Fear of the Dark
|ISBN#||0 563 53865 1|
|Featuring||The fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa|
|Synopsis: An age-old terror is about to be reborn. But why does Nyssa feel that her thoughts are no longer her own? Forced to confront his own worst fears, even the Doctor will be pushed to breaking point - and beyond.|
A Review by Finn Clark 13/3/03
Before I start reviewing, I should make a declaration to help you decide how much weighting to give my opinions. Trevor Baxendale is my least favourite author. Dicks and Bulis have perpetrated some utter drivel, but I've derived much entertainment (albeit often unintentional) from their work. Barry Letts wrote The Daemons novelisation. I've just reread three Gary Russell novels and had fun with two of them. However I've never got any sense of life from Trevor Baxendale; some authors have been accused of graverobbing, but for me a Baxendale novel is like a corpse propped up on my bookshelf. The dead parts have been stitched together, but nothing's breathing.
(The ironic thing is that I quite enjoyed Coldheart and to a lesser extent Eater of Wasps while I was reading them. However they're so uninspired and formulaic that their good points dribbled from my memory and I ended up hating 'em anyway.)
The sad thing about Fear of the Dark is that I like its underlying concept. You could write a good book around that. This ain't it, sadly, but even so I enjoyed the last few chapters. Admittedly I'm a horror fan and thus predisposed to like this kind of nonsense, but what we get here isn't a million miles removed from something like the recent movie Pitch Black. It's not just going for the gross-out (as with Eater of Wasps) but aiming for something more primal, putting an adult spin on childhood fears. There's mileage in these notions.
Which only makes it all the more frustrating that instead we get the inbred offspring of Tomb of the Cybermen and The Face-Eater. It's a meagre story that would have seemed inadequate for an audio play, even had the characterisation been good. It isn't. Cheung was okay, but Lawrence and Stoker were annoying, and as for Cadwell... dear God, was he stupid. On p201 the Doctor actually asks the question that the reader has been screaming at the page; the answer has its own internal logic, but doesn't make Cadwell any less of a moron.
The stupidities don't end there, either. On p188, why not just shoot him? Admittedly there's a plot reason why everyone might be acting out of character, but that still doesn't make for a satisfying reading experience. The Dark's powers are inconsistent, at one point eating blaster bolts and the next being held back by a cigarette lighter. Oh, and did I mention the dating goofs? The year is 2382 (see the back cover and p43), yet apparently the year 2319 was over 160 years ago (p93). And Oldeman is variously "pushing 230" (p94), "pushing 300" (p184) and "265" (p187). Words cannot express how distracting that was.
The characterisation is one-dimensional and obvious. Even when there's a character revelation coming, it's always telegraphed so heavily that any surprise is lost. However I liked Baxendale's Davison. If one makes allowances for Dark-influence in a certain scene near the end, this may be one of the best novel-length 5th Doctor portrayals - Baxendale is actually getting to grips with this difficult character instead of just getting on with the plot and giving us "the bland one" again. Nyssa and Tegan are reasonably written, so overall this was a better TARDIS crew than we've seen in any of Baxendale's 8DAs to date.
I'm scrabbling for other good things to say... uh, there was a good line on p221 and another on p193, though it would have resonated far more strongly had the blasters been lasers. I think that's it. I'm sure a lot of readers will hate this book, though in fairness as a horror fan I appreciated it more than Baxendale's last three. It's trying to do something quite difficult and I respect that, but sadly the 5th Doctor PDAs notch up another failure.
The alternative season twenty... by Joe Ford 31/3/03
Eighty pages into Fear of the Dark and I was feeling a little wary, this book was traditional in all the worst ways. What do Earthshock, Snakedance, Tomb of the Cybermen and Planet of Evil have in common... Fear of the Dark is what. You have the butch military stereotypes, the archaeology expedition (!!) going wrong, the enemy infiltrating through the minds of the companions, the exploration of laboratories with danger around every corner and a planet that is reputedly evil and has a grotesque, alien feel about it. Hardly an original work of art is it? I was fearing my enjoyment of the PDA range was finally coming to an end (after two month ago's insipid Heritage).
However something odd happened around page one hundred, Mr Baxendale managed to subvert my expectations, introduce some new, far more interesting plot elements and grab my attention. By the last third I was turning the pages so fast, a huge grin spread across my face as the climax exploded into life. It was truly an amazing turn around and the work of an expert storyteller who has the ability to show off not with flashy prose but a well measured plot that twists at the right moment.
It's another black and white cover (and quite a superb one at that). The Doctor is well and truly haunted in this book and it addresses some issues that should have come up in season twenty, most notably fall out from Adric's death. The fifth Doctor is depicted almost too well here, quiet, contemplative, and quite charming... but when the shit hits the fan and things turn deadly his shift in personality... snappy, arrogant, desperate highlight Davison at his best (Androzani, Frontios, Spare Parts). His fear that Nyssa and Tegan will go the same way as Adric is frightening and the way he starts to manipulate his companions makes you wonder just how much the enemy is affecting him...
