BBC Books
The Pirate Loop

Author Simon Guerrier Cover image
ISBN 1 846 07347 2
Published 2007

Synopsis: The Doctor's been everywhere and every-when in the whole of the universe and seems to know all the answers. But ask him what happened to the Starship Brilliant and he hasn't the first idea. Did it fall into a sun or black hole? Was it shot down in the first moments of the galactic war? And what's this about a secret experimental drive? The Doctor is skittish. But if Martha is so keen to find out he'll land the TARDIS on the Brilliant, a few days before it vanishes. Then they can see for themselves... Soon the Doctor learns the awful truth. And Martha learns that you need to be careful what you wish for. She certainly wasn't hoping for mayhem, death, and badger-faced space pirates.


The choice... by Joe Ford 4/8/08

I think we might be there now. The New Series Adventures are never going to be as "good" (if you define good as having a point, torturing the characters, examining human nature and featuring blow-your-mind arcs) as the Virgin and BBC paperbacks but I think we have reached a groove now, a level of in-your-face quality that should be more than enough to kick the arse of all those "Why does Justin Richards keep giving himself work?" basher that just cannot accept that Doctor Who fiction is not going to feature gay sex and drug snorting anymore. Get over it and go and read Star Trek novels. A selection of some of the best Doctor Who novelists have now tried their hands very successfully at this hardback format, the likes of Gareth Roberts, Paul Magrs, Martin Day, Steve Lyons... all we need is Lance Parkin, Nick Wallace and Kate Orman to jump aboard and I will be a very happy bunny.

The Pirate Loop is the alternative universe arc for kids - most specifically The Last Resort. Paul Leonard's much (unfairly) maligned work was a complex tale of time-screwing shenanigans, the Doctor and his friends stuck on an alternative Earth which keeps shifting with each decision they make. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji all die in various hideous ways but that's no worry because there are a million other copies. It is a tale of desperation as the universe is pulled apart one thread at a time. The Pirate Loop has a similar fatalistic feel but with added canapes. I do get the strange impression that Simon Guerrier (a dead cert for quality after all the grand work he has done with the Bernice series over at Big Finish) wishes he could make this darker and more horrific, but he does a good job of that even with the playful atmosphere he has to maintain so as not to upset the kids too much.

Reading the blurb I expected the mystery of the Starship Brilliant (why don't more spaceships have ridiculously melodramatic names like that?) to slowly play out throughout the novel but it is answered with remarkable swiftness to leave time for Guerrier to have fun with his clever ideas. He confines a bunch of sketchily drawn characters in a relatively small space (The Last Resort played about with the universe; The Pirate Loop in comparison limits itself to two spaceships) and sets about coaching all over-twelve year olds (I would certainly not recommend to anyone under considering the techno-metaphors at work here) how interesting time loops can be. It would be easy enough to write a comedy around this idea, characters bumbling through the same routines with only the Doctor and Martha seeing the repetition, but Guerrier plants the idea that this could be a living hell. Living being the operative word as his characters are killed ad nauseum and brought back to life again. With such an intriguing concept the characters get to play about with our expectations, for example when we first meet Mrs Wingsworth we are shocked by her blase attitude towards the pirates and their apparent trigger-happiness and her death is beautifully skipped over when halfway through the Doctor and Martha's rant about her murder she is slipped imperceptibly back into the conversation.

The idea is taken one step further than I perhaps would have thought - given the readership of these books - with the brilliant shock climax to chapter six where Martha fights for her life and is stabbed to death. I thought I was beyond being shocked by these books but Guerrier plays about with expectations of the adults who might give them a chance and positively horrifies the kids reading. Of course she is brought back to life, she has to get back to Earth and face the Master (a nice reference to The Family of Blood places this towards the end of the season) but it is still a great moment in a book that dares to shrug its shoulders at dying.

