BBC Books
Option Lock

Author Justin Richards Cover image
ISBN 0 563 40583 X
Published 1998

Synopsis: In a mysterious house in England, the Doctor and Sam discover a complex and long lived plan for destruction is about to be put into operation.


Promising Much, but Lacking on Delivery by Robert Smith? 10/9/98

Like so much of Justin Richards' recent fare, Option Lock promised much but is sadly lacking in delivery in various key areas. This is particularly unfortunate, as those areas are ones which Richards has, in the past, proven himself a master at. This leaves Option Lock feeling as though the author didn't really care so much for the novel, instead churning out the latest in an increasing line of mediocre novels, which could instead have been superb.

The prologue works reasonably well (especially by having the opening section repeated verbatim later on, in context), but I can't help feeling that it would have been a better novel without it. As it is, it's rather obvious to the reader that there are aliens involved, whereas had the prologue not been there, the later sections would have been much more shocking when the Doctor and Sam stumble onto the truth. Richards has used the trick of telling the reader something at the beginning and then making them forget to great effect in the past (notably Theatre of War), but here it simply doesn't work. Indeed, I'm not convinced that's what he was aiming for, since it would be an abysmal failure if it were.

The characters are well-sketched and the theme that links many of them is a definite advantage. None are particularly deep or engaging (unfortunately, since it's fairly obvious the reader is supposed to care far more about Pickering and Sargent than is actually the case), but they aren't ciphers either.

The gradual investigation by the Doctor works very well, but it is the action on the other side of the globe that seems to hold the interest of the reader much further. It's a pity Richards didn't do his research a little better though: some of the mistaken details are ridiculously easy to avoid (for example, US elections occur in leap years, but Dering reflects on the election "last year" when the action is set in 1998).

For that matter, I'm not a huge fan of explicitly setting the novels in an alternate universe. Yes, there were differences between the TV series and reality, but many of these differences were relatively small and could be explained away by fans willing to unify the DW stories with reality. Yes, it's been done more and more recently, but at least The Dying Days had the excuse of being a celebratory and 'final' novel, where they could get away with that sort of thing. The trouble with doing this sort of thing, especially in the novels, is that it's the first to go when canons collide. I honestly can't see anyone in ten years time remembering, or caring, that the President in this time was supposed to be Dering and consequently referring to Clinton's presidency. It's a shame when it can so easily be avoided or made ambiguous, simply by referring to "the President" instead of naming him, if that is the author's wish.

The middle part of the book is where things reach their peak. The sequence that activates and launches the nuclear weapons is absolutely unputdownable. Unfortunately, the rest of the book never quite reaches this level of excitement again, making it something of a shame in retrospect that this sequence couldn't have been used as the climax of the book.

The sequence where the Doctor and company investigate Lord Meacher's Clump also works magnificently, let down only by the aforementioned prologue. It also serves to make the paintings thread more believable, thus drawing in the earlier sections of the book, making this feel like it's all going to come together later on (a pity it doesn't quite live up to that promise, but at that point it works very well).

The actual plot, ambitiously described as "complex" on the back cover, never quite gelled for me. It's a pity, as I was quite looking forward to something complex and I'm very impressed that the book tries to sell itself as being such, but I've seen better -- and worse, I've seen better from this author.

I was a little let down by Pickering. He reads so obviously as the book's hidden villain until it turns out that he wasn't - and was never intended to come across as such. I like the rationale for his existence (even if it does seem a little coincidental that of all people he should end up in Silver's house at just the right time). His relationship with Sam is obviously intended to work far better than it did for me, but I didn't feel many of the emotions the book wants the reader to feel at his ultimate fate.

The Doctor and Sam work well enough together, although words can't express the exasperation I feel at the contrived scene where the Doctor gets to see Sam in a wet see-through T-shirt. Sam gets to be the whining, helpless companion at the end, but I think she actually works better as that than the character she's intended to be. The epilogue with her doesn't work quite as well as it should (nor does it for the plot, despite good intentions), but I'll give points for effort here.

