The Ultimate Treasure
BBC Books
Palace of the Red Sun

Author Christopher Bulis Cover image
ISBN# 0 563 538?? ?
Published 2002
Featuring The Sixth Doctor and Peri

Synopsis: The Doctor and Peri land on an isolated world, whose immaculate gardens are far too tranquil to be true. The Doctor must pass through the vast gardens while evading the clutches of their fanatical gardeners, Peri gets trapped in the wild woods and an invasion looms.


A Review by Steve Traylen 2/4/02

The problem with Palace of the Red Sun isn't so much that it's a bad book; just that it's a dull book. That and the fact that it's a partial sequel to The Ultimate Treasure doesn't help either.

The Doctor and Peri arrive, wander around some gardens, solve a very mundane mystery and leave. The great revelations are very obvious and the supporting characters are pretty unforgettable. The main villain is little more than a 2D thug. The rest of the characters are just kind of there.

Bulis has done much better.


Perpetual sunshine by Joe Ford 9/5/02

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever had one of those afternoons you just never forget? Where you sit around in the yard with your friends on a summery afternoon and just laugh and chat? Or a great game of cricket on the lawn out the front of your house? Where the sun tinges everything with an orange, unreal quality. A really happy memory that you never forget?

I picked up Palace of the Red Sun for the purely visceral reason that the gorgeous front cover provoked all these emotions in me. Christopher Bulis was an author who had eluded me to this day so I had no pre-conceptions of the standard of his writing but seeing that it was a sixth Doctor and Peri story (and every body knows how much I dribble on about THEM) I took it straight to the counter.

This is another perfect example of the diversity Doctor Who boasts. The last book I read was Anachrophobia, a tense, graphic claustrophobic story. This is the exact opposite. It is light, fluffy, character driven and very, very pleasant to read.

Quite frankly I'm glad this book was published. As utterly solid the EDA'S have been of late the latest batch (Mad Dogs aside) have been very serious indeed. This is a wonderful tip towards the whimsy of Carnival of Monsters and The Two Doctors… although serious things are happening it is told at a lesiurely pace and humour is abundant. And given the state of the PDAs let's thank Mr Bulis for his latest effort.

I loved the first few chapters, as soon as Peri encounters the most unorthodox of characters (won't ruin it!) I knew this was going to be good. Our heroes are soon split up and allowed control of their plot threads. Talking of plot threads there are four… Peri put to work tending the gardens, The Doctor and his new 'friend', a romantic drama involving a princess and two prospective suitors and an intergalatic war filmed extensively by an obssesive reporter… how on earth can these three possibly be related?

I think I liked the Peri plot best. She was allowed to be free thinking and independent and yet remained perfectly in character. Her adventures to the Wild Woods had their fair share of surprises and her companion proves a perfect foil, particularly in one moment of side splitting adolescent sexuality!

The Doctor was not heavily involved but his presence is always felt and his philosophical moments with Green-8 were beautiful in there simplicity and re-stating of the Doctor's morals and motives… proving this incarnation as much of as a softie as anyone else!

Glavis Judd and Dynes make a fine double act, lots and lots of surprises for those two! As for our romantic drama… it unfolded like Jane Austen on acid and at first leaves the reader totally lost as to how this could connect with the main plot. But like the others it was highly readable.

The first three quarters then were hugely enjoyable but after leaving me begging for answers it was revelation time. I was mostly satisfied, three of the four plots are woven wonderfully together with some wonderfully clever twists but one left me slightly cold. The last third does notch the pace up a bit and lay on the 'tense climax' every book should have which rather spoils the 'afternoon timeless quality' of it all.

Still colour me impressed, Chris Bulis has somehow managed to make an extended journey through the never ending garden planet a rip roaring read. Not gripping but as I said very pleasant.

I've been poorly for several days and this was the perfect remedy to my woes, a jolly romp, nothing deep but skillfully enjoyable. A thumbs up!

A Review by Finn Clark 3/6/02

It had been a while since I'd permitted myself some Doctor Who. I'd had a job to do, and the latest BBC Books were to be my reward at the end. I had this and Jonny Morris's Anachrophobia... naturally I chose the B.U.L.I.S. I was in a silly mood. I wanted a speed-written runaround with one-dimensional non-characters. A few hours later, I'm happy to say that Palace of the Red Sun doesn't disappoint in any way whatsoever.

