BBC Books
Festival of Death

Author Jonathan Morris Cover image
ISBN# 0 563 53803 1
Published 2000
Continuity Between Shada
and The Leisure Hive

Synopsis: The Doctor, Romana and K-9 find themselves aboard the G-Lock, a connection of old spaceships locked together long ago and now host to a tourist attraction.


A Review by Finn Clark 24/9/00

Not only are there no spoilers in this review, but I don't even mention the ones on the back cover. Take my advice; don't read that blurb. I can't remember this happening before with a Doctor Who book, but for once significant surprises are given away on the back. I think it hurt the book, though that's just my opinion. But on with the review!

Festival of Death struck me as a clever novel rather than a brilliant one. Its plot is fabulously intricate, so complex that one can only gape in admiration as the convolutions pile up. At one point even the plot's twistiness is mined for comedy. It eventually fits together like a beautifully crafted jigsaw, or at least I presume it does. Jonathan Morris could have been pulling all kinds of fast ones and I don't think I'd have realised. This is a mind-boggling plot. This is the engine of the book, pulling us through smoothly and pleasantly.

This is a good thing, because I don't think the characters are up to snuff. The regulars come off best, though they're not perfect; we've seen better from Gareth Roberts and Simon Messingham. However we've also seen a lot worse. Jonny's TARDIS crew is always fun to read about and often very amusing indeed, with K9 stealing the show whenever he appears. This book would fit quite well into Season Seventeen... but I think it might have worked even better elsewhere.

This isn't a comment on Festival of Death, but more on Tom Baker. The man was a mad genius, infinitely watchable but not particularly good at giving a human dimension to his performance. In Face of Evil, Tom treats the Sevateem like any other alien tribe and Xoanon like any other ranting megalomaniac. He doesn't connect with it on a personal level, as Troughton or Davison would certainly have done. Festival of Death contains something that hits him on a similar level and I have to say that another Doctor might have brought more humanity to the dilemma. Jonathan Morris does damn well, giving us Moody Tom and some great comedy moments, but I still got the sense that the author was swimming against the stream rather than with it.

But I liked the fact that this is a fourth Doctor who drops quotations. Tom Baker was better read than almost all the writers to have portrayed his Doctor and normally that side of the character gets neglected. I enjoyed that.

The original characters are okay. Not bad, not blow-you-away amazing. Evadne is almost faceless and Harken Batt is defined more by his job than anything else. Hoopy is vaguely annoying, especially when we learn he's from the planet Gonzo. I could have lived without that, thank you very much. Even more confusingly, as soon as we've had this unsubtle Hunter S. Thompson reference, one of these acid heads goes and quotes J.M. Barrie! Now there's a combination you don't see every day. After I'd finished imagining Fear and Loathing in the Neverland, my splattered brain had to crawl back through my ears before I could go on reading the book.

Dunkal and Rige are complete stereotypes, but actually quite funny. I didn't get Douglas Adams flashbacks during their scenes, but Adams-wannabe flashbacks... to be precise, Slipback. ERIC was okay, but I think I should have felt for him more than I did. Paddox again worked quite well without quite making the reader connect emotionally with where he's coming from.

The most vivid characters were the unstable and incompetent leaders, getting lots of reader hatred and earning hearty cheers when they met their richly deserved downfalls. Of course I didn't believe in them for a second. It's the same problem I had with The Face-Eater. Is there some law in the Whoniverse that inevitably promotes mad and dangerous people to positions of responsibility? How the dickens did Rochfort become an officer, rather than a garbage collector or something equally suited to his level of emotional maturity? Similarly, what's the story with Metcalf? I mean, it's great to see him slithering towards his inevitable come-uppance. That was fun. But I'd have preferred some kind of explanation of how he won a command position in the first place. Once in a book I could have forgiven, but having two of the dumb buggers got under my skin.

But this book isn't about its characters. It's about the plot twists, which come thick and fast - sometimes too much so. Towards the beginning I could have done with time to breathe and react to each revelation. Either the pacing improved later in the book or I managed to change mental gear.

But it is funny. There are even a couple of slightly adult gags, innocent on the surface but slightly eyebrow-raising if you think for a moment. This book is great fun, not to mention whole orders of magnitude more ambitious plotwise than anything else with this twist in Who to date. In the Virgin era the NAs were supposedly the innovative and current line, but with the BBC it seems pretty clear that the PDAs have taken over that role. This isn't a perfect book, but for a debut novel I think it's very impressive indeed.

A Review by Sean Gaffney 28/9/00

No book in the PDAs has had quite as much hype as this one. Authors praising it to the skies, prereaders marveling over its intricacies, and over all that, the clarion cry:

"Worthy successor to Gareth Roberts!"

Now, I'm no fan of Gareth's. I may have mentioned this once or twice. So I came to this book thinking two things: a) can it live up to its overhyped status? and b) can it take the strengths of Gareth's 4Doc adventures and not use all the annoying things that made me want to burn them?

Well, to answer briefly: a) mostly, and b) definitely.

Festival of Death marks a lovely return to form for the PDAs, who had a marvelous first 6 months of 2000 and then ran aground with Prime Time and Imperial Moon. Luckily, they've hit a winner here, and from another debut Who author.

PLOT: Well, this is pretty much the book. The entire book hinges around its plot, and barely a paragraph goes by when you aren't trying to work out what happened, what's happening, and what will be about to be have happened. Or something. Luckily the author has done a superlative job of not only keeping everything straight, but making it simple enough so that we get it, AND making it look like good writing, rather than a guy with charts and graphs by his desk. The hype wins here, this is the major reason to read the book.

THE DOCTOR: For the most part, well done, except for one thing. The Doctor's serious angst over his impending demise (it's not a spoiler, c'mon, it was on the cover) didn't come across very well for me. The Douglas Adams era Doc just didn't seem to have the gravitas I would have liked. That being said, when the Doctor isn't angsting, which is a good 95% of the book, he's absolutely marvelous.

ROMANA: Pretty much the same comments as the Doctor above. K9: A little more useful here, and I loved his little inner monologue about lasers being really ineffective against the walking dead. Nicely done.

