The Compassion/TARDIS arc
|Authors||Stephen Cole and Natalie Dallaire|
|ISBN||0 563 55590 4|
|Synopsis: The Doctor finds himself on Skale, prisoner of the militaristic Parallel 59. His knowledge may have devastating consequences for the world he's on... and destroy the world where Fitz has found himself in the process.|
A Review by Finn Clark 24/2/00
Editors have written for their lines before, with mixed results. Where Angels Fear by Rebecca Levene and Simon Winstone was laudably ambitious and packed with ideas, while Peter Darvill-Evans's Deceit was an unreadable mess that seemed to embody the worst excesses of the early NAs. An editor's input is rarely given the credit it warrants. They are uncredited co-writers, shaping their books' directions through commission and suggestion. It shouldn't be surprising if any book with the editor's name on the cover seems to embody the flaws or virtues of their era.
Parallel 59 credits Natalie Dallaire on its cover, a good thing in itself as we don't have enough women writing Doctor Who books. However it also credits Stephen Cole, BBC book editor for the last two years. So is it any good?
Basically, yes... but it takes a while to get going and at times feels awfully familiar.
The setting is a big part of this. Parallel 59 isn't an alternate universe, but a militaristic power bloc of paranoid macho types with butch characterisations straight out of Eric Saward's Greatest Hits. We've seen these guys before in Longest Day, The Janus Conjunction, The Face-Eater, etc. It's not easy to care what happens to them, though at least they're more sympathetic than the obligatory bunch of semi-competent resistance fighters.
Also the story takes a looooong time to get going. After the Doctor and Compassion get captured, events drift without much actually happening. There's intrigue and politics among the paranoid bastards, but they're not the heroes. I was almost a hundred pages into the book before I really got interested in what was going on.
We've seen all this before, but there's more to Parallel 59 than that.
There's Fitz, for a start. On a world completely removed from that of the main plot, nice people do nice things in an everyday environment. On its own it might have seemed laughably trivial, but here it makes the perfect counterpoint for the testosterone-fuelled claustrophobia of the Parallel. It gives the reader a rest, letting us put things in perspective. It's a change of pace. Of course there's more to this world than meets the eye, but even without that it would be a lovely bit of storytelling in its own right. Fitz gets some badly needed downtime and proves once and for all that men think with their dicks.
Both stories are enriched by the contrast between them, but then come the plot twists. Surprise is piled upon surprise and the book gets its second wind, driving inexorably towards the impressive climax. In the end, I really liked it. By the time you've reached the final pages, Parallel 59 is more than just good.
So there you have it. Not a perfect book, but one that certainly continues the recent upturn in quality from the 8DAs. It might try your patience at times, but if you're like me you'll be glad in the end that you read it. Give it a go.
A Review by Loann West 26/2/00
First, let me explain that because I am in America, I get the novels sporadically and so I read this one right after Blue Angel and I haven't read the others that came between yet. I've written elsewhere how much I hated Blue Angel, so I enjoyed this one very much in contrast. Will it go down as one of my all time favorites? Probably not, but it was a good solid Doctor Who novel of the old school variety with a few new elements as well.
The Doctor is the driving force. He uses a lot of the tricks from several different incarnations -- let yourself get caught, try to fix their machinery so you can find out what it does, blow things up with the sonic screwdriver, etc. Compassion and Fitz hold their own in their plot lines. I think Compassion came a long way in this novel. Again, I don't know what she's been through in the novels in between, but she grows here. Fitz, poor Fitz. I seem to have missed how the pieces of Interference got worked out, but it's nice to have a 'not so nice' companion again. My one major complaint is that I never really heard Paul McGann's voice through this novel (and believe me, I would really love to hear Paul's voice as the Doctor again) -- he really was an amalgam of several other Doctors.
DWM complains that the threads are too convoluted but I don't agree. I think there was definitely an internal logic working. I esp. liked the fact that the Doctor couldn't save everything or fix everything and even causes damage by accident (I'm trying not to give away spoilers here). It was a nice throwback to the question, 'Can you ever really keep your hands completely clean?' Sometimes you have to choose to minimize the casualties rather than being able to save everyone.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 13/3/00
At last, the major Blake's 7 novel that fans have been craving for so long! Unfortunately, the seven have been replaced with the Doctor, Fitz, and Compassion, but everywhere else...
