State of Decay
|ISBN#||0 426 20418 2|
|Synopsis: While vacationing in Australia, Nyssa is bitten by a vampire and slowly transforms into one. The Doctor and Tegan must race against time to find a cure.|
You Never Forget Your First by Emily A. Moniz 22/9/98
Reading Paul Cornell's Goth Opera was the first time I was exposed to Doctor Who. It was about two years ago, and my well-meaning friend gave me this odd-looking science-fiction book because he wanted me to learn about a character named Nyssa. I was hesitant, because I wasn't terribly fond of science-fiction. But, in order to please the boy who gave it to me, and to satisfy my own curiosity, I read it. Now that boy is my boyfriend, and I am a huge Doctor Who fan. The former may not be due to Goth Opera, but the latter certainly is.
This book pulled me in. I, who had no knowledge of Doctor Who, was completely absorbed in this story. I felt such sympathy for this girl Nyssa, saw so much of myself in her, that I couldn't resist. As soon as I finished the book, Nyssa I became, and Nyssa I have remained.
I think the one thing that makes Goth Opera stand out is its characters. Paul Cornell did a superb job getting inside Nyssa's head, giving her motivation and feelings other than guilt and sympathy. So many other Doctor Who books are lacking in that way. The Doctor has little motivation other than doing good, Tegan is a self-sufficiant whiner, and Nyssa feels sorry for everyone. The writers feel limited by the series, as well as the images of the series. They leave the full potential of the written word unrealised. Paul Cornell, I feel, utilizes the printed medium to the fullest to convey thoughts and ideas that cannot be expressed on television. This talent of his is what makes Doctor Who such a superior work. It is written like a novel outside the realm of television tie-ins. It is written much like an Anne Rice novel. This quality Paul gives his work truly makes Goth Opera stand out.
I cannot express how much I adore this book. It drew me into Doctor Who, which was no small feat. It was the first book of the genre I ever read, the first I ever bought. I took it on my tour of the UK, and find myself reading again and again, each time finding something new. Perhaps I adore it so because of the sentiment behind it. As the saying goes, "you never forget your first." But as I writer myself, I know quality work when I see it, and Paul Cornell's Goth Opera is a prime example of a high quality Missing Adventure.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 19/7/00
N.B.I`ve decided to review the novels by section (in much the same way as Sean Gaffney does) as I find it easier to review novels in this way.
As the first of the Missing Adventures, Goth Opera just about works although tying it in with Blood Harvest is hardly the best way to kick off a series of novels that should be seen as individual stories in their own right.
PLOT: Cricketing in Tasmania, The Doctor,Tegan and Nyssa are taking a break following events on Manussa. Unfortunately, Nyssa is attacked by Vampires and struggles to face up to her non-life. Not necessarily representative of the era, the plot is very engaging however. The straightforward nature of the plot also proves that Paul Cornell can write Doctor Who and good Doctor Who at that.
THE DOCTOR: Near perfect, although his obsession with tea seems out of place.
COMPANIONS: Tegan and Nyssa again are very good, with Nyssa getting extra marks for her "infected" role. It is clear that they are good friends and the quality of the writing simply enhances this.
OTHERS: Romana gets little more than a cameo, but she is again close to the mark. Ruath and Yarven, the principal villains, are unlikely and mostly unbelievable Vampires. And their plan to make it night on one side of the planet also stretch credibility; this seems to be something more in the style of The Master.
READABILITY: The quality is high; it's not a page turner, but the character development and compelling plot alone make this enjoyable enough.
IN SUMMARY: Had it not been linked to Blood Harvest, I would`ve rated this higher, as any novel needs to be seen as stand-alone, (even if it is part of an arc), but it still remains an enjoyable opener for the MAS. 8/10.
A book you can sink your teeth into by Matt Haasch 22/10/00
This was my first novel by Paul Cornell I've read the whole way through... At first I was semi-sceptical, not having read Blood Harvest, and after hearing DWM say "Paul Cornell wasn't God after all." If they weren't wrong about that statement, then he's pretty damn close to be a deity in his own right in the DW universe, along with other recent demigods as Mark Gatiss (who I still think looks marvelous in drag) and Justin Richards (recently promoted up a notch in the God status, along with Terrance Dicks, both who were already in the astral plane of godliness). A definitely odd mood, not reminiscent of the era, but not many MA's are. This is the first of the bunch, and also a very good first. Old baddies, old companions, a connected story with the NA's, old character cameos, scenes on Gallifrey, one would say either it'll be a total "fanwankish" flop, all I'm saying has to be a lie, or a good idea, but nobody could execute it. The answer is (d) none of the above.
