Illegal Alien
Storm Harvest
BBC Books
Prime Time

Author Mike Tucker Cover image
ISBN# 0 563 55597 1
Published 2000
Continuity After Storm Harvest

Synopsis: The Doctor and Ace find themselves on an agricultural planet where the population has become dependent on programmes of a powerful TV station.


A Review by Finn Clark 5/7/00

Prime Time beats the trads at their own game. It's not an elegant book - in fact it's quite clumsily written in places - but it drives its narrative onward with the force of a runaway locomotive. This book flew by! I picked it up, only meaning to read a chapter or two before getting on with what I was supposed to be doing, but barely two hours later I'd read the whole thing. I call that an achievement.

The first two books of the Perry-Tucker combo were a bit rough-and-ready, but with Storm Harvest they finally hit on a winning formula and Prime Time is more of the same. It's pulp fiction: cheerful, action-packed nonsense of the kind that deserves a lurid three-colour cover with B-movie monsters and space marines with ray guns. Personally I thoroughly enjoyed it.

You see, your average ultra-trad novel is merely a regurgitation of Doctor Who on TV, which is frankly a bit dull. Planets consisted of cardboard corridors, a risible control room and a few extras. The budget rarely stretched to anything too exciting. The Big Concepts were generally rubbish, but as with all the greats Doctor Who really worked because of the details. The Doctor was captivating. There was imagination by the skipload and lovely characterisation touches that betrayed Who's roots in theatre as opposed to cinema. Thus if you're going to write a novel without charm, wit, imagination or flair, you'd better find yourself a better template than The Sensorites or Colony in Space. When authors don't, we call them "trad".

Prime Time has chosen its template. Pulp doesn't require complex characterisation, which is lucky for this author. Pulp doesn't require much originality, though it's pretty demanding on ingenuity. What it has in spades are villains and plot twists. Prime Time is packed with serious bad guys, all perpetrating evil and stabbing each other in the back. It scores over the not dissimilar Time Of Your Life by continually raising its game; it's initially reminiscent of the former book, but the plot just keeps getting wilder.

I was very impressed by the handling of the regulars, though I can't elaborate on that statement for fear of spoilers. Mike Tucker likes continuity references, especially with his earlier stories and the comic strips. I spotted links with The Iron Legion, The Moderator and more controversially the Gillatt-era DWM stories (perhaps), though a throwaway line makes it clear that most of the McCoy comic strips haven't happened yet. As Mark of Mandragora includes a Timewyrm reference, the Perry-Tucker PDAs are clearly set before Timewyrm: Genesis.

So there you have it, a straightforward tale of a heroic Doctor and horrible baddies. If you liked Storm Harvest, this is more of the same and possibly even better.

A Review by Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld 15/8/00

Prime Time was a book that was not announced as a groundbreaking book, or an especially weird book. Being released next to The Ancestor Cell, I thought Prime Time was going to take a back seat, but it doesn't. In fact, it's right next to Ancestor Cell in the front passenger seat!:

PLOT: A simple plot with nice twists and a nice setting. I've really enjoyed Mike Tucker's settings throughout all his previous works, whether it be the rainy Kar-Charrat or Coralee, but Blinni-Gaar comes out on top. A nice, average, big city that has a sinister TV station that dominates the population. Anyway, the plot is good and really kept me interested.

DOCTOR: McCoy to the tee, which is to be expected since Mike Tucker has written so much 7th Doctor, it's leaking out of his ears.

ACE: Sophie Aldred to the tee, which is to be expected since Mike Tucker has written so much Ace, it's leaking out of his ears . . . wait!!!

OTHERS: Ashby was a bit two dimensional, even with his "alterations". Eeji Tek was a nice idea but poorly executed. Saarl was good enough, Breame was really funny, Gatti seemed like Ace's younger sister, Barrock had an interesting conflict with his kind, and Trasker was the best supporting character.

VILLAINS: Besides the characterization of the Doctor and Ace, the villains were the best part. Believable motivated, and really clever. And the BBC do a great job of hiding when (SPOILER) is in a book. He really shines in this book. Just like the Krill in Storm Harvest, it really helped seeing the Fleshsmith on the cover, and they seemed like they should have been featured in season 27.

STYLE: While Mike Tucker is no Dave Stone, he can still be fairly funny. Also, quite unexpectedly, in his first solo-novel, it feels like he's writing with a supreme confidence that he can stretch limits with the 7th Doctor and Ace, which seem to now be his characters.

POINTS ADDED: The commercial breaks, trailer, pre-title sequence, and tag scene all work very well.