I enjoyed this book a lot by the end. This was a surprise, as the beginning was incredibly dull, and had some jarringly OOC moments. But the combination of the plot finally starting to move and the wonderfully drawn supporting cast led to an enjoyable, self-contained Who book that manages to fit in with the arc as well, although it's easily the least arc-oriented of the series.
HE DOCTOR: Really variable. Some moments are absolutely dead on (The Doctor tickling information out of Jessen), while others are really, really jarring (the first 80 pages, where the Doctor acts like a refuge from Whose Line Is It Anyway?.) Like the novel, though, his characterization improves as the book progresses, though, and the final scenes are pretty much carried by sheer Doctor personality.
FITZ: Fitz is remarkable in this. I wanted to kick him so many times in the first 150 or so pages. He was completely and utterly irritating in every way, shape, and form. And then... suddenly, as things in Mechta got worse, and worse, Fitz got more and more likeable, until the ending scenes with him and Filippa had me cheering for him. What makes this so well done is that there's not really much difference in the way he's written... it's simply the way he reacts to big events as opposed to small relationships.
COMPASSION: One of the weaker points of the book, sadly. She's her normal, not-quite-Seven-of-Nine-but-too-similar-to-avoid-the-comparison self when she's with anyone with the Doctor... but with the Doctor she becomes an emotional mess. This would be intriguing (and prophetic) if it weren't handled so badly at the start... Compassion's scenes with the Doctor after they're captured are almost risible. Luckily, they're separated for most of the book.
OTHERS: On the other hand, this is the book's best point. The secondary characters all had the opportunity to be one-dimensional Saward-ish bastards, but, with one or two exceptions, they each got multiple scenes of emotional torment, doubts, misgivings, joy, anger, psychotic frenzy, cold murder... lovely stuff.
VILLAIN: Well, one villain, Terma, is one of the few exceptions to the above, being the standard lieutenant-gone-to-seed cackling bad guy. The other ones, though... that's the book's big surprise, and since Robert has started to post my reviews on his page, I won't mention it here, except to say it shocked me. Well done.
STYLE: Well, it's a co-authored book... but that still doesn't forgive the fact that in the first 100 pages, virtually nothing happens. I was almost ready to give up I was so bored. And then, slowly, starting on Mechta and working its way into the main plot... action! Excitement! PACING! Yes! The last 50 pages of the book flew by like nothing.
OVERALL: I can't really give this book a very high mark, as the beginning of it is really not up to standard. But get through the setup, and the rest is crackling. And the final two pages are wonderfully sentimental and emotional. < sniffle &bt.
The greatest Blake's Seven novel of all time by Robert Smith? 9/4/00
Editors have written for their lines before, but never particularly well. Deceit was mostly rubbish, but shook the NAs up by providing a template for the sort of thing they were already doing well and set the tone for future books with the introduction of New Ace. Where Angels Fear was a great book, sadly hindered only by the editors' inability to write decent prose. It shook the Benny line up enormously, providing future direction and kicking off a magnificent arc.
Now that it's the turn of the hapless BBC line to have its hapless editor pen a novel. Would it be a range-shaking novel, clearly outlining the vision we keep being told exists in the EDAs or would it provide a template for the design of future novels? The answer to the first question is 'hell no' and the answer to the second is 'let's hope not.'
I've always thought that Steve Cole probably made a better writer than editor. His pseudonymous Short Trips work was of consistently high standard, but sadly his pseudonymous novel is little more than a lacklustre book with laughably macho characters, lovingly crafted from the finest cereal boxes.
I'm sorry, but the characters really are pretty lame. Or rejects from old Blake's Seven scripts, which amounts to the same thing, I suppose. Characters with fairly silly names show some brief flickers of interest moments before being gratuitously killed off. It all gets a bit embarrassing towards the end, as though the authors were getting rather desperate to hold our interest, so the body count doubles with every passing page.
Jessen meanders all over the place, depending on what the authors want her to do. Dam seems to have some decent characterisation, but it's all a facade. Terma is entirely superfluous. And Ansu is an anagram of anus, which sadly seems far less out of place than it should.