This book is for the most part, eloquently written, superbly paced, and some fantastic characterization. I couldn't empathize with Nyssa though, in fact I got sick of her, but that's not Paul Cornell's fault, I'm just bias against anybody stupid enough to get bit by a flying baby. Tegan's fun, being fed up with her own actions, as well as other people's. Plus with her post-Mara encounter, she's full of fire, piss, and vinegar.
The Doctor is a good shade of Davison. A likable type of Time Lord. not as funny as Tom or Colin Baker, but he's got quite a few moments. Some good ideas are interspersed, with some oddities (the good kind) and some minor characters that I should've probably been sympathetic towards, but wasn't (except for Lang).
Romana is back. She's fantastic too. I wish I knew where K-9 mark II was though. She did a great job, as did Spandrell. The Gallifrey scenes were neatly done as well. Descriptions, settings, all of it above standard. My only gripes were about those two vampires Madeleine and Jake, two vain, selfish, sometimes annoying (although the semi "good guy") vampires. Couldn't stand their moralizing of vampirism. I probably would've staked them had we met. They were good fulfilling their purpose in the book though.
Lang, who for a second, I was afraid to be a Jerry Fallwell meets Billy Graham, turns out to have some good scenes, and his last where he goes insane is fantastic.
The bad guys, Ruath being a non-Deca Academy chum, and Yarven, not the best of names, not much relation to "the three who rule(d)" and the great vampire (might not be this way, I still need to read Blood Harvest) but nicely diabolical. Ruath is nicely cold, bitter, and likable not just as a vampire, a villaness, but a former friend of the Doctor's too. Also-had trouble digesting the part where Nyssa's so hungry she laps at Tegan's cut (on her face if I'm not mistaken). I'd keep that in the David Bowie flick "The Hunger," which appears to have a nice lesbian soft-porn in it, from what footage I caught on a Bravo documentary.
Also, some neat graphic details of puking up garlic capsules, clever solutions, and some great vamp toasting scenes. A lot of death here, in about the same proportions of Time Of Your Life, and probably more than Millennial Rites' mortality rate. Fantastic book, and the Doctor's ultimatum at the end is indescribably awesome. His manipulation by trodding on Tegan's trust isn't (too reminiscent of Curse of Fenric's ending. A Seventh Doc move on the chessboard). The Seventh and Fifth Doctor's destinies are tied together nicely here, as will be once again in Cold Fusion and the Shakedown/Lords of the Storm pair. A show of in the game of intergalactic-time chess, he Seventh plays outside the game, where the Fifth is the white knight. Congratulations, Paul Cornell. You have a winner.
Note - How the hell can Dibber be in this book, in the Nosferatu II, if he wasn't alive during and after Dragonfire? McIntee should've made sure that there wasn't any post-Dragonfire Dibber references. Oh well. A small drabble.
An Excellent Tale of Vampires, Primo Levi and Garlic Bread by Ed Swatland 26/9/01
Goth Opera has always been a Doctor Who book I’ve always wanted to read. Therefore I was dead chuffed to discover a copy of the book in my local Sci-Fi shop Time Trek for a fiver. It had been some weeks since I read Blood Harvest, but the characters were more or less still there in my head. Let me say this first so I won’t have to go into it later.
Paul you’re a brilliant writer, I own five of your books (all of which are fab), but please don’t over indulge in fanwank like you did in chapter 6. I actually found myself cringing when Romana arrived in a Drashig infested swamp (ala Carnival of Monsters) then is transported into Glitz’s ship from a miniscope he has just acquired and then she is rescued by some Gallifreyans. Just like that. In the space of four pages. Paul, it’s a shame you had to put that in a book. This one especially. It simply detracts from the atmosphere. However it doesn’t ruin the book at all. Just skip it if you haven’t read Goth Opera yet. Major nag over now.