My one real complaint -- and it's a complaint I feel that ruined much of the last third of the book for me -- is Matthew Silver's villainy. Like Dragons' Wrath before it, Richards seems to feel that complex or well-motivated villains aren't required in Doctor Who. I find this rather insulting, personally, as I think Doctor Who is better than that. Richards' strengths are in the careful construction of a solid plot with a strong ending, but his characterisation really lets him down. Silver is never given a chance to be anything other than one-dimensional and I think this makes both him and the book as a whole much poorer as a result. It's especially disappointing after the exhilaration that was the middle sequence.

Overall, Option Lock is one of the better eighth Doctor books, but (as I'm getting rather tired of saying) that doesn't especially make it terribly good. This line needs something to start happening or it's going to stagnate quickly in throwaway stories that the reader doesn't feel involved in, with the occasional bright spark of a story that is then left alone for months as subsequent books ignore it to tell their own mundanely competent but uninvolving stories. While I'm not necessarily advocating a Virgin-style inter-book continuity, I do think that there needs to be more to these books than just the story. Option Lock does the competent-but-unconnected storyline reasonably well, but it never tries to be anything more than that and I think that's a real shame. It's frustrating to read a line that has potential but seems to want to waste it by not taking risks or trying to be so much more than it is.

A Review by Sean Gaffney 5/11/99

Justin Richards is one of those authors I just enjoy. Good books, complex prose without being florid, crack research, and nice nice theatre refs. Option Lock isn't his best, but it's still a very good and satisfying read.

PLOT: Did I mention complex? This is a political thriller, in the style of Tom Clancy, and that means lots of backdoor politics, doubletalk about deterrents, and the lot. Luckily, Justin was able to write this in a manner I could get my brain around. The alien menace was actually almost disappointing. I'd much have preferred this threat to be entirely human.

THE DOCTOR: Fairly well done. Definitely seemed Paul McGann, and had an impulsiveness I found very refreshing. He seemed to be in the background for a great deal of this book.

SAM: I keep waiting to be annoyed by her, but it's not happening yet. Maybe I'm reading the wrong books...anyway, Sam was perhaps my favorite part of the book. VERY well realised, gets quite a lot to do, some torrential angst... Nice.

SILVER: The real villain of the piece. Yes, there were the Khameirians, but they didn't feel villainous to me. Silver was rather interesting, as he spent most of the book as a villain who was so over-the-top I almost winced. Yet there were little moments where the real Silver emerged, and those were done very nicely. Still, I saw a lot of Zaroff in him.

OTHERS: Pickering made less of an impact on me than I'd hoped, considering how much his death affects Sam. The Americans were very well done, especially Dering. The rest were pretty good.

STYLE: Excellent. Reading Justin's books is like reading a graduate thesis at times, and I mean that in a good way. He always throws in a TON of research, that helps to make the book more real. The prose was very good, though I got a little bogged down about halfway through.

OVERALL: Not a bad addition to the BBC books. I can't see it winning any polls, but it's still very good.


A Review by Dominick Cericola 16/4/00

First off, let me make it clear you are all in for a treat. For those of you who think all of my reviews are positive, with nary one negative remark, you are in for a treat this time around.

This is Justin Richards' first Eighth Doctor Adventure. His previous WHO novels have included the 7th Doctor NA, Theatre of War, as well as two MAs. He has since written a follow-up EDA, Demontage (featuring Sam Jones as well as new companion, Fitz), as well as two Past Doctor Adventures, AND two contributions to Virgin's NewAdventures featuring Professor Summerfield.

I'd like to go on record (What the hell? Like Judge Judy really hangs out @ The Cosmic Cafe!) and state that I think Mr. Richards is a damned good author. His imagery is masterful, leaving the scenes burned in my Mind's Eye long after the book has closed. His characters are well-defined, offering me no trouble whatsoever in visualising them. His dialogue needs a bit of work, but that is a minor. What isn't a minor quibble is characterization of The Doctor and Sam!

