THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC Books
Kursaal

Author Peter Anghelides Cover image
ISBN 0 563 40578 3
Published 1998

Synopsis: Kursaal, the site for the construction of a huge theme park, has been targetted by a group of environmental terrorists, and the local security forces believe they're the worst problem they'll have to deal with. However, the Doctor discovers that something far worse is lurking in the shadows.


Reviews

A Review by Oliver Thornton 27/3/98

In many ways, I felt this novel was a simple and inferior copy of the plot of Vampire Science. It is painfully easy to see where the story is going, and who/what will turn out to be the bad guys. Even more painful is the amount of time it takes for the Doctor to figure it out, and he than has to explain it to everybody else. The storyline is formulaic and is reminiscent of the worst elements of the UNIT days. None of the supporting characters are properly fleshed out, and the companion, Sam, has been relegated to the status of pawn for the manipulation of the Doctor's actions and the implementation of the baddies' plans.

The conclusion is obvious from about half-way through, apart from one aspect which the baddie leader has to explain in excrutiating detail when describing the glorious plan. The manner of the Doctor's victory is disappointing and leaves something to be desired in the character consistency department too. This would be at best a mediocre story to make up the numbers for a season on TV, but is a real let-down after the quality of some of the other BBC novels.


Neither Appalling nor a Classic by Robert Smith? Updated 3/5/99

Kursaal is competent, makes no major mistakes, has everything in place reasonably well... and is boring, forgettable and somewhat tedious.

The BBC Eighth Doctor line spawns its first first-time novelist. Kursaal is no Timewyrm: Revelation, settling instead for a book whose only overriding description is 'mediocrity'. Which isn't to say that it's a bad novel, by any means. I just don't think it's a particularly good one either. And after the high point that ,a href=alie.htm>Alien Bodies provided last month, it looks like the line is settling down into competent-but-forgettable stories, of which Kursaal is sadly a prime example.

Peter Anghelides, while a first time novelist, has contributed two enjoyable short stories to the Decalog line, but is perhaps more famous for being a wit of the highest order on rec.arts.drwho. Unfortunately, his first novel doesn't live up to either standard.

The worst part, perhaps, is that it seems to be trying really hard. There's an earnestness here that's caught between trying to tell a very traditional Doctor Who story, complete with a gothic myth ripoff, and trying to rise above its own material. I can certainly appreciate the attempt to do better, but sadly it seems very forced.

The Doctor and Sam work well enough, which is definitely in the book's favour. Sam is given a fair bit of backstory... that also completely contradicts what we know of Sam's parents (the Save-the-whale, 70s liberal parents would never have thrown out a Greenpeace booklet for instance. Rather, I'm fairly confident they'd have been proud of Sam following in their footsteps).

Speaking of Sam's function in the plot (and really, that's what most of the characters are here: plot functions), this novel is trying oh-so-hard to be a Hinchcliffe horror novel that it isn't funny. There's the take on the werewolf myths, the theme of possession of both the living and the dead, the takeover of a companion and the mysterious stalking thing. Fortunately, it's far subtler and hence far more effective than the dismal Bodysnatchers (and the Doctor doesn't speak with 60% of Tom Baker's dialogue), but I'm wondering if the BBC line has decided that what makes Doctor Who good (or perhaps what sells) is Hinchcliffe Who. I sincerely hope not - good as it was on TV a) it doesn't translate too well to novel form b) nobody seems to be doing it justice and c) I'd much rather read Hinchcliffe horror in a past Doctor book, not the supposedly innovative and current line that the Eighth Doctor books aren't.

The archaeological setting at the beginning worked quite well and set things in motion nicely. Unfortunately later events seem to fizzle out a bit. Amy Saraband's apparent death is so obviously faked... except that it isn't, as she never turns up again, so we have to presume that the obvious she's-not-really-dead-because-we-never-saw-the-body sequence was actually meant to be serious. Gray seems like a bit of a caricature and his motivation is certainly never straightforward, but he conveniently throws himself out a window halfway through the book, just to move the plot along a bit.

Kadijk is one of only two developed characters in the novel and this definitely worked to his advantage. There's an attempt at complexity which almost succeeds and he seems to be the one person for whom the events will resonate and provide a counterpoint... until he gets killed off near the end of the book when things get a bit boring, so it was all for nothing. A shame.

Cockaigne is the other developed character, even though he's not quite in Kadijk's league. The propaganda about him and having people think the Doctor was the leader of HALF was very well done, even if Cockaigne's swearing proved even more irritating Bambera's in Battlefield (with no 7:35 timeslot as an excuse this time).