The characters were excellent, of course. Unusually, however, the focus is on the regulars (mostly Nyssa) and the story rather than the characters as such. So, this novel isn’t exactly a character study, more in the vein of Blood Harvest, but with better writing of course! The Fifth Doctor is done extremely well, and strengthens my theory that Paul is better at writing for lighter Doctors, such as the Fifth and the Eighth as he has so ably demonstrated. He does the Seventh Doctor really well, but the Fifth is a joy. The part when he traps a vampire in a circle of garlic bread is lovely, and this book has numerous clever little jokes in too. Tegan is much better than she was on TV, making sarcy comments rather than whining continuously. I actually rather liked her…
Nyssa was served well. Her plight was extremely well portrayed, the scene where she was bitten by The Child was almost unbearably chilling. The other characters were good of course. Jake and Madelaine were the attempt at ‘human vampires’; their reasoning obviously a bit skewed up, but hey. Lang was, erm...misguided. Not the greatest Cornell character, and his followers were (probably, hopefully intentionally) shallow.
Ruath becomes totally unbelievable, as does Yarven, but Paul is good at creating weird, evil double acts. Romana was good, but only got a cameo appearance. The story was very strong. It wasn't very deep, or even very challenging, but it was highly engaging and very effective. Its links with Blood Harvest were pretty strong, and did complete the saga very satisfactorily. Obviously to begin a new series of novels, linking it with a book people may not have read is a bad idea. And, despite what other reviews have said, this does NOT hold up alone. That’s no bad thing of course, but hell, it’s got too many continuity references in it. A casual reader would be like “Lord Yeran? Who? Tarak?”. And that bloody chapter 6. Still, the dark atmosphere of the book would translate well onscreen, as would the rest of it, like Nightshade I would like to see this televised. Nyssa with fangs would be...interesting. Her struggle is the focus point of the book, and a very good one at that.
In conclusion, I really, really enjoyed Goth Oper. I've also read Managra but haven’t read any other MA’s apart from this, however, from the strength of this novel I might seek a few out… The books strengths were the fact that it was gorgeously dark, Nyssa was served well and it has vampires in it! Vampires, my favourite author and the Fifth Doctor, what more could I ask for! It’s weaknesses were chapter 6, that’s all. Goth Opera is certainly worth a look, especially for Cornell fans. An excellent book for a first in a series, and one of the best Past Doctor books. Highly Recommended!
A Review by Finn Clark 19/2/02
This is a sequel to Blood Harvest, but it has a different feel. Its vampires are influenced by Anne Rice rather than Christopher Lee, for a start. It's the "vampires as people" approach, diminishing their monster value for the sake of getting inside their heads. I don't like it myself, but I admit that it can work well.
On the other hand I like the religious stuff - fundamentalism versus Church of England, etc. Religion is an important part of vampire lore, but atheist writers turned the crucifix into a faith test because they wanted vampires in a secular universe. Curse of Fenric took this path and Goth Opera also follows it... but Paul hasn't turned his back on religious matters. They still have a place in his story. I appreciated that.
There's a shitload of Gallifrey backstory and development, far more than I expected. This might be "just" an MA, but it contains more information on the Time Lords than any other Virgin novel bar Lungbarrow. Everything's here: speculation about genetic links between vampires and Time Lords (page 120), the impending death of the Time Lords (page 114), the destruction of Gallifrey (page 196)... This is an amazingly important book. My fannish instincts really want Ruath to be talking about what's coming in The Ancestor Cell - and since she's clearly off her trolley, we can apply a thick layer of scepticism to all the niggly details.
This isn't a deep novel. It's Cornell-lite, no more than a jolly adventure (with an unbelievable chapter six o' fanwank). However it's a good jolly adventure with great regulars, some deceptively important developments in the ongoing NA story and a high fun factor. I enjoyed it a lot.
Lacklustre by Tim Roll-Pickering 17/12/02
Although Paul Cornell's popularity made him an obvious choice to write the first of the Missing Adventures, it remains a mystery as to why the range was begun with a Davison adventure rather than a more obvious Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee Season Seven based story. Nevertheless the range of 'nostalgic' books goes out with a novel set during Doctor Who's most publicised 'nostalgic' season. Appropriately it features 'something from the past' - in this case vampires - though the novel's direct links to State of Decay are extremely weak and Blood Harvest is essential reading to make the connection clear. However the novel can be read by itself and remain penetrable, a fortunate sign given the complications of the book being a sequel but in a way also a prequel.
