THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Logopolis
Virgin Books
Nightshade

Author Mark Gatiss Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20376 3
Published 1992
Cover Peter Elson

Synopsis: The Doctor and Ace land in the village of Crook Marsham in 1968 where the Doctor considers retirement and Ace falls in love with Robin Yeadon. Edmund Trevithick, an actor who once starred in a BBC series as Professor Nightshade begins to see manifestations of the monsters he fought in the TV program. The Doctor discovers that Crook Marsham has been the site of many unexplained deaths throughout history. The villagers are suddenly plagued by visits of lost loved ones, including Susan Foreman.


Reviews

A Review by Keith Bennett 2/4/98

The Doctor wants to retire. He's had enough, regretting his past and desiring a more peaceful future, so he takes the puzzled Ace to the quiet English village of Crook Marsham in the year 1968. Of course, it isn't quiet for very long, or this wouldn't be much of a book. People in the village are dying, victims of strange images from their past, and the rather incongruous radio telescope on the moor is picking up some very strange signals.

The would have to be one of the best of all New Adventures. Richly characterized and very gripping, first timer Mark Gatiss has brought together a pretty basic and unoriginal story with superb skill. The images are perfectly described and the characters are excellently explored without hardly ever slowing down proceedings. It is a bit harrowing at times (really, it's not dissimilar to a tame Dean Koontz horror novel), particularly when a monk from the local monastary believes he sees Jesus Christ, until the image changes to that of the evil entity, but for those who can take such matters, a treat is in store.

One might have reservations about Ace's romance with local lad Robin and the book ends oddly, with Ace deciding to stay on Earth with him, but the Doctor tricks her and, although promising to return her to him, lands somewhere else, much to Ace's distress. There really is a bit of a depressed mood throughout the book, and strangely, for someone who is credited for writing comedic plays, Gatiss includes virtually no humour.

Overall, however, this is close to a brilliant read. Involving and entertaining, with such sequences as Edmund Trevithick's battle with a beetle-like creature in a lift making grippingly thrilling reading.

Outstanding stuff.


A Review by Dominick Cericola 28/2/00

In 1968, the little village of Crook Marsham was quite a friendly, picturesque community, in which one could find themselves feeling quite at home in a but a heartbeat. That is it was until a couple days ago, right before The Doctor and Ace arrived -- ghosts appearing out of nowhere, a general air of foreboding, waiting for all Hell to break loose. What is the cause of this all, and how do the Civil War legends as well as the team of specialists at the radio telescope up on the hill tie into this?

Mark Gatiss' first outing in the world of Who was really quite a surprise. The story has a flavor and style similar to Clive Barker's earlier works. The book is edgy, but far from the angst-laden adventures to come. The scenes are visual enough that they were burned into my conscious mind long after the book was closed -- one of the things I always I look for in a good Writer. The dialogue, too, was fresh, not stereotypical at all -- something that could easily have happened with a setting such as the out-of-the-way village of Crook Marsham.

Ace goes through a lot of personal hell in this tale. She begins to relax somewhat, considering all that has gone past (see The Timewyrm Cycle and The Cat's Cradle Trilogy), finding herself falling for one of the village locals, a young man by the name of Robin. Yet, even something as simple as love and perhaps even settling down are far out of her reach, as she learns by the adventures end. It will be the outcome of this adventure, as well as events in Love & War that will force her to leave The Doctor, to go on a journey of discovery. And, when she returns in... Oh bother, as Pooh bear would say, I'm getting ahead of myself again.. *G*

However, the character who really shines in this story was Edmund Trevithick, or as he was better known to legions of telly viewers in the early 60's, Professor Nightshade.. Now retired, and much older, he lives in a retirement home, his heart still yearning for some more than he is able to do. It is the evil that comes to Crook Marsham, add in The Doctor's arrival, and he is given a chance to "shine again".

My only quibble with this book, and well, it isn't even fair to call it such, but, here it is.. At the end of the story, The Doctor can't allow Ace to stay behind with Robin, something to do with her future. Now, as I have said in some of the other reviews on here, I already read a good many of the other NAs, some out of order. However, I don't recall anything so important in Ace's future that The Doctor had to manipulate the situation so as to not allow her to stay in 1968.

And, finally, my overall opinion of the book.. I loved it, plain and simple. It had a moodiness about that was equal to that Season 26, making for a real nail-biting adventure. The characters were well-defined, and it really added some interesting touches here and there to the relationship Ace and The Doctor shared. If you can find this one in any of the used shops, by all means, grab it. Cheers..


