THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Aztecs
Death to the Daleks
Alternate History Cycle
Virgin Books
The Left-Handed Hummingbird
The Alternate History Cycle Part Three

Author Kate Orman Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20404 2
Published 1993
Cover Pete Wallbank

Synopsis: After a gunman embarks on a murderous spree, the Doctor, Ace and Benny are summoned to Mexico by Cristian Alvarez, an old friend they haven't met yet, who believes the gunman was possessed by a force known as "the Blue". The Doctor and Ace travel back to Ancient Mexico to discover the Blue is Huitzilopotchli, a bloodthirtsy Aztec god, whom the mysterious enemy has allowed to survive as a psychic vampire. The chase leads them to disaster London in 1968, New York in 1980 where they fail to prevent John Lennon's murder and then the Titantic, where the Doctor is slowly being taken over by Huitziloptchli.


Reviews

A Review by Dominick Cericola 7/3/00

Following the events of the last two adventures (Blood Heat and The Dimension Riders), the book opens with The Doctor, Ace and Benny included, answering a letter sent to him via UNIT. The letter, written from a hospital bed by a Mexican man named Cristian Alvarez, is a plea for help. It seems he and The Doctor have met several times over the last 25 years -- beginning with a party in London in 1968 -- and each time they met, Cristian fell victim to an awesome psychic jolt known as The Blue! He agrees to help Cris, yet as he digs deeper, he learns that the answers are far less to do with Cris and more to do with himself! Who is manipulating his past, and why? And why is there so suddenly so much violence in the world, as if someone(thing) were feeding off it..?

Hummer was Kate Orman's first novel, yet even here, her almost-pyschological approach to Who was visible. We are granted glimpses into the inner Minds of not only the principles -- The Doctor, Ace, and Benny -- but the others: Cristian, a young man who seems far older and knowledgable than his actual age.. Huizitlan, the man who wanted to be a god.. even Hamish Macbeth, one of the few members of the short-lived Paranormal Division of UNIT.

All the tension and angst that has been building since Blood Heat is dealt with here, as The Doctor struggles with his unintentional vulnerability as Time and History are reworked all about him, causing more than doubts than not.

And then, there is poor Ace. She's only been back from her Tour of Duty with Spacefleet for a handful of months now, yet the warrior within still struggles to break the surface. In a sense this scares her, fearful of becoming some wild (perhaps she still has flashbacks from her and The Doctor's tangle with The Cheetah People?), chaos unleashed? Throw in further doubts for her Conscience, as she tries to decide whether she still fits into The Doctor's world? Ace has been through a lot the entire run of books, and having had the opportunity to read Set Piece, I can honestly say it was all worth it, for she really has grown as a character.

Last, but certainly not least, we can't forget poor Professor Summerfield! Benny, oddly enough, is run through the mill as much as The Doctor this adventure. She is still trying to come terms with Ace's return (Deceit) as well as her own position in The Doctor's life. And, as if that weren't enough, she also has to deal with remaining behind in 1994, in Mexico, while The Doctor and Ace go back to Mexico, 1487, to go to the source of the psychic attacks. Honestly, all three of them should have had a mini-fanfic between this adventure and No Future, wherein Dr. Freud helps them to go threw some real, heart-to-heart counselling.

So, the last thing still to be dealt with is: Did I like it? Yes, very much so. Initially, I had my doubts, as it seemed to slow down a bit after the first couple chapters. But, once all the ideas and characters started to fit into place, making the picture seem more defined, my opinion of the book shot up. My only regret is that I still feel like I missed little things here and there (kinda like when you first play Doom or Quake and just run through each level, so you can get to the end of the game), requiring a second reading.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 15/10/02

The Left-Handed Hummingbirdis one of the few Doctor Who books that I've read multiple times. It's one of my favorites and never disappoints. It feels different from a lot of the books surround it in the series, and given the differing styles of the NA authors, that is saying quite a bit.

"Gritty", "realistic" and "intense" are the words that come to mind first when thinking about this book. The characters are certainly put through hell, but it never feels gratuitous or unnecessary. Their suffering isn't approached one-dimensionally, as the ordeals that our friends are put through actually reveal a lot about how their characters work. It's a bit of a cliche to say so, but we learn about fictional characters when we see them put through the wringer. It's not so much that we see people here who are scared, but that their fear is portrayed in a realistic way. There is no false bravado or boring heroism. When people stand up against the odds, it actually means something.