One of the most disappointing features of the book is that in several different ways it just does not feel like a Season 20 adventure. Set in 1993 rather than 1983, and using settings such as Tasmania and Manchester. Even at a time when overseas location filming was becoming a once a season event these locations still stand out as anomalous. Furthermore the general style of the story is different, being far more gloomy and downbeat than many of the first two seasons of Davison adventures. There' is also some dodgy continuity such as the Doctor's assertion that he is Lord President, although this may be a deliberate wink to the 'continuity errors' of small details in many early 1980s stories. But it is the general tone of the story which does not fit. The The vampires themselves owe far more to legend and fantasy than to hard science and this further marks out a story that has been placed at a time when the series was moving beyond the hard science of Season 18 and towards the hard edge that would climax in Season 22. This recourse to legends and Christian fundamentalism sticks out like a sore thumb. Although not directly critical of Christianity, the tone of the writing towards Lang and his followers is such that in 1983 it would almost certainly have generated huge controversy of the sort which the series has always striven to avoid. As a result this is a book which simply doesn't capture the style of the era in which it is set at all. Although many subsequent Missing Adventures similarly step away from the trappings of the relevant eras, it strikes me as a mistake to adopt this approach in the debut novel.
Otherwise Goth Opera is a reasonably straightforward, if not especially enthralling, adventure. The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are all captured well, though a line by Ruath about this incarnation being the most 'vulnerable' does show a sign of stepping towards the traditional stereotype. Yarven and Ruath make for an interesting combination of adversaries as they proceed to out scheme both each other and their followers, whilst Jake and Madeline provide an insight into the tragedies of vampirism. The prose is straightforward and the book reaches its conclusion but ultimately it doesn't feel especially rewarding or exciting. This is especially disappointing for the opening book of a range. 4/10
A Review by Brian May 2/4/07
Thank goodness for that good old cliche, the mixed bag. For that's the only term I can think of to describe Goth Opera.
Paul Cornell's skill for characterisation is the book's greatest asset, especially the regulars. His fifth Doctor is quite remarkable. It's all there: the mannerisms, speech, vulnerability and tetchiness. The cricketing holiday in Tasmania, a sort of extended version of Black Orchid, has some charming moments - I loved seeing him fraternising with the likes of Merv Hughes and David Boon! - and there are some hilarious moments with the Doctor's article in Wisden, Tegan's reactions to the objections in the letters pages, and the dinner. His confrontation of Jake and Madelaine (pp.88-91) is a fine character moment, the heroic intensity Peter Davison delivered so well is re-created marvellously.
Nyssa's quiet, gentle nature is emphasised, as is her strength of character that ensures her true self, conscience and all, is able to resist her vampiric conditioning for so long. Her naivety is well exploited by Yarven (and Cornell). Tegan's social abrasiveness and concern for her companions juxtapose each other well - although her fears about the Mara still being alive inside her head have obviously been included to accommodate for her opening scene in Mawdryn Undead. But 'tis the season for both women to alternate being possessed when you factor in Kinda, Time-Flight, Snakedance, The Sands of Time, Fear of the Dark and this story. But anyway, the three of them make a good TARDIS crew.
While you can tell that Cornell isn't the biggest fan of Christians, at least he doesn't turn them into caricatures. The portrayal of Lang both as a zealous preacher and a perpetrator of incest could have resulted in a one-dimensional religious hypocrite, but there's more to him than this and he often gauges reader sympathy, especially when held prisoner in the pit. The believers who take part in the raid-cum-ambush at Alderley Edge are painted the same way: they are fanatics, but have strength of conviction and are solid-grounded enough to avoid cliche.
Among the vampires, it's Jake and Madelaine who stand out. They're an incredibly empathetic couple, their concern for Nyssa is admirable, and they continually question Yarven's authority. Their moments flying together, especially their interlude on the moon, are very evocative pieces of writing (as is Nyssa's fledgling flight). It's nice to see them escape the Earth at the end; they both deserve their redemption and it helps reinforce the argument that vampires aren't evil just because they are vampires (p.73). It's also good to see some exploration of grey areas, in deliberate spite of the natural animosity between vampires and Time Lords we learned about in State of Decay.
Unfortunately though, finally, inevitably, as a whole, the vampires are evil. This is all down to Yarven and Ruath (I'll forget the rest, because they're so incidental) - these two are pure and simple villains, and caricatured ones at that, proving that even Cornell can get it wrong sometimes. It's a pity, for the backstories of these two are far more interesting than the characters themselves. It's highly recommended you read this immediately after Blood Harvest. You realise how much better Yarven was as a minor character, and his best moments in Goth Opera are those when he reflects on the previous story. His bond with Vetar makes sense of his murder of Veran, and his second encounter with Agonal, not recorded in Blood Harvest but instead recounted here, also helps with some explanations. But, overall, Yarven is a megalomaniacal villain for the Doctor to defeat.