Tegan comes across as likable and capable here, with real dreams and hopes not just the loud mouthed bully she was on screen. I loved Baxendale's little digs at the two companions, they both have a very revealing moment where they think the Doctor needs the other one more. The prospect of feeling useless is quite scary and it is used here effectively. Given her recent return in Arc of Infinity (oh gee just when I saying a bunch of nice things about the Davison era...) Baxendale wisely chooses to highlight this and how pathetic her life on earth was in comparison to her time travelling escapades with the Doctor. I really liked the way Tegan was written for here, for once I could see why she travelled with the Doctor and Nyssa and why they liked having her around. Don't all faint. Also he made a few digs at her too that were quite funny.
And how scary was Nyssa in this? I would love to see Sarah Sutton have a go at this one. The horror of losing her home planet, her father, being the last of her people to survive finally catches up with her (as it should have in the TV series). I loved her connection with the creature even if it did seem a little too Snakedancey for me at first. Her quiet warnings about what is coming builds up the tension very well.
Of course it's all quite readable thanks to Baxendale's no nonsense prose which at times reads more like a script than a novel. He describes things well but quickly and concentrates on his characters much more. In a psychological novel like this the characters are far more important than the surroundings and Baxendale's ability to tell his story through the characters' dialogue is second to none in the Doctor Who range. He's made a real effort to end his chapters at a real high point making the book an extremely efficient page turner.
Of the secondary characters Stoker was probably the best and I enjoyed the way Baxendale kept twisting her role in the story. She goes from villain to hero quite brilliantly. Lawrence was good as well, I like straight to the point characters. Even smaller character like Jim get a moment to shine. There are some clever (almost Justin Richards like) character subversions in this book. Who is an ally or who is an enemy... most are both for much of the book.
I do have to say that this isn't a patch on Eater of Wasps though. Although it is full of character insight, gross moments and enough action and explosions to keep anyone happy it doesn't quite have that magical Doctor Who-ey feel to it that touched me whilst I first read his last book. Maybe it was missing Fitz and Anji? Maybe it was because I wasn't sure if the Doctor and his companions were quite themselves or not? Maybe it was because this couldn't be effectively done on the budget of the time despite its illusions to fitting into season twenty. Eater of Wasps blew me away. Fear of the Dark entertained me but quite admirably so.
I was thinking the other day that we now have an alternative season twenty and one that is far superior to the original. Let's see we have Primeval (audio) with the Doctor and Nyssa to start the season followed by the emotional tour de force that is Spare Parts with the Doctor and Nyssa again. Unfortunately we then have to slot in Arc of Infinity as that aussie has to return. We'll then follow that with Goth Opera and then Zeta Major and finally Fear of the Dark to end the season on an explosive high. What do you think? Mind you nearly every story then would have Nyssa taken over, falling ill, transforming into a slavering beast or infected with evil... hey somebody give the poor cow a break!
Fear of the Dark is a decent PDA, it stays faithful to its era while telling a gripping, action packed story. Not bad for the first book of 2003.
Four out of Five by Jamas Enright 15/10/03
Yay, Trevor Baxendale! And writing for my favourite Doctor! Is it good? Yes. Is it great? Um, well...
The story reminds me of Sapphire and Steel adventure 2, the railway station one (some resonance may be due to me having watching that story recently). The Dark is a definite presence, and a figure of menace without really being seen for most of the book. It has the ability to 'eat' light that was the most familiar, but it still remains different to that TV menace.
This is a 'base under siege' type story, but that doesn't mean this story isn't original. There are some interesting twists I haven't seen before and I doubt most people could guess who would be left alive by the end. (That said, there are some strange things about this book plot wise. Various characters suddenly disappear from the novel, and the dates don't quite work. The date of the original project must have been 2219 instead of 2319, a simple typo to explain, but what of the crew members, e.g. Jenks, that we never hear of again?)
But, at its core, what this book really is is a horror story. People being killed by an unknown creature, the Dark slowly swallowing up everything around you, one by one people are dying are there's no way to stop it.... This is a well told story (and Trevor Baxendale could well be Doctor Who's answer to Dean Koontz), but is it scary? Um, maybe I might be getting jaded in my old age, but not really. Definitely a page turner, a story that I got caught up in easily and got carried along by, but aside from remembering the atmosphere that the Sapphire and Steel adventure evoked, I never had a 'fear of the dark'.
The characters are well crafted, the main characters being Jyl Stoker, Bunny Cheung and Captain Lawrence (Cadwell doesn't quite get main character status). The characters are quite believable, their interactions work although we can guess some of the obvious relationships between them before we are told about them (which, in a way, makes them more enjoyable when you know what's really going on).
Nyssa gets dumped on a bit here, the main conduit for the Dark to make itself known before the end. Some of her reactions/emotions don't quite match what we've seen on screen, but on the whole still works. Tegan tends to be in 'bitch' mode for most of the books, and tends to say 'rabbits' far too often, but comes across as quite strong for all that. I could almost hear Peter Davison's voice when the Doctor talks, but there are various repeated characteristics the Doctor does that make me think Trevor Baxendale is trying a little too hard to evoke the character.
Fear of the Dark is a decent read, a well told story that evokes visual images. Trevor Baxendale does sometimes miss (see, for example, my (forthcoming) review of his The Dark Flame), but this book doesn't. Maybe not quite the full on experience that Eater of Wasps was, but will undoubtedly rate high on anyone's list.