Compassion has a go at playing Sam, which seems a bit odd in an editor written book. The possibility that Steve Cole has had this book on the backburner for months and months, just itching to publish as soon as there was a gap in the schedules, makes me weep like a baby.
And then there's the Doctor. Here, at last, we see Steve Cole's great vision for the EDA line. We've had it in almost every book in recent memory, but finally we have the definitive take on the troublesome character of the eighth Doctor: lock him in a cupboard with no clothes and keep him there while the rest of the novel merrily unfolds without him.
Thanks, Steve, you know I just needed to hear you say it.
You know the worst thing? I really like the eighth Doctor. I think Paul McGann's performance was fantastic and the entirely dissimilar character who pops up in these books also carries potential, yet no one writing for the line seems to care! I can understand why everyone gave up on Sam, but why do they want to give up on the Doctor as well?
Even once he finally escapes from the plot device, he doesn't really do much other than attempt to hug random people and hurl non-sequiturs at them. Even when he finally gets to sort things out a) Compassion does all the work and b) it's only to get him conveniently out of the way so lots of stuff can blow up.
This book is redeemed only by the Fitz sections, although they're nowhere near good enough to save it. Fitz's various romances are reasonable, but they're not a patch on the heartbreaking love story from Frontier Worlds. Peter Anghelides cleverly recognised that not only do we not need to see the cheesy pick-up lines and all the getting-to-know-her scenes, but the book becomes far stronger for not seeing them. Alura's importance was astonishing, since we saw her through Fitz's eyes. Here we just get the shag of the week, complete with cheesy pick-up scenes. And so the success of the previous book just isn't repeated, despite Fitz's continuing quest to become Bernice Summerfield and commit his adventures to a first person narrative once more.
Still, the Mechtan scenes are pretty good, on the whole. They break up the grizzled macho action on Parallel 59 fairly well. The fifteen thousand chapters that divide this book also work to its advantage, meaning that we can flip to Fitz's adventures soon enough. Okay, I'm reaching here, I admit it.
Parallel 59 is a pretty substandard book, when it comes down to it. Which is a good thing, really, because it shows that the line has been slowly but inexorably improving. A year ago this wouldn't have looked out of place at all, but we're getting there. Painfully and sometimes stupidly, but it's happening. This is a forgettable book let down by silly posturing and boring characters. It's not actually terrible, but not for want of trying. Fortunately, the next book is a Paul Cornell one, so things should be on the up and up from there. Move along, nothing to see here.
P.S. Thanks to the genius of -> *Sean Gaffney* <- (who in no way co-wrote this review so soon after writing his own, oh no!) for the title of this review
A Review by Dan Perry 22/4/00
The great EDA pendulum is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen.
We've had the great stories Inteference and The Blue Angel, followed by the aggressively mediocre The Taking of Planet 5, followed by the great Frontier Worlds, followed by... Parallel 59.
Astute readers will have guessed where I'm going with this review.
Certain things work very well in this book. The sequences on Mechta are fantastic. Jessen is great, once the authors give her an agenda. (I would normally say "reveal", but the difference between her pre-revelation personality and her post-revalation is so large that it seemed to me that the authors decided the character they originally had didn't work, so they swapped her with one that a reader might actually like.) The competing villains all undercut each other nicely. And, once again, Compassion rocks.
So why did reading the book feel like treading water?
Part of it is that it's hard to feel sympathy towards the impending destruction of a paranoid repressive regime. In fact, the settings (and most of the people who inhabit them) are so repellant that it's hard to immerse yourself in the tension that the book valiantly tries to build. Another is my personal peeve, the blatant back-reference. I don't actually have the book on hand to find the point that annoyed me, but it occurred pretty early on in the book and colored the rest of my reading. Another part is that this is the fifth story in a row where the Doctor finds himself strangely impotent in the face of a destructive political struggle, and while I appreciate that this is an arc theme, I'm really starting to crave a new story archetype. (I probably wouldn't be reacting so strongly had I read these books over the course of five months rather than zipping through four of them in two and a half weeks.)
So, once again we have a book where the positives and negatives cancel each other out, leaving behind a perfectly serviceable novel. I liked it more than ToP5, but the two novels share some of the same problems.
I now have no idea what to expect from The Shadows of Avalon...
