last One, they don't do it with a wink to camera. Instead of deconstructing Doctor Who, Father Time is reconstructing it. It doesn't smash the toys in the toybox while trying to be "adult", but instead takes them on their own terms and finds them fascinating in their own right. Sometimes it's a bit self-conscious about its anti-radical agenda, but I still thought it was about time too.
But despite what you'd think from the back cover, that's not the meat of Father Time.
Most Doctor Who stories are about blowing up the bad guy, with characterisation being the frilly bits on top. But here it's exactly the other way around. Nothing happens for the first fifty pages, or at least that's what you'd think if you picked up the book in search of murders and ray guns.
The Doctor has been stranded on Earth for a hundred years now, and he's been through some pretty gruelling character development. Here he's back in a heroic form you'll (mostly) recognise, but this is still a book in the Stuck On Earth story arc. It's not about the monsters. It's about him. Lance Parkin has taken a high concept - what if this amnesiac Doctor decided to settle down with a family - and told a story about it. Alien killers come and go, but what we're really reading about is the story's characters. It's quite sweet, but only if you haven't come to it with false expectations from the back cover. I think this is why so many people have expressed disappointment with it.
Personally I thought it was lovely, well worth a reread some day. The third act tries to be about both the characters and the aliens, so doesn't quite succeed at either, but I still found this a charming little novel that's actually quite important to the 8DA uberstory if you think about it.
Four of Hearts beats your hand by Matt Haasch 1/5/01
Time and Fatherhood come together in this book. The only time I remember the Doctor sheding a tear was at the end of the Green Death novelisation, and here it's in the same circumstances. My father, the hero, sits playing chess with only himself as an opponent. The universe is a crowded place, but here on earth, it is very lonely. Here you can sense everything the Doctor does, with very easy accessability. Empathy is quickly gained (as if you didn't have empathy when you opened the book) but the characterization here multiplies it, and definitely cubes the Doctor into a three dimensional wonder. Once again, he'll do anything, save hijack a space shuttle to do what needs to get done.
Miranda (Girl on the cover). We see her at ten and seventeen, She may have 2 hearts, but you don't need to regenerate to change yourself. A mere seven years and a girl grows into a woman. The outside society corrupts her in a way, killing the childlike naievity. The change is a slap in the face, but welcome, now you can see Miranda as a character, not as a pawn. Her origin is fascinating, and even the Doctor is involved with that (how he is, we don't quite know) and we run in to all sorts of unpleasent characters (watch out for Mr. Gibson). She's not the only one we run into at 2 epistopic interfaces from the continuum. We see what several decades will do to a normal man (Ferran gets pudgy and even more evil). We also see what happens when a psudo-cybermat-type-thing leaves you mindless. We see the Doctor become a Yuppie ("Thatcherism personified" indeed!), we get death, explosions, murdering of the innocents (characters you really wish wouldn't go) and you see Miranda's town-bicycle-of a friend Dinah get straddled by Miranda's supposed-to-be-boyfreind (didn't need to see that bit). This book works well in the mind's eye, gives you more to chew on than The Turing Test did (in ways of information and discription) and overall may be in a tie of Turing Test as the best Earth Arc book. I talk about Miranda a lot, but this is a Doctor Who book, in every way. He's wonderful, an amalgam of his past selves minus the wonderul memories, with the killer instincts, and with the McGann charm that makes it all his (in other words, bring him back to television, even though disk works too). It expands the envelope, but not in a L. Miles way. A bit of an update, but a sort of translation, like seeing the Fourth Doctor use a cell-phone in Millenium Shock. In the end you have the Who essentials (things from other worlds, weapons of mass distruction, space travel, the Doctor being smart) and the things that set it apart (actual novel qualities: good characters, emotional bits, ideas the small screen still can't quite hold, exceptional drama).
The soundtrack at the end (not the first time this has happened-Topping and Day I refer to) an interesting idea, but I'd suggest an interspersal of score tracks, possibly from the Debney Enemy Within soundtrack, or a bit of the music used in The Five Doctors action scenes (use with the Doctor infiltrating Sallak's headquarters).
Four out of Five by Jamas Enright 11/5/01
Lance Parkin is known for producing novels that are vast in their canvas and deep in their continuity. So what then in a book with a Doctor stuck on earth, and with no links to his past? What else could he do, but give the Doctor a daughter? (This is given on the blurb, so I'm not spoiling anything.)
I've looked forward to, and dreaded, this book. Should the Doctor become romantically involved and have a family? He's stuck on earth now, thinking he's something like a human, so why not? Ever since Casualties of War, this has been on the books, so to speak. So how well does Lance Parkin do?
