The Murder Game
The Final Sanction
|ISBN#||0 563 55584 X|
|Continuity||Between The Seeds of Death
The Space Pirates
|Synopsis: It is 2204 and the final confrontation between humankind and the Selachians. With Jamie fighting for Earth and Zoe trapped in an alien prison camp, the Doctor must choose between the sanctity of the time stream and the lives of his companions.|
A Review by Finn Clark 16/8/99
I haven't heard a lot of discussion about this book. The noisy extravagances of the 8DA line have dominated people's attention, which is a shame since this book deserves notice. Comment has been markedly thin on the ground, from the serious to the frivolous (what is it with the PDAs and underwater settings these days, anyway?)
There's a lot that's good about The Final Sanction. It's always competent and at times it's excellent. The ending is top-notch and packs a hell of a punch. It's very obviously the same author who wrote The Witch Hunters and Salvation, but it seems churlish to criticise Steve Lyons for sticking to a winning formula. After a very mixed bag of Virgin novels, at last Steve seems to have found his feet with the BBC.
Much of what I'm about to say could have been cut-and-pasted from my reviews of Steve's last two books, but what the hell? I might as well say it again... :-)
This is a very simple book, deliberately so. Everything has been stripped down to the bare essentials, to put the drama centre-stage. If it were a play, the set would be bare and black-walled. There's nothing flowery about The Final Sanction.
In the past, I've had problems with this. The Witch Hunters I felt was under-described, leaving too much work to the reader's imagination and not describing its historical setting in enough detail. Perhaps we're more used to simplistic SF settings, but I didn't find that a problem here. The prose is sparse and the plotting is spartan, but it didn't leave me unsatisfied. Again Steve Lyons takes a powerful moral dilemma and builds a strong story around it, expressing the issues as starkly as he can.
Of course the Hartnell era is perfect for such morality tales, apparently more so than the clowning regulars of Season Six. In fact, they work well. I'm sure no one doubts that Troughton could have been devastating, given such material, and I thought his portrayal here was excellent. The first few chapters include some lovely little insights into the second Doctor's character, setting the tone for the remainder of the book. It's not a comedy. This Doctor doesn't get much room to act the fool, but that's mostly because the situation doesn't allow it.
Looking back, it does seem a little odd to have this most anarchic of Doctors worrying so much about the Laws of Time... but then again, it's not as if things aren't bent slightly in that direction.
On the downside, The Final Sanction sometimes felt a bit too earnest. Admittedly it's a very serious subject, but even so it doesn't bear its burden lightly. "War Is Bad!" Yes, we knew that, Mr Lyons. "Genocide and murder are terrible crimes!" True, true... but it might have been nice to have the odd moment of relaxation, to lighten the mood.
It's not as if Steve Lyons can't be witty. His name adorns two of the funniest books I've ever read, Conundrum and The Completely Useless Encyclopedia, which only makes it all the odder that he's erased all levity from his novels for the BBC. This isn't really a criticism. He's writing good stuff. I miss his humour, that's all...
At the end of the day, it's a good story. It's packed with
cliffhangers - some slightly desperate, but mostly very effective. It's
got real surprises. I raced through it in a couple of hours, never once
looking at the clock or counting the pages still to go. For the most
part, the PDAs seem happy to plod along without the sophistication of the
eighth Doctor's latest adventures... but arguably they're offering more
solid fare as well.
Rereading all these Steve Lyons books has half-convinced me that he's a moderate writer whose chief strength is in story construction. Admittedly he wrote Conundrum and The Crooked World, but those are high-concept false-reality stories fuelled primarily by their ideas. However he also perpetrated Time of Your Life, The Murder Game, The Space Age, Head Games and more, in which unlikeable two-dimensional ciphers run around in underwritten worlds. These books aren't all without merit, but they can be hard to like. There comes a point where one has to start regarding the good books as the anomalies, not the bad ones.
However I really like his knack for assembling a plot, which is streets ahead of certain better-loved authors. To name but two, Kate Orman and Lance Parkin could learn something from Lyons. He's versatile almost to a fault, even willing to recreate the dramatic eccentricities of the Saward era. What's more he actually brings his books to a dramatic climax instead of blowing everything up with a splurge of technobabble. [Note: The Space Age may be an exception to these kind words, but even I can't bring myself to reread it and find out.]