Empty Revelations by Thomas Jefferson 27/7/00
Has anyone played the Blurb Game? What you do is read the info on the back cover and try to predict the page number that this 'drawing in' information goes up to. You know the sort of thing: "on the edge of town, a monster waits" and this monster is introduced on page 49. I reckon 80 pages is about an average, although there are some books that are easily into the 200s before we get up to speed with all the info on the back cover. Well, Parallel 59 must break the record because, having finished it, I'm still waiting for the Doctor to decree that Mechta be utterly destroyed.
Parallel 59 must be seen as the book in which the editor Steve Cole finally nails his literary credentials to the doorframe of popular opinion. Well, half of it, anyway. So far, we've only been able to judge his writing from a few short stories, controversially written under a female pseudonym. For a while, people assumed that Natalie Dalliare was also a made up person, but this isn't true apparently. So, as male/female collaborations go, is it Unnatural History or Attack of the Cybermen?
Well it's an odd book, with a good concept and good writing waging a battle against one thing the Steve Cole era has become renowned for: bad plotting. Fitz probably gets his finest portrayal so far within these pages and Compassion is finally coalescing into a genuine character rather than the collection of icy mannerisms we've seen for the most part. There are also plenty of well-rounded supporting characters, unlike a lot of Doctor Who books which often seem fearful in giving us more than three or four supporting characters to the main players.
But there is still a fair amount of running around to little effect. The Doctor in particular seems to do things for no other reason than to fulfil word count. There is also an achingly long time before the big revelation that we all guessed about 100 pages before is revealed. This seems to be a feature of the book, as there is a chapter called 'The Revelation' which contains the biggest new information cheat outside of an Agatha Christie novel.
All this doesn't exactly lend itself to good fiction, and the fact that these are the sort of elementary basics that Virgin got right all the time is a further indictment of the relative failure of the BBC Books. The book's unremitting grimness is another depressingly familiar sight in the range. Unlike Virgin's output, there just hasn't been that many stories (Paul Magrs aside) that actually dare to be entertaining. Happy Endings may have been silly fanwank, but you actually enjoyed reading it, unlike most of the BBC's output.
Oh, and Parallel 59 also gets the 'Comfy Chair' award for the most threatened torture scene which turns out to be a (literal) walk through the park. A bit poor, all in all.
A Review by Graeme Burk 20/8/00
There must be something wrong with me... I liked Parallel 59.
It's not a particularly brilliant book, but it's not as terrible as I've heard it made out to be. Maybe I'm the sort of Who fan who does agree with Robert Holmes that Who is best when its roots are showing, and any story that references The Prisoner and some of the film versions of 1984 does it for me. And they use the settings and some of the ideas behind these dystopias reasonably well here.
There's a lot of logic-jumping (if someone can explain what the hell Jessen was about and why it required the Doctor to tickle answers out of her put it on the back of a postcard and send it to "Nonsensical Characterisation, PO Box..." and the story relies on coincidence and sloppy plotting enough to be written by a drunken Enid Blyton.
I liked the Doctor in this story, although it's by now de rigeur for him to be barely involved in the book. Compassion is useless though-- having been spoiled by her supreme characterisation in Frontier Worlds, I was disappointed to see her lose all those fascinating nuances. And putting two Fitz-romance-heavy books back-to-back is perhaps the dumbest editorial decision since backing Nightshade and Love and War (and at least then neither of the writers was the range editor).
But in spite of all this I liked Parallel 59. It's enjoyable and innocuous. It should have been more -- Steve Cole is a good writer, and I even have faith in Natalie Dallaire -- but it wasn't. That's a shame, but I also wasn't disappointed with what I got to read either.
With the TV series, there were stories that weren't terrible, but weren't brilliant either. They're stories that you find yourself watching and being entertained by them and even liking them, but you don't know why. A lot of the stories in season 6 are that way.
I guess what I'm saying is that Parallel 59 is The Krotons of the EDAs -- underachieving, hamfisted but with just enough good ideas and settings to make it worthwhile.