Creepy... sometimes by David Massingham 30/10/03
Fear of the Dark starts off as quite a bland novel. As Joe Ford states above, at this point it is traditional to the nth degree. We are introduced to a group of archeologists (or are they?), investigating the moon of Akoshemon. We can already tell which ones are gonna snuff it, as Trevor Baxendale only deigns to flesh out three crew members in any way. One suspects that even the author knows that things are a bit unexciting at this stage -- his attempts to create a mini-mystery of how the TARDIS crew met these guest characters are quite transparent.
Things do kick up a notch once our hero discovers a laboratory complex hidden inside the moon. It is here that Baxendale's true intent comes across -- he wants to create a atmospheric novel. And when he really puts his mind to it, he suceeds. True, this book is as traditional as pants, but who doesn't mind the odd trad moment every now and again? It is in the darker locales that Baxendale works his magic, whether it be in the deep recesses of the laboratory, or the climatic chase through the tunnels of the moon.
The plot is secondary to the atmosphere, but it is a solid and creepy one. The Dark is well thought out, coming across as a malevolent force both threatening and intangible. Scenes featuring this enemy enveloping caverns and rooms gain an indescribable claustrophobic feeling. The other monster of the book, the Bloodhunter, is described with relish by the author, who is clearly having a whale of a time pointing out every little disgusting thing it does. Which is fine by me -- this helps endow the Bloodhunter as a nightmarish, animalistic creature, a true threat to the Doctor and his friends.
Unfortunately, Baxendale cannot hold this terrific mood up forever. The effective atmosphere ebbs and flows, with some passages coming across with an oppressive feel, whilst the next chapter is completely devoid of tension. Much of this has to do with the arrival of a secondary bunch of guest characters halfway through the novel. Firstly, none of this lot have much going for them in the way of characterisation, so it's hard to care about them. Secondly, their arrival denotes a shift in the locale out of the dank caves of the moon. Without realising it, Baxendale temporarily removes the most successful element of the book -- the dark atmosphere of the caverns. The result is a somewhat patchy novel, with well-realised sections giving way to forgetable bland ones.
Whilst the story starts off slow, it concludes very well. Much of this is thanks to the author's portrayal of the fifth Doctor, the actions of whom make the finale damn engaging. In fact, the fifth Doctor in Fear of the Dark is probably the best written I've ever seen. I'm no expert when it comes to the PDAs, but Baxendale manages to capture this character very well for the most part. He's not perfect -- very occasionally we see parts of the eighth, fourth, and even third Doctors slipping in there, but overall this is the best portrayal of Doc #5 I've read.
Tegan is equally, if not more, successful. I've no qualms with Tegan as she appeared on screen; I feel she lent a certain amount of realism to the TARDIS crew, and Janet Fielding gave a great performance every time. In Fear of the Dark, this character is tremendous. I had no problems whatsoever in picturing Fielding uttering every single one of Tegan's lines here. Furthermore, Baxendale gives her some great things to do, including, towards the end, the scariest bit of the whole novel. Nyssa isn't captured quite as well, though I suspect this has something to do with the fact that Baxendale actually makes her quite central to the plot, something the television writers barely ever bothered with (Terminus aside). It seems weird to read about Nyssa actually doing something (bless her heart), so my logic was that it didn't really seem like Nyssa. Silly, I know, but there it is. Nonetheless, Baxendale does his best to explore this character's feelings about her homeworld, Traken, and most of the emotional work done with her works well. When it comes to the incidental characters, only Bunny and Stoker stick out, though I'm still sure I'll have to work hard to remember their names in a couple of months. In this book, the characters are backdrops for the author to weave a creepy atmosphere.
Despite the flaws, it should be noted that Fear of the Dark is generally page-turner friendly, even in it's less successful moments. You may find yourself stifling a yawn in the early stages of this book, but -- take heart, reader -- it gets better from there. Just don't expect it to be consistent.
7 out of 10
A Review by Dave Roy 24/2/04
Fear of the Dark is by Trevor Baxendale's fourth Dr. Who novel, and the first one to involve a different Doctor than the eighth. Baxendale does an excellent job with this one, creating his very own Who horror novel with some chills and a tight cast of characters. It's only marred by an ending that seems to take forever and some wooden characterization.
Baxendale is known for his traditional Who stories, and this one is no different. One can imagine the dank cave sets, perhaps wobbling a little bit as they were wont to do on the television show. It has a limited cast, and even fewer actual speaking parts. The only thing that couldn't be done is some of the special effects, and even those may have been able to be faked. Yes, this is televised Who on a book budget. And you know what? I loved it.
One of the things the television series often had going for it was atmosphere. Fear of the Dark has this in spades. It's spooky and it's (yes, this word will keep coming up again) dark. The dank mood of the caves just wafts off the page, and when one of the characters is completely cut off and alone in the dark (there it is again!), I could feel my own gut clench a little bit. Even when the characters are in bright lights, the book still feels a bit dimmed. Baxendale does a very effective job in conveying this, and the mood is perfect for what Baxendale is trying to show us. It's positively chilling when the Dark is siphoning away any visible light, and we watch as even open flames slowly dim until they are just embers, and then finally even these go out.