The story is relatively fast-moving. I was amazed at how much had happened before I had even got to page fifty. The plot is perhaps a little more complicated than it really needs to be, but I found that to be enjoyable, so I can't complain too much. It all fits together logically and satisfactorily. No cheap short cuts are taken, so despite the different timelines and detailed plot strands, everything fits together amazingly well.

There's not too much to complain about here. A few of the Beatles jokes get a little silly. Maybe the plot jumps about a bit too quickly at the end. Though when these are the biggest problems in a book you know you're reading a winner. If you never got around to reading this one on its initial publication, then you missed out on something special. This one's a keeper.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 29/11/02

I hate Kate Orman. Every time I want to blast her for being a writer who only seems interested in her personal agenda than telling a story, I find a book that proves this theory wrong.

First was the brilliant Set Piece, now Hummingbird.

It's a first novel. It doesn't read like a typical DW novel. If I wanted to compare it to any of its predecessors, it's a psychedelic Love and War with less angst.

It's part of the Alternative History Arc, but feels more like a stand-alone book. It takes place in multiple times and locations on Earth, is filled with both cultural and individual violence, and pushes the Doctor to his limits as be battles a ghost with a thirst for violence.

I could imagine that traditional DW fans must have flipped when the Doc decides to trip. Didn't bug me all that much. I thought it was handled tastefully and woven into the plot quite well.

The novel hops all over the place -- Sixties London, The Titanic, NYC in 1980, Mexico City, and the Aztec Empire in 1454. Each location is captured deftly, evoked in the mind with a few strokes. I don't claim to know that much about Aztec culture, but it's damn obvious that Orman did her research.

Characters are solid all around. She gives us a great 7th Doctor (So why is her 8th Doc so horrific it defies description? That's a question for another time) a likable New Ace and a good, dependable Bernice Summerfield. The other characters all have their moments to shine, with Cristian Alvarez getting the most development.

Hummingbird is one of the most literate novels. It's also self-consciously a first novel, as Orman pulls out all sort of literary style tricks. The novel doesn't feel like a television show tie-in book, which is high praise indeed.

The Left-Handed Hummingbird is brilliant. Nuff said.

Damn you, Kate Orman.


A Review by Jason A. Miller 4/12/03

And a happy Tenth Anniversary to The Left-Handed Hummingbird, which was released a decade ago this month and made a big splash on the Internet. Rightfully so.

I picked up Hummer again for the first time in years and years, after a recent viewing of The Aztecs -- a 1964 Doctor Who adventure which is partly the inspiration for Kate Orman's debut novel. Indeed, the parts of Hummer which return the 7th Doctor (and Ace) to 15th century Mexico display a marvelous combination of action and historical detail. The segment begins with the Doctor attracting attention to himself by juggling in the marketplace... and ends with a barrage of corpses. While The Aztecs is a prime representative example of early Doctor Who (and has a relatively low body count), Hummer was Doctor Who at its best 30 years later, and the high body count is suited to the novels of its day.

At the outset of her professional writing career, Orman established a rhythmic routine, introducing with both the Doctor and the villain (Huitzilin, the living Aztec god of war) in the very first scene. After a series of dramatic psychic attacks, the story steps back for some well-written exposition. This alternating pace escalates over the rest of the novel. After the Aztecs are left behind, the TARDIS travels to hippie London in late 1968, an overly-dirty New York City in December 1980, and finally, to the last hours of the Titanic.

Also pioneered here in the books is the old-time fanfic concept of "hurt/comfort", in which the lead character is alternately brutalized and cuddled. Here, Ace, by turns, stabs the Doctor in the chest, and gives him a back massage. I can't say this technique was well-used -- it would be taken to rather silly extremes a few books down the road -- but it works in its initial outing.

Another welcome feature in the prose is the author's own personal interests -- making this a rare example of a Doctor Who story that actually inhabits its 1993 setting. Characters watch reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation -- in Spanish. There's more use of the Beatles than Doctor Who had seen before, or would see since. There's a strong gun-control argument made throughout, including a pointed barb at Ronald Reagan. There are continuity references to other Doctor Who TV stories (Death to the Daleks, The Pirate Planet) which aren't integral to understanding the book, but provide an extra frisson if you remember them.

And then there is, of course, the research. In another neat narrative trick, the Doctor and Ace's journey to Mexico is intercut with scenes of the Doctor's other companion, Professor Summerfield, sitting in a library researching Aztec culture. The library segments actually increase the tension in the companion historical scenes. This is not an easy trick to pull off. Similarly, the Titanic sequence is intercut with authentic scenes set in the Titanic's telegraph room. The Doctor carries on board with him a typed list of the names of those who survived the disaster -- a wonderfully human touch.