There's a major jump in the book as the Doctor and Sam change timezones halfway through. This was perhaps my favourite part, as all the things we had seen so far took on a new light, as well as the Doctor and Sam's actions in the past. Kadijk's refusal to take them at face value was refreshing and very unWho-ish (and it's about time too).

The chapter titles are a bit unfortunate. I could usually guess what was going to happen in each chapter from the dialogue (and was only drastically wrong once). This idea was silly when Terrance Dicks did it in The Ambassadors of Death novelisation. Ten years later and it hasn't really improved.

Another thing that was almost painful to watch was the string of completely unfunny and forced jokes that Anghelides insisted characters repeat (and I do stress that, since I don't think I spotted a single one I hadn't heard before). I realise that humour is hard to write, especially in a novel, but coming from the self assured master of wit and written humour on rec.arts.drwho, this was rather tragic. Even moreso because the BBC line could desperately use some comedy at this point.

The finale was also a bit forced. I have a hard time believing that a bomb could remain unharmed and then be activated exactly as intended after fifteen years (as opposed to simply blowing up in Kadijk's face in the unlikely event that it hadn't gone off earlier). If there was something special about this type of bomb, I think this really should have been pointed out. The all-action finale would probably look great on a big budget, but is a tad boring on the page. And the author seems to realise this as he keeps injecting things to spice up the action a bit (eg breaking someone's fingers, killing someone else off, yawning suddenly... oh wait, that was me).

Some things I did like: The revelation about the exact nature of the Jax -- that took me by surprise and worked very well. The dual natured plot (even if a great deal of the first half did go nowhere). The fact that I only spotted two typesetting errors. The final page, which made up for a lot of the problems I had.

Overall, Kursaal is a mostly competent, but otherwise forgettable novel. It tries far too hard to simply be a decent story that it seems to forget that what makes a decent story is more than just having competent prose, plotting and characterisation. Instead a decent novel has that indefinable something that makes it stand out and be remembered long after the reader has finished. Kursaal has its moments, but that isn't one of them. Not an appalling first attempt, but by no means a classic.


A Review by Michael Hickerson 7/6/98

I really, really wanted to like Kursaal.

And for the first fifty or so pages, I really liked it. It had atmosphere, it had interesting characters, and it had a monster attacking people. In short, it all the makings of great Doctor Who.

But somewhere at the point where the Doctor and Sam cross the path of the secondary characters in the novel, it starts to fall apart. Before you know it, the Doctor is posing as a medical examiner, Sam is posing as Nurse Jones, and they're caught up in a web of mayhem, murder, and duplicity. Problem is that once you see the standard Who elements beging to emerge in the novel, it becomes fairly predicable.

Kursaal is a being designed as a planet to be like "Disneyland meets Babylon Five" (at least that's how the Doctor describes it to Sam). A pleasure planet. And a ruthless corporation is exploiting the planet, but what they don't know is the planet holds the remains on an anceint race that harbors a deadly secret. Meanwhile, a resistance group, HALF, is trying to stop the development of Kursaal. And before you can "sonic screwdriver," the Doctor and Sam are caught up in the events that are rapidly spiralling out of control.

It's pretty much standard Doctor Who fare, which is the problem. The novels are supposed to be adventures that take the usual Who conventions and take them to the next level. Kursaal never does that. Yes, Anghelides introduces some interesting characters along the way, but the story never seems to gel completely. It's a sharp contrast to the spectacular stories being told in the previous Doctor series of novels.

But the biggest failing of the novel is the complete lack of characterization in the eighth Doctor. After reading The Dying Days and Vampire Science, I began to feel as if I knew who this new Doctor was and was becoming. However, after my last two forrays into the BBC eighth Doctor books, I am beginning to wonder just who this character is. At times in this novel, he seems a pale shadow of the second Doctor. The Doctor never really stands out as his own new character and that's a shame because there is a lot of potential in the eight Doctor that could have been used here.

In the end, Kursaal has a lot of potential, but fails to ever live up to it. And that's a real shame...


A Review by Sean Gaffney 3/11/99

I had no luck getting hold of Eight Doctors, but I DID find Kursaal, so, like many others, my first Eighth Doctor and Sam book is by Peter Anghelides.

Peter is one of the few Who authors who I think of first as an online personality, then as an author. (Is Peter still #1 in most quotefiled, or has Smith? passed him?) However, Kursaal does not, thankfully, read like an argument on RADW.

