The Scales of Injustice
Instruments of Darkness
|ISBN#||0 563 538?? ?|
|Featuring||The Sixth Doctor, Mel and Evelyn Smythe|
|Synopsis: The Doctor is reunited with his old friend Evelyn Smythe... but there are other old friends around who don't have the Doctor's best interests at heart.|
Am I supposed to buy that? by Joe Ford 7/12/01
What a great book this is, it flows well, is quite readable and has some standout moments that have been missing from the PDA's recently. However, the ending is just so lucklustre it almost defies belief!!! It's as though Gary Russell thought 'oh god, got another couple of audio's to direct, better hurry up and round this off!' which is a shame because I sped through the rest with much interest.
But let's not gripe, considering what else is on offer here, a fascinating exploration of the Doctor and Evelyn's relationship. That she left of her own accord and the Doctor's reaction are both astonishing and quite beliavable, it's these scenes of warmth and humour that drew me to the book, especially their hysterical bitching at each other!
And what about Mel!!! That was Mel? Surely not, this was a rounded, interesting character with dreams and hopes and a past! Seriously, the Mel we're presented with her is a perfect remedy to the cardboard cut out we got on screen, if it's wondering whether to contact her Mum and Dad or worrying about her old friends or just caught between the towering egos of The Doctor and Evelyn, you get the impression this is the chracter Bonnie Langford would have liked to have played! Kudos to Gary Russell for not giving up on her!
But what of the other plots, the haunting tale of disconnected Autons or the bittersweet romance between two lads or the mysterious John Doe pulling the strings in the secret military base....nothing especially new but considering how different they are they manage to join together quite effectively. And dammit, the prose is just so damn readable I found it hard to put down!
It's just that ending that let it down for me, the enemy seemed too easily defeated and that the central mystery of who John Doe was that had kept me intruiged throughout is resolved so dissapointingly. But points for the poignant coda, especially the gentle moment between Mel and Trey.
I'll give Instruments of Darkness a hearty reccomendation anyway, despite the last chapter, you certainly wont be wasting your money. Buy it just for the Doctor's stealing of Evelyn's car!
A Review by Finn Clark 16/1/02
That was a happy surprise! In my opinion Instruments of Darkness is Gary's best BBC book to date. Admittedly the competition for that title isn't strong , but I enjoyed it anyway. I'm not talking about turning off my brain or laughing at sad fanwank, but actually having fun following the story therein.
 - for what it's worth, my opinions of Gary's other BBC novels are:
Business Unusual - good regulars, but sweet fuck
all happening around them
Placebo Effect - not terrible, but full of wasted opportunities
Divided Loyalties - < expletive deleted >
As usual with a Gary Russell book, it's bright and breezy. The prose carries you through on winged heels, though I had to go back and reread the action scenes to work out what had happened. Further clarity there would have been appreciated. But by and large, it's a quick and easy read.
There's no fanwank continuity! Yippee! I've howled and ranted so often about gratuitous references that it's only fair I applaud delightedly when the Gazza finally turns in a book free of the usual cross-referencing.  Mind you, being the third in a trilogy with Scales of Injustice and Business Unusual means it's full of old characters and references from those earlier books, but I don't mind that. That's legitimate continuity. Besides, everything you need to know is explained and having a bit of history behind the characters helps give them depth. I couldn't remember a thing from the earlier books and I don't think it mattered.
 - has being the producer of the audios helped make him a changed Gazza? Certainly some of his statements re. continuity and Big Finish have been refreshingly blithe, coming as they do from the author of Legacy, Divided Loyalties, Placebo Effect et al.
The Doctor and his friends don't do much. In fact it's a good 200 pages before the plot really starts involving them, but oddly I didn't mind. Had this been a Davison PDA I'd have had steam coming out of my ears, but with Colin Baker it didn't seem inappropriate. Perhaps it's because we're used to Season 22 stories in which the Sixth Doctor gets sidelined for most of the first episode, or perhaps it's because Colin's big and colourful enough to remain the focus of the book even when he's not doing anything. Davison has fared relatively badly in the novels (and the early audios, or so I understand), but Colin's generally done quite well and so we're more prepared to make allowances.