The book is in three acts, all revolving around aliens on earth looking for something. The first part includes an alien double-act, and a robot I couldn't help thinking of as a Go-bot (although I think most people would go for a Transformer).
The second part is where this book really shines. It's about the Doctor's life with his daughter, Miranda, mainly focusing on Miranda as a teenager. And Lance Parkin does the teenager so well. This is one of the best characterisations around, where we get the sense of the alienation that is a part of Miranda, as well as her normal feelings of being only 15 years old.
Then there's the third act, which resolves the book, and rather more tidily than should have happened. The ending is rather pat, a little forced, and somewhat unsatisfying after the brilliant middle section. There was something a little wrong though, in that Miranda seemed to age 20 years over the course of about seven years.
The aliens and what they were seeking made me think we were reaching back into previous books in a way I really didn't like. Fortunately, not as much is made of how it comes up, so I was able to get past it. But in true Lance Parkin style there are scatterings of continuity references. Look out for a brief visit from Iris (and if you want to see that meeting, you'll have to pick up Missing Pieces). But they can't get too overwhelming, mainly because the Doctor can't make as references as he could have.
The Doctor in the mid-eights is a little strange, a pony-tailed yuppie consultant. Not the first style choice I would have picked. Yet despite his high profile, there is some disparity over the fact that U.N.I.T. is never encountered. Yes, obviously that would overwhelm the book, and create more continuity problems than even Lance Parkin would want to deal with, but it's a little off from our outside perspective.
The other characters are well done. Ferran I thought I had pegged, but didn't turn out exactly as I expected, his final behaviour a little disturbing. The Deputy remained much the same throughout the book. Deborah is a good companion for the Doctor, much a female counterpoint, but not overly romantic. Lance Parkin does an interesting death by roses. But the star is, of course, Miranda. It's her eyes we see through, and it's her who is the most believable. I will not be at all surprised if we see her again.
This book was going to be either awful, or awfully good. It succeeded for the most part, with the ending a little weak. Lance Parkin once again produces a novel that's sure to grace any connoisseur's bookshelf.
A Review by Steve Traylen 5/6/01
The Doctor has a family and defeats some aliens. That's really about the size of it. Despite the alien presences in the book this is not a book about alien monsters. It's a book about family and also very much about love. Lance Parkin has basically written the sort of book that Paul Cornell was writing in the mid nineties. However that isn't to say its a retrograde step, what it does say is that this a book that would fit right in with the very best of the old Virgin range. Reading this book shows just how far the BBC books have come. This book has sex, death and emotions in it. I defy anyone to say that about The Eight Doctors.
This is also very much a book aimed at its audience. Despite what the BBC may think the majority of the book readers these days are in their early 30s or late 20s. We grew up with the show then moved onto the books in our university years. Miranda's teenage years in this book were our teenage years. Her loves and laughs in this book were our loves and laughs. The book itself could have been set really in any time of the last 30 years or so, however putting it slap in Thatcher's Britain was an inspired piece of "casting". The book resonates with British slang from the decade and to be honest much of the language would be lost on anyone who didn't grow up in Britain at that time; how many people outside that category could tell you the etymology of "Joey"?
The Doctor as would be expected from anyone who's reads The Dying Days is spot on, McGann all the way. Miranda is well characterised as well, some of her scenes at Dinah's party were amongst the most moving in Who fiction. The Villains were kind of stock villains, but as they were really superfluous to the story I don't mind. So we have 2 villains called Rum and Thelash, what happened to Sodomy then?
The supporting cast is excellent too, especially Deborah Castle (first time I wrote that I wrote Barbara, freudian slip eh, sixties Labour fans!), although I thought her final destiny in the book was unnecessary, but I think that was the whole point.
The three novella format works very well and actually allows us to see the relationships grow through time. I especially liked the middle section where the Doctor has become a John Harvey Jones style "Troubleshooter" in Gordon Gecko braces.
A couple of small niggles. So the Doctor now has the ability to mimic anyone does he? I guess its possible that he's learnt it in previous years (as signposted by Miranda in earlier scenes), however I thought it was a bit of a Deus ex Machina. Also I thought that two characters changes of allegiences near the end were just a touch too convenient. But again as this is a book about relationships and death not guns and death I don't mind too much.
I do also wonder about Miranda's heritage. There are very much hints that Miranda is a Gallifreyan, certainly there is much talk about how Miranda and The Doctor are very much alike. How does this all fit in with the post- Ancestor Cell Who universe?
As an aside this book is clearly set in our 1980s rather than the Who universe 1980s. There is no Tenth Planet bearing down on us in the 1986 scenes, the space shuttle is clearly the most advanced form of tranport there is - no Ambassadors of Death type space rockets here. Coming from the man who gave us A History of the Universe I find that interesting. I also find it a good thing.