Plot: As countless reviewers have already mentioned, it's rather surprising that Who hasn't done a werewolf story yet, and this one just clips along. The whole pace of the book reminded me of the TV Movie - rather quick and more action- oriented than the NAs.

The Doctor: Excellent. He seemed very lively throughout the book, and had the Paul McGann attitude towards guns. Best of all, at times, he was refreshingly stupid. It's rare, especially these days, to see a book where the Doctor is just occasionally flat-out unthinking. Rather cool, IMHO.

Sam: I wasn't as annoyed by her as I thought I'd be. I'd been geared up to find an Ace wannabe whiner wandering through the book. Instead, Sam was refreshingly normal. She acted like a teenager, which was nice. I'll admit that I didn't really buy into her 'evil' persona, but I did like the idea of the Jax preying on her buried feelings for the Doctor (the whole consort thing).

Others: Well, lessee. Gray, Amy, Kadijk, and Cockaigne were done very well, especially Kadijk, who strode that line between nice cop and annoying cop nicely. The other characters pretty much existed to get et. As such, they were admirable at bleeding all over and such, but...a minor point, admittedly. Given the style of the book, you knew not to get too attached to anyone.

Style: Speaking of which...this book was REALLY well-written. One of the things I especially liked was the shock symptoms that Sam felt upon seeing the body. It wasn't the usual Who scream and try to forget it happened. Sam's state of mind carried through all the way to the hospital, and I really liked the way that was shown. Elsewhere...well, it's not a groundbreakingly original novel, but it doens't need to be. It's just very good.

Overall: Excellent intro to the 8th Doctor and Sam. Nice major supporting characters, and I liked the way the book was written.

8/10.


A Review by Tom Wilton 11/4/00

I am a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (my spending on Who fiction is rivalled only by my spending on Buffy videos), but have to say that I am officially bored of vampires in the Who fiction ranges. After Blood Harvest, Goth Opera, The Eight Doctors and Vampire Science I said a prayer to Rassilon asking that the writers found something new to explore. My prayers have been answered and we now move from vampires to werewolves (not a spoiler, the cover's a dead give away).

After the dizzy heights of Alien Bodies, it was inevitable that the next novel in the series could not live up to the same standards. However, Kursaal is still an enjoyable adventure, not a glorious achievement, but not a failure by any measure. The story is simple and it strikes me that it is a transitory novel in the EDA range: not aimed at the 'younger readers' desired when the range was launched, but not of the adult level of Alien Bodies.

There are a few things that stood out for me in the novel. The first is my favourite obsession, the character of Sam. You may realise by the time I get to reviewing the last of her adventures that I am campaigning for a lighter sentence for our most maligned companion. Kursaal allows Sam to do something a little different than usual in the second section of the novel, whilst continuing to build on the, thankfully now stronger, foundations laid out in earlier novels. We learn more of her life before meeting the Doctor and her relationship with her parents. In particular it seems that she is missing her relationship with her father, and this could possibly explain events which occur shortly after this novel. In retrospect, I realise that the development of Sam's character was a slow, but constantly improving progression. With the exception of War of the Daleks (you can tell I really hated that one can't you? I seem to take every opportunity to slag it off), she grew stronger with each successive novel as the authors became more familiar with her.

I loved the way the novel was broken into two sections, in the same way as the television story, The Ark. This is a very powerful narrative device and one which I have always felt to be sorely under-used. It allows us to see the consequences of the Doctor's actions, something the authors sometimes forget. After all, he is supposed to be the central character (unless Ace is involved, in which case the story seems to be legally obliged to centre around her) and yet he often seems to just drift through his adventures. Perhaps his is intentional, as part of the antithesis of the proactive Seventh Doctor, but it sometimes feels like he is almost a spare part in his own adventures. Not good.

The only main annoyance I had with this novel was the use of quotes to head up each chapter. I don't object to this for any great literary reason, it's just that I often get to the end of a chapter and realise that the quote used has drifted by and then feel duty bound to search back through the chapter I've just read to find the quote. Not the best example of time management.

I guess this novel is a bit like wallpaper in the EDA range. It has no great significance, but is still enjoyable. What the range badly needed at this point was stronger links between the novels, as the adventures were coming across as too disparate and just seemed to float by without making any impact. Kursaal is an enjoyable read, but it's not going to rock your world.