OTHERS: This is the other weakness of the book, in that, being a plot- driven book, the characters (with the exception of our villain) don't really get looked into all that closely. Evadne, Metcalf, Hoopy and the others have their one or two character traits, they use them, and then they go off to fulfill plot. One exception is Tarie, the little girl, who was a lovely character.

VILLAIN: Paddox gets looked into a bit closer... in the last 20 pages, before which any motivation he may have is the big mystery. This also didn't sit that well with me. But his fate was fairly chilling, leaving a cold aftertaste to the book.

STYLE: Another big plus of the book, for the most part. In my opinion, this era of Doctor Who is best written, and best served, by a book where the pages simply fly by. Any slow, dragging explanatory scenes and the whole house of cards collapses. Jonathan Morris seems to understand this as well, as the pacing is quick, snappy, and well done. In addition, did I mention this book is funny? Morris mentioned in his interview how he tried to rewrite the book as if Douglas was editing it for TV adding lines, and then as if Tom was ad-libbing throughout. This comes across especially well in any scene with ERIC (who might as well have had PROPERTY OF D. ADAMS stamped on him) and in the Doctor's "dying words", which had me laughing the loudest of any scene in the book. Keep Australia Beautiful!

OVERALL: This book is not, sadly, the Second Coming of Tom Baker. The characterization flaws abound, the villain's motivation is mostly nonexistent, and the attempts at gravitas weren't really that successful. But for the most part, this isn't really relevant. Festival of Death is a nicely written, gorgeously plotted story, with very well-characterized regulars. Read it, it will make you happy.


Festival, Best of all by Robert Smith? 10/10/00

[Note: Finn is right. Don't read the back cover until page 108, if you want the fullest experience from this wonderful book. I didn't and believe me, it's worth it.]

In quick succession we've had a new editor, The Burning and now Festival of Death. And all three appear to have broken the curse of the BBC Books: yes, this time the advance hype is actually true.

Festival of Death is very good indeed. It's good in a great many ways, from plot, characterisation, humour and a straightforward style that saves the book from the disaster it might otherwise have been.

First and foremost is the plot, of course. This book positively powers along and you can see at once why Justin Richards picked this one up off the slushpile (and, on a broader note, if novels of this quality have been sitting on the slushpile, it's a crime that we haven't gotten more of them before). I thought I had this book pegged at the end of the first segment. At first I thought that Jonathan had merely reversed cause and effect, with the rest of the book being a fairly straightforward telling of events whose conclusion we already know. And I think I would have found that book quite enjoyable.

However, the book that we did get merely uses that as a starting point and just keeps cranking up the enjoyment factor from there on. This is a book which mixes cause and effect magnificently, producing a tangled web that's sheer joy to behold. Throughout the entire book I was actively paying attention, just waiting for the author to slip up. And a couple of times I thought I had him, too. But no, everything is dealt with.

Make no mistake, this is a magnificent achievement. I turned my nitpicking facilities up to maximum and the book still impressed me. What's more, the style adds greatly to this, actually inviting the attentive reader to follow along, rather than trying to hide any joins through obfuscation. I'm seriously impressed.

However, as even Justin Richards knows, a book doesn't run on plot alone. It's been said that this book suffers because its incidental characters aren't particularly deep. I disagree. It's true that most of them aren't, but not once did I find that to be a problem. With a plot steamrolling over everything, I found the incidental characters to be appropriate in their less-than-three-dimensionality. Metcalf is probably the most extreme example, but he's sheer comic relief and so the characterisation doesn't need to be particularly deep. Compare him to Helen Percival in The Face-Eater. She was similarly incompetent, but was also an important character who drove a great deal of the novel. There, you can't help but wonder about her competency because she's such an important character. Not so with Metcalf -- or Rochfort, for that matter.

Paddox gets the most development of the incidental characters, which is unusual in DW fiction, since he's also the villain. It's true that this appears to come only in the last 20 pages or so, but that's not actually the case if you're paying enough attention. In fact, I'd argue that the book's twistiness works to help the characterisation: if you're paying attention because of the former, then the various hints about Paddox's motivation make the latter far more clear than they would be otherwise.

Other than Paddox, the human character who seems to get the most development is Liesa. This only makes it more heartbreaking when you stop to think about why she wasn't in the first segment. Her inevitable demise really touched me (as it does the Doctor) and seeing her again later just made this more depressing.

Evadne and Hoopy have some effort put into them, but no more than is necessary. They work well enough and both get some amusing lines, but aren't standout otherwise. I don't mind this so much here, but I have to say that if Morris's second novel (which I dearly hope happens) contains characterisation like this, it could be in real trouble. I think this is the only place where the first-time author status shows through. Hopefully we'll see an improvement next time around. That said, ERIC is fabulous. He starts off annoying, but by the end of the novel he's amazing.

However, I thought the characterisation of the regulars was superb, possibly the highlight of the book. All three come across marvellously. I really like a strong focus on the regulars and Festival delivers magnificently. Too many of the books focus on the incidental characters, who are rarely written with the verve of the regular cast anyway. Here, it's the Doctor, Romana and K9 who have the limelight and they make use of it magnificently.

All three have great lines and compete with each other to steal the show. It's a pity K9 gets sidelined for a great deal of it, because otherwise I think he'd be the unqualified winner in this competition. He's great! It's interesting that there are two approaches to using K9, both in the TV series or the books: either he gets a lot to do and is continual fun (here, the Gareth Roberts MAs), or he gets a brief scene and is out of the picture for the rest of the novel (Tomb of Valdemar, Heart of TARDIS).

Incidentally, within the last twelve months we've had no less than four fourth Doctor PDAs, three of which also contained Romana and K9. The styles of all four are so different, that my neck actually snapped in half from the whiplash. Then again, if the range were full of books as good as Tomb of Valdemar, Heart of TARDIS and Festival of Death, I'd be a very happy camper.