So overall, absolutely lovely. One of the best things to come out of BBC books and a novel that could easily have come from "Bex's Golden Age" of Virgin New Adventures. As a character piece it's as good as Human Nature. And that's about a high a compliment as I can pay it.
The Quickening by Jason A. Miller 20/11/01
January, 2001. The debate about whether this is really the beginning of the millennium has fallen by the wayside. If it's January that can only mean another slate of 8th Doctor novels is ready to begin. It's been ten years since Virgin began the New Adventures, when Timewyrm: Genesys hit shelves in the summer of 1991. Or maybe it's only 9 years -- Peter Darvill-Evans, the original editor, was there, and he repeatedly tells us in his afterwords that the NAs began in 1992. Whatever, Petey.
No matter when it is -- 2000, 2001, nine years, ten years, Millennium Shock or Millennial Rites, there's still a clarion call for a rise in the quality of the way our EDAs are written. Fan reviewers everywhere complain of the need for books that aren't just run-arounds, set on alien planets with silly names -- books where the Congenital Idiot Doctor himself has nothing to contribute. All of a sudden, any 280-page BBC book that presents even the faintest sense of world view is declared a "novel". When King of Terror is the most thoughtful book under the BBC banner, it's time to weep.
Father Time is a big step in the right direction for the moribund 8th Doctor line. 2000 was basically a wash -- with one or two exceptions, the Compassion Arc ended in a soporific, confusing mess. And then the Caught on Earth arc began, and was left dangling with November's Endgame -- where is the Whoniverse going? Well, just as 2000 promised to clear up Interference's loose ends, 2001 promises to clear up new editor Justin Richards's loose ends. This month's author Lance Parkin can usually be relied upon for a better-than-average read, although I've yet to find one of his books that works on every level. 2000 began with an indifferent novel written and edited by Stephen Cole. What will 2001, ushered in by Parkin and Richards, bring to the table?
Father Time is divided up into three self-contained novellas that stretch out through a gently exaggerated version of the 1980s. The first section is set in the "Early 1980s", as a still-amnesiac Doctor has settled into a happily inconsequential life in a snowy part of England. Gradually he becomes involved in the life of Miranda, a grammar-school girl with a keen intellect.. and two hearts. Two honor-bound alien warriors (and a Go-Bot) pursue the girl, in an attempt to answer the oldest unanswered question in Who history. "If you knew that child would grow up to be evil... could you then kill that child?". The writing throughout this section is nearly superb. Parkin has a habit of lecturing his audience at times, and turns of phrase such as "This was in the days before people drank water from bottles" turns the "Battle of the Planets" into a fairly tale. Along with talk of Knights and Castles and all that snow, here are 99 pages of prose that you'd like to sing.
The middle section is the "Mid" 1980s, although a Phil Collins song released in 1988 is heard playing on a stereo (I suspect Parkin kept the dates deliberately vague to continue that fairy-tale mystique). Miranda, now the Doctor's daughter, is a teenager. The plotting is 90% soap opera (Parkin clearly relying on his "Emmerdale" years), and is far better than anything over in the "Sweet Valley High" adventures. Lance has one gruesome death scene per book, and that scene falls here in "Masters of the Universe". Mid-1980s, meet Guns 'n Roses.
The book's final section resolves Miranda's flight from the alien forces still out to destroy her. The two honor-bound soldiers are gone, and in their place is a dopey shnook. The plot is pure "Moonraker" and the closing political monologue is bafflingly awful. This dissertation on "anarchy" reads like Paul Cornell as filtered through Paul Johnson or William F. Buckley. The rest of the book is of such a high standard that the ending is, bizarrely, more disappointing then the bad ending of a book that was rotten throughout.
On the whole, reading Father Time can be an exhilarating experience. The characters and the action are crisper than that of previous Who novels, and there are moments of great humor and great pathos. The book's numerous apocryphal ties to The Infinity Doctors (about which I, unfortunately, remember nothing) turn both Infinity and Father Time into must-rereads. We also get continuity references to the first four Caught on Earth books -- O! finally a sense that the Caught On Earth Doctor is living in our 20th century, meeting our neighbors and spending our money and listening to the same radio programs we do. If only The Burning had reflected 1900 the way Parkin reflects 1980. Or whenever.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 8/12/01
The Caught On Earth arc allowed us to see the Doctor in a new light. At least, that's what I had been hoping for. Temporarily freed from the shackles of past continuity and trapped for one century on an insignificant planet known well to his many readers, would the Doctor's adventures be much different from what had gone on before? Although the first four books of this particular series were fairly good adventure stories, one somehow got the impression that many of these escapades could have taken place without the arc in place. Some advantage was made of the arc's basic premise, but with the notable exception of The Turing Test, one suspected that somehow the books hadn't quite gone as far as they could have. The format of many of them had remained the same as always; the Doctor arrives from nowhere, meets people, has adventures and solves problems, and then finally leaves at the end of the day. The Turing Test managed to set the action over a longer amount of time, allowing the Doctor to build up some slightly-lengthier-than-we're-used-to relationships. The next logical step would bring us to the point where he starts to build real long-term relationships, hopefully to see him care about someone in ways that we had never seem him caring before.