The Best Ever by Richard Radcliffe 21/3/01

If I was to pick a single book that sums up why I like DW so much - this would be it.

The emotions contained within its pages are real and pertinent for the reader. The atmosphere conjured up is electrifying. It enthralls, it enchants. The Doctor and Ace prove what a fantastic team they are. The Doctor is enigmatic. Ace is her most likeable.

Of the supporting characters Trevithick fares best. His character is an endearing one. The setting is the main supporting character in this book however. The English Village is the best backdrop in which to tell Classic Who. This is the best village of all - Crook Marsham, December 1968. It is complete with a monastery, nearby Moor, an old church, telescope on the site of an old Castle, a local pub, Civil War History. Gatiss creates a terrific stage on which to construct his drama.

The novel was an absolute revelation after the early NA's (Exodus excepted). It proved beyond doubt that the books can tell the very best kind of Doctor Who stories.

One of the greatest books ever written. 10/10


A Review by Luke Sims 24/6/01

Yes finally a book which made me want to read Who again and again and again..... I had lost hope in Doctor Who Books after Revolution Man, and was about to give them up before deciding to give it another try. Nightshade was the second chance for me to stick with Who fiction, this book would either make or break me as a fan. Well I'm happy to say not only am I back, but I'm back for good. Nightshade was everything I could have dreamed of and more. It had great characters, Great story and Great writing!

Plot: The Doctor wants to retire, he has had enough and wants to rest. Hey who can blame him, he's been doing this for a hell of a long time. But fate has other ideas and puts him in the middle of a problem he'd rather not be a part of. This is a good idea and it's better than "the Docter goes on holiday and then...." This story also had something to always make you want to keep reading, no matter if it was the Doctor or Ace or even a new character that was moving it along.

The Doctor: I liked him in this book, and I thought his desperation and depression were well done and didn't seem out of character. At the end of the book though I yelled out As$%^e! because of what he did to Ace. After having thought about it though I suppose it was the right thing to do, but I don't have to like it!

Ace: She was great in this book and I really like to see this character develop. I liked the interactions between her and Robin, so I really felt for her at the end of the book.

Other Characters: All characters in this book are fantastic, they were all realistic and well done. Edmund Trevithick was the highlight, and he really reminded me of the old Quatermass and the Pit serials. His trouble in the lift was the best part in the book and it took my breath away. Robin was also a good character and his crush with Ace was great. I was really depressed though at the very end how it closes with Robin waiting for something that will never happen. All the other characters were also great like Vijay, Holly, and Cooper... Hell there there were just so many good characters and it was hard not to feel something for them all.

Villain: The Sentience I thought wasn't really a villain, but it did chill me to the bone. Even though it was only killing to live, the way it did it was very sinister.

Style: I really liked Mark Gatiss's style, because I could easily imagine the settings the people and the emotion each character conveyed. The prose might not be the easiest to get through, but when it has a great story like this to back it up it has no problem.

Overall: I loved everything in this book, and to see Susan haunt the Doctor shifted this book to classic status. 9/10


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 13/3/02

Nightshade is quite a fun romp. The book is a bit cliched and predictable in places, but such a solid adventure that it's quite easy to excuse its flaws and simply appreciate it for the enjoyable escapade that it is. The characters are very well drawn and the setting fits perfectly with the story that's being told. If you're in the right mood for this sort of thing, then you'll find it to be a complete delight.

There are quite a number of Doctor Who cliches present throughout the story. Thankfully, Mark Gatiss has the good sense to set up many of them slightly differently than we're used to, so that the majority are not particularly annoying. Still there are moments of predictability and a few sections suffer because of their lack of originality. The ending in particular is a bit of a disappointment, as it feels jerky and uneven after the smooth and slow build-up. On the other hand, the beginning and middle sections feel deceptively comfortable and safe, which would most likely be a deliberate ploy, given the theme running through the story that highlights the dangers of nostalgia. Those who dwell too much on the past will be doomed to have no future (by having their souls eaten by loud, slobbering nostalgia-monsters, one presumes). Although the theme is hit a bit too loudly at a few points, for the most part it makes a nice backdrop.

The town and the characters that inhabit it are fairly stereotypical of the average sleepy English village, but for what the story was attempting, they work perfectly. Despite the relatively large number of people mentioned, most of them are given enough brushstrokes to seem realistic. The back-stories provided are quite effective and excellent at showing how the past continues to live on in the present. There are several nice touches that subtly demonstrate the link between then and now that thankfully manage to stop well short of beating us over the head with the imagery. The retirement home, the graveyard, the old semi-abandoned church, and the monastery are all quite successful at establishing this. And, of course, the most blatant reminder of one's past comes in the form of the TV serial, Nightshade, and the actor who portrayed the title character.

