THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Tenth Planet
The Invasion
Silver Nemesis
Sanctuary
Virgin Books
Iceberg

Author David Banks Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20392 5
Published 1993
Cover Andrew Skilleter

Synopsis: A companionless Doctor travels via the jade pagoda (an echo of the TARDIS) to the South Pole in 2006 where the FLIPback scheme, led by General Pam Cutler, is trying to halt the reversal of the Earth's magnetic field. Teaming up with a journalist, Ruby Duvall, the Doctor discovers the Cybermen are planning to use the FLIPback scheme to conquer the Earth.


Reviews

A Review by Keith Bennett 21/7/99

To say that at the completion of this book, I felt quite satisfied, says more for the second half than the first. David Banks reintroduces the Cybermen here, Banks himself having played the Cyberleader on television throughout the eighties, and written a book about them.

It's sort of a sequel to the first ever Cyberman story, The Tenth Planet, with Snowcap Base, twenty years after its Mondas siege, trying to stop an ecological disaster, that of the inversion of the Earth's magnetic field. In charge is General Pam Cutler, daughter of that infamous leader in the Tenth Planet story. Also, a passenger liner is cruising the Antarctic, with a young journalist on board hoping to cover the event. Deep beneath the ice of Antartica, however, the Cybermen are waiting.

This novel takes place at the same "time" as the previous, very impressive Birthright, meaning Ace and Bernice do not appear at all, but instead, we find out what the Doctor was doing during that adventure.

Eventually, anyway. The Doctor does not actually become fully involved until about three fifths into the story. The Cybermen take even longer to make their moves, and the wait is somewhat hard.

A lot of the build up takes place on the S.S. Elysium, centering on journalist Ruby Duvall. Now, in Ruby, we have a very appealling, likeable young lady but, while her time on the ship isn't badly handled, it's awfully stretched out as we wonder - is anything actually going to happen?

Relievingly, with the Doc and Cybers appearing, the story and action finally kick into gear and proves to be well worth the wait although, even then, the Cybermen are giving a slightly distanced approach. Having said that, they do generate a somewhat more chilling image than they did in several T.V. stories. Also, Banks interest in Ruby grows so much that the Snowcap personal that he introduces early in the book tend to fade into the background the further the adventure goes on. Did Pam Cutler everntually find out what really happened to her father?

In Ruby Duvall, however, we have a very appealling heroine, and the continual following of events from her point of view proves successful. Overall, David Banks overcomes his laboured, don't-rush-me pacing of the story by the style of his own writing. 7/10


A Review by Reuben Herfindahl 5/11/99

Iceberg catches one off guard. On the one hand it really doesn't feel like Doctor Who in the begining, then halfway through it switches pace and really gets a "classic" who feel to it.

Iceberg took me a bit longer to read for one simple reason. There is no Doctor until page 113. Most of the action (or lack of it) revolves around 21 year old reporter Ruby Duvall. Banks does a fairly good job of building up the charecter, but the question is: why? Ruby is built up like a companion to be. There may be some "hidden" story behind this, but not one that comes through in the book.

The Doctor's characterization is pretty good. It feels like a cross between the Season 24 and 25 McCoy. My take on it is that the Doctor is more based on "the real McCoy" and less on the telvevised character as Banks has worked often with McCoy after Who's cancellation and prior to the publishing of this book.

As soon as the Doctor enters the story, it changes gears as well as feel. The Cybermen left over from The Tenth Planet are back and are planning to use the bodies of people on a cruise ship to convert to Cybermen. This is timed to coincide with the reversal of the Earth's magnetic poles, which will cause civilization to collapse. Of course, the project meant to combat this resides in the old polar base seen in The Tenth Planet. The story also heralds the birth of the Cybercontroller (evolving from the controller we saw in Invasion). Banks has fun with the Cybermen. He has an excellent grasp of their history and all the contradictions within televised Who. For example, he has the Doctor getting confused about whether these Cybermen are vulnerable to gold or not (he makes a poke at Revenge of the Cybermen in doing so).

Once the story wraps up we get a nice bit of Timeflightish fun with Ruby going to join the Doctor and just missing the TARDIS (Jade Pagoda, whatever). Her reaction is pretty much the same as Tegan's.