World at City's End by Jason A. Miller 23/8/00
It's Opening Day for the 2000 season of BBC Eighth Doctor novels. Following the 1999 series of books, and the authors who wrote them and the men who did or did not edit them, was a lot like being a fan of a professional sports team that finished 6th place in its division. Lots of the books were rotten, or just plain aimless. But once again, we've been promised big things for the 2000 season. Some great old veterans have been called out of retirement to rekindle some of that lost fire (Paul Cornell has a book out next month), and a new head coach will be in place later in the season (Justin Richards). Even some of the players will change.
It's hard to get very worked up about a 6th place team. If a book is simply average or run of the mill... well, there's not a whole lot to yell about. If your sports team loses yet another game during a long, next-to-last-place season, how heavily can you criticize a missed basket in the second quarter, a botched field goal, or a game-ending double-play? And even if the team pulls out a rare win.. well, it's only one, and it's not going to single-handedly boost your attendance from 20,000 fans per game, all the way up to 50,000.
Parallel 59, our own Opening Day novel, is the equivalent of a ballgame lost by two runs. The team played well -- the authors, one of whom is a newbie who's a real person, even though she sounds like a pseudonym, and one of whom either used to, or still does, edit the line of books, depending on which sources you read, have some nice turns of phrase and decent plot twists. But the team fell behind early and never recovered.
The primary setting of the novel is a planet named Skale. The skies are overcast, the water is cold, and all the characters wear jumpsuits of either red or grey. The men and women have Silly Space Names -- a combination of real English names and a hodgepodge of unusual spellings and bizarre syllables, meant to suggest a language a few evolutionary steps down from our own. There's a sub-Dickensian named Makkersvil, a woman named Jessen Kal, and a security guard named Dam, simply because the authors wanted to open a scene with the words "Dam burst...". The civilization is a drab one, almost on the verge of interplanetary flight, and as usual for these stories, the Assortment of Rebels have access to better technology than the Assortment of Scientists. Characters are badly wounded halfway through and stay that way until the end. There's a noble self-sacrifice (that most Doctor Who-ish of art forms), and a massive bloodbath at the end, belying the gentle but frantic action of the late-middle chapters. We know the plays and we offer the faint smiles when we see them again.
The book improves in its Fitz subplot. Fitz is packed off to a world called "Mechta" (a word that lodges inappropriately in the throat when spoken aloud). Mechta is a paradise (not a digestive disorder). It's a world where most readers would want to live (as opposed to Skale), and is glimpsed only in tight 3-page chapters. The booze is good, the sex is plentiful, and the ghosts are eerie.
Best of all, Parallel 59 fails to belong to the dense, overwrought story arc which wrecked most of the late 1999 books. It's a simple actioner (albeit with a gruesome ending, tinged with just a faint amount of hopeful optimism -- 7 characters look off into the sunrise), and isn't a terrible followup to the previous book, Frontier Worlds.
The unlikely team of Dallaire and Cole fails to pull off a dramatic game-winning touchdown, but we're faithful fans and we'll come back next game, anyway. And, dulled as we are by a long string of faint disappointments, we won't boo too loud if the game ends in another loss for the good guys.
A Review by Steve Traylen 19/2/01
This is a very odd book. I really liked lots of it, but it was rather in spite of some really bad, cliched bits. I'm starting to very much enjoy Fitz as a companion, and I've really enjoyed some of 'Fitz's Diary' that we've seen in the last couple of books. However it does seem that for someone who is supposed to be, well, a bit of a loser he's had plenty of action lately.
Anyway, the bad bits and cliches of Parallel 59. Firstly and most annoyingly, this is probably the worst example of the 'pathologically stupid and wacky Doctor' we've seen in quite a few books. He seems to spend (along with Compassion) large parts of the book naked, doing Dalek impressions and well not doing anything. Hey guys, the Doctor is supposed to be the main character! Most of the original characters are basically ciphers, I didn't really care for any of them, and found them frankly forgettable. The main plot twist is a little too predictable which meant I didn't really care as much about (spoiler deleted) and (spoiler deleted) as I should have done.
On the plus side, I thought the book moved along quite quickly and I really enjoyed the Fitz stuff. It just felt a little shrug, so what.
Oh and call me an old Eric Saward lover but I like some TARDIS scenes, a lot of books lately have been starting in the middle of the adventure and ends before it really ends. I'm not talking about season 23 style spend half the story in the TARDIS, but a few pages at the beginning of companion-Doctor interaction would be nice.