This is what makes much of Father Time work so well. Here, after being trapped on Earth for over 80 years, the Doctor finally starts to have a family of his own. This shouldn't be a surprise really, after all, the Doctor was rarely seen as a loner; he had chosen to share his adventures and his travels with an extremely large group of people over the years. Being stuck in one location finally gives him time to develop a real relationship. Adopting a young girl at the very start of the 1980's, we see the two of them at three points of that decade - the beginning, the middle and the end. We see his daughter, Miranda, growing up and becoming a woman, and the changes that puts on their relationship. It's very well done.
Outside of the wonderful character stuff, the story itself is relatively straightforward. Advanced aliens from the distant future have traveled back in time to find the child they call the Last One. The Doctor has already found himself drawn to this child and is the only person on Earth who can save her from these killers. What follows is a classic, fairly traditional tale of Doctor Who, but cleverly changed enough to give the events much more emotional impact than they would have otherwise had. The scene at the end of the first part where the Doctor hugs Miranda and vows to protect her and to keep her safe feels so amazingly right, that it seems almost strange we've never seen anything quite like this before.
I do have a few minor quibbles though, mostly related to the fact that we don't see enough of the Doctor and his daughter interacting. They share a fair amount of time together, but for almost the entire final third of the book, their face-to-face time is missing in action. In the story, of course, this is done to increase the tension; this is someone that the Doctor cares a great deal about (perhaps more than he's ever cared about someone before), and we see how desperate he is to be reunited with her. I understand why it was done, and I did enjoy the heightened anxiety. But I think the only real solution it would have been to keep Miranda around for a few books to see how the Doctor reacts to danger when his own daughter is involved.
The story ends a little too easily, which isn't really a problem, but it does feel like a let down after the previously excellent sections. The resolution just comes too neatly. But that said, there are some beautiful set-pieces in this novel that I'm not going to spoil here. There are a lot of clever little touches running through the book too; notice how the narrative subtly changes as Miranda gets older, going from a fairy-tale story to a grown-up adventure. The slight problems with the story are more than made up for in the details. The Doctor has always had a family of sorts; it's nice to see a book about a real one.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 13/12/01
Lance Parkin has created something special in his contribution to the Caught on Earth Arc. Father Time is the rare book which takes all sorts of fanwanky ideas and manages to spin them into something fresh, yet familiar, comfortable yet exciting.
Many of the authors in the DW lines have been active deconstructionists, taking the concepts and ideas of DW and pulling them apart to see what makes them work. Parkin is actually interested in reconstruction, giving some of the familiar concepts an odd spin or two just to see what might happen. It's a familiar theme through some of his other offerings -- Infinity Doctors being the best example.
There is scarcely a flaw in this book. Character, plot and theme are all combined into a story which takes the reader on a cruise through the eighties seen through the Doctor's eyes. Structured as three novellas, Father Time stresses the three intersections of life between The Doctor and Miranda, as strange and terrifying events occur.
Unlike Paul Cornell with Avalon, who saves the best characterization for his fave regulars, Lance Parkin gives every character a chance to shine, a definite development arc. From Ferrain and his minions from the future, to the gloriously created Miranda to the wonderfully ordinary Debbie, there are no one-dimensional cliches to be found.
Each of the three novellas has great set pieces in terms of plot and can stand on their own. However, Parkin manages to have them all blend together on the edges and in the background to add to the cohesiveness of the overall story. The prose itself is fabulous, drawing you in with its simplicity, but never simplistic.
Niggles? All right, the third novella does slip a bit with a couple of twists I thought were a bit harsh, as well as being the most "Whovian" of the three. But because Parkin successfully carries the reader over emotionally, you don't notice the very minor flaws until you think back.
Overall, this is probably the best 8DA in the line and the jewel of the Caught on Earth Arc. This is a book that does improve on repeat readings, and something that will stick with you for a long time for all the right reasons.
10 out of 10.