Fortunately, Mark Gatiss chose to use Quatermass as the basis for his television nostalgia-fest rather than the Doctor Who television show itself, thus sparing us from a lot of silly fandom in-jokes (the Professor X gags would come from elsewhere and become less funny with each passing reference). The sections featuring Edward Trevithick, the actor who had played Professor Nightshade, are far and away the best parts of the book. Gatiss obviously had a great affection for this character. He gets the most interesting background, his part of the story is the most exciting, and he certainly is the character with the most depth.

Nightshadeisn't the best Doctor Who story out there, but it's certainly one of the more enjoyable ones. For a fairly standard story it packs a surprising amount of subtlety. The nostalgia theme is done well and is not overused. It's certainly an entertaining tale that manages to rise above the comfortable runaround status that it could so easily have fallen into. Rereading this book in 2002 means that it seems much more light than it did ten years ago (or even eight years ago when I read it the first time) given all that has happened in the Doctor Who novels since Nightshade's publication, but it still manages to pass the test of time.


A Review by Finn Clark 12/1/04

Why is Nightshade so popular? I don't get it. It's fondly regarded and I've never heard a bad word said against it, but it's essentially a bog-standard runaround of a kind that's ten-a-penny nowadays. It's the first consciously trad book... but perhaps that's why it went down so well. In a series of books like Time's Crucible, Warhead, Transit and The Pit, it's easy to see Gatiss as a breath of fresh air. However I reckon something like Shadow in the Glass or Last of the Gadarene could have had this kind of reputation just as easily by being published in August 1992 instead of Nightshade. I don't see much difference between them, to be frank.

Don't get me wrong, though. Nightshade is charming. It's well written, in a way we don't seem to see so often these days. The characterisation is warm, with the author seeming particularly fond of Edmund Trevithick (a seventy-year-old former actor who played the eponymous Nightshade). Crook Marsham in 1968 is nicely painted, giving a solid sense of place and time that's more specific than the usual thatched cottage and oo-arr yokel. Today it seems most reminiscent of Relative Dementias, which similarly describes the inhabitants of an old folks' home. There's a solidly written cutaway to 1644 and the English Civil War, which is of course an era Gatiss would return to in The Roundheads. (The cover is atmospheric too.)

The soul-sucking menace is thematically interesting. It feeds on nostalgia, which is reminiscent enough of Doctor Who fandom that I think the book is stronger for not making the connection explicit. There's Trevithick and his happy memories of his days as Professor Nightshade. There's the old folks' home and its occupants, particularly the World War One veterans. There are even darker characters like Hawthorne, also dwelling in the past... albeit in a way that highlights their own prejudices. These people die. To survive these people must look forward, not back - which is a slightly surprising message from an author whose four books to date have been rather on the trad side.

Storywise Nightshade is pretty much on a par with an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, down to including a "research in the library" scene. It's a straight-ahead plot that rarely serves up any surprises. You might remember its set-pieces (e.g. the Tar Baby) but you'll soon forget the book's actual events. There's a Big Nasty on the moors that wants to eat everyone. That's pretty much it. It's a slim book with a leisurely pace - not in itself a bad thing, but it does mean the story doesn't need many digressions.

Ace gets a romance, which is pleasant but no more. It's rather low-key. The ending doesn't really make much sense to me, while what I think is an offstage sex scene (between pages 110 and 117) is handled with such a light touch that one kinda overlooks it. I can imagine some readers arguing that it never happened at all. Robin's a nice lad, but I wasn't really that fussed when Ace carried on to more Virgin adventures. This was the first companion romance in the novels and I suspect this gave it more weight in 1992 than it perhaps deserved. Though having said that, the book sneakily pretends to be building up to a companion departure... had Ace left to settle down in 1968, this would have been a rather nice send-off.

In-jokes are mostly absent, thank goodness, though I spotted some suspiciously familiar surnames. The 7th Doctor is mostly well written, but occasionally goes a bit over the top and made me wonder if Gatiss actually liked the character. There isn't that much to this book, to be honest. It's a good thing it's nicely written, because otherwise it would have been a bit bleah.


A Review by Brian May 17/2/04

Nightshade is a very assured, confident piece of fiction that is always enjoyable and runs along at a brisk, even pace. It's the first of the New Adventures not linked by a story arc (although the links in the Cat's Cradle trilogy are tenuous). It develops the mood for the new series of adventures including some pivotal character development for the Doctor. It also presents other memorable characters and tells an engaging story.

