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.