"Overall, this is probably the best 8DA in the line and the jewel of the Caught on Earth Arc. This is a book that does improve on repeat readings, and something that will stick with you for a long time for all the right reasons."
Yeah, I said that.
But it was a long time ago, and any of you who might have checked out my top 40 list of Best Who Stories Ever, might have been surprised to not see Father Time listed within.
Well, there's a reason for it...
Father Time loses it's luster the second time around. Things that seemed so sparkly and wonderful fall flat. there's a surprising amount of fanwank (although more subtle for Parkin than normal) confined within the pages. And, that ending is pretty atrocious.
For those of you who don't know, Father Time is structured as three novellas in different periods of the 1980s. The Doctor, still recovering from the events in The Ancestor Cell, gets involved with a young woman named Miranda who has two hearts and is supra-intelligent. It turns out that Miranda is "The Last One" from the Far Future, and is being hunted down by members of Faction Klade, who want to kill her as the last act of a "Blood Feud."
Oh, and there's an evil Volkswagen Transformer in the first novella, too.
Accompanying the Doctor throughout the decade, on and off, is one Debbie Castle, a wonderful three dimensional woman who, unfortunately, gets one of the most horrible and abrupt send-offs ever.
The main thrust of Father Time is the relationship between the Doctor and Miranda. The Doctor adopts Miranda and the love between them is genuine, although there are bumps in the relationship along the way. Methinks Parkin was trying to do to Miranda what was to be the original TV exit for Ace (Ace being trained to be a Time Lord like the Doctor).
Out of the three novellas, the first one is by far the best, thus creating a situation where you have the book equivalent of First Episode Syndrome (find my review of Remembrance for an explanation). Part two is all right, but most of it is taken up with boring (for me) teen angst bullshit. The best part of this section is the Doctor as a very sucessful capitalist, a very sharp swipe at other writers who tried to impose their beliefs on a non-political character.
The last novella turns into an all-action romp, substituting character for set pieces, we've seen or read before in Who. But the end is really bad, something that Lance Parkin came up with at the last second -- though if you pay attention, it's forshadowed earlier on in the last novella.
Lance Parkin does write a brilliant Doctor, a character who is at all time wonderful and just damn fun to read about. Miranda is sone all right, but loses steam in the end. The villains are, well, generic and corny. not as bad as Paul Cornell villains, but they could have been so much better.
So, as you can see, my appreciation for Father Time has dropped quite a bit. It's still bettter than most of the Who books out there, but the second time around it loses it's luster and, in the end becomes quite ordinary.
A Review by Mike Morris 4/8/02
I've been thinking a lot about "received wisdom" lately. I'm often referring to the common fan opinion of a story in my reviews, and in truth, quite where I get this idea from is pretty limited. The opinion actually only belongs to fans that write reviews, and even then it's only the reviews that I - or David J. Howe - happens to read. I often fall into the trap of thinking there's a sort of consensus out there about every story, but this is only partly true.
So I have no idea, really, what the general consensus is on Father Time. Finn Clark's review refers to this book getting a lukewarm reception generally, and I don't know where this knowledge comes from - maybe he spends more time on Jade Pagoda than I do. All I know is there's been a hell of a lot of references to the greatness of this book on this site. Richard Radcliffe calls it "the pinnacle of the Eighth Doctor series to date"; Jamas Enright says it is "sure to grace any connoisseur's bookshelf"; Steve Traylen says that "as a character piece it's as good as Human Nature"; Terrence Keenan calls it "the best 8DA in the line and the jewel of the Caught On Earth arc"; Joe Ford calls it "the pinnacle" of the arc; and every review is more or less positive in tone, with the single exception of Graeme Burk's review of the Caught on Earth arc. That must reflect some sort of groundswell of general opinion that this book is a thing of wonder.
Frankly, this puzzles me. When I first read Father Time I found it - in conclusion - to be a fairly huge disappointment, a book that completely failed to deliver on the promise of its early chapters and degenerated into a fun but unconvincing runaround, bogged down by some sort of perverse agenda to debunk a few fan conceptions. I wouldn't go so far as to say I dislike it, but I'm fairly underwhelmed by the story and puzzled at it been described as "one of the best books I've ever read." It's not even the best book of the Caught on Earth arc, and really should be a lot better than it is.
That's not to say that Part One isn't wonderful. If the Doctor's amnesia served no other purpose, it stopped Lance Parkin from referring to another Doctor Who story every three sentences, and let the man's astonishing ability to write shine. One of the recurring problems in Doctor Who fiction is that POV is frequently overdone, so the way Lance lets us decipher characters by their actions rather then their deepest inner thoughts is as refreshing as somebody writing a child's dialogue well, or striking just the right balance between setting and character and plot. In a simple, understated way he tells us a story about how people will love what they're allowed to love, how bad men can do heroic things, how people become connected and why they start to care for each other. He even throws in a Transformer, and better again, he makes the damn thing scary!