A Review by Eva Palmerton 27/6/01
I was quite impressed with this, actually. I read it (quite intentionally) as two different stories. The Doctor/Compassion story and the Fitz story just happened to intersect at the end. Given the circumstances, the authors did an excellent job.
The Fitz story was magnificent. Alternation between first and third person worked extremely well. The characters were very convincing. This is probably the best I've seen Fitz written so far. The bulk of the Fitz writing was said to have been done by Dallaire. If this is true, I would really like to see more from her.
The Doctor/Compassion story also worked quite well for me. The Doctor was well written as far as I'm concerned. Compassion seems to present difficulties for everyone, but I liked her in this one. She didn't end up with a huge part in the story, but that's quite okay. I liked having the focus on the Doctor for this one. For the alarmingly high number of characters, there was far more depth to them than I expected which was a pleasant surprise. The story itself was utterly bizarre - the Cold War at its absolute worst. The whole purpose of the Project was terribly frightening, yet not at all surprising for the society of Skale. I thought there was a very Vonnegut feel to the story - Cat's Cradle with a touch of "Harrison Bergeron" thrown in. The overblown spy epic may have appeared far too complicated, but I thought it was a lot of fun to try to sort it all out. Sometimes I think I should be frightened by the amount of death and destruction in books involving Steve Cole, but he makes it work - a very dark caricature of society and the global politics of the Cold War era.
The two stories were tied together well. I really liked the ending. I thought things were wrapped up very nicely. This was a good stand alone story that had enough ties to other stories to make it work as a good part of the series overall.
Most amusing bit - starting a new section with a sentence beginning "Dam burst into..." in reference to a character named Karl Dam. This was very early on in the book, and was pointed out to me in a bookstore, prompting me to make the purchase. I'm very glad I did.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 3/10/01
Parallel 59 is a sadly incoherent book, with some really cliched and dull moments being countered by moments of great interest and wonderful writing. There are some moments of rather clever storytelling at work here, but unfortunately the majority of them get bogged down by formulaic portions that do nothing more then tell the same old story that we've seen many times already.
The story is neatly divided into two separate portions with Fitz immediately becoming separated from the Doctor and Compassion. The Doctor and Compassion are captured by a government task-force and mistaken for spies while Fitz has adventures at a place called Mechta where things are not quite what they seem. Boiled down to their basic elements, both segments are fairly unoriginal, but the Fitz sections manage to rise above expectations due to the inspired execution. One mistake made is that for the second book in a row, Fitz begins an ill-fated romance with a native of the environment that he finds himself marooned in. Parallel 59, while not doing a bad job in this department, pales when compared to the Fitz relationship portrayed in Frontier Worlds.
The sections containing the Doctor and Compassion rarely move beyond the type of adventure that we've seen time and time again, though to balance this out there are some hilarious portions mixed in. The secondary characters in this section all seem rather bland and faceless. There's the group of outlaws that we know so well from various other Doctor Who stories. There's also the large government-controlled project featuring bureaucratic types that we've seen in those same previous Doctor Who stories. Add one or two double-agents, and you're left with the entire dull cast. None of these characters leap off the page and become anything more than the simple two-dimensional figures we've been seeing.
Overall, this book was fairly disappointing, yet there were one or two very entertaining sections, and the further adventures of Fitz were rather enjoyable. I wouldn't mind reading further solo books from either of these two authors in the future, but I don't think their styles were really suited for co-authorship. It led to a feeling of inconsistency here that was very distracting.
Editor turned author! by Joe Ford 7/8/02
I am in a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to the Stephen Cole edited books as I began reading the EDA range consequtively at Earthworld, in the first third of Justin Richards excellent editorship. The first 'old' books I bought were (naturally) the Earth arc between reading the current output. But then it came to a point where I could only get one Richards book a month and had to turn elsewhere (ie, delving into Stephen Cole's output!). Common knowledge will tell you that this was a time when the books were particularly weak. So I picked out the most reccomended ones first (Alien Bodies, The Scarlet Empress, Interference, The Banquo Legacy). Last but not least I came to the less popular books. Parallel 59 is one example.
