BBC Books

Author Mark Michaelowski Cover image
ISBN 0 563 48613 9
Published 2004

Synopsis: To lose one set of memories may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two smacks of carelessness. The Terran colony world of Espero seems the unlikely source of a sophisticated distress call. And the Doctor, Fitz and Trix are not the only ones responding to it. While Fitz consorts with royalty, the Doctor's on the run with a sixteen year old girl, and Trix meets a small boy with a dark secret. In a race for the minds and souls of an entire planet, the Doctor and Trix are offered temptations that may change them forever. At least one of them will be unable to resist.


Therapy... by Joe Ford 12/5/04

Why is the Doctor deliberately ignoring his memory loss? Does Fitz have kinky dreams about the Doctor? Is Trix a human being or just a nasty stereotypical cow? Can the EDA's continue after the definitive conclusions that Sometime Never... provided for the series without feeling anti-climatic? Open the pages of Halflife to answer all of these questions and more...

Therapy. Every now and then any series needs some. I have noticed a pattern emerging in each of the Doctor Who lines; every time there is a huge upheaval in the arc storyline there is book afterwards that is a little lighter, a little brighter and a re-affirmation that something new and wonderful is starting despite the changes. Tears of the Oracle had The Joy Device. Interference had The Blue Angel. Adventuress of Henrietta Street had Mad Dogs and Englishmen. And Sometime Never... is fortunate enough to be paired with Halflife, a long therapeutic massage for each of the regulars, taking the time to examine their relationships that were pushed to the sidelines in the arc-thick run of books that ran from Time Zero to S N...

Can I just say it is WONDERFUL to have the Doctor and company back out in the universe. I am a huge fan of the Earthbound stories which may have accounted for my fawning affection for the shattered realities arc but even I have to admit visiting alien worlds is an absolute joy. And Espero proves to be rather unusual because although it is an alien world it is colonised by humans with an obsessive religious system. Michalowski creates a strange new world based on the Catholic religion with some intriguing city names like Eden and Paradise but with lots of off kilter reminders that this is not Earth.

There is an intriguing passage in the book that addresses the feeling of Justin Richards and the Doctor's amnesia. The Doctor and Father Roberto are talking about Espero and their law against remembering the past and some of the lines ring true when you take them as a metaphor for the Doctors memory status. "How can we know where we're going when we don't know where we've come from" says Roberto to which the Doctor replies "But we all need a fresh start sometimes, we can't live in the past forever." Roberto considers this and replies "It would be nice if we could just start living in the present." Very interesting when taken out of context.

With all honesty it was about time somebody wrote this story. The Doctor has been without his memories for such an age now and people were starting to be put off by the books because they refused to address this issue. Admittedly I was fine with the avoidance, hints were enough to keep me hooked. Both City of the Dead and Camera Obscura dealt with the horror of the Doctor being restored, that he was forcibly pushing the memories back because they would harm him. Timeless brought up the issue again and the Doctor's moody response to Anji's prodding suggested that he knew their return was a possibility but he was scared of finding out the truth. Halflife takes the idea of re-uniting with his past to a climax where he is genuinely offered his past lives back, a huge gift which he isn't sure he really wants. Of course I will not tell you the result of his decision, only that it makes perfect sense, dramatically, creatively and in keeping the fans happy. This was probably a response to the fan uproar and I'm glad it took place; you'll find yourself hanging on every page as your hero comes closer and closer to his dreams.

Also addressed was the Doctor's relationship with Fitz and one that I noticed was showing signs of wear and tear in recent stories. The Doctor's treatment of Fitz in Sometime Never... was extraordinarily harsh; he was patronising and rarely had any time for his best friend who was left at the sidelines scratching his head throughout. Okay so all of predicted history was in danger of extinction but you would think the Doctor would remember his manners.

