BBC Books
Relative Dementias

Author Mark Michalowski Cover image
ISBN# 0 563 53844 9
Published 2002
Featuring The Seventh Doctor and Ace

Synopsis: Alien technology in a tumbled-down cottage. Cats and dopgs and people disappearing. A shadowy figure stalking the Doctor and Ace. Actions have consequences and there's more than one type of dementia.


A Review by Finn Clark 22/1/02

Mark Michalowski knows his Virgin novels. Dorothy McShane/Gale... oh, really? For some reason the contrived reconciliation irritated me more than the original Perry-Tucker continuity-busting, having no purpose but rank fannishness. And the Doctor's vegetarian again, too.

However they're spot-on renditions of their TV incarnations, too. Ace starts out as stupidly teenaged as she was in the worst of her TV stories, which might be accurate but made me want her dead. Thankfully the action soon gets underway and she gets stuff to do. At times this is a charming TARDIS crew, for once retaining the kind of bantering rapport that the Virgin NAs torpedoed in favour of angst and bitterness. A pub scene between them had me laughing out loud. This is a Seventh Doctor with all his responsibilities and complexities, but also a sense of mischief I've missed. He's a man of multitudes, with charm and gentleness but also the impishness of the Battlefield crisp bag scene.

As for the story... well, it's a hard one to discuss. Its three acts are all wildly different, with even modest discussion of later events probably being spoilers for 'em. (The book never feels disjointed though, unlike something like The Medusa Effect.) Act One is like The Taint but better, with strange goings-on in a home for the tragically confused. I was particularly impressed by the story's mellow tone. This could have easily gone down the well-worn horror route, or alternatively being about death and senility in an old folks' home could have made the story bitter and angry. However it's neither. I didn't come away from Act One depressed or outraged, but charmed by gentle whimsy. The 2012 section is particularly nice.

This relaxed feel makes the few unavoidable horror moments all the more effective, IMO.

Then there was a twist and Act Two began. Then there was another twist. There's clever stuff in this book, but alas I can't discuss it here for fear of spoilers. My main problem with Relative Dementias was its occasional fannishness, taking time out to explain Ace's surname or dating the Pertwee UNIT era to 1982. Oh, fuck off. There's yet more UNIT-muddying here, but at least it's a new angle on what's now becoming an increasingly old saw. It's interesting. This once, anyway.

Relative Dementias isn't a stunning book to knock your socks off, but it's comfortably better than 90% of last year's PDA output. It's clever, pleasant and covers all the bases. Not bad at all.

PDA Paradise! by Joe Ford 20/2/02

Ahhh the seventh Doctor and Ace, well now that’s a worthy venture to explore that hasn't been done before…NOT! Of all the Doc/companion pair ups this is the last that should feature in the PDA's…what about Peri or Polly and Ben or even bloody Adric…c'mon here's the chance to improve on the worst characters of the series (Mel, Dodo) and turn them into rounded characters. McCoy and Aldred had a pretty good chunk of action at the end of the series and also were adavanced wonderfully into the New Adventures….just what could possibly bw left to say about them?

Well nothing really, as this book proves but to Mark Michalowski's credit he does manage to remind us what a fun team they were when they started out. Ace has balls. That seems to be her character here, but she has sarcastic balls which make her far more readable than the angst ridden Ace. And our scottish incarnation DOESN'T have all the answers (woah, how refreshing is that?). So okay, I enjoyed them, this time, and they did split the narrative nicely but no more BBC books, this is one line up that needs a rest.

Michalowski has nothing to worry about, he is a fine author. Even though I wasn't rivetted by the dementia themed first part of the book he kept me interested with some detailed characters and atmosphere. The mail excursion was fun and the whole conversation in the pub is very funny.

I will admit, halfway through the book I began to worry. Events weren't exactly thrilling, the pace had crawled to a halt and the Doctor was out of the action. I was frustrated! I wanted answers….Mark had seduced my interest with all the wonderful mysteries surrounding the plot…who was the Doctor hiding in the console room? Where did this UNIT woman's son come into this? What was the spaceship doing under the lake.?