The characterisation is everything I'd hoped for, and more. Oralissa is hilarious, a headstrong teenager who talks like the heroine of a bad 19th century novelist. "I will not be made to wed against the calling of my heart!" Heh heh. Her family talk like that, too. My favourite line (from a little girl!): "Have you any idea, Luci?" "I regret I have none, Doctor." I don't know about you, but the kids round my area talk like that all the time. :-)

There's a Shakespearian comedy troupe with 17th century dialogue, all besooths and begorrahs. (Thankfully it's the comedy prose of Shakespeare's jesters and commoners, rather than his nobles' iambic pentameter.) There are even local yokels who sound like... well, um, retarded Yorkshiremen. I'm sorry, I can't think of a better description.

But funny though Oralissa is, there's an even bigger surprise coming on page 45. That bit o' perviness kept me thoroughly entertained thereafter, though I'm not sure the B.U.L.I.S. meant me to read it that way. Peri suggests that these people might have no way of measuring time - but only three pages later we get the incidental characters blithely mentioning years, and the Doctor later discusses the relative length of Earth-standard years with those of its colony planets. So I'm sticking with the filthy straightforward interpretation.

However the beauty of Palace of the Red Sun is that you don't know if these are goofs or clues. Like The Phantom Menace, this book works on two levels. The first is the intended narrative level, in which the B.U.L.I.S. serves up weird stuff and invites us to work out what's wrong with Esselven. This is done superbly. Characterisation is the B.U.L.I.S.'s only failing, and its story structure is often damn ingenious. The clues are planted perfectly, tantalising the reader without becoming overpowering. The second narrative level of course is to imagine the book being played on a movie screen in The Simpsons, a deliberate parody of badness. You'll chortle. You'll giggle. You'll wonder whether a particular moment is entertainingly bad writing or a clue to Something Being Wrong. (It's the latter more often than you'd think.) I've never seen this kind of narrative tension before. I loved it!

You'll see goofy character names, like Luci Longlocks and King Hathold. (The latter is trying to avoid being deposed by the villain. Hat-hold: the royal crown, get it?) However are these deliberate? I ain't telling. You gotta read the book to find out.

The chief villain is so sensible, level-headed and pragmatic that you'll be rooting for him by Chapter Three. Okay, so he's a megalomaniac tyrant and murderer. We all have little foibles. Other endearing traits of his include a tendency to childhood flashbacks for character exposition purposes. All together now... ahhhhhhh!

Page 50 appears to miss a trick, forgetting that Peri's a botanist... but then the text spontaneously mentions this fact sixteen pages later. Huh?

There are heroes you won't remember past the end of the chapter, let alone the end of the book. This adds uncertainty. There's a funky robot who talks like Mr Spock, but unfortunately his exposition scenes with the Doctor get boring. "Blah de blah." "How interesting." "Blah de blah." "Gosh."

And as for the robots... well, I'm going to be shouting "Scavenger!" at complete strangers for days.

As is traditional, Peri has to cope with rampant male hormones from the guest cast. As should be even more traditional, she starts to lose clothing as early as Chapter Six.

I'm making this sound like a cheese-fest, but in many ways it's genuinely good. (It's also possible that all B.U.L.I.S. books can be read on this ironic level and I've only just realised.) The sci-fi puzzle is great, keeping us intrigued without swamping us in weirdness like Time's Crucible or Citadel of Dreams. It's less successful than the similar Sorceror's Apprentice due to its scattershot approach - Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland (as filtered through the Avengers) and even a touch of Norse myth at one point - but it worked for me. A lot of it's done through stylised dialogue, though, so pay attention if you don't want to miss it.

Also the ending is fantastic. That's so cool! (Though I'm not sure I understand the last page.) With hindsight I wish this and Imperial Moon had swapped their Doctors.

Not infrequently I thought I'd spotted a plot hole or impending cock-up, but the B.U.L.I.S. was there before me. This ain't great literature, but I had a lot of fun with it. Recommended, except to purists. For added perviness, pronounce Oralissa with a long O instead of a short one.

Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 15/6/02

Nice set-up, but where's the story proper?

There are a lot of plot threads happening in this book, and it took a lot of pages before any of them crossed over, and even then I didn't make the right connections. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not. Possibly given the lack of clear references from one thread to the other, Christopher Bulis may have been trying to keep the mystery of what exactly was happening, but if so it goes on far too long. That there were few threads touching on each other until the end gives the feeling that the book is just making time until the real adventure starts. Only it never does. At the end of the book there's a sudden rush of interaction, but since it is packed into only a few pages (comparatively speaking) there isn't much cross development, which is especially irritating as it's only the last section that's interesting. If Christopher Bulis had switched the amount of time spent on the set up and on the final story around this would have been a far better book. Perhaps he had a few good ideas about plot lines he wanted to try, but never really worked out a way to get them to work together so didn't try until he had to. Shame, as there are some real gems of ideas in here (eg. Green-8 and Oralissa) but their full potential isn't reached.

The characters are worth talking about (they'd have to be considering the lack of story). However, with all the jumping around of threads, no character really gets a complete shine of the spot light, including the Doctor. Peri does feature large in Palace of the Red Sun, getting a lot of screen time and being portrayed as quite a strong character, and showing that Peri can hold her own without the Doctor. The Doctor ends up being a conduit of exposition, and there is a lot of exposition here (again adding to the feeling of set up over actual story), and then leaps in at the end to basically solve and explain everything with a flick of a switch.

Garvis Judd is a great character, the kind of dictator that you can really believe will actually be able to dictate everyone. I'm not sure if Dexel Dynes served any other purpose than to provide more exposition and provide a link to a previous Bulis novel (which I wouldn't have known if it wasn't for the Internet). Green-8 and Oralissa were quite engaging and it would have been interesting to see them outside the environments they were in (set up, set up!). On the other hand, the scavengers, including Kel, are extremely boring and one-dimensional, and are shown up by other, even transitory, characters, such as Luci Longlocks.

By now, my opinion of Palace of the Red Sun should be obvious. There is a lot of interesting plot threads set up, but there's just too much set up and not enough pay off. Given the sheer number of books Christopher Bulis has written (indeed, he mentions in the bio that he has written over one million words), he should have done far better than this.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 7/2/03

It took me a while to get round to reading this book. I am actually a fan who is glad the books only come out 1 a month now, because I can catch up on some reading! The 8th Dr Books seemed to be getting the rave reviews for 2002, so I read them first. But now it was time to hit the Past Doctor Books.

There's a general consensus amongst the more vocal fans that they should do away with the Past Doctor range - that the 8th Doctor range is where it's at, and all the great stuff is there. I've read most of the 8th Doctor books for 2002, and I find the average rating to be about 7.5. I have also read 5 (so far, I plan to read all 9) of 2002's PDAs. The average for those 5 is running at about 8. Hard Statistics tell me I prefer the PDAs (and that rather surprised me), and I'm glad I have 4 more on the Shelf to look forward to after finishing this.

But to Palace of the Red Sun. The 6th Doctor and Peri are one of my favourite combinations in all DW mythology. I found their TV stories better than most, and I really liked the way their friendship grew after a shaky start. The books have turned towards this pairing sparingly. But when they do it usually is to great success (Players, Grave Matter). Thankfully Chris Bulis continues this trend here.

The book starts superbly. I just love it when the Doctor and Companion(s) arrive at a place and relax. I read them sitting there, soaking the sun, enjoying the splendid garden - and I sigh with contentment. My favourite moments are sat out in the sun reading a book, and stately homes gardens are wonderful places full of enchantment. I like to see my favourite characters doing the same! Bulis introduces us also to the main players in the book. There's Judd, the empire builder, who really wants to get that Treasure Store under the Palace open. I found his backstory and motives pretty interesting. There's Olarissa, who doesn't want an arranged marriage, and feels something is a little wrong with her fairy tale world. Her story is personal and quite charming. There's Kel, one of the forest people who frequently raid the garden. His people are the traditional outsiders. His dealings with Peri are adolescent and funny. Theres Green-8, the Robot with a soul. A different companion for the 6th Doctor, but a good one. There's Boots, a mischevious, strange bear creature, who roams the garden. Thankfully he pops up near the start and then disappears for the rest of the book. There's Dexel Dynes, an intergalactic reporter intent on getting the most out of Judd's conquests. He's been in the PDAs before (Ultimate Treasure), and a second appearance was as good as the first.