I like the Doctor and Romana's fears about their upcoming deaths. Tom Baker's Doctor could be quite moody at times, so this comes over well with me. There are also amusing touches galore: the quoting of things at inopportune moments, the corrections of the laws of time (plus the fact that this is drawn attention to by the end), the "of course" exchange, K9 shooting a ceiling with an obvious crack in it. The latter walks the fine line of the meta-Who in-joke [copyright Virgin Publishing, 1991-1999], but for once this is actually funny. Indeed, this is a very amusing book on occasions, although it's interested in doing other things, so the humour isn't quite as prominent as it might have been.

The Arachnopods are hilarious, even if their catchphrase leaves a little to be desired (but only a little). They feel a bit more like comedy Vervoids than season 17 monsters, but they're lots of fun (and a bit scary too). I really like their method of dispatch.

Gallura's secret is an intriguing one, because I'd been expecting something far more cliched. Paddox's aims suddenly snap into place and it feels like the whole book comes together at the instant we find out the secret of the Arboretans. And Gallura's last line is sublime. I can understand why the epilogue follows this, but I really think the birth scene should have ended the book.

I'm amazed at how complete this novel feels. At first I thought comparisons with Eye of Heaven would be inevitable, but they're not. The first section also shows just how unfulfilling the ending of most DW novels tend to be, whereas the real ending here is haunting and touching. Real thought has gone into this book and I appreciate it enormously.

In summary, Festival of Death is just about perfect. It's a complex and involving book, and not just because of its plot. There are little touches all over the place that provide great reward for the reader and the characterisation of the regulars is fantastic. It's a book that really wants you to like it and tries to do everything it can to help you with that. And it succeeds wholeheartedly, in my opinion. It's not a book that should be skimmed through, but rather savoured and sipped like a rich wine. I loved it.

Ripping It To Shreds by Robert Thomas 27/10/00

Be warned, I have just been through a bloody awful few weeks and am in one hell of a bad mood. After just finishing this debut offering from Jonathan Morris, to cheer myself up I have decided to verbally rip this book to pieces. Be warned I am going to be cruel.

Let's start with the plot. The Doctor, appearing at the end of the story and having him revisit the scene of events over and over as he attempts to get things right. Ha Ha, a beginner with a plot like this bound to fail. Er, actually it's quite good, no make that very good, no make that very very good. As I went through the book I expected my mind to buckle under the pressure to understand what was happening. But it is kept very uncomplicated and is made to be fun.

Characterisation of the regulars? Bound to botch this up! Actually this is my favourite aspect of the book. He has captured Tom perfectly, apparently he copied Tom in going over the book when finished and inserting daft, but funny lines. Romana is captured perfectly as well. The bit when she is criticising her posture and characteristics is pure humour. K9, as said he does not appear much but for me he was in danger of stealing the show. The scene on page 272 bearing in mind what happens earlier is hysterical.

The original characters are not as shallow as we have been led to believe. They are all near perfect:-

Harken Batt - Gets some great lines and is a pure comedy character. I have only just noticed how the books still mirror British culture. Peladon and the miners strikes, the current influx of fly on the wall documentaries. Expect some fuel crisis plot lines very soon.

Evadne - Typical student who gets stuck with a c**p job to pay the bills.

Hoopy - He worked for me. An excellent character caught up in the events that have nothing to do with him.


Paddox - Genuinely tragic. Again we felt his pain.

Metcalf - I like this guy, what a complete idiot.

Nyanna and Gallura - A fantastic alien race and a great last line.

All the others were fun. Including the reappearance of a comedy double act in all but name.

Aha but the blurb and all the controversy involved, I have to be able to fault him here. Actually do not believe the hype there is no spoiler whatsoever. All the information on the back is in the opening pages anyway and actually add a depth to the book through the blurb.

To sum up this is an amazing book. I can't believe this is his first. He deserves to get recommissioned on the strength of this alone. I will definitely be getting his Big Finish story next year.

In a Word, Marvellous by Tammy Potash 6/11/00

I have not been a happy Whovian lately. Between the Fatal Five situation, Dr. Who: From A to Z, and Imperial Moon, it's enough to devastate the most devoted anorak. I'm even wondering if Casualties of War impressed me only by having an eighth Doctor who was less awful than usual.

But then along came Festival of Death.

Jonathan Morris takes the mantle of Gareth Roberts and wears it with distinction. Some of my fellow reviewers are not Roberts' fans, but for me the man could do no wrong. Morris even surpasses Roberts by attempting, in a first novel no less, a plot truly-mindboggling in its twists and turns. And he succeds brilliantly! Since I get my upcoming release news from Outpost Gallifrey, I had read the back cover blurb long before the book came out, but I don't agree with some reviewers that it detracts in any way from the enjoyment of the book or that it spoils anything. If anything, it does what the back cover should do, give a basic idea of what to expect, but not any of the details.

Nonetheless, I will not mention what it divulges. But I haven't seen a plot this complex since The Crystal Bucephalus. Whovians who have watched Star Trek: The Next Generation will no doubt find paraells with one of their episodes, *not* Cause and Effect. (Data and K9 get a very similar scene. You'll know it when you see it.) Festival of Death is Vanderdeken's Children done right.

The regulars. Oh god, how they sparkle. Morris must have watched his Pirate Planet and City of Death videos till they snapped. Tom Baker booms each line of dialogue on the page, and Morris has captured Romana II's fondness of and exasperation with, the Doctor to perfection. Romana is the only companion who was truly the Doctor's equal (and maybe something else, too) and Morris knows it.

And the original characters are great, too! They don't have depth, other than Paddox, but they never really had depth on the show either. To quote Stephen King, "people are sketched briefly and broadly, but never caricatured." The brush of Douglas Adams is all over them, especially ERIC the computer, who is Marvin taken to the next level. (Though I have a feeling Hoopy the lizard (!) would never have made it past the censors in the old days). Paddox is that rarest of villains in Who, someone who's doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. This is a refreshing change from your usual megalomaniac of the week.

