The Awakening
The Curse of Fenric
BBC Books
The Hollow Men

Authors Keith Topping and
Martin Day
Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books page
ISBN# 0-563-40582-1
Published 1998
Continuity Between
The Curse of Fenric and Survival

Synopsis: The Doctor and Ace arrive at the village of Hexen Bridge at the beginning of the 21st century. There they discover powerful forces are at work, both within and outside the village.


A Review by Leo Vance 13/7/98

Martin Day's first Doctor Who novel, The Menagerie was well plotted and poorly written. The Devil Goblins from Neptune was much more effective, with an entertaining story, and competent writing combining. Here, unfortunately, Day and Topping fail to pull off a second success.

The characters are all quite forgettable, and the vicar's daughter is a poorly written villain, although the government minister is more effective. Jack i' the Green fails to be interesting, and lots of the plot is predictable. The failure to invoke the effectiveness of The Awakening or even of Season Twenty-Six disappoints though.

The Doctor is well written, and his relationship with the police is excellent. Ace falls below reasonable, and the innkeeper fails to be interesting.

The prose is not good, the setting is dull, and the plot is boring. The Hollow Men themselves come off quite effectively though, showing that while BBC Books is now degenerating into slightly more mediocre stories (Kursaal) it still uses its monsters well.

The racism subplot fails here. Whereas in Remembrance of the Daleks racism was used intelligently, The Hollow Men does not reciprocate this effectiveness. The less than realistic sci-fi plot is not really suitable for 1989 either.

Overall, a dull and uninteresting read, but with enough good points to save it from becoming a complete disaster. 4.5/10

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 30/8/01

The Hollow Men is great fun, harking to the more traditional era of televised Doctor Who. The walking dead in the form of Scarecrows, an isolated village whose inhabitants become sterile if they leave and the mysterious Jack i'the Green all form the basic ingredients of the plot. Throw in the Seventh Doctor and Ace and you have the recipe. The setting of the book and indeed its inhabitants instantly make you think of The Daemons and The Awakening, although this is more ambitious. Keith Topping and Martin Day seem intent on exploring Ace's darker side here as she spends much of the book isolated from The Doctor. It's an interesting take on realism in British society and if it's based on the authors own experiences (which I suspect it might be) then The Hollow Men works all the better for it.

Worzel Gummidge 2 -- The Revenge by Marcus Salisbury 21/10/02

In small towns, people take the weirdest things for granted. Examples of this strange-but-truism abound in popular culture. Any number of X-Files episodes are based on this premise, and Stephen King's novels generate an annual profit equivalent to the combined GDP of several Third World nations... all because of the basic idea that there are Nasty Things lurking around the woods in Maine. My personal favourite is still the bizarre 1970s film "The Cars that Ate Paris", in which the locals in a small Australian outback town engineer car wrecks for fun. (Stick an alien menace into that plot, and you'd have an interesting PDA, methinks).

Topping and Day's PDA The Hollow Men is in a similar vein to Stephen King's vignettes of rustic New England life with Killer Klowns/ vampires/whatever. The book is a sequel of sorts to the fine 1985 two-parter The Awakening, in which a misfired alien weapon (Hakolian, to be exact), known as the Malus, warps the fabric of time in a small English town, Little Hodcome, in which a civil war re-enactment is being staged.

The Hollow Men continues the Hakolian story thread, with the idea that The Awakening's Malus was simply the advance probe -- the main one, calling itself "Jack in the Green" for some reason, came down nearby in a spot called Hexen Bridge, and has since influenced some quaint local customs. Like the dismemberment of selected locals and their conversion to scarecrows who do "Jack's" bidding. Wow... killer scarecrows. I suppose making this a 3rd Doctor PDA would have piled on the "Worzel Gummidge" irony with a shovel. ("Hang about Aunt Sally, I has to get me murderin' head on before we goes out"). This is, to me, the least digestible element of The Hollow Men: murderous scarecrows are somewhat hackneyed, although the "conversion" process is quite well done and all the more effective for being kept largely in the background. Jack in the Green itself is done very well indeed, however, being a Gestalt comprising Hakolian killing machine and centuries of assimilated victims. For once, we have a really alien alien, as opposed to a ranting mad scientist, or yet another Thing with Tentacles.