Evelyn Smythe appears of course, and works quite well. We even get a Sixth Doctor who's prepared to bicker and be obnoxious and childish, which is a refreshing change from all these oh-so-respectful Sixth Doctor adventures o' today. (See Finn's soapbox.) Unfortunately 200 pages of the regulars bickering like children is a bit much, but two hundred Gary Russell pages pass as quickly as fifty from anyone else, so that's not quite as bad as it might be.
I liked the revelation of the Magnate's identity, if only because I'd initially feared a hideous cliche. To my delight, the Doctor eventually shared my instinctive reactions.
There are a couple of Groan Moments early on, but things get smoother. The big baddies are fairly silly, but treated with a light touch and relatively de-emphasised in favour of the more human characters. I won't pretend this is a masterpiece or anything, but it's perfectly readable and Gazza's best work in half a decade.
Oh dear. I reread this back-to-back with its two prequels, Scales of Injustice and Business Unusual, and was pleasantly surprised by those two, but Instruments of Darkness is a bit boring. I liked aspects of it, but at the end of the day it's a bit of a plod.
I think I've worked out what makes Gary Russell's novels good, by the way. It's his portrayals of the regulars. His plots can be dodgy, but he puts so much enthusiasm and energy into writing about his heroes (the Doctor and his companions) that it's hard not to have fun while reading about them. This explains why the likes of Placebo Effect and Deadfall haven't been memorable despite arguably having stronger plots than usual... neither book has a classic line-up. (Whereas something like Divided Loyalties has the opposite problem; I had lots of fun reading about its TARDIS crew, but even that couldn't save a novel that went berserk with silly continuity-mangling at the expense of story.)
Instruments of Darkness has a plot that's even worse than those of its predecessors, if that's possible. The Doctor, Evelyn and Mel spend nearly two hundred pages bickering, eating food and being completely unaware of the plot unfolding elsewhere without them. There's some C19-lite conspiracy theory, with secret organisations and clandestine assassinations, but it's too diffuse. The narrative consciously spreads itself across centuries and continents. It's hard to find the danger particularly immediate or scary.
The continuity is refreshingly absent, which I appreciated, though there is some tidying of loose ends. The Doctor acquires the Volkswagen Beetle which cropped up in the early 8DAs. (Mel's bat phobia gets another mention.) And of course there's John Doe, whose true identity baffled me in 2001 but now seems obvious from his very first scene. He's someone who knew the 3rd Doctor, UNIT, the Brigadier and Sarah-Jane Smith, and says "gosh" and "golly". You'd think that alone would be enough to give it away, but if anyone's still in doubt pp277-8 should make everything clear.
That worked well (and I liked the explanation of why he was so useful as the leader of the Network). In fact there's clever stuff in this book, nearly enough to compensate for some of its plot problems. The threat is huge and immensely powerful, which is good. So why didn't I like it?
I think it's the people. We see too many characters across too many countries for any of them to seem significant. There's no rhyme or reason about why these particular characters are back from Scales of Injustice and Business Unusual, except that all the others died and Gary wanted to write a third book in the series. I liked Ciara and Cellian, but they get almost nothing to do.
However worst of all (in my opinion) were the Doctor, Evelyn and Mel.
Scales of Injustice was a huge turning point in the regulars' lives, while Business Unusual showed a charming first meeting of Mel and the Doctor. Instruments of Darkness merely has the agenda of introducing Evelyn by giving her a reason to bitch at the Doctor for 200 pages. She's well drawn, but her scenes aren't much fun. Evelyn isn't particularly well suited to Gary's style of writing; she's acerbic, intelligent, down-to-earth and a bit of a wet blanket at times. It's hard to write pages and pages of Evelyn material that bubbles along entertainingly without going anywhere. (She brings out the worst in Mel too. Page 177 made my eyes bulge, and not in a good way.)