I loved how Halflife dealt with their strained friendship, a truly unusual way of bonding. When you reach the scene of Fitz and the Doctor naked in the console room rubbing bum cheeks together you will be laughing out loud at the lengths Michalowski goes to show that they are still very much best friends. There is a wonderful moment at the book's climax where he Doctor examines the adventure they have had and realises just how tough it is to be Fitz during all their hair raising adventures. It is this sort of revelation that keeps you returning to these characters, where they continue to be friends despite the obstacles that are thrown in their way. It is rare for the Doctor to be this close to any of his companions, and trust me they get closer than you could ever imagine, and it confirms that he and Fitz are made for each other. For anyone who wanted to see Fitz leave earlier, this book may force them to change their opinion.

So what about the sour apple in the orchard? Miss Beatrice Macmillan. Astonishingly Michalowski manages to get us closer to Trix in her FIRST scene of Halflife than in any of her previous books put together. Trix is used to excellent effect here, her obsession with disguising herself is bordering on self-loathing and here it is her downfall. In a planet full of black people where she cannot hide herself behind a fake persona she is forced to confront who she really is. Interestingly she keeps thinking of Anji, a jealousy that points to her fear of failure, to really wanting to fit in with the Doctor and Fitz. Plus the book hints at a dark past for the character, one that is bound to creep out in future books. Needless to say she now has a hook, Trix is very troubled in a very different way from New Ace and Sam (thank God!), rather than the spoilt brats of the past here we have a dangerous personality, aggressive emotions bubbling under the surface and waiting to burst free. We haven't seen anyone this unpredictable in the TARDIS since Leela, let's see where she takes us...

Despite using the regulars very effectively, the book enjoys an engaging number of secondary characters that glow from the pages. Camalee occasionally threatens to fall into the 'potential companion' trap (you know, the 'Oh I wish I could come with you and escape my ever so dull life') but she is faithful and opinionated and about halfway through I decided I would quite like to see her leave at the end. Her presence in the Doctor's amnesiac life is welcome; she continually slaps him around the face (with words) and reminds him of what is important. Her monkey Nessus is terrific rather than sickeningly cute, he provides one of the best twists in later chapters, proving surprising and tragic. Imperator Tannailis has a wonderful line in insults, especially towards his horrid wife ("Horse cack!" was my favourite!) and while his presence in the book is rather superfluous early on he is nevertheless very funny to be around ("It was a beautiful day until you dragged your raddled old carcass in here!"). I am pleased that during the furious climax Michalowski does not forget his characters and provides a fitting end for each of them. Alinti and Trove, a memorable pair of nasties get a fitting send off! The plot bubbles with mysteries and the characters are written very entertainingly to divert you from the answers.

These positive words might lead you to think this is a perfect book, I don't believe in such a thing and while this does follow Michalowski's promising debut with something even stronger he once again gets ponderous in the middle chapters. It is frustrating because the Doctor and Fitz, the only ones who can give us answers to all the strange things going on in Espero have both lost their memory. It feels as though a lot of weird things are happening without a reason and the characters are just meandering until the answers turn up. Admittedly this it is hysterical meandering with the Doctor smoking, eyeing up women and swearing like a trooper but even so I was happier when events started to fall into a more cohesive whole. I also take objection to some of the heavier swearing in the book, a lot fresher than the 'cruks' from the NAs but they were cropping up all over the place. For such a fun book this seems like some annoying stabs of reality.

The last third is the best of the book and some very imaginative ideas are exposed. I loved the answer to what was happening to the ground of Espero and just what came down in the first chapter. Its great to see the book range using such BIG SF ideas again and it helps give the book a fresh feel after the heavy realism of recent books. Events come to a head in style; there are moral dilemmas, anguished characters, fights, deaths, rebirths and character confrontations... the whole kitten caboodle! Like Sometime Never... the future looks bright and with some intriguing talk of regeneration, memories and re-unions, there is still plenty of life left in this series.

It is the first book to be published since the news that the EDAs will be coming to an end as a series, Halflife reminds us that the 8th Doctor range isn't all arc plots and angst. Sometimes adventuring can just be a laugh and this is perfect therapy to anyone who has been put off of late. The book is a laugh riot with a serious message, the past is good (of which there are some marvellous kisses to) but what is happening now is just as fab.

