THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC Books
Last of the Gadarene

Author Mark Gatiss Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books home page
ISBN# 0 563 55587 4
Published 2000
Continuity Between Planet of the Daleks and
The Green Death

Synopsis: All is not well in the seemingly idyllic village of Culverton. A new aerodrome hides a sinister secret, a monstrous creature is growing in the marsh and the Doctor and Jo find themselves in a race against time. The last of the Gadarene are on their way...


Reviews

A Review by Finn Clark 19/1/00

This book teeters on a knife edge. It could so easily have been dire. In many ways it's a rather silly runaround with comic book aliens and Sinister Things Going On that border on the comedic. Its refusal to be anything other than a traditional pastiche is almost gleeful. Its virtues are those that got Catastrophea roundly slated, yet everyone seems to love it. The ways of the world are strange.

Of course it portrays the UNIT family with affectionate accuracy so confident as to be hilarious. Of course, of course. Who expected anything else? This is Mark Gatiss, television comedian extraordinaire and proven writer of pastiche in his Troughton romp, The Roundheads. The third Doctor has his detractors who portray him as a woodenly predictable action hero without the characterful quirkiness of other incarnations, but Gatiss brings him to roaring life. Quite simply, he's a delight. After reading Last of the Gadarene, one is left wondering how other authors managed to struggle with such a terrific character.

The other regulars are well done too, which is a good thing as there's little else propping up the novel. Try describing the plot to someone after reading it. I couldn't, but I only finished it half an hour ago. The bad guys do lots of bad things and the Doctor stops them. In an English village. That's very important. The supporting characters are pleasantly and confidently portrayed, but their contributions to the story are mostly to have horrid things happen to them.

This isn't a heavily plotted novel of cunning twists and devastating revelations, though it does manage the odd surprise. It's character-based. One settles back and enjoys watching nice people being brave and heroic, albeit usually to little effect. What better evocation of the televised Pertwee era could one ask for?

Basically, it's as cosy as your uncle's old slippers. It's got sinister aliens (boo hiss!) and all our favourite people fighting them (hooray!). The evocation of a bygone English village is seamless, with all that simple-minded parochial goodness one likes to think existed back in the old days. Oh, why be cynical? I'm sure it did.

It's good, wholesome, traditional entertainment. Read the foreword if you don't believe me...


A Review by Steve Crow 4/5/00

Well, ummm... I guess I'd have to disagree with Mr. Clark's review. Mark Gatiss seemed to be trying to go in a few too many directions at once. Yes, he's trying to tell a traditional Who/UNIT/3rd Dr. story. Fair enough. But Mr. Gatiss seems to be trying to squeeze in a bit more here.

The book starts off slowly with a "The Doctor's gone off and it's a boring day at UNIT" series of scenes that are indeed, rather boring. Granted, Jo Grant sun-bathing in a bikini atop Unit HQ isn't _that_ boring, but still...

The problem is, the Doctor's brief off-planet adventure is equally boring and somewhat confusing. The major villain boasts, "You know I don't break my word, Doctor" and then proceeds to do exactly that! Apparently the Doctor didn't know that. Ummm, huh?

Meanwhile, lots of stuff is happening in Culverton of the typical "nasty corporate types" and "pod people replacement plot" variety. Eventually the Doctor gets back to Earth, there are a few brief and pointless scenes that go nowhere about why the heck he is staying around despite the lifting of his exile, and a little effort to portray Jo as competent. But mostly it's your standard Who/Unit/3rd Dr. story. But its placement chronologically (after the Doctor's exile was lifted) doesn't make much sense except to provide Gatiss with those aforementioned brief and pointless comments. If you're going to do that kind of story, why not set it where it would fit better - either before Three Doctors or after Sarah Jane joins on?

And finally, we have a old villain tossed in. Spoiler policy prevents me from mentioning it. It is a surprise, at least so far as it isn't ruined on the back cover. However, the nature of the villain(s) should not come as a shock once he/she/they make their first appearance. Again, nothing new or unique is presented here.

The Gadarene themselves...again nothing that really caught my attention or interest here.

I thought Culverton and its inhabitants were fairly well drawn and interesting. And the 3rd Doctor gets some requisite action sequences and there's a few typical UNIT/stunt battles. But it really seems all very much by-the-numbers.

