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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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.
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