This was intended as an adventure for the 8th Doctor, and as far as I know (I've never seen any remarks else to deny this), it was intended as an EDA. However, I found the mannerisms and at times, the dialogue to be more in line with that of the 5th Doctor more than so than the 8th. His portrayal was too dry, the humor, the child-like innocence was missing. And, it was too far into the series to blame it on Regeneration failure!

And, then there's poor Sam. I felt the worse for her. This is another of those EDAs that does nothing to enhance her character, to make her a Companion (capital 'cee'), instead of just a companion (small 'cee'). More often than not, I actually felt her portrayal to be that of a not-as-whiny Peri Brown.

Now, mind you, I didn't hate the book. I felt it was well-crafted, and a mildly interesting plot. However, as far as Who is concerned, I thought it was crap! The TARDIS breaking down and getting stuck on Earth is a plot device that the BBC has over-used far too much in their EDAs, prompting me to hope with the admittance of Virgin NA alumni, Paul Cornell, in 2000 that the series will go forward in a more creative direction. For me, the whole adventure read like a suspenseful mystery with elements of the Fantastic. To be honest, I think it would have been far better off as an original work of fiction rather than an EDA.

In conclusion, I can add only this.. I read this one, tried to make it through Demontage (while the humor missing from here was in it, it was a bit extreme, coming off like an attempt at being another Douglas Adams), and while I wish to remain open-minded, if he does a third EDA and it is not better, I will place him right after Terrence Dicks on my List of Who Authors To Avoid...

A Review by Tom Wilton 1/5/00

I'm going to come straight to the point. I loved this novel, but I don't know why. There is nothing in it that leaps out and says, LOVE ME, LOVE ME, GODDAMMIT LOVE ME!!! It's more like a quiet seduction which slowly wins you over and leaves you breathless at the end, just sitting there at the end going, "Wow".

Okay, so that's probably enough of the hyperbole. Down to the nuts and bolts. The plot is similar to that of Kursaal in that it is incredibly simple and will not leave anyone in confusion. As with most of Justin Richards's novels, the story has a very simple, but very clever, premise at its centre and the entire plot spins from this. In the case of Option Lock he examines how the influence of a small group of people grows over the years to a position where their descendants stand to bring a nuclear holocaust upon the world. It's a sort of alien genetic version of 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon', all clearly explained through the narrative and such devices as the characters' surnames.

Richards piles in mystery upon mystery: alien flowers, hypnotism, impossible paintings and a glowing stone, and yet never seems to overwhelm his readers. It is a joy that nothing irrelevant is mentioned. If your attention is drawn to something it is because it has some significance to the plot. And the discovery that it all ties together perfectly is extremely rewarding.

The characterisation of the supporting characters (and to some extent, the Doctor and Sam) is given little time, but the novel does not seem to suffer for it. In fact, the only character I actually wanted to know more about was Penelope Silver, finding it difficult to equate her 1920s sensibilities, naivety and ignorance with a novel so firmly set in the 1990s. Overall though, the strength of the plotting was enough to allow me to overlook this.

Obviously this is my personal response to the novel, and I suspect that quite a few people will be surprised at my views. The general consensus I have heard about Option Lock is that it is a well-written book, but nothing amazing. If you are an occasional reader, you might want to read an arc book to keep up to date with the significant developments in the series. However, if you do overlook Option Lock you will be missing out on some of the best plotting found in a Who novel.

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 8/5/01

Option Lock is a very visual book, perhaps one of the most visual Doctor Who books I've ever read. This means that there's a lot of dialogue, a lot of action and not a lot in the way of character introspection. We get a lot of information about what things physically look like, where they are in relation to each other and comparisons to other objects. The locations are vast and sprawling. We have a large James Bond type control room with giant view screens and computers with blinking lights. It comes complete with it's own Bondian villain with a silly twitch under his eye.