The title The Hollow Men is one of those good ideas that was probably killed by copyright, insofar as directly quoting the TS Eliot poem on its title page would have made Faber and Faber more money out of this book than Topping and Day. So the intertextual connection of this PDA to lines such as "we are the hollow men.../headpiece filled with straw, alas" is, unfortunately, academic. This is a shame, as the Eliot poem clearly forms a key sub-text of the novel: the "Hollow Men" gathered together in a desolate, infertile place and performing futile rituals ("here we go round the prickly pear..."). Instead, the novel's epigram is a typically trite aphorism from Margaret Thatcher that is, I suppose, consistent with the novel's setting.

The desolate place in Topping and Day's novel is Hexen Bridge, and the rituals owe something to "The Wicker Man" (another film in the don't-stop-in-this-town vein described above), but fertility, death and renewal are key themes in The Hollow Men, which is consistent with Doctor Who's final televised season. Think of Battlefield, Fenric, Ghost Light and especially Survival: they're all about the loss of old lives, the shedding of old skins, and the beginning of new existences, the latter two stories in particular. (This is wholly ironic, given that the series was quietly put to sleep by the BBC after this season was televised).

The Hollow Men is a fine recreation of the latter days of the McCoy era. This period in the show's history was surely one of its finest, and carried the Doctor-companion relationship to a genuinely deep level. (Certainly deeper than if they'd just shared a tongue sandwich a la the TV movie). If this season's directors had only turned the bloody lights down... well, OK, this happened in Ghost Light, but the bright hi-gloss look ruined Battlefield. The Hollow Men is a truly dark story, however. Much of the action happens at night, and your imagination is not affected by overtime for night filming, or bright studio arc lights.

Topping and Day have created an interesting set of supporting characters, also. The locals in Hexen Bridge are well-drawn characters, who all benefit from being given a little back-story. In the prologue, we are introduced to a strange young boy named Kenny Shanks, an "alternative Ace" as previous reviewers have astutely noted. The mature Shanks ends up as one of Jack in the Green's human servants, a drug dealer who plans to introduce a vat full of Hakolian-modified genetic material into Liverpool's water supply. Shanks is working on behalf of Defence Minister Matthew Hatch, also a tool (and later avatar) of Jack in the Green. Shanks ends up killed by a policeman whose daughter he has goaded into suicide... and the Doctor has already apologised to the boy Shanks for causing his death.

The Doctor himself is very true to the later McCoy period: this isn't the Wally-of-the-week of Time and the Rani, or the guilt-ridden Prozac case of Room with No Doors, but a masterful manipulator of pre-established outcomes. His conversations with the boy Shanks, for instance, happen after the events of the novel. Therefore, the Doctor is engaged in a massive piece of "backmapping", to ensure the events in the novel occur in the way causality intended. Time's Champion, indeed. Ace is also well presented, albeit kept in Hexen Bridge for much of the story while the Doctor races around England defeating Hatch's best-laid plans.

The persona of the Seventh Doctor was outstanding, and only truly developed in the Virgin NAs. Depending on where you stand, this was either because the show was yanked off air unceremoniously and didn't give Sylvester McCoy half a chance to develop the character (as with Colin Baker), or McCoy as a performer wasn't up to the acting involved in filling such a demanding role. I'm still not sure about this. In technical terms, McCoy's enunciation wasn't exactly up to Tom Baker standards (which screwed up Ghost Light in particular), but that doesn't matter in a PDA. Maybe this is why the Seventh Doctor is such a tremendous success on paper: playing the part on-screen would ultimately have required a Rolls-Royce actor such as Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gambon or Geoffrey Rush (now there's a thought). As it is, casting is not an issue, and the Seventh Doctor is as multi-faceted as you please.

While the Seventh Doctor is certainly one of the best features of The Hollow Men, the underlying baddies, the Hakolian civilisation, are left a tad underdeveloped. A PDA (or even 8DA) exploring the Hakolian culture of terror might be an interesting read. I found the idea of a species that uses fear and its embodiment for commercial purposes a fascinating notion and one particularly relevant given present-day concerns.