It's good that the book hops from the Brilliant to the pirates' ship towards the end, because there is only so many times you can massacre everybody before your audience starts to wonder if this is going somewhere. Suddenly we are out of the loop and everything is happening for real. Actions have consequences. Deaths are permanent. Crazily, the characters have not learnt their lesson and we head into a bloody finale as the Brilliant is destroyed and have the cast are murdered over nothing more than power games. Guerrier pulls of a good coup by having the Doctor lie to Martha about the situation and thus fooling the audience. Even if you feel cheated by explanation (come on; mass murder is best left to the EDAs) there is a lovely sting in the tale, one which allows the timeline continue unaffected but also leave you pondering what you would do in the same situation. Return to reality and face a long bloody war which is going to last your lifetime, or stay in the time loop like flies stuck in honey and enjoy a never-ending party. I like that Guerrier never lets you see anybody make a decision and leaves you thinking. A lesson for further authors, that one.

It's not perfect; there is far too much emphasis on cheesy pineapple sticks for my liking. No I'm not going crazy; there are several genuinely serious conversation about canapes which are used as a bizarre metaphor for freedom of a slave class. And Martha, who is as witty as ever in the first half of the book, becomes something of a moaner in the second half - although after being killed I can't say I really blame her. Writers can over-emphasise the morality of the companions and poor Martha here is agonising over every downtrodden slave. I kind of miss the days of Fitz and his hilarious complacency. And the prose itself is far more interested in strong, intelligent dialogue than visual description; hardly a fault with such a concept-driven story, but it makes me yearn for some Lloyd Rose, goosebump-inducing writing.

Let's not complain too much. The writer is working responsibly within his remit and this is still an effective and enjoyable take on some old, but timelessly interesting, ideas. Guerrier excels at plotting his ideas to have maximum impact and there were at least two really good surprises imbedded within the story (when most novels cannot manage one).

The Pirate Loop is recommended for its ability to make you think, especially at the end.

Starships and Pirates and Badgers by Matthew Kresal 2/5/13

Until recently, I had never actually read any of the New Series Adventures (NSA) despite having purchased a few of them during the latter part of the Tennant era. I suspect that has something to do with their reputation as weak replacements for the novel ranges that ran previously (or maybe I'm just reading the wrong reviews). Recently though, I ended up finally deciding to read the very first NSA I bought: The Pirate Loop by Simon Guerrier. While initially unsure about what to expect, I must say I was suitably impressed with the book.

Guerrier certainly captures the spirit of the new series, or to be more precise its third season/series, well. Both the tenth Doctor and Martha felt like their TV characters, something that is always a good starting place for something franchise-based. Guerrier manages to get the mix just right when it comes to the tenth Doctor's personality and also gives Martha some of her best writing as well (and it seems too bad it wasn't for her on screen, as Martha comes across much better here than in the vast majority of her screen adventures).

The supporting characters come across nicely as well. Doctor Who as a series appeals to a wide variety of ages and the characters here show why. There are the Space Badger Pirates (yes you read that right) for example who, despite the fact that they are exactly that, nevertheless come across well as characters in their own right as the book goes on. We also get to meet some of the passengers and crew on the Starship Brilliant as well as the captain of the pirates who is saved for towards the end. The characters come across overall as being quite playful and they give the book a lot of its tone as a result.

The story itself is quite interesting and quite dark in places. Following on a pre-credit sequence that could have come right out of the TV series, the Doctor and Martha find themselves aboard the Brilliant, a luxury liner starship that famously disappeared out of existence on the brink of a galactic war. From there, the story gets moving as we quickly meet the ship's crew, robots, passengers and pirates in quick succession. There's also mayhem and death that goes along with it - and that keeps happening. While what's happening will likely become obvious, Guerrier has fun with it nevertheless and uses it to touch upon the issues of life, death, economics and redemption. While one might see shades of TV episodes like Voyage Of The Damned, also set on a luxury liner starship, and Planet Of The Ood as well (though neither had been shown when the book was written), the book works well on its own. In fact, between its characters and plot, it might well be a better story than some of the episodes that aired during Series Three itself.

So where does all that leave the book? It features strong characterizations of the Doctor and Martha, good supporting characters, flowed nicely and might in fact be better written than most of Series Three was on TV. In the end, I can't help but recommend The Pirate Loop.