This visual flavour makes the story feel more like the book version of a multi-million-dollar film that's already been shot rather than an adventure that's written specifically for the book format. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing at times and to the author's credit, it's done very well here. The visual nature of the prose leaves the reader with several of the pivotal scenes etched into the mind. It has a very large and cinematic feel to it that can be quite enjoyable if one is in the mood for that. The plot is not actually overly complicated, yet the action moves forward fast enough to keep things enjoyable.

In short, this is a fairly good, fast-paced, solid action-adventure. It's quite entertaining and if you're looking for something that's light but not at all bad, this is probably one of the early BBC books that you should look into.

Armageddon approaches... by Joe Ford 10/2/03

An excellent early entry for the EDA range, Option Lock has somehow disapeared into the enjoyable but unmemorable book section and I can't for the life of me understand why. It is one of three in the first twelve or so EDA's that is bearable to complete. But then let's face it when you're surrounded by books like Legacy of the Daleks, Longest Day and The Eight Doctors how hard can that be?

Predictably, its a fine piece of storytelling from a man who every Doctor Who reader has enjoyed at leat one of his books. I refer to, of course, Justin Richards, the most postively influential man involved in any Doctor Who novel range. His skill is not to blast us with new and unusual ways of looking at the show (let's leave that to the unpredictable Lawrence Miles), no his talent lies in carving brilliantly told stories out of the Doctor Who mould.

Re-reading Option Lock now has made it seem more relevant than ever. With the threat of war over nuclear weapons currently in the media the book takes on a sinister, harder edge than it did back in 1998. Justin has long since had a fascination with technology as a weapon (his System Shock and Millenium Shock both work as techno-thrillers) and his thorough research and credible staging of events give the book a realistic and 'oh shit this could actually happen' feel that all good disaster books should have. I'll be honest with you I read the middle sections of Option Lock between Eastbourne and Sidcup, that's a four hour train journey and Justin's excellent prose and break neck pace made the journey shoot by. It could have been awful, all these security codes and abriviations but Justin switches sides between Russia and the US frequently wringing all the tension from the situation that he can. I was turning pages quicker than the Doctor in City of Death to find out how the nuclear strike would be avoided.

Another strength of Justin's books are his settings. And in stark (and brilliant) contrast to the politics and weaponary we have the quietly menacing plot of the Doctor and Sam in a quiet English manor house uncovering secrets about suicidal painters, mysterious hypnotists and a cult of alchemy. I love how the book starts out so atmospherically and how welcoming Silver is. You just know the shit has to hit the fan soon. There are plenty of lovely set pieces in this plot too, the house plunged into darkness as the painting is stolen and the frentic chase through the garden maze, the uncovering of the candle lit secret base, the secret behind Lord Meacher's Clump, the Doctor and Sam on the run from the military with plenty of action and excitement.

Of course we have the trademark Richards twists which aren't too difficult to spot this time round. It's always fun to try and work out who we can trust and who will turn round and say "bwahahaha I was your evil nemesis all along!" and I thought I had everything figured, finally outsmarting my favourite author in the range. Then the bastard tricks me in the last few pages with a fabulous (and yet easy to spot if you're paying attention) twist. Foiled again.

It helps as well that characterisation is light and enjoyable. Some nice gentle touches amongst all the macho political stuff, a lovely scene between Silver and Penelope paints a more smypathetic image of him than his reckless actions elsewhere allow. Derring is very well done as a President in a crisis, you really feel the pressure he is under, him alone, despite all the beauracrats and politicians around him. I really liked Pickering too and his casual affection for Sam left a tear in my eye after his final sacrifice.