Under Virgin editors, Steve Lyons produced fairly good prose (although Head Games and Time of Your Life are two of the most-hated Who books of that era). However his five Cole-era BBC Books all strike me as being underwritten. The Final Sanction is perhaps the oddest example of this, in which a thoughtful and well-constructed plot is dragged down by monotonous, one-note execution. The result isn't bad, but it's perhaps one of the most subjective Who novels ever. If you're in the mood for Steve Lyons at his preachiest, you'll love this. There's good material here. However if you're feeling unsympathetic you'll be bored silly. (This factor means that your reactions could change completely if you ever reread the book - they did for me and I know I'm not the only one.)
Make no mistake, this is an easy book to dislike. Everyone's grim and humourless, except the Selachians who are grim, humourless and stupid. ("We do not negotiate. Our enemies will be crushed." Guys, get a clue!) The book kinda grinds through its plot, almost bloody-minded in its avoidance of entertainment in any shape or form. Instead it has a message for the world - War Is Bad. Well, gee. I'm sure that thought never occurred to me before. Guess I'd better cancel my plans for invading Poland.
The Selachians are as monotonous as they were in The Murder Game, except this time they have some "look, they're just the same as us underneath" story material tacked on. Steve Lyons makes you empathise with them, after a fashion, but they're still pretty tedious. You'd have better conversations with a Dalek. The human characters are hardly any different, shutting down all softer responses and going into denial as a coping strategy for survival. Eventually I ended up inventing subtext to amuse myself, deciding for example that Lieutenant Michaels is gay.
[The TARDIS crew are merely okay, incidentally. Jamie does quite well, but Zoe and the Doctor just do all that's required of them without embarrassing the author. Given the novels' track record with the Troughton era, that's probably better than we could expect.]
Then there's the whole history-changing thing. Steve Lyons tackled this before in The Witch Hunters, but it worked far better there. Hartnell's natural for such stories, but Troughton really isn't. Personally I have a hard time imagining the 2nd Doctor giving much of a monkey's about the Laws of Time, or indeed doing anything but giving Gallifrey a two-finger salute and meddling to his heart's content. However there's a deeper problem with "we can't change history" stories: predictability. We know what will happen! The entire book is merely an exercise in reaching a pre-determined outcome! Here 240 pages have passed before the book gets to spring its first surprise. Only from then could I find The Final Sanction exciting, since for the first time I didn't have a road map of what would happen!
The Final Sanction is a well-constructed novel that tries to address serious issues. It's become more topical since it was released in 1999 and I liked its imaginative touches (e.g. the horrific sci-fi weapons of 2204). It doesn't wimp out on its premise and its events have plenty of punch. However personally I'd hold it up as an example of how not to write a war story.
Less is More-timore by Jason A. Miller 19/3/00
With two new Doctor Who books appearing every month these days, as opposed to the ancient television days when viewers got seven stories a year (if that), the learning curve in fandom has accelerated beyond reason. Every year brings a new "generation" of thought, and fandom's leading thinkers (Internet mongerers, by and large, and not print magazine writers) retool what it means to have a good Doctor Who story. Five years ago, what was good was the brash experimentation in the old Virgin New Adventure line. What was less acceptable was the traditional story, usually a sequel and always linear and less innovative, that we got in the Missing Adventures. In those days, Steve Lyons (with Head Games, and his volumes of work on the Sixth Doctor and the Valeyard) belonged to the former category. Now, he writes a Second Doctor sequel. Bad, right?
Hardly. It's 1999 now. Actually, it's not, it's 2000, but Lyons' BBC Missing Adventure, Final Sanction, has only just come out in the United States, a good nine months late. This is a traditional tale, borrowing heavily on evocative Doctor Who locales and concepts, if not cliches... and it is far more satisfying than the recent heavily-innovative and decidedly non-linear Eighth Doctor novels thrust upon us.
