The Time Meddler
Alternate History Cycle
The Alternate History Cycle Part Five
|ISBN#||0 426 20409 3|
|Synopsis: In London, 1976 the Doctor comes face to face with the old enemy who has been manipulating him. Earth is being invaded by the Vardans, UNIT has been compromised and this time anarchy is real. Ace sides with the enemy, who has gained control of a chronovore, intent on gaining revenge on the Doctor.|
A Review by Kris Johnson 22/11/99
I had a really bad cold when I was reading this one, so it is saying something that this book helped distract me from the ailment I hate the most, during the hours I spent reading it. Paul Cornell does a remarkable job of wrapping up the five novel story arc started with Jim Mortimore's Blood Heat, and the return of two old enemies is nice to see, especially since this is the concluding volume. As other reviewers have commented, the Vardans and the Monk are put to good use here. Although the payoff is enjoyable, it is unfortunate that the linking theme of alternate history and reality seems a little forced in this book; it has relevence to the plot, but still feels strung out. This book is less about an alternate history and more about the source of the alterations in the timeline.
The Vardans are an interesting enough race, successfully introduced to people like myself, who are unfamiliar with them (I haven't seen Invasion of Time.) The meddling monk is cool too, but I am unfamiliar with stories he has appeared in as well. It seems strange to me to make the meddling monk into yet another of many timelords with a craving for vengence against the Doctor. Oh, there is justifiable reasons for it; but it seems like an of the other timelords who are renegades have it in for the Doctor. The story does well in tying in with the previous books, meddling with timelines is definitely what the Monk is all about. I really do like the whole theme of the Monk wanting to usurp the Doctor's role in the scheme of things, giving him a somewhat plausable weakness which Ace exploits.
I'll pass on making much comment on characterization, the Doctor is as he is, with a bit of developement that is nice. It really is pleasant to seem him placing trust in his companions again, even if to a limited extent. I figure Benny is as Benny as she can get, since this author introduced her. Ace is interesting enough, although pining for Jan from Love and War made me feel a little left out of some of the emotional issues the New Adventures had going on. These references to Cornell's previous novel make this one unable to stand on it's own. The good thing about it is uses past events to good effect. The chemistry of the regulars is angsty, even more so than usual I think, but there are reasons for it. Up to this point I hadn't encountered a New Adventure that didn't include frayed tempers between the main cast, so this book was an experience of extremes. So the when sunshine happy ending rolled up, I felt such a sense of relief to have the chance to see Ace, Benny, and the Doctor get along well at last. I thought they were supposed to be friends, this was one of too few that really showed it.
It took me a while to get used to the surrealistic style of Kate Orman and Paul Cornell, so I had a harder time with the first books that I read by them. By this book I was starting to get the hang of this style, so I was able to appreciate it better. Cornell's writting a bit tricky to get around for me, not effortless as Steve Lyons style. Obviously though, Cornell and Orman have much better luck with their stories.
A Review by Dominick Cericola 11/3/00
Benny in a punk band, Ace off on her own, and The Doctor, placed under arrest by U.N.I.T., all in the midst of a very un-1976-like England, one where anarchy and anger were at dangerous levels! Who lies at the heart of this web of manipulation, one in which everything The Doctor knew has been erased, replace with a rewritten Timeline, in which he doesn't fit!
The best way for me to handle this review is to do it in a way in which no one else has: To argue against one of the major complaints of the novel -- Cornell's depiction of Ace.
Throughout the Alternate History Cycle, Ace has been growing more and more restless. As No Future opens, she is portrayed as an Angst Queen with a belly full of anger and hate towards both The Doctor and Benny. To me, this seemed to be a logical progression. Let's look back a moment...
At the end of Dragonfire, we see Ace assuming Mel's role at The Doctor's side, as the ever-faithful Companion. However, if we look at that from a different perspective, we see Ace viewing The Doctor, unconsciously at first, as a Father Figure, taking her away from the dull and drudgery of waitressing of Iceworld, filling a void in her life since even before she was whisked away in a time storm. It isn't until the middle of the Timewyrm story-arc that she begins to see The Doctor as more than just a Hero. She sees how he has to win, cast as Time's Champion, he has to make sure he always comes out on top, even if it means bending the Laws of Time somewhat (e.g., leaving notes to himself). She finally has enough, her Perceptions of The Doctor (no longer just a simple enough Father Figure) warped and distorted. Jan's death in Love & War is the final straw, prompting her to part company (assuming the role of the Hurt/Confused Child) with The Doctor, allowing Benny to fill a void in his Life.