Humorous and creepy by turns (perfect for halloween night, which is when I finished it), this book should be picked up immediately! For a BBC book, it even has a nice cover. It will probably make my best novels top ten list. I know we've had a lot of 4th Doctor books in the recent past, but this one surpasses both Eye of Heaven and Tomb of Valedemar. It positively screams to be made (have been made) as an episode. If only there was a way... maybe Big Finish can coax the cast to do an audio version? I'd buy it, and I have yet to touch a Big Finish product. If you don't buy it, you WILL regret it. 10/10

Vestibule of Stress by Richard Salter 19/11/00

What's going on? I'm enjoying Doctor Who books again!

Festival Of Death is marvellous. It's well crafted, it's funny, it's devious, it's clever, it's inventive, I could go on. Oh what the hell, I will go on.

Jonathon Morris must have sat down and planned this one out for months. The intricacies of the plot started to give me a headache after a while, but they were no less fascinating and, despite all the complicated events unfolding, it is possible to follow what's going on, thanks to clear writing and recaps occuring often enough to make things fit, but not so often as to be annoying.

Never mind if the regulars aren't quite up to Gareth Roberts' standard (they're close), and never mind if the incidental characters are there to fill functions, and never mind if the utlimate villain of the piece is pretty one-dimensional and old-hat. This is a book that makes you want to concentrate on what's going on, and try and piece things together yourself. And even then, even while concentrating hard on everything that's going on and thinking you've worked it out ahead of time, Morris still has one or two surprises kept in reserve.

What impresses me so much is that everything fits like a jigsaw with no pieces missing or chewed out of shape by the cat. This plot isn't just water-tight, it's air-tight! And yet there's no danger of suffocation. The path Morris takes us through this tangled web is thankfully linear, so there's a story to follow and discover as the Doctor, Romana and K-9 discover it, while the universe does backflips around them.

I never got bored, I never got lost, and my enthusiasm for the story never waned. That's an astonishing achievement for a first time writer.

The novel doesn't have the emotional depth of, say, Damaged Goods (an easy 10/10 novel for me) - it's not trying to be that kind of book - but it is a blast to read, so I think it well deserves a 9 and a recommendation for all Doctor Who fans, whatever you think of the books, to go out and buy this.

Justin, please commission more Morris now!


A Review by Terrence Keenan 24/2/02

I want to start by personally thanking Justin Richards for releasing this book to the public.

It is that good. I'll go out on a limb and say it is the best PDA of the line -- edging out Tomb of Valdemar by a nose.

The plot is the thing with this book. It's a wonderful combining of cause and effect. It uses a premise that is obvious, yet surprising because no one before in DW had the Chutzpah to attempt it.

And Jonathan Morris, in his first Doctor Who book, does that.

There is a complex plot, made more so by the jumping time lines. However, you can follow along easily. Even nitpickers, ready to jump on any little misfire, will be pleasantly surprised how everything is not only dealt with, but done without cheating. The internal logic of the book is never subverted or shunted.

There are a lot of characters, some purely functional, others are standouts. Toss in a great complex villain who feels his actions are justified (Paddox) a dark force from another dimension (the Repulsion) and good, old school nasty monsters (Arachnopods), a suicidal computer (ERIC), another alien race (The Arboretans) and a drug addict lizard from the planet Gonzo (Hoopy, I thoroughly enjoyed him) and you have touched on many of the great elemets from season 17.

And the regulars? Suffice to say, they are completely spot on. The voices of Tom and Lalla spring off the page. Even though K9 isn't in Festival too much, when he's on the page, he nearly steals the show. Morris has stated in interviews that he did rewrites first as Douglas Adams, then as an ad-libing Tom Baker. I'm glad he did, because this is the best Tom Baker I've seen in any novel.

I'll stop here. Just go out and read Festival of Death. You won't be disappointed.

10 out of 10

A Review by Scott Clarke 25/5/02

I finally finished Festival of Death over the holidays, and what can I say -- I loved it. I wish I had had the time to read it straight through in one or two sittings, but alas it wasn't to be. Surprising though, I was able to keep track of all the various plot pieces and looping of events throughout the different time periods, etc.

In many ways Jonathon Morris has created a season 17 story which is more *Season 17* than the stories that actually aired. There is the Douglas Adams feel of stuffing the story full of Sci-fi ideas, the whimsy, and much of the humor as well -- but there is more space to go with some more outrageous ideas like the hippy lizards, etc. Harken even reminded me of a Duggan-esque sort of character. K-9 is even dispached for the middle of the book which humorously evokes the sense of season 17 where K-9 was way-laid half the time. He even manages to bring a consistancy to Romana which is very interesting-- taking some of her season 16 persona elements (the annoying psycho- babble and haughtiness)and weaving them seamlessly into the character. The plot structure gave rise to some very poignant moments like when the Doctor realizes that Paddox's repentant assistant will shortly die, and there's nothing he can do about it.

There were some wonderful little pokes at Season 17 (as well as past Doctor books) when the Doctor sees himself on holocam and realizes some of his idiosyncracies. I marvelled at the way Morris threaded all the plot bits together and reworked previously read scenes in a way that kept them from being boring.

The ending was quite haunting with Paddox condemned to reliving his fate over and over again without the ability of changing it (reminded me of an old Space:1999 episode where Ray Doltrice discovers that it will take 75 years to get to Earth and he's trapped in a glass case).

While the Repulsion didn't overly excite me, it did it's job and Paddox was the more interesting antagonist. I only wish that we could have had a bit more of him to chew on. I also thought that the captain of the Cerebrus (sic) and his navigator were very well realized. The arachnopods were also a nice touch for a monster.

Create A Puzzle You Can Never Solve by Matthew Harris 12/7/02

In 2000, British director Christopher Nolan made a film backwards. Entitled Memento, it dealt with a man with no short-term memory, attempting to exact revenge for his wife's rape and murder. It opened with a murder and took the viewer backwards throughout the events leading up to it, never quite letting on who out of the characters could be trusted... if any of them. Cruelly overlooked by Oscar, it's an absolute must see for anyone with a high attention span and a predilection toward mystery. Jonathan Morris must have been taking notes.