This book's team, the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe, is the most agreeable, fun TV Doctor/companion pairing, beating out the Fourth Doctor, Romana, and K9 by just a nose (Zoe's nose, cuter than K9's). But Final Sanction opens on an overcast World War I style battlefield ripped straight from The War Games. Or Genesis of the Daleks. Take your pick. I thought there was going to be trouble -- for 40 pages I was reading a rehash of tired war stories and themes and nearly punted the book aside when we came across the Insane American General and his A-Bomb surrogate. Coming so soon after Salvation, I was tired of the message -- fine, Lyons isn't big on Team USA and doesn't know much about Harry Truman.
But then I changed my mind. So what if the opening pages adhere too closely to War Games, or Genesis? Those were great stories -- if you're going to go stock, use good stock. The Selachians, back in a demi-sequel to the zero-dimensional Murder Game, have grown to one whole dimension -- honor-bound warriors as opposed to "grr! argh!" killers. There are even hints of a second dimension for a while.
The rest of the novel includes numerous plot curves (if not twists) and the end result, while comfortable and predictable, still stands strong on its own. This is the heaviest moral dilemma the Second Doctor has ever faced, and the choice he must make in sacrificing the timeline to rescue Zoe Heriot (Zoe's surname has inexplicably lost weight) is a fascinating one. This is not a tale the Seventh Doctor could have completed. This is also a story that could only have been placed close in time to The War Games -- a rarity in a Missing Adventure, for the story's repercussions can actually be felt in scripts written and produced 30 years before. The book's outcome grows grimmer and grimmer, until we're finally in Jim Mortimore territory. More than one minor character boldly sacrifices him, her, or itself to save his, her, or its race, and the story ends with one young character looking hopefully into the sunrise on war-torn Earth.
There is a lot that is familiar in Final Sanction -- there is very little in this book that has not been done before. But the choices the book makes are wise ones, and the main characters stand up well to harsh circumstances foreign to this story's Season 6 cousins. Finally, it's old-fashioned. There are no alien mutations, mouths within mouths or faces within faces; no nameless psi-powered alien species from out of time, making a confusing mess of things. This is a real Doctor Who book, traditional and TV evocative, and yet just a touch too broad and deep for that small screen. 3 years ago, that was a failure. Now, it's a glorious compliment and a welcome change of direction for a newly stagnant series.
Shallow, second-rate, humourless moral posturing by Robert Smith? 10/6/00
One thing to be said for Steve Lyons, he's never predictable. He jumps about in styles, usually successfully, giving us quite different books every time. The huge success of The Witch Hunters brought expectations up a few notches, but he's usually managed to deliver on most occasions. His 'bad' books have at least been interesting, with both Time of Your Life and Head Games providing lots of interest for the reader, even if they were painful to get through. Even his recent spate of throwaway books like The Murder Game and Salvation have been reasonably entertaining.
The Final Sanction, sadly, is none of these things. It's grim and depressing, true, but he's done interesting things with that before. Here, there's the potential for an interesting dilemma, but the execution is rather painful, both to witness and to read about.
Throwing the second Doctor into a seventh Doctor style "we must keep the web of time sacred at all costs, although naturally lots of the details will be quite markedly different by the end" story could have had some potential. Not, I'll grant you, a whole lot, but some. The trouble is that the second Doctor just doesn't sit right with the responsible time-preserving, agent-for-the-Time-Lords-in-all-but-name Doctor needed here. The second was far more anarchistic and subversive. Yes, there's Zoe to worry about, but this only makes the two threats look like the result of one of those parties where two people who should never have gotten together had far too much to drink and produced entirely the wrong sort of offspring.
The second Doctor's also a tough choice to do this sort of thing with for other reasons. He's well known as a character too difficult for most writers to cope with. Steve had a decent attempt in The Murder Game, but thus far, only Justin Richards can claim to have gotten the character to any sort of interesting place whatsoever. Steve tries bravely here, and the Doctor's constant fretting over everything is passable enough, but no more. Jamie and Zoe are pretty lacklustre as well, although the cover illustration of Zoe does go a long way towards instilling good feeling towards this book.
The Selachians come out okay, though. They're wannabe Chelonians, but they have the misfortune to appear in two throwaway books by Steve Lyons, rather than amusing books by Gareth Roberts, which I think makes a big difference. They are interesting and some of their developments certainly make them deeper than in The Murder Game (not that that would be too difficult, of course). Unfortunately, I think they're just in a bad place: they're not OTT enough to be villains, but they're still fairly faceless adversaries. They've got potential for complexity, but despite a few attempts, we just don't get enough of that here.