Often, when books go for an atmospheric effect, they do so at the expense of the characters. Baxendale is bitten by this bug, unfortunately. Then again, he could be going for the horror movie effect, where the cast is limited and nobody outside the inner circle is given any characterization whatsoever. While this may be true, it doesn't really work in a book. Some of Stoker's men have a few lines, a brief bit of characterization, and then they're gone. Cannon fodder is the term, I believe. It gets worse when the ship arrives and Baxendale adds even more faceless people to go with the two new full characters. In fact, we don't even know what happens to some of the crew, though it's obvious by implication. They just disappear and are never referred to again.
There are a few exceptions to this, though. Stoker is definitely the best of the bunch, alternately suspicious of the Doctor and then relying on him when it's clear he has a better grip of what's going on then she does. We learn a lot about her in the course of events, and I really enjoyed reading about her. Less well-done, though still effective, are Lawrence, Bunny, and Cadwell. Cadwell has his own agenda but he seems a bit too stereotypical at times. Bunny is given lots of background, but it is sort of stereotypical as well. He has left his family for one final mission with Stoker, and he constantly misses his daughter (though no mention is made of him missing his wife, which is interesting). Lawrence actually is given more then the stereotypical tough-guy captain role, especially his interplay with Stoker.
However, it's the regular characters where Baxendale shines. The Fifth Doctor, so hard to get right in print (especially when compared to Peter Davison's performance of him on the show), is excellent. He's kind and considerate of his friends but just slightly tetchy. He's irritable at times, especially when things are starting to go wrong. Basically, he's so in-character here that it becomes obvious when something is happening to him and he starts doing weird things. With anybody else, the characterization would be so off that we would believe it's just the author messing up. Here, it's obvious what's going on and a little bit scary.
Tegan and Nyssa are excellent as well. Nyssa is innocent yet quietly competent. Tegan is a mouth on legs, but you can tell that she genuinely cares about people, especially her friends. She is willing to die for her friends if need be, and while she does feel fear, she is willing to do what it takes to save them. The novel takes place right after the television episode Arc of Infinity, where she has met up with the TARDIS crew after being abandoned by them at Heathrow Airport 6 months before. Thus, the book delves deeply into her psyche as she determines what her place is within both the crew itself as well as life in general. She wants to do something with her life, and as scary as traveling with the Doctor can be sometimes, she hasn't felt alive like that since she was stuck back on Earth. She wants to help people, and she will always get the opportunity to do that when the Doctor is around. I loved her character in this book.
I haven't said a lot about the plot of the book, but that's mainly because it is stereotypical of the genre. A small group of people are terrorized by a malevolent force and must defeat it to survive. The ending confrontation drags on a bit too long and I started to get bored, but otherwise the book was one that I couldn't put down. Sure, the plot is a stereotype, but when it's done well, I don't care. This book grabbed me, and while it almost let me go at the end, it was definitely worth the read.
A Review by Brian May 27/3/04
There's a lot to commend about Fear of the Dark, a very gloomy, atmospheric mood piece of a tale. It definitely feels like a "new" style adventure, but also has a strong traditional element to it, and convincingly belongs where it claims to be set, in the early stages of season 20.
Trevor Baxendale's writing style makes a sharp impact on the story, which, when all is said and done, is quite unoriginal and filled with walking sci-fi cliches. Take the first few chapters, for example. An archaeological expedition (so we are led to believe at the beginning) in a series of caves. You have the hardened, cynical leader, in the form of Stoker; the devoted family man who just wants to return home (Bunny Cheung). Then there's a bunch of faceless extras who become cannon fodder very quickly. Then, later in the book, we have the obligatory ship that lands, with the usual captain and subordinate. The captain is, of course, an old flame of Stoker's, and their love-hate relationship is rekindled as the story progresses. And the enemy they are all up against is yet another force - an entity, seeking to regain corporeal form - an adversary that's become commonplace in Who fiction.
The story's exposition instantly brings to mind Earthshock, which, continuity-wise, was only a few stories ago, especially the cave setting. Indeed, as I was reading these early pages, I could hear the atmospheric sounds and music that accompanied that televised story. The parallels continue later - the discovery of Crook's body is almost identical to Snyder's grisly demise.
With all these elements, the story shouldn't work; it should simply be a cliche-filled, derivative tale. But it does, thanks to Baxendale's skill. He has a remarkable ability for establishing mood and feel, which in this case is so saturated with dread and gloom that it's quite oppressive. It actually makes the dank, foreboding atmosphere of Earthshock part one feel like Mary Poppins. There is little humour to brighten things, another facet of the fifth Doctor's era. The transcription of the message from Bunny's daughter, Rosie, has a real sense of bleakness to it; with his constant reiterations of his determination to return to her, you just know he will die somewhere along the line (which he does, of course, and quite nastily).
The plot unfolds in a way you'd expect in a traditional Doctor Who tale - TARDIS crew meets mining team; deceptions are uncovered; revelations are made; a spaceship crew arrives to bring a few more twists; the enemy is introduced in two forms, the "servant" Bloodhunter, followed by the Dark itself. These two beings come into print very well. There are countless descriptions of the Dark; its movements, approaches and skulking in the blackness - they are all artfully depicted; the very nature of the Dark makes it difficult to interpret in a visual way, but Baxendale manages to overcome this with some fluid writing. The Bloodhunter is a bit more difficult to picture, but I always imagine it as a cross between the Predator and the eponymous monsters from the Alien series of films.
