BBC Books
Imperial Moon

Author Christopher Bulis Cover image
ISBN# 0 563 53801 5
Published 2000
Continuity Between Resurrection of the Daleks
and Planet of Fire

Synopsis: In 1878, Captain Richard Halliwell successfully completed a mission from the Earth to the moon. So why does no one remember?


A spoiler-free account of the rebooting of the Bulis AI following its systems breakdown after completing Imperial Moon by Finn Clark 14/8/00

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Good news, sir. We've reactivated the Bulis program.

Can it hear us?

We think so, sir. We've managed to recover the electronic cut-and-paste function, anyway. The program's originality and writing talent are still offline, but it's performed quite adequately without those.

Hmm. You sure?

Device of Death and Twilight of the Gods 1, sir.

Good point. It would be nice to get it all running, but I guess we'll just have to reboot the AI on 93%.

94%, sir.

I thought I ordered at least 7% actual sentience in the Bulis?

It blew during Eye of the Giant, sir.

Ah yes, I remember your report. Have you downloaded the memory core?

No, sir.

Well, then?

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It's ready, sir.

About time, too. So what happened?

The Curse of Kamelion, sir.

I thought we fixed that during...

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...except for its being a godawful book, sir.

Well, apart from that.

That was just a temporary solution, sir. Don't forget it was only a fanwank cameo. This is a full-blown appearance for Kamelion, set during his on-screen era. He's completely wasted and hardly does enough to justify his back-cover billing, but even that's enough to activate the Curse.

Did it damage the rest of the book?

Possibly, but it's always hard to tell with the Bulis.

The regulars?

Davison's portrayal is in line with the accepted standard - in other words, mediocre. Turlough, however, is... different. He's insecure, he's concerned about image and he gets a stupid romance. Yes, he's become Fitz. Together with a bland and faceless Doctor and some bizarrely pointless temporal complexities involving a diary, this felt almost like an 8DA.

That bad?

Well, not quite. For obvious reasons the Bulis AI likes pastiche and here it came up with a beauty. Steampunk. Doctor Who's flirted with it in the past, but this is the real McCoy. Queen Victoria sends spaceships off to the moon, whereupon begins a happily mindless adventure that's evocative of the worst of Wells and Verne. Tally ho for queen and empire! Even L. Rider Haggard might have felt twinges of political correctness on seeing some of Imperial Moon's lunar inhabitants.

Oh dear. The Bulis didn't try to do cod Victorian prose, did it?

I'm afraid so, sir.

How bad?

Unreadable. But it only lasts a few chapters.

I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies. I suppose the characterisation is down to the usual standard?

It's worse, sir. One character gets an interesting twist, but otherwise they're all straight from a thirties cliffhanger serial. They're utterly predictable. Even the Bulis itself did better in its last two books.

Surely at least it's an easy read?

It's not even that, sir. The cod Victorian chapters are just awful, but even the rest of the book seems to have been infected. It's a bit of a grind, frankly. There's a clever twist in the tail, but by then you're too demoralised to care. And the Doctor wins at the end by doing something so shockingly unDoctorish that I'd have hit the roof if I hadn't been near-comatose at the time.

So what's it like overall?

Despite myself, I enjoyed it for the imagery. Steampunk is lots of fun and the Victoriana in space is solidly presented. The Bulis keeps you wondering throughout about whether this is a parallel universe or what. I even found myself secretly enjoying the book's main romance.

Gracious! I hope you're ashamed of yourself!

They may be cardboard characters, sir, but that's almost half the fun. It's like listening to a song to which you can sing along.

Would you recommend the book?

Not even to Bulis fans. I liked its last two books, but even I thought this was mostly rubbish.

Thank you, that should be enough data. We'll plug that into the Bulis and get it working on the next as soon as possible. We'll need another quest plot, a few laughable characters and its random encounter tables...

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"The Doctor and Sarah-Jane Smith marched down the corridor towards the lair in which Davros, creator of the Daleks, had been secretly plotting to reveal why all the Dalek stories since Evil had been retconned by splink mng ih o 1000 101 1100 10001."

Software engineer! We got a crossed wire with the Peel!