A Review by Finn Clark 7/5/03

In some ways I was pleasantly surprised by Kursaal. It's well written. The prose and characterisation have some texture to them, while the 8th Doctor and Sam are well crafted and likeable. I was particularly impressed with their relationship, which is about a million times better than anything else in the 8DAs around then. All things considered, the 8DAs would have been better off had Kursaal been the defining Sam Jones book, not Vampire Science. I've decided that Peter Anghelides is an underrated writer.

Unfortunately all this good stuff is wasted on a formulaic monster movie that doesn't even give its monsters much screen time. I think it's trying to be a horror story, but only one scene approaches that kind of tension. Kursaal's plot elements could be summarised on the back of a postage stamp: policemen, rebels (1st half only) and monsters (approx. 2nd half only). That's it. There's a slight twist on the usual formula in that the rebels (HALF) are rebelling against a capitalist conglomeration instead of an alien dictatorship, but otherwise it's business as usual Who-wise. You've seen it all before. Don't read the book, just buy the T-shirt.

Which is a shame, since I think Anghelides is a better author than that. Look at how he reinvents Sam Jones, actually putting thought into her background and character. He's not afraid to portray her as admirable but neither knowing it all nor being an airbrushed poster child for teenage activism. The result is a far more sympathetic character. This Sam I liked. She's only seventeen, but she knows it. And unlike New Ace, she isn't hardened to death and suffering.

The incidental characters are all good, but there aren't many of them and they're a bit irrelevant. Kadijk, Cockaigne and Gray all have their roles within Kursaal's commercial world, but once the wolf-boys come onstage their main function is to be attacked. Like I said, plot isn't this book's strong suit.

I liked the Jax, mind you. The explanation of what they are was ingenious and they're passable bogeymen, though apart from their physical appearance they're remarkably generic. You could cut-and-paste "werewolf" into "vampire" without having to change a word. The Jax possess you and turn you into a monster which kills people. Not exactly original, is it?

There's a strange running non-gag of lame expletives: "Gordon Christ", "oh cripes" and "poo", the latter repeatedly from Cockaigne. There's a lot to like about this book, but at the end of the day it's terminally unambitious. If only the editor had pushed Anghelides into doing something interesting plotwise, we might have had another fan favourite author on our hands. Alas this was the start of the Steve Cole era. Kursaal isn't a bad book, but unfortunately it does everything humanly possible to squash down its author's talent into mediocrity. I blame the commissioning editor.


Boring... by Joe Ford 4/10/05

Does anyone have a memory of something when they were child that makes them glow inside? Something that makes them feel all nostalgic and comfy. Say the first time they watched Revenge of the Cybermen. The first video that was released. But then you went back and watched the thing years later through the eyes of a cynical adult and the hideous reality of it reveals itself. The tacky costumes, the appalling writing, the terrible score, etc, etc...

The first time I read Kursaal I loved it. It was everything I imagined a great Doctor Who book should be (not having read that many Doctor Who books) with werewolves, a traditional Doctor, lots of chases and a theme park! Wowza! Surely Doctor Who doesn't come any better than this?

Erm, yes it does. And my almighty eighth Doctor marathon has brought it all home. Kursaal is a pitiful novel, easily the weakest since The Eight Doctors and I think I might have enjoyed parts of that novel more than this. This is the sort of bland rubbish that people were complaining about in the late nineties when the book range was looking a bit rusty. It's not just the plot or the characters; it is the very novel itself, as I turned each page it screamed that it had been written with as little effort as possible. Laziness I can accept if the book has something interesting going on but I failed to get excited on any level throughout and (annoyingly) the one point in the book where my interest perked up, the bloody story ends! Peter Anghelides is not a weak author, his later attempt Frontier Worlds was a great read and I can only imagine he was having a bad year when he wrote this.

So what exactly is wrong with this book? I was having an interesting discussion with somebody about online reviews the other day about how many people write these critiques with a basic "I don't like it" level of competence. So to counter this argument I will now go into horrific depth as to what went wrong with Kursaal...

This is a werewolf story. A Doctor Who werewolf story at that. The potential for a fabulous horror novel is obvious but none of that potential is mined here. Rather than concentrating on the terrifying transformation of a man into beast, or the slaughter of innocent people and feasting on their entrails, Kursaal instead focuses on ecoterrorists, boring detective work and a half-finished theme park. Even the potentially interesting idea of Jax infecting people rather than transforming them is skipped over with a shrug of the shoulder. There were so many interesting avenues to explore, the remains of Jax society, the loss of a loved one infected by the Jax, the media reaction to the Jax attacks but the book rejects them all in favour of running around caves, flying about through the theme park and visiting it years later where nobody we cared about anyway is any more fascinating. No scares makes this a crippling failure as a horror book and the lack of gore is astonishing.