However, it's the non-regulars who really drag this book under the surface. With characters lovingly crafted from the finest cardboard, they make a mockery of any attempt at moral depth that the plot desperately needs. There's the officious and cruel military leader, the indecisive scientist questioning the morality of science in war and a bunch of soldiers who exist only to illustrate that war is bad, especially when both sides have merit. Well, golly.
But it's Redfern and Mulholland who are just wrong. They're like Gary Russell characters, carefully displaying a laughably shallow attempt at complexity through every detail of their mind-numbing internal voices. This damages the book no end. When we don't care a whit for any of the characters, the whole book becomes an abstract exercise in Philosophy 101, with nothing to tie the Mildly Interesting Question to the reader.
The Final Sanction has some potential bubbling in its shallow depths. Sadly, the regulars are boring and the non-Salachians have no substance whatsoever. The moral posturing is painful and neither interesting nor original. A shame.
A Review by Douglas B. Killings 22/8/00
The problem is, I generally like Steve Lyons' work. The Witch Hunters remains my all-time favorite PDA, and I also kind of liked Salvation. But this one... I just found it boring, trite, and maddeningly cloy.
The book brings back the Selachians of Lyon's previous 2nd Doc PDA, The Murder Game, and takes as its plot the final days of an Earth military campaign against them. This is used as a springboard for a story that is essentially an anti-war statement. Ok, fair enough, no problems there. But then it proceeds to truck out just about every anti-war cliche a century of far better writing has produced: the unbelievably incompetant commander, the helpless and peaceful civilians caught in the middle, the honorable soldier who just follows orders, the Big Weapon that people are afraid to use but will use anyway (even though it will kill billions of lives). I don't know, I've read/seen it all before and I just couldn't stomach it one more time.
Lyons tries, but for the most part does not succeed, to make the Selachians nominally sympathetic, even though they are cast as pretty much the bad-guy race here. To me, this was probably the biggest problem with the book; by the end of it I not only felt very little sympathy for them, but in some ways thought they were getting exactly what they deserved -- the exact opposite of Lyons' intentions. So much for this morality play. As for the other bad guy, Commander Redfern (the CO of the Earth forces), he comes off as being more of a caricature than anything. Disciplinarian, militaristic to a fault, but otherwise incompetent as a commander, there is not a shred of originality or anything otherwise interesting to him. Some effort is made to go into why he is the person he is, but the final result to me was that I questioned how an idiot with his background could ever possibly find himself in command of such an operation. Yes, yes, I know. Suspension of disbelief and all that. Still, there are bounds even here.
Other secondary characters are OK. The scientist Mulholland, in charge of the ultimate-weapon-of-the-moment (the G-Bomb, basically a gravitic implosion device), is bearable as the traditional scientist-with-the-uneasy-conscience. A couple of military characters -- Michaels, Paterson, and a few others -- round out the story with views of the entire conflict from the front, as it were. Perhaps a better story might have been if someone like Lt. Michaels had been the one who was being ordered to drop the G-Bomb and commit genocide; rather than the tin-plated Redfern; the story of an honorable man being ordered to commit something anathema to his beliefs would have been far more interesting than the set of pat and stock events Lyons plays out for his characters.
As for the regulars, Lyon's 2nd Doctor is pretty much OK, not exciting but not too far from the mark. Companions Jamie and Zoe come off (uncharacteristically, for a Lyons novel!) as a little bland, especially Zoe; at one point I had the impression that this story had originally been conceived with Victoria in mind. This is a shame, as Jamie and Zoe are among my favorite companions, and I have yet to find a novel that has done either of them justice.
So overall, this is not a recommended novel unless you are a Doctor Who completist, but even then I'd say read it if you had nothing else about and were desperate for a DW fix.
That guy Lyons has done it again! by Joe Ford 8/1/03
I have started to notice a pattern. Stephen Cole (a man whose writing has been improving tenfold recently) was originally responsible for the EDA and PDA lines. It is no secret that his work on the EDA line was not very popular, at least not until he was ten or so books from the end of his reign. But after finishing this book I can happily say that his PDA's were quite excellent and quite obviously his forte. Since Justin Richards took over the EDA's have become a hell of a rollercoaster ride whilst the PDA's have been getting worse and worse (Warmonger and the literary insult that is Heritage prove that!). I think it's odd how the switch in quality happened as editors switched posts. Maybe Cole should do the PDA's and Richards should do the EDA's. Has anybody else noticed this?