Never since I finished Manon des Sources (everyone go "nyerr" at the poncy intellectual) have I found myself actively shouting at a book so loud as I did when I read Festival Of Death. It's a sort of bastard love-child of Douglas Adams and Christopher H Bidmead, in that it's damned complex and scientific-y, but it's also hillariously funny, in places. Oh, and scary. And complex. I said "complex", didn't I? Well, it's very very complex. Indeed. How many times do they materialise there and then realise they've got to come back earlier? I made it four. Or five. Anyway, as a means of keeping your readership gripped, it's original (Memento notwithstanding). Not to say exhausting.

If it sounds like I don't like Festival very much, then it sounds wrong. The previous reviewers speak the truth. Festival is a Good and Just Thing. For example? The first four pages, the "Prologue" if you will, are fabulously dark, disturbing, and, perhaps most importantly, fail to be pertinent to anything else in the book until damn near the end, if you're concentrating. It's the same with the Aboretan chaps you meet a little later. In black and white like that it seems like Morris is throwing all these things into the mix and forgetting about them. Not at all. He's throwing them all into the mix with the intention that you - yes, you - forget about them. What I mean is that it looks scattershot and random, but it's all perfectly structured in what is really a neat line. It's just that it moves in funny directions.

Which is a good way of summing up the plot. By the way, I also believe that the blurb does not in any way constitute spoilers. There is so much, so very much, in this book, and it comes in such a strange order, chronologically, that no mere blurb can sum it up properly. And everything that it mentions is given away in the first fifty pages. And anyway, the whole Doctor-dies thing (oops) is exactly what makes me want to read the thing, and that's the point of blurbs.

Well, not just that. The blurb also mentioned characters: a hippy lizard, a suicidal computer and a hard-hitting investigative reporter. Sounds like... well, like Douglas Adams to me. And it is. The spirit of the late, great DNA lives in people like Hoopy (A short orange lizard from the planet Gonzos - if you think it's silly, it is. That's why it's great), Harken Batt (who wouldn't seem out of place on The Day Today. People from Britain will know what I mean), Metcalf (a seterotype, but then they all are, and they're all great) and ERIC (who, instead of booting up with the customary pointless "beep", says, "Oh no, I am still alive"). ERIC in particular is quite interesting. When you find out why he's suicidal, it actually stops being funny and becomes quite tragic.

There's monsters, as well. The zombies, for a start. Then there are the arachnopods, who, by the time they were introduced, were feeling like a detail too far. It passes, more or less when you realise how scary they are. They scuttle around attempting to eat you, gurgling "Eats!" over and over again (first glance it's ridiculous, second quite chilling, third really quite scary). Then they catch you, kill you in the face and eat you. Then they look for more eats. If you blow any part of them up, it'll just eat it and regrow. And then kill you in the face and eat you. It's interesting how many Doctor Who villains and monsters have been sustained by sheer bloody-mindedness. About... all of them, in fact.

Talking of villains. The Repulsion (which is alive, apparently) is par for the course as far as enemies go, but a very scary and, for most of the book, mysterious par. Paddox is also mysterious, not because we don't know what he is (we do) but because we don't know what the bloody hell on a stick he's doing. Until the end. Ooh, the end. That's just... that's a bit of a crap situation for anyone to be in. Not that he didn't deserve it, of course... but I've not seen such a chilling conclusion to anything since Inferno part six.

Any other business? Well, the main characters are (I mean ARE) Tom, Lady Sarah and John Leeson (I'm assuming this is after his voice has changed back after Season 17... or am I being a sad git? Oh). It's so uncanny I'm tempted to believe that Morris nipped back in time and stole the story - or, more likely, several - from Adams, or Fisher or someone. It's not outside the realms of possibility. Alright, it probably is. But it does read like an actual TV episode, with three bits that I think would make great cliffhangers (the ends of Chapters Two, Nine and Seventeen, for those of you counting at home). And there are bits and pieces, if you look carefully, where characters refer to the Doctor and Romana... only you don't realise it until much, much later in the book. Future-referential prose? Jonathan Morris must have a cerebellum like a spiral staircase.

Anyway. You need just three things to read this book: an interest in Doctor Who, the ability to concentrate, and any sense at all. If you have these, read it. Read it now.

A Review by Brett Walther 6/7/03

Somehow, novels taking place in Season Seventeen have consistently the most brilliant, entertaining, and representative of that particular era, than most others in either Virgin or BBC's run of Past Doctor Adventures. Gareth Roberts' unbeatable run of The Romance of Crime, The English Way of Death and The Well-Mannered War are simply magical: largely a result of his flawlessly capturing the dynamic chemistry of the Doctor and Romana.

Jonathan Morris achieves the unthinkable in The Festival of Death, by living up to the high standard set by Roberts. Like each of Roberts' Season Seventeen entries, this novel will have you wishing that it had made it to the small screen. Perhaps even more than in the case of Roberts' stories, one can easily imagine Festival of Death being produced for television under the constraints of the Williams-era budget for the programme.

The Festival of Death makes wonderful use of time travel as a concept. It's incredibly refreshing to have a story unfold in reverse order, with the TARDIS travelling further into the past as the Doctor and Romana seek to uncover how they've actually saved the day, with the fear of unravelling the web of time constantly looming over their shoulders. It's actually surprising that Morris pulls off this twist as well as he does, and things move along at a brisk pace, with the Doctor and Romana hopping into the TARDIS for yet another jump backwards in time as soon as they've learned as much as they can from their present surroundings. The humourous sequences in which the Doctor and Romana nearly bump into their past and present selves are great rewards for any confusion that the time hopping narrative might create.

Equally as impressive is the way Morris pulls off his magnificent counterpointing of humour and terror. It's almost shocking to find yourself laughing out loud in the midst of a genuinely terrifying bit involving zombies drooling black goo while throttling their hapless victims.

The plot element that works the best is the "ghost ship" premise: the spaceship Cerberus is recovered a month after having been lost in a freak hyperspace accident, albeit without any trace of its passengers or crew. This horrific mystery is at the heart of The Festival of Death, and results in some truly creepy flashbacks as time distortions wreak havoc on board the ship two hundred years later.