I quite enjoyed this back in 2001, but it doesn't hold up well to rereading. If the mystery is known in advance, one's left only with some slightly lacklustre regulars and lots of bitty far-flung disconnected scenes instead of a story. If I remember correctly, Gary Russell was considering a fourth in this series; I can see how that might work, but I think it would be a mistake. The last links back to Scales of Injustice are now gone; this trilogy worked better than I expected, but now it's time to let it lie.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 4/2/02
I hate to say this when I am reviewing a book, but my favourite kind of Doctor Who is Audio. I think Big Finish have taken what makes Doctor Who great and made it even greater. When I heard Evelyn Smythe would be appearing in this book I had to buy it. She is already one of my favourite companions, and with some fine scripts, has helped to make the 6th Doctor on a par with the very best. Put into the mix that Gary Russell, the Producer and therefore one of the key players in Big Finish, as the writer and this promised a great deal.
When the book started I was confused. I read the first chapter, 2nd chapter, no Doctor, no Evelyn. We were given instead a wild assortment of individuals joined by a strange event. When the Doctor did appear in Chapter 3 he was with Mel, where’s Evelyn? I was confused. It was not until Page 80 that Evelyn does appear. What was she doing in the Norfolk Broads, living in a nice old cottage? What was the connection with the earlier collection of individuals? Lots of questions, and I was intrigued to find the answers – I read on.
And from thereon the book can be split into 2 definite sections. Unfortunately these are part of the continuing narrative, so one has to be read along with the other. I refer to Excerpt 1 – The Doctor, Mel and Evelyn and their exploits. Excerpt 2 – the nine telepaths, the Instruments of the book title.
The excerpts with the Doctor, Evelyn and Mel were full of life. The interplay between the 3 is a total joy to read. There is the 6th Doctor and Evelyn’s wonderful disagreements. There’s Mel's misunderstanding, and ultimate jealousy of Evelyn. There’s conflict and respect between Mel and Evelyn. There’s also the Doctor going off on his own to solve the mystery. This is characterization of Doctor Who personnel at its best. I cannot compliment the author enough. Mel is fascinating, but Evelyn is doubly so. The Doctor in turn is magnificent – we are finally getting the ultimate Doctor portrayal, and I am surprised yet delighted that he wears a Coat of Many Colours.
The book though is also (probably mostly) about the Instruments though. These have appeared in Gary Russell’s previous novels Scales of Injustice and Business Unusual. I didn’t like Scales and I didn’t read Business, so I was none the wiser about the connections between the books. The Autons living in Halcham were a pretty good idea, but the rest just didn’t have the same impact. I skipped quickly over these sections. Also in there was John Doe, who isn’t at all what I expected. And I am not sure I liked who he really was. I could not see the person he was supposed to be at all, looking back.
So we are left with a quite peculiar book. At times it is wondrous, one of the best things I have read about the Doctor and his Companions. But the story is crowded with so many other players. And I wanted, constantly to read about the Doctor, Evelyn and Mel – not some telepaths and their secret organization. I have never read a book like it – talk about 2 sides of the fence! This has both, and I know which side of the fence I want to be. 7/10
Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 20/2/02
I wouldn't say that this was the third in a trilogy, but Instruments of Darkness certainly carries on the story line started in The Scales of Injustice and continued in Business Unusual. The book centres a lot around the people who were left behind, either from the events of Business Unusual or by the Doctor himself, in the form of Evelyn Smythe. Someone was bound to use her in a novel so Gary Russell thought he may as well get in first, which is certainly fitting as he helped to create her.
The story does move rather slowly, and it isn't until the last hundred pages that the various opposing groups actually meet each other. This is partly compounded in the beginning by the introduction of someone new almost every other page. When everyone is finally involved, the book flows quickly enough, although I was a little confused at the end as to who exactly was the real enemy that they were defeating. Loyalties were changing a bit too frequently at the end for me to completely keep track of (no, I'm not going to say they were 'divided loyalties').