The Final Sanction is another winner, an engaging action packed story that has one hell of an emotional wallop.
This may sound a bit odd but I love it when companions are tortured. You see it gives you a great deal more scope for characterisation, you get to see how they really cope under pressure. People have complained that Jamie and Zoe are not captured well here but I think that is nonsense, they are given loads to do. Jamie, as ever, is the lovable muscle but this time he is thrust into combat unprepared for the horrors he will experience. It is so Jamie to be so devoted to The Doctor and Zoe (for no reason other than sheer loyalty, bless him) and the nightmares he faces here just to save their lives is admirable. Throughout we never forget how clear cut his morals were, The Doctor and Zoe to be saved first, then as many lives as possible.
But this book belongs to Zoe and her terrifying adventures in the Selachian base. I couldn't believe Steve Lyons would put her through so much torture but it turns out to be to the benefit of the book. Who would believe that Zoe would squeal on a friend who would be hurt because of the information she gave? Okay she was scared but she still did it. Who would have thought she could arrange a break out? Zoe is a rather neglected character in fiction and this goes someway to restoring the balance. I loved her astonished reaction when her entire break out team is wiped out in seconds.
Yes the book is simple and its morals are clear cut. War is bad. But it's a story worth telling to remind us never to go down that path again, Steve has taken recognisable events from history and given them a solid SF background. There is a brilliant twist around every corner. The dilemma for the Doctor, stand by and watch the Selachians be wiped out or intervene and change history is compelling. When his later choice is save Zoe or break the laws of time things are brilliantly desperate. I love how things just go from bad to worse with the ticking of the bomb ever close.
Robert Smith? says in his review that he doesn't like either Mulholland or Refern but I found them to be the book's best original characters (or as original as such characters can be). I especially enjoyed the former with her crisis of conscience, it is explored very well to a point where I was sympathising with her position greatly. Redfern is a dangerously unpredictable character, I couldn't believe it when he ordered the massacre of the Selachian women and children. Maybe I was manipulated by these stereotypes but by god it makes for a hell of a read once you are absorbed into the story. Most of the characters have sketchy backgrounds but that's okay because it's what is happening now that defines them.
Troughton is well captured again and it's a shame we never saw him get intelligent work of this calibre on screen. I would have loved to have seen this story just for some of Troughton's desperate improvisation. The Doctor is literally making it up as he goes along, making some stupid mistakes and trying to save as many people as possible. It really is great stuff.
Also good is the work done with the Selachians. I don't see the Chelonian similarity but I do think they are portrayed just as vividly and all the better for being in two less reputed book than two popular ones. Steve has done a grand job making these 'monsters' more vivid than in The Murder Game and I would certainly like to have another adventure with them in their troubled history. I especially enjoyed the excellent chapter explaining their history to Jamie, it was to the point and not too cloy.
Chapter Eight is a mini masterpiece on its own, a saddening break from the action as we experience the thoughts of a soldier dying on the beach. I had a lump in my throat reading that bit. There were magical touches like that throughout, a chemistry fuelled moment between Mulholland and Michaels in Redfern's office as they discuss the ethics of using the bomb, Zoe's emotional outburst at Paterson as he kills an innocent Selachian on the beach, Jamie's graphic and charged scuffle with Micheals... so many stand out scenes.
The prose has Lyons stamped all over it, quick, clear, thoughtful and gripping. No time for explanations, just reactions as the action comes thick and fast, just how I like it.
I wouldn't say it was a joy to read as its depressing tone doesn't really allow for that but it is a stark and effective piece, one that I tore through in no time at all. A one word summary would be "memorable".
"It's a lot more difficult to end a war than it is to start one, Jamie" by Brett Walther 29/4/04
It was with great expectations that I launched into Steve Lyons' The Final Sanction. A sequel of sorts to his earlier The Murder Game -- which was an absolute scream and one of my all-time favourite Doctor Who novels -- it boasted the return of the Selachians, as well as the second Doctor, whom Lyons captured so vividly in that book.