As soon as Ace was on the run on the island my interest picked up again. All of these questions were answered and I was utterly gobsmacked by the intricate way Mark managed to surprise me on all counts. All the issues with UNIT were relevant (I'm sorry I have been for a long time saying 'what about all those UNIT extra's that die in battle'!) and satisfyingly resolved. None of the characters were who they seemed to be and the final twist (who is following Ace?) was utter genius. It was such an enjoyably complicated and clever end to the book that I went back and read the middle chapters again to pick up the clues. And low and behold, they were there! Silly me.

Let's have more of this quality shall we…

A Review by Steve Traylen 29/3/02

This was actually pretty good. The main story is fairly standard, though there are enough twists and turns to make the story interesting. Unfortunately the main twist is very well sign posted and pretty obvious anyway. Also the cover picture I think is a pretty spoiler.

My only real gripe is that Michalowski seems to think that the Pertwee years took place in 1982, about the latest I've ever seen.

For anyone who's read it does anyone know what the real significance of the second dream is (mainly because I can't remember it) the first is a lead in to Drift quite clearly.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 18/4/02

Well, I'll be honest in saying that the 7th Doc/Ace team is one I consider highly overrated and my least favorite. So I went into this book with trepidation.

The story is about the usual aliens on Earth hiding out amongst the general population in a quiet village, waiting for the right moment to revive and take over the Earth. We also get another take on UNIT, specificially when the UNIT stories take place.

So, the story begins with the Doctor and Ace arriving in London to pick up the Doctor's mail. The Doc receives a postcard, allegedly from a Dr. Joyce Brunner, who works for UNIT and is curious about Graystairs, a clinic in a small Scottish town that is researching Alzheimer's Disease and claiming to cure it.

The book hinges on a couple of plot twists that smack of deux ex machina. They didn't ring true with me, and truth be told, I had them figured out way before the end.

The book itself, has some solid characters. Ace is well done, an action figure who enjoys getting into scrapes and playing hero. The 7th Doctor is frankly boring and generic, doesn't do much until the end, where he explains some things and makes it look like he was in control all along. It's a trait that I don't like; it's what turned me off to the McCoy stories in the first place. Anyhoo, the guests are solid, with Joyce Brunner and her son Michael coming off best. The villains are not Paul Cornell silly, but still are too one-dimensional to be of any true threat.

The prose itself is solid. Mark Michalowski does keep the story moving, and his set pieces are well done. His weakness is in the characters, as mentioned before.

In the end, Relative Dementias is not a bad way to spend a few hours. If you're a fan of the era, and you can buy into the transparent games that Michalowski plays, then you'll enjoy the book.

Recommended, but not highly.

Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 21/5/02

This is the first book by Mark Michalowski, who has written short stories before. First time novelists have generally done quite well (see City of the Dead or Casualties of War for example) so there is a lot to live up to. Story-wise, I was incredibly reminded of The Taint: something strange going on in an old-folks' home. Not the most original of ideas, but I was willing to give it a go.

This book was steadily on its way to getting a 3/5 when something very bad happened. Mark Michalowski cheated. A plot point is revealed that is just a cheap way of getting around something. Yes, it could happen at any time in any story, and indeed a whole book was based on the idea, and yet having it happen here just comes across as an easy out. For a debut author to need to resort to this in his first book is not a good sign. There are also a large number of plot twists near the end that make it seem that the author didn't quite know how to resolve a few plot lines properly so brought in other twists to try to deal with them, making it overly complicated.

The Doctor and Ace relationship here is straight from the 25th and 26th seasons. Ace is na´ve about the Doctor's ways; the Doctor is manipulative and cunning. Mark Michalowski captures this well, showing the Doctor in control, Ace rebelling against him and trying to strike out on her own. The interaction between them, even when not direct, is really a high point of this novel.

At this point in the review, I usually talk about the other characters in the novel. The only problem is, they are completely forgettable. A name is mentioned, and it wasn't until she appeared later that I realised she had had a major role in the beginning of the book! In the prologue we get several vignettes setting up plot points to be expanded on later, and two characters are introduced, then aren't used again for a while. In fact, when they did turn up, I had completely forgotten they'd even appeared in the book!

Is it that they are too bland? Does nothing stand out about them? Writing this review now, about a week after I finished the book, the only name I can remember is Eddie, who was, I must admit, pretty interesting. The idea of this old man remembering things that were so alien is an interesting and fresh idea, and was handled in an engaging way. Mark Michalowski creates a number of characters, and gives some of them some interesting twists that explore facets of being in the Doctor Who universe that hasn't been looked at too much, and yet... none of them make an impression. That this is bad writing doesn't begin to cover it.