The Doctor is well written, and Gary Russell has a good grasp of the somewhat ebullient nature of his persona. Although I did notice a few instances of words being repeated ever louder that both Gary Russell and Colin Baker have despaired of in the Big Finish Audios.
Mel and Evelyn also come across wonderfully, although I think it definitely helps to have heard Evelyn from said Audios. I'm not sure if someone who hasn't heard them will be able to follow on with her character so easily. The two companions have some truly touching moments interacting, and if the end of the book is anything to go by there may be further stories with this pairing, which will be no bad thing.
A small confession here: I've almost completely forgotten all of Business Unusual, so will have to take the author's word that the characters and relationships that are continued here are developed from that previous book. I also have to admit that I had a harder time accepting Trey Korte as the character knowing a bit more about Trey Korte the person (which isn't much, but knowing about real world connections can help or hinder a novel and for me it hindered).
Of the new characters I found Malvern, and especially his motives, to be somewhat confusing (see above re ending). My favourite character would be Captain Thérese Gavalle, although Vice-Marshal Charles Dickenson (rtd) comes a close second. The truth about John Doe is a brilliant (albeit vicious) touch. The character of Ini-Ma had more of a build-up that the pay-off delivered. And the aliens came across as only slightly better than the Vardans in terms of commanding performances.
Instruments of Darkness is an easy read, and certainly an enjoyable one. For any Evelyn Smythe fans, this is one to pick up, but you'd also be advised that there are plenty of connections to previous novels (including an off hand remark about Grant!). Gary Russell may not like the actual process of writing novels, but his Sixth Doctor ones are certainly worth it.
A Review by John Seavey 16/4/02
Instruments of Darkness is certainly head and shoulders above Russell's last output for the line, but it's still not that good. IoD is readable in spots -- very readable, in fact. When Russell is doing a James-Bondian thriller with mysterious Magnates, sinister albinos, deranged Networks, and all that, it's very interesting indeed. Then the Doctor shows up, and the whole thing seems to come to a screeching halt.
Part of the problem is Evelyn Smythe. She's not a Mary-Sue, technically, but it's certainly grating to have her show up and have the Doctor go on for pages and pages about what a great companion she was, and how he misses her terribly, and how she can single-handedly take on Dalek armies, and how her touch can cure scrofula, and... wittering on about characters he's created is Russell's primary sin in this book. The Irish twins, Trey Korte, Bob Lines... everyone makes an "old home week" reappearance in this book, despite the fact that nobody's been clamoring for their return to begin with.
The eventual revelation of the villains is right out of an old Star Trek episode, and their defeat is right out of a ST:TNG one (ie, lumps of technobabble in place of a plot resolution). All in all, the book degenerates fast after a promising start. But it did have a promising start, at least...
This Month's Quiz: What kind of writer are you? by Robert Smith? 23/7/02
Have you written several novels that your Mum and all your friends tell you are great, but which get trashed on the internet? Does the ignorant fanbase off whom you make your living not understand the depths and subtleties which your masterpieces of literary achievement collectively reach? Have you ever constructed an 80,000 word novel to justify a fan argument you once made online, secure in the knowledge that this time those pedantic bastards won't be able to refute it? In short, just what kind of Doctor Who author are you? Take this simple quiz to find out!
First up, how do you see the Doctor?
a) He's the central protagonist of a long-running range, whose character has been explored in great depth by the finest up and coming writers of today. It's his complex character who should hover over every page, while being simultaneously kept at arm's length to preserve his fundamental alienness. With the transition to a novel character, he must undergo change and evolution, with a subtle character arc that runs through the background of every book.
b) He just sort of faffs around a bit and occasionally hugs people. It's a pity we lost the monosyllable thing, really, that really helped fill up the word count.
c) I believe he should spend as much time eating as possible and stay completely away from the rest of the plot that unfolds around him.