Apart from the impressive golden-armoured Sharks and Troughton, though, the two novels don't have all that much in common. Most notably, the humour's certainly vanished, which is understandable, given that it's a book about two rather weighty subjects: the horrors of war and the sanctity of the timestream.
The nearly-defeated Selachians have resorted to taking hostages and threatening to torture and kill them in a last-ditch attempt to bargain with the victorious Terran Security Forces. The TSF's Commander, Redfern, has a southern drawl and mindlessly gives orders to his exhausted troops. He spouts rhetoric about how the TSF is liberating the natives of the planet Kalaya from the oppression imposed by the Selachians in an attempt to mask the true economic motive behind the conflict.
Sound familiar? For a book written five years ago, The Final Sanction is an utterly eerie harbinger of the current situation in Iraq.
This adds an almost tangible sense of urgency to The Final Sanction -- an energy that makes it nearly impossible to put down.
This is war at its most grey -- there is no good or evil. Even the Selachians, who were merciless and cruel in The Murder Game, are given an enthralling back-story that inspires a sense of sympathy and places their role as principal villains in question. Lyons has expertly crafted an atmosphere of oppression and moral ambiguity.
It helps, of course, that the reader can relate to and sympathise with one of the greatest TARDIS crews ever to grace the series. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe have a chemistry that transfers gorgeously into print, and the charming rapport that Lyons has emulated served to spark a huge surge of Season Six nostalgia for me. This story fits beautifully after the events of The Seeds of Death, as indicated by that lovely blurb on the back, and I glowed with pride as T-Mat makes a rather significant reappearance in this book.
The Doctor is so sweet here, desperately trying to protect the innocence of his young travelling companions, wanting so badly to shield them from the brutality of war.
Yet he fails, somewhat spectacularly.
Zoe is captured -- and escapes, only to be recaptured and then escape, etc. -- as a prisoner of war, and Jamie joins the troops on the front line of the conflict, while the Doctor watches in horror as his two young friends risk becoming part of a historical inevitability. He's battling a sense of impotence, knowing what is established historical fact, and in one of the more interesting themes of the book, battles with his respect for the laws of time.
This theme is wrapped up beautifully in the final chapter in which the Doctor takes Zoe to a ravaged New York City -- post Dalek invasion, and yet another creepy forshadowing of the events in the years since The Final Sanction was published -- to re-state his purpose and goals in his travels through time. Standing amongst the skeletal remains of a devastated city, he tells Zoe that although the laws of time prevent them from making sweeping changes in history, that they can make the universe a better place by winning small victories.
It's a gorgeous and nearly breathtaking epilogue to a strong tale.
A Review by Brian May 17/2/06
The first chapter of The Final Sanction doesn't bode well; actually, it made me sigh. It should have been sub-titled "Directed by David Maloney", for in these opening pages we have excerpts from the first episodes of The War Games and Genesis of the Daleks re-enacted: the time travellers coming under attack in an alien No Man's Land (from both stories) and the Doctor stepping on a mine (Genesis). But it all has the air of an author's self-indulgence, rather than anything akin to tribute or homage.
But once chapter one is through, the story does pick up. True, it's an anti-war admonishment, its message hammered home somewhat bluntly and over-earnestly, but at least it takes the time to look at the physical and psychological consequences of conflict, not only how it affects worlds, but the individual as well. Zoe is put through hell; the Selachians' interrogation of her regarding Paterson killing the Ockoran woman on the beach - and its consequences - are incredibly grim. The characterisation of Michaels is the best; the hardened soldier's emotional barriers are constantly beaten and broken down, his detachment melting away. It's obvious he will die, but his final thoughts make for one of the book's most poignant moments.
The rest of the non-regulars aren't that spectacular, but it's what they are, rather than who, that are the interesting aspects. This especially applies to Redfern and Mulholland: we're told of their roles in history and their ultimate fates. The reader knows they're doomed from the start, but this foreknowledge makes every scene they're in quite compelling. It's also a clever twist on the Who staple of changing history. When history has been threatened, it has always been in the past; before now, whenever that has been. The Aztecs is the first (and best) discussion of this topic; The Time Meddler and The Time Warrior are equally good examples, while in the 1990s we had novels such as The Plotters, The Roundheads and The Wages of Sin. Of course, the proper course of time was put to rights, but with some imaginative readjustments (as happens here with the deaths of Mulholland and Redfern). But once again, it's in the past. One of The Final Sanction's most brilliant moves is to portray such a key event in the future; that is, after now. To a wanderer in time like the Doctor, it makes no difference: it is indelible recorded history.