Brilliant entertainment and the best look at the Doctor and Fitz by miles.

Supplement, 5/8/05:

Reasons to enjoy Halflife...

Reasons to dislike Halflife...

A Review by Finn Clark 25/6/04

There's a lot to enjoy in Half Life. I like its world. I like its easy readability. I even like its characters, despite an uninspiring start. (I don't care about Joshua, I want Trix dead, I'm not even supposed to like Alinti, etc.) The Signal From Fred on p160 has a certain amount of truth, but I kinda liked Calamee, Sensimi and the Imperator. I was happy to read about them, anyway.

Unfortunately it's an 8DA. I'm imagining the anguished telephone call. "An 8DA starring who? That's very, um... couldn't I just write it as a PDA? No, any era. Absolutely any era. Or maybe a flashback 8DA with the Congenital Idiot and Sam Jones? I'd even let you stick forks in my eyes. Yes, I know I missed the Alternate Universe Arc and, yes, I'm very grateful, but..."

The 8th Doctor gets amnesia. Yes, again. You know, because it was so thrilling the first, second, third, etc. times. In fact this is extremely well handled and is the kind of thoughtfulness we desperately needed in early 2001, but by now I've fallen through "not caring" into active derision. There's an impressive rationalisation of the Doctor's attitude on p128, but we all know the real reason why he doesn't want his memories back. The editor hath spoken. I couldn't ask for a better exploration of the Doctor's feelings about his amnesia, but I'd have preferred an exploration of something I want to read about. The whole thing's a bit crap and has been for years now.

Trix is, um. Yeah, well. There's an exciting bit on p244 where we think she's going to die, but unfortunately the Doctor saves her. I had to laugh at the dramatic climax where either: (a) the Doctor must let Trix die, or (b) get his memories back. What, can't we have both? [No, I won't tell you how that gets resolved.] Oh, and on p99 we learn that Trix doesn't usually 'do kids'. So now you know.

Fitz is still here too. Why?

There's fannishness, as in Relative Dementias, this time manifesting itself through sad squeaking references to other books. It's like a Gary Russell novel, except that it's reminding us about last year's stories instead of last century's. This backfires most spectacularly with the name of the planet: Espero. Half Life is littered with nods to other people's planets and I was going crazy trying to recall where I'd previously seen the name "Espero". After I'd finished the book, I realised I was misremembering "Hyspero" from The Scarlet Empress.

This links into a self-referential knowingness that I wasn't wild about. There's the aforementioned Signal From Fred, characters use the term 'technobabble' and the Doctor describes a flashback sequence as a "previously on..." (you know, as in Buffy or Angel). Maybe other people find this cute. I don't.

All that said, this is a good book. It's likeable and pleasantly written, feeling more like a pre-cutback novel than a post-cutback one. I'm impressed by Michalowski's subtle treatment of what happened to Fitz and the Doctor, which I didn't pick up on for yonks despite some big clues. Calamee makes a likeable temporary companion, though she ends up being superfluous to the plot. That's true of everyone, by the way. The baddies all meet convenient fates without affecting anything. However I liked the underlying story of alien knick-knacks and various offworld powers, so the novel kept me happily reading anyway.

The book even squeezed a laugh out of me on p105. Its world feels richer and more believable than most, with history and geography instead of the usual "two factions and a corridor". In fact I'd say that Half Life's strongest feature is Espero and its culture. Michalowski's handling of the TARDIS crew is impressive, all things considered, and if only the 8DAs had been like this over the past three years I might still care about them. Recommended.

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 24/1/05

Halflife didn't have to do a lot to impress me. Coming after the "Alternative Universe/Causality Is Falling Apart/Sabbath's Employers Are Really Dull" arc, all Halflife had to do was show up, being vaguely enjoyable, and it would automatically rise above the average and set itself up as the bold look forward.

