THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Paradise of Death
The Ghosts of N-Space (radio play)
Virgin Publishing
The Ghosts of N-Space

Author Barry Letts Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books home page
ISBN# 0 426 20434 4
Published 1995
Continuity Between Death to the Daleks and
The Monster of Peladon

Synopsis: While on holiday, Sarah Jane, the Brigadier, and Jeremy discover a mysterious castle holds a deadly secret. It is being used as a gateway by a species intent on conquering Earth. And the Doctor may not be able to stop the invasion.


Reviews

A Review by Tammy Potash 13/8/00

Good points: the characterization is of course done well, since this was based off the radio play. There's quite a lot of time-travel, from 1818, to the early fifteen-hundreds, back to 1818, and of course home to the twentieth century. The cover's very nice.

Bad points: just about everything else. Including the original characters, who are walking cliches (the swooning, lovestruck Louisa, Maggie the distasteful American,) and Jeremy Fitzoliver, who was just barely tolerable in Paradise of Death. It is very jarring to see the Doctor, an extremely rational man, engaging in such mystical activities as astral projection (this accounts for some of the time travel) and a sort of metaphysical battle against an alchemist/necromancer.

The sorceror seeks to shatter the barrier between this dimension and a parallel one called Null-Space (which should never have been abbreviated as N-Space as it conflicts with Warrior's Gate and any other episodes dealing with E-space) which is nothing less than the afterlife, namely Hell itself. Tormented spirits, hideous demons; you think I'm kidding.

I have no problem with magic itself in the Whoniverse (Battlefield, Sorceror's Apprentice, Scarlet Empress), it's just that the Doctor himself seems to believe in it. And I can't see him engaging in astral projection, not the Third Doctor anyway. This is the same one who denounced magic in The Daemons, which Letts even novelised!

Letts is no great shakes as a novelist. This one's for absolute completists only.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 6/9/00

This shouldn`t really qualify as a Missing Adventure because we`ve heard it, and you can`t help but wonder why it was comissioned other than the name Barry Letts.

PLOT: Overlong and overcomplicated, the novel should have expanded on things a great deal more, making it into a novel and less like an ardous trek through page after page of dross.

THE DOCTOR: Only like Jon Pertwee in fits and starts, for the most part it is difficult to believe it is him; even if the interaction between the regulars is spot on.

COMPANIONS: The Brigadier of Italian descent? Unlikely though it seems it adds an unseen facet to the character, even if he doesn`t do anything new. Sarah Jane, well she acts more like a journalist and the passages with Louisa are interesting, but this isn`t the Sarah we know. Jeremy Fitzoliver, well he remains more annoying in print than he ever was on audio; and that`s saying something.

OTHERS: Max Vilmio is nothing more than a cliched gangster, whose sole motivation is greed. As the villain more should have been made of him. Mario, the Brigadier`s uncle, really is superflous and frankly why he was included at all escapes me. Easily the best and most enjoyable character is Maggie, who is given a background, although her transformation scenes don`t translate to print very well. Nonetheless, she at least evokes some sympathy.

IN SUMMARY: the scenes in renaissance Italy; more could`ve been made of them. N-Space is now our Space as well as Normal Space; why not choose a better and less contradictory title? One to avoid really (I only own this because I have all the other MAs), there is little to recommend. It should have answered the questions the radio play didn`t, but unfortunately it doesn`t. 2/10.


A Review by Finn Clark 14/3/05

Not nearly as bad as its reputation. The Paradise of Death may be laughable, but I found The Ghosts of N-Space perfectly readable. I wouldn't call it good, but it's much like middle-of-the-road Terrance Dicks. Worse than Players, but better than Warmonger or The Eight Doctors. Admittedly that's not high praise and I can't say I'm eager to read more from either of these authors, but this book's reputation had led me to expect a catastrophe in paper covers. It's probably better than Deadly Reunion, for a start.

This doesn't explain its scraping-the-barrel 38.7% score on Shannon's Online Rankings, but I have a theory about that. The book fans hated it because it's basically rubbish. Let's not forget that something like the bottom 20% of all Doctor Who books have less to commend them than even the worst TV episodes. This kind of plodding nonsense keeps popping up, like moles in your best lawn, and year after year we wonder why we paid good money in the first place. The Ghosts of N-Space may not be the worst Who novel of all time, but that doesn't make it worth reading.