And there's the Garden - and what a wonderful place this is. Bulis excels in his descriptions of this glorious world. He glories in the prettiness of the flowers, in the majesty of the trees, of the sheer wonder of it all. After reading the first few chapters I knew this was a place I wanted to be for a while, and I was eager to pick the book time and again because I knew I was going somewhere glorious.

The book wanders serenely for most of the first half. It reflects the Palace Garden, and this is a place to be enjoyed. The leisurely pace is marvelous and the whole experience left me refreshed. There's a mystery here though, and gradually the sedateness is replaced by exposition. Where does this world fit into the universe? The Doctor is keen to find out, and he and Peri both uncover various strange creatures and equally strange goings-on.

Both the main characters are represented brilliantly. They take equal star billing here, as we flit from one to the other. One chapter to the next. As the book comes to a conclusion so all the questions are presented and answered, the need for a story takes over unfortunately, making the 2nd half not up to the excellence of the 1st half. But I can see the authors need to tell such a story, it's just that I wanted to stay in the Palace Garden longer.

Christopher Bulis has written a lot of DW fiction, this is the best book of his I have read. The writing flows along, and his setting is truly magical. Palace of the Red Sun was a surprise - I really, really liked it. The PDA's quite clearly are better than the 8th Doctor range, they're more varied - and they're more interesting. 9/10

Reduce, reuse, recycle by Robert Smith? 14/3/03

If you took every Christopher Bulis book ever written and somehow created the precise average of all of them and turned it into a novel... well, you'd be wasting your time, because he's already done it. Sadly, his latest contribution to the recycling program is undercut by being a big waste of paper.

Palace isn't actually a bad novel and there's a lot to enjoy while you're reading it, but it's resolutely pedestrian and doesn't offer us anything at all to spice it up. No, wait, it does, in the form of a Big Plot Twist that's not only astonishingly obvious (which isn't necessarily a huge problem on its own), is not only stolen from Star Trek Voyager (which is), but actually manages to be done worse than its source material (which I wouldn't have thought possible). That's got to be a bad sign, no matter which way you look at it.

There's the usual ho hum stuff about fiction versus reality, but Bulis's problem is that he doesn't do fiction nearly well enough to be making this point. He's the living embodiment of The Armageddon Factor's opening scene. Then there's the robot who gains sentience. Yes, yes, not only have we seen that before, we've seen it before from you, Mr Bulis. Remember A Device of Death? No, neither do I, it was that mind-meltingly forgettable, but that's absolutely no reason to serve us the same central characterisation again. It's one thing to write a million words of Doctor Who fiction, as the author bio claims, but that's not such a monumental achievement when many of those words are the same ones recycled back at us.

Oh, but there's the exciting return of Dexel Dynes! You know, from that smash-hit The Ultimate Treasure. Well, thank goodness all those letter-writing campaigns finally paid off. What's hilarious is the way the book has to constantly remind us who he is. You half expect the text to launch into a passage saying "You know, Dexel Dynes, memorable character from the 233rd of my 417 mostly identical novels. Come on, you must remember him, he was on that treasure planet one. Or was it the one where the Roman Empire never fell? Anyway, he's great, go on, look him up in a reference book or something."

I'm not sure what was up with the Bolwig troupe, though. It felt like a crucial passage had been cut. Either that or it was a reference to another Bulis book, which amounts to the same thing, really. The Doctor recognises them, but we don't know how or why. Peri never meets them, but then talks about them at the end of the novel as though she saw them in a "But there's one thing I still don't understand" way. Hmm. Put me down for a couple myself.

Still, it's not all bad. The cover, for example, is very pretty indeed. The opening chapter feels very Justin Richards-like, with a galaxy spanning setup. Sadly the time flowing at a different rate stuff was quite seriously done better in that Voyager episode. Yes, I realise I'm comparing and contrasting Star Trek Voyager and a Christopher Bulis novel, but I'm fairly confident that this means I've actually reached the bottom of the barrel.