Overall, though, I found Last of the Gadarene neither that interesting or innovative. Gatiss can't seem to decide if he does want it to be innovative, although he makes some motions in that direction. And it's really too tradition-bound to be that interesting. It was mildly entertaining so I'd give it a marginal thumbs-up.


A Review by Dan Perry 8/5/00

Mark Gatiss is becoming an unsung hero in my book.

He seems to excel at doing simple, horror-tinged stories that have images that really get under your skin. His latest book, The Last of the Gaderene, will not only give you the willies, but might well remind you why you thought Doctor Who was great in the first place.

This is, without a doubt, a trad novel. No ifs, ands or buts about that. Nothing earth-shattering happens to our lovable protagonists, the continuity in which they reside, or even the sleepy locale where the action takes place. People reading this novel are going to find loving recreations of characters and archetypes of the Pertwee years mixed in with some fast and furious action, plus one of the more disgusting invasion schemes forwarded in a Doctor Who story. I won't say too much, but suffice to say that I won't look at shrimp quite the same way again.

Another nice twist in this novel is an important plot revelation that isn't revealed on the back cover, which allows the reader to be surprised by something fairly mundane in a Who story, for a change.

I can't praise the pacing of this novel enough. There wasn't a point where I thought the narrative was dragging or that I wished that the characters would stop wittering about and do something. It's admirable that Gatiss uses the decisions that various characters make frame their personality just as much as dialogue. While I'd be foolish to dismiss dialogue-driven characterization altogether, I would like to point out that too much of it tends to sap the energy from your action story, as The Shadows of Avalon found out in its first half.

I know that part of me was simply excited about reading a Doctor Who novel that had absolutely no scenes involving someone torturing the Doctor, but all in all I thought this was a fabulous book. Go read it now!


"The power was within him all the time" by Robert Smith? 12/5/00

I must confess, I've never been particularly taken with Mark Gatiss's novels before. Nightshade was quite good, but as far as my taste was concerned, he's been in a slump ever since. Fortunately, with Last of the Gadarene he rises magnificently from the ashes of his previous work and proceeds to expertly transform himself into Terrance Dicks. (It's a sad day in fandom when I have to add that that's a compliment, by the way)

Last of the Gadarene is a superb book. Its mission statement is laid out clearly and precisely in the foreword and it goes on to fulfill that mission with consummate ease and professionalism. There's not a single word that isn't dripping with Saturday teatime goodness and wholesome fun. This book breezes by like a cool summer breeze.

The characters are wonderful, with the UNIT chaps spot on, Jo fulfilling the function she was always meant to fulfill and the returning villain delightfully appropriate and well-written. Special mention must go to the Doctor, however, who is non-stop enjoyable right from the beginning.

And what a beginning! It's tempting to wonder if the adventures on Metebelis III - sorry, Xanthos - is inserted just so the early part has something lively happening... except that it's so entertaining that it's one of the highlights of a wonderful novel. "The power was within you all the time." Bwahahaha! This is Jon Pertwee as we always knew and loved him, gleefully rubbing the back of his neck at every opportunity. This is easily the best Pertwee novel ever written, almost by default.

The other characters are quite good too, especially Wing Commander Whistler. The rest serve their functions well enough, but the team of Whistler and Noah is an oddly appropriate one.

Everything in this book slots into place perfectly. It reads like a Target novelisation in all the best ways. Even the chapter titles are a delight (although 'Fete worse than death' nearly caused me to go into analeptic shock).

In short, Last of the Gadarene is a quintessential Past Doctor Adventure, doing exactly the sort of TV-pastiche thing these books often try to do, yet rarely succeed at as well as this does. It's a fun book, comforting in its familiarity and worthy of a look. Recommended.


As Fingers Move to End Mankind... by Jason A. Miller 30/8/00

Ordinarily, the rating one gives a book isn't fully formed until the final page. In the case of Last of the Gadarene, however, it's fair to say that one's opinion is sealed after reading author Mark Gatiss's foreword alone. The introductory note is like the book itself -- simple, nostalgic, and warm.