What about companions?
a) Through the eyes of layered and deep characters in their own right, we see the complexities of the Doctor, the mysteries of the universe throughout time and space and the horror of the evil that lurks around every corner. Not to mention copious amounts of alcohol and hot gay sex.
b) It's great having a companion who smokes, but who can't find a packet of fags on the planet Gurblebesh in the 84th century. I'm telling you, that joke will never get old.
c) I created a companion in a different media, who about 10% of this book's audience will have heard. So naturally I felt the need to have everyone else in the novel go on at great length about how she is the uber-Companion and have a really awkward bit about the Doctor being in love with her. Even I'm not sure what was up with that.
And the TARDIS?
a) It's a complex and dangerous machine, whose appearance, even the interior, only masks the true form of something that's the one constant throughout the series.
b) I say blow it up real good and replace it by a woman, so we can have all those "entering Compassion" jokes. I tell ya, the comedy potential is infinite. But then we won't actually do anything interesting with the concept and bring back the original when everyone complains.
c) Where others have used subtext and hints to suggest that the TARDIS may be sentient, I think it would work a lot better if we abandoned all that and instead had the TARDIS explicitly communicating with the Doctor by dimming and brightening its lights not wholly unlike an epileptic disco on page 32.
What are the most important characteristics of your plot?
a) The story must be set up in layers that don't need the Doctor or his companions for the first seventy pages or so, but when they do appear it turns out they've been there all along, working behind the scenes to an enormously clever masterplan.
b) It's a careful balance between small, inconsequential tales in a single setting or two... and whacking huge revelations about reality and the very fabric of the universe being torn apart, while rewriting the past and creating mind-boggling paradoxes.
c) Must be a sequel to something. And if I can use it as a vehicle to undermine the TV series by expounding at great length about the sixth Doctor not being a vegetarian despite the fact that he patently was at the end of The Two Doctors and again in Revelation of the Daleks, all the better!
What's your ideal setting?
a) A near future colony world, with an ancient sentient entity from previously unmentioned Gallifreyan lore buried beneath it. Are there any other kinds?
b) The Doctor should be trapped on Earth with no memories. That worked really well, didn't it? Well, up until it lost all credibility by ending the line's most intricate and finely tuned arc ever with Escape Velocity. That was a bit of a stupid thing to do, now that I come to think of it.
c) The reader should be introduced to as many different settings as humanely possible in the opening chapter, in order to make the book appear deep and complex. And lots of places for the Doctor to eat along the way.
What's your take on continuity?
a) I believe the books must strive to be forward-looking and carve out their own niche as novels in their own right. They must build their own history and characters while still being accessible to non-fans who appreciate quality Science Fiction.
b) I think there should be implausible retconning and a plethora of old friends and enemies for a while, then a complex story arc based on the works of Lawrence Miles that rewrites and reinterprets the fundamentals of continuity as we know it... before being completely gotten rid of with no questions asked.
c) It's vitally important to maintain character consistency by having the sixth Doctor idly reminisce about Romana and K9 for no reason at all on page 185.
What about intra-story continuity?
a) Absolutely vital if these books are to rise up above the inherent confines of TV tie-in novelisations and be taken seriously as starting points for the vibrant careers of today's best writers.
b) It's okay, but not nearly as important as having big huge things happening to the Doctor that aren't actually as interesting when anyone other than Lawrence writes them.
c) Nobody cares about that, so they? I mean, if I say "He never saw or heard from [his son] again" on page 18 and then they actually meet on page 246, it's not as though it really matters, is it? Crap. It was all crap. Wait, a minute Adrian, that thing's not on, is it?
How do you feel about the idea of sequels?
a) Better off as an MA, David.
b) Does this mean we can write more followups to Lawrence's books, despite the fact that none of us fully understood them?
c) Well, everyone hated my last two books, but the one before that was a sequel, so I thought I'd be on to a good thing by writing a sequel to that one. Is that brilliant or what?
What are your views on deadlines?
a) Art is never finished, only abandoned. And occasionally melted inside a harddrive and rewritten by someone else.
b) We've all been a bit more hardworking in that regard since Campaign, actually.
c) Whatever. I'm sure Justin and Steve can dash off an infinitely superior book in a couple of weeks if necessary.
