THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC Books
The Infinity Race

Author Simon Messingham Cover image
ISBN 0 563 53863 5
Published 2002

Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives on Selonart - a planet famed for the unique, friction-nullifying light water that covers its surface. A water that propels vast, technological yachts across its waves at inconceivable speeds. All in all, an indulgent, boastful demonstration of power by Earth's ruthless multi-stellar corporations. As the danger escalates, the Doctor realises that he is being manoeuvred into engineering his own downfall. Is it already too late for him


Reviews

A Review by Finn Clark 18/11/02

I only have one problem with The Infinity Race. It's only a small thing, nothing to do with the plot, worldbuilding or anything like that. However that solitary niggle is enough to drag the book down to becoming the year's least interesting (though not the worst) Eighth Doctor Adventure.

It's the narrative voice. The Infinity Race doesn't seem to want to take itself seriously. There's first-person narration in which uncharacteristically relaxed regulars waffle on about their adventures in prose that's trying a little too hard for flippant colloquialism. Even the ordinary narration sometimes enters Signal From Fred territory, half-apologising for its digressions or setting the scene with: "We return to" [etc.]. Exposition is called exposition - and not by the narrative, but by a character. Such stylistic hijinks in the same author's Tomb of Valdemar served a purpose, but here they're unwelcome. They distance the reader from the action, for no good reason that I can see.

The most intrusive such meta-reference is probably the Doctor's, "If you've got any ominous music, now's the time." It's a hard pick though, and only symptomatic of a more general problem. The Infinity Race reads like a Terrance Dicks novel. It potters along amiably until page 273, then stops. When compared with the level of realism and mood collectively attained by the 8DA line, the prose here feels dumbed-down.

That said, there's plenty of good stuff here. The scenes of anarchy are quite effective and I liked the world of Selonart, with its high-concept environment and strange physics. (I could imagine Star Wars visiting a planet like this.) It's not complicated worldbuilding, but it's easy to visualise and it serves the book well. The book's secrets are quite good too, though for a while I wondered if this was a sequel to The Face-Eater. (There's a reference to Proxima II on page five.) I like Selonart's people, I really like the monsters and I like the way in which Messingham keeps the ball rolling with the 8DAs' arc story. All that's good.

But there's always that tendency to feel trivial. Sabbath has occasionally been in danger of becoming a Master-lite, but never more than here when the Doctor shows admiration for him on page three. That's not their relationship! Did Lloyd Rose write Camera Obscura in vain? Selonart's Governor never even tries to become three-dimensional. The book reads easily enough, but its events rarely seem to matter. In fairness it might have been nearly poll-topping had it appeared in 1998, but in 2002 it doesn't quite reach the bar. Personally I don't think it's even as good as the same author's last 8DA, The Face-Eater. There's nothing wrong with it, but it won't blow your socks off either.


Fractured timelines... by Joe Ford 22/1/03

Let me start this review by stating something that will probably have New Adventures fan boys spitting out their drinks... Anji Kapoor has become the best novel companion Doctor Who has produced, even surpassing the great Bernice Summerfield. Shock horror! Gasp! It's true, in the last five books her story has been utterly compelling to follow. From the hysterics of Zanytown to the horror of Spain to the atmosphere of Victorian London to the drama of Siberia and now the horrors she witnesses on Selonart, she has proved a rich mine of excellent characterisation. She's just so damn normal, one of us, a regular Joe trapped in these horrific adventures just trying to scrape through with her skin wrapped tight all over. Her love for the Doctor and Fitz is admirable and her willingness to go along with anything the mysterious Time Lord asks is touching, she is a far cry from the emotional wreck from her first few stories. Simon Messingham has captured her voice so well here, from her panic attacks on the ship full of rotting corpses to her heartfelt reactions to the deaths of the natives and her excellent scenes with Sabbath (he has the nerve to ask her to put the kettle on, darling. Genius!) I followed her story with unparalled interest. She has become one of the most rounded and interesting characters in the entire series just because of her intelligence (ohmigod a companion with a brain!), her wit (she describes in much hysterical detail every one of Fitz's action man pratfalls) and her common sense (she just wants to go home!). Anji is great. Enough said.

What's that I hear you ask? Sabbath is in another book, gee the fourth one in a row! Aren't we approaching Master-in-season-eight territory? Well no, one because Sabbath is a complex and mysterious foe (which let's face it the Master with his schemes of grandeur never was) and secondly because he brings out the best in the Doctor. Their scenes here, like in Camera Obscura shine with sparkling dialogue and brilliant reactions. I love how conflicted the Doctor is about actually dealing with Sabbath once and for all, although he condemns him he refuses to call him EVIL. Just amoral.

Sabbath's latest scheme is captured with real drama and emotion by Simon Messingham, a writer who seems to be getting better and better with each book. His last EDA, The Face-Eater wasn't very inspiring, a horror book without much horror but he filled the book with sharp characterisation it almost excused the fact. Zeta Major and The Tomb of Valdemar were both corking reads, the former action packed and full of intruige, the latter brilliantly funny and very clever. He has managed to capture all these strengths to a tee with The Infinity Race and produced a near flawless book at last. And let's face it, coming after a Lloyd Rose and Justin Richards book that's no small claim.

What I love about this story is how it starts off as if its an actual standalone book, a simple tale of a race across water. We know Sabbath is around, his threatening presence as effective as it was in History 101, but for a while it appears to be a very simple Doctor Who story. Then the shit hits the fan and all hell breaks loose. Mysterious natives. Hired assasins. Kidnaps. Murders. Riots. Its all very involving as the situation on Selonart decays.

Characterisation is paramount. Messingham has done a brilliant job of dishing out perspectives. Refreshingly we see the book through Fitz, Anji and The Doctor primarily but always first person so we have a direct link to their thoughts and feelings. As I said, Anji's work is the best but it is equally gripping to find out just how badly the Doctor improvises events. Fitz gets another triumphant return to form and his adventures with Bloom and Valeria are hysterically re-enacted through his down-to-earth eyes. I love how close to giving up he gives up at times and the moment he has to make a choice about leaving the Doctor shocked me. His ability to accept another fine mess he's got himself into is very, very funny.