Ruath's story contains some good material, including the suggestion Rassilon was in fact a vampire, and the consequent biological link between the Time Lords and vampires. There's also her discovery of the Time Lords' future, mentioned here in passing, but elaborated upon substantially in the 8DAs. But her own motivations seem a bit muddled, and the revelation she was a former associate of the Doctor - and possibly more than just that - doesn't really convince, and just becomes an excuse to namedrop Mortimus, the Rani etc. I like the central piece of the novel, concerning Ruath and Romana on Gallifrey; lifting their meeting from Blood Harvest word-for-word works neatly, and Romana is excellently characterised. It's a good interlude from the rest of the book, although Romana's encounter with the Drashig, the MiniScope and Sabalom Glitz are a few wanks too many.
I now need to talk about the pace in this novel - or rather the lack of it. True, there's some good character focus, but this is offset by lots of static. You want to shout "Get on with it!" so often! There's a lot of the Doctor deliberating, and also of him working in the TARDIS, although I suppose this accurately reflects the amount of time the televised fifth Doctor was wont to spend in his ship. There's also too much time spent on Yarven and Ruath's plotting and double-crossing of each other. It's quite gruesome too. There's a calamitous climax with a body count that would make Jim Mortimore proud, but it's the focus on the vampires' culinary exploits that's most off-putting. Of course, it's in their nature to drink the blood of humans, but I just feel the author goes overboard with the number of incidences - and describing Ruath's fangs as being covered in gore after she feasts on the Doctor's blood is just disgusting.
But nevertheless Goth Opera is sufficiently entertaining, getting the Missing Adventures off to a solid but unremarkable start. 7/10
Bloody Vampires! by Andrew Feryok 7/1/09
"The time of humanity on this world has come to an end. The long night is starting. The age of the undead is upon us."At last, a Doctor Who book that is actually about vampires! Blood Harvest was well written and entertaining, but I got the feeling that Terrance Dicks was far more interested in the Chicago setting with Al Capone and the evil being, Agonal, than the vampires in E-Space. Indeed, the vampire story was probably the worst part of that book and could have been cut out with few problems. But this is not the case with Paul Cornell's atmospheric book! From the opening moments of the prologue until the final moments of the epilogue, this story is filled to the brim with blood, vampires, and the aura of the old Universal and Hammer Dracula films.
- Lord Yarvin, Goth Opera, Chapter 1, page 40
I must admit, I was not that enthralled when I started the book. The prologue goes on a little too long and I hardly find Tasmania to be the most likely setting for a gothic vampire story. But the adventure picks up dramatically when Nyssa is bitten by a vampire in Chapter 2. Her story of transformation is one of the best parts of the book made all the more terrifying by the fact that she is the most innocent and caring member of the Doctor's team. One of my favorite sequences occurs inside the ship when Nyssa finally succumbs to her bloodlust and tries to attack Tegan in her room. The feeling of safety within the TARDIS and safety from Nyssa are both violated in this fantastic sequence and while Nyssa is doing such terrible things to Tegan, she both inwardly and outwardly does not want to do them. She is being driven by the uncontrollable instinct of the vampire and its terrifying!
The Doctor and Tegan make great foils for each other in this story. Unlike many fans out there, I like Tegan and I think she worked a lot better with Peter Davison's Doctor than Nyssa or Turlough. Why? Because she is the total opposite of the fifth Doctor! Tegan is loud and speaks her mind. She's gutsy, arrogant, and yet all that bluster hides a vulnerable person inside. On the flip side, the Doctor is polite, reserved, quiet, prone to inaction when he is indecisive, is constantly feeling guilt about Nyssa's transformation, and yet hides a much stronger person inside. The two characters make great foils for each other and a great heroic team to battle the vampires.
The vampires themselves are utterly vile. I think it is their arrogance that gets my blood boiling throughout the book. The way in which they view themselves as superior to everyone gets on your nerves very quickly. It reaches a point where you want to see them fail just so that you can wipe that smug, self-satisfied grin off their faces. The way in which they view virtually everything around them as cattle for their food is horrific as well. But the Doctor's solution to beating them in the end is most satisfying. In fact, it's one of my favorite book conclusions! I won't give away his solution, but suffice to say he completely turns the tables on them with just four words!