Warm is not a word easily applied to Doctor Who books these days, but the Gadarene novel is a rarity. There are at least five different stand-up-and-cheer moments in this simple, 1970s, UNIT-era tale of English villages, alien incursions, Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning chemistry, and Target-novelization turns of phrase. The English villagers are friendly and endearing and, tellingly, there are no deaths. The Third Doctor is physically active -- he leaps into the climax flying an antique airplane -- and he's helped out liberally by his UNIT friends, and by basic human heroism. Not the usual sort of human heroism in Who novels -- the meaningless self-sacrifice of a minor character in the penultimate chapter -- but by a warmly-defined character who features in the book's first scene, last scene, and many in between. We've never seen this man before (he's an old friend of the Brigadier's) and we won't see him again, but had Gadarene been a TV production, they'd still be singing the actor's praises over on rec.arts.drwho.

Gadarene is not a literary masterpiece and most of the small details of the novel will fade from your head within days. But it is, as Gatiss wanted it to be, an extended Target novelization. If you've read most of the 1970s-era Target books (and it's likely that about 3-4ths of the book readership comes from this background), you'll instantly recognize familiar turns of phrase. It's fair to say that Gatiss mirrors (if not copies) elements or expressions from every Third Doctor story or novelization. He even borrow's Terrance Dicks' paragraph-ending ellipses, to denote a scary moment.....

As Gatiss points out, the Third Doctor era is the defining moment of fandom for both himself and many of his fellow BBC-novel authors. This era has inspired many beloved Missing Adventures (as well as some poor ones). The books featuring Jon Pertwee are perhaps a shade more evocative than those featuring Patrick Troughton, too elusive to capture in print, and Peter Davison, too generic on the printed page. If Dancing the Code is a full-blown UNIT politial epic, and Devil-Goblins From Neptune is a post-modern spy novel, then Gadarene is every Season 8 through 10 UNIT story in which UNIT features only in Episodes 1, 4, and 5.

The most fitting soundtrack to this novel is the song sung by Jon Pertwee himself, "I Am the Doctor". A piece of kitsch, both loved and loathed by fandom -- like Jon Pertwee's TV stories themselves -- and reveling in the warmth and security that TV Doctor Who offered to all those who watched it. The following verse is so indicative of the book as a whole that it may well have served as the back-cover blurb.

"As fingers move to end mankind,
Metallic teeth begin to grind.
With sword of truth, I turn to fight
The satanic powers of the night".

A long debate can be had as to what the function of the Eighth Doctor novels should be, and as to what the function of the Past Doctor novels should be. Gadarene is a book competely immersed in the past -- Gatiss offers few innovations or continuity theories, if any -- but it's impossible to call it a failure. One wonders how a book so simple and derivative can be so charming. And, at the same time, one wishes that so many more books would be like Last of the Gadarene .....


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 5/4/01

Original Doctor Who fiction has found it difficult to come up with a decent 3rd Doctor book. Wages of Sin is the best they had come up with, and that was a fun runaround novel set in the past – hardly traditional 3rd Doctor territory. Well, now there is a book that has achieved the label “Classic 3rd Doctor Story” and it isn’t a televised story.

The story is typical, traditional 3rd Doctor fare. It contains all the elements of that era to perfection. UNIT are involved helping investigate strange goings on in a rurul village. Jo Grant is as cute as ever. There is an alien invasion to battle against. Even Pertwee’s Doctor gets to do his “stunt of the week” every few chapters! You really can see Pertwee strutting his stuff all through this book, and it is great for that.

Mark Gatiss explains in his foreward his intention. There is a difference however between aiming at something and the object reaching its Target. Target is exactly where it does hit. It reads as an extended version of those miniature gems from childhood and teens. Gattis perfectly captures the best of those books.

My favourite Doctor Who original novel has always been Nightshade – also by Gatiss. I suppose it was a good bet I would like this one too. They are from the same mould. Gatiss is top of the tree with traditional Doctor Who stories. He has captured the essence of the 3rd Doctor era so well here.