As a story it's almost perfectly self-contained, and to be honest I wish I'd stopped reading here. The rest gets progressively less original and less interesting, until in the end we're actually supposed to be surprised by giant flying saucers and super-advanced societies from the far future. This is, maybe, some sort of tongue-in-cheek bit of nostalgia, but these things were clichéd long ago. If Lance Parkin thought he was being original, I'm astounded. If he thought he was being hilariously post-modern, then I'm just angry.
Before this we have a teenage-Miranda yuppie-Doctor Part Two. This isn't without its good points. The teenagers are every bit as well-written as the children from Part One... with the downside that most sixteen year-olds aren't really all that interesting. The characters in this section tend to be obsessed with sex, hugely egocentric, inarticulate, and endlessly concerned with their image... just like most teenagers, really. But whereas children, and the skewed simplistic way they look at things, are fascinating, sixteen-year olds revel in all the dullest parts of adulthood. So Dinah steals Miranda's boyfriend. So bloody what? I want aliens, I want action, I want life-and-death. Miranda's teenage life is written with great accuracy and aplomb, but dammit, endless self-obsessed talk about relationships and sexuality and whatnot is bloody boring, no matter how popular Dawson's Creek was at the time. There's an agenda here, perhaps, to show Miranda discovering her own sexuality. If you want that, go watch Survival, which has an overtly sexual tone when dealing with Ace's transformation and recasts the "sexual awakening" idea as a metaphor - and hence continues to tell us a story about cats. The whole Miranda-Bob-Dinah story isn't connected to the plot at all, except in the Miranda-likes-Ferdy idea which is rather artificial anyway.
The Doctor as a yuppie is maybe more interesting. It seems to be - on one level - a poke in the eye for the left-wing agenda of the NA's. Ordinarily, I'd find this tiresome, but this was something that needed to be said. The Doctor has been written as a quasi-political figure too often, so much so that according to Joshua Scrimshaw's review of The Fearmonger the Doctor lists "capitalism" as one of his enemies. Joshua objected to the idea of the Doctor as a socialist strongly, for reasons which - as a socialist myself - I thought were ill-informed and vaguely insulting, but he was right. The Doctor fights tyranny, not political systems, and should be above the right/left definitions of our politics. The local shopkeeper is a capitalist, for god's sake - is he the Doctor's enemy? Lance Parkin makes this point by having the Doctor pursue his desire to help people within the Thatcherite system, rather than joining in the anti-poll tax riots - and makes a deeper point, namely, that our political beliefs are important but maybe not as important as the ones we love. And the image of the Doctor with a pony tail is a hoot.
Still, ominously, it's another instance of Father Time getting sidetracked. At this point Father Time is, loosely, a study of love and attachment - everyone we meet has someone to care for, and those attachments drive their actions. Part Two gives us very little that's new as far as this goes, and instead starts concerning itself with the same old Last One plot again. This is diverting, but no more than that. Yes, the melodrama of Ferran's mission to kill the Last One is hilarious when smacked into the middle of banal teenage parties, but the humour's not enough. Everything gets turned into rose petals, which is pretty, but it doesn't disguise the fact that this is a deus ex machina way of dealing with a plot that has added nothing, nothing at all, to the story. It's only at the end, when we get a hint of a darker side to Miranda, that we really get anything new. And let's be honest, that could have been revealed in three pages rather than ninety three. Examine it even in principle - Part Two shows some aliens trying to do the same thing they tried to do in Part One, and they get beaten. Again.
And then it's Part Three.
Oh. My. God. Part Three.
Part Three is just pants. Sorry, but it really is. It is the fascinating tale of how the Doctor and Miranda take over a flying saucer, and quite what it's trying to say I have no idea. It's the culmination of the downward slide of the novel, from being thoughtful to being a cheesy adventure. I'd accept that if the thoughtful side of things was adequately concluded, but it just isn't. Miranda forgives the Doctor. The Doctor forgives Miranda. The main villain has an unprompted and ridiculous change of heart, and the problems of the future society are solved by Miranda saying a few words to the crowd. The finale is just ludicrous, a thicker-than-thick notion that a universal society can turn its attitude around because someone tells them to. Oh please. As an ending it's hollow and trashy and, worst of all, confused. The Miranda that shot a man dead in cold blood doesn't resurface, and that whole element isn't dealt with. Suddenly, Father Time concerns itself with the redemption of Ferran and it can't even make that believable. Basically, rather than grasp the characters it introduces, the book ends by having characters run down corridors for a while, and then having someone make a speech.