Things to look out for: The 'Gale' reference; the line where we find out the toilet wasn't flushed and the moment when the cheat is revealed (which is a good reveal, despite the fact it is a cheat).

The worst thing about Relative Dementias is that it is poorly written. Plot cheats and forgettable characters add up to making this book simply 'not-good'. Mark Michalowski has potential, certainly, but his debut novel can be skipped.

Relatively good by Robert Smith? 1/11/02

I didn't really have high hopes that this would be any good. The author's short story in The Dead Men Diaries didn't inspire confidence and the back cover blurb is pretty lacklustre. But I really, really enjoyed Relative Dementias. It's a great little PDA, doing everything the line does best and then some.

The biggest surprise is that this is a first novel. It's a surprisingly mature book, with very few first time mistakes. It's got some nicely written passages, with none of the clunkiness that's sometimes associated with first time novels. It also plays with the reader's expectations in a way that first timers usually can't pull off. Colour me officially impressed.

The book's plot really drives this story, but it does it extremely well. The Doctor collecting his mail seems like one of those tacked-on things we often see in PDAs, but here it's given some real weight, due to the double Ace thing. At first I thought we were seeing the time travelling New Ace from the NAs, but it's much cleverer than that. Everything is set up nicely, but more importantly the explanations are nicely given so it doesn't feel like a cheat. We're not talking Festival of Death complexity here, but the author still manages to chart a somewhat perilous course with aplomb.

The only thing that didn't really work for me was the UNIT connection, which felt tacked on. I like the fact that we've never met Joyce or Michael before (or even his father, as far as I know). However, it still seems weird to have Michael Ashworth meeting the seventh Doctor and punching his lights out. This worked when it was Peri in Bad Therapy, but feels profoundly wrong here. I'm also not quite sure what happened to Bernard. He seemed to be quite important early on, but he just vanishes into obscurity later on. There's also an interminably long gap between the first and second appearances of John and Alexander, which is a shame, since their subplot turns out to be fairly important. However, these things are still pretty minor nitpicks, so I'm a happy camper.

UNIT dating gets another twist here, with the third Doctor running around UNIT HQ contemporaneously (in 1982, putting this second to Paradise of Death for late Pertwee dating). Having four different alien species running around is quite fun, partly because it only really appears towards the end. The double Ace subplot really shouldn't work as well as it does, but it spices up the middle section of the book magnificently, which would otherwise drag. I like that it's clearly stated that this is a one time only trick, as well. And I have to admit, I was utterly fooled by the Doctor's solution at the end, which is quite brilliant. Relative Dementias is that rarest of things - a Doctor Who book whose ending actually holds together satisfactorily.

There's a reference to Drift (the next PDA) that's quite cute, but sadly spoiled for having it thrown at us no less than three times. The other mysterious flashback is really intriguing, though. I have absolutely no idea what this is referring to and no idea where this is going. I hope it's heading somewhere (and soon, hopefully). I've always liked the idea of PDA story arcs, although I'll freely admit that I'm just guessing that this is what that is. Oh, and the moving of Ace's "Gale" surname to her middle name is done with considerable panache.

All in all, Relative Dementias is great stuff. It's very nicely self-contained, in all the best ways, without feeling inconsequential. There are some really nice twists to a plot that's already working well and very few things that go even slightly wrong. Michalowski is going to be an author to watch.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 25/1/03

There have been many fascinating locales in DW, where the author/scripter, has twisted something familiar to give it a haunting air. Graystairs, an Old People's Home for Alzheimers sufferers, is one such place. The author grew up in one such home, and "writing what you know about" is taken on board extremely well. The home is full of horrors without the other-worldly connection, and this kind of realism mixed with the fantastic is where the book is at its most powerful.

The cover evokes feelings of isolation. DW books have never had it better than the last years covers. The Scottish setting further enforces this. But it is the story that creates the mood, the Home for the Elderly away from civilization, cut off, isolated. There is a nearby village, complete with village pub, cafe and post office - utilized for much needed fact finding by the Doctor and Ace - but the attention is on the Home.

