BBC Books
Fear Itself

Author Nick Wallace Cover image
ISBN# 0 56348 634 1
Published 2005
Featuring The eighth Doctor, Fitz and Anji

Synopsis: The 22nd Century, and a few short years of interstellar contact have taught Man a hard lesson: there are forces abroad that are nightmare manifest. Powerful, unstoppable, alien forces. It's a realisation that deals a body blow to Man's belief in his own superiority, and leaves him with the only option he has ever had: to fight. When the Doctor and his friends are caught in the crossfire, they find suspicion and paranoia running rampant, with enemies to be seen in every shadow. The fight against alien forces is no job for an amateur, and for a Doctor only just finding his way in the universe again, one misstep could be fatal.


Amazing... by Joe Ford 28/9/05

Why is it that the EDAs are reaching such an astonishing level of quality now that they are finally over? This could be, for all intents and purposes, the last eighth Doctor book ever and if it is they are going out on an incredible high.

There are some similarities to other Doctor Who (and various spin offs) books. It has the bone-gnawing tension and claustrophobia of The Glass Prison, the one hundred and one imaginative ideas of Alien Bodies, the intense probing of the regulars from the very best of the Virgin New Adventures, the multi-layered plotting of Sometime Never..., a secondary cast of characters as strong as those from Lucifer Rising and Damaged Goods and the worldbuilding skills of The Crooked World. And for all that, it is better than all of those books; wrapped in one of the most intriguing and striking Black Sheep covers I have ever seen.

If there was ever an argument for introducing fresh blood into the Doctor Who fiction universe, Fear Itself would be at the top of my list of why it is vital. Nick Wallace is an incredible talent, the best we've seen since Lloyd Rose. His writing speaks for itself.

I have always seen the potential in the eighth Doctor, Fitz and Anji. Many people have scoffed at their adventures but I genuinely feel the EDAs were at their strongest with these three to helm them. Nick Wallace seems to think so too and he manages to achieve the incredible feat of writing some of their best ever work, looking into unexplored areas of their characters and dishing out some very rewarding insight.

Perhaps it helps that this was written in hindsight of the EDAs' demise, perhaps it helps that the author was allowed at sneak peek inside The Gallifrey Chronicles, but everything that is done with the Doctor here works a treat and only serves to enhance his post-amnesiac storyline. When the Doctor says (in The Gallifrey Chronicles) that he and Fitz were going to have a chat about their memories that is referring to Fear Itself. Set just after the Doctor has found his TARDIS and Fitz again after his one hundred year exile on Earth, it is a time of transition for both characters that are unsure of each other and their roles in each other's lives. Obviously the Doctor is still the Doctor, but he is darker, more withdrawn and prone to more dangerous actions. Fitz is unsure whether he still is the same man he was and if he still has a place in his life. This is great stuff to hook Fear Itself on, and once read it is a shocking omission from the original EDA line. The Doctor and Fitz just got straight back into the jolly swing of time travelling without expressing their feelings about their one hundred year split.

Anji is given an even better treatment where we are afforded a fascinating view through the looking glass at the life she would have led if the Doctor and Fitz had died and she was abandoned two hundred years in her own future. People loathe Anji, don't they? Had this book come about a bit earlier they might have had a very different reaction. We get to see her desperately digging up information about her two friends she barely knew, romancing a guy, getting married, embracing a new life and achieving some kind of status, enjoying her career and excelling at some pretty wild sports. This all takes place over four years and I was reading each page thinking that the dreaded RESET BUTTON was going to have to be flicked before the end of the book but astonishingly, Wallace finds a way of allowing Anji to have her four years of experiences and take from them and still fit this into the regular EDA continuity. I loved the idea that Anji would move on with her life, whilst there is something that is keeping her trapped in the past (which I would be a bastard to reveal, so I won't) she fights to make a life for herself. Remember when Sam tried the same thing, hardly as smooth as this. I think Wallace was determined to show us a softer side to Anji's nature and he succeeds admirably, anyone who groaned to see her name on the back cover might just be pleasantly surprised.

What really hammers home the effectiveness of Wallace's treatment of the regulars is the barrage of amazing twists at the conclusion. He manages to take what we know about each of these characters (in regards to this book) and turns it on its head.

It is one of the most professionally-written books to be released in a while. Even the plotting is intricate, exquisitely plotted so the twists jump out and grab at exactly the right moment. Judging these things can be difficult but Fear Itself hits you with the right amount of emotion and information in the first two thirds before slapping you around the chops and rearranging everything into a vastly different sort of book to the one you were expecting. There hasn't been a book with this many great surprises in ages and I don't think I've ever read any where they all hit home with such precision and interwoven effectiveness.