Would You Believe I Read Imperial Moon? by Tammy Potash 16/9/00

First, let me say that I like Christopher Bulis. His work, ignoring his first book, Shadowmind, has been consistently good, both in the Virgin and BBC runs. He's one of the few authors to produce a decent EDA. he's mostly stuck to writing MAs, and he's done quite well. His treatment of the 1st Doctor (Sorceror's Apprentice, City at the End of the World) was fantastic; he handled the 6th, a difficult one, with skill (State of Change), and the 3rd was treated quite well in Eye of the Giant.

But there are just certain Doctors he can't handle. He simply didn't know how to get a handle on the Seventh, and Shadowmind suffers for it, though we must be somewhat kind, as that was his first novel. I thought he did an acceptable job on the 5th in The Ultimate Treasure, but Imperial Moon reads like it was written by a different person entirely.

Imperial Moon stars the Fifth Doctor, Turlough, and Kamelion. That's what it says on the back cover, anyway. The truth is actually quite different. Now, Bulis has used two out of three of these characters before. Kamelion, not as well depicted as he was in Crystal Bucephalus (he was in another book by Bulis, but I don't want to say which for fear of spoilers) is strictly there as a plot device, as if Bulis got to page 226 and realized he'd written himself into a corner. Without a convenient plot device to save him, the Doctor might well suffer a fate like that in Interference and we'd have a BIG mess on our hands. Hence Kamelion.

This brings us to the Doctor and Turlough. Turlough has plenty of TV stories to go on, such as the excellent Frontios, and his entire set of debut stories (Mawdryn Undead, Terminus, Enlightenment) and has been acquitted well in the MAs. Lords of the Storm is good where it features Turlough and the (5th) Doctor, horrendous elsewhere. Again, he's done well in Bucephalus. It is evident Bulis has never read any of these books, or seen stories with Turlough at his best. It's clear he knows only what Turlough looks like and that the story prior to this "episode", Resurrection of the Daleks, featured a time corridor and that Tegan left in it.

As started above, Bulis has written for the 5th Doctor before, and fairly well, yet in this book, he and Turlough are written so badly, the word unrecognizable isn't even adequate. In fact, it is my belief that this book was originally written to star the 8th Doctor and Fitz, and then, for whatever reason, Bulis used a global search-and-replace and changed "Fitz" to "Turlough" whenever it appeared in the text.

The 5th Doctor's speech patterns are wholly absent, Bulis is careful to never describe his appearance, clothing, or even his celery in any way at all, and what the Doctor does to resolve the situation, beginning on page 269, would be far easier to reconcile with the incarnation who drew figures in his own blood on his prison cell in order to escape, and what he did in Revolution Man, than the Doctor in Warriors of the Deep.

So, with the regulars utterly ruined, this leaves the rest of the book. I almost gave up midway through chapter three. The prose is claw-your-eyes out bad, and having it be all in italics doesn't help. England sends ships to the Moon, roughly a century early. The Doctor finds out about this through the stupidest means I've ever seen. The reason for chapter three being so awful is the diary mentioned on the back cover, which I would have preferreed the Doctor acquire through some other means, maybe a return of the "Museum of things that don't exist" from Taking of Planet 5, being mailed it by Irving Braxiatel, or something else. Anything else.

So the Doctor and Turlough follow the Victorians to the landing site on the moon, at which point the book becomes a rehash of Edgar Rice's John Carter of Mars books, crossed with Last Man Running, a far superior book. Ridiculous, bloody adventures follow. The Victorian woman is practically Sam Jones in a corset. The Phiadorian women basically cause everyone around them to stop thinking, at least with their large brains if you get my drift. Turlough in particular is hit the worst, and behaves just like Fitz in many a similar situation. When the real villains of the book finally appear, Bulis tries for suspense and terror, but fails miserably. The humans meanwhile try to have their own villain in Stanton.

I'm sure that Bulis will have another book in the not too distant future, and if it's as bad as this, I may come to see in him what his detractors do.

Well, the cover's tolerable, anyway, and Bulis has a flair for description of nasty monsters. Don't read page 244 while eating; it contains the grossest scene outside of Deep Blue (which I actually liked) or Parasite (ditto). On top of everything else, whoever was supposed to have proofread this book was asleep, probably from chapter three. Words are usually spelled properly, but they are consistently the wrong words, being in fact homophones of what was intended. 'We have nothing to loose by trying!" or 'I'm scared; Me, to," are typical errors. Best advice is to stay as far away from this one as you would Divided Loyalties or The Pit. I may have to bump Devil Goblins off my worst novels list in favor of this. I apologize for this review not being as funny as Finn Clark's, but I'm too outraged to be able to manage humor.