But what of the universally hated team of early Doc 8 and Sam. Not a problem as far as I'm concerned. The Doctor is always in safe hands with Justin, he treats the guy as half genius/half loony and I found a lot of his history lessons enjoyably distracting. Sam is even better though, by just portraying her as a regular teenager (she gets crushes, she considers leaving the Doctor to his own fate for a second) and cutting out all the greenpeace/"I've got a grudge against everyone" nonsense she comes across very pleasantly. You actually care about Sam in the last few pages of the book, something not many other authors have achieved.

It's not a particularly mature work and some of the conclusion is skitted around (Dering's fate after all the mayhem, not enough explanation about the Khamerian) but ultimately its a superior book with the right balance of intruige and excitement. It is a well judged story with the revelations coming at the right place to keep you involved and many of the set pieces as I say are page turners.

Thank God Justin Richards was about in 1998, one sane and clever author admidst all the drivel. Re-read this book with an open mind of what is to come, to have a traditional Who book of this flavour is quite refreshing.

A Review by Finn Clark 22/2/03

And so we go from 1997 to 1998...

Well, that was a blast from the past. Option Lock comes from when BBC Books weren't trying to produce good Doctor Who novels, but merely adequate ones. It's one of Justin's weaker books, but it's still perfectly respectable and I'd like to see anyone else write seventeen Who-related novels (so far, and often under ridiculous deadline pressure) of such consistent quality.

There's nothing much wrong with this, in fact. The 8th Doctor and Sam aren't particularly noteworthy, which may not sound like high praise but is actually quite an achievement. Option Lock's 8th Doctor is mainly characterised by knowing everything about everything and having a talent for skim-reading which puts Tom Baker in City of Death to shame. He's not screamingly McGann, but he's also none of his predecessors. At the time, this was a pleasant surprise.

Meanwhile Sam Jones's main character trait is to chew her nails. Her politics go unmentioned and her zest for improvement is aimed at herself, e.g. daily jogging. She's unremarkable, but not annoying. This is particularly impressive since the first hundred pages just show the Doctor and Sam relaxing at a country house, and in other books Sam was at her most irritating in the lulls before life-and-death action. Normally she'd have been lecturing, meddling, jumping to incorrect conclusions and generally making the situation worse. Even the mild hints of sexual tension between her and the Doctor are inoffensive; we know where that's going, i.e. nowhere. (Though p232 fits well with The Face-Eater's revelation that Sam doesn't like James Bond films.)

The plot shares much with Shadow in the Glass, right down to the alien imagery. These are gargoyles instead of imps, but they're still "horns & tails" pseudo-devils. Both plots even revolve around an alien crystal (about which I could say more, but that would be a spoiler). Unfortunately Option Lock isn't half as clever as Shadow in the Glass. Its plot is split in two, with the Doctor and Sam stuck in England doing nothing while the real action unfolds in America. There's a wonderful climax... which unfortunately comes halfway through the book, and after it's resolved there are still another 140 pages to go. The Siolfor revelation is obvious some way in advance and even the trademark Richards twists at the end aren't particularly consequential. It's an inoffensive page-turner, but apart from those aforementioned forty pages it doesn't really grab you.

(Oh, and if the TARDIS's energy can be drained while the TARDIS regenerates (p189, p264) then why does the MacGuffin need any more? Perhaps it just likes nukes?)

One can play join-the-dots with later novels. The portrayal of a world on the brink of nuclear conflict nearly (but not quite) contradicts all that bollocks from Beige Planet Mars, but that was never believable in the first place. Silver has nothing to do with the character of the same name from Hope. And there's even a post-Interference epilogue, so it's a good thing Steve Cole stopped McIntee from killing Sam in Autumn Mist. There's also a fictional US President (Dering) which I can't say I'm wild about, but the book might have read awkwardly with the real Bill Clinton sandwiched into its pages. At least it's analogous to the fictional UK Prime Ministers we've already seen in the Whoniverse, e.g. "Jeremy" (see The Green Death).

Option Lock is okay. It won't blow your socks off, but it's enjoyable enough and has a good bit in the middle. Great cover, by the way.