The secondary characters were just as good. Marius was written so damn well. He might be sneaky and nasty but god he's just so damn PATHETIC you can't help but smypathise with him as his whole wealth-bringing race crashes all around him. I loved how bad things got for this unlikable (yet so human) character. Kallison was another character I liked, especially the explanation about where she actually came from. Messingham plays the reader so well, you never quite know who is going to make it in this one and ther were so nasty (but effective) shocks on the way. Like City at World's End this also graphically portrays the panic of a mob and scenes of people being shot down and torn apart were horrific.

But it's the central concept that's most brilliant of all. Oh I'm not going to spoil the fun, but needless to say the ever emerging concept of Time is present and used as effectively as anything else at late. It allows Messingham to plays some excellent narrative tricks (and shocks) later in the book.

I must complain about one thing though, oh nothing against the book which is another sterling example of why the EDA's are being heralded by fans at the moment (except the odd Anachrophobia basher... what the hell is that about?). No I must request that BBC books destroy the PDA line completely which has singularly failed to impress me of late with the diabolical Heritage and just run the excellent EDA range instead. The EDA's have become a gripping ongoing saga and it is criminal to have to wait TWO MONTHS to get the next instalment. Think about BBC 'cause your marketing ploy means I wont be getting any PDA's from now on (unless I'm desperate for a Who fix!).

But none of this is to the detriment of The Infinity Race, a superbly written book with tonnes of excitement, drama and humour not to mention loads of brutal twists. Messingham can take a bow, he has done the EDA line justice and continues a fine run of magical books.

Supplement, 21/1/04:

Once upon a time there was a near perfect family of eleven brothers and sisters and they were such a respected, revered bunch. You had the intricate Lawrence, fun and fluffy Paul, interesting and different Mark, scary Jonathon, goofy and heartfelt Lance, twisted Paul, cartoonish Steve, nostalgic and complicated Mags, absorbing Lloyd and exciting Justin... but alas one of the eleven just could not match up to the others, the underwhelming Simon. He tried to match their style for conversation and interest but was fighting a losing battle from day one. I mean he kept going on about boats! How boring a topic was that? It is a shame he was looked upon as the weakest in an otherwise strong line because he clearly wanted to contribute something worthwhile to the family but was hampered by his own schizophrenic nature.

Given his credentials as a long term Doctor Who writer you could be forgiven for expecting to get something special from Simon Messingham, especially after the sharp thriller Zeta Major and the astonishingly mature horror Tomb of Valdemar. But as Mike Morris brilliantly points out Simon has taken a step back in both writing style and content, there is a terrific story waiting to be assembled out of the fractured elements of The Infinity Race but unfortunately it loses something in its translation to printed page and I firmly believe this would work so much more on screen.

I can see why I was impressed the first time I read it; on the surface it is just what the EDA line needed. After the complexities of Anachrophobia, History 101, Camera Obscura and Time Zero it is so refreshing to read a traditional Doctor Who story with all the trimmings. Lots of running around? Check. Escape/capture/escape/capture? Check. Companions Fitz and Anji commenting wryly on the action? Check. Horrible monster providing some chilling moments? Check. A buffoon in authority hampering the Doctor's investigations? Check. Major villain who disguises himself in the most inept of ways? Check! Although this does feel like a step back in terms of storytelling it is quite nice to be reminded where we have come from and how far the EDA's have stepped from its shallow (if enjoyable) roots.

Plus the story is told with a real sense of humour, the last in while really until Timeless which is three books away. Unfortunately it is all silly comments and mickey taking (mostly of Fitz) which does make you laugh but is little more than surface characterisation. Governor Marius is easily the funniest character in this book, a pathetic, toadying fool who enjoys having his ego fed. Watching as events on Selonart spiral out of control violently and his childish inability to cope with it is quite hilarious in a sadistic way.

Let's not forget another of the story's biggest strengths, its off-Earth setting, the last in AGES! Until 2005 in fact! The next four EDA's are all set on alternative Earths true but while they are fresh and interesting they are still on Earth. Selonart with its watery surface, the blockhead natives and the phantoms of Demigest are all appealing notions. Lots of intriguing SF ideas abound and it is clear Messingham has a formidable imagination if nothing else.

However the thing that lets the story down and gives it a lightweight and unnecessary feel is its scattered narrative device, this first person/third person swapping that does jar annoying throughout. Which is a shame because some of the individual sections are quite delightful, Matt Michael was being a little too harsh when he claimed Messingham fails to get Anji's voice right here. True when compared with Justin Richards' compelling treatment of the character in the last novel it sinks but although she is a little bit too hip for her own good this is still recognisably Anji. Snapping at kid brothers the Doctor and Fitz, scared out of her wits exploring the deathly atmosphere of the yacht, Anji here has secured a firm sense of humour and a good dose of humanity (career Nazi indeed!). The Fitz narrated sections are almost Terry Pratchet like in nature, a truly funny, resigned look at the adventures he is having. And the Doctor bits, showing his millions of thoughts at once chance a glimpse into the mind of the scatterbrained Time Lord. And dear Bloom, the Selonart native, his fractured, childish language provide some truly memorable scenes. All these sequences are often memorable and enjoyable but the sudden switch from one to another is unusual and the way they are aware that they are telling a story (which is never explained... who the hell are they talking to when they say 'Hello Fitz here folks!' and such like!) seems as though it is leading to twist revelation, that maybe they are all being interrogated or something but it comes to nothing. Nothing but to confuse and frustrate the reader. Plus with all these internal monologues there aren't any real surprises with the characters, everything is spelled out from the beginning, another shocking contrast to

The simple fact is this is an inconsequential and lightweight story where a dramatic and potential classic was needed, as an introduction into the alternative universe arc it sinks. Where we should be concerned at the unravelling state of the universe we are instead whooping it up in the holiday atmosphere of Selonart, Fitz and the Doctor have just found out they may never reach their Earth again but they are more concerned with a spot of sailing? A lack of priorities methinks! What with this and the opening sequences to The Domino Effect where they wander around wondering why the Earth seems so different the regulars do (for once) come across as a bit dense. Editor Justin Richards really should have stepped in here and tightened up the writing as he does from Reckless Engineering to Timeless where the situation is given appropriate gravity.