I suppose a lot depends on your agreement with the premise that an old idea retold well makes for a fine Doctor Who story. I think it does, and there is certainly much evidence for this in the franchise's history. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking in The Hollow Men. It's just a simple story with a compact, contained plot and well-defined characters. Killer scarecrows, sinister midnight rituals, and poisoned water supplies have all been done before, but Topping and Day work these triple-tested ingredients into a skilfully crafted recreation of the McCoy era.

A Review by Brett Walther 16/7/03

Corn fields can be very scary. I remember playing in them on my dad's farm as a kid. It's very easy to get lost in them, the tassling green stalks towering far above; so a rule was established that we could venture into the field so long as we never lost sight of the farm's silos as a point of reference. I broke this rule once, and found myself completely disoriented, the rustling of the leaves becoming a chorus of sinister whispers.

Somehow I doubt that Keith Topping and Martin Day have ever set foot in a corn field, because The Hollow Men is simply not scary.

The tragedy is that it's meant to be scary. There are murderous scarecrows and flailing alien tentacles aplenty, but there's very little suspense generated. It's too caught up in delivering fast and furious action, whether it be hand-to-hand combat between Ace and the Scarecrows, or a bunch of teenagers being massacred at a gas bar, at the expense of the illustration and speculation that's so key to establishing an atmospheric thriller. There's just not enough description of creepy corn fields, of the domain of Jack o' the Green, or of the Scarecrows themselves to elaborate on the threat they present.

The mysteries are there, and the two prologues are wonderful, promising something really special. Unfortunately, as I've mentioned, the chills that are promised amount to nothing, and the means by which the Scarecrows and their master are defeated in the rushed conclusion is risible.

There's only one white-knuckle bit in the whole book, in which Ace wakes up from sleep to hear the cries of a child being abducted on the village green. What's going on? Who are the kidnappers? Why is the landlord of the pub she's staying at so intent on preventing Ace from looking out the window to see what's happening? It's a terrifying sequence, and only serves to show how the rest of the book should have been written.

The lack of atmosphere might also be down to the fact that the supporting characters are thoroughly repulsive. Although a few characters are occasionally sympathetic, they are ultimately a despicable lot. Rebecca is two-faced, Trevor is an arms dealer with no conscience, Steven is an adulterous wimp, and the couple who runs the pub have just walked off the Jerry Springer set. It's nearly impossible to care what happens to these people.

On the other hand, Ace and the Seventh Doctor are superb. This book made me seriously nostalgic for Sylvester and Sophie's team, and that's saying a lot for me, after years of the Virgin line made me hate both of their characters. I love the notion of the Doctor establishing himself across several regenerations as a board member of a school in a town in which he's sensed something alien. The early bits in which they read up on the town of Hexen Bridge at a library before making their presence known are wonderful, and brilliantly capture the rapport that Sylvester and Sophie shared on screen.


A Review by Finn Clark 21/3/04

By light-years the best novel with either Keith Topping or Martin Day's name on the cover. The Hollow Men is many things, not least the scariest horror novel yet published under the Doctor Who logo - a feat which it accomplishes almost by accident. It's an angry book, showing its political roots (see the quote on page zero) but using them to talk about human nature instead of party politics. Its apparently arbitrary setting of 2008 (publication date 1998) lets it tell a story about the grown-up children of the eighties ("Thatcher's children" someone says at one point) but that's only a resonance. It matters thematically, but on a nuts-and-bolts level this is the story of Hexen Bridge and Jack-in-the-Green.

Hexen Bridge is the English equivalent of Stephen King's tiny American towns where Something Is Wrong. John Wyndham seems to be an influence too. We've seen plenty of sleepy villages in Doctor Who, but this one is more rotten than you could imagine. It's oppressive, claustrophobic and populated by the scariest monsters in the world - bad people. (It has horror movie scarecrows too, which could have popped the book's atmosphere like a balloon but in fact enhances it.) It's the contrast which gives this book its power... relentless evil in an everyday village setting where everyone knows everyone else. It's detailed, well realised and horribly convincing.