A Review by Elsa Froham 26/9/00

It's easy to forget you've read Imperial Moon, like most Bulis books, it's like cotton candy. It melts in your mouth and you realize you've just read a lot of nothing.

There is very little to point at and say "That's BAD!" But there's absolutely nothing to point at and say "That's good."

The plot concept (but not the specifics) is lifted from H.G. Wells' "First Men in the Moon," a book that unlike this one, is memorable and fun to read. When it comes right down to it, I doubt Bulis has read the Wells original, because his story is set up to be closer to the thoroughly mediocre '60s movie than Wells' book.

By the time you've read the first three chapters, you can pretty much figure out what's going to happen for the rest of the book. It's all so mechanical and predictible.

The non-regular characters are all flat as cardboard. The Fifth Doctor, as in Ultimate Treasure is sleep walking. He's there, but he barely has any effect on the plot. Kameleon is nothing but a convenient plot device.

It seems to be Turlough's book, but even Turlough has little function in the plot. This is a book were "This happens. Then something else happens. Then something else happens." The plot moves along nearly independent of the characters, who are simply pieces being moved around by events. There is a whole subplot about Turlough gaining advance knowledge of events that is used to absolutely no effect. Any time Bulis has a chance to actually say something about predestination or free will, he pulls his punch and lets it drop.

And the big climax ending is just plain dumb.

I can't quite rate this down to a zero, because Bulis has a good command of grammar and sentence structure. He's a workmanlike writer, churning out volumes of well-crafted but empty prose, without any of the stitching showing. But if he ever had an original idea, I believe his head would explode.

I give this a 1/10

Reasons Not To Read Books by Robert Thomas 19/12/00

I have decided to use Imperial Moon as a case study for an arguement I have. I like Christopher Bulis books and have read most, however I will not be reading this one. After hearing the plot involves victorian space men going to the moon I decided this was not the book for me. Also after seeing this book on a shelf I looked at the cover and blurb and decided - this definetly is not for me. Sorry Christopher, City At World's End - fantastic, The Ultimate Treasure - great, Eye Of The Giant - brilliant. However this one is not for me.

If you know you will not like a book don't read it just so you can slag the author off. Leave it for someone who may like it and move on to another. An example of another book I missed recently is The Turing Test, I like Paul Leonard but had to face the fact that this book would definetly go over my head.

Bulis = Verne by Richard Radcliffe 29/1/01

Dr Who has taken on many guises in all its incarnations, whether Book, Audio or on Screen. Here Dr Who becomes Boys Own Adventure. Christopher Bulis does his Jules Verne impersonation, but is it any good?

Actually, it's not all that bad. He makes no excuses for what the book is, and this is exactly what you get.

Arriving on the Moon the Doctor and Turlough find an oasis. Weird and wonderful animals, a tribe of scantily-clad women, domes where humans are experimented on, first person narrative from the hulky hero. It’s all here - in the guise of Dr Who.

The whole idea of Victorians landing on the moon well before Armstrong is terrific. This is played to the hilt, complete with vague scientific theories.

The book is good fun, an enjoyable read, and a pleasant way to spend your time. 8/10

One out of Five by Jamas Enright 2/2/01

My favourite Doctor is the Fifth so I always look forwards for any stories involving him. Imperial Moon involves a rocket fleet from Victorian England, the moon and a strange park in a crater on the dark side. It contains improbable devices, vicious aliens and beautiful women. It stars the Fifth Doctor, Turlough and Kamelion. It is also staggeringly, mind-numbingly dull.

Whether it's the turgid prose, the uninteresting characters, or the wildly improbable plot devices, Imperial Moon fails to excite in a manner unseen since the Fifth Doctor Audio Land of the Dead. Many passages of text pass where people are travelling from one place to another with nothing happening. This is reminiscent of other boring novels The Ultimate Treasure, also by Bulis, and The Crystal Bucephalus, by Craig Hinton. I was having a hard time trying to remember which boring novel I was reading.

The characters are flat and stereotypical with the Hero Captain, the Scientist and his Daughter, and a host of extras that Bulis tries to make us care about and yet fails. Turlough is completely out of character, Kamelion appears mainly as a Deus Ex Machina, and the Fifth Doctor is a basic version of himself. Although I will accept the Doctor's actions at the end, as I remember the story placed before this, namely Resurrection of the Daleks.