When we finally see Ace again, returning in Peter Darvill-Evans' Deceit, she is a tougher, more worldly-wise version, thanks to her brief Tour of Duty with Spacefleet. Yet, despite her cool and composed exterior, she isn't so tough as to be upset at how quickly/smoothly Benny filled the spot of "Daddy's Little Girl" alongside The Doctor. Many of the old doubts she had thought buried begin to resurface, only adding to the Inner Turmoil she has to endure.
All of this angst, guilt transferrence, etc., comes to a head with the conclusion of No Future. As the story wraps up, Ace admits to The Doctor that she never truly sided with Mortimus, but was in fact, manipulating him, just as [he] did to her. That is the way it was portrayed; however, I saw it more along the lines of this...
I saw Ace as drawn to Mortimus, looking for a replacement Father Figure. As Mortimus began to reveal himself as naught more than a distorted mirror image of The Doctor, she began to turn the tables on him, becoming the Manipulator instead of the Manipulated. Thus, not only ending the turmoil in all their Lives, but also gaining her good favor in The Doctor's ("Father"'s) eyes.
Overall, I think the events of No Future, as for the entire run of the Alternate History Cycle, were necessary. It not only gave a solid conclusion, but it resolved a number of issues, including Ace's relationship with The Doctor, where Benny fits into all of this, and The Doctor is forced to examine his role in the Universe. Once again, Paul Cornell shoots and -- scores, BIG TIME!
A Review by Finn Clark 28/1/02
This review contains honking great spoilers for the identity of the bad guys, whether the Brigadier is a traitor and whether or not New Ace murders the Doctor. (I'm sure you'd all be shocked at the answers to those questions.) If you don't want to know spoilers for this eight-year-old book, stop reading now!
Time has not been kind to No Future. It did several things before anyone else, but unfortunately we've seen 'em done better since. It's the first "ho ho ho, the seventies" novel, sniggering at the music and fashions of the time, but is it really so wonderful to have blazed a trail for Devil Goblins of Neptune? It reinvents some old, crap villains (the Vardans) and does so quite well, but we've since had the Krotons in Alien Bodies. And as for its treatment of punk and anarchist violence... can anyone say Rags, children?
But the worst thing is New Ace.
"That was what they didn't understand, she thought. They didn't understand that you could enjoy explosions and violence and murder and still be sane."
I'd forgotten how much I hated New Ace. No Future builds its drama around her, which is the biggest mistake in the world. At times it's like a pisstake, as if Paul hated the character as much as I did. Sam Jones was Adric but so is New Ace, just a different side of him. Sam was Adric the pompous self-important git, while New Ace is Adric the arrogant shit with a weakness for going over to the bad guys.
Further bad stuff...
No Future has interesting aspects, but it's hamstrung by the fact that the book's central drama revolves around New Ace at her worst. Beyond that, it's not really about anything much. (Also the ending sucks.) However it's smoothly written, contains a few reasonable jokes and gives Ace a good line on page 227. Benny's great and holds the book together, keeping the reader's attention when everything else is falling apart around her. A mess, but interesting.
And dear God, that's an awful cover.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 16/8/02
Boy Howdy!, was this a disaster.
I don't even know where to begin with this one.
I'll start with the fanwank. Slap Gary Russell's name on this and people would have Divided Loyalties? flashbacks. At least the Big Fish never tried to raise his continuity to pretentious levels. Cornell does this with no shame. C'mon, we have: The Meddling Monk, The Vardans, The Sontarans, a Chronovore, Minyans, Eternals, UNIT, Silurians and more. "Chap with Wings, five rounds rapid." ??? Even the Big Fish would have balked at that.
The characters? "New" Ace is just horrendous. Then there's the Virgin Doctor in all his crappiness. Bernice was boring, boring, boring. Cornell cocks up the Brig to the point where it's no longer the same character. Bertram/Mortimus/The Meddling Monk was too pitiful to hate. And if you want to read about Punk in a DW format, read Rags.
I think there's a story to No Future, but it involves an altered Earth and an I-hate-the-Doctor-because-I'm-a-moron-villain-wanting-revenge plot thingy. But I think Paul wrote the book to make fun of the 70's, like Verdigris. It's too easy a target.