I did, in fact, find Halflife enjoyable, although I couldn't describe it as much more than mediocre. It does a lot of nice things, but it doesn't have enough of a wallop for them to be really effective. The book is successful when concentrating on the characters (I particularly enjoyed following Trix's story), but less so when forced along by its (merely adequate) plot.

For example, take the setting that we have. It's actually quite good and an effective use of world-building. I was really interested in this planet and enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second because that was the portion where much of the exploration and explanation took place. Yet, it doesn't quite ring totally true. In a nice touch, the population is made up entirely of non-white human colonists (despite the freedom that the novels allow, we still usually end up with planets populated by four to six British character actors). But somehow their society's ruling structure is based on Northern European fairy-tales (we have the evil, scheming Queen; the old, sick, kindly King; the dopey, "bad" Prince; etc).

There's a lot of other stuff that almost works, but just stops short of being really effective. Take the book's characters. When they're introduced, they're thinking, living creatures who you could imagine having lives of their own. Yet once the story gets going, they become more generic. In fact, in the later stages, I was having trouble keeping two characters separated in my mind despite the fact that in the beginning they had vastly different characteristics.

And as for the amnesia stuff that appears here again... Why is it I feel that I have more confidence in the amnesia idea than the editorial staff does? I mean, honestly, it's not that big of a deal. The Doctor's lost some -- but not all -- of his memory. This prevents him from spouting random continuity references every few paragraphs. Fine. Great. Must we keep going on defending it? If it's going to be resolved, can we get on with resolving it? If it's going to be the current state of affairs, can we not just treat it as the current state of affairs and continue forward? We aren't exploring this situation or learning more about it or doing new fascinating things with it, we're just rehashing it over and over again. Granted, Michalowski tries to make something interesting out of it, but it's an uphill fight. Moving into what seems like Year Twenty-Seven of this story element, I just can't imagine there are too many people left in the readership who even care at this point. I know I don't.

Despite my whines, this is still a decent story told simply and well. It's not the greatest book we've seen in this line, but it's head and shoulders above most of the previous story-arc. Its characters at least start off competently, and while the story may seem predictable at times, I found it absorbing the whole way through. If this is the Grand Future (at least until that Grand Future is bulldozed by the Second Rising of the New Series), then I'm warming to it. But, guys, no more amnesia waffling, okay?

Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 4/2/05

Where do I begin? How about with the amazingly obvious plot devices and plot drives to get things happening? It's likely that there are long-running repercussions from the events of this book (although, that said, it wouldn't be the first time something happened without any other author ever referring to it), but there are also some stupid rationalisations behind why other some things won't be happening. I'm going to pick on one example, because it doesn't have any repercussions and because it's partially revealed on the back cover blurb.

The event I'm talking about is the Doctor losing his memories. Yes, even the book is basically going 'again!', so you don't have to. Anyways, the Doctor needs to get his memories back, and he comes across a method of doing so (to preserve at least some spoilerage, I won't say how). But the method will enable him to get all his memories back, even the ones from before The Burning (I can understand not wanting to remember The Ancestor Cell). Of course, for the current story arc, this can't happen (that said, this would have been a good point at which to end that arc, and would fit in the whole 'let's not have a special Eighth Doctor series' deal the BBC Books will be doing). But the author (one Mark Michalowski of Relative Dementias fame) goes to extreme lengths to explain just why the Doctor only wants his current memories back, and not the long term ones. Very extreme lengths and on more than one occasion. Why? Because he wants the audience to believe this might be the right decision, because the alternative isn't allowed to happen in this arc.

(On the other hand, this does give the author an unreasonable excuse to have nothing happen in the first half of the book aside from the Doctor wondering around without memories.)

This is just one example of the stretch the author makes on more than one occasion to make this story happen. The rest of the story is some storyline that started by threatening to be another space western (what is it with space westerns that so many authors feel like they have to write them?), but fortunately slips into a concept ripped from The Pit. That's right, The Pit. And you thought it would never come back! Ha ha ha! (Hey, I liked The Pit.)