But the biggest issue I have with The Infinity Race is that it just doesn't hold the attention throughout and bores terribly in places. Stereotypical stories never really do it for me and this collection of Who clich├ęs grates on the nerves after a while. Robert Smith? says Doctor Who can survive anything but being boring and he has a good point, the middle sections of The Infinity Race drag awfully. It all starts rather well with some great opening TARDIS scenes and the oppressive atmosphere on the yacht of death and the last third is all rather exciting, pushing on the arc plot in some interesting ways but all this hanging around, being interrogated and escaping doesn't help the story's reputation one bit (though admittedly the scene where the TARDIS crew just walk out of captivity is a laugh riot!).

Plus Sabbath just doesn't cut the mustard here especially when compared with his later appearances. Misdirection is fun but unachievable here, Sabbath is easy to spot a mile off and his constant inclusion does seem a little much. However his slagging off matches with the Doctor are still fun and asking Anji to put the kettle on is still a priceless moment. At this point where his motives are still ambiguous he is a rather frustrating character, it is later where his 'master plan' is revealed that he becomes far more interesting.

It is difficult to judge The Infinity Race given that much of it is fun and fluffy and easy to read. But I cannot excuse the fact that it is also lazy and sloppily written at times and borders on standard.

If you skipped it altogether you wouldn't miss a thing but it's worth a read for a chuckle or two.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 21/2/03

2002 8th Doctor Books have been, for the most part, pretty good. Inspired by the magnificent Adventuress of Henrietta Street, authors have embraced the new villain Sabbath. All the books he appeared in I have read, and I just really like the character. And so reaching the final book of the year I was in a quandry. This book promised us Sabbath as a focal character (a tick in its favour). The 8th Doctor, Anji and Fitz were back together (another tick). The book was written by Simon Messingham (a cross I'm afraid).

But a new DW book on the shelf of Waterstones is a very powerful magnet, especially in these 1 a month days. I picked it off the shelf, and before I knew it, it was bought and on my bookshelf next to Time Zero. The Sabbath as a focal character had persuaded me. But what's this dislike of Messingham all about. He's written a few books for Doctor Who, and I haven't enjoyed any of them - simple as that. I thought Tomb of Valdamar was terrible. Zeta Major was dull. Strange England or Face-Eater just didn't capture my imagination. But this was clearly an author plenty of people like, surveys show it, and BBC commissioning him proves it.

And so what of The Infinity Race, the last 8th Doctor book for 3 months! Plenty of time to read it, that's for sure!

It opens very well. We are introduced to the planet of Selonart, with its unique watery properties. We are told about a race, but what it is a race for? We see Sabbath get to the planet at all costs, why is this race so important to him? The Doctor, Fitz and Anji arrive - on board a ship with lots of dead people, and a demonish creature roaming the cabins - creepy.

The book switches its voice too. One page is written the usual way, another is written by Fitz, another by Anji. It jumps around a lot, and the Doctor's companion's perspectives is a big focus. With Sabbath lurking in the background, it was again a case of waiting for him to appear. I willed the book on, so the Doctor and Sabbath could meet again - but the scenes between them are few and far between. Instead we are introduced to other characters. A planetary Governor who is as wet as the planet he leads. A group of rebels out to get Sabbath. A strange Selonart native who speaks funny. These were characters who I had no interest in, and I found myself scanning through their sections, to quickly move on to the Doctor, Fitz, Anji and Sabbath.

The high concept physics, and all that business of Time Distortion left me in a pickle. I got well confused with Time Zero because of all this messing about, but that at least had a fascinating story attached to it. I couldn't really get into this Selonart race, and the planet's bizarre inhabitants. Nonetheless there are things to like about the book. The opening I have mentioned. Sabbath, when he's in it, continues to be one the best villains to adorn DW mythology. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji are likeable - and the 1st person narrative the author employs allows us to get into the minds of the Doctor's companions for a change.

But overall Infinity Race was a struggle. I'm not struck on the writing style of Simon Messingham. I've tried quite a few of his books now, hoping that the excellence experienced by others, will be experienced by me - but it hasn't happened yet. Even though I didn't really think too much of this book, I'm quite intrigued where the 8th Doctor books will go in 2003 - I just hope I enjoy them a whole lot more than I did this book. 5/10


A Review by Mike Morris 26/3/03

I wonder, hmm... I wonder, hmm. The Infinity Race is an odd little book. It's some time since I read it, which usually leads to my opinions settling down somewhat. But I'm still not sure whether I like The Infinity Race, whether it worked or not, whether - bluntly - it's any good. There were bits I liked and bits I didn't, but I can't quite form an opinion of the whole.

The negatives are very obvious, it's just that I'm not sure whether they matter or not. Set against that are a whole host of enjoyable factors. What The Infinity Race has, more than anything, is a freshness. It skids by, like those giant boats skip over the oceans. It also has a race of aliens that are hardly original, and yet are far scarier than one might expect them to be. This is probably because they are a rare example of deadly aliens that really are deadly; nobody ever escapes them, or kills them. The result is that many passages of The Infinity Race have a definite threat to them - the action sequences in Doctor Who books usually bore me silly, but the TARDIS crew's arrival on board a boat where everything is dead is as frightening as the books have ever been.

This book is also bursting with ideas. The race itself is a cracker, and the notion of low-friction water is brilliant. The presence of water everywhere gives the book a sparkling, summery feel, which is added to by the well-described holiday atmosphere at the race. The whole thing is reminiscent of the crowds at actual yacht festivals; more than anything, though, it put me in mind of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. This becomes ever more apparent when more and more reference is made to the big corporations that fund the race and view the whole thing as a business opportunity, the media coverage, and the sheer level of indulgent opulence around the whole thing.