The story is not wholly set around Graystairs though. It does go further afield thanks to the alien influence, but never off the planet. For part of the book Ace ends up many miles from the Doctor in an even more secluded setting. Scotland is ideal for such story-telling. The author successfully conveys these lonely places, bringing to the novel a massive amount of "away from it all" atmosphere. The harshness of the Scottish coasts and islands has rarely been presented with such style, and you get pulled into the narrative in a wonderful way.

For Ace this is a wonderful book. She's the Ace we knew and liked from TV, and the partnership with the Doctor is one of book's highlights. She's just not sure what he's up to, but does her best in every situation anyway. The 25th and 26th Season is brought back with clarity and skill, and it suits this atmospheric tale well. Both characters are spot on, very much like Mike Tucker and Robert Perry's work (that's a grand compliment by the way). Yet again this Doctor/Companion combination get the best material.

It is in the characterization of the residents of the Home though, where the author excels. With illnesses intact, and horrifyingly yet sympathetically portrayed, this group are familiar yet distant. You wouldn't wish their suffering on your worst enemies, and you feel for their families. This is DW with stark realism. The fantastic story does not mock their affliction, it just happens around them, they being part of the emphasis.

Mark Michalowski has given us a real page turner here. I was absolutely fascinated by what would happen next, eagerly pulling the book out to read on the train, at dinnertimes at work, every spare moment I had just so I could continue on with it. The author carefully builds up the whole picture, resulting a satisfying and exhilarating read. The way he intricately brings all the clues and pieces together is excellent. The final chapters were a brilliant conclusion to an excellent book.

It has restored my faith in the Past Doctor Books. It further emphasizes the fact that these books do not rehash old plotlines, they just contain great characters that deserve more stories to be told about them. Without going outside the boundaries of what the 7th Doctor/Ace era represented the world is familiar, yet the story is different and bold. The best kinds of Past Doctor Adventures bring out the best of Doctor Who.

Relative Dementias is a fantastic read. One of the best Past Doctor Adventures on the market. 9/10

The Missing New Adventure by Jason A. Miller 14/11/03

Now that the Past Doctor Adventures no longer feature that little back cover blurb telling you in between which televised Doctor Who stories the book took place, it's fun to play that game at home. Relative Dementias, a rookie effort by Mark Michalowski, is almost definitely set during the TV show's 26th and final season -- witness a reference to that season's premiere, Battlefield, and the Doctor wearing the dark-brown coat he sported only in that season. Ace fails to recognize alien technology she'll later meet in a novel set during the putative "Season 27" (the linked PDAs written by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry). So, most likely, Relative Dementias takes place before the New Adventures happened.

However, this book IS a New Adventure. In tone and texture and content, it's as close as we've seen to an NA since that series lost its Doctor Who license early in 1997.

And yes, by being an NA, Relative Dementias is far better than many of the PDAs (or EDAs) that came before it.

Although the majority of the book is set in Scotland in 1982 (a year characterized solely by references to the Falkland Islands... with one "Star Wars" in-joke that could also have worked in 2002), there's an intro sequence and a coda set in the London of 2012. Overlaying the book is a moderately nifty time paradox involving this other time zone.

Relative Dementias also touches on deeply personal issues, apart from the science fiction. The novel's early thrust is Alzheimer's Disease -- much of the book takes place in a home for Alzheimer's patients. Another character is revealed, late in the book, to have a rare genetic disorder. The book's "main" character, a UNIT scientist named Joyce Brunner (like the NAs, this book partly shifts focus off the Doctor in favor of an original character), is introduced as an old friend having family issues of her own -- involving not just her aging mother, but also her rebellious son -- a UNIT cadet.

So, here's a book that begins nicely, and ends nicely. In between, there's the author's-first-novel sin of.. well, just too much running around. A chase around the Alzheimer's home, a dash through the woods, a detour to a deserted island (seemingly inexplicable until you get to the end), and, hey!, since this is Doctor Who, a fight in a seemingly abandoned church.

The other sin is the conflict. Joyce's son is mad at the Doctor; Ace gets mad at the Doctor. You get the picture. I'm not sure why, though. The Doctor's final gambit is rather clever (and laugh-out-loud funny). Ace's negative reaction, however, sours the book, and I'm not quite sure I sympathize with her. Then again, gratuitous Ace angst was par for the course in the NAs, so you'd expect to find the problem here too. Even though there's a happy ending, and a party over the last 15 pages (a technique well pioneered in the NAs by Paul Cornell), there's a foreboding cliffhanger, of sorts, involving a frightening new memory plaguing the Doctor.