However the story falls flat in its attempts at moralising; the humans as aggressors and the "once were peaceful" alien species storyline has been done before (Original Sin, Genocide) and in far more interesting ways. The arguments made by Lyons for the Selachians' point of view aren't that convincing, especially after the way he wrote them in The Murder Game, as all-conquering, aggressive monsters. In this story, set some 68 years later, they're just as bloodthirstily violent. Even if humanity was the initial aggressor, the Selachians' attitude and behaviour are no better. You only have to contrast it against the situations and characters in stories like the aforementioned Genocide, as well as Doctor Who and the Silurians and its off-shoot Blood Heat, which all contain thought-provoking shades of grey and valid two-sided arguments. There's none of that here.
There's also a problem in the pacing. Not a lot really happens. There's far too much time given to Zoe being held prisoner; the big escape attempt made near the end tires very quickly, as do the descriptions of the Ockorans' underwater city and the struggles with the Selachian prisoner. In short, it's heavily padded. Nevertheless Lyons is a good writer, so there's no verbosity or nightmare prose, and stylistically there's a lot going for the book. Devoting each chapter to a specific character(s) and/or scene works well; chapter 13 is great - Jamie's shifts between waking and sleeping have a nicely disorientating feel and the passing of time between paragraphs is convincing. And thankfully the climax is one of the more gripping moments, although the final chapter is superfluous, achieving nothing.
But thankfully the second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are all wonderfully realised. That's indeed a great bonus on a somewhat hit and miss novel. It's well written and has good ideas, some that work and some that don't. At times it's very slow, but there are some enjoyable bursts of activity. Interesting but flawed, I think I'll have to summate. 6/10
A Review by Steve White 29/9/15
The Final Sanction is a PDA written by Steve Lyons, featuring the second Doctor and serving as a semi follow up to The Murder Game by its inclusion of the Selachians.
Steve Lyons usually writes a good novel, so my expectations were high; however, these were quickly shot after reading the first chapter. For some reason, Lyons has decided to borrow the worst element from Jim Mortimore's Eye of Heaven, namely the not writing in chronological order one. It took me a while to read the first paragraph, as it was obviously referring to events already happened that I didn't recall. Had I missed a prologue? Was it set in between part of another story? No Lyons has decided to try and up his simple writing style that I love and ended up ruining it. Luckily, this bit is short-lived and it soon settles into the simple storytelling that we expect from Lyons. It raises its ugly head a few times after this, but nothing that detracts from the flow of the story.
The plot of The Final Sanction is that the Selachians have taken over various planets belonging to Earth, but Earth has fought back and has the Selachians on the back foot, with only one planet still left in the sharks' control. The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie help to free the last planet; however, Zoe gets captured and history says the Earth commander, Redfern, will destroy the Selachians home planet with a massive bomb, which is exactly where the Selachians have taken Zoe.
The second Doctor is done well; however, the grimness of the novel and the worrying about preserving the timeline doesn't suit him. It may have been better suited to a fifth or seventh Doctor novel as the comic element is lost. Zoe and Jamie are also true to form with both getting some character building.
Sadly, the remaining cast all fall a bit flat. Redfern and Mullholland are interesting characters, but nothing is done with them, other than what you expect. Michaels and Paterson seem to get a lot of character building for not a lot of payoff and there are countless named dead soldiers/prisoners.
The Selachians' history get expanded upon, which I enjoyed as I liked them from The Murder Game. The one Selachian who may have redeemed his race turns out not to, which isn't great; likewise, this novel sees them wiped out totally. I'd have liked for a splinter group to have survived and set up a peaceful colony on another planet, but it wasn't to be.
After a very minor blip at the start, The Final Sanction is more of Steve Lyons' brilliance. The story may have been out of place from the era it was set in, but it's tricky to envisage it on screen due to budget constraints anyway. Not quite up to scratch with his previous works, but still well worth the read.