Ruath is a nutter. Actually, she's more than just a bog-standard nutter. She's someone the Doctor has had a relationship with in the past. In fact, according to Cornell in this book, Ruath was the Doctor's girlfriend who has lived a bitter life after the Doctor left her on Gallifrey and did not take her with him. It is presumably her hatred of him that drove her to start researching the power of the vampires. Her relationship is one of the most interesting aspects of the book. Yes it does fill in some of the mystery of the Doctor, but it's done in a believable manner and helps to motivate and drive the story rather than being dropped in arbitrarily as a lazy bit of continuity.
Speaking of continuity, this is the book's only failing point. Oh boy. I thought War of the Daleks was continuity-laden (which it is), but at least in that story, all the continuity concerned the Daleks and tied together to make a point. In Goth Opera, continuity is hurled around seemingly without a thought for its usefulness in advancing the plot. I can understand the initial continuity in which the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan discuss recent events such as those from Time-Flight, Snakedance, or even the Doctor worrying about the Black Guardian (who would threaten them in the next story). But some of the continuity gets downright silly. For instance: Ruath referring to Earth as Ravalox, Ruath and Yarvin traveling into the future to see Haemovores, Ruath namedropping "Mortimus" (The Time Meddler), or the entire chapter 6.
Chapter 6 has to be one of the most bizarre pieces of fanwank I've ever read. It's attempting to explain how Ruath got on her mission to revive Yarvin and the vampires, and connect the end of events from Blood Harvest to Goth Opera. I have no problem with that. But, on the other hand, there is so much unnecessary continuity being thrown around that it makes the Dalek Prime's retcon in War of the Daleks look like Shakespeare. I mean, you have Ruath using time scoops from The Five Doctors, Romana getting trapped in a mini-scope with Drashigs, Romana meeting Sabalom Glitz who happens to own the mini-scope, and the Time Lords offering Romana the Presidency of the High Council. ALL IN ONE CHAPTER! It feels like Cornell just got carried away with using classic continuity and was having way too much fun having Romana go through all sorts of strange adventures that he didn't care if fans were rolling their eyes every half second.
As long as I am making complaints, I have to also mention the initial setting of Tasmania at the start of the book. Tasmania is hardly my idea of the setting for a gothic vampire tale, or any horror tale. Thankfully the book moves back to England, but it does make for an odd opening. Why Tasmania? It doesn't have any connections or connotations of horror and we never actually get a feel for the place at all. I mean, the Doctor spends most of the time playing cricket! They could have easily set this in England and it wouldn't have changed the story all that much. However, from another point of view, it brilliantly keeps with the period. After all, John Nathan Turner was notorious for setting Doctor Who stories in locations abroad simply because he could get permission to go there and not because it had anything to do with the story (Amsterdam or Seville anyone?). So setting the story in Tasmania seems just like the sort of thing JNT would do in this period. But the question is, was this done deliberately by the author for that reason, or simply because he liked Tasmania?
On the whole, Goth Opera is a fabulous book. It gets the Missing Adventure series off to a great start and stands as one of the best Doctor Who books I have read in the series. It is everything the Missing Adventures wanted to be: paying homage to the classic series while taking it in directions that the classic series could never have realized with its conventions and budget restraints. If this had ever been shown on TV, it would certainly have been one of the goriest and most disturbing episodes of all time. And while the book does overuse classic series continuity a bit too much, you can't help but love this book. An almost solid 9.5/10!
Just Add Blood and Stir by Jacob Licklider 31/12/17
So you know how in my Blood Harvest review I mentioned that I may have spent half the night reading halfway into the book, well after that I promised myself it wouldn't happen again. That promise was quickly broken as I spent half last night reading three quarters of Blood Harvest's companion novel, the Paul Cornell penned series premiere of the Virgin Missing Adventures Goth Opera. So yeah it's fitting to say that I enjoyed the novel, considering I read the thing in less than a twenty-four hour period. Paul Cornell really knows how to entice you in with a story, and I'm glad to say you don't really need prior knowledge of what happened in Blood Harvest, as the only continuity piece was reprinted early on in the book to explain everything that would be going on. Before you continue reading this review, this is your final warning on spoilers, as I will be spoiling some of the plot twists of this book and the ending of Blood Harvest so I can adequately analyze some of this novel's characters.
