THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Iceberg
Virgin Books
Sanctuary

Author David A. McIntee Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20439 5
Published 1995
Cover Peter Elson

Synopsis: The Doctor and Bernice find themselves in medieval France amidst wars of succession and crusades. The Doctor imperonates a Scottish emissary, while Bernice finds herself at the mercy of the Spanish Inquisition.


Reviews

A Review by Sean Gaffney 12/8/99

You know, after being told that I liked these books too much, I desperately wanted to hate one so that I could give it a scathing review.

*SIGH*

Herein follows a review for the bwilliant Sanctuary, by David McIntee.

I often put NA authors into categories by length, i.e.

very short books: Nigel Robinson
short books: Paul Cornell, Kate Orman
longish: Andy Lane, Jim Mortimore.
Huge! - Falls the Shadow, Warlock

David Mcintee went from one to the other, so I find it difficult...

um. Where was I?

Sanctuary features perhaps the best Benny characterization since Love and War, and she has the book all to herself, which admittedly is not all tea, weddings, and bridesmaids. Her romance is realistic and doomed in a gothic way. Kudos here.

The Doctor. Excellent. Knows he can't get involved, and hates it.

Others: WOW! Here is something that David always does well: his books never have a character out of place, and they all have relevance.

9/10, mainly because it was painful at times (in a good way, but...)


Sanctuary Revisited by Jason A. Miller 8/9/99

It's been well over four years since the Inquisition-era historical, Sanctuary, first graced bookstore shelves. It was only David A. McIntee's third book; since then, in spite of numerous hints about leaving the series, he's become one of the most prolific authors of the various DW lines. Any review of Sanctuary, then, should seek to examine that books place within McIntee's own corner of the DW-verse.

I posted my original review of Sanctuary in the summer of 1995, and focussed mainly on the novel's prose shortcomings. Subsequent McIntee novels have been shorter and better edited. A lot of those original criticisms, then, have lost their relevance for all but McIntee's first-time readers.

This is the first paragraph of the novel:

A primitive world, unblemished by the speckled glow of artificial lighting, seemed to be nothing else but a shadowy hole in the island galaxy that spun silently in the sea of night.
On July 8th of 1995, I wrote: "What does this mean? I haven't figured it out yet. It's almost certainly McIntee's idea of poetry, but when a novel's first paragraph has to be read ten times in order to be comprehended, it's time to start over."

"And, when McIntee isn't busy overwriting, he's far too busy being unoriginal. It's fair to say that Sanctuary contains not one original thought. A long early chapter in which the TARDIS is menaced by an astronomical phenomenon results in a long stroll through the depths of the TARDIS. Do we learn anything new? No -- all we get to see are leftover props from The Invasion of Time; later on, the Doctor and Bernice play Fizzbin."

But Sanctuary is finally not without merit. The pure historical adventure is still a rarity in '90s Who fiction, and Sanctuary is well detailed and evocative. In defense of its story, I wrote:

"The characters, bar two or three, are either political players, Church zealots, noble heretics, or "embittered mercenaries" (as McIntee calls DeCarnac on the boilerplate). What saves DeCarnac is that the cliches in which he speaks are strongly delineated -- he comes alive, in a fashion. And the 13th century characters are sophisticated in their own right -- they plot, feel, and hate with a degree that other NA writers [haven't] deploy[ed] on Gods and 111th century waiters."

"The tragedy of Bernice's and DeCarnac's last moments is [strongly-written] and painful -- until the book's last line. Typically, McIntee can't think of anything to say (as Gatiss or Cornell had done three years ago). So Sanctuary's last line -- the line with which we're supposed to remember this novel forever -- is merely a wholesale quote from "The City on the Edge of Forever". Ho-hum."

But that was then. Since 1995, McIntee has written better, and far worse (his next novel quickly became known on-line as Lords of the Yawn). If you're going to read Sanctuary for the first time today, you probably know just what to expect from the author. In the context of McIntee's oeuvre, Sanctuary is a quality book. Just don't despair of the first page, and head right to the nitty-gritty of the story. And keep an eye out for the Doug McClure reference, a recurring theme in McIntee's early books! It may after all be a good thing that McIntee is not the Author That Time Forgot.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 4/6/03

Sanctuary did one thing very right. But it drowned that one shining beacon of quality in a plethora of things that were off, or dull, or just unnecessary. I found reading this to be a very frustrating experience. On the surface, it has a lot going for it. It's a pure historical, which hadn't been seen for a long time. It features just the Doctor and Benny, a combination that wasn't used as often as it should have been. The setting (medieval France with the Crusades as a backdrop) is intriguing. However, virtually nothing is executed well. The sole exceptions are the secondary character of Guy de Carnac and his relationship with Benny.