As satire, the race is sharp. And yet it is also one of the things that annoyed me most. Formula 1 motor racing is, of course, one of the most wasteful, pointless pastimes the human race has ever come up with. It's sickening. And yet it's also great. I find anything that fulfils its purpose beautiful; I think a Formula 1 car is a beautifully sleek thing, and the sight of one taking a corner is a wonder. A lot of people don't share this view, but a lot do. By portraying every last spectator as a semi-interested plutocrat, Messingham ignores this.

Even without me getting all defensive about motor racing, it leads to an imbalance in the book's tone. The book dwells on the negative aspect of the race, but ignores the fact that boats gliding at lightning speeds over shining, sparkling water would be insanely beautiful. We don't get any descriptions of the boats as things of beauty. It meant that The Infinity Race wasn't fully appreciative of the world it had created, and this rapidly became irritating.

The authorial voice is another odd thing, verging on the schizophrenic. Sometimes it hops into a smart-arsed omniscient tone, or a melodramatic horror voice, which are probably the most successful but rather weaken each other. The rest of the time it's either first-person stuff narrated by Anji and Fitz, or third-person viewpoints where POV is so heavily done it feels like first-person anyway. This is detrimental to the book; it means that it never quite sucks the reader in, since just as we're getting used to one style of writing we're confronted with another. It's as though Messingham changed styles whenever things got difficult, and although it means The Infinity Race is never boring it also means it's rarely convincing. And, as Finn Clark says above, the tongue-in-cheek edge that pervades throughout doesn't help.

There's something about first-person that puts me on edge. It makes it rather too easy to get inside a character's head, and can be something of a quick fix for characterisation. Don't get me wrong, first-person narrative can be magnificent, but it requires discipline and here it gets none. Much of Anji and Fitz's sections are too chatty, and too full of the kind of boring asides that they might well come up with but make for bland reading. I always find first-person at its best when it's stilted or mannered - go and read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro and you'll see what I mean. Also, I think hopping in and out of first person is a bit lazy - I do think that if you make a decision to narrate in first-person you have to stick to it.

The exception to all this negativity is Fitz's infatuation with Valeria, which is great and had me chuckling cruelly. The author pulls off the trick of making us disbelieve the narrator - Fitz's constant protestations that he dislikes her lets us know that the opposite is true, and his later descriptions of their 'relationship' are so savagely wide of the mark that they're hilarious. Valeria is a great character, by the way, and doesn't really get the send-off she deserves.

Bloom is wonderful too, and the secrets of the water are well-conceived - even if it crosses the line between confusing and confused on occasion. The conclusion is rather blurred, particularly the question of causality which feels like it was added in at the last minute.

However, Sabbath's treatment is terrible. Terrible. This extends to colossally stupid one-liners that should have been taken out at the editing stage. There's even one in the first chapter, where the Doctor refers to Sabbath as a 'remarkable fellow' with a reluctant admiration last used by Jon Pertwee - this after Camera Obscura had made it so clear that the Doctor regarded Sabbath with something close to malice, and considered him a dangerous fool. Sabbath actually comes across as a clone of Delgado's Master in this story, which is a questionable development to say the least.

The bottom line is that The Infinity Race is never dull, and as a general rule Doctor Who can survive anything except being dull. The negatives are counterbalanced by positives. But there are three seriously disappointing elements here. One is that, for the first time, Simon Messingham appears to have regressed as an author - this is an author who has improved with every book, from the lows of Strange England to the highs of Tomb of Valdemar, and to see him take such a backward step is a pity. Secondly, I think the only reason that this book is not as good as, or better than, Tomb of Valdemar is that less effort went into this one - which is inexcusable. Nothing gets on my nerves more than an author not taking his work seriously (regular readers of my reviews may have picked up on that by now). Thirdly, I'm concerned about where the range is going - Sabbath's bad treatment is a worry and the new 'altered history' plotline doesn't interest me in the slightest, particularly as the first book is set on an alien planet where the effects aren't visible to the reader.

Still, I can't bring myself to dislike The Infinity Race and it has lots of good bits. If you skip it you're not missing anything earth-shattering, but if you buy it it'll pass the time pleasantly enough. Overall I'll brave getting splinters up my arse and sit on the fence on this one - make up your own mind.


Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 13/4/03

My interest in this book wasn't so much taken as given. What I mean by that is that the author didn't engage my interest in the story, instead I decided that the story was interesting enough for me to read. What this means is that unless you like what Simon Messingham writes about here, you probably won't find the rest of the package enough to keep you reading.

What does he write about? Boat races (and given the current American Cup hype gearing up when I read The Infinity Race, that seemed oddly timely), but also weird time image distortions (questionably based again on ill-defined scientific concepts), mutating races (and yes, The Mutants did ring bells in my mind) and walking skeletons. Lots of ideas certainly, but nothing really general to hang it on. Okay, maybe the racing is fairly basic, but it's surprising how little racing is actually involved. (By the way, why do most series end up doing a racing story? Perhaps a little too general?)

Still, as I said, of interest to me, so I kept going with the story. Not a bad story, but a little vague in places. When one of the enemy (as such) is dealt with, it's only incidental comments made later that actually give away that that is what really happened. There is a resolution at the end that I'm also not sure about if it really happened or not, so I guess I'll have to wait until The Domino Effect comes out to find out (and with what that title suggests, I'm suspecting not). Not the most tidy of plots.

Sabbath plays a big role in the events here, but it felt like the regulars hadn't met him for a while however Camera Obscura wasn't that long ago, so that was a little odd. Sabbath still remains a somewhat uncertain concept, more plot device that anything else, so it's difficult to really get a good grip on him here.