If there's a weakness here, it's in the main villain of the piece. The Repulsion is sadly underexploited, despite a promising build-up as an extra-dimensional being that purports to rule the afterlife. Although shapeless by nature, the form that it eventually takes is nowhere near as frightening as when it communicates through its zombie minions.

ERIC, the spaceship's particularly unhelpful computer, at first resembles Holly from Red Dwarf, but becomes so much more when the Doctor and Romana uncover the root of his personality breakdown. The fact that Morris can make a computer the most sympathetic creation in the book is a testament to his extraordinary skill at bringing these characters to life. The Doctor and Romana, in particular, are brilliant. I could actually hear Lalla Ward delivering these lines, and the subtle suggestions of a relationship between the Doctor and Romana mirroring that of Ward and Baker off-screen are magnificent. Hands down as the best bit, however, has to be the part in which Romana must actually kill the Doctor: rivaling the Doctor's first meeting with Scarlioni in City of Death as the funniest moment of the season.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 12/1/04

It is a brave man who takes on the 4th Doctor, 2nd Romana and 2nd K9 after the success of Gareth Roberts' three books. Jonathan Morris is that brave man - and good luck to him. He succeeds!

Space stations are rich pickings for the Doctor Who author. The TV show spent many a long hour there roaming through featureless corridors. Festival gives us such a space station, yet its drab corridors and sparse rooms are integral to the story. This is a space station that is more than it seems. A marvelous graveyard of spaceships stuck together. Lots of drab crafts glued together to produce a marvelous monstrosity of chaos.

The story is complicated. It's a flipback book - flip back a page or two to see the comparisons between the different, but same, Doctors and how they gel together. At times it was quite difficult to follow, but such was the cleverness in the structure, you wanted to flip back and see how all the pieces of the jigsaw fitted together.

The 4th Doctor is given some memorable dialogue, succeeding where many have failed with this particular Doctor. Romana and K9 are vital ingredients in the mix, and are always engaging.

Complex? Yes. Interesting? Yes. Memorable? Yes. Readable? Yes. Worth a re-read? Most definitely. 7/10

"Kismet!" by Joe Ford 22/5/04

Bloody brilliant! Not just a Past Doctor Adventure but THE Past Doctor Adventure. The only PDA to rival the best of the EDAs and a million, trillion, quadrillion times better than ANYTHING the sister book range coughed up for the next two years. It is astonishing to think that many new talents such as Jonathon Morris are regularly skipped over in favour of golden oldies (such as Chris Bulis and Terrance Dicks) that are guaranteed another book. Makes you weep to wonder what other treasures are on the Doctor Who slush pile that are being ignored when Warmonger and Byzantium! were being edited.

I actually put off reading this for a while, I tried it when I first got into reading Doctor Who books and found it very confusing. Now reading Doctor Who is twoapenny for me and this time the book breezed by. It had moments of insane logic, when the timelines started crossing each other but after reading (and understanding) The Last Resort any Doctor Who book that bibblybobblyboos about with the narrative seems like an easy ride.

Why has nobody ever played about with this idea before? It's ingenious and ripe for comedy... the Doctor arrives at the aftermath to an adventure and finds out he has already saved the day! Genius! So now he has to go back in time and do it all over again, laws of time and all that only to find that when he does he hasn't gone back far enough and people still already know who he is. He has to keep going back until he has met every person in the story for the first time. Of course while he is doing this he has to prevent himself meeting... well himself and uncover the plot at the same time. Argh! Madness! But total fun and only a truly professional writer could manage to construct this insanity and pull it off so it is rewarding and leaves no hanging threads.

I am now going to laugh my head silly at the Cult of Gareth Roberts. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Excellent, now I have that out of system I will explain my apparent madness. Lars Pearson of the (admittedly excellent) I Who series accuses Jonny Morris of copycatting Gareth Roberts styles as though the guy has some copyright on writing season seventeen stories. This is untrue, in a book of audacious cleverness Mr Morris has managed to capture the flavour of the 'holiday season' far better than Roberts ever did. Because whilst both writers get the humour perfect, only Morris remembers that season seventeen was ingeniously plotted and full of clever, mind-bending ideas. Only Morris bothers to make the book some effort to read and therefore rewarding an intelligent reader. Roberts' books are superficially entertaining, but arse-achingly boringly plotted. Festival of Death could have been televised it is so S 17, it takes a big mixing bowl and shoves in comedy, drama, science and whacko ideas, peppers them with rib tickling dialogue, throws in some delightful characters for taste and pops them in the oven for two hundred years and uses that timeframe to tell the story in. The result, a cake so delicious I could gorge myself on it for eternity. Bringing things back to Earth for a second, this book reminds me of the BEST of Douglas Adams and that is a compliment and a half.

There are few Doctor Who books that feel as though this much effort has been put into them. The last third is perhaps the most rewarding, the way the Doctor and Romana keep stepping on their own toes, the answers to what Paddox is up to, why certain scenes earlier did not make sense when characters could not have been where they were, why Hoopy is not zombified, how certain characters know what they know... it must have taken an age to plot this story so that all the jigsaw pieces fitted in place. The skill in which he makes it seem so effortless, keeping the story infectious fun, is a marvel.

What is this barrel of laughs he keeps going on about? Well for a start you have the hipster Gonzies, Biscuit, Xab and Hoopy, three lizards who are as high as a kite and speak in the most hysterical of languages. "This is agony! No, it's agony two the sequel!" Hoopy cries. "Aargh! I am alight! I am chargrilled! I am a sizzled freakster!" he screams when later he accidentally catches alight. You might think this would get quite tiresome and it would, so they are used sparingly, popping up with their unusual tongue just when a giggle is needed.

Then you have Executive Metcalf. There is always a guy like him popping up every now and again in Doctor Who, someone so utterly pathetic you have nothing but total sympathy for him. Dupre from City of the Dead and Marius in The Infinity Race are two good examples, men in power who are so inefficient at their jobs you have to wonder how they secured them. Metcalf is one of the best though, entirely self centred and desperate to salvage his reputation. It is so ironic that he should be caught under his desk cowering and screaming he doesn't care who dies. His short history, in which his wife ran off with a holocameraman climaxes on a superb joke when he rushes to the safety of the escape pod and activates the door to discover a holocameraman sitting inside. Well I laughed.