A Review by Rob Matthews 6/3/03

I've read only a couple of Justin Richards' Who novels before this one; The Burning and Dreams of Empire. Neither of those books blew me away, but I did get the impression from them of an author who's really making the effort - his rendition of the Second Doctor in the latter, for example, was a hair or two away from the performance Troughton gave on TV, but - because Richards had put the work in - was an entertaining little creation in its own right, and far better than the cut'n'paste 'oh my giddy aunt' cadaver we usually have to put up with in Doc2 novels. (In fact, I think PDA authors should be expressly forbidden from using that phrase - I wonder if Richards let Dying in the Sun slip through the editorial net just to make his own Second Doctor look all the better?)

At the same time, I did think there was a certain something or other missing with those novels. Passion, perhaps. Maybe not so much with The Burning, where Richards determinedly set up his vision for post-Ancestor Cell EDAs, but certainly in Dreams of Empire, where the nuts and bolts of the plot seemed to run just a bit too mechanically . Yes, he should be commended for thinking his story through, but a lot of it felt like nothing more or less than the slickly-produced work of a very efficient hack earning his paypacket (and I don't mean that as a slight - believe me, I'm such an appalling writer I aspire to be a hack). The supporting cast were a bit 2D, and a few cliches had been transplanted unsuccessfully from TV and bad movies; in particular, Prion was so obviously, blatantly an android right from the off that I was actually insulted when Richards tried to make a revelation out of it - the clues were so thuddingly obvious that a better writer would have surprised us by having him turn out not to be one!

Option Lock does nothing to assuage my doubts about Richards' approach, but at the same time it does confirm my opinions on his merits too. I gather he's a very productive novel-in-a-night kind of writer, and there's an on-the-hoof energy to this book which reminds me of the spontaneous feel the TV show sometimes had.

The plot is a decidedly mixed confection. Richard goes for an intriguing half-and-half approach; one narrative thread is written in the spirit fans often mistakenly refer to as 'traditional', the other breaks new ground for the property - which in fact is the properly 'traditional' approach, since that's what the best televised Who did. The scenes with the Doctor and Sam getting up to gothic mischief in Silver's gargoyle-clad rural manor hark back to stories like Day of the Daleks, Terror of the Zygons and in particular Stones of Blood. The scenes of international nuclear suspense with fictional US presidents and invented former-Soviet countries, meanwhile, appear to reflect Justin's own ideas of what a post-telemovie TV series would have been like. It's all a bit macho and Bond movie-ish for me (if you want to know my own thoughts on 007, see Joe Ford's Trading Futures review, which sums them up perfectly), but each to their own.

The Station 9 idea is pretty good if that sort of thing's your bag, though not tied in entirely satisfactorily with the other half of the plot. Richards, bless him, tried hard to make everything tie together with the Khameirian 'Philosopher's Stone', but it all gets pretty contrived and unbelievable the further the story progresses. When Sam says things like 'If that's Silver's angle why on Earth did he let us nose around in his study?', you can just picture Richards spotting his own inconsistencies and trying desperately to unravel them, but with his deadline mere hours away... Which is still more care than some authors bother to take, mind you.

The sad upshot of the resulting far-from-watertight plot is that we end up with a 2D confusingly motivated villain who seems similarly to have wandered in from a Bond movie. And brought his bloody underground lair with him. I think that's what's been most lacking in the Justin Richards books I've read - convincing, memorable bad guys.

The novel as a whole is less than the sum of its parts, good as some of those parts are. The mystery of Lord Meacher's Clump (vaguely rude as that sounds) is great, there's a gem of a scene with a hapless fella named Steve Fisher, we get a nod to naturalism as Sam rinses her day-old knickers, a nice scene from Sam's perspective as she watches the chaos on Station 9 and feels the Doctor give her a hug, and there are a lot of funny lines.