Oh, yeah, there's more Time's Champion horseshit. More manipulation, more stupid angsting, and three regulars that I cared fuck-all about and wouldn't have shed a tear if they snuffed it. Who fucking cares? It's the plot of a bad soap opera......
By the end of the book, I didn't.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 5/11/02
Oh dear. I really didn't like No Future at all. I didn't find it to be offensively poor, but it tried to do too many different things, and I couldn't make myself care about any of them. A scant few days after reading it, and I simply can't think of much of anything that stuck out in my mind. Everything was so underdeveloped that it just went in my brain and then just went right back out of it. Well, it will make for a short review anyway.
There's so much going on here that it's difficult for me to recall enough about any one particular item to discuss. The book begins with a punk band filled with anarchists, but they (save Danny, who becomes a bit faceless) and the rebellious spirit all but disappear part of the way through. There some interesting stuff done with the UNIT characters, but then they're replaced in favor of the Broadsword division. The Broadsword division is set up in an interesting way, but there simply isn't enough time left to give them the development that they need. No Future feels like a rough draft, or a brainstorming session.
Interestingly enough, the one thing that the book does spend a lot of time on, Ace's "murderous plans" that the back cover mentions, is actually done extremely well. If there's a single reason to read this book, then it's to see the resolution of several character storylines that had been running through the NAs for quite some time. It's a shame about the rest of the book really. It almost seems as though the entirety of the non-character sequences were written purely to place the Doctor, Ace and Benny into the situations that Cornell wanted them in. When they actually get to those places, the book is great. But the actual plodding around to get to them was too boring and too scattershot to be really enjoyable. It's like taking a long car ride to a wonderful beach in a cramped and smelly automobile, only to arrive half an hour before sunset. The reward at the end of the journey is quite good in itself, just not enough to make up for the problems encountered en route.
It's a pity that so much of the book simply doesn't work. Individually there are a lot of elements that were done better in other Cornell books. The perceived betrayal, the revamp of the Brigadier/UNIT, the interaction between the characters, and the desire to break the rules of society are almost all familiar elements. We know that Cornell can do them better because he either had done them better or would go on to do them better. They just weren't given enough of a chance, so consequently they all seem underdeveloped. Reading other books in the Cornell back-catalog would be a great way to see what he's capable of doing on these same topics. You just won't find that same greatness here.
(Oh, and the cover is hideous. For some reason, everyone except the person I assume to be Benny has weird teddy bear fur sticking out of the top of their heads. I assume that person is Benny purely based on the fact that she's obviously using the force to levitate a can of beer out of the audience. And who can blame her? If I suddenly morphed into Liza Minelli, I think I'd be driven to drink as well.)
A Review by Joe Ford 29/7/07
There is something of a buzz at the moment about the work of Paul Cornell. And why not? Although I don't agree, his script for Father's Day in series one was considered a real classic and his recently aired two parter, Human Nature/The Family of Blood, has been cited as one of the all time best Doctor Who adventures. That I wholeheartedly agree with. It seems as though everything this author touches turns to gold. Let's all thank the Lord they didn't decide to adapt No Future instead. I have rarely read such an inept book, one that has so many clear aims and yet fails to reach any of them. It wants to reconcile the Doctor, Benny and Ace, bring back the Meddling Monk as a tragic villain, explore the punk scene of the 70's, portray the Brigadier as a nasty piece of work... and it botches all of them.
No Future sets a precedent in the New Adventures, an example of how not to end as arc of books. In a mini series that has contained books as good as Blood Heat and Conundrum, of which you can find my ravings here and here, No Future comes as something of a damp squib. There have been many intriguing hints and whispers that somebody is playing about with the Doctor's timeline, forcing him into actions that question his very nature. So it is something of a disappointment that we come to realise that this all-powerful combination thwarting the Doctor has been... the Meddling Monk and the Vardans! Yes that's right I did say the Meddling Monk and the Vardans! The Council of Eight in Sometime Never... might have just have been a bunch of crystal skeletons sitting around a table but at least what they were doing was interesting; here the Monk wants revenge on the Doctor and the Vardans want to feel less impotent and their plan is the usual yawn-worthy domination of the Earth. Nostalgia trips can be fun but this sort of comic book spewing of continuity belongs in a Terrance Dicks PDA, not a Paul Cornell NA. Lack of a decent motivation and underwhelming powers makes this duo of baddies very disappointing.