Palace of the Red Sun is actually pretty inoffensive. It's a mindlessly enjoyable read that nevertheless has no memorable characters, a standard gimicky Sci Fi plot and has you forgetting all about it within moments of closing the book. Just like every other Christopher Bulis novel then.

None in a Million by Jason A. Miller 30/11/03

Palace of the Red Sun is Chris Bulis's 12th novel based on Doctor Who, including the one book done for the New Adventures after their Who license was revoked. Whatever.

Chris Bulis has now written, by his own count, one million words of Doctor Who-associated fiction. Whatever.

Palace of the Red Sun is the third of those novels (that's 25%, that is) with Peri as the companion. Whatever.

Palace of the Red Sun features three seemingly random plots. One takes place on a weird world populated by one-dimensional fairy-tale characters, stuck in a sixth-grade-reader version of Camelot, with princesses and dukes and bawdy Shakespearian nurses. Whatever.

The second plot features a bunch of futuristic stereotypes (the benign-ish military conqueror, the unscrupulous journalist) with more Silly Space Names than a Terrance Dicks novel. Names like "Glavis Judd" (love can build a bridge) and "Dexel Dynes" (back to the lab again, Dexter). Then again, Chris Bulis is the man who once gave us Gelbert J. Sternby. Whatever.

The third plot is about the generic Doctor, with a generic female companion in various states of deshabille -- who spends a lot of time fantasizing about getting into the bathtub. The only thing that distinguishes Bulis's 6th Doctor from, well, any of the other seven Doctors he's inked, is the sardonic punishment inflicted on the bad guys at the end. Whatever.

There's an obvious plot twist telegraphed 200 pages in advance, and it's clear from the very beginning just what these characters are hiding. Whatever.

And yet, when the plot twist comes, on page 225 of course, it's carried off with such brash Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland enthusiasm, that you can't help but be carried along with it all. Let's write a Doctor Who novel right here! In this barn! With just us kids! Whatever.

In the end, the book comes and goes. Dexel Dynes could come back in another Bulis novel in four years and I won't remember what book he's from next time, either. Whatever.

It's impossible to hate a Bulis novel, although it's impossible to want to reread them again, either. He's more Bob Baker and Dave Martin than Robert Holmes. Whatever.

In a million words of Doctor Who-associated fiction, Bulis has never once taken a risk, or told us something we don't know. And yes, he never leaves you feeling cheated. Whatever.

He'll be back again next year, with the Nth Doctor and Companion X. I'll buy that book, too.


A Wonderful Gem of a Book by Isaac Wilcott 15/8/04

Bulis is one of my favorite Who authors. Although he is not the most original or daring of authors, he is the most dependable and perhaps even the most skilled at telling a good story. His style is straightforward and immensely readable, with just the right level of descriptive detail and a real grasp of how to balance a plot. He is never pretentious, never relying on gimmicks or stylistic tricks to dupe his readers into believing the book is more "important" and "relevant" than it really is (an error other excellent authors such as Lawrence Miles and Dave Stone often fall into). His original characters are engaging and memorable, and their dialog comes across as genuine and often sparkles with humor. And Palace of the Red Sun embodies all that is good about Bulis' work.

The story, as always in his books, takes center stage. It's always easy to follow what's going on, and yet not so simple that it becomes dull or predictable. The key to almost all of his books, and perhaps best exemplified in Palace, is an underlying central puzzle. He puts enough hints into the story that astute readers will be able to figure out for themselves what is happening... and then he throws in a surprise or two towards the end. And yet these surprises do not come across as gratuitous plot pyrotechnics (as is often the case with Justin Richards), but rather a revelation of how complex the mystery actually is. I cannot emphasize how satisfying it is to read a book like this! Far too many Who books try so hard to "transcend the format" that they can't be bothered to tell a good story. Bulis embraces the tried-and-true format and uses it to its greatest potential, and is still able to avoid being repetitive or predictable.

So what are you doing wasting your time reading this review? Go out and read the book already!