The aliens, named Vrall, are the most vicious killers in the universe (aren't they all?), and I guessed their secret long before it was revealed. Then again, I guessed all the important secrets before they came up. I don't know if that was just me, but I'm going to blame Bulis's predicability here. Even Turlough can guess what will happen.

The worst plot point Bulis uses, and one which symbolises all the plot contrivances, is the fact that the Doctor gets given a diary by his future self (this isn't a spoiler as we find this out in the first chapter) which leads him to embroil himself and Turlough in the story. It also explains many other plot conveniences as one can find out what's going to happen and act accordingly. When characters are given the script to get the story moving, it's a sign of trouble.

Are there any redeeming features? The pilot Stanton undergoes an interesting transformation. The interaction of Haliwell and Emily in the city is entertaining. And the warden is about the one character in the entire book I cared about.

But, on the whole, Imperial Moon is just plain boring dull. You'd be better off listening to Land of the Dead again, at least you know that's going to stop after 100 minutes.

Harmless fun by Robert Smith? 12/2/01

I must confess, I don't know what all the fuss is about. Imperial Moon is languishing somewhere near the bottom of the online rankings, it's received comical trashings on radw and been dismissed as nonsense even by those who haven't read it. Consequently, I put this off for as long as I could, which might explain my favourable reaction.

There's absolutely nothing here that we haven't seen from Chris Bulis before. It's true that City at World's End was a step above Bulis's usual output and that Vanderdeken's Children, in being business as usual for Bulis, managed to come across quite well in the midst of the generally poor EDAs preceding it. Imperial Moon is regular Bulis fare and it's about as inoffensive as it ever was. Actually, if you compare it to plodders like Eye of the Giant or rubbish like The Ultimate Treasure, it comes out rather favourably.

The plot here is quite clever, actually. There's some clever use of DW fundamentals and a grand total of three continuity references throughout the book (Turlough wondering why he still wore his Brendan school uniform on page 5, a reference to Leela and Tegan on page 135 and the translation properties of the TARDIS on page 254 et al). The use of the translation circuits to provide the key to solving the mystery is inspired, IMO. The Phiadorans are great and the twist really took me by surprise. There's a surprising amount of subtlety going on, which pleased me no end. Bulis might not rise to the heights that other authors manage, but nor does he sink to the lows that others so often do.

Okay, it's true that the diary from the future is a pretty lame plot device... except that it's barely used. Instead it just adds flavour to the seagoing imperial nature of the tale, with Turlough getting to read the exciting adventures at sea -- erm, in space -- while they happen instead of framing the novel as a retrospective. It's goofy, but I liked it. The cod Victorian prose [term copyright Finn Clark] is a) not nearly as terrible as it could have been and b) extremely short. The Vrall aren't terribly interesting as monsters, but we don't actually see them in action much. Their nature is nicely justified, though.

Bulis also has more of a handle on the fifth Doctor than he did in The Ultimate Treasure (that is, he actually has some idea at all). What's more, this book slots in perfectly as a season 21 adventure. TUT was light and fluffy fun in the midst of the descent of the fifth Doctor into more and more unworkable and violent solutions. Here we have a novel whose ending fits in so perfectly it hurts. The Doctor has several solutions in mind, any of which might work, but by the end he's simply out of options, just like he so often was throughout the season.

Turlough also comes across well for the first time that I can recall. The author hasn't taken the easy way out and made him a quivering coward. He's got plenty to do and his POV rings quite true. The cowardly moments are there, but restrained, which is how it should be. I also really like the way Kamelion was used. I don't see any of the deus ex machina that other reviewers have complained about; his few appearances make a lot of sense to me.

It's true that the other characters don't have too much to offer, but they never do in Bulis novels and here they're meant to be stereotypes all along, so that doesn't bother me in the slightest. The one character that does stand out is the Warden, who I really liked. A shame he wasn't in it a bit more, but he really struck a chord with me. There's even an attempt at a socially aware theme by the end that somehow manages not to self-destruct. I'm quite surprised, because that's just the sort of thing that should have gone horribly wrong in Bulis's hands, but miraculously doesn't.