Baxendale also achieves a brilliant realisation of the TARDIS crew. The characterisations of Tegan and Nyssa are exceptional, especially his examinations of their inner thoughts. Nyssa still thinks of Traken; her telepathic ability, introduced in Time-Flight - and then forgotten in the same tale when no longer expedient to the plot - is revived here, making her the initial contact point for the Dark. It is utilised well throughout this story, and all the pain she goes through is quite upsetting. Tegan still has nightmares about snakes - her final confrontation in the Mara is yet to happen, but a fleeting reference near the start reminds us that it's still there, as does the brilliant "Like a snake" line on p.242, which seems like it's been slipped into Tegan's mind, rather than actually thought by her. In a tale like this, these small mentions are particularly unnerving. Her thoughts and musings about her time away from the TARDIS are also well done. The first indication is given as to how long she might have been away - "months" is all that's given - and it's suggested the Doctor and Nyssa may have been travelling without her for years, putting things in an interesting perspective. The Doctor is also well characterised. You can imagine Peter Davison in this story, especially the doubt, fear and vulnerability that personified his interpretation of the role. The guilt of Adric's death is still strong on his conscience, and his determination not to let any more of his companions die is convincingly realised.
As the above paragraph shows, there are many continuity references in this book. But almost all of them are valid and believable. Adric's death, Tegan's thoughts about Aunt Vanessa and the adventures she's had - it's unusual - and rather a pleasant surprise - to see mentions of other adventures, people or aliens in an NA, MA or PDA that is fanwank free. This book achieves such a feat. There's only one that I think Baxendale should have left out - the Doctor's "...the Black Guardian is bound to catch up with me one day" - given that his return is only a few stories away, this is too much of a nod and a wink to the reader. But given the way all the other references work, I'm ready to forgive one slip-up. You could also criticise the use of Vega Jaal, a being whose kind appeared in the Pertwee story The Monster of Peladon. But in my opinion, this species is actually quite interesting and expanded well; some real depth into their culture is provided, as opposed to the television serial.
A few paragraphs ago I mentioned the "mood" that Baxendale's writing achieves. I should actually go beyond that word, and explain that Fear of the Dark is out and out horror. The dank, oppressive atmosphere; the horrible deaths; but above all, the psychological factors. This is one hell of a scary ride. The sense of terror is exquisitely communicated; the opening chapter, with Nyssa's first visitation by the Dark; the continual discovery of secret entrances and new rooms as the story moves further and further inside the caves creates a terrific tension, tying in with Vega Jaal's equally freakish "last door" prophecy. And then there's the vision the Doctor sees of himself, the "death upon death" - this short sequence is one of the most disturbing pieces of sci-fi or horror writing I have read.
Believe you me, this is desolate, scary and depressing stuff. It's also rather unpleasant and gory in some places. The Bloodhunter is a vicious killing monster - no problem there, and it would be wrong for it to be portrayed any other way - but a particular piece (p.168) is just too disgusting. It's stomach churning (quite literally) and unnecessary. The adventure is meant to be violent and nasty, but some of it falls well outside a good taste parameter that we expect in Doctor Who. The other main example is the still living, burnt husk that Captain Lawrence becomes; the descriptions of him are quite ghoulish, and this something else that could have been left out.
But still, this is great reading. I'm very impressed! 8.5/10
A Review by John Seavey /7/04
When I first got Fear of the Dark, I approached it with some little trepidation. Trevor Baxendale really hadn't won me over in his previous three efforts, and I hadn't exactly heard wondrous reviews about his latest book. To my surprise, this novel seemed to be a great improvement. The supporting characters were cardboard, but not bad for all that, and the villainous Dark was genuinely menacing and ominous. The whole thing moved along quickly with a nice, crisply spooky atmosphere, growing more and more ominous and menacing until it finally reached a climax...
At which point the whole thing falls to bits in a punch-the-wall, scream-in-frustration, utterly crap throw-the-book-out-the-window-for-the-rain-to-wreck plot train wreck of an ending that will leave you stunned in disbelief that Baxendale got that far into the book with apparently no clue how to end it. An utter, utter, tragic waste -- I'd already come up with a better ending thrity seconds after I'd finished reading the book.
First, though, let me just say that I don't believe that a little girl would mispronounce "galaxy" as "gaxaly" after having heard someone say it. After seeing it written down, maybe, but after hearing someone say "galaxy" I don't think they'd transpose the "l" and the "x". Maybe "galaly" or "galsee" or "gasee" or even "gaxaxy", but not "gaxaly." I don't believe it, and I'm not afraid to say so and take on the powerful "gaxaly" fan mafia. That's my job as a reviewer, to take on the tough opinions, and it's why you love me. Assuming you've bothered to read this far.