And captured to perfection are the TARDIS crew of this barmy year, the loop head fourth Doctor, the vivacious Romana and the K.9. the loyal robot dog. As Robert Smith? observed this is a story that concentrates on its regulars and that is such a good thing when they are as entertaining as this bunch. There is much humour to be derived from the Doctor having a companion who is outwardly smarter than he is and here the Doctor is stuck with two. Romana appears as she always did, to be the Doctor's minder, watching his back whilst he goofs around and saves the day.

Every line the Doctor utters in this book reminds me of Tom Baker's definitive portrayal. I loved his continual slip with the first law of time and his morbid obsession with his death. He seems to duck and dive through the story making lots of friends and improvising, getting off on the sheer adventure of it. How funny is it when he thinks he's going to die so he rushes over to the nearest technician and says, "It was nice knowing you, sorry I didn't catch the name." Or when he spots himself and gets annoyed because he keeps rubbing his ear but then admits what a handsome devil he is anyway! There are moments when his considerable anger bubbles out into the open and this seems entirely in character: when he witnesses ERIC being tortured by Rochfort, it seems entirely justified. And most brilliant of all is his 'death' scene where he continually mis-quotes Shakespeare to postpone the moment and ends up embarrassing Romana so much she has no hesitation in throwing the switch.

Being such fun it is easy to forget how intelligent the book is and there are some rather wonderful piss takes of Doctor Who itself, Paul Margs style. Or postmodern parody, as Matt would say with a growl. There is a guard in the story who the Doctor admits is the most inept guard he has ever met but then what do you expect when he is reading Guards and Guarding magazine! And the villain has a bloody big lever to set his plans in motion and the Doctor observes that perhaps he (and all the others he has encountered) is compensating for something. Best of all is Rochfort's reaction to K.9., pure laughter. Well, he is ridiculous isn't he? In a story this layered I can accept this little digs, Doctor Who was always a show that could laugh at itself and small moments of humility help make it the best show on television.

The prologue might seem superfluous at first but I was blinded by the time travel jigger-pokery and was shocked when it was integrated obviously and creatively into the story. It makes the epilogue much more potent, a cherishable ending to a nasty piece of work.

The book is written in a simple style, there is so much to take in that Lloyd Rose-style prose would overwhelm the reader. But Morris sets the scene as vividly as the next man, managing to pull of a fair share of powerful scenes amongst all the smiles. The book will primarily be remembered for its laughs though and I don't think anybody will disagree with the diagnosis of funniest Doctor Who book for the BBC line. Just for the 'Nova Bright makes your Pants White' sequence, surely?

Everybody has one and this is mine, this is the Doctor Who book I wish I had written. 280 pages of pure enjoyment.

"Pah! Not everybody needs fancy certificates, you know" by Lance Bayliss 31/10/05

There are two types of Doctor Who authors. The first are those who think that they are "proper" novelists, and that their works are going to be elevated to a high form of art. To that effect they spend useless ammounts of time describing things to us in prose, rather than actually moving the dialogue or storyline along. For example, they will describe a corridor in exacting detail. The carpets, the light fixtures, the grain in the wood walls. By the time you've finished reading about how a corridor looks, you're bored to death of it. All this seemingly in an attempt to reach the editor's prefered word count. Perhaps more criminally, they tend to sideline the Doctor and his companions in favour of weak, cipher characters who the authors think are brilliance personified. The title on the cover is "Doctor Who", gents. The clue is in the title. We want to see the lead character, not "Joe Average" and his petty love life.

The second type of author is one that lavishly attempts to recreate the look and feel of the programme itself at any given point in time, keeping the Doctor central to events in the process. These authors are better than the others, because they tend to focus on dialogue and story development. When it comes to describing a corridor, this type of author will simply tell us "the corridor was dark" and let us use our imaginations to fill in the rest of the blanks. It should be obvious even to a blind spielsnape that this is a vastly preferable way of doing things.

Jonathan Morris is, thankfully, the second type of author. And his novel Festival of Death (published way back in 2000 - blimey, was it really that long ago?) is one of the very few Doctor Who novels that I've revisited again and again. What makes it work is the attention to character detail: Every single person is equally defined, with the Doctor central to events. It's also one of the few perfectly-captured characterisations of the Doctor around. Every single utterance, every single expression, reminds you that this is Tom Baker and Lalla Ward circa Season 17. The author's chosen method of writing the dialogue, and then going back and writing over it again as though he were Tom looking over a script and mucking about with it, manages to capture the character to a tea. Reading it, one is almost compelled to look at one's DVD shelf and see if Festival of Death is in fact a novelisation. It really is that good.

The plot is the kind of story that we all felt the original series did all the time, but which was in fact very rarely attempted. A time-travel-science-fiction-comedy-adventure, it meets the requirements of every genre. Having the Doctor arrive somewhere, only to be congratulated for saving the day (meaning that he has to keep jumping back in time again and again to actually save the day) is brilliant. What we get here is a story in reverse - the Doctor first meets people who already know who he is, and who have already dealt with him before, and then goes back to before he met them, meets them the first time, and already knows all about them and what they're going to do in the past/future. A typical time travel device, it's surprising that the original series itself didn't do something like this.

Although it sounds very complex, the way in which it is handled is in as light and humorous a manner as possible. A throwaway comment by a character early in the book transpires to describe something which the Doctor will later do. Some characters which are important early in the novel vanish as the Doctor travels back to before they even arrived. No matter how many times I read it, I always discover something I missed before. Yet it's an easy read. Unlike most other Doctor Who books (including Jonathan Morris' other two subsequent books, which were both 'Eighth Doctor Adventures') it doesn't weigh itself down with unnecessary 'purple prose'. Every single word is there to move things along. The novel never drags.