Not so with some of the other characters. Major Marleen Kallison was a great character, but rather under used, and her ending should have been better. Governor Marius was a waste of page, even Administrator Peck was more interesting (although again Peck was under used - hmm, is there a pattern here?). I think Bloom is where Simon Messingham put his writing effort, and it shows in that Bloom is a character that does hold our interest, and indeed I cared more about the Selonarts than the Earthers. Good writing there.

At first I wasn't sure if this Doctor was the Eighth or the Fourth. His actions fitted more Tom Baker than Paul McGann, and I think this tells against how generic the Doctor is becoming in the books. Fitz and Anji were, as ever, themselves, but I'm not sure what the point of the narrative technique involving them was. Was there a reason they were talking to the audience?

In the end not really a book for everyone, but given the current rather tight arc of stories, I suspect most people will read this anyway. Simon Messingham could have done a bit more work to get the audience's attention, but if you are into it, then you'll enjoy the ride.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 19/6/03

Due to a variety of reasons, I found myself with a long gap between the publication of this book and my eventual perusal. During that pause, Internet opinion had pretty much decided that The Infinity Race was a hugely disappointing clunker at the end of what had been a breathtaking and fantastic year for the Eighth Doctor Adventures. So, when I did start reading this book, it was with some slight trepidation. At first, it appeared that my anxiety was misplaced. The beginning drew me in, tempted my appetite and consistently impressed me; I couldn't fathom why it was receiving such negative press. But by the time I got to the end, I found that the book had fizzled somewhat. While it's certainly not what I would consider terrible, it does seem to be lacking a certain something that would raise this book above the level of ordinary.

The story opens with an invitation of sorts left over from the previous EDA (Justin Richards' Time Zero). Sabbath lures the Doctor and friends to one of the biggest races in the galaxy: a regatta situated on the ocean-planet Selonart (a name that I was certain was a joke or a reference to something else, but I have so far failed at figuring out what that is). These competitions reach a galaxy-wide audience, in part because of the strange properties present in the oceans of this world. The water is mostly frictionless and "light", and specially designed ships can travel on the seas at speeds unheard of on Earth.

The special attributes of the water on Selonart allow Simon Messingham to delve into some hard science-fiction concepts, though thankfully he doesn't dive in too deep. Messingham produces some good old-fashioned nautical adventuring without too much in the way of distracting technobabble. The opening sections that take place primarily on the yachts are genuinely thrilling and exciting. Messingham's skills of being able to construct a good horror sequence (which were on display on the underrated and creepy The Face-Eater) are put to good use in these portions, giving us some sharp and unsettling prose.

Many people have commented on the narrative voice(s) used in this book, usually saying that they found it distracting or unpleasant. My reaction was the complete opposite. I loved the actual process of reading this book. The jokes were funny, the action sequences executed smoothly, and the plot was laid out competently. But yet, I'm still not exactly sure why everything didn't seem to feel quite right by the end. I'd been drawn in to the narrative, but not into the rest of the story. I found the actual sentences and paragraphs to be deceptively adept at getting me to keep turning the pages. And I can't deny that the storyline of the book was similarly impressive and interesting. But somewhere along the line, Messingham lost my interest.

The characters are another aspect of this book that I can't say that I loved or hated. There's enough material present for me to want to keep reading about them, but there's not quite enough for me to say that they were three-dimensional characters in their own right. That said, the narrative first-person switches to Fitz and Anji's viewpoints were extremely well done. I really would like to see more of this sort of thing in the Doctor Who books. The companions are almost always designed to be our identification points, so it's nice to get inside their heads once in a while. Messingham does a terrific job at keeping the characters distinct, consistent and genuine. Even as I find myself growing weary of Fitz, books like this one make me want to see the current team go on together for a long time.

Ultimately, I can indeed say that I found The Infinity Race to be a vaguely decent read. As in Messingham's previous EDA, his prose did a wonderful job of building tension within individual scenes. Unlike that book however, the whole just didn't quite hang together enough for me. Given all that I liked about this book, I really should have enjoyed the total experience more than I did -- but I didn't. And it's a shame, because there's much here to appreciate.


Solid by David Massingham 18/11/03

The past three EDAs had been so bloody terrific, that my first question coming into The Infinity Race was "can Simon Messingham keep the pace up?" In truth, I suspected the answer to this question would be a strong "no", an impression spurred on by the rather mixed reviews that came from all quarters. But surely, I reasoned, we cannot expect a near-perfect novel EVERY two months? So I went into this novel with open arms, willing to let Mr. Messingham surprise me.

Well, he didn't. He entertained me, he confused me, he made be laugh, but there aren't any real surprises here. The Infinity Race is the most unremarkable EDA I've read since EarthWorld. This needn't be a bad thing however, and at the end of the day, this novel does an admirable job of passing the time. So, definitely not a blot on the 2002 schedule, then.

Despite my above note that this is an unremarkable story, Simon Messingham has obviously put some thought into this book. The world of Selonart, for example, is created very well. It's a simple idea -- friction-nullifying water (corr, that sounds a bit sci-fi-y, that does) which allows vessels to fairly shoot through the waves -- and it's described to the reader simply and beautifully. There is an ease with which the author gives the impression of water as far as the eye can see, the sun beaming down on the blue, blue water... Selonart comes across as one of those rare worlds in Doctor Who which actually wouldn't be too bad to visit. You know, if it wasn't for the death and the calamities that occur there in this book.

Another tick for Simon Messingham is the characters featured in the novel. Okay, I'll admit they are all generally simplistic in nature (look at the Governor, a walking cliche; or Valeria, a typical mercenary villain-esque character). Yet these simple charicatures generate a strong enough impression to make it easy for the reader to differentiate between them (you'd be amazed how many authors fail in this respect). Also, this helps to deliver their assigned characteristics (i.e. Governor -- cowardly, Valeria -- cold-hearted, but somehow likable) across to the audience successfully, thus making us react to these people exactly the way the author wants us to. There are exceptions... Bloom really leaps off the page in places, benefiting from the strongest development of the lot. Sabbath, whom I am beginning to suspect is writer-proof, isn't that bad either, particularly towards the novel's conclusion.