Now, on to the Dark. It's a great villain, the Dark is...the primal void from before time, grievously wounded by the Big Bang, but still sentient and longing for flesh. It influences the Doctor, Nyssa, and a host of others in chilling fashion (and to answer a question others had, it influenced the Doctor to bring Oldeman along, which is why his actions didn't make much sense in terms of the motivations of the Doctor, but a lot in terms of the motivations of the plot). It's powerful, menacing, creepy, and in general so nasty that there really doesn't seem to be a hope in hell of stopping it.
In fact, there isn't. That's what's so great about the scenes leading up to the end -- once the Dark is unleashed from its prison, it becomes quite clear that there's nothing that the Doctor can do against it. The scene where Cadwell, dying, urges the Doctor to do the right thing and kill himself and his friends rather than let the Dark get to them... the even more shocking scene where the Doctor is about to do just that... these are the two most powerful and transcendently amazing bits of writing in the novel, and they're almost worth it even considering how much "ehh" you have to wade through to get to them and how much "grrrr!" comes later.
That "grrr!" is the sound you'll make once the Dark is made flesh again. OK, fine, it's taken on flesh even though it can be killed in that form -- gee, that's not a dumb thing to do -- but we've seen so many evil entities take on flesh despite the risk that by now, we assume there must be a great pay-off to it. So the Dark is flesh. So it can be killed. But wait, it's "marked" the Doctor, and can control him psychokinetically. Even though it's relatively vulnerable, it's still quite, quite powerful.
Except that since its form has been taken from the blood of its victims, it shares a particular victim's addiction to the drug neurolectrin. A very clever idea, and its one weakness... except, of course, that it can force the Doctor to give it the syringe of the drug that he's holding. Ah, we think, something very clever is about to happen...
Except that the Doctor asks it to remove the mark, so he can torture himself voluntarily as a final act of self-determination. Oh Lord, we think, surely the Dark can't be so utterly brain-dead as to fall for the old, "I just want to be able to do it myself" gag to release the hero from mind/body control, right?
Nope, it does... and the Doctor promptly, brilliantly... um, injects the drug into the Dark's servant. Because the Doctor, see, wants to distract the Dark...
...so that someone standing on the other side of the room can just shoot it several times, which really, she could have done at any point during the Dark's three-page long gloat...
...but, it turns out, after shooting it, you need to burn it, because, um... dark, see, and fire, so the Doctor burns it with a cigarette lighter...
...and then as it dies, it begs the Doctor for help, but it's just trying to get him close enough that it can drag him into it and kill him...
...and it fails, and that utter, utter train wreck of a sequence comes to a halt. Thank the Lord.
This could have worked so much better. Cadwell, who winds up doing bugger all in the book, had a plan to inject the creature with anti-coagulants while it was still dormant... how much (or rather, how little) work would it have been to set up a bit where the Doctor wound up with the anti-coagulant? Then, when the Dark demands the neurolectrin, the Doctor hands him the syringe, the Dark injects it... only to find out that it's just injected itself with a concentrated dose of anti-coagulant that the Doctor has switched with the neurolectrin. This weakens it enough to let the Doctor burn it to death. See? Thirty seconds, and a much better ending.
There's lots more to complain about here. The book really only has two decent characters, Bunny and Stoker, and both of them die. In fact, everyone except the TARDIS crew dies -- nobody gets spared the slaughter in this grim little book. It's just that Bunny and Stoker are the only two we care about.
About the only things I can say that are good about this book are the regulars -- Baxendale does do the Fifth Doctor well -- and the two scenes I discussed earlier, which are so grippingly intense that reading them almost felt like a physical blow. Even they, though, are subsumed into the utter, utter disaster that is the ending to Fear of the Dark. Urgh.
Fear of the author by Robert Smith? 24/10/04
Trevor Baxendale does psychological horror? That's a bit like Nietzsche writing a Season 24 runaround, or Craig Hinton deciding he's done with continuity. Or Matthew Waterhouse doing Hamlet. Hang on, bad example...
I mean, if you want a shallow alien society living on a BBC set with a hideous monster lurking underground, Trev's your man. Possessed insects attacking a sleepy English village? Get Baxendale on the line! But this? Well, ten out of ten for attempting to stretch your range, but minus several million for the choice of subject material.
I think part of the problem is that Baxendale's aim with Fear of the Dark seems to be driven by the attempt to avoid cliches. Which is admirable enough, coming from the master of cliche, but it means he's in unfamiliar territory and is clearly sweating blood to try and outguess himself. All the stuff about the Doctor and Nyssa being possessed throughout and the way Cadwell's plan was supposed to play out... Well, it works when you look at the way the pieces join up, but it just feels wrong. Baxendale's so preoccupied with trying to subvert the Doctor's role, that it just comes across as clunky. Attempts to have the Doctor be the villain, even the inadvertent villain, usually don't work, as you can imagine. See also Slow Empire, The.
Then there's the stuff with the guest characters. We get a couple of decent characters at the start... and they're promptly killed off, in order of how interesting they were. You can almost hear the grinding of the book's engine as it switches gears to start building up the next character, before killing them off just when we've gotten to know them. It's true that this is an inversion of the usual horror cliche, where the minor characters go first, but Baxendale doesn't have the characterisation skills to pull this one off. Of all the problems in this book, this is probably the biggest (and I say that having read the ending). I think we'd have had a much better book if Vega Jaal and Bunny Cheung were still standing by Chapter 20.