This will be one of my shorter reviews, simply because in its own claustrophobic way The Hollow Men is just about perfect. I think it's great. What more can I say? Long John and Henry the village idiot are distracting for anyone who remembers rec.arts.drwho in 1998, but otherwise I can hardly think of anything I'd want to change. The authors use 17th century history (1685 to be precise) and the nastier bits of English folklore to produce a heady brew that culminates in one of the more surreal apocalypses I can remember. Perhaps the climax could have done with longer scenes to help the atmosphere (towards the end it's cut almost like an action movie), but I admired the strange touches like the Wild Hunt, the Angel of Mons and the butterflies.

The 7th Doctor and Ace are just right for the story and perfectly drawn. If Ace was always this good I'd have no problem with her, while I particularly loved the Doctor's bookending scenes at the school. This isn't a Big Ideas story of the kind everyone remembers, but a hugely underrated chiller that deserves far more attention than it gets. Okay, it's another "alien in an English village" story, but it's hard to imagine a better example of the genre. Most impressive.

Last Night, I Dreamed I Went To Manderley Again... by Matthew Harris 29/3/04

Oh. This book's good. How did that happen?

Having just finished Catch-22 and its sequel Closing Time (which isn't as good, but is well worth checking out - especially for the eerily prescient bits with the President), plus the Catcher in the Rye and the final part of the Riverworld Series (I am Newsnight Review), I decided the next work I should tackle would be Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier. But then I stopped off at this place and read Finn Clark's review up there. Before he stuck his oar in there were only four reviews, one of them somewhat positive. Then Clark turns up and says "in its own claustrophobic way The Hollow Men is just about perfect". And what with Clark having got a reputation as the Roger Ebert of Doctor Who, it made me reconsider.

I'd got The Hollow Men two Christmasses ago in a bundle of other books from 1998 and 99, including Face Of The Enemy, Deep Blue, The Janus Conjunction, Seeing I. A second-hand store in Plymouth's selling them in clumps (they still were when I looked a few months ago). Anyone want to check out the low point of BBC Books: come, come hither and see.

I say "low point" - that's the generally held notion. Certainly the EDAs ran the gamut from "Meh" to "Get this thing OFF my shelf", with the exception of Seeing I and possibly Alien Bodies ("possibly" because it's on the cusp on 1997, not because it's not great). But the PDAs...well, they also ran that gamut, but they also also threw up some quietly terrific books. Face Of The Enemy, anyone? Even Deep Blue had some magnificent pose, even if it was at the service of a "Meh" plot (albeit a faintly gratuitously gruesome one). And of course The Hollow Men. So anyway: I'd already started Rebecca, but I decided, what the hell, I can read The Hollow Men at the same time. It's only a Doctor Who book. And it's just Keith Bloody Topping and Martin Sodding-Well Day, how much strain will that be?

So, then. "Last night, I dreamed I went to Manderley again." Wait, let's get as much of the easy one out of the way first. "To some, the moon was the face of an ancient witch, pale against a thunderous sky." Oo. Not as good as our Daphne, but it's one of the more ominous starts I've seen to a Doctor Who book. Not bad. Hey - there's two prologues! Ah, sod it, might as well read that before going back to Daphne.

Not long after, Rebecca's sitting unloved beside my bed, glaring bitterly at a book whose unread page count is going down faster all the time. Look at the date after Mr Clark's review. Compare with the one after mine. There's only a few days in it as I write. When I finished the book, it was a grand total of five. Five days. It's Topping and Day; it's an easy read in terms of prose. It's partly simplicity - it's in four episodes, for heaven's sake! Usually that's anathema to me: if you're going to write a novel, write a novel, damn it - but also, and this is why I can forgive the this-could-have-been-on-television-you-know structure, partly because THINGS HAPPEN that YOU HAVE TO FIND OUT ABOUT NOW! It's the sort of book described as "unputdownable" by Good Housekeeping. On that level, it's an easy read. But on the important one, it may be the uneasiest read a PDA's ever given us while remaining (mostly) broadcastable - at least up to the frankly distressing climax.