Stereotypical characterisation can be fun, especially when the writer knows what how to exploit the cliche (Gareth Roberts for example) but I genuinely think Anghelides thinks he was being original when he wrote for Kadijk and Zaterday. The arrogant, lippy copper and his useless sidekick. Oh please. Kadijk fails to engage on any level, mostly because he is so unlikable (treating everyone around him like shit) and boring (he doesn't seem to have any personality outside of that abusive behaviour) but also because he attempts to crack jokes in his insults that are woefully unfunny. He is in the thick of the story throughout but doesn't seem to react to anything with anything but a shrug of annoyance. Tellingly, when the book pops into the future he doesn't seem to have changed one jot aside from his obsession with the Doctor (which doesn't ring true at all, especially the extraordinary backups he has ready in case the Doctor returns). Like most of the book he just doesn't seem to have been thought through, unsympathetic, unemotional and going through the motions. And he's one of the better characters. Zaterday hardly features but his interaction with his boss is cringe-worthy.

The Doctor is completely bland throughout. He could be any Doctor. He barely shows any signs that he is awake during this adventure. A few witty lines, the odd bit fancy piloting... but nothing to get your teeth into. The really good moment comes when he comforts Sam and tells her not to grow up too soon, that her lack of preconceptions about the universe are a gift. Oh and his aversion to hospitals after his "birth trauma" is amusing. But like Kadijk, he is connected to the action but it doesn't seem to affect him at all. It's like he has done it all before.

Unlike Sam who suddenly from nowhere his this past that we never knew about. After a string of books where Sam is a complete mystery character suddenly we are bombarded (and I mean bombarded, barely a page goes by when we don't learn something about her home life in Shoreditch!) with information. This should be a good thing but unfortunately we learn that she had Greenpeace magazine clippings in her knicker draw, she wanted to form a group called COAL HILL FRIENDS OF THE EARTH (oh please...), she has a lot of friends with very exotic sounding names (she's PC you know!) and she enjoyed making people embarrassed during sex education. What a thrilling life. Plus her parents are suddenly brought up in every other conversation; he worked with the Blood Transfusion Service, she took evening classes, he forgot to pick Sam up from the disco, she took Sam shopping for party clothes. They sound dead boring. Which explains a hell of a lot. Sam's the one who is reacting most to the story, which might explain why it is so bad because this is possibly the worst interpretation of her character I have read (yet). If companions were allocated a colour to describe their personality Sam would be beige.

Unfortunately at the end of this book the Jax possess Sam, a potentially brilliant idea that is totally fudged because it is so unconvincingly written. She reads like a cliched villain, one who storms into your house and boasts how she is going to kill you. Her transformation is merely shrugged off at the end and seems to have no consequences for the girl. Considering the trauma she went through when she was bitten by a vampire she is remarkably blase about being turned into a slavering killing machine. Guess she's just getting used to the job! It doesn't feel momentous or important, just another boring development to be dealt with. SAM IS TURNED INTO A BLOODY WEREWOLF FOR FUCK'S SAKE! This should be gripping, traumatic, ferocious, horrible... I should be squirming as she fights back the urge to kill. It's just dull. So much potential wasted...

The worst crime the book commits is the second it gets interesting (a genuinely tense moment where Gray transforms into the Jax in front of Sam) the Doctor and Sam leave. I'm not kidding. The story is far from over. The Jax have not been defeated. But the Doctor just ups and leaves, heads into the future to see how it all turned out! EXCUSE ME? I refuse to believe that any Doctor would depart the adventure this unsolved! It wouldn't matter so much if there was a good reason for the story to hop forwards in time but the re-introduced characters are exactly the same, the setting is just as dull and no drama is exploited out of the sudden re-appearance of the Doctor years later exactly as he did. Why not just have Sam transform in the original setting? It's another illogical step in a novel full of them.

That's ignoring the horrible attempts at humour. One character is actually called Huan Qua. Where is the editor? Another says "oh poo" every time he gets stressed. WHERE'S THE EDITOR? And for the Doctor's attempts at being eccentric... dear God where is the editor???

