Time of Your Life
|ISBN#||0 426 20474 3|
|Continuity||After Time of Your Life|
|Synopsis: On the planet Agora, the Doctor and Grant Markham uncover a plot to turn the entire population into a new breed of Cybermen.|
A Review by Sean Gaffney 25/8/99
Killing Ground. Steve Lyons. A 6th Doctor MA. I wonder if they'll be violence? However, the violence is very realistic and wrenching, as opposed to Time of Your Life (which I also liked) where the violence is mainly metaphorical. Nonetheless, if you hated TOYL, and if you hated Head Games, then I *still* think you'll enjoy Killing Ground.
I must confess to not having read David Banks' Cybermen, and so I have no idea how much of this is taken from it. Onward...
PLOT: Simple and concise. Cybermen against colonists, a modern day Frankenstein with the monster as the baddie. The Bronze Knights are an obvious defence that should never had happened.
THE DOCTOR: Still in the middle of his mid-life crisis. Treating Grant like a tapeworm, acting callous and occasionally suicidal, this is the link between early and late Colin. The end of the book has a fascinating study of the guilt that secretly eats at this incarnation.
GRANT: A lot more developed, he is trapped on a world of his nightmares, with a distrustful Doctor and a bunch of Cybermen. Nevertheless, he performs the companion role admirably.
OTHERS: I really liked Max, the conscience of the book. Hegelia was absolutely creepy and bad. Taggart (who I kept thinking of as Michael Keating) was a visceral portrayal of an ordinary man carried along by rebellion.
STYLE: If they ever do the original Blake's 7 novels, I want Steve to write the first one. This is eerily reminiscent of some of the themes of rebellion that go along wiith Blake, and Henneker is an interesting study of a Blake gone wrong. I also like the idea of the Doctor being sought out and trapped immediately. D'oh!
OVERALL: Another good one from Steve, but non-fans of his work will like it too. An interesting examination of Cyber-life.
Lots of violence, but not much six by Tim Roll-Pickering 11/1/00
After the semi-fantastical Time of Your Life, Steve Lyon's second book is much more down to earth and just as grim. Almost as violent as anything seen in Season 22, it takes us to Grant's homeworld of Agora, a planet named in the Terry Nation style. This Earth colony is a proverbial Eden where, as we see in the prologue, the original colonists hoped to establish a back to basics settlement but a serpent has long terrorised this paradise and this serpent comes in the form of the Cybermen. Every three years they come to collect five hundred young men for conversion, gathered by the Overseers, human who maintain order for them. But rebels are now preparing for an uprising using stolen Cyber technology.
One of the factors notable in many stories featuring both the Cybermen and the Daleks is that they could so very easily have been replaced by any other monster, since there is so little analysis of just what they are. Like Colin Baker's onscreen encounter with the Cybermen, Attack of the Cybermen, Killing Ground is one of the exceptions to this rule, focusing deeply on just what it means to be converted as the rebels create their own answer to the Cybermen -- the Bronze Knights -- whilst the historian Hegelia seeks to be converted into a Cyberman no matter the cost. In many ways the basics of this story could so easily have been written by Eric Saward -- there is a strong analysis of what it means to become one of the monsters, as in Revelation of the Daleks, the morals of the Bronze Knights are not so cut and thrust and indeed are called into question, there's a lot of violence (the manufacturers of prop blood would have loved to have made this one on television!) and the sixth Doctor spends much of the early part of the story away from the main action.
In the meantime we get to understand his companion Grant Markham (introduced in Time of Your Life) a whole lot more. Like nearly all the companions introduced in the televised 1980s stories, Grant's introductory story (although like Turlough in Planet of Fire it is not his first one) sees his world turned upside down and several of his family killed. Through the book he develops quite well as he struggles to overcome his incredibly strong fear of robots and help the rebels win through. One of the less than satisfactory points comes at the end of the book when he and Jolarr realise that it was the Arc Hives ship that Grant initially escaped Agora upon since I find it hard to believe that Taggart and the other Overseers could work out how to operate a ship from the future. The other pity is a more general one as the shift to BBC Books means that no originated companions from the Virgin range can be used in the new titles and so Grant's future adventures can only be confined to other mediums.
Steve Lyons has borrowed the character of Hegelia from David Banks' Cybermen book in order to add to the tension. Hegelia is the foremost historian of the Cybermen who has secretly altered the destination that she and Jolarr were heading for supposedly so that they can now witness the end of the Cybermen's domination of Agora firsthand, but it soon becomes clear that her ambition goes much deeper as she puts the entire colony at risk in order to be converted. Ironically one of her first actions immediately afterwards is to destroy her record of her conversion that was the missing piece in the history of the Cybermen. The other characters are a mix, with Henneker almost forgettable, Taggart semi memorable and the Cybermen are as individualless as the book requires. The ones seen here are the so-called Cyber-Nomads (Hegelia's term) from Revenge of the Cybermen who show rather more emotion than they should and even get told by the Doctor how silly they look when they stand with their hands on hips trying to be threatening!