Fact one: scarecrows are scary. Really. Take a look at Jeepers Creepers - a sadly underrated movie, genuinely frightening early on. There's a reason the Creeper's done up to look like a scarecrow. They're scary in the same way that proper zombies are scary: they're all kinds of pathetic at first, shambling towards you spilling straw everywhere. Their heads are turnips! Turnips! They keep falling down! They're funny! Then all of a sudden they've got you by the throat and are pummelling your head and suddenly you've been killed by Worzel Gummidge. That's frightening for you. The living scarecrows - the titluar Hollow Men - follow this unwritten rule to the letter, with an extra layer of unease growing from the fact that they used to be people.

Fact two: no matter how scary scarecrows are: people are scarier. People are the scariest things ever. Especially in-bred country people. I live in the country. Everyone on my street is related to everyone else (except our family, obviously). The Hollow Men takes this cliche and exaggerates it. Hexen Bridge has had a steady birth\death rate forever. Everyone really is related to everyone else. The other thing is that Hexen Bridge is full of bad, bad, bad people. The earlier criticisms made by Brett Walther are valid: no-one's very nice, or sympathetic, so you could be forgiven for not wanting to follow them. But it wasn't a problem for me - I had the Doctor and Ace to watch, and even if the other characters aren't entirely likeable, they are at least interesting, especially considering that the dark streaks of their nature are eventually identified as being due to manipulation from Jack I' The Green - the upshot being that you can see the good people underneath at times, giving the book a certain depth of texture.

Besides, however two-faced Rebecca may be (and is), and how conscienceless Trevor may be (and is), and how weaselly Denman may be (and is), there's no way they deserve the many many (many) quite breathtakingly crap things that happen to them, including heartbreak, suicide and two, maybe three different forms of physical violation (Don't worry, this is Topping\Day, not Terrance Dicks, and the latter is handled with the exactly right kind of discreetly disturbing tact). The bases are also covered by the prologue and epilogue - one of the most nonchalantly vile characters is visited (we find out later) after the events of the book have played out for the Doctor. It's genuinely touching, especially the contrast between the rather nice kid (listens to Elgar, you know) and the drug dealing Scouse arsehole he grows into courtesy of Jack I' The Green.

Random thoughts: the First Prologue gets huge brownie points from me for featuring Judge Jeffreys, one of English history's most complete and utter bastards. He was a vindictive, possibly psychotic maniac who'd been given the power of life and death over all of you! Seriously, imagine Hindle from Kinda in 17th Century dress playing at being God, you've got Judge Jeffreys. Unfortunately, Jeffreys has been - not forgotten exactly, but marginalised a bit, so it's nice to see the git here.

The bad guy's called Matthew Hatch, and is described as having "something of the night about him". So I imagine he's to be equated with Michael Howard. Michael Howard, for those who don't know, is (since the end of 2003) the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, a man vaguely reminiscent of a sanctimonious vampire iguana. Used to be Home Secretary in the Conservative Governments of the 1990s. The point is, imagining the bad guy as Michael Howard made it that much easier to hate him.

p63/64. Is it me, or is that a shot-for-shot remake of the opening scene of State Of Decay? Also, the end of Chapter Seven made me quite genuinely upset.

The regulars are great. I could hear McCoy rolling every "R". He's a bit like the old manipulator of the NAs, but he freely admits he's dropped the ball on this one, and is therefore much more interesting. Ace is Old Normal Not-Annoying Ace, in the centre of most of the heart-pounding action sequences! while the Doctor's away talking.

Are there problems? A few. Did we really need every flaming chapter named after a song? I thought we'd got that out of our system way, way, way back with Falls The Shadow. A

lso I don't see why we needed it to be The Awakening II: Electric Boogaloo. All that Hakol bollocks annoyed me on TV (and ToppingDay do themselves no favours by reiterating all that random Terileptil stuff that's put in by Saward in one of his more "Oh, come off it, Eric" moments) - I'd much rather leave Jack as a vaguely mysterious force, though that would have been a cop-out - but it's not the explanations that are important, it's the effect. It's not that important - Jack I' The Green's just as scary as ever. I just don't see why ToppingDay needed to attach their book to Eric Pringle's old ideas.

These minor problems aside - not to mention the wholesale gittishness of the characters, which may or may not be a problem for you - this is a Good Book. If you see loads of copies of it in your local second-hand shop - and you will - and they still only have book two of Interference (why, Purple Haze? Why??) pick it up. You probably won't regret it. It's scary (without being gruesome - at least not graphically) and intelligent.