Overall, pretty good. One gets the feeling that Banks would have been a great Target author. The first 100 pages feel like filler material for the rest of the novel. I enjoyed it enough despite this that I would definitely pick up another one of his books if he ever did one for the BBC.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 6/8/02

What a surprise it was for a book written by a TV actor to actually turn out quite well. When I first realized that Iceberg was written by the actor who portrayed the Cyberleader in various 80s stories, and featured those nefarious Doctor Who villains, I went in not expecting much at all. Actually, that's not entirely true; I expected the book to be absolutely awful. I expected the book to be utterly wrapped up in boring theories about how the various Cyberman stories linked together. I expected a lot of dull rubbish involving Cyberleaders marching around giving orders to uninteresting Cyberunderlings. Boy, was I wrong.

Apart from some Cyberhistory at the very beginning of the story, the plot rattles along for quite some time without the Cybermen becoming overly involved. This allows David Banks to slowly begin with details about the supporting characters. Despite the very leisurely pace, I was never bored by any of the actions. Indeed, as the story progressed, I found myself very interested in what was being built up around these people, especially Ruby the undercover journalist (she probably would have made a fine companion, though having two in a row who were named after Wizard of Oz references possibly would have been stretching things a little).

More than anything, I was quite impressed by the quality of the writing. I assumed that since Banks was primarily known as an actor that he probably wasn't terribly adept at the art of weaving sentences together. But that isn't the case here. True, there are a few places where Banks walks on just the wrong side of pretentiousness, but for the most part I found his writing style to be quite appealing. The plot gets a little rushed at the end, but after the deliberate pace of the beginning, I enjoyed the more frantic parts of the conclusion. Still, there probably could have been a little more care taken in having the plot reveal itself in a controlled manner.

The awaited return of the Cybermen actually turned out surprisingly well. There are a handful of information dumps to bring the uninformed reader up to speed, but they don't become too overwhelming. In many ways, this is a sequel of sorts to two of the 60's Cyberman stories, however it certainly isn't a case of just pulling all the same old characters out of mothballs to do the same things they did in the first story. Instead we merely have echoes of those stories appearing in this one. We meet people who were affected by previous events, but who didn't actually appear before. This is an effective way of drawing in the previous tales without treading over the same ground. Kudos to David Banks for pulling this off so skillfully.

While the book is primarily an action-adventure, there are more than enough little moments of introspection to keep the reader interested. The theme of dehumanization that has been present in so many other Cyberman stories is also on display here, but there is enough of a new spin on the old idea to keep it from feeling tired. There are also little nods and references to other stories in various mediums, and I was quite amused at every Wizard of Oz joke that would pop up. On the other hand, there are numerous places which would appear to betray Iceberg as being a terribly cynical book. The view of Earth's near-future is a grim one, with environmental disatsers looming, and death and disease rampant. Yet, at the very end there's a simple statement of hope that substantially alters the final tone of the piece. It's very simplistic, and it doesn't get a lot of the focus of the book, but I found it to be effective, especially given the exact placing in terms of what had come before in the narrative.

All in all, Iceberg was a bit of a surprise for the first time I read it, and again during my recent reread. The Cybermen return with a lot of menace, and are just as ominous on the page as they were on television.


A Review by Finn Clark 21/1/04

That was an odd little book. Iceberg isn't bad at all, but it's remarkable more for what it is than for the words on its pages. If you don't count Harry Sullivan's War, it's the only original Who novel written by an actor from the show. A few Virgin authors (and more from BBC Books) had worked alongside Sylvester McCoy in other production capacities (writer, script editor, etc.) but this is the work of someone who'd performed with Pertwee, Davison, Colin and McCoy, both on screen and stage. (And if you're being pedantic, Hurndall and Troughton too.) The Cyberleader is giving his take on the 7th Doctor. This is Bad Joke McCoy, rarely seen in the books but definitely entertaining. It's quite interesting, actually.

It's also the first futuristic NA with which history is about to catch up. (I still remember being disappointed when Cybermen failed to invade the Earth in 1979 as my Doctor Who Weekly had promised me.) One might argue that Head Games (published 1995, set in 2001) or Eternity Weeps (published 1997, set in 2003) were futuristic, but I see those more as "not quite contemporary" like the UNIT era. Iceberg is more like The Tenth Planet. Like Cat's Cradle: Warhead before it, this was the future. [The Hollow Men, published 1998 and set in 2008, is probably a borderline case.]