The 3rd Doctor has deserved a great novel like this since these things started being produced. It has taken them a long time, but this is the Classic 3rd Doctor book. Jon Pertwee would have loved it. 9/10


Pertwee in Motion by Andrew Wixon 8/2/03

It becomes very clear quite early on in Last of the Gadarene what motivates Mark Gatiss' book: nostalgia. This is a love-letter to the Jo Grant era written by someone who was there at the time as a viewer. Nearly all the Pertwee staples are there, the regular characters: the rural location, the implausible inclusion of a novel mode of transport - the works. In many ways it's a lot like his first novel, , which was a book explicitly about the dangers of nostalgia.

Last of the Gadarene is an altogether mellower confection, although its positioning towards the tail end of Season 10 allows Gatiss to include some thoughtful riffs on the subject of the Doctor's attachment to his life with UNIT and his relationship with Jo. But on the whole it's a subtext-free alien invasion romp, taking its cues from sources like Quatermass 2 and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, hokey in the best possible way (Gatiss writes paragraphs like 'The monster's deafening roar thundered menacingly over the marshes' with an admirably straight face), and leavened with a good deal of humour - there are some terrible puns along the way, and the Doctor's declaration that 'I'm not local' leads one to suspect an in-joke from Gatiss' day job.

But this is a well-written book, evocative and straightforward (even if there is at least one plot-thread left unexplained). The only real flaw I can think of is the way the main villain - oh, all right, it's the Master, not that that'll surprise anyone - doesn't appear until relatively near the end and thus seems like a bit of an afterthought (and I'd personally put a moratorium on all Master stories between Frontier in Space and The Deadly Assassin, but that's just me). It's all the more annoying because Gatiss writes the Master superbly, justifying his inclusion but making one wish he'd turned up earlier.

Anyone reading my reviews of the Jo Grant Pertwee stories will soon realise I've no great love for this era of the programme. Last of the Gadarene is so obviously and openly written by someone who dearly loves it that it made me forget all that and just enjoy a rip-roaring adventure in the classic style. Good fun.


Spare me... by Joe Ford 23/7/04

Gaaaah! What is this monstrosity? Mark Gatiss is capable of treasures as smashing as Nightshade (easily one of the best NAs of all time!), the highly entertaining PROBE series (you haven't seen scary Doctor Who until you've slipped The Zero Imperative into your video recorder) and even his signature show, the totally insane but wickedly funny League of Gentlemen that just gets better and better the more you watch it. And yet this PDA lacks any of the zest and energy he injects into those projects, on the Doctor Who scale (or even on the storytelling in general scale) it redefines the word mundane simply because there is no effort here.

Cleverly the book helps to provoke some discussion on the PDAs in general. Some people believe they are a complete waste of space (Lawrence Miles has never hidden his dislike for the range or his dislike for anything and everything in general that he hasn't written and believes he could write better), that filling up space between televised stories is just an excuse for fans (of which most Doctor Who writers are) to have THEIR say on how the series should have been run. These fans are usually more invested in the EDAs and their linear storytelling with a running story to follow. And then there is the other category, those who appreciate a chance to see some interesting experiments with different eras (the bloodthirsty Combat Rock featuring the twee 2nd Doctor, Jamie and Victoria for example) and enjoy the healthy sense of nostalgia dipping back into eras they have long forgotten. I'm pretty much in both categories.

For me, Last of the Gaderene reveals the real danger of the PDAs because it so accurately captures the era it is set in but fails to do anything innovative with it. Everything you imagine from the Pertwee era is here... the third Doctor (obviously), Jo, UNIT (the three handed team of the Brig, Benton and Yates), lots of action, the Master, a nasty alien menace setting up on Earth and an anticlimactic ending. The story is like a puzzle that has been made of various jagged pieces of Pertwee stories, The Daemons, The Green Death and The Claws of Axos especially. But the trouble is it's almost a complete re-tread of those stories, stories we have already seen with sod all new to make a read worthwhile. I fail to understand the logic of this especially when the hugely experimental Rags and Verdigris proved there is a lot of mileage in the third Doctor's era, the chance to explore the feelings of the characters (and set just before The Green Death there was a real chance to delve into the Doctor's dismissed exile and Jo's feelings of boredom within UNIT much more effectively than the token characterisation we get here) is squandered on a terribly bland alien invasion story. I can imagine dear Rob Matthews reading this and fighting the urge to rip it to pieces halfway through, given his the Pertwee era is his all time FAVOURITE (note the heavy sarcasm!).