To these latter points first. The English village has been a Doctor Who location several times before, but it's only The Daemons in which it is a central one and, apart from a wonderful scene in which Roger Delgado turns a meeting into a soap opera, there are no intimate details of the villagers, their lives, loves and losses. They are for the most part faceless support characters. Fortunately that doesn't happen in Nightshade and, being a novel, there would have been less excuse had this been the case. Using a village and its inhabitants as main characters also risks the regurgitation of rural cliches, something Mark Gatiss also successfully avoids.

This is not to say the basic templates aren't cliche - some are, such as the "young and restless" Robin and Jill, the racist and intolerant Hawthorne, the serene Abbot Winstanley - but they're all given a depth that adds a great deal to them. It's obvious that the author has the most fondness for - and the most fun with - Edmund Trevithick, the aging actor once famous for his role in a series not a million miles away from Quatermass (although the description of the cliffhanger, especially the jerky, superimposed credits reminds us all of another sci-fi programme from the 1960s...) But none of the characters suffer from a one-dimensional portrayal, and even people such as Hawthorne draw some element of sympathy. Gatiss even manages to tug at the heartstrings - case in point being Jack Prudhoe's rueful longing over his marriage, as his once beautiful and lovely wife has become a figure of contempt-breeding familiarity.

But, as Nightshade is such an emotional story, this is to be expected. It's quite harrowing as well, not just because of the high body-count caused by violent deaths. The suffering these individuals go through as the Sentience brings up their ghosts and skeletons is quite visceral - the images of a young Win Prudhoe, the disturbing appearances of Betty's drowned brother and the impersonation of Jesus that is manifested before the Abbot. The only thing that doesn't really work is, and this could be the irony of ironies, the monsters that chase Trevithick around. There are no below-par effects to do this, but just a feeling that they're not really that necessary - the psychological impact of the story, generated by the Sentience, make crawling bug-eyed monsters quite superfluous, seemingly added just to precipitate the action scenes later on. (These scenes, which mainly include Trevithick running through corridors and battling one of the monsters in the lift shaft, are probably the only moments that drag in the entire story.)

Apart from this "action" scene, the structure and pace of Nightshade is excellent. It feels like a televised story what with the small number of locations - the village, the monastery, the radio telescope - all of which have featured before on screen. The fog that surrounds the village, inducing a sense of nausea if anyone tries to leave, brings back memories of The Daemons and Horror of Fang Rock, as well as the "insert-preferred-location-here under siege" yarns of the Troughton years. These little steals in fact add to the charm of the story, making it feel more like Doctor Who, whereas some of the previous novels lacked this.

In all respects this story, with its echoes from the television programme and the "too broad and too deep for the small screen" promise of the New Adventures, is the ultimate crossroads tale. This is certainly the case with the characterisation of the Doctor. This had not been examined properly at this point in the series of novels - Revelation being the stark exception, in which the Doctor's character is practically eviscerated. I won't include Time's Crucible, because while that drops hints as to who the Doctor might be, it contains no real examination of personality, while Warhead reinforces the behind the scenes puppeteer of seasons 25 and 26. Nightshade shows the seventh Doctor at his most vulnerable - his decision to retire, his constant cries of "I have done enough!" and such things as his gagging when he discovers the body of Jack Prudhoe - the seventh Doctor has rarely been like this. He's displaying the vulnerability more fitting to Peter Davison, but these new traits actually work.

We can believe he is capable of suffering. He too has experienced loss, pain and guilt. While the Time Lord's fifth incarnation wore these on his sleeve, we begin to suspect his seventh has simply been repressing it, but - as this adventure and Revelation testify - he too is susceptible. The use of Susan as a channel for this is very well done, but - and this is the first time I've used that oft-quoted word "fanwank" - I think Gatiss goes a bit too far when he quotes, verbatim, William Hartnell's farewell speech from The Dalek Invasion of Earth. But, as fanwank goes, I've read far worse.

Ace comes across well. She's always good as a time travelling fish out of water - I love the comments she makes about Mick Jagger to a bemused Robin! - but there are no new developments to her character here. When the Sentience uses Ace's mother to confront her I am only reminded of The Curse of Fenric. However the final twist, when the Doctor prevents her from staying with Robin, is a very moving, in fact gut-wrenching, piece of writing. This proves that the secretive and meddling seventh Doctor of the televised series is still alive and well, and nicely foreshadows events that would follow in the next book, Love and War.

When all is said and done, Nightshade is highly recommended. Enjoyable and well paced, with great settings and characters. It's perhaps the best story, at this early stage, to indicate what the New Adventures were all about. 9/10