What's your view on comedy in the novels?
a) The books are a grim examination of the angst and moral complexities of a flawed hero for the nineties. What's comedy?
b) Look, those jokes about entering Compassion were hilarious. What more could you want?
c) I worked the megabyte modem into my book on page 174, does that count?
a) The Doctor has been seeding the galaxy with a variety of pseudo-companions who pop up again and again. It's obviously a devious masterplan, although in hindsight we're not actually sure where we were going with that one.
b) Everyone got upset when we did that in the beginning, so we only use Iris these days.
c) It's important to feature a former companion who has no resemblance to the character seen before and who's all bitter at the Doctor for reasons that aren't entirely clear and who eventually gets killed off before actually having any contribution to the plot at hand or any kind of climactic showdown with the Doctor. Well, that worked for the NAs and everyone seemed to like them.
If you answered
Mostly a's: You're a Virgin writer, who understands literary form, the twin complexities of plotting and character, the importance of the series driving itself ever forward... and we don't want your sort hanging around here any more. Shouldn't you be working on Casualty or Emmerdale or something?
Mostly b's: You're an EDA writer. You like continuity, but you're trying to give it up. You don't get on with Lawrence Miles, but you enjoy writing books based on his ideas. You believe the line will take off any day now, honest, despite the fact that there's almost as many books as the NAs had already, so someone really should be getting a move on.
Mostly c's: Congratulations, you're the author of Instruments of Darkness! You've written a book that consists of 200 pages of the Doctor, Mel and Evelyn eating food while an unrelated plot develops elsewhere. You enjoy continuity and honestly don't understand all the complaints that it's been done to death by now, because the classic Colin Baker era had a lot of continuity and that was only 15 years and about 300 stories ago. It doesn't bother you overly much that people think your book is a bit boring, because anyone who counts isn't going to say so in case they want to work for you at some point.
A Review by Brett Walther 13/10/03
There's a familiar sort of chaos that reigns through the first hundred pages of Instruments of Darkness. It's the feeling of hundreds of characters being introduced, only to disappear entirely for great sections of the book, and then make a token appearance towards the end (or in some cases, merely mentioned as a footnote during the convoluted conclusion). It's the kind of mayhem that swamped Gary Russell's earlier Placebo Effect, which was another occasion on which I had to break out my trusty pen and reporter's notepad just so I could keep track of everyone.
Character-wise, there are some groan-worthy creations, like the Amazonian assassins (one of whom is actually named "Ms Demeanour"...) But there's also some returning characters, who (unlike many that were thrown into the mix in Placebo Effect) were actually deserving of a return. There's Ciara and Cellian, the Auton twins, for instance. Although I'd read The Scales of Injustice a few years back, I felt somewhat at a disadvantage having not read Business Unusual, in which they make their second appearance. I did, however, recall from the first book that this pair were particularly nasty, and it had disturbed me a bit that they'd gotten away at the end of Scales without having to face the consequences of their actions.
But wrapping everything up seems to be the central theme of this book, which is far and away Russell's strongest effort in the series. The Autons seek forgiveness; the amnesiacs who come into contact with the Magnate seek their memories; Trey is seeking his boyfriend Joe; the Doctor is seeking out the Autons to tie up the loose ends from the SeneNet fiasco; and Evelyn seeks an escape from 1993. These subplots are so much more interesting than the larger picture, when it comes down to it.
The main plot really isn't up to much. There's a blue pillar of light that's scouring the Earth for its brother, who's bent on occupying the minds of all humans a la Skagra from Shada. It turns out the brothers are telepathic criminals who were exiled to a barren plane of existence for all eternity. But there's nothing to worry about in the end, 'cos their jailer just decides to blow them up at the end.
Despite the disappointing plot (which, as I've suggested, is less important than the subplots that surround it) Instruments of Darkness still sparkles on occasion. What everyone will remember about this book is the much-praised interaction between the Sixth Doctor, Mel and Evelyn.