Bizarrely the secondary characters in this book have received much praise and I cannot fathom why... they are nothing but stereotypes trapped within their confines. With a book set in a quiet village what sort of characters would you expect to populate it? An old-fashioned World War hero? A caring elderly woman who looks after him? A mischievous kid who gets into all sorts of trouble? A man who was set to have a huge career but was forced to hang about in the village because of his family? His hopeless brother? Oh spit! As each new character was introduced I was shaking my head with despair, Gatiss makes an attempt to give them a personality and a past but when all is said and done cheap cliches are cheap cliches. Introduce the big alien menace (or rather the new fangled corporation) and they all go through the motions until they are brainwashed and then they are just mindless zombies anyway.

If Mark Gatiss was trying to write a standard Pertwee story then where were the morally ambiguous villains? One thing you could always count on with Doctor Who in the early seventies was a thoughtful bad guy, one with a good motive for the latest invasion. I could not give a damn about the Gaderene and felt little or no connection to them throughout the book even during the hastily written sections set on their home planet from their point of view. They are portrayed as regular nasties, brainwashing/killing/building airports and while there are some scenes of the villagers succumbing to their powers the eventual revelation of their true appearance is as disappointing as their motive (dying home planet... yaaaaaawn!).

So with no interest in the setting, the characters or the villains can the regulars salvage this book? Do me a favour! The UNIT presence is purely arbitrary and Mike Yates and Benton hardly get anything to do aside from jump into action at the appropriate moments. It's not like they were one-dimensional thugs on screen is it? Ahem. The Brigadier is out and about but again is given nothing but surface characterisation, here is a chance to delve into the mind of one of the most endearing characters in the show and instead Gatiss wastes time cutting scenes from the series and pasting them into his book (the Brig searching for the Doctor whilst he is off joyriding on some alien planet, their regular fight when the Brig wants to leap into action... even a truly awful moment where the Brig says "No Mike. I wouldn't ask you to do anything I wouldn't do myself" - diabolical!). THIS is the boring, pally UNIT all those Pertwee era haters go on about!

Was the third Doctor really this dull? I always thought of him as a brusque, arrogant sort of man who lit up the screen (and page) with his wicked sense of humour and fancy gadgets (and clothes!). Gatiss seems to have the mannerisms perfect with lots of neck rubbing and cloak tugging but forgets to inject the man with any personality. If any character was going through the motions it is the Doctor and for a Doctor Who book that is unforgivable. He seems to treat the entire story as though he would rather be doing something else, like he knows he will win and doesn't have to bother that much. He fights a few thugs, throws a few sexist barbs at Jo, patronises the Brigadier and defeats the bad guys but the book lacks the urgency Pertwee used to bring to these things. There was one page, one glorious page where Gatiss has the Doctor thinking about the initial months of his exile which beautifully reveals how frightened he was of being trapped on Earth but this snippet of crystal characterisation aside the third Doctor is not really present in this book... he's so bleaugh it could have been a fifth Doctor book.

Jo's okay, just okay though with a few moments where she thinks about leaving the Doctor but any examination of her feelings is pushed aside in favour of the silly invasion plot. I never felt Jo was in any real danger though, even when she was confronted with a slack jawed slimy swamp monster and honestly isn't that what she's best for?

This is undoubtedly the work of a good writer because the prose itself is good enough with individual scenes captured with some glorious descriptions (there is one fabulous scene involving a bee being squashed). The only reason I progressed through the early, deathly dull chapters was thanks to Gatiss' confident writing voice. At times the book adopted a Terrance Dicks/Target (can we distinguish the two these days?) style which Gatiss himself acknowledged in the foreword was his aim so hurrah huzzah for him. Unfortunately I expect something a little more demanding in my early twenties and if rumours that the book series will be adopting a spanking new teen-feel, the bland Harry Potter style adventuring (which this book resembles in tone if not content) there will be one unhappy Joe.

God what a bore I am, criticising this harmless book so nastily when it all it wants to do is give you good old dose of Pertwee adventuring. Unfortunately the Pertwee era for me is The Silurians, Inferno, The Mind of Evil, The Daemons, Day of the Daleks, Carnival of Monsters, The Green Death, The Time Warrior... confident, stylish storylines with intriguing enemies to fight and engaging characters to cheer on.