All that aside, the characters are well worth reading. Well, not really, but I wanted to say something positive. Fine, some of them are readable (such as Calamee and, to a lesser extent, Sensimi), but on the whole nasty things can happen to the others, and I'm not bothered by that at all.

The regulars get put through some changes (and 'forced through by the author' would be a better term), which could be interesting. On the other hand, it's more than enough time for a companion change, so there's a limit to how interesting they could ever be. A plot point about Trix is casually revealed that makes previous references suddenly make sense, but shame on the editor for it taking this long to be clear (I'm assuming that this plot point was intentional since, as I said, it makes other references make sense, but on the other hand, this should have been made obvious far sooner).

Halflife is a book with forced elements, and this is not a good thing. But it does at least take a story element from The Pit, and that I like.

A Trick of the Memory by Phil Fenerty 15/2/05

Halflife is a difficult book to review. It took me about 6 weeks to read (the longest time it's taken me to read a Doctor Who novel in a while), not because I wasn't enjoying it, but when I was half-way through (appropriately enough), my first child was born. So reading the second half of the novel (mostly on a business trip when I was travelling) was a little confusing, and I had to flip back and review earlier chapters to be sure what was going on.

Which, in a way, was also appropriate.

For the first time since, probably, Escape Velocity, the Doctor's amnesia has been a central part of a book. All through the various encounters with Sabbath and the Alternate Universes, the Doctor has been able to operate on his own terms. Whilst there have been flashes of his past (Camera Obscura, for example, which is referenced in the text), it has been left lurking in the background, waiting for the moment to strike.

And here, in Halflife, the Doctor's past comes back to haunt him.

Halflife is, at its core, a book about identity, about how the past can shape the present person. This is true not just of the Doctor, but also of Fitz, Trix, the colony on Espero and (specifically) the town of Sairossa. Virtually all of the main players in the book (with the possible exception of the mysterious Mr Trove) are shown as being moulded by what has happened in the past, and how it has affected them.

This is most obviously illustrated in the way that the Doctor, when offered a chance to regain his entire stock of memories, is less than enthusiastic. There are things he simply does not want to know he knew, as if the amnesia has given him the chance to live life on his own terms rather than carry around a lifetime's worth of accumulated memory.

Fitz's identity is also addressed, with the events of Interference being referenced. As the range comes to a close, it is a neat reminder that he, too, has been regenerated in the past, and that his memory is not what it was when he joined the Doctor.

The other interesting identity is the Espero colony. Originally human descendants, they left behind some of the technological trappings of the past and embraced religion (that the religion has become less unified and split into factions is a comment on the way Humanity uses belief for its own, rather than their God's ends, although it might also represent the fractured nature of the Doctor's past life). Michaelowski also uses Espeo to comment on the workings of British democracy, and the place of the Constitutional Monarchy in a modern society. The Sairossan ruling family contains a devious matriarch, a weak-willed son and an intelligent (if bored) daughter, headed by an ancient Imperator - who, despite his age, still manages to keep his finger on the pulse and his ear to the ground. The Imperator is an entertaining diversion within the book, haughty and grounded at the same time, and his range of invective is imaginative. Of all the guest cast in the novel, he is the most likeable.

Fitz and Trix are both served well, with the former learning more about his past than he knew previously, and the latter being better characterised than in any other novel. Trix, previously able to use disguise to blend into the background, is here thrust into the public gaze by her differences with the general populace. This forces her to address her own sense of identity, and allows us to assess the character without the usual trappings of disguise and subterfuge.

The Doctor and Fitz are affected by an Event at the start of the book which is only fully explained near the end. Hints as to its nature are dotted throughout the narrative, and whilst the resolution may not, to astute readers, be the surprise Michaelowski had hoped for, it is shocking to realise exactly what had occurred and its implications.

The end-phase of the book highlights the identity theme running through it, with a conflict between individuality and conformity taking place, and with the future of the entire planet at stake. The novel delivers a punch at the climax, and provides the Doctor with a tantalising dilemma. It is to Michaelowski's credit that there is no attempt to "blur" the Doctor's actions, rather the ending is clearly defined and shows exactly how it was achieved.