This is a book published in 1993 but set in 2006 with all kinds of cyberfuture details. Ruby Duvall, investigative journalist for the Sunday Seeker, tries Virtual Reality and carries around a Holocam and a Nanocom. The environment is failing, with population levels falling due to the "plague" and scientists worried about a reversal of the Earth's magnetic field. International terrorism is a significant concern (which is almost spookily prophetic). We'll have to reread this in 2006 of course, but in 2004 as a snapshot of our impending future it stands up rather well. The only bit that needs rationalising is the currency of "ecus", which I seem to remember was the 1993 equivalent of euros and so perhaps implies that Ruby Duvall thinks in terms of continental Europe.

The plot is incredibly slight. The Doctor and the Cybermen don't turn up until we're over halfway through. There's a rather silly secret on p247 which goes absolutely nowhere and is more likely to provoke mirth than anything else. The Cybermen just sort of turn up then go away again. In the hands of anyone else, this plot would be a subplot.

But to my surprise, this doesn't really matter. Iceberg's big revelation is that David Banks is a rather good writer. The first half is great, keeping one's attention throughout despite a no-show from the notional selling points. Ruby Duvall is a strong character, apparently filling the "temporary companion" role except that the Doctor sometimes seems to be her companion rather than the other way around. Also the FLIPback team in Antarctica are fun to read about, even when not much is happening. Give David Banks a crash course in plotting and I'd be keen to see another novel from him. He has a knack for character and a more interesting prose style than some authors I could name.

He also finds the Cybermen fascinating and communicates his enthusiasm. He's on-theme even when the Cybermen aren't around, often counterpointing sweaty physicality with intellectual machine logic. Iceberg is essentially a rewrite of The Tenth Planet, right down to its Antarctic base being commanded by General Cutler's daughter, but for my money does its snowbound horror better. There's something spooky about the glimpses we catch of things in the ice, while back at the FLIPback base there's eventually a touch of Carpenter's Thing chills. There's body horror, as is seemingly inevitable in Cyber-novels, but Iceberg still holds up well in that department despite not being the first to do it.

There's a Wizard of Oz thing going on (the Tin Man wants a heart, remember?) which might have felt fresher if we hadn't had Dorothy Gale etc. in the Perry-Tucker books recently. This book wasn't particularly well received back in 1993, but I reckon it's far better than its overly simple plot might lead you to think on first reading. Not at all bad.


A Review by Brian May 9/9/04

Like Andrew McCaffrey before me, I was expecting, upon reading the blurb of Iceberg, a typical Cyber-story. In other words, the silver giants up to their usual thug-like invading mischief. Seeing David Banks as the author, I also expected him to write his own portrayal of the Cyber Leader into the book, complete with many a hand-wringing "Excellent!"

To my surprise and delight, it's anything but. For the majority, the Cybermen take a back seat, and instead we have a character-based narrative. Benny and Ace are absent - they are currently experiencing, sans Doctor, their respective adventures in Birthright; but if you've just read that story, you already know they're not going to be around. What's more disconcerting is the absence of the Doctor, as we are expecting him! We're waiting to see what he was undergoing whilst his companions were in Edwardian London and future Earth. But, save for a few apocryphal chapters as he wanders through the corridors of the TARDIS, he won't be seen for more than 140 pages.

Instead, Banks gives us Ruby Duvall as the main character; it's her the narrative follows for the most part. She's the heroine, the focus of reader sympathy and also their point of reference. And she's captured on page extremely well. She's incredibly likable - almost a combination of Benny and Ace, and a bit more bearable than both of them! Even when the Doctor appears proper, he's viewed through the eyes of Ruby. Partly because of this, and partly because he's not acting like the Doctor we know (which, in recent stories, could be anything!), Ruby's thoughts filter through to the reader, creating a strong empathy.

The other central character is Pam Cutler, daughter of the obstreperous general from The Tenth Planet. Although she doesn't connect to the reader as much as Ruby, Banks still bares her thoughts and feelings. Her relationship with her father, her curiosity to find out how he died and her determination to prove herself to his memory all contribute to an interestingly crafted personality. She's excellent in summing up the situation of her charges at the STS, in particular the sexual politics (from the chapter of the same name), relates to them well, solving some delicate problems while establishing authority and respect.