The sixth Doctor is handled just as well here as in Time of Your Life and as usual benefits from the printed medium as it allows for much introspection. Although he has determined to mend his ways, he finds that he is still making mistakes and feels he has failed people. However he is prepared to step into danger and even feels rather hurt when he is accused of being a coward. The climax aboard the Cybermen's warship is extremely memorable, especially for the scene where he is climbing a rope to reach the TARDIS and escape when he realises that he could solve so much and never become the Valeyard simply by letting go. Given the enormity of the events of The Trial of a Time Lord, it is sensible that they are not immediately brushed over and hopefully will be treated with as much respect as those of The War Games. This is a story that can appeal to many readers, irregardless of whether or not they enjoyed Time of Your Life and shows how well Colin Baker's era can be handled when done properly. 10/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 29/4/01
Killing Ground is a great read, which examines new ideas with the Cybermen, explores the Sixth Doctor`s darker side and takes us back to the planet of Agora, homeworld of Grant Markham. Steve Lyons' book breathes new life into the Cybermen and explores the ideas of conversion, particularly from a female perspective in this instance, from the point of view of Hegelia. Grant is given more than his fair share in the book becoming a sort of freedom fighter, and his background is fleshed out more; although it is a shame he has not reappeared in any form since.
Another enjoyable aspect is that the book starts with The Doctor being tortured, a clever twist on a traditional tale. Overall, this is a joy to behold and one of the best Cybermen tales.
A Review by Finn Clark 2/3/04
That's more like it! Killing Ground builds on Time of Your Life's examination of the 6th Doctor while also being the most in-depth study of the Cybermen in the novels to date. It's bleak, joyless and perhaps Steve Lyons's best novel not to feature the Land of Fiction or cartoon characters.
As a Cyberman story, it rocks. It captures their essence, making them implacable and genuinely scary instead of just metal goons. I adored the children's Cyber-book pastiches on p200. There's much discussion of what it means to undergo conversion, with both the horror and the dark attraction being given plenty of screen time... so much so that at times the novel nearly becomes a philosophy essay. The all-important question "how does it feel?" actually becomes a chapter title, but it's made plain that anyone in a position to answer the question would no longer even understand it. The book's most impressive sequence (and worth the price of admission alone) is the step-by-step Cyberconversion, which for beats anything the TV series ever did with the Cybermen twenty times over.
Of course, this being a Steve Lyons book, there's a definite awareness of the shortcomings of TV production. It stars Revenge-model Cybermen, so we get scenes like the 6th Doctor advising the Cyberleader not to stand with his hands on his hips (as Christopher Robbie did in 1975). There's also no attempt to make the Cybermen glossier and Borg-like. These are BBC TV monsters, complete with rubber suits and zips. However, almost uniquely in the books, these in-jokes don't undercut the drama. Instead they're used for characterisation, providing an insight into the logic of monsters that want to intimidate humans and perpetuate the Cyber-race. It's a delicate balance and it could easily have tipped over into self-parody... but it never does. Kudos for that.
That's a big chunk of Killing Ground. Another chunk is its examination of the 6th Doctor, which doesn't go to the extremes of Time of Your Life but is still pretty hard-hitting. This is a childish, petty, sometimes unlikeable Doctor whose blackest moments make Head Games look light-hearted. At one point he effectively considers suicide. Whatever else you might say about Steve Lyons, he's uncompromising. The Doctor spends nearly 100 pages locked in a cell, which felt to me like a deliberate comment on the Saward universe and the 6th Doctor's place in it. I'm in awe. It takes guts for an author to recreate the crap along with the good stuff, and locking away your hero for nearly half the book is definitely flirting with crappiness. Yet somehow Killing Ground gets away with it. As part of its character study of the 6th Doctor, it works.
Grant Markham is fairly rubbish as a companion (which even the text acknowledges at one point), but being brought to his home of childhood nightmares means he gets plenty of good material. There's genuine uncertainty about whether or not he'll survive, being a temporary companion in an era where even the real companions weren't necessarily safe. It's a shame that Steve Lyons never got to extend this era for BBC Books, since I'd have been fascinated to see where he took it next. (Though I don't know if he'd want to, since so far he seems to be working to a fixed pattern of two books per Doctor... so far he's written two McCoy NAs, two Colin Baker MAs and two BBC Books for each of Hartnell, Troughton and McGann.)
There's plenty of meat on the book's themes, with the Agorans trying to outdo the Cybermen at their own game and two ArcHivists (from David Banks's non-fiction Cyberman book) bringing their own agendas to bear. All kinds of questions are explored in detail.
The book's rooted squarely in its era, but not with continuity references. It's contemporaneous with Time of Your Life (2191). The Cybermen took over Agora while Earth was being invaded by Daleks ("back in the fifties"), which is why no one's investigated since. Finally the Cybermen pilot a Selachian warcraft, created by Steve Lyons in such detail that he brought back the Selachians twice for Troughton PDAs set in this era: The Murder Game (2136) and The Final Sanction (2204). Continuity-wise the only problem is the ugly chunk of Cyberhistory on p32, lifted from David Banks's Cybertheories but since superceded. It dates both Revenge and Tomb about six centuries too early, but that's just tough. Presumably either the ArcHivists were wrong or someone chose to misinform Jolarr. [Note that Killing Ground's ArcHivists also don't think any Cybermen exist in their era, but in The Quantum Archangel the ArcHives have been overrun by Cyberlord Brandt.]
In an odd way this doesn't feel like a Season 22 or 23 story. It's not glossy enough. Agora is a low-budget world of drab corridors and only a handful of characters, almost playing in the imagination like a black-and-white story. However its characters are strong and its story is brave and uncompromising. I'm not the world's greatest fan of Time of Your Life, but that and Killing Ground are easily the most interesting Colin Baker books published to date. Too many MAs and PDAs are inconsequential one-read throwaways, but this will reward return visits. An impressive piece of work.