Goth Opera sees the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan after the events of Snakedance recovering from Tegan's possession at a cricket tournament on Earth. Of course, Tegan is immediately annoyed at their present location and within her first line of dialogue Cornell nails her character perfectly. You immediately feel for her as the novel goes on while absolutely horrid things begin to happen to Nyssa. The plot gets going when a renegade Time Lady Ruath from the epilogue to Blood Harvest tracks down the Vampire Messiah and gets a vampire to bite and convert Nyssa into one of the undead. Yes, this novel sees Nyssa and even later the Fifth Doctor bitten by vampires and start to turn into the bloodsuckers. How do they get around this you may ask? Well Cornell takes a solution from ancient vampire myth and the way it is done is quite sublime and actually manages to satisfy the need for a thrilling conclusion. The plot itself is interesting, with the Doctor and Tegan trying to find a way to save Nyssa from her conversion and trying to stop Ruath's plans of making trouble. Along the way there is a group of radical Christians and a cult whose main chant is the funeral procession is "Requiem for Evita" from the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Evita. So yeah, even with a rather dark subject matter, Cornell can't help but put in a little bit of humor to liven the mood. There's even a little detour with Romana getting stuck in a miniscope on the ship of Sabalom Glitz, which, while it is a distraction, is great fun for the novel and sows some seeds of Romana possibly going higher in Time Lord Society.
Cornell also nails the characterization of his regulars. The Fifth Doctor, who has always been one of the weaker Doctors for me as he was too human, uses his human caring to motivate him to go to any lengths to save Nyssa. He even allows himself to be bitten by a vampire in a last-ditch effort to stop the vampires' plan. Moving right along to Nyssa, who spends the majority of the novel in a trance-like state, as she is losing her humanity and begins craving blood. She slowly loses her sanity as well, trying to stay human. What makes her descent into darkness even more tragic is she was bitten by a vampire baby called "The Child" who knocked on her window and almost enjoyed being bitten. Outside of her trance, near the beginning of the novel, she gets to have a great argument with Tegan. Remember this is right after Snakedance so Nyssa wants to try and help Tegan recover from being possessed by the Mara a second time. There is also implication that she feels guilty about Tegan being possessed. This brings us to the brilliant way Tegan was portrayed by Cornell in this novel. She states flat out that the Mara is still in her mind and she is wrestling every day to keep it suppressed with the Doctor's help. She fears being taken over a third time yet doesn't really want to open up about her feelings to Nyssa, who genuinely wants to help her. Once Nyssa becomes a vampire, she is scared as she knows what it's like to not be yourself and knows how much pain Nyssa is in as she isn't herself.
Now on to the villains of the piece. First up is Ruath, who has a surprising history with the Doctor. Now if you don't want spoilers, first off don't read reviews of novels that are twenty years old, and second look away now and just read the book. This has been your final warning. When they were young, Ruath was going to accompany the Doctor in the stealing of the TARDIS and go with him and Susan, but the Doctor left her behind. This has made her extremely bitter towards the Doctor, as she had almost fallen in love with him and fueled her desire for research into the undead. When the actual reason she was left behind was to try and get Time Lords in the Academy to think for themselves and it becomes a really tragic story. The other villain of the piece is Yarven (who was turned into a vampire in Blood Harvest), who is nearly as manipulative as the Doctor. He manipulates Nyssa into compliance by promising her that he can help, and she falls for it hook, line and sinker. The final important characters of the novel are Jake and Madeline, who are two vampire lovers who end up surviving the story and living on. They are almost like Sweeney Todd, as you don't want to sympathize with them for all the horrid things they do, yet you find yourself hoping they survive the rapidly approaching bloodbath. That's really all there is for characters; yes I mentioned a couple in the introduction, and, while they are integral to the plot, there isn't much more I can say except they were good for their purpose.
To summarize Goth Opera is what many operas excel at: a character piece. It delves into the minds of its characters and puts them through a lot of hellish situations. Everything about the novel is perfect, even the few distractions that Cornell threw in to keep things going. The question is when is this going to be adapted for an audio drama? Well, Big Finish still haven't announced how many novels are going to be adapted next year, but I hope that this one and Blood Harvest are on that list. As the first in a hopefully brilliant line of Virgin Missing Adventures, Goth Opera gets 100/100.