Entertaining throughout, Halflife is a prime example of just how good an EDA can be once freed from the constraints of an on-going story arc. There are no creaking plotlines to be shoehorned in, and, although dealing heavily in past events, allows them to stand alone within the confines of the book. Certainly one of the best EDA's of recent times.

Overall: Memorable.

Some responses to Halflife by Phil Ince 28/7/05

I enjoyed this book but I'm uneasy about it and find it severely flawed. On a first reading, I also felt I'd missed 'the point'.

The uneasiness comes from the Doctor's concluding decision to remain amnesiac. The flaws lie in the lack of influence of the world on which the TARDIS has landed upon the plot; only a single, convenient element is selected (this world's dissociation from its past), intending to create a novel about memory and forgetting. However, the intent is undermined by a lack of exploration of this world - it has the ambition of an Ursula le Guin novel (Left Hand of Darkness, for example) but is too disparate and frivolous to achieve its aim successfully for me. After a stumble in the opening chapters, Halflife has an energetic, fun surface. That surface, though, is the thinnest of veneers and - if you scratch it - the material beneath is of questionable quality.

The TARDIS has landed on Espero, a colony world established some centuries before by the Roman Catholic church. I think fairly, I presumed the church would be influential on the story but - despite being the basis of an entire society, and a society which went to some trouble to reestablish itself - ecclesiastic, theological and moral considerations seem to be nowhere present in the book.

The existence of a world predicated on a single religion would - I'd expect - result in a history of schizm, of doctrinal fighting which I don't remember sensing. Nor, that I recall, were Christian principles influential on anyone of the native's behaviours which - again - I'd have expected. If Espero was founded on religion, where was the influence of that religion in the everyday and momentary thought and actions of its people? Did their god, did Christ, did even the Church enter their heads? Did anyone stop to pray? Tell a rosary? Not that I saw.

Yet the Church's (off-stage) soldiery are referred to as a threatening force. If they're threatening, they're powerful and to be powerful the insitution in whose name they act must have been granted that power by the citizens and their government. In which case, the Church remains significantly forceful and yet ... in a society with centuries (?) of Christian tradition and teaching behind it, where are the physical and mental symbols of the Church's power and influence? Where's the 'moral fear'?

The cast of the book is remarkably small - of televisual size - given the scale of the institutions in which it deals.

The Church - overwhelming in authority - is barely present. A sole, benevolent priest.

At the Imperial Palace around which the plot revolves - Trove (an off-world bounty hunter in search of...?) is the only figure besides the Family and their single named servant Farine that we meet.

There are no advisors, no Ministers, officials of any kind. No housekeepers. No-one really to notice or intervene when unknown figures intrude. No-one really with any gumption either. Simini the teenage princess enters her father's palace with whomever she chooses (accompanied by Fitz; Trix later at her invitation). At one stage, Trove arrives to threaten the Doctor and the princess with a retinue of guards in tow. Why are these guards so biddable? Why do the soldiery follow Trove around? I didn't feel this was established. Despite the repeatedly mentioned powerlessness of the Family, the guard are either absent whilst strangers wander as they please or behave as though they're too timid to act. What are they afraid of? There seems to be a disparity between the Guard's implicit fear of interfering and the fear I'd expect amongst employees for the consequences of not doing their jobs. If the Family is as grand as is suggested by the imminent celebrations of the Imperator's birthday; if this Family is at the top of tree in the capital city of a nation, where are the servants and guardians to impede Trix and Trove? Indeed, towards the end of the book, the Imperator (alone but for a stranger to him, Trix) and the Imperatrix separately fly out into Espero's forests to take control of the situation. Halflife's ambition seems to be one of world-building and yet it has a drawing room, would-be intimate scale. Individuals vastly impact upon this world - one almost destroys, another saves it - but the book neglects to do more than reference the impact of the world upon the individuals. It fails to provide any effective context for the actions and that leaves me as a reader rather in the dark about why I should care or even be interested in what happens to Espero. It isn't a presence or force in the book and it's hard to make something so large and vague matter.