The biggest tragedy of this book (well, aside from the ending, obviously) is that almost none of the horror feels scary. That's quite a feat actually, given the subject matter. The Bloodhunter has the occasional moments (although that's all they are), but the Dark is just goofy once it appears. There are so many scenes of claustrophobic caves, spiders, bioluminescent worms, zombies, mysterious things popping out of the shadows to kill sequentially less interesting characters, references to Arc of Infinity and so on... but none of them manage to have much effect. You can appreciate elements of the book and you get the idea of where Baxendale's trying to take us, but you don't actually feel anything. It's a little tragic, because by the end, we've had so many horror-like elements thrown at us that you expect to turn the page and find a picture of Matthew Waterhouse in his underwear.
Fundamentally, it's down to the writing. A stronger author could have made the ideas on display work, with better prose and better characterisation. Baxendale has strengths, but he's playing against all of them here.
Ironically, it's the use of continuity which feels the most refreshing, although I'm sure that's just happy chance. We've spent a number of blissful years enjoying continuity-lite novels, so the odd one like this feels like something different, ironically enough. What makes it work (and listen up Craig Hinton, I'm talking to you) is that it's on the high end without being overdone. Most of the references are either appropriate or within the vicinity of being appropriate. At best, you can think of it as attempting to fit into Season 20, when that sort of thing happened rather a lot. Although, given the author's track record, that might just be coincidence.
My favourite is from page 88: "That kind of thing went out with Mechanoids, Doctor." Well, I laughed. I also like the way "Hell's teeth" has become a galaxy-wide expression (page 26). For a phrase invented by the BBC to give Tegan an Australian-ish expression that was passable at 5:15 on a Saturday evening, it certainly has bite . My least favourite is the appearance of the sixth, seventh and eighth Doctors on page 130. Oh, come on!
On page 11, Tegan is reminiscing about the time she spent on Earth after Time-Flight: "The simple truth was that she'd never felt more alive than when helping to defeat the Cybermen, or Terrileptils, or the Master, or Omega." Except that, while it's true that this book is clearly set between Arc of Infinity and Snakedance, during the period Tegan's reminiscing about, she hadn't met Omega yet. There should be a name for the phenomenon whereby every continuity-obsessed author nevertheless manages to make at least one continuity error per novel. Maybe we should call it the "garyrussell".
Oh, and on page 89 we get this gem, again from Tegan: "'I think I can imagine how you feel,' she told Jim. 'I had a friend once... not a friend like Jim, but someone I knew pretty well...'" Jim is the person she's talking to, not the one who's just died. Sheesh. And let's not even get into the dating errors.
The ending is just goofy, when it wants to be powerful. The Dark manifests itself directly out of all those Lovecraftian legends the NAs were always going on about and looks a bit like the fifth Doctor after a day of mud-wrestling. He spends about three weeks taunting the Doctor until a minor character uses her dying act to destroy this ancient, hideous, unspeakable evil with... a gun. Oh and the Doctor moralises a bit about killing before pushing the Dark off a cliff and setting fire to it. Um, thanks for that.
For the most part, Fear of the Dark is... okay. Despite some odd choices, such as the order in which the characters get killed, it's capable of engaging your intellectual curiosity with a decently plotted story. However, the real problem is that the book desperately wants you to feel the fear and horror it's throwing out, but its author simply isn't up to the task.
 Sorry about that.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 28/10/04
For some reason, which I cannot for the life of me figure out, I have only just read this book - about 20 months after it was released. It's not that I didn't like Trevor Baxendale either. Eater of Wasps was brilliant, and I await the imminent release of Deadstone Memorial with great anticipation - sounds excellent.
Fear of the Dark is his only Past Doctor Book to date (he did pen the average Dark Flame audio though, so he's not totally an 8th Doctor writer). Has he captured the 5th Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa TARDIS team well? I would have to say yes, definitely. Does it feel like a 20th Season story? Pretty much again a Yes. Ticks in the right boxes so far then.
Fear of the Dark is set on a faraway planet. It's also set in the catcombs of this planet, with some miners/opportunists as the main supporting characters. There's a monster down there with them, and this is a story that relies heavily on the unknown round the corner, ready to pounce on unsuspecting victims.
Doctor Who has a chequered history when mining is at the centre of the story. On the one hand you have the stupendous Caves of Androzani, there's the excellent Green Death too, but then Monster of Peladon is about miners too. A book can flesh out characters far better than TV, there's more space. It's a shame then that this mining team, and rescue party, are pretty forgettable. Cliches abound, with the bullying, almost-a-man, woman, Stoker. There's the family man just out to make a bit of dosh for his lovely family back home. Then there's the Red Shirts from Star Trek, who are just meat for the bloodsucking monster that is terrorizing them.
The book doesn't hold back on its gruesome depictions, which makes for uneasy passages - rather unsettling. It's also quite scary in places as the author successfully creates a claustrophobic atmosphere.
I quite enjoyed Fear of the Dark. Quite a few DW novels recently have left me nonplussed. I've even finished some early, wanting to move on to the next novel quickly. I finished Fear of the Dark, and I finished it well, having felt entertained.