In fact, Part Three is such garbage I suspect we're into "well it's supposed to be cheesy!" territory, which is too bloody boring for words. Is Lance Parkin making a 'silly adventures are the whole joy of Doctor Who!' point? Maybe, but that type of soapboxing is tiresome, and if that was what he wanted to say he should have written a silly adventure from start to finish. Part Three is not clever. It's a cop-out.
Terrence Keenan, in his review of Human Nature, compared Human Nature (very) unfavourably to this. I find that odd, since I don't see how the books are even vaguely similar, with the exception of their structure - character drama taking place within a simplistic, rather silly, nasty-aliens plot. What Human Nature has, though, is discipline. There's the odd bit of preaching, but essentially it's a very careful study of how we can be the same hero that the Doctor is, and how evil can be defeated without firing guns. It works because, silly as the villains are (and I don't excuse their silliness), it's clear that they aren't what we're supposed to be interested in. The book's theme is actively intertwined with the plot; Smith saves the day through his self-sacrifice, learning what heroism is, showing the difference between the Doctor and the rest of us, teaching the Doctor something about himself and crystallising the Doctor's character without him even featuring in most of the book.
In Father Time, the Doctor saves the day by solving some equations. Yes, the Doctor and Miranda handing Ferran a gun is a marvellous idea, but it's not actively part of the plot in the same way. The upshot is that, while Human Nature's themes are very clear, I don't really know what Father Time wants to be about. It touches on too many themes, most of which have been addressed elsewhere at some point (the aforementioned gun scene is lifted from The Happiness Patrol), and lacks the focus to adequately address any of them. It's The Doctor Who Moral Dilemmas - Greatest Hits. Its most original idea is to give the Doctor a daughter, a single person to care about more than anyone else, but it rarely gets to grips with that premise (the Doctor kills someone in cold blood to save Miranda, maybe). Perhaps this is because it's too busy introducing us to an android who shows signs of free will - complete with positronic brain. Brilliant! If one moral issue can't be resolved, well, let's introduce another one that's easier!
Have no doubt, I'm being harsher than I should be. I'm judging Father Time by the very high standards it sets for itself. Ultimately, Father Time is a fun adventure story, and hence it manages to be everything it should. But it's not everything it could be, and it's certainly not worthy of being termed great.
Ultimately, Father Time lacks focus, discipline, and originality. The plot is nonsense and features a lot of running around to no good effect. Thankfully, the jokes are funny, the pace is good and the writing is wonderful. It tries to work on two levels, Worthy Tome and Runaround, but doesn't succeed at either - and if this is one of the best Doctor Who books, I'm a banana.
Unquestionably perfect! by Joe Ford 5/12/03
Mike Morris what are you on? We have been known to disagree on the odd story/Doctor/companion/season or two but your slating of this book, one that I hold in such high regard demands a response! Mike has very thoroughly explained why should not listen to the hype levelled at this book and I will now explain why you should hunt down a copy at your quickest convenience and absorb yourself in its pages.
This does not feel like a Doctor Who book. To be honest it is the only book in the Caught on Earth arc that actually does something truly innovative with the idea and could not be told during any other period. The Burning, Casualties of War, The Turing Test, Endgame and Escape Velocity could quite happily slip into the pre-Ancestor Cell bracket without too much tinkering; they each take place over only a few weeks and don't demand that the Doctor has amnesia, that's just a brilliant bonus.
But Father Time takes place over an entire decade; it guides us through the eighties with story that is extremely heartfelt and compelling. It has scenes of Miranda having her first kiss, her friend eyeing up guys in the changing rooms, the Doctor taking on eleven people in separate games of chess, him viscously beating up a facist dictator after losing his missus... it is chock a block full of scenes that would seem out of place in any other Doctor Who book but work perfectly here because of their strangeness.
For me, the very idea of the Doctor being trapped on Earth without his memory and taking responsibility of a little girl in danger who grows up with him and learns to call him "Dad" is gorgeous, truly innovative storytelling. It is an idea that grabs your attention and in the secure hands of Lance Parkin, who refuses to make the story an easy one, it is something very special indeed.
Let's face it after the first four books in the COE arc it is wonderful to finally see the Doctor happy. The book positively revels in his other worldliness, his knowing he doesn't belong. His longing for answers, holding onto a scrap of paper that might tell him something about himself is saddening. When he looks after Miranda I got the impression his imprisonment on our pathetic little planet was not as difficult as it had been.
Although he is not the primary focus of the book the Doctor is responsible for so many magical scenes. It would be foolish of me to name them all, it would deprive you of their value but some of the best are...