The narrative voice is... interesting. Most of the story is told from the perception of either Anji or Fitz, or from a third person point of view. Generally this works well, and helps to pull the reader into the story, but occasionally (largely with Fitz), Messingham fails to capture the characteristics perfectly. This may be due to the knowing way in which these characters tend to narrate their stories -- Anji, and in particular Fitz, seem quite aware they are telling this tale, which leads to a few too many "So, folks, you're back with me now"s. It should be noted, though, that aside from some small slip-ups like this, Mr. Messingham gets Fitz, Anji and the Doctor nearly spot-on.

Aside from the inconsequential feel of the story (which is odd, considering how it deals with the EDA arc), The Infinity Race's main failing is that it isn't always clear what is going on. This pertains to some of the explanations surrounding the "Timebergs"; Simon Messingham seems to know what is going on, but there were occasional sections when I didn't. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention -- maybe I'm just stupid... but as far as I am concerned there needed to be a bit more clarity when it came to some of the scientific reasoning for what was going on. I'm sure the plot of The Infinity Race wasn't as complicated as that of Time Zero, and I understood Justin Richards. So, yes; clarify, clarify, clarify. Though not to the point of spoon-feeding us... it's a difficult line to walk. Gee, we fans don't ask for a lot, do we?

Otherwise, good job Simon Messingham and the EDAs. Hardly a failure, though by no means a classic... a nice adventure on an interesting planet, and the main arcs are advanced nicely as well. It does come across as a bit slight, but The Infinity Race is a nice little break after the hardcore plotting of the previous stories.

7.5 out of 10


A Review by John Seavey 29/1/04

When I started reading The Infinity Race, I remember thinking, "Gosh, this isn't nearly as bad as I'd heard -- why have people been complaining about this book?" As it went on, I started to think, "Well, I understand where people are coming from when they complain about this book, but it's not that bad, really." Then, as I got nearer the end, it became "Well, I certainly understand why so many people are complaining about this book," and finally, it just turned into "When is this book going to be over, for goodness' sake?"

The Infinity Race has two major problems that prevent it from ascending into the ranks of the better novels, or indeed even into the ranks of the average novels. The first problem relates to the regulars -- they're all out of character. They're badly out of character. They're horribly out of character, in a way that sets the teeth on edge and frustrates the reader, driving the enjoyment out of the book.

The problem is exacerbated by Messingham's decision to set many passages of the book in the first-person, narrated by Anji and Fitz. I'm against doing some sections of a book in the first-person and some in the third-person, simply because I believe that if you're doing first-person you should stick with it and structure your story around it, instead of just bringing it out every now and then as a narrative trick. This meant that simply by putting these sections in the first person, Messingham irritated me and had to work that much harder to make things enjoyable...and the other thing about first-person perspectives is that the writer has to have an excellent grip on the character, which Messingham doesn't. Both Fitz and Anji read like one-dimensional caricatures of themselves -- they've both been called "writer-proof" at some point, but I'm reminded of the line about "There's no such thing as fool-proof because fools are so ingenious." Here, Messingham proves that there's no such thing as a writer-proof character.

This goes doubly so for Sabbath, who they've made writer-proof simply by not allowing most of the writers to feature him at all. The only writers who've done scenes with Sabbath have been Lawrence Miles, Jonathan Morris, Mags Halliday, Lloyd Rose, and Justin Richards... and with that collection of writers, anyone's going to look writer-proof. Unfortunately, by letting Messingham get to him, they've wrecked that reputation -- Sabbath here is a collection of cheap villain cliches, with none of the suave charm or moral ambiguity that previously marked the character. Sabbath in these other books has been played as a rival to the Doctor -- here, he's a clear bad guy with lots of bad guy schticks. The story also completely ignores the end of Time Zero, in which Sabbath began to suspect that his patrons (and was Time Zero the first mention that he might have patrons? I didn't recall it previously...) have been misleading him about the nature of time itself. Here, he's blithely cackling about "the power of infinity" and spouting lines like, "I WILL END HISTORY!" with no apparent sense of irony.

Which leads us to the second problem... the ending. More specifically, the train-wreck of an ending. It got to the point where I didn't feel like reading the last twenty pages of this book, it was so bad -- this weird crystallized timeberg was encasing the planet, and the natives were all going V'ger on us, and the Doctor and Anji were trapped in Sabbath's submarine, and then they released the ultra-trad Warlocks of Umpty-Tumpty, and then the friendly god-like natives rewound time two or three times so that the author could get a few more shots at trying to write the ending properly, and then it was all apparently over, with Sabbath having taken the Master's part as "person who apparently dies but you know he'll be back" not once but twice in the same novel. Urgh. Ick Ick Ick Ick Ick.

If you must read The Infinity Race (and I'm sure some of you must), skip the ending. The Doctor wins. You know it, I know it. Don't bother reading how the author works the details, because I suspect he doesn't know either.


Infinity, doctored by Robert Smith? 29/4/04

The signs were looking pretty good for The Infinity Race. Simon Messingham had been improving in leaps and bounds with every book, so after the wonderful Tomb of Valdemar, I was really looking forward to seeing what he'd come up with to top that. Also, the EDAs had been sailing along fabulously, with Camera Obscura and Time Zero mixing both quality and interest in the ongoing story.

The Infinity Race kills both of those trends in one fell swoop. There are a lot of things you could do with an alternate universe arc -- Virgin managed pretty well, after all. Hell, there are a lot of things you could do with this idea for an alternate universe: one where Sabbath is public enemy number 1 is a fantastic idea, just ripe for the plucking. Sadly, it's an idea that's left to wither on the vine.

In fact, The Infinity Race is a textbook example of why Doctor Who can survive being bad, but can't survive being boring. If this were truly atrocious, we'd laugh at it and move on. But it's not, it's just... blah.