Best thing I can say about the book is that it's a solid Doctor Who tale, with recognizable characters, and a great deal of tension well maintained. I liked it just fine. 7/10
"Previously, In An Extinct and Unloved Book Line" by Jason A. Miller 17/6/18
So it's been 14 years since I reviewed Heritage, a 6th Doctor Past Doctor Adventure, here on the Ratings Guide in January 2004. Scrolling down the list of PDAs published afterwards, it seems that Heritage was the exact moment that I gave on the line. Heritage was PDA number 57, but I never read 58 through 72. I kept buying them, but stacked them up unread. I did read 73 through 75, which ended the series, but never wrote reviews, so, Heritage is largely the moment when the PDAs and I parted company.
I am now spurred to finish the PDA series in 2018, 14 years later. "Because it's there" is perhaps the best explanation; the unread pile of Doctor Who books that I own is not quite as large as Mount Everest, but it is equally intimidating. And, hey, I might as well finish them off before the PDA volume of Robert Smith?'s Bookwyrm series comes out, no?
The only thing I could have told you about Fear of the Dark before this week is that the original cover is dreadful. By 2003, it was becoming increasingly hard to find Doctor Who novels in US bookstores, so my then-girlfriend's sister (now sister-in-law) picked up a bunch of then-new releases for me during a trip to England. She gave me the book in my girlfriend's then-apartment on Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan; this is an oddly specific memory attached to a book that it took me over 15 more years to read. I know that my initial reaction to the cover was, "Ugh. I really don't want to be seen reading this in public."
So, here we are, me and Fear of the Dark. In the intervening 14 years since I abandoned the PDAs, this book has undergone a curious second life. The BBC chose to reprint it during the 50th anniversary in 2013. In fact, a reviewer for The Guardian called it "one of the scariest books I've read", which invests the book with a dignity that nobody in 2003, the year of release, would have granted it, not when the books were spiraling toward irrelevance. Interestingly, the Guardian reviewer also called it "my new favourite Dr. Who book"... and then awarded it 4/5. Sheesh. Tough crowd. Does that mean that his previous favorite was only a 3/5?
While I have enjoyed the way Baxendale can pace an action-adventure novel, there's never been a time where I've said to myself, "I'm in a bad mood and need some escapist literature. Get me Baxendale!". However, he's a good plotter, and I do appreciate how he takes the time to slot the story into a very specific moment in Season 20, directly after Arc of Infinity and thus some time shortly before Snakedance. Every character is defined by the previous stories. Tegan is back from her brief hiatus from the TARDIS; she's jealous of Nyssa's alone-time with the Doctor and still haunted by Mara dreams. Nyssa is somewhat jealous of having a new rival for the Doctor's attention. The Doctor is still scarred from losing Adric. Far from being mere continuity nods, Baxendale works all of these points into the story That's very good, I say, as if a published novelist like Baxendale requires validation from an internet reviewer who doesn't even follow him on Twitter.
Baxendale being Baxendale, the continuity doesn't stop with the story placement. My review of Baxendale's debut novel, The Janus Conjunction, made much of that book's point-by-point retelling of Colony in Space. Fear takes place about 90 years before Colony, but it's pretty much the same story again -- dueling claims for mineral rights on a world in which long-dormant secrets are coming to life beneath the miners' feet. In fact, there's even a character named Cadwell, which is so close to Colony's Caldwell that one wonders why Baxendale bothered to drop the "l". There are also very conscious echoes to Arc of Infinity (the incorporeal alien menace in this book essentially copies Omega's gambit of using the Doctor to establish its foothold in our universe) and Kinda (Nyssa too gets demonically possessed through her dreams). References to many, many more televised stories abound, but, of course, by the year 2003, the PDA's target audience consisted solely of people who'd have cared about that sort of thing. Like, Cadwell's dwarf-star-alloy gun! That's from Warriors' Gate!! (ahem).
However, while this is a well-plotted action tale built very carefully upon years' and years' worth of TV continuity, it's also a grim, grim book, with a hugely unsentimental body count and lots of too-dark-for-the-small-screen prose. One character is dismembered, before dying several chapters later. Another character spends decades in suspended animation, develops a drug addiction upon awakening, and then he dies too. And remember the alien who was the first to die in The Monster of Peladon? Well, remember that when you open Fear of the Dark. And, my goodness, Jim, as for the prose...
"The creature retched and issued another flood of emetic, and then more, until a torrent of blood and bile had been ejected into the well. It paused for a moment and then the convulsions began again, followed by more blood."If Tolkien had written like this in "Lord of the Rings", New Zealand would have had a lot of unemployed actors without six Peter Jackson movies to appear in decades later.
"Something moved in the dark, heavy and wet as a bath full of worms."
"... like something being retched from the back of reality's throat."
At heart, Fear of the Dark is a book that is well characterized and well plotted. It takes a while to dispatch the demonic villain, but the methods of its dispatch are all properly set up from items introduced in much earlier chapters. Baxendale recycles or adapts TV dialogue to make the Doctor and Nyssa and Tegan sound screen-accurate. (Yes, he says "Brave heart".) The story is brutal and downbeat, but, hey, so were dozens of other EDAs and PDAs. I'll give it a 4/5, too, but I certainly won't say it's my new favorite Doctor Who book.