Miranda is the star of course, slap bang in the centre of that gorgeous cover. Lance cleverly uses Miranda to explore growing pains in a way I found quite moving, everyone at one point or another during adolescence feels as though they aren't quite right, that their pain and despair is because they are different... well Miranda is different. She is an alien but she just doesn't know it. And forced to live on the Earth she has to go through all the heartache and nightmares any teenager does.
It was the middle sections taking us through her mid teens that I found most compelling. There was something remarkably honest with the writing, Miranda is forced into choosing a date for the party (even though she is curious) and has to suffer all the awkward moments that go with that first date. The moment between Miranda and Bob outside, where they kiss and she finds herself reacting rather than thinking for the first time in her life and enjoying it is riveting, as gripping as any action scene in the book because the writing is so good. It makes the later scene where she decides to sleep with Bob and walks in on him straddling her best friend all the more powerful. Who hasn't experienced that crushing pain when you realise you have been betrayed by a lover? It is primal and world shattering and Lance captures it to a tee. When Miranda gives Bob a bloody nose the next day at school it is very satisfying.
Then to discover that you are not a mixed up teenager but the last of your race of tyrants and the lad who has been giving you the eye is in fact the son of the man who vowed to have you killed... well its little wonder she kills Sallak and runs away.
Ferran is another character who is painted in shades of grey. There isn't really a villain in this piece; everybody has a sound motive for why they're doing what they're doing and it makes the story much more interesting. Ferran who has pledged to kill Miranda but suddenly finds himself infatuated with her is a good example. Another teen, hopelessly out of his depth in his position as Prefect. When Miranda and Ferran are pressing against each other, kissing and heading towards a lot more I was riveted to the story, knowing she is in such danger from Ferran and completely unaware... it was gripping stuff. Ferran realises what he must do but cannot find it in him to kill her.
When he returns in the third segment older, wiser and angrier, he is obsessed with power. In one of the best scenes in the entire book the Doctor and Miranda stand shoulder to shoulder on the bridge of his (extremely powerful) spaceship surrounded by his guards and it is Ferran who is powerless. They even toss him a gun to kill them and he cannot do it. Ferran is a bully and Lance shows how bullies, deep down are unhappy and powerless. It is stunning message.
But my favourite character was Debbie Castle. She starts the book in an extremely unhappy position, married to a dominant chauvinist with little to look forward to in life. Suddenly this dashingly romantic eccentric bursts into her life and it is robots and aliens and hit men from Mars. After leading such a boring life it is addictively exciting and Debbie finds herself enjoying this sudden change of tone.
What a lovely character, who can't relate to this woman who finds the idea of being chased by Volkswagen robots and homicidal aliens more exciting than going home and making dinner for her nasty husband. Her instant attraction to the Doctor is thoroughly understandable, he is unpredictable and virtuous and drop dead gorgeous to boot and the way she clings to him throughout, dropping her entire life to help him rescue Miranda in later sections completes their little family unit. It is her death, the last price to pay in a book full of character shocks, which kicks you in the gut the most. So close are they to reuniting and she is cut down, "We could have been a family," the Doctor tells his daughter.
The prose was perfect, the book is written with a real sense of romance. Characters and surroundings are described with an almost fairytale touch the really drew me in. Lance has shown before that he knows how to get inside his characters head and I was attracted to each of his main stars and many of the minor ones too such was the effort he put into making them real. Little moments like Debbie remembering when she found the snow magical instead of annoying, Miranda faced with her best friend having some fun with HER boyfriend and shocked that only thing she is wearing is the necklace she bought her, the Doctor writing his 'How to steal a Space Shuttle' on napkins on the plane... little moments that mean nothing in the grand sweep of the book but collected give it its heart.
And the book has so many cool bits, Robo-Volkswagon was cool beyond belief, it would be great to see that achieved on screen with today's budget. And of course one of the best, most wonderful scenes in any Doctor Who book comes when the Doctor saves Debbie Castle from a guard filled council block by turning the whole lot into a huge pile of roses. The pair of them running as the tidal wave of roses nears approaches literary genius.
Father Time is a book that achieves its reputation by being in the right place at the right time. This book could not have been told at any other point, which makes it a one-off masterpiece. It is a thousand times better than previous attempts to humanize the Doctor (Human Nature reeks of 'fad of the week' being less dramatic and less magical than Father Time) and works because it asks you to accept what is happening uncompromisingly.
The characters are written superbly with a depth not often seen in the range and the book thrives on its readable and absorbing prose.
And I even like the ending. Stealing a space shuttle, overthrowing the facist... sounds like perfect Doctor Who to me.
An extremely mature book.