The first three quarters or so of the book are actually quite enjoyable. They're by no means perfect, but they roll along fairly inoffensively. The yacht race is a reasonable setup that thankfully ends precisely when it should. The Warlocks are genuinely scary. The Prologue is by far the best part of the novel. There's some really nice writing to be found here. The slowly collapsing society would probably be a lot more interesting if it weren't a Doctor Who cliche by now. Oh, and the title is really clever.

That's not a facetious comment: the title is one of the few moments where this book shows the brilliance we all know Messingham is capable of. Unfortunately, all we get here are moments and too few of them at that. The Governor is so ridiculously over the top that the only way the author's going to salvage him is to have him turn out to be playing it up for Sabbath's benefit and running a Pirate Captain-like masterscheme... but no, he really is that one dimensional. And Sabbath's disguise is so ridiculously obvious that you expect the twist to be that it isn't actually him. And what's with the sea monster that gratuitously appears and is never explained? I mean, the book carefully establishes that there's no native life on Selonart... and then a giant sea monster pops out of the ocean on page 64, never to be seen or mentioned again.

After that, the book goes into a bit of a decline.

Seriously, who switched Messingham's coffee to decaf for the last quarter of this book? It's abysmally poor. Sabbath becomes a ranting villain for what reason, exactly? Because the author really wanted to write for the Master, so he did a search and replace and left it at that? Sabbath is supposed to be an ambiguous villain. It doesn't take a degree in literature to figure that out, pretty much every book he's been in has made this abundantly clear. I could maybe forgive this if Messingham were a second rate hack who wasn't capable of ambiguous characters... but he's not. Oh and does anyone actually believe that Sabbath died at the end and everything's sorted now? Anyone at all?

Then there's the technobabble, which is suddenly everywhere. So much for climactic resolution where the events of the novel lead inexorably but unexpectedly towards a conclusion that teaches us something fundamental about the characters, ourselves and human nature as a whole. Nope, it's all a big pile of second rate Star Trek endings. And the pace, which was one of the things that kept the first three quarters rolling along, suddenly slows to a crawl.

The only redeeming thing about the last part is the time loop stuff, which at least was fun, if goofy. It's a shame more wasn't done with this; it's the kind of thing that you can't really do half-hearted. Either don't try, or go the whole hog and make it mean something. You're already dealing with an alternate universe, so we don't have much reason to care in the first place. Throwing in a time loop only adds to this feeling of reading apathy... unless you turn it around and use it as part of the theme of alternate universes. See The Infinity Doctors or Ghost Devices for much better examples of this sort of thing.

Other tidbits:

The Infinity Race starts off as an entertaining, if not terribly promising, book and the last quarter sinks it totally. What's worse is the damage it does to the ongoing story: why should we care, again? I'm probably being a lot harsher on it than reason would dictate, given that it's three quarters acceptable, one quarter crap... but the first part wasn't that great to begin with and that last quarter leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. A book that leaves us wanting a lot less.


Who let the Mutts out? by Marcus Salisbury 21/6/04

As the BBC gradually runs out of new old Doctor Who to release on video, there are some real clunkers on sale for the usual too much. Doctor Who is a fine series. Some episodes, however, are intergalactic caca. So, while the ideal "Hartnell box" might consist of, say, The Dalek Masterplan, or The Rescue, Galaxy Four and The Celestial Toymaker, the actual said box contains toxic sludge such as The Sensorites and The Gunfighters. One of the latest Tom Baker releases is Underworld, a blue-screen purgatory where the baddies have ornamental paperweights with inlaid jelly beans for heads, and sound like Sparky's Magic Piano. The bottom of the barrel is upon us, it seems.

Another recent BBC video release is the 1972 Pertwee adventure The Mutants. Don't let its relatively late appearance on video fool you, however. The Mutants is a thought-provoking set of episodes, despite the usual wobbly walls, blue-tinged special-FX-on-a-string, and carpet-chewing crimes against acting perpetrated by some of the cast. Over its 6 episodes The Mutants raises issues such as racism, ethnic identity, revolution, evolution, the fall of empire, scientific ethics, and so on. It's not a classic by any means, (aside from the costuming by the later-to-be-Oscar winner James Acheson), but it's a vastly under-rated piece of work which happened to arrive during one of the series' better seasons and is therefore traditionally overlooked in favour of show-stoppers such as Day of the Daleks, The Curse of Peladon and The Sea-Devils.

Which is why it's so gratifying that Simon Messingham (author of the brilliant PDA Tomb of Valdemar and the truly weird Virgin NA Strange England) has produced a novel 30 years later that unwittingly recycles so much of The Mutants, with a dash of the (thankfully) largely forgotten NA Tragedy Day. We have a crooked and remote Earth Empire, a crooked and incredibly stupid local administrator, and a local populace undergoing remarkable changes despite their being used as drudges/target practice fodder by Earthers. Less successfully, and for reasons that are never convincingly explained, we have a race of "Warlocks" running the proceedings from some distant planet, using the enigmatic Sabbath as a catspaw. The idea of evil onlookers who are largely removed from the story until being conveniently dealt with in the final reel seemed daft in Tragedy Day, along with much else in that tome, but here it's completely out of whack. But, first things first.

Fan reaction to the (understated and evocative) front cover seems to be, universally, "ahhh, Enlightenment". Well and good, as that story was indeed fantastic, and one of the highlights of the Davison era. When you think about it, a ship is a fine setting for the stock Who plot of "there's something down there and it hates us more than we hate each other," pioneered in every other Troughton story. And "Infinity Race" opens in fine form - there's a suitably menacing opening scene, involving a submarine crew. Cut to the TARDIS crew receiving a piece of trans-dimensional junk mail (a la Greatest Show in the Galaxy) advertising a yacht race on the planet Selonart. Selonart's water is quite special, as we discover later when Sabbath's plot is revealed as the commandeering of a huge frozen lump of the stuff. (As opposed to bottling it and selling it to nightclub ravers, which is what the humans would do if left to figure it out for themselves).