Balanced against this are such drawbacks as the utterly superfluous prologue (I'm with Elmore Leonard - a prologue is a really indulgent and irritating way to start a novel, and even more so here, where it partially nullifies some of the mystery that follows). Justin's 'President Dering' is so lacking in character that he may as well - as has been suggested by previous reviewers - have simply been referred to as 'the President'. After all, you wouldn't write a Victorian era story with a made-up Prime Minister ('Doctor, I'd like you to meet Lord Buttersby-Crumpet'), so if you're not going to bastardise the past, why do so with the present? Still, there's mirthless chuckles aplenty to be had at the idea of a US president who actually gives a fuck about what the UN says... Justin, you're an optimist.

The scene where Sam and the Doctor chase a 'figure' through the maze is conspicuously weak too. At one point, Sam comes into direct contact with it and it is still referred to merely as 'a figure' - Come off it! If it's close enough to touch it's close enough to see. If nothing else, the author should describe Sam's sense of its physicality - you know, something like 'Sam grappled with it; it was hot and fidgety like a rutting monkey'. In a TV script it could get away with being 'a figure', but not in a book, where we have access to all the sense and not just the audio/visual. Compare it to that mysterious presence with the smell of roses in Camera Obscura and you'll see what I mean.

And finally - I have to mention this - I was more or less continuously irritated by the way Richards starts new paragraphs with the same sentiments that ended the previous ones (ie - one scene will end with 'Right!' asked the Doctor, 'What's going on?' and the next will begin with 'What's going on?' demanded the President. It happens over and over, presumably because the author thinks it helps the story flow, whereas in fact it's distractingly intrusive and calls too much attention to the author's presence.

Those moans aside, Option Lock is a pretty fun read. Just as long as you're in the mood for a quick, shallow romp and nothing more. I bought it for ?1.50, and that seems about right.

A Review by Brian May 7/10/05

Option Lock is by all means a readable and enjoyable book, but you can tell it isn't Justin Richards at the height of his powers. The settings and overall story are good, and the prose is strong and focused (except for an obsession with describing moonlight). But - and it's difficult to pin it down precisely - there's a certain something missing. It's not terrible or fatally flawed or anything like that; but perhaps it's just that we've come to expect something a bit more sophisticated from him?

Some of the characters are unremarkable - very unusual for this author. We've seen many charismatic alchemists-cum-cultists-cum-megalomaniac Bond villain wannabes like Silver before, although his farewell to Penelope is very touching, and Penelope herself is nicely understated and sympathetic, although somewhat na?e and ingenuous. Sargent and Pickering are very dull and ordinary. But the real surprise for me was Miss Allworthy - I don't think she actually says anything, but the idea of the elderly skirt and blouse housekeeper as a gun toting henchperson is quite amusing! Sam is handled quite well - she's difficult to do justice to, but this story continues the trend of previous books, ironing out some of the problems that dogged her first few appearances. There are some slip-ups here and there - her musings about contacting her parents don't really work, but on the plus side I was really glad to see that during the long chase sequence through the grounds of Silver's estate, she doesn't once think

"The Doctor is so different to me!"
"I fancy him!"
"Because the Doctor is so different to me, he probably doesn't know I fancy him!"
Thank heaven!

The plotting is not necessarily weak, but the whole thing feels as if it's been written very quickly (more so than 2000's Grave Matter, which was a rushed job, but certainly doesn't feel like it compared to this) The nuclear devastation theme was dealt with much better in Battlefield; the Khameirians are just another (yawn) disembodied and dormant alien entity waiting to be reawakened by human agents who've been hereditarily manipulated for this purpose (very Image of the Fendahl!) But combining the English countryside/occult theme with the action-oriented global nuclear threat scenario is a good idea - imagine Fendahl meets The Mind of Evil or Day of the Daleks or Robot (or possibly The Wicker Man meets Def-Con 4!) It's a very clever juxtaposition indeed.