Last of the Gaderene isn't any of these things, it's a sugar sweet nostalgia boost for those sick of the more demanding experiments being tried out. Its easily the weakest third Doctor book.

This is everything Rags was set out to slaughter.


A Review by Rob Matthews 2/8/05

'The night had a wonderful feeling about it, and he could smell the delicious scent of heavy summer flowers hanging in the air. It had been easy, for a moment to imagine he had slipped back into the past. The roofs of the houses which surrounded the post office were silhouetted against the purply sky. There was an old fashioned little yellow car parked by the green. Probably there for the summer fete. There had always been evenings like this. And always would be.'
The UK is - at the time of writing - settling in for its three-and-a-half weeks of summer, so if you're a Who geek looking for some light reading to pore lazily over in the sunshine, and you haven't read it already, you could do a lot worse than root out a copy of Last of the Gaderene. Actually, to be fair you could probably read the book around midnight on the frostiest of Christmas Eves with logs on the fire and a mince pie in your hand and still be transported to some eternal golden afternoon rife with fluttering butterflies, deep blue skies, dewy grass and tinkling glasses of sparkling homemade lemonade. About halfway through reading it, I came up with a perfect description of the effect of the book's prose on this reader; 'like a summer's breeze.' And indeed, so apt was said phrase that it turned out Robert Smith? had already used it. Bugger. Still, apposite epithets and all that.

Last of the Gaderene is an unashamedly nostalgic book. Mark Gatiss's memory-lane foreword sets the terms, and his narrative follows them to the letter. Gatiss loves Pertwee's Doctor, he loves the bloody frilly velvet (an odd tic seemingly shared by all Pertwee fans - I can just see him pushing Lowri Turner out of the way to waltz off in the TARDIS with ol' bignose), he loves Roger Delgado's Master, and the UNIT era, and stories set in English villages with loveable locals (sorry, Locals) besieged by dark forces. He may even be crazy enough to love Jo Grant.

Those of you unfortunate enough to be familiar with my own opinions on Who may be aware that I have no special fondness for any of those things. Well, maybe for UNIT - I do like the sense of real-world agendas it brought into the show, in stories like The Ambassadors of Death for example, and though I do find myself nodding at Verity Lambert's comments on Pertwee's too-authoritarian Doctor, it nevertheless seems a good idea to me to have the Doctor be a recognised agent of a UN-sanctioned military organisation - saves all that time having to inveigle his way into sticky situations, and gives him a reasonably good, time-saving answer when some disgruntled bureaucrat asks 'Who the devil are you?'

And I rather like Pertwee, come to think of it; I made this surprising discovery about myself when the scarecrow-portraying Bea Arthur lookalike turned up in some daft seventies Robert Bloch horror compendium of a movie and it brought a big smile to my face; it's just that he's not my own cup of tea, Doctor-wise. And much the same is true of the show itself during those years - entertaining enough in a formulaic way, but not what I consider 'my' Doctor Who to be. I think, for example, that the reason I rather enjoy, say, The Sea Devils and Joe Ford doesn't is because he's more of a fan of the Pertwee era than me, and thus has higher expectations; I expect it to be a bit of a simplistic runaround with weird electronic music and people in daffy flares and for, say, the Master to be treated like some loveable uncle instead of a psychopathic bastard, so I enjoy it on its own terms, as a formulaic diversion from the kind of Who I prefer.

Little nutshell summary of my opinion of the Pertwee years there. I don't share Gatiss' affection for them, but neither do I hold them in the contempt imagined by Joe in his own review of this book. And you know what, my indifference to whatever it is that floats Gatiss' boat didn't matter one bit when I was reading Last of the Gaderene. Much as I often find myself railing against too much nostalgia in new Who output - mainly because I feel it would be a bit of a waste of time and actually against the spirit of the show itself to plow this backward-looking furrow all the time -, I'd never say that Doctor Who shouldn't 'do' nostalgia. Doctor Who, after all, can do anything! Rather, then, that when it does it, it should be the real thing. And this is the real thing. This is a book that's asolutely dripping with love for the period and the personalities it evokes, where the memories of our little show seem permanently enmeshed with the long childhood summers that ran alongside it. And since that 'summer's breeze' simile has already been taken, here's an alternative - it's like lashings of homemade raspberry jam and curls of creamy butter spread across a thick slice of freshly baked bread hot and golden from a trusty old toaster that's stood in your family kitchen since your earliest childhood. I first came to this to this book not long after the stale pop tart of SynthespiansTM, and the reminder that nostalgia is not merely some cheap lacquer for shining up shitty old TV shows was somewhat of a balm to my soul.