The book is set in three different timezones: Anji's present, four years in the past and in different spots in the four years in between. The first shows Anji exploring the damaged research stations where the Doctor and Fitz were last seen alive, the second explores how the station got in that state and what the Doctor and Fitz discovered and the last sees Anji adapting to her new life on Mars. It allows the book to set relationships and ideas four years ago and see how they came to fruition in the future. It allows the book to have one major setting, the station, without it ever seeming dull or repetitive. It allows Nick Wallace the chance to build up an incredibly detailed picture of the situation and to take his characters on a journey. By the end of the book you will know this time period very well and you will feel close to many of his characters.

Although the Doctor and Fitz's investigations four years in the past are highly engaging to read about, I think my favourite sections of the book are those set on the damaged station with Anji and the Professional, simply because of the stifling atmosphere brewed up. And of course because this is where the book ends and all of the (marvellous) revelations spring. How the survivors made a life for themselves in Jupiter's hard atmosphere is inspired and their rusting, creaking station full of unseen monsters and psychotic friends is a really setting to prove what they are made of. All of the best characters are here, Robertson, Arquette, Easter... and they are all pushed to the very limit. As Anji tries to inveigle her way into their lives, deluding them into thinking a rescue mission is on its way so she can get information on the Doctor and Fitz, there is a palpable sense that she is playing with fire and that this nervous, paranoid bunch could turn on her in a second. Scenes with deadly creatures lurking the station's decayed corridors stick in the mind, rarely has a companion had to handle herself so carefully.

Mysteries mount as the Doctor sets himself the task of infiltrating the station and digging up its nasty secrets. Wallace plays with the reader, offering titbits, red herrings, answers that are real but inconsequential before finally revealing the horrifying truth. His relationship with Valletti is intriguing and explosive; as he digs his way into deeper trouble she admires him all the more but has to punish him. I loved the scene where they face each other, the Doctor having worked out the true reason behind the station and they punctuate their dramatic confrontation with some spectacular violin playing. The solutions to the mysteries that the Doctor discovers are very satisfying, not only because they are well hinted at but because they enhance the setting (both time and place) exponentially.

The Doctor's suicidal leap into the military simulations as a distraction is very much the eighth Doctor, leaping into the frying pan without any thought for his safety because there are lives to save. The uncertain eighth Doctor fits perfectly into this uncomfortable environment; he is a striking character at this point in his life and trying to work out if this sort of espionage is actually the life he should be living. His curiosity has always been dangerous but it reaches a peak with this book and the way he ducks and dives past security measures proves he has not lost any of his guile.

A strong prose style eases you through the book's pages, heavy on description but never shirking its emotional responsibilities to the characters. It is never short on incident (indeed the opening bomb attack and Anji's shocking sky dive into Jupiter's atmosphere sets the book off on exactly the right footing, not giving the reader a chance to adjust...) and the characters are always focussed, and reach a satisfying conclusion. The more I think about it, Fear Itself not only ticks all the right boxes but ticks them with confidence and style.

Score one for the new boy, Nick Wallace has crashed the party and proven to the old hacks that they need to keep dishing up something original. Fear Itself is a superb book on any level, a novel that sucks you into its world, thrills you with its mysteries and gets you close to its characters. It is an experience.

I have just finished my top twenty EDA list but already I would have to alter it. Fear Itself would take pride of place in my top three. It's so good I want to read it again to see what I missed.

Four Out Of Ten by Jamas Enright 3/5/06

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and you will see on display, as a special offer for you today, don't crowd around you'll all get a chance, bring the little ones, no pushing there ma'am, yes on display for you today is the most amazing sight you'll ever see. What's that, I hear you cry? You don't believe me? Well, step right up, and take a gander at the fantastic exhibit we have for you today. Don't stare at it too long, or you'll go blind.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have on exhibit one copy of the most astounding feats of, wait for it, wait for it, plot contrivances you will ever put your eyes upon. That's right, I said it once, and I'll say it again, a plot contrivance so astonishing, you'll wonder how anyone could ever conceive of its existence. But never fear, good souls, never fear, for only the most bravest and sturdy of men confront that which is known as... Fear Itself.

It's a story told often in this fair land of ours. You may have heard it yourself, should you have partaken of the delights offered by such treats as Aliens (and I definitely mean the sequel here, make no bones about it) or Resident Evil or any of a large number of that oft-seen ilk, yes, but Nick Wallace, for he is that gent that dares to take us on this journey, yes Nick Wallace has found a way to give us that and more, and can explain it all away with one of the many plot contrivances you'll find inside. But it's not the biggest one, oh no sir, you can rest assured on that.

Nick Wallace his very self has placed this wee gem after that inspiring tale well-known called EarthWorld, so you can rest assured that this book contains the Doctor without his memories, Fitz being suspicious of what happened to the Doctor and Anji missing Dave, yes all that, and more, but wait! You also manage to get none of it! Yes Nick Wallace has decided that none of that matters in the slightest, all due to the wonderful plot contrivances employed herein.