The rest of the characters are subordinate to these two, but they're interesting enough. Standoffish, arrogant Mike Brack, a man with a dark secret; Ruby's travelling companions, the gaudy but decent Leslie and Barbara, and the Rupert Murdoch clone Lord Straker. They're all clearly supporting characters to Ruby, but Banks makes sure they have their unique facets. The STS crew come across less well, but some of them have their small moments (Gary and Jude).

The use of the Cybermen in this story is rather fascinating. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, it's made certain, quite early on, that this is not a typical Cyberman adventure. Like the Doctor, they hardly appear until the latter part of the book. It's a sequel of sorts to both The Tenth Planet and The Invasion - the Cyber fleet of the latter is now embedded beneath the Antarctic. Banks, who rewrote the creatures' continuity in Cybermen, takes some further steps, offering an interpretation for the evolution of the Cyber Coordinator (from The Wheel in Space and The Invasion) to the Cyber Controller. He also explains (not totally convincingly, but he at least makes the effort) the Cybermen's inconsistent allergy to gold.

Banks goes further, displaying the point of view of the Coordinator, in the form of the "logs", which are excellent; they're convincingly mechanical and dispassionate. There are also the throwbacks in the CPU of the being that was once Talaron. These memories appear fleetingly - in short paragraphs and one sentence flashes, but they're a haunting reminder of the dehumanising, identity crushing nature of the Cybermen. The ultimate goal of the Cybermen - survival at any costs - is also emphasised here. Not since The Tomb of the Cybermen had this been put to the forefront.

There is also a strong sense of body horror, examined by the televised series in only two stories: Tomb and Attack. But Iceberg goes further, playing on the fears of conversion in some distressingly graphic moments as Ruby explores the ice caves. These scenes show a gallery of the Cybermen's "spare parts", in detail that's too grisly for comfort. It's a brave idea on the part of the author, though, but it makes for very uncomfortable reading.

While the characterisations in the story are very well done, there's precious little in the way of plot. There's a basic outline - the situation regarding the FLIPback operation - but for the most part the novel meanders along rather slowly. Too slowly at times. The aforementioned character focus justifies this to an extent, but much of the time things simply go nowhere. Sometimes Banks gets purely descriptive - that's exactly when the pages slow down and become treacly. Ironically, when the story attempts to speed up at the end, with a flurry of action sequences, it's just as stilted. The Doctor suddenly becomes action hero in the caves and Ruby is endlessly chased by Cybermen through the S.S. Elysium. Plod, plod, plod. The final showdown between Time Lord and newly evolved Cyber Controller is, unfortunately, what Banks has managed to avoid until now. As a writer, he has some trouble keeping things going when he's not dependent on his characters. His prose doesn't sink to the depths of The Pit, but it's not too far off.

How about that imagery? Banks uses lots of it - in fact, he saturates the story with it. For example, the titular iceberg. Yes, there's a lot going on beneath the various surfaces, whether physical or metaphorical. But he has to remind us of it constantly! So too the Wizard of Oz references. Yes, her name is Ruby! There's a damn ruby on every other page, whether the girl, the jewel, or a ruby coloured object; the Doctor is the wizard, the heartless tin man represents the Cybermen. The S.S. Elysium's journey is the Over the Rainbow cruise. The same goes for the Taoism and the countless Lao Tzu quotes. The nature of existence, humanity and identity are all called into question - ad nauseam, if you ask me. Banks's constant quotations, allusions and existential musings go on overload and become tiresome, nay, pretentious.

Now for the continuity. It's mostly passable. In the days of smarmy, self-indulgent references to Doctor Who's history that bred a word, fanwank, the very nature of Iceberg means that a heavy reliance on the events of previous stories is justified and well appropriated. However, Banks goes just a bit overboard with character names such as Whitehead, Dodimead, Brooks and Palmer (actors from 60s Cyber stories). It's a bit too clever, as is the repetition of the "metal breakdown" joke from Tomb. Even though Banks acknowledges its unoriginality, through the Doctor, why do it in the first place?

However, all in all, I quite like Iceberg. Despite its deficiencies, there's more than a bit to enjoy. The concept of the jade pagoda is intriguing, and much of the story has a dream-like feel to it, especially when inside Ruby's thoughts and following the Doctor through the TARDIS (the most subtle Wizard of Oz allusion of them all, perhaps?). Banks's strength is characterisation, but the story is badly written in other areas, overlong and the use of imagery is heavy-handed. It's not completely successful, but sufficient to hold the interest. 6.5/10