Now I must confess that Doctor Who audios are extremely hard to come by in Canada, and the extent of my knowledge of Evelyn Smythe was that she was a creation for the audios that Gary Russell touts as the ultimate companion for the Doctor. And why shouldn't he? Evelyn is absolutely brilliant. Upon re-watching a number of Sixth Doctor videos lately, I've realized that one of the reasons I despised Season Twenty-Two so much was because of Peri and her complete inability to stand up to this brash, arrogant Time Lord. It's so incredibly refreshing to have Evelyn throw everything back at the Doctor. They're very much the stereotypical old married couple, with Mel sharing the reader's curiosity at what actually lies at the root of their friendship. Is it a kind of love? Is the nature of their relationship different from other Doctor/companion relationships? The bit where Mel asks Evelyn about her feelings towards the Doctor is absolutely beautiful, and just goes to show that in the hands of people who saw the character's potential, Mel can be a brilliant companion.
What I found to be the most involving aspect of Instruments of Darkness, however, was the love story. Yes, there's a love story in Instruments of Darkness, and it's what held my attention throughout. Although it sounds completely ridiculous in summary (boy meets boy; boy falls in love with boy; boy thinks boy is missing, but he's really just been converted into a quasi-Auton), it's absolutely heartwrenching, and is one of the best romantic subplots the series has done as of late. Trey is a great character, and Russell expertly crafts the tragedy of the relationship.
So if you're willing to overlook the plot, there's a treasure trove in Instruments of Darkness that's well worth exploring.
A Few More Ghosts for N-Space by Jason A. Miller 12/11/03
On the whole, I can't think of too many things wrong with Gary Russell's Instruments of Darkness. Especially if your expectations have been dulled by, say, Divided Loyalties or Invasion of the Cat-People, you might be happy to find that not all that much in this book is risible.
On the other hand, I can't think of too many things I liked about this book. I don't know what I would say, for example, if I were asked to recommend it to others. I'm not a 6th Doctor fan by any means -- not on TV, not in print -- so this less over-the-top print version of the Colin Baker Doctor does not get me excited. I liked Mel as a companion, but this book's contribution to the post-TV companion canon -- Dr. Evelyn Smythe from the Big Finish audios -- was a letdown.
Evelyn takes up large portions of the text, without really adding much. She's introduced as a character not through her actions, but by long-winded speeches -- by speeches by the Doctor; by her duelling monologues with Mel (I hesitate to call them "conversations"); and, worst of all, through her own speeches. We keep hearing about how great she is. Fine. Go out and prove it. Do something heroic. Be less annoying.
When Instruments of Darkness isn't about Evelyn, or about Evelyn's relationship with the Doctor (she's introduced as a former, jilted, companion), or about what Mel thinks of Evelyn... there's a convoluted plot about alien beings (think Trelayne, if the Squire of Gothos had a less self-aware younger brother) perverting the course of human history. There are telepaths in France and Auton telepaths in England. There are a couple of well-drawn American reporters, but they're limited to about 12 pages of text (set in Micronesia, would you believe) and could be eliminated from the story without a hiccup. The end of the book is meant to be tragic, but it ends with the self-sacrifice of a zero-dimensional quaternary character, so... if you can figure it out, you can enjoy it. At least you'll be able to say, "I never saw that one coming!", and mean it.
Instruments of Darkness takes 70 Doctor-free pages to get going. Virgin Publishing did well with this approach. Here, however, we're introduced to about 20 characters in short, violent, action/tragedy sequences. Coming at the end of the novel, such a montage could have provided kick. Coming at the beginning, however, it's a drag.
So, let's recap. I've complained about the plot, I've complained about the characters. Now, let me switch gears and kvell about the villain. Remember that annoying Virgin Publishing habit of bringing back old TV companions, ruining their lives, turning them against the Doctor, and killing them off? Well, one of the human villains of this piece is a familiar figure. Not from the TV show, but, for once, it's a pleasure to bring back someone else just to ruin their lives. That's why I give the book extra points and that's why I owe Gary Russell a beer.