And d'you know what? This book has far too many GREAT moments to be considered a disapointment. Because I went into it with a particularly bad opinion already (as you do) I left the book surprised, entertained and less willing to listen to reviews in the future!
I would split the book into three thirds and rate them as- first third: intruiging, second third: mediocre, third third: gripping. The opening chapters were great introducing secondary characters quickly and memorably. Our heroes thrust straight into the action we're left to piece together how on earth they got in this pickle with just snippets of information here and there. And I love a good puzzle. All that nastiness on Skale was contrasted beautifully with Fitz's new life on Mechta. Particularly well done was Nekompros, a character struggling with his health and trying to stay into control of things. He is in turns irritable, unlikable and smypathetic, I warmed to him immediatley. And as shallow as it makes me I found Fitz's romance troubles very engaging.
But then once Cole and Dallaire have set up this intruiging mystery they seem willing to let it travel along for a good hundred pages without a whole lot happening. The Doctor is incarcerated. The bastion is going down. Fitz is seducing women. Compassion joins the rebels. Despite some good prose and solid characterisation I found my attention waning during the middle section.
Then like a bolt of lightening a supply ship is blown up, the Doctor is free, Karron is killed... twist after twist, many that left me reeling. The plot starts moving again in complex and unexpected ways. Characters who seemed pretty one note are suddenly revealed in a whole new light (Jessen) and my interested is rocketed sky high again. The climax to the book is action packed, emotion charged and so rapid the last 60 or so pages flash by before you realise.
The regulars are captured perfectly but then what else would you expect from the editor! Compassion, whilst not reaching the heights she did in Frontier Worlds, still appears to be writer-proof and her callous atitude, sharp dialouge and intruiging back story make her as compelling as ever. Fitz of course is fun to read about, I expecially enjoyed as all his affairs got out of control and breaking down around him. A dramatic confrontation with Anya near the climax was shocking indeed. And as for the Doctor, who seems to be everybodies sticking point when it comes to this novel... I thought he was great! Oh come on he's got a great sense of humour in this novel ("Apparantly we're spies... it's very exciting... I didn't have a clue!", This time we head off to destroy a planet...) and although sidetracked more than I'd like his intelligence and cool dialouge shines through. I loved his bits with Jedkah!
The Blakes Seven parallels were there I suppose being it was a bit gritty, opressed society, horrid government, underground movements, shady characters and less than squeaky clean heroes... but those things aren't only in Blakes Seven so the similarities are only superficial. There were several grey areas surrounded some of the characters that I really appreciated... Jessen being a cold blooded killer but with a 'good' motive, Terma apparantly working with Nekompros whilst secretly killing him off for years... all good meaty stuff. And I always like an ending where things don't go to plan and the Doc only managing to save six of all those Mechtans was suitable melacholic.
So there you have it, a success. Some of these Stephen Cole books are really surprising me... maybe I'll be brave enough to try the John Peel output soon!
A Review by Brian May 26/3/07
Parallel 59 is a decent enough story if you want a sci-fi thriller and the usual lessons on war, fascism, xenophobia and paranoia - with a special focus on the Cold War and the space race - accompanied by a bizarre Prisoner-like subplot. One major problem: this is a full-length BBC novel, and it simply doesn't have the content to satisfy the required word or page count.
Nothing much happens throughout the whole novel. There's a burst of action at the end, but up till then there isn't a lot going on. The first hundred odd pages are the worst, crawling interminably. The Doctor's continued interrogations at the hands of the Facility staff also go nowhere. I understand the writers are trying to make a point: their obdurate refusal to believe a word the Time Lord says reflects the stubbornness of the fascist military mind; but the Doctor's own vague responses don't really help his cause.
However, these pages are saved by the chapters where Fitz is trapped in the distopian realm of Mechta. In fact all of the chapters set here are great, but I'll return to them later. The main story soon picks up but, irony of ironies, it's not because anything in the way of pace is occurring. No, it's the characters that do it. They haven't really developed up till this point: in the opening sections you think they're all going to be cardboard cut-outs: unstable commander, a security officer grunt, sadistic medical officer, and so on. But after the pivotal hundred (or so!) page mark, they actually become quite interesting, believable individuals. It becomes rather Machiavellian with all the backstabbing and double crossings, but most importantly the story is more readable, what with various traitors and murderers to be unmasked. And justice doesn't always prevail. The "traitor" within Parallel 59 - and therefore the Doctor's ally - is Jessen, a thoroughly nasty piece of work, who attempts to kill Makkersvil and does murder Karon; and at the book's close apparently remains unpunished.