This was a real struggle to get through and offered me very little enjoyment. I put on a CD halfway through just so I could have some fun whilst reading. A depressingly cliched wasted opportunity. At least if it had been bad I would have had a laugh but this is the epitome of a bland Doctor Who novel.

Avoid.


Big Bad Wolf by Andrew Feryok 15/6/09 - Mr. Grey, head of Kursaal, speaking to Professor Saraband as she tries to convince him to preserve the Jax Temple, Chapter 1, page 7 The Eighth Doctor book series kicks off its second year with a werewolf story! This is a great idea since, until the New Series episode Tooth and Claw, Doctor Who had never tackled the subject of werewolves before. And placing them in the incongruous setting of a theme park in the future is also a neat idea. It's such a shame then that the book comes across so mediocre. What's this? A story about werewolves being mediocre? It's sad to say, but yes Peter Anghelides' story, although not as continuity-driven as some of the stories from the first year, ends up being a silly runaround instead of an exciting gothic-horror tale.

Easily the best part of this book is the beginning and end. The story opens very atmospherically in the temple of the Jax which is discovered by an excavation team. Mr. Gray then shows up and the politics of Kursaal are laid out to us before all hell breaks loose as a werewolf attacks and graphically destroys the archeological team. The dark shadows and ancient ruins make a great place to start a tale of werewolves. The ending is also good, as Sam begins to transform into the pack leader of the Jax. She's like a dark, twisted version of herself. Supremely confident and all-powerful. She's very frightening and it looks less and less likely that she's going to pull through at the end of the story.

In fact, that is what is largely missing from a great deal of the story: a sense of the stakes being raised. Up until then, the only ones being affected by the terrorists and the Jax are the unscrupulous Grey Company - which is so evil in itself that you don't worry about the consequences of it being attacked. But when Sam becomes infected by the Jax, suddenly the story becomes very personal for the reader and for the Doctor who must fight incredible odds to try and save his friend from a fate worse than death.

The book's biggest problem is its structure. It starts off very excitingly; the violence of the attack on the expedition and the graphic carnage described afterwards when the Doctor and Sam discover it are extremely gruesome and compelling. The introduction of Kadjik is nicely done - even if he is an unlikeable character. But from there, the story unravels as it can't decide whether it wants to be a gothic-horror story about werewolves, a story about eco-terrorism, or a story about corporate corruption. All three are great premises for a story, but they all seem to have been thrown together and they never quite gel as one. The morgue sequences are very atmospheric, but not much else.

The author runs out of story around page 177 and the book is 282 pages long! That means the author still has to fill 105 pages of a story that has rather abruptly run its course. Anghelides then tries to pull the same trick the William Hartnell story The Ark did by having the Doctor and Sam travel forward in time and face the consequences of their actions in the past. Except that it wasn't really necessary to do. Much of themes of this part of the book (Sam turning into a werewolf) could have been dealt with quite fine by continuing on from where the story was originally set. It just seems like an unnecessary gimmick to prolong the book when the story didn't really need it. Perhaps Anghelides should have gone back and revised his ending so that it could incorporate the final showdown with the Jax and Sam's transformation at the same time rather than presenting them separately. At least when Nyssa was turning into a vampire in Goth Opera, her transformation was worked into the overall plot and didn't require a mini-story set after the vampires had been slain.

Sam is easily the most annoying character in the book and we are only saved from total boredom by having her transform at the very end. It seems the more I read stories with her, the more annoying she gets. I first read her in the short story Dead Time. In that story, she was an adequate companion. Not too offensive but not anything special. Then I read War of the Daleks, where her overriding trait was that she was head over heels for the Doctor and jealous of any girl who got within ten feet of him. Now in Kursaal she's nothing but a spoiled brat. She opens the book by throwing a snit that would make Peri proud and she actually enjoys pouting and throwing a tantrum! She then spends the rest of the book yelling at people and jamming her beliefs up their rear ends while showing herself to be completely incompetent when comes to actually dealing with threats and instead she runs screaming down every corridor. Her only shining moment comes when she manages to survive an intense interrogation by Kadjik and his police forces and in the process steal a piece of evidence from right under their noses, a trick she learned from the Doctor.

The Doctor himself is rather generic. He shares a sense of humor with Tom Baker, especially when he's around the bullying Captain Kadjik. Otherwise, he's just a dependable hero. In some ways, this is good, because then I'm not imagining some other Doctor in his place (in War of the Daleks I kept imagining Peter Davison and not Paul McGann). In fact, Anghelides does a nice job of keeping the imagery of the Eighth Doctor up throughout the story by describing his green jacket and cravat and other things that root us in the Eighth Doctor. The Doctor comes across as intelligent enough to work out what is going on, but just helpless enough to add some suspense to the story so that we don't automatically assume that he'll get out of this safely, even though we know he will. On the whole, not a bad depiction, but not memorable either.