I did spot a weird inconsistency, though. On page 5 we're told that "Turlough only had a blank space where his past should be." I was a bit surprised at this, as I don't recall anyone ever suggesting that Turlough didn't know where he was from (I thought he just wasn't telling and he seems to figure it out well enough by Planet of Fire). However, on page 133 Turlough muses "Maybe he should tell her where and when he was really from, so she would understand he was different from the rest." It's possible that Bulis was thinking "from 1983" rather than "from Trion", but this is still odd. What's more, losing the original line would have made no difference at all to the book.

I also really like the way things weren't reset or retconned away (as all that business with the time cabinet and the diary initially suggested). In fact, I think one of the reasons I enjoyed Imperial Moon so much is for its strong ending. When so many Who books crash and burn on cue once the 4/5 mark is reached, it's refreshing to see one which actually manages to improve.

In summary, Imperial Moon is harmless fun. It's got a couple of great ideas (Victorian rockets!) and tightly plotted reasons for everything happening (eg the reason Professor Boyes-Denison comes up with the impeller device in the first place). Its bad points aren't offensive and its lack of continuity is very refreshing. It's a Bulis-by-numbers book, to be sure, but it's a good example of such a book.

A Review by John Seavey 7/7/01

Reading a Chris Bulis Doctor Who book is a lot like eating unsalted, unbuttered popcorn. It's not actually bad, but there's no flavor at all; it's not bad for you, but a diet of it probably isn't a good idea; and it's filling enough, but an hour later you're hungry again. Imperial Moon was another bog-standard Bulis novel--not bad, not good, just sort of there.

First, I'd just like to say that there are some people (Alan Moore, for one) who can write a pseudo-Victorian prose style and make it come off as still interesting. Chris Bulis is not one of these people, and the diary sections are very hard to read. That being said, the diary itself is a clever narrative device, and a good way to switch viewpoints within the story.

Turlough seems 'off' for most of the story, doing things that seem wildly out of character -- however, this could be attributed to the Phiadorian pheremones, making him act in ways he normally wouldn't. The Doctor is a minor character in the book; this one is really Turlough's show.

The big twist of the story, that the Phiadorians are secretly evil, is a shock somewhere on the level of finding out that someone secretly spiked the gin and tonic you ordered with gin and tonic. I had it spotted from the moment they showed up, and my suspicions were confirmed when every other plot point was dealt with three-quarters of the way through the book. I did, however, think it was clever the way the Doctor figured out their secret... however, I didn't like the fact that the Doctor's solution was, to paraphrase MST3K, "Hey! Let's shoot them all with guns!" Very out of character for the Doctor, Resurrection of the Daleks aside.

Up next, Rags, which I'm quite interested in reading for myself and seeing what all the fuss is about...

A Review by Thomas Tiley 24/4/22

This PDA starts with the fifth Doctor discovering the journal of a Victorian lunar explorer in a TARDIS safe, leading the Doctor and company to investigate a divergence in human history. What follows is a passable Jules Verne/Steampunk/Victoriana pulp-style adventure involving the British Army exploration of the moon, along with a sterotypical Victoria Inventor and his daughter, beautiful alien tribeswomen and a strange lunar hunting reserve/prison for alien political prisoners on the moon.

While I enjoyed the story, being the fan of this sort of genre/syle, I would not call it a great book. The characters are the general sort you find in this kind of adventure: the scientist, his daughter, her love interest, the leader of the soldiers, the beautiful alien locals whom the Doctors comapnion fancies, the villian, etc -- and none were real memorable or notable.

The plot does give the forgotten/underused Kamelion a chance to shine, at one point rescuing the cast and providing a get-out clause for why nobody knows about the Victorian Moon expedition at the novel's end.

The plot was somewhat predicable as well. I knew there would be some kind of twist involved when the prison overseer was dispatched at around the 200 page mark, leaving another 70/80 pages to go. Plus the cliche of nice, beautiful aliens being revealed to be less than kind is one that has been done again and again in pulp fiction (not to mention once or twice in Doctor Who), albeit with a minor twist that the aliens have been bodysnatched/replaced by a predator alien that lives in the animal/hunting reserve.

The ending involving the Doctor gunning down the aliens is both fitting for the fifth Doctors era (what with many of his stories involving violence, guns and high body counts) and at the same time very un-Doctor like.

I would rate this story five out of ten. Average. I do enjoy the setting and steampunk, so I would add another point if you too like that sort of thing. Outside of a few moments, it isn't very memorable. That being said, I did enjoy it.