The first two-thirds (roughly) are tightly structured; the set-up is intriguing as it shifts back and forth between Silver's estate and the various scenes with the US politicians, generals and secret service agents. Richards pre-empts The West Wing by giving us a fictional President, with integrity and honesty (definitely fictional, then!) The sudden breakout into the nuclear emergency takes you by surprise - in terms of narrative it's a dramatic jolt. This whole sequence, which goes for more than 40 pages, is amazing. It's got all the edge of seat, bating of breath, turning of page suspense and tension that it deserves. This is Justin Richards! The inter-cutting between the US, Krejikistan and Silver's basement keeps everything fresh. The climax of it all, the revelation of Station Nine's presence to the world and its repercussions, is captured just as stunningly.

If only the final third was like this! But straight after these events, it suffers a real downturn in quality. The chase sequence as the Doctor and Sam escape from the estate is very boring. Sam running through the grounds, especially being stalked by the tank is the worst part of this; it actually had me flicking ahead to see how long it went - something I haven't done since Deceit (yikes - I never thought I'd be comparing a Richards novel with that piece of dreck!) It also brought to mind overlong chases from the Pertwee years (Invasion of the Dinosaurs part five, Planet of the Spiders part two). Then it gets sloppy - at first the Doctor wants to head for the TARDIS to reach London, the next minute they're out on the road hitchhiking (whether the TARDIS is actually inaccessible is unclear). They arrive at Pickering's flat, leave just as quickly, make their way back to the estate and get themselves easily re-captured. Padding, all this is; pure and simple padding. The finale is just as unexciting; the Sam/Pickering/Silver showdown doesn't scintillate. Overall, it's a bit of a fizzer ending.

But on another bright note, the concept of Lord Meacher's Clump is an ingenious one, and quite freakish too. You can see why that poor artist topped himself!

Option Lock is passable, but unremarkable; well written, but nothing to write home about; some good set pieces, but not a book that lingers in your memory. It's Justin Richards's least best to date (for such an author, I can't bring myself to use the word "worst") 7/10

A Review by Steve White 13/7/13

Option Lock is an Eighth Doctor novel set on present-day Earth and revolving around a complex plot to cause nuclear destruction. Sadly, the word complex means just that. Within the first few pages, the amount of different plot threads raised was staggering and served only to confuse this reader. That isn't to say parts of it were not interesting, there was just so much going I struggled to keep track. You have people collapsing, a plot to kill an obviously powerful American, dodgy ruins and enough characters to fill a rather large hall.

After a confusing start, the novel then does get better. The Doctor and Sam are made welcome at the manor house under the flimsiest of cover and spend the next few chapters investigating the ruins, some spooky painting and something called the Philosopher's Stone. It soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems and one by one the plot threads do sink into place, and the final half of the book is exciting and interesting. The fact it took so long to reach this excitement rather ruined the book for me.

The 8th Doctor isn't written very well. Richards may as well have released this as a 5th Doctor and Peri novel as the Doctor has far more of the 5th's mannerisms than his own with the odd mention to pocket watches and long hair just so we can tell them apart. Sam succeeded in not annoying me as much as in previous novels, maybe because her parts sounded very Peri-like, but either way she is better written than the Doctor. Probably the only time I will ever be able to say that about an Eighth Doctor novel!

Justin Richards really needed to cull some characters. Not only does Option Lock feature so many it is hard to remember who is who sometimes, fewer characters would have meant more characterisation for those that remain.

The main plot is based around a secret society which dates back centuries. Each original member of the group (it's either 5 or 6; they are so forgettable it's hard to keep up) has had descendants over the years and spread across the globe into positions of power. Therefore there are lots of sub-characters who only appear for the odd chapter, never to be heard of again. All of the characters are generic, stock characters. Norton Silver, who is the main "villain" of the piece, is still so bland he is hardly worth even mentioning.

In summary, Option Lock suffers from trying to weave too many threads together with far too many characters. The story is actually quite entertaining once it gets going, but it isn't very well executed at all and just serves as a not so memorable, filler story in my eyes.