The prose is gorgeous. I mean, compare that clumsy 'toast' simile just now to the gossamer web of description Gatiss weaves across his opening chapters. The writing's as choice and deft as anything by Paul Magrs, except all that bitching and meta-textual bullshit never kicks in. A pleasing lack of irony, I think you'd call it. And it's so darn pleasant you'd be forgiven that the Master's villainy here will extend to little more than not getting a round in for the UNIT lads. It's like a polar opposite League of Gentlemen where Locals aren't sinister, they're lovely, and the reason you'll - as the Royston Vasey proverb goes - never leave the village is because you'll never want to. Culverton is everyone's cherished idea of an idyllic English village, the sort of place that in the reality of today's world would be blighted by cider-drinking tracksuited fourteen year-olds on every corner, and wouldn't look quite so pretty when you realised that they'd all voted BNP there. Joe's comment that it's 'everything that Rags set out to demolish' rings true, and I think it's good thing that the other, more tarnished side of the coin is also sitting there on our fannish bookshelves, but accept this as a very pretty, rarefied fantasy world with tenuous connections to our own and you'll soon be as comfortably nestled inside it as I was. If chapter titles like 'Fete Worse than Death' make you smile despite yourself, then you'll have a good time.

The aims of the book are shallow, certainly, but in the way that Wodehouse books have shallow aims. As Mike Morris (that most quoted of contributors to the Ratings Guide!) noted in his, um, slaughter of To the Slaughter, 'light-hearted is good. It's not that the stories have to be serious; just that the writers have to treat them seriously'. Quite right. If you think a fun, lighthearted book is some kind of easy option, go try and write one. Actually, that's giving the impression that this book is some kind of daft comedy, when actually it's a story that takes itself quite seriously, has a fair few moments of horror, and is played completely straight-faced. The ending of chapter twelve, say, with Jocelyn Strangeways being assailed by a scuttling something is very creepy. But somehow the set piece is reassuring too, in its schlock-classicism, it's sense of familiarity; I get the impression from interviews with Gatiss which I've read that the appeal of this stuff is two-pronged with him. On the one hand, there's the honest thrill he remembers from watching all these cheesy old horror shows and movies when he was still young enought to be truly terrified by them; on the other, they impart an overriding sense of contented safety; after all, monsters lurking under your bed (which is more or less what Jocelyn Strangeways faces here) is a pretty cosy, carefree thing to worry about, if you see what I mean. The passage where Jo remembers the stair landing in her parents home (p127-128), one of my favourite in the book, very nicely illustrates this sensibility of his in miniature. An ability to remember the world as it seemed to a kid.

Gatiss crafts this novel carefully and with genuine love. As a result of this a run of the mill, really quite cliched, Who invasion story emerges sparkling like new, fresh as a daisy. It's certainly not one of those 'important' or continuity-busting book - not the type of thing where Zoe becomes all-powerful cyberqueen of the universe for a spell while Jamie gets hooked on intergalactic drugs and gang-raped by a pack of marauding Voord -, in fact at one point Gatiss rather amusingly flirts with the notion of making the book 'important', suggesting we're about to finally see how the Roger Delgado incarnation of the Master met his end, before doing no such thing and making us laugh at at our expectations. But make no mistake, for all it might sound like a story we've seen a hundred times before, this is nonetheless a unique and special Doctor Who book. Just by actually being the adventure the twelve year-old fan would want to write, but crafted with all the skill of a grown-up literate, talented bloke, it's a remarkable, rare achievement.

And a sweet, fun read to boot. Hey, in the abstract I'd be more wary of Last of the Gaderene than probably any fan you can name - Mark Gatiss writing pastichey Pertwee? Gak! -, but I'd cheerfully call this the best PDA I've read since Festival of Death. Unreservedly recommended!