The Left-Handed Hummingbird, with all of the above, is a comparatively short 264 pages. There's horrific violence and great small moments of humanity. The only "dip" in the book's comes after the first 100 pages, with the introduction of a Doctor-hating UNIT lieutenant, interrupting the frenetic Aztec segment and leading into the slightly less interesting London sequence.

However, this is a book told with real passion for the historical and the temporal. In spite of the body count, it's got a boatload (sorry) of images to remember. Feathers growing out of the possessed Doctor's hair. The child's doll that improbably survived the Titanic's sinking. And the stunningly well-placed quote from "Hotel California".


A Review by Finn Clark 16/11/04

I've never really warmed to The Left-Handed Hummingbird. Everyone seems to rave about it, but it's always left me cold. It's ingenious and admirably crafted... but I think I've nailed my problem. Simply put, this book has no characters.

Okay, obviously that's not strictly true. There's Cristian Alvarez and Hamlet Macbeth, to whom I'll come in a moment. However everyone else is a walk-on bit part, little more than the latest cannon fodder of whatever timezone the TARDIS happens to be in. The hippies get a bit of personality, but the Aztecs and the doomed folks on the Titanic don't really come alive before they die. Their deaths are more memorable than their lives, in fact. In a twisted way, it's thematically appropriate in this novel for everyone to be a victim awaiting the author's sacrificial knife.

The exceptions are the aforementioned Cristian and Macbeth. The latter manages to become an actual character (and would return in Kate's 3rd comic strip in DWM 221-223: Change of Mind), but you couldn't call him a major player. Blink and you'll miss him in Mexico, then he makes a nuisance of himself in London but then drops out of the book entirely. That leaves Cristian, who's such a null that he hardly exists. He's just some random dude who's involved in the Doctor's nightmare but drifts along passively. Oh, and better yet... this is a timehopping book, so Cristian in London knows nothing about what we just saw happening to him in Mexico, and so on. I honestly can't think of a better way to disconnect your characters from the story's developments.

There's the TARDIS crew, of course. They're good. Arguably, since the Blue is directly targeting the Doctor instead of generically threatening the world, galaxy or multiverse, then to an extent the book's claustrophobic focus is appropriate. Other people aren't needed for the drama because they're not involved. The regulars are well drawn, with New Ace for once managing to be a badass killer without being an annoying cartoon. It's oppressively po-faced, without even a vestige of a sense of humour, but I was impressed by Kate's handling of the inter-crew tensions. It's more sinister and thoughtful than the usual stroppy disagreements, possibly the most interesting treatment of this ongoing story element in any NA.

Benny is interesting, too. In 1993 she'd only been in the books for a year... and here she's as obviously from the future as would be Chris and Roz. She's a bit less "fish out of water", but it's startling to see her unfamiliar with pizzas and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Cristian has to explain to her that the latter isn't a documentary on p25, in contrast to the Benny of later books who's so au fait with every nuance of popular culture that she can get her friends out of trouble with her foreknowledge of Star Trek X: Nemesis in The Dying Days. (Her predictions are doubly impressive, incidentally, since the film didn't exist when Lance wrote that scene.)

So is this novel a dry, uninvolving experience? Perhaps, if you're not in the right mood for it. However if you're judging it as a horror novel, this kind of prose works really well. It's the kind of thing Ramsey Campbell's been doing for donkey's years. This is hallucinogenic horror, cool and dispassionate. It's not always easy to work out what's happening, but that's deliberate. It's light-years from what we're used to in Doctor Who, which tends to be more visceral and less detached in its storytelling, but in its chilly way the prose here is highly accomplished.

The Titanic section labours under a handicap it didn't in 1993: a certain film by James Cameron starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo de Caprio. This could have been a real problem, but the book has a strong individual viewpoint on the events of 1912 and preserves its distinct identity in the face of a blockbuster challenge. That's not a frivolous point, by the way. There are subtle touches, like all the Beatles references. There's a nice take on Aztec civilisation, which is full of authentic-sounding detail and historical background without ever degenerating into History Book Syndrome. This is doubly impressive since the Aztec section of the book is surprisingly short, with the Doctor and Ace hardly dropping in for a moment before they're gone again.