The Doctor is a little underwritten, even after the story's pick-up mark, and Compassion is passable although unremarkable, though I do like the way she deals with Tod. But once again Fitz is fantastic, proving to be a wonderful companion that (almost) every author who's written for him can do justice. His unfolding new life on Mechta is wonderful reading, the chopping and changing between first and third-person narratives is quite effective, more so than in Frontier Worlds. Also carrying on from his adventure on Drebnar, he's now quite the ladies' man - three in one story! What a change from the lovable loser of the early days. But, more importantly, it's all utterly believable. The other characters on Mechta are also well crafted, making these sections by far the best in the book, with a proper sense of lives being lived in real time.
It's here the aforementioned Prisoner references apply. Mix in bits from other Doctor Who stories (The Macra Terror, The Krotons) and it's the ultimate surreal, unsettling locale. Of course, once its secret is revealed, the biggest influence becomes The Matrix. Given its publication, about a year after release of the Wachowski Brothers' film, it's too unoriginal for its own good - unless it was a major coincidence. (But since The Matrix is itself a rip-off of The Deadly Assassin that sort of cancels itself out!) The final fate of the Mechtan population is very tragic, especially as the characters have become endearing; but Filippa's survival is a redemptive happy ending, thus also making the book a love story of sorts.
It's a pity Parallel 59 came into being during the hiatus of Doctor Who's television years. I could imagine it being a story in the classic series - although I'm not sure exactly which period - with a few control room sets and corridors, a diverse planet whose other locations are described, but never actually seen, and actors in bad flared costumes credibly portraying the characters. On the other hand, it could also fit somewhere in the New Series - possibly even a two-parter - with control rooms and corridors galore, pulling off the final action sections with some finesse.
But unfortunately it's a novel, and one not long enough to sustain the story as a whole. It's slow until the end, when it bursts into a frenzy of action - but in its favour, for written action moments they're pretty good. It's also helped by good characters - Fitz especially - and the dramatic and emotional gravity given to the multitude of deaths incurred. These aspects are all first rate, making Parallel 59 a lot better than it really should have been. 6.5/10
A Review by Steve White 5/3/15
Parallel 59 is an Eighth Doctor novel by Natalie Dallaire and Stephen Cole. Natalie appears to only have ever written this book and Stephen Cole was in charge of the line at this time, which suggests that this book suffered from difficulties, not that you'd know it to read it.
The main premise of Parallel 59 is that the planet Skale is trying to reach out into space but is divided into different parallels, each paranoid about the other. It's obviously fiction, but it draws similar parallels (see what I did there?) with our own space race. The TARDIS crew land on a space station and have to abandon it, with Fitz taking one pod to the convalescent place of Mechta, and the Doctor and Compassion heading down to Skale. Fitz enjoys his new life, but the Doctor and Compassion are captured and tortured as spies. As the story progresses it appears Mechta isn't all it appears, and neither are the space stations orbiting Skale.
The Doctor is on form throughout and actually gets a fair bit to do, which is nice given his lack of involvement in recent stories. Compassion has also finally cemented herself as a companion after her much-needed character building in the previous novel, Frontier Worlds. She is still mysterious, but I felt connected to her for the first time since her introduction. The star of the show is Fitz, however, with all his bits being an absolute joy to read. I really like the fact that he is basically a normal bloke in well over his head and just muddling through life as best he can. If I were trapped in a strange place away from my friends then I'd be shagging left, right and centre too. On the flipside, you do see that the Doctor has rubbed off on him.
The staff at Parallel 59 are very well done, with only a few blurring into each other. The paranoia and tension make for an interesting novel, and it's nice to see that none of them are truly evil, just out of themselves. There is a huge twist right at the end with the introduction of the Haltiel Presence, which I didn't see coming but felt entirely natural.
I really enjoyed Parallel 59, which - given my initial apprehension about an unknown author being guided by the range manager - was surprising. The more adult themes and general paranoia make a great novel and therefore I'd highly recommend it to all.