In fact, continuity vomits from No Future's pages like an obscenely flowing fountain of fanspunk. Obviously the Monk, the Vardans and the Chronovores. The Brigadier, Benton and Yates also appear. The Monk was technical advisor to Yartek the Voord and the Moroks! To summon the Chronovore he needed the blood of Minyan, Silurian, Dalek, Human and Mandrel, using spheres from the Sisterhood of Karn. Why exactly this is, except to toss out a load of fanwank, I have no idea. The book is also full of horrid in-jokes which I'm certain are supposed to make us all chuckle but they are so tired and rotten these days I just groaned: "Like that chap with the eye patch - I still remember that witty story you told me about him..." "I was never happy with my slot you see - caught between Basil Brush and Bruce Forsyth." Oh, and the Doctor is kept alive through the underground press and fanzines. It's just hideous isn't it? Hailing from the days when such moments were scattered about in books to make the fans get a hard on for the old series. Okay, enough with the sexual metaphors now. But my point still stands. Sorry. But come on, No Future even copies the ending of The Time Monster, this time with the Monk hamming it up (impressive in a book!) before an angry Chronovore. Unfortunately, these homages to the series would only getting bigger and more rubbish, resulting in books like The Quantum Archangel.
What else is there to say about New Ace? I would like to discuss the book companions because it is worth pointing that in general they weren't always as successful as they could have been, not just Ace. My personal favourites in any range are Fitz and Anji, for the very simple reason that they are so real and made such an entertaining combination. Fitz was the everyman, a bit of a loser but he knew it and sweetly loyal to the Doctor. Anji was just as human but more intelligent and trendy, hailing from a later era. Together they were like the Jamie and Zoe of the 2000's. There was this unpleasant impression that a book companion had to have some kind of hook or extra quality that would make them stand out but more often than not it was just annoying. BBC Books and Virgin were as guilty as each other. Sam Jones was the ultimate expression of our PC culture; you know the sort of person, you couldn't mention the word Earth without them suggesting you should put Mother before it. Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester threatened to be interesting as a couple, cops in the TARDIS but Roz's promising grumpiness was superceded by Chris, who turned out to be wetter than a fish in water and hornier than an Italian watching porn, spreading his seed amongst every woman (and some men) that he met. Frankly, Chris was only interesting when Roz died because we could see some real emotion. Compassion was a human TARDIS so you can imagine the problems the writers had with keeping her simple. And as for Trix... Her big character point was that she had no character. That she could slip on any character she chose. Not hard to get a grip on her then! So let's face it, with competition like this why how could Ace fail to capture our hearts...?
Somehow, somehow despite all these less-than-favourable companions, New Ace till manages to trump them all. She's amazingly irritating. Everybody knows somebody like her. A desperate underachiever, someone who thinks the world owes her something just because she exists and blames all of her failings on somebody else. Ace is pretty much unbearable throughout this novel until the last twenty pages or so. Beyond bitchy, past bullying, heading straight until new realms of irritation. She gets choice dialogue like: "You can just treat me like I'm not here and I'll get off at the first place I like, okay?" and "No, the old days are gone. That's history. You can't change history. I just want you to piss off 'cos you're an irritating, selfish bitch who wants everyone to love her." Had Ace not snapped out of it by the end of the book I may have had to take another break from the NAs. The climax of No Future seems to claim that Ace will be heading for happier times ahead; let's hope so or this incessant moaner might steal Adric's crown as most annoying companion ever. Ace was always one of biggest drawbacks of the New Adventures, she had such power in these books and No Future is a great example of how she can make a book divebomb.
But there is also the problem of the seventh Doctor who is going through something of a crisis of character in the New Adventures. Every five minutes he is looking at himself and deciding he doesn't like what he has become and resolves to change his ways. It's bizarre, as though the writers of the series don't actually like his manipulative ways and like to make a point of him thinking of changing into a more predictable, less nasty character but never actually going through with it. Both Blood Heat and No Future feature a Doctor who openly admits he needs to stop pre-planning his adventures and enjoy those nasty surprises that pop up, but from this point on he only gets more and more calculating. What's the point of making the point if the series is not going to follow through? People moan about the eighth Doctor's loss of memories but at least when he said he liked how he was without his memories he meant it.