Such books are aimed at "trad fans", for lack of a better phrase... but I think even they hated this book, hence the 38.7% ranking. They'd have enjoyed its cosy familiarity and likeable regulars, but unfortunately Barry Letts chose to write about a load of old tosh. Astrology, comets overhead, a literal afterlife in the form of N-Space... even today, in the post-Magrs BBC Books generation, it feels peculiar. (The afterlife stuff in particular.) Back in 1995 I'm sure much of the audience flatly rejected it, especially coming as it does from the rationalist 3rd Doctor. Traditionalists were always likely to struggle with a book containing lines like: "Tonight is the night that the ancient astrology of the Egyptians tells him that he can become master of the world."

All that said, there's much to like in this book. It deftly juggles three timezones (1500, 1818 and 1973), each of which come alive in their own ways with their own characters. The story may be unbelievable but at least it's memorable, with its concepts and set pieces staying in the mind long after The Paradise of Death has gone the way of the dodo. The regulars are genuinely good, by which I mean the Doctor, Sarah and the Brigadier. (I'll come to Jeremy in a moment.) I particularly liked the Doctor's reaction to being compared with Santa Claus. The Brigadier's hitherto unrevealed Italian heritage feels ridiculous, but it's not as if we bought this book expecting Shakespeare. There's a sweet original character in Louisa. I liked all that.

Jeremy Fitzoliver is interesting. At times I felt I'd spotted "Jar-Jar Binks in Episode Two" syndrome, in which an author visibly gets defensive about a much-maligned character. There's an odd, slightly embarrassed feel about the section from p89 onwards, which pre-emptively tells us what will happen instead of trusting us to want to read the adventures of Jeremy. There's even a touch of bitterness in Jeremy himself on p60 and p73, which could be retconned as foreshadowing Instruments of Darkness.

However for every good point there's a dumb one to drag things backwards. Yet again Barry proves as careless with continuity as his spiritual mentor, Uncle Terry. There's an ugly clash with Timelash on p31 (and you know a book's in trouble when it comes off second in a contest like that). The name N-Space itself is odd from the executive producer of Season Eighteen. Jeremy gets a hint of romance that's hardly more convincing than Sarah's in The Paradise of Death... I mean, he's Jeremy! Come off it, Baz!

The Brigadier's "army" against Max Vilmio is absurd. The man's a billionaire! "If Max Vilmio brought in a helicopter, they were sunk," muses Lethbridge-Stewart on p149, overlooking the very real possibilities of nerve gas, commando units and 1000 battle-hardened mercenaries.

This book is nonsense, but lively and better than its reputation. I don't recommend it, but it would fit comfortably into the recent BBC Books line-up and even be better than many of them. Hell, there's another Barry Letts PDA scheduled for July 2005. Admittedly to enjoy this book you need a taste for camp and kitsch, but I've read worse. Arguably its biggest crime is to deal with the notion of an afterlife, and even that's been touched on since in Camera Obscura and Empire of Death (though I still don't like it). Solidly mediocre.


The 264-Page Challenge of N-Space by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 10/4/18

By far the best thing about The Ghosts of N-Space is the cover. Actually, the only good thing about The Ghosts of N-Space is the cover. Alister Pearson has always been my favourite Doctor Who artist, and he can always be relied upon to produce wonderful covers, be it for books, videos or magazines. Unfortunately, I have nothing other than that to recommend about this novel. I enjoyed the cover, and I enjoyed finishing the last page, so desperate was I for it to stop, but beyond that I found this to be one of the most unrewarding Doctor Who novels I have ever read. Its problems all boil down to one fundamental issue, which is that it simply isn't very well written. The prose is mostly awful, the plot is completely unengaging, the characters are annoying, and the regulars are very unconvincingly depicted.