It's a tale told long and far in its telling. In fact, and I assure you ladies and gentlemen that I spoil not one jot of the story when I reveal to you on this fine and sunny day, this is a story told over four years. Yes, that's right, four years in the lives of our main characters? How is this done? You may well cry out for an answer, but that is the most dastardly plot contrivance of all, and Nick Wallace wields it like a blunt sledgehammer in order to make it work. (And, if I might vouchsafe an opinion to you on the side, I think we all can say which editor he used that sledgehammer on.)

That's right, that's right, step right up, and step inside for the most amazing, astounding, fantastical use of plot contrivances this side of the latest Russell T Davies script, and that takes some beating, as I'm sure you'll all agree.

A Review by Finn Clark 5/8/06

It's the 22nd century and mankind's venturing into a complicated universe. The moral certainties of The Occupation (TM) of 2157 have been replaced by a sinister universe of regrettable choices and scary experimentation. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji don't know what's going on. We certainly don't. Our heroes decide to investigate, but it's far from clear even what they're investigating even before two of the three go missing.

Fear Itself is a good book, but it can sometimes seem almost overwhelmed by its setting. You're never quite sure where it's going almost until the end. Similarly the characters are well drawn, but they're hardly a laugh a minute. They don't bounce off the page. They don't sparkle. It's not that kind of book. This is a grim, almost desperate story of hostility, suspicion and the struggle to survive. You don't know what's happening, but you'll probably be willing to keep reading in the hope of finding out the truth eventually. It could have been a close thing, though. In the hands of a Steve Cole or a Chris Boucher this might easily have been another dreary plod with nothing to inspire you to go on turning the pages.

The difference is that Fear Itself feels real. Nick Wallace's universe is evocative of intrigue, complexity and a plot that's for once more than just beads on a string. You always feel that more is going on offstage than we're being told about. In part it feels like an expansion of the NAs' 22nd century of Transit and GodEngine, although I never got a sense of Legacy of the Daleks. It's rich and compelling. It's unpredictable. It's also scarcely believable that this is the same fictional universe as the likes of World Game or Island of Death. The only downside of this depth and breadth is that I spent about two hundred pages expecting something bigger than we finally got. I don't mind small-scale novels, especially after all the overblown bollocks of recent years, but I'd spent most of the novel watching the big picture and so was slightly surprised when the truth finally came into view. I can't say I was surprised in a bad way, though.

Of course the happiest surprise for me was the lack of alternate universes. I've spent so long bashing those sad drooling retarded novels that it's only fair I praise this departure from the norm. We dodged a bullet there. Possibly significant is the fact that it's a McGann PDA, set retrospectively between EarthWorld and Vanishing Point, which I think is a nice idea. If nothing else, letting other authors go back and fill in the gaps might eventually permit a proper exploration of all the 8DAs' underused ideas. Can I vote for more Compassion books? Regarding the lack of alternate universes, despite all the time-twisting we've come to associate with that era, I think Time Zero was the first alternate universe 8DA since Paul Leonard's Genocide.

Nick Wallace does well with the TARDIS crew. That even includes Fitz, which is an impressive trick with such a tired character. He has things to say about the amnesiac 8th Doctor and his relationships with his friends, which the books could have done with more of at the time. What's more, it's specifically a post-Earth Arc 8th Doctor, set in a well-chosen gap that allows actual development of him. He's rediscovering his place in the universe. I liked all that. Even Anji gets some startling developments, despite being the one and only 8DA companion who'd been mostly well-written to start with. Admittedly some writers tended to bang on about the wrong bits of her character description, but Fear Itself carefully avoids making that mistake.

In some ways, this is quite a hard book to talk about. Some reviews write themselves, being simply a never-ending list of the book's cock-ups and absurdities. It's a fractal thing. The only limiting factor on such a review is the closeness of your scrutiny. Fear Itself however doesn't have really any flaws. Admittedly there's more to writing than simply avoiding goofs, but that's certainly a start. Arguably the book's biggest twist is a cheat, but there's enough weird stuff going on in the heads of the relevant characters that I'm prepared to believe Nick Walters could explain it away. He'd earned my goodwill. However had I not been coaxed into a forgiving frame of mind, I'd have been saying a lot more on this point.

As a side-note, Fear Itself inspired me to think of an idea for an 8DA I now desperately want to write, while 2005's other BBC Books mostly inspired me to forget about Doctor Who and watch more anime instead. I think this is a useful measure. A rich, thoughtful story will resonate and get your neurons firing, while lazy hackwork will slither past like diarrhoea and leave at most a brown stain. This book isn't always much fun, but it takes itself seriously and it has integrity. It's certainly the most mature BBC Book of 2005. For me it was essentially a mystery novel, in which I was trying to work out the truth from clues in two timezones. For better or worse, it's also very much a hard SF novel. This book could stand up without the Doctor Who logo on the cover, but ironically it's also got plenty to say about its chosen era. I'm not sure that its rapturous reception in certain quarters wasn't partly due to the dearth of worthwhile Doctor Who novels from 2003 onwards, but it's still a sophisticated piece of work.