Kadjik is the other distinctive character in the story. In fact, he gets an entire chapter to himself in Chapter 2. He's an ugly character, while at the same time he's also the least corruptible of all the police. He becomes fixated that the Doctor is the source of all the problems. Even when he is faced with live werewolves trying to devour them, he is still convinced that the Doctor is responsible. Of course, it's his bullying nature that makes him most despicable. He not only takes great delight in bullying all his staff, but also enjoys bullying Sam. And it goes beyond simply trying to get information out of her. He gets an enormous kick out of making her feel uncomfortable and upset because she's constantly telling people what she thinks of them all the time. Kadjik redeems himself somewhat in the last part of the book when he is the only one on Kursaal who realizes the danger of the Jax and tries to aide the Doctor. Kadjik is a complicated character: one moment you like him, the next you hate him. And it is this aspect that makes him the most readable character, because you don't know where his loyalties truly lie and wonder what he is going to do from chapter to chapter.

At the end of the day, Kursaal is an okay Eighth Doctor adventure. It's certainly more atmospheric than War of the Daleks, but I felt that there could have been so much more done with the concept of the werewolves. By setting it in the future, the author seems to abandon the mysticism surrounding the Jax. I would have loved it if the author had explored more of their history. The story's structure is problematic, as the author runs out of things to do with the characters midway through and reboots the story by having them travel forward in time. Really, Anghelides should have just taken the opening of the book and jettisoned the rest of that first half (except for Sam visiting Gray at his office), simply setting the story in one time period and making Sam's transformation the central issue of the book. Instead, the book flounders around with no real focus or direction until the very end. The book will entertain and is certainly not the worst I've read. But it could have been a lot better if the story had been tightened up. 6/10


A Review by Brian May 30/1/10

Kursaal has a reasonably interesting plot but suffers from laboured, repetitive writing and an overall clunky prose style. We read the same descriptions of the same cave walls, the same sets of rocks and the same graphic details of mutilated corpses. Action sequences such as the hovercar chase and the Doctor's escape from the hospital through the carnival crowd had me nodding off. So too, the mind-numbing climax, all the way from the ride tunnels to the showdown in the shuttle. And don't get me started on that dreadful crash simulation! One of the more gripping moments is the death of Amy; it's very dramatic, but ultimately spoiled by the ponderous text surrounding it. And Gray turning into a Jax seems to be nothing more than a shot-by-shot, screen-to-page transposition of An American Werewolf in London!

Nevertheless, there are saving graces. Some amusing character interactions and hilarious insults (the "picture book" jibe on p.104 is particularly good). Most of the characters are three dimensional, with a triumph in Kadijk. He's an exquisitely well-crafted individual; very unlikeable, very realistic and somewhat sympathetic. He's the central player and point of reader focus, playing the parts of both antagonist and protagonist. In short, very multi-faceted. And his death is quite a touching moment, even though you think it would never be the case. The Doctor and Sam don't fare so well; not unusual for the EDAs. The great pity is that there were so many opportunities here for Sam to be developed. Her sheltered, middle-class activist outlook could really have been put to the test. One of the book's most intriguing ideas is that maybe not all environmental causes are worth pursuing; perhaps some things shouldn't be preserved. It's to be expected that Sam would throw in with the HALF people, but she's never made to face up to such an argument. And her wondering if their library shelves "came from renewable sources" (p.96) just makes her look even more of a tosser.

The eighth Doctor was notoriously difficult to capture on page in this period. Before Big Finish, when Paul McGann got to flesh out his character a bit more, all the writers had was the TV movie. The written result was usually a bastardised and ineffectual character, and Peter Anghelides delivers the same. His first few chapters are very fifth-Doctor like, and for the rest of the book he just saunters vaguely about, not making any real impact. He's also very stupid: using Kadijk's I-card in the future segment, for example. Any idiot would know its use would be traced, even after such a lengthy interlude. The onset of Sam's possession in between the TARDIS's two trips to Kursaal is so mind-boggingly obvious; so too, the fact she's not a prisoner of the Jax. It takes Kadijk a virtual millisecond to realise these facts, and he has to hammer the truth home to the Doctor.