POINTS OFF: Who the hell is Dorothy Gale? Why include the teeny tiny subplot with Briggs and the other security guards. I felt like breaking it into episode was rather forced, possibly trying to imitate the format in Storm Harvest, which worked very well.

OVERALL: I really enjoyed this book. Unlike other people I've heard from, I quite enjoyed the "cliffhanger" that is at the end of the book. It would really be a shame if Mike lost his writing skill, couldn't get another 7th Doctor and Ace book published, and couldn't finish out his own little story arc.


Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 20/1/01

On the planet Blinni-Gaar, Channel 400 broadcasts TV to the galaxy, with the aid of a computer called Auntie, shows like 'Walking with Drashigs' and 'Ogron Hospital', with a new show to start featuring a mysterious traveller called the Doctor. When presented with this, the reader might suspect that Prime Time is a subtle parody of the BBC. Like The Sunmakers was a subtle parody of the British tax system.

Fortunately, Prime Time soon moves onto the story, and a well-thought out story it is. The Doctor's own predilection for getting into the midst of problems and sorting them out is used as bait to draw the Time Lord into the plans of the Director-General. A nice application of using the opponent's strengths against him. Once the story is well under-way twists start coming out, although there are a few too many of them. I started to lose track of who was on which side.

The characters, it must be said, are very well done. The regulars, the Doctor and Ace, come across as they do on screen. Mike Tucker has certainly plenty of practice writing them. The other characters are all fleshed out well, from Gatti to Rennie Trasker, Greg Ashby and his depressed associate Eeji Tek, even down to minor extras like Joonas. All are real and completely believable, a superb cast.

The only problem I had with them was that I didn't care about any of them. None of the characters engaged me in a way that made me worry about if they die or not. A shame as some of the people go through fates worse than death, which would have been more moving if I was concerned for them. Although I did like Gartrold Breame.

There is a surprise guest star, but having read Verdigris I was expecting a different outcome. In fact, up to the end, I wasn't totally convinced I was going to be wrong.

Mike Tucker continues to carry on the series in his own way, ignoring all that Virgin did. He uses a different last name for Ace to McShane, and there's a major plot point that could tie into the DWM comics. Shall have to wait to see how that plays out.

Prime Time has a lot of promise to it, but something failed to click. Mike Tucker's bound to write again, so if he keeps up the characterisation and grabs the reader's empathy, it should be something great.

A Review by John Seavey 17/8/01

Prime Time is exactly the sort of thing I don't want to see from the BBC Books line. Not that it's bad; it's actually a reasonably crisp read with no notable grammar or spelling errors, and a plot that moves from point A to point B without any real difficulties. But the problem is, that's all it is. It's like eating unbuttered, unflavored popcorn. It occupies the stomach, but the tastebuds get nothing out of it.

Alright; there are some touches of wit to the subtext of the story, that of the Doctor as a fictional character and us as the voyeurs who watch him. Titling the opening segments of the novel as "Teaser" and "Pre-Credits Sequence" are cute, and a few moments (such as a character's expletives being deleted with a footnote to the effect that the story is being broadcast for a family audience) show some potential. But on the whole, all of the themes dealt with in this story were dealt with back in Vengeance on Varos, and they were dealt with better there. When the subtext fails, the story has to stand on its own merits, and those... well, again, they're not actually bad, but they're not actually good either. Having the Master show up abruptly doesn't really add much to the story. (I'm of the opinion that the Master works best when he's underused, and even better when the writer can set him up so he can score a partial victory--witness First Frontier, where the Master's plan is a total success.) The ending is a bit "deus ex machina"--the Doctor does a bunch of subtle stuff off-camera involving time travel and saves the day retroactively--but then again, one could say that about any number of Seventh Doctor adventures. It is somewhat a hazard of this Doctor's particular idiom. However, I will say I've seen it pulled off much better.

In addition, Tucker does commit a sin that Keith Topping also committed in King of Terror... repeated references to a prior book he co-wrote for no other reason than to remind the audience, "Hey! I've written another book before this one!" In this case, the novel is Storm Harvest, but again, there's no reason at all to make mention of it a half-dozen times.

In short, Tucker's book is a lot like the Bulis novels; nothing to particularly single it out for criticism, but all I can really do is damn it with faint praise. I have stronger hopes for The Banquo Legacy, my next novel; it's an EDA, it's by Justin Richards and Andy Lane, two of the better writers for the line, and it's got Fitz, who's seemingly writer-proof. Here's hoping.