The story opens with a pointless and endless sequence of the Doctor and Benny surviving some technobabble invader, which eventually deposits them in the main portion of the plot. If this section had been removed, nothing at all would have been lost. I never really understood the lengths that some authors will go through to insert the Doctor and companion team into the story. Caves of Androzani aired here recently, and the difference between that opening and Sanctuary's couldn't have been more pronounced. Robert Holmes doesn't bother with long explanations about why the Doctor happened to land on Androzani Minor; he just launches into the story at full-speed. Sanctuary would have been greatly helped had the introduction explanations been completely removed. The only reason they seem to exist here is for the author to indulge in numerous and inane continuity references. The book is virtually at a standstill until McIntee gets all of this out of his system.

The main problem that I had with Sanctuary is that is was deathly boring. There was a one hundred, fifty-page section in the middle that I simply had to force myself to get through. The single interesting thing going on was the nicely understated relationship developing between Benny and Guy de Carnac. I looked forward to these sections to pull me through the tedium that was the rest of the story. I just couldn't make myself care about any part of the main plot. The Doctor's subplot is dull. The whodunit is dull. The Inquisition-era politics is dull. The fight scenes go on for far too long, and they're dull. The base-under-siege mentality is unoriginal, and dull. I simply couldn't get excited about any of these parts of the story. If I ever decide to reread this one, I think I'll restrict myself to only reading the Guy portions, and to completely skip the rest.

Despite not liking most of Sanctuary, if McIntee's Guy trilogy of books ever materializes, I'd be interested in reading them. Guy de Carnac is not only one of the few good things about this novel, but he is a genuinely intriguing character in his own right. His reactions to his surroundings, his attitude, his point of view and his back-story are all quite strong. He does fall into cliche at times, but is a solid enough character in other ways to rise above that. One of the best moments in the story comes as a dream/flashback sequence in the later half, featuring an examination of Guy's background. It's a shocking moment, and one that shines as a giant diamond in a sea of turgid writing.

As well as being a great cure for insomnia, the book does itself no favors on the prose-front either. When it's not purple, it's workmanlike. When it's not workmanlike, it's awkward. When it's not awkward, it's incomprehensible. The aforementioned dream sequence is the only point in the book when the actual writing itself doesn't interfere with the story being told.

And, yet, I feel that buried in here somewhere was a really good story. If the numerous fight scenes had been harshly trimmed back, if the lethargic opening scenes were cut entirely, if some of the secondary characters had been written as people rather than as instruments to further the plot, if the editor had been a little more liberal with the red ink. If all these things had been done, I think we'd be looking at a really good story. Of course, it would only be about half as long and would probably need to be printed in a gigantic font to boost the page-count, but we can't have everything, can we?


A Review by Finn Clark 10/4/04

I adored Sanctuary in 1995, regarding it as McIntee's masterpiece and one of the highpoints of the Doctor Who novels. Rereading it in 2004, I still think it's powerful, evocative and moving. Not only is its romance one of my favourites in Who, but as a historical it's also the most evocative to date. The Witch Hunters has a more moving ending and The Plotters is funnier, but for sustained intensity and conjuration of a bygone era they don't hold a candle to Sanctuary. [McIntee's only rival in this specific respect, oddly enough, is another 13th century story: Asylum.]

A small digression... Historicals are unlike other novels. They're a million miles away from SF, for a start. The story and characters are important, naturally, but just as important is the setting. Historical novels transport their readers to a world that really existed and try to make us understand what it must have been like to live then. Futuristic SF occasionally shoots for that kind of worldbuilding, but not from quite the same angle and hardly ever within the TV tie-in sub-genre (Doctor Who, Star Trek, etc.) Of course Doctor Who muddies the issue with pseudo-historicals. It would take five minutes, tops, to rewrite Mark of the Rani's script for any century whatsoever, especially since its second episode practically forgets that it was ever a historical in the first place. However the novels are novels (d'oh!) and must play by