The general pacing suffers thanks to the writing, so shifting the story 15 years into the future is a good move. It allows a nice break, the sense of time disorientation communicated in a number of interesting ways: Kadijk pondering over the Doctor's non-ageing; Bernard's descent into paranoia. And there are smaller touches, which are actually better than the plot-driven factors: for example, Zaterday's involvement in the drug cartel, which is an effective and surprising development, underplayed and brief. However, other attempts at stylistic flourishes - the repetition of stretches of dialogue from different points of view - simply don't work, mainly because the incidents are "re-played" within the space of one or two pages; and the scenarios are simply not that exciting.

Oh, and the use of "poo" as a swear word wasn't funny the first time; it's especially inappropriate on p.105, lending improper levity to a very serious situation. And as for Bernard's exclamation on p.139, just terrible.

A writer's debut novel is almost always problematic. There are a few remarkable exceptions, but unfortunately Anghelides isn't one of them. I'd never go so far as to call this book terrible - and in hindsight we know he improved, producing a much better follow-up with Frontier Worlds - but notwithstanding, Kursaal is a deeply flawed book. Its main problem is in the writing. No matter how interesting the ideas or the non-regular characters, if the actual reading experience makes you fall asleep, then it's all for nought. Diasppointing, but the author shows promise. 3.5/10


A Review by Steve White 25/6/13

I don't envy Peter Anghelides much. Kursaal, his debut Doctor Who novel, had the misfortune of following Lawrence Miles' Alien Bodies, which is quite possibly one of the greatest and critically acclaimed novels to date. Therefore it was always going to struggle given the fans now high expectation of the range. That said, Anghelides manages to give us a fairly decent offering, which is still enjoyable, just nowhere near Alien Bodies' league.

The beginning of Kursaal is great, really really great. Sadly, it drops off around halfway through and you feel that Anghelides is just going through the motions. There are no surprises, you know what happens before it happens and it makes the book seem cliched, even though Doctor Who hadn't dealt with werewolves previously. The ending isn't as satisfying as it should be and I finished the book feeling slightly let down.

I did like the fact the story shifted 15 years into the future; however, I struggle to see the Doctor leaving events unsolved before moving on. I think it was about this point where the story just got silly and the point where you could second-guess every move. The crashing shuttle was obviously a ride, the fake werewolves in the Jax Ride were obviously models, etc, etc. Another plus for me was that Kursaal was an actual amusement arcade in Southend. Nice touch.

The 8th Doctor's characterisation has been up and down a fair bit during the first 6 novels of the range, but here he seems to have settled a little more. Anghelides has the boyishness, the sighs, and even the "Sam Sam Sam Sam Sam" bits down to a tee.

Sam, on the other hand, is still just as irritating as ever. You'd think that, after the events of Alien Bodies, she'd take a long look at herself and get over herself, but she is still just a whiny teenager. Whilst you can forgive her the odd thought of snogging, her "holier than thou" seriously winds you up. After witnessing horrific scenes of mauled bodies, she still takes the side of the animal involved. Whilst from afar you might have this view, having witnessed the grim scene and been covered in the victims' blood, the preservation of the beast would be the last thing on my mind. Anghelides does try to give Sam more of a backstory and more to do (she gets turned into a wolf!), but she is still either irritating or boring.

The supporting cast mostly end up dead. Most of them are forgettable anyway so it doesn't really matter, but the body count is stupidly high. There are only really three characters of note: Kadijk, Gray and Cockaigne. Kadijk is the head of security and is a thoroughly unlikeable character who seems to despise everyone. Kursaal is centred around him really, but because he is so unlikeable you don't feel anything for him. I did like the way he was always suspicious of the Doctor; it's nice for someone not to trust him absolutely for a change, but I'd have liked for his views to soften and they didn't. Gray is the owner of Gray Corps who are building Kursaal. He gets attacked early on and turned into the Jax, but, just as he is getting interesting, he kills himself, seemingly only to move the plot on. Cockaigne is the leader of HALF who likes to swear, badly. He is done very well and shown not to be a monster as first thought. Sadly, he too ends up as Jax fodder.

The characters are what really lets Kursaal down. The story is interesting enough, but the characters just don't cut it. Sam is relied on for the last third of the novel and she just isn't a great character.

Kursaal had big boots to follow, and it fails to deliver when compared directly to it's predecessor. If you look at it from a standalone point of view, then it is a perfectly enjoyable but utterly forgettable Doctor Who novel.

7/10