While you're about it, read Rebecca as well, it's a bloody good book. "Last night, I dreamed I went to Manderley again." Excellent. "This is true: halfway along the Strand, an hour and a dozen streets from the dead heart of London, there used to be a zoo..." Oh, no. I'm not getting sucked in there again...

A Review by Steven White 10/2/14

The Hollow Men is the second outing for the 7th Doctor in the PDA range and also the second book of the range to be written by Keith Topping and Martin Day. There first was the very first book of the range, The Devil Goblins From Neptune, which was severely lacking in my opinion. I had issue with the pointless interludes and the character-building chapters of people I just didn't care that much about. The story also took an X-Files-style swerve which ruined what, until then, had been an acceptable story. Needless to say, I was apprehensive about The Hollow Men.

As I read the first page, my heart sank as I saw the words "Prelude 1" as my brain conjured up images of yet more character-building of pointless characters and un-interesting back story. I needn't have been worried though, as the first prelude was interesting and Prelude 2 came along in no time. Prelude 2 was also interesting and set up mysteries that made me want to continue reading.

The premise of The Hollow Men is that a village called Hexen Bridge has been visited by a great evil and its residents now rarely leave, nor do many newcomers arrive. As such, there's a lot of inbreeding and sense of close-knit community. The Doctor has been visiting on and off for four lifetimes and only now are events going to take their final turn as an ancient evil stirs beneath the green.

The authors have you follow the residents of the village, most of which are up to no good and are obviously possessed with the taint of the evil beneath the village. The evil (Jack) is planning to harness the fear and terror of the people of Liverpool to grow stronger and take over the Earth, and it's using the residents to achieve this. It's all very exciting and makes for an exciting story, and the authors past misdemeanors were forgiven.

However, my joy with The Hollow Men did start to wane somewhat towards the end. Falling into the same trap as they did in The Devil Goblins From Neptune, the authors suddenly spin the entire story on its head, which changes the tone and in this case also my enjoyment. I liked the suspense of the cast's true intentions and wondering what was going on, but when it got to a psychic alien under the green and projections made physical with little to no explanation, it just got a bit too much and ruined that was up until then a very good story.

Topping and Day's writing style is a joy to read when it's about interesting people and scenarios. They have a very adult style of writing, which is absent from a lot of the PDA's. Nudity, bad language and racism are all in here, and it's done in a way you can relate to it. I also like the way the authors use modern-day entertainment in a 7th Doctor story; although hearing the Doctor reference Tubbytoast is a little odd, it just nails home that he does travel in time.

Characterwise, you know it's the 7th Doctor and Ace. They've both been done to death in book form, so they are really easy to write for. However, Topping & Day have managed to create an air of mystery around the Doctor, which was what the producers wanted from the 7th Doctor in the late 80's. You learn very early on that the Doctor has had a relationship with Hexen Bridge for over four lifetimes and you wonder why he would go to such lengths. You then realize that this ties in nicely with the manipulator image that the 7th Doctor was associated with, and you can't help but smile.

Ace is, well Ace. She gets very little to do other than blow stuff up and attack things, but you can't fault the authors for this, given the time period it was set.

The supporting cast are all a bit stereotypical but interesting nonetheless. The authors make it clear that the people of Hexen Bridge are good deep down, but all have bad traits that Jack manipulates. Hatch is the only character who is shown to be bad through and through, and only because he is being controlled by Jack.

Jack is the big baddie, and it turns out it's just an alien probe, tying into The Awakening. In my opinion, this wasn't needed; an ancient evil in the green is more than enough. Jack's Hollow Men are scary - scarecrows usually are - but Jack himself really isn't. Whilst he was an ominous presence and had a certain chilling air about him, by the time he sprouted tentacles up through the Earth and was projecting fake courtroom dramas he was laughable and I ceased caring.

In summary, The Hollow Men started off as a first-class PDA but ended as a mediocre one due to some pretty shocking plot twists. The good bits do outnumber the bad bits though and it's a far cry from the mundane The Devil Goblins From Neptune. I do feel that Topping and Day have the potential to write a 5 star Doctor Who novel, but sadly this isn't it.