Other annoying points about No Future:
Just Bending the Laws of Time by Jacob Licklider 30/5/17
Ah, Paul Cornell, the writer of two of the best early Virgin New Adventures and now he's back to wrap up the Alternate History Cycle in his third novel, No Future. Comparing No Future to Cornell's other work, it is definitely the weakest of the three, but saying that it is still a really good novel that continues the streak of good novels that the Alternate History Cycle brought to us, bar The Dimension Riders, which sticks out like a sore thumb. However, I'm not here to talk about the Alternate History Cycle, but rather No Future. No Future sees the Doctor, Ace and Benny land in 1976 where the Brigadier doesn't seem to remember who the Doctor was and even has hired a new scientific advisor while there is an alien invasion on amidst punk rock, Benny being in a band and Ace betraying the Doctor and working for an enemy from the distant past who has meddled too much.
No Future is a novel that continues from the tense ending of Conundrum only to ramp up the tension as anyone can actually die and the Laws of Time don't matter, as one of the three enemies of this story is Artemis, one of the Chronovores, who lives outside of time, so Cornell could do whatever he wants. Okay, so he doesn't do any of that, and I will go into some of the problems that brings about later on, but just knowing that it could happen is enough to keep tension going. The Doctor has to confront what he does over the course of his novel and ask himself if his meddling is any better than the meddling of our primary villain, Mortimus, also known as The Meddling Monk. They do the same thing, changing future into the way they see it should be and often cause some of the same damages, so the conflict between the two of them is some of the best that I've seen from the Virgin New Adventures and is up there with his confrontations with the Master throughout the Pertwee era and The Deadly Assassin. The way Cornell decides to resolve the conflict is also great, as Mortimus does what he does with the fatal flaw of hubris whilst the Doctor is doing it because there is injustice in the universe that he needs to fight. This is apparent during the climax of the novel, where Mortimus has become powerless and his meddling has spiraled out of his control.
Moving on, we have the character of Benny. In this novel, Cornell doesn't know what to do with Benny, which he knows full well, even commenting on how she hasn't had much to do with this story. So he lets her serve the purpose of comic relief, which is honestly for the best considering a lot of this novel parodies Doctor Who as a whole and the Virgin New Adventures in particular, with a cameo from Professor X and his TASID. Benny's characterization is honestly the best it's been throughout the novels, and, even within the background, she has some great dialogue and witty responses to situations.
Now, with Benny taking a backseat in this novel, Ace is able to take center stage which is where we get the novel's glaring problems. No Future shows signs of being a novel where Ace is to sacrifice herself, content that the Doctor has been there to help her and not harm her. This novel wraps up her character arc and makes her more content with the Doctor's meddling in her affairs, and it would be great if she left. Instead, she cops out and resolves the plot with some clever wordplay, keeping the Chronovore trapped. She betrays the Doctor to help the Monk, who is just as bad as the Doctor in the manipulation department, preying on her love of Jan from Love and War and treating her like his own personal pet. Her development into appreciating the Doctor is so perfect she should have left it here, and Benny should have become the sole companion. That said, I still love Ace to bits as a character, and I hope they find some other way to develop her in forthcoming novels.
The supporting characters of this novel are of course the UNIT family reunited, with the Brigadier, Benton and Mike Yates all together again for one last adventure. For them, this takes place after Terror of the Zygons and you can really tell how their glory days are over as new people are going up in the ranks. They are definitely at their best in the first third of the novel where they act like they don't know who the Doctor is, as you see exactly how harsh UNIT can be. It is also a great way to introduce the tertiary villains of the piece, the Vardans, those tin foil aliens from The Invasion of Time. Unlike their appearance in The Invasion of Time, they are an actual threat here, even if Cornell continues to point out how asinine the Vardans were for being fooled by the Sontarans. The only other character who actually gets some good development is Danny Pain, who is the person the Doctor was sent looking for at the end of Conundrum. He's best when he's with Benny. Their best scene is when they wake up naked in the same bed, which is just one hilarious gag after another.
To summarize, No Future is a story that gets to see the evolution of characters from way back in the Third Doctor era and some great development for Ace. There is a great story and the villains are some of the most complex since those in Blood Heat. The Doctor and Benny have some of their best development, even when Benny is shoved in the background. The only problem is that it misses a lot of the opportunities with Ace's development yet is still able to wrap up the Alternate History Cycle in a near perfect way. 80/100.