I had to laugh at the cover illustration, though, which is goofy even by Virgin's standards. Oh, and re. the back cover... "Now he finds that events in his own past have been altered." Damn straight! We all know that the Titanic was really sunk by the 7th Doctor and the Sleeze Brothers while chasing the Meddling Monk in Follow That TARDIS! (DWM 147). Finn thinks for a moment about Virgin's Alternate Universe arc. The Meddling Monk, hmm...

Personally I admire this book but find it hard to love. It's an impressive piece of work, but to appreciate it you'll have to approach it on its own terms. I find its first hundred pages a bit boring, to be honest, but it picks up speed later. It's widely praised. Many people seem to love it (or like it more than I do, anyway), but I can't see it being for everyone.


A Review by Brian May 24/3/08

It seems that Aztecs and Doctor Who are always a good mix. First there was the eponymous story from season one, and now The Left-Handed Hummingbird, Kate Orman's first contribution to the New Adventures.

It's very well researched - the descriptions of Aztec life, history and religion are meticulous - and, as with the William Hartnell tale, it's educational. So too the details on psychedelic drugs - hopefully, they were second-hand findings! The writing style is excellent and the story well structured, moving from various locations in Earth's history that juxtapose each other impressively. With one exception. I felt all the John Lennon stuff was a segue too many. Kate Orman is obviously a Lennon and Beatles devotee, what with all the song titles and trivia peppered [geddit?] throughout the book. As for his death, I find it annoying when a writer/fan associates a real life tragedy with an alien influence or incursion etc. (The same could be applied to Silver Nemesis with the JFK assassination, but given that event's links with the beginning of Doctor Who and the anniversary nature of the story, it's more forgivable).

Perhaps the novel's greatest attribute is its atmosphere. It's proper horror. I was spooked on many occasions, even on the fourth reading. Huitzilin is never less than a frightening presence, and all the encounters with him are tense and compelling. The dream sequences, drug trips and Ace stabbing the Doctor are other such examples. The temporal paradox is simple, but it unfolds elegantly. The time travellers first meet Cristian and Macbeth in 1994, while these two initially encounter the TARDIS crew in 1968; it's complex, but not convoluted. Orman also maintains reader interest by dropping hints at what will happen later (or earlier). Cristian becomes even more a tragic figure; readers are given the foreknowledge of his ultimate demise and are then introduced to him as a young man. And, while the novel is largely doom and gloom, Orman does retain a sense of humour, using the fragmented chronology to deliver an hilarious moment, that of Ace breaking Macbeth's nose.

The incumbent TARDIS crew has never been better. Orman's reputation for torturing the Doctor originates here, and boy is she a sadist! The Time Lord goes to hell and back several times in a characterisation that's an accurate blend of Sylvester McCoy's television performance and the vulnerable Doctor of the NAs. Orman also takes the difficult New Ace and goes hell for leather. All that's unpleasant in the character is augmented time and again, but the author makes something constructive out of it. Not only is she written exceptionally well - the best post-Deceit - we're made to realise what makes her tick and are invited to be worried by just how far she will go. Accordingly, this brings out the best in the conflicting Doctor/Ace relationship: the climax to chapter 12 (pp.191-192) is fantastic. Compared to these two, Benny is sidelined, but Orman hasn't forgotten her, writing her in character and always giving her something to do.

The novel is very much a product of its time, the adult-oriented Doctor Who the New Adventures championed. In some cases, this meant nothing but gratuity and sleaziness in the writers' approach, but The Left-Handed Hummingbird has a genuine maturity. It's quite violent, often very graphic (Cristian collapsing in the bathroom) but every nasty moment is there for a purpose: to emphasise someone's pain, to convince the reader of the adversary's power. Even the Doctor taking hallucinogens, a highly contentious moment, serves the plot rather than being grafted on in the name of "adultness".

Of course, it wouldn't be an NA without fanwank! But most of it's actually quite good; I always liked the UNIT stuff on pp.100-101. It's a fresh path to take, viewing it from the outside as a secretive, clandestine organisation with cover-ups and conspiracies abounding, disassociated from the insider cosiness of the Pertwee stories. I didn't care much for the first Exxilon reference, the Doctor discovering the fuel pod, but it's there to set up the second and more justifiable one, the weapon Huitzilin discovers. And when I read a Who factoid on p.158, originally from The Mind of Evil, I wasn't sure whether to be exasperated by a fannish knowledge of such an obscurity (conveniently forgetting I also knew the source!), or be impressed by how it's incorporated into the narrative. Both, probably.

Nevertheless, all gripes aside, The Left-Handed Hummingbird is an exceptional piece of work. It's one of the best of the NAs and for a debut novel it's a first class effort. 9/10