The scene with the Doctor, Fitz and Anji being hunted by a Warlock on board the deserted yacht is a fine piece of work, as are the novel's later scenes of riot, mayhem and scuba diving. The Eighth Doctor is finally being written consistently - this must have been unbelievably difficult to achieve, insofar as Paul McGann had 90 minutes to develop the character, and God knows how he might have further developed it, given some further airtime and decent scripts - in the 8DAs, the character has finally evolved into one of my favourite Doctors, truth be known. Inquisitive, impassioned, compassionate, vulnerable at times, but still the same character who has been going strong for nigh on a half-century. Applause, flowers and praise to the heavens must go to the writers who have collectively achieved this. It can't have been easy.

The Selonart natives ("Blockheads" here, as the Solonians in The Mutants were referred to as "Mutts") are an interesting bunch. The focal character is a Blockhead named Bloom (not-so-subtle irony at work here?), who fulfils the same sort of role as Ky in The Mutants, which is to say that he ends up as the first superhuman changeling off the blocks (courtesy of the aforementioned magic ice cube).

Aside from Henrietta Street, this is the first 8DA I have read which features Sabbath. First impressions? A fair recurring villain, reminiscent of Marvel Comics' King Pin character as other reviewers have said, complete with big cigars (which were an early trademark of the Delgado Master also) and chrome-dome hairdo. It's a little disconcerting to be kept completely in the dark with regard to who Sabbath's "masters" are (isn't Time an Eternal), and his relationship with the Warlocks seems a mite contrived. Surely anyone with half a brain would keep their distance from these ghouls? It's a re-run of the Master and the Nestenes/Axons/Mind Parasite /Daemons/ Chronovores, etc, etc - a supposedly subtle and all-knowing criminal genius works at the behest of rapacious monsters who will inevitably move to destroy his very being. The character's believability as a villain is reduced quite a bit by his fundamental gullibility, or maybe that's what we're meant to think.

Aside from the chop-and-change first/third-person narration, which doesn't seriously affect the story (although different chapters for different voices a la Paul Magrs would have been better) there's a serious plausibility problem at work in Infinity Race. Legend has it that the late, great Frank Herbert could be seriously riled at SF conventions by fans' approaching him and asking about oxygen. The reason for this is simple - Herbert's Dune featured a desert world with minimal vegetation and an apparently Earth-normal atmosphere. Highly unlikely, unless the locals farted it. Messingham falls into the same trap here with a water world, and while this is strictly by-the-by, it's a tad annoying and wholly unaddressed by the author.

Overall though, Infinity Race is a traditional, fast-moving, and generally gripping read. Other reviewers have described it as a so-so effort, which I think misses the wood for the trees. If The Infinity Race is an example of a fair-to-middling 8DA, the franchise is improving out of sight.


Water, water, everywhere... by Dave Roy 7/2/06

Alternate universes always have a strike against them from the very start, especially if it's a universe that's destined to either revert back to the normal universe our heroes inhabit or destined to be destroyed. Why should we care about these incidental characters that the author is inventing when what happens to them won't really matter that much? It's even more of a problem in a continuing series, because the "universe" the main characters inhabit is consistent from book to book, making the alternate universe even more disposable than it normally is. The Infinity Race is an alternate universe novel. The events of Time Zero have caused the universes to diverge, so this is not a spoiler. Messingham has succeeded in making a book with characters that we somewhat care about, though the fact that the main characters keep hammering home the alternate aspect of their location makes it hard at times. Thus, Messingham manages to squeeze a pretty good book out of the whole concept.

The Infinity Race is told in an unusual format. There is the normal third-person narrative, but there are also alternate journal entries from Anji and Fitz telling their part of the story, with the occasional piece by Bloom, the main Selonart native character. The Bloom entries are interesting because we see the change that comes over him as events happen. His entries start out with very broken English, making them a little difficult to read. They slowly get better as time goes on and things come to a head. He's also the most interesting character in the entire book, and it's neat to see the transition he goes through. The other Selonart natives, however, aren't anywhere near as interesting and do more to illustrate Bloom's character than anything else.

Anji and Fitz get a lot of characterization through their entries, and it's probably the best these two characters have been written in quite a while. The entries reflect their personalities perfectly, with Fitz displaying bravado but admitting to himself when he's really scared of what's happening. Anji starts out lamenting being pulled from her normal life that she had tried to get back to in Time Zero, is never afraid to point out when the Doctor's being a git, and finally comes around as she decides that what they're doing is necessary. What's most interesting about her sections is when the Doctor asks her to stay behind and talk to the governor and find Fitz. When she can't do either one, her frustration screams off the page, and her fear when the riots start is almost palpable. Sometimes the breezy way they write is a little irritating, especially when they get self-referential. They talk about endless corridors and how the seemingly never-ending "capture, escape, capture again" sequence happens again. But overall, these sections were quite good.

The Doctor is his normal dynamic self, which is nice to see. His interactions with Sabbath are wonderful, with both men being well-characterized. Their dialogue crackles as they argue the merits of their respective positions. The Doctor is adamant that Sabbath's plan not only can't work, but will destroy everything. The only unfortunate thing in The Infinity Race is that Sabbath takes on a couple of bad Master habits (the Master is an old enemy of the Doctor's). He rants and he raves, and he has an ambiguous fate that looks really bad but isn't deadly enough that he won't come back sometime.

Other incidental characters are more hit and miss. The governor is way over the top, and while that may have been intentional, it didn't make him any less annoying. Some of the other characters are better, but they are perfunctorily killed off, without any real purpose, after they've been around for a while. Messingham also suffers from the "let's introduce a character and give him some character detail just so we can kill him off" syndrome. It's a cheat to wring a little bit more emotion out of the reader, and it annoys the heck out of me.

The more I liked some of the characters, though, the more that the constant references to alternate universes annoyed me. I was beginning to like a couple of them, and I didn't want them to not "matter". My mind wanted to prevent me from investing too much caring into them because they would ultimately disappear, even if they didn't actually "die". That's the sad part of the book. Ultimately, it was an enjoyable read, and I'm glad I did. Give it a shot.