Given Barry Letts' esteemed position in the annals of Doctor Who history, I have no desire to be unkind to him or his works. He oversaw practically the entirety of the Pertwee era as producer and occasionally directed as well, but if The Ghosts of N-Space is anything to go by, then his talents lie with making television, not writing novels. This is perhaps most evident in his depiction of the Doctor, Sarah and the Brigadier. He worked with the actors who played these characters, but he certainly doesn't seem to know how to write for them convincingly, the result being that we end up with them spouting lines that just don't feel like the sort of thing that these characters would say. The Brigadier, for example, would not be in the habit of saying "good morning my dear" to Sarah, even if he is on holiday. The Doctor, for example, would not say that he "nicked" one of the guns from Parakon in The Paradise of Death and nor would he ruminate about having "a cold beer after a game of squatchin". There is also the little matter of the Brigadier saying "ah" in the middle of sentences. This happens a lot... so often, in fact, that I lost count of the number of instances. I think all of the main characters do it at some point, but the Brigadier does it so often that it almost becomes a sort of nervous tic. Sarah comes off the worst of the three regulars. The person that we are presented with here bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Sarah Jane Smith that we know from the TV series. I haven't read The Paradise of Death, but the evidence on display in The Ghosts of N-Space would seem to indicate that he has no feel for how to write for her character.

The supporting characters are no better either. Jeremy is irritating and cowardly, serving no purpose other than to be derided by everyone around him. Vilmio makes for a very lacklustre villain, having very little presence or impact. Uncle Mario is clearly supposed to be the comic relief, an intention that misfires on every single level. Maggie is portrayed as something of a tragic character, but this is ultimately given very little attention, and her death is treated with little more than cursory regard.

It has been pointed out by people that the plot hinges on ridiculous coincidences, and I can't disagree with this. In order to get the ball rolling, Letts has Sarah bump into the Brigadier whilst on holiday in the same Sicilian town. He even acknowledges the sheer coincidence of this in the prose! It is hard to escape the feeling that Letts is simply taking the piss. I was left feeling that he just couldn't be bothered with the details, that he thought of the easiest, most convenient way to get them together and then did it. Such lazy plotting (if it can be called plotting) so early in the novel does not bode well for the rest of the story.

Speaking of the plot, the sad fact is that some of the basic ideas are not without potential. The concept of the N-Forms as monstrosities inhabiting a realm that exists beyond our perception and comprehension is somewhat reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft's deliciously creepy short story From Beyond. Unfortunately, in Letts' hands, this idea is presented as just another tiresome aspect of what is a very tiresome novel. Extradimensional horror doesn't really work when you insist on undercutting it with lame attempts at humour. The N-Forms don't actually appear all that much, and this is possibly something of a mercy, as they are imbued with very little menace and occasionally they are almost presented in a way which verges on comical. Despite the story's title, there isn't that much ghostly activity either, though this is also something for which I am grateful, as what we are presented with is poorly explained and verges a little too much in the direction of mysticism.

Some scenes are simply ridiculous. Notable examples include Maggie going all gooey over one of the N-Forms for no readily apparent reason; Uncle Mario waking up to discover an N-Form in the room with him but then deciding he isn't bothered by it and deciding to go back to sleep, again for no readily apparent reason; and our heroes sitting around discussing marmalade. Yes that's right, marmalade... I seriously began to question Barry Letts' storytelling priorities at this point.

I personally feel that one of the key requirements of a successful Missing Adventure is to be able to convincingly evoke the era in which it is set, something which The Ghosts of N-Space completely fails to do. This does not feel like Season 11 or indeed any part of the Pertwee era at all, nor do the regulars feel like any characters that we are familiar with. Taking these failings out of the equation, it isn't even left with an interesting plot or engaging prose to fall back on. At no point did I feel interested or invested in what was going on. This is due in part to the fact that the story utterly fails to create a sense of tension or drama; even when the fate of the world is apparently hanging in the balance, Letts just doesn't seem to be able to build a sense of urgency or dread. Whoever was editor of the line at this point should have told Letts to go away and have another go at it. Judging by the finished product, that doesn't seem to have happened.

The Ghosts of N-Space isn't a particularly difficult novel to get through, and the pages pass mercifully quickly. But it fails as a remotely decent Doctor Who novel, it fails as a successful evocation of the Pertwee era, and it fails as a kind of supernatural horror. I can't claim to have yet read all of the Missing Adventures, but of the ones I have read, The Ghosts of N-Space is the weakest by a country mile.