On the whole, if you want to remember what compelling Doctor Who fiction used to look like, Relative Dementias (while certainly not on the level of Festival of Death) is a good place to start. It's also the best 7th Doctor PDA I've read to this point.

A Review by Rob Matthews 23/6/04

Hmm, on reflection I'd describe this as a book I wanted to like a lot more than I ultimately did.

Probably the fault of that gorgeous cover design really, which, along with the subject matter - mysterious goings-on in a home for Alzheimer's patients -, suggested a very different and more down-to-Earth kind of Who book. I must admit I was sorta judging the book by its cover when I bought it, and having just finished reading a few 'Buggered Time' EDAs in a row, I was actually looking forward to something a little more relaxed and small-scale. It looked kinda melancholy, but what the hey, that's what the Seventh Doctor is good at, and it's been a while since I've travelled with he and Ace. That was the other factor in my optimism; I have a lot of goodwill for that particular TARDIS team (as opposed to the, um, 'badwill' toward 'em harbored by Terrence Keenan!), even despite doubts that there's anything much left to be done with them at this point. IMO we've so heavily trod through the emotional mill with this pair that any PDAs that feature them really ought to be accentuating the more playful side to their relationship which was jettisoned over the course of the NAs.I was hoping this book would do just that.

My reaction upon reading the novel... well, let's say it was one of incremental disappointment. Nothing so bad as to make me roll my eyes or fall asleep or chuck the book across the room, instead a slow-acting page by page erosion of initial expectations, the knowledge easing its way through my cerebrum that it wasn't going to be all that special after all. The book is enjoyable enough, nicely written and with a good handle on the Seventh Doctor and Ace and the fact that in spite of being renowned for 'Angst' they could actually, you know, be fun to be with, dammit, but it's just... nothing exceptional. And 'exceptional' what I was expecting. My assumptions - hopes - aforehand were that a Doctor Who novel dealing with a real-world condition like Alzheimer's would have the common sense and taste not to simply treat that condition as a pretext for a silly invading-aliens-type runaround. One expects a few aliens and transmats and so forth to turn up along the way of course, because this is after all Doctor Who, but when Doctor Who 'does' reality it surely ought to be respectful to that reality.

I'd read an author interview on the beeb website and Michalowski seemed a nice bloke who knew a bit about Greystairs-type environments. That more than anything raised expectations. Not unreasonably surely, I was expecting something that dealt more fully with the theme of memory, and the loss of it. Whereas instead I found the subject of memory loss was just part of the plot mechanics of a very average Who story. For me that rather cheapens a serious subject. Indeed if you chose to be harsh you could paint this story as a highly tasteless one, Doctor Who's sturdy old 'dangers hidden in the everyday' ethos gone bad; having done stories about killer shop window dummies, killer Egyptian mummies, killer plants and killer kittens, we now have one about... killer Alzheimer's patients. Summarised thus, you must admit it sounds a wee bit dodgy.

I don't want to get on my high horse though. Really it's just that it's disappointing to see a book with this much potential written by a talented first time author gradually emerge as nothing more than a bog standard alien invasion story.

Still, I think Michalowski has it in him to be a very good Doctor Who author (I'll be interested to read Halflife), and his main problem here seems to be in disciplining himself and getting the proportions right. Biggest example: a hefty chunk of narrative space is given over to a rather pointless and ill-fitting sub-New Adventure strand about the UNIT officer Michael Brunner's resentment of the Doctor, a man who he believes just ponces around grandstanding against alien invaders while the normal people who make up the UNIT ranks die unacknowlegded. Well, fair enough this is a subject worth addressing (disregarding for now the fact that it's been done before - most effectively in Christmas on a Rational Planet), but if you're going to do it in a PDA then for goodness' sake why not do it in a Pertwee one where it would actually bloody fit? The Seventh Doctor of Relative Dementias is the televsion version, not yet the New Adventures one, and this much venom directed at him at this point in his activities just seems random and out of place; I recall for example that in Remembrance of the Daleks he tried to distract Group Captain Gilmore and his men with a load of pointless busy work at the school precisely to avoid unnecessary death - I think these days the TV Seventh Doctor is getting to be just as misunderstood by fandom as the Sixth! To take the biggest example - it's become as commonplace for fans to say the Seventh Doctor blew up planets as it has for them to claim the Sixth Doctor chucked someone into an acid bath, and it's just as wrong; Davros blew up Skaro after the Doctor gave him every chance to surrender the Hand of Omega. So to my mind this isn't a Doctor who needs to be taught a lesson in caring about the little people, and when the book decides to teach him that lesson it's not only unnecessary, it's predicated on what I believe to be a misunderstanding of the character.