I think I've got a lot of questions for this book.

When there are two teenage girls with monkeys (Simini and Calamee - a girl the Doctor is rescued by as he flees the Palace at the start of the book) populating an active cast of only seven besides the regulars, I expect parallels or contrasts to have a purpose. I recognise that the girls do contrast, but not with a distinct pointedness. Was there 'a point'? I missed it if there was.

As an individual, Calamee is initally too articulate (in a prose-y manner) and insightful, almost parental, for me. Yet she doesn't exhibit a practical knowledge that I'd expect to necessarily accompany these attributes. She's also, as with the bulk of the cast, remorselessly selfish. Only Reo - the representative of The Makers who has come to collect Tain, a sentient, biological machine and the novel's chief protagonist -, only Reo seems to exhibit a sense of obligation to others, to a society. Everyone else is out for themselves, including - largely - the Doctor.

And so, morally, this book's a bit odd. The 'good' guys all get to live; the 'bad' all get to die. But despite being near the heart of a system which can be expected to impact on them, everyone seems to exist in a moral vacuum. In some respects, most particularly the Imperator, a man who has sufficient moral grandeur to be planning his abdication and yet who disparages his family so. "Charity begins at home". I don't hold with the (inferred) proposition that the Imperator is a 'good' guy if he speaks and acts to and of his family as he does, whatever the 'size' of the political/administrative decision he makes. Whatever the 'good' of that.

I enjoyed Halflife as a Who adventure - noted the low body count; the lack of capture and escape episodes (however this latter appears to have been achieved by simply not having anyone around the Palace to do any capturing!); it has a good energy that kept me turning the pages but, but ...

There are a number of elements in the book - Tain's story, the Doctor's, Trix's, Espero's - but personally I think I'd have like one above all to be dominant. As I reflect on it, the book may intend to be about detaching from the past but, as a new reader, the present - the world of Espero - is uppermost in my mind as I read whereas the pasts which are nominally being dissociated from are foremost in the book. To me, it's contradictory. Perhaps because I've only read one other amnesia novel, the memory matters aren't as significant or resonant for me as they will be for regular readers. Consequently, the story begins on page 1 rather than dozens of books before; I'm reading the book as standalone with references rather than a continuation of a life story (or of several life stories).

Espero is really only a setting, a backdrop, if you like. But, as a reader living in the present, I'm curious to know about this world and to know about it I need to see it living in, expressed through, motivating and inhibiting its citizens and I didn't feel I saw that and so I didn't see Espero. Espero as a world with a religious foundation didn't seem necessary to the storytelling. In that respect, it might have been any Emperor's history, anywhere on any world.

Towards the end of the book, the Doctor and Fitz are given the opportunity to recover their lost memories and this is the (late) hub of the book. Fitz takes the offer up but the Doctor declines. I wasn't persuaded by the Doctor's rationale for this. A lengthy simile likens his condition - and the choice to retain it - with moving house. Other people might not choose to live with him, the Doctor suggests, if they knew who he was. He may be fearful of who he was or what he's done, I accept that. But the implication of that is that he only regards himself and therefore others as being what they choose or decide themselves to be. That's a bit whimsical as an attitude to something so fundamental.

If - in his own mind - he may be someone or have done something that he wouldn't like, I don't see how simply choosing to forget it makes him any better? Whatever he did is still done. Whatever he isn't able to remember, he's still the person that did it - only less so. Isn't he?

Not only may he be someone or have done something that he doesn't choose to remember but in doing so he deprives himself of the insight not to do it again. Mistakes only become failures if we fail to learn from them and the Doctor - at present - is in collosal denial and, by implication, collosally dangerous.

Is the Doctor a mature person? Morally and emotionally, is he mature? I'd expect a sign of his maturity to be a confrontation with and of himself. If he's aware or fearful of deficiencies in himself, how does he grow if he doesn't acknowledge and accept them? How does he know himself and thereby know his mistakes won't be repeated? On the evidence of this book, of his electing for amnesia, I'd say that he isn't mature.