All in all, highly recommended. I admit that it isn't for everybody. Certainly, if you're one of those truly incomprehensible fans who has a hatred for Season 17 (why?!?) then you'll be tearing your hair out. But Festival of Death is one of only a dozen Doctor Who books - out of more than 200 that have been printed in the last ten years - which I would risk saving from a fire.

I give it 5 out of 5.

A Review by Craig Lambert 17/1/08

The Festival of Death is a fantastic read. This was the first Doctor Who novel I ever read, and after reading over two dozen others, this is still one of the best, far exceeding some of the other books out there. It is a traditional Who story told extremely well!

The story is very well written, true to the TV show style, dialogue and characters. The plot is very interesting and exciting. The action moves quickly and there are wonderful plot twists and subplots to follow. The dialogue and supporting characters are marvelously written. I enjoyed every minute reading it, and enjoyed it perhaps even more on the second and third reading.

Tom Baker's Doctor and Lalla Ward's Romana are written so well. The characters are so true to what the show revealed. In fact, Morris takes it one step further: he writes the characters so they shine as brilliantly as possible. Even K9 is written with character in mind. There is one short scene told from K9's perspective when he is sent off to follow someone. When the story is told from K9's point of view, the writing itself changes to reflect how K9 would see things, and perceive things.

In addition, the "supporting cast" is fantastic. The villains, allies, and those people in between who present stumbling blocks are all a joy to read. Each character is amusing, interesting, believable, and very entertaining. Morris pays tribute to one of his favorite authors, Douglas Adams, by writing the shipboard computer as being a depressed and suicidal personality. What make Morris's computer even better that Marvin is that Morris shows how and why the shipboard computer got depressed and suicidal in the first place. So there is character development even with the AI.

Reading The Festival of Death is like watching one of the best Tom Baker stories because in so many ways it feels like a Tom Baker story and script. The scenery, characters, and plot are all very evocative of the seventies and early eighties. Yet, Morris adds elements and "sets" and aliens and creatures that the Tom Baker stories never could have produced. It's what I always wish a Tom Baker televised story could have been.

The dialogue is simply brilliant. Romana and The Doctor banter so well it puts Han Solo and Princess Leia to shame. Their one-liners, repartee, and correcting of each other's knowledge is hilarious. Some of the best scenes are when Romana or the Doctor sees a "previous" version of himself or herself, a la Back to the Future. For example:

"The previous Doctor shambled across the hall, gazing appreciatively at his surroundings. The Doctor was disconcerted by how often this chap was ruffling his hair, and rubbing his chin. He hadn't realized how mannered he was; he wished he could shout out, 'Stop fiddling with your ear!' And as for that body posture... well, he would have to do something about that. But, overall, he was impressed with what he saw. Those clothes made him look rather striking. You handsome devil, Doctor."
And Romana gets to see her previous self as well at another point and gets embarrassed by how arrogant she comes off.

The action moved along at a quick pace. There is no filler in this one. The plot twisted and turned so that I never lost interest. One of the best twists employed by Morris in this one is his use of the TARDIS as a kind of Back to the Future Delorean, where the heroes keep having to go back in the past to a time before they previously arrived.

Rating: 10/10

A Review by Brian May 3/7/08

Festival of Death is a most impressive book, magnificently plotted and ingeniously crafted. It's the time paradox story to end them all, the narrative flitting from time zone to time zone with a structure that's amazing in its labyrinthine elegance. It's a pity such stories were so few and far between during the classic series. Post-1989 fiction put that to rights, but this is the most complex of the lot. Jonathan Morris obviously has a lot of patience and skill. It's hard to imagine what his workspace must have looked like as he was writing this. The reader is made to pay attention, and there was much backtracking of the pages every time I picked up the book.

But that's not all to commend about it. The setting is clearly season 17 - the Doctor's oatmeal coat makes this plain - and the realisation of the TARDIS crew is astounding. Tom Baker overacting as the Doctor, Lalla Ward playing it straight as Romana II and the precise, clipped tones of David Brierley as K9 are authentically captured on the page. Indeed, Morris outshines Gareth Roberts in this department! He makes a brave move at the end of chapter 4 (p.68) when the Doctor snaps as he comes to terms with his fate. On the surface, it's out of character, but such an event has never happened to him before. It's uncharted territory, but convincing enough to let us surmise the Doctor could indeed act this way.

It's very funny in lots of places. As you'd expect in a season 17 runaround there's a strong Douglas Adams influence; at first it seems ERIC is just a rip-off of Marvin the Paranoid Android, but when you read further and discover what makes him this way, the end result is very understandable and sympathetic (and, continuing the Hitch-Hikers' theme, he starts out exactly like Eddie). Evadne rescuing the Doctor and Romana on p.42 is very much in tune with the overall time paradox theme, but its execution is very much from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. The magazines "Guards and Guarding" and "Holding Captive" are absolutely hilarious, as are the reactions of the Doctor and Romana as they view their alternate timeline selves, especially as their self-perceptions - and vanity! - are challenged.

It's not all fun and games; the novel has a gloomy premise and the motif of mortality is all pervading. There's a strong horror element; the death count, Romana's visions of Tarie, and Paddox's fate are among the most notable examples. The Arachnoids are a bit unnecessary, possibly added under an instruction to include a token monster - and given season 17's monster pantheon included Erato, the Mandrels and the Nimon, this is well appropriate (in the most negative sense of the word).

The climax is also a disappointment. There's too much retreading of The Deadly Assassin and Trial of a Time Lord in the ersatz-Matrix showdown; for a book, it's even worse given the similar way the early NAs did the same thing. Some of the characters are horribly caricatured: Hoopy is a walking cliche of a hippy and, despite attempts to give him motivation, Paddox is still nothing more than a mad scientist. I must admit I liked Harken; his depiction of a cowardly, glory-seeking celebrity journalist is sometimes too accurate!

But, because the novel is so good, most of the complaints can recede into minor quibble country. Festival of Death is an intricate, well-executed book that explores the complexities of time travel, arguably more so than any other Doctor Who work to date. It's well balanced between the humorous and the macabre, with some nice film tributes: the aforementioned Bill & Ted, along with Back to the Future and 12 Monkeys. Well recommended. 8.5/10