And worse than this it's plain irrelevant! Because as I've mentioned this is narrative space being taken away from what should be the focus here. The relationship between Doctor Joyce Brunner and her mother, for example, is treated far too perfunctorily - she has an argument with her in one scene which lacks any sense of passion and just comes across as a rough guideline of what a 'family argument' should look like - 'I wish you were the one who'd died instead of dad!' stuff done not very well or convincingly, patent lip service. Similiarly there's her desire to keep her mother in Graystairs even when she's realised that aliens and spaceships and suchlike are involved, which could, nay should, have been convincing - if this is the only way my mother can be made well then dammit I'll take it - but isn't, because we've no real sense of Joyce's journey up to his point, the hopes and disappointments and gradual building of unconscious resentments on the way. So instead it feels faintly ludicrous instead (the moreso when at one point it appears she manages to just saunter off to her mother's room while Sooal has a gun trained on Ace, the Doctor and herself!). If the narrative attention frittered away on Michael's chipped shoulder and a bunch of old Doctor-chastising had instead been given to Joyce and her mother, or for that matter the equally underwritten relationship between Joyce and her son, I think the book would have gained a lot more focus. And Michalowski is capable of writing a bit of family tension - he does it here with with John and Alexander, the two men in a boat. But that attention seems equally misdirected - John and Alexander are minor characters really, and yet the author seems more concerned with painting in their background and relationship dynamics than he is with those of the ostensibly more central ones like Joyce. It's like he didn't want his minor characters to look like mere ciphers (the Pertwee Poacher syndrome), but forgot to extend the same care to his major ones. James Enright has mentioned this characterisation problem with the book too, so at least I know it's not just me being inattentive - when someone called Claire turned up in the latter part of the book, for example, I assumed she must have been there all along but couldn't for the life of me remember who the hell she was!

Ace gets quite a bit to do here, twice over, but for God's sake do we have to go through all these trust issues with her and the Doctor yet again? I mean it was alright in the NAs (except those times when it wasn't, of course) because it was still fresh back then, but this is exactly the sort of poxy retreading of well-worn old ground the Seventh Doc PDAs should be avoiding, and as Jason A Miller has pointed out, Ace's anger at the Doctor's little gambit at the end is a wholly unnecessary downer that just makes her look like a twat.

Overall I think this both a poor book and a surprisingly pleasant read. It wastes its potential, treats sensitive subject matter inappropriately, underdevelops its central characters, spends too much time on moribund oh-Doctor-how-could-you material, and uses a time-travel gimmick that's like an ultra-lite decaffeinated sugar-free low-tar tiny-portion-without fries version of what Jonathan Morris did in Festival of Death ... and yet somehow it's difficult to actually hate. It has a likeable patina throughout, which is really something of an achievement in itself; this book seems to have successfully ducked a lot of the criticism which in all honesty it deserves - for blundering carelessly into material that should be treated sensitively, and for gratuitously trying to be 'the NA that never was' at the expense of its own damn story. I can only put our relative indulgence down to the effect of a nice unforced prose style and the sense of enthusiasm from an author with a lot of potential who hasn't quite cracked it. One to re-read when he's produced his own Who classic perhaps.

(Small aside on the the 'UNIT dating' - not some kind of singles evening for the staff of C19 you understand -, which plonks the Pertwee era squarely in 1982: To tell the truth I didn't particularly notice this 'til I reacquainted myself with the reviews on this site, but if anything I'd have to commend Mark on cheekily adding to the confusion by shunting the dates even further forward. Dunno why it got Finn Clark so irked; it seems almost anti-fannish to me!)