Separately in relation to choosing amnesia, it strikes me as reprehensibly self-centred. "I matter more than what I've done or what has happened to me, regardless of that occurence's impact on others. I'm what matters."

To make a parallel. I understand that Miranda was his daughter and that she has died and the book refers to the pain of that loss for the Doctor. It's explicit albeit off-stage that he's grieving.

But imagine and then make Miranda the subject of the amnesia - would you expect the Doctor to choose to forget he had a daughter so that he could forget he'd lost her? Wouldn't you feel that was a terrible cruelty? Would you respect a man who elected to abolish a child altogether from his memory because she'd died. Wouldn't that be an unforgiveable betrayal? Because the only compassionate alternative I can make to that harsh statement is to regard him as mentally ill. Choose.

Whatever the difficulty of dealing with the choices our lives offer us, isn't acknolwedging, accepting and learning about ourselves and the wider world, learning from what we've done and what's done to us the only way to live, to understand? Everything else is a specimen of death.

Jonathon Blum quoted Philip Segal's proposition that the Doctor is an explorer rather than a hero (whatever 'a hero' might be). I'd agree with that. But are there some pretty serious and consequential limits to his explorations? Himself, for example.

What knowledge can he gather, what morality can he propound, how can he ask others to supercede their instincts, natures, characters when he doesn't acknolwedge it as a possibility for himself? "Do as I say, not as I do" is a common explication of hypocrisy, isn't it? Does this Doctor have no faith in the ability of beings to learn and change? By his own complacency, that can be inferred.

Reading several Who books lately, the question arose for me, is the Doctor interesting? There are restrictions upon him as a character presented by the range's understandable difficulty in consistently managing developments in it when so many hands are separately presenting him. For my own purposes, the question's been answered and the answer - in response to some of the statements above - is "Yes. He is now".

The amnesia, far from being dealt with by Halflife has been emphasised as the Doctor's intent. He's choosing to forget, choosing not to know. He has, in effect, a selective memory.

"A selective memory" - not a phrase generally applied to flatter.

If amnesia, forgetting, not recognising, not reflecting, not knowing is the current basis of this character, it impacts on his status as explorer. His journey isn't one of the self; there are things he refuses to know and to refuse them he's now evading them. He's in denial.

Storing up trouble for himself, my father would have said.

Is he interesting? Damn right. He's back at a Hartnell-ian level of selfishness - "I won't inspect myself because I mightn't like what I see; my actions may impact on others but I don't want to know about it and will go to (what?) lengths to avoid knowing". How will this man now react if someone tries to force the knowledge into him?

From my current knowledge of this man, I can't view him as an explorer. Exploration may be incidentally what he does but he strikes me much more powerfully as primarily a refugee, in flight. But where can someone running from themselves find sanctuary?

This man is unwell. He's become neurotic. What's he going to do next? Choosing your memories and self-knowledge is a @#%$ dangerous business. It's saying, "I'm who I decide I am" and yet arises from "I'm afraid of who I am". There's a profound contradiction within him.

The anti-amnesiacs who are just anti because they don't like the change or what's been lost with it, I can't find I sympathise with. But those who say, "The amnesia isn't something we can forget about; the amnesia is a presence in itself. It's not about what's absent" - those people I'm in complete agreement with.

If the amnesia is solely a deck-clearing manoeuvre, it's dazzlingly ineffective because it requires amnesia on the part of the readership to work. But if it can be taken up and acknowledged as a development in itself, it's something stupendous and drags the character of the Doctor forward and down to somewhere black and terrible.

The countdown's on for the 8th Doctor novels because of the new television series. Juggernaut that the range is - it seems unlikely that the implicit consequences of the amnesia for the Doctor, for those he knows and meets, and for the audience can be dealt with in any very thorough or sophisticated way in the little time that's left. But ...

... is this Doctor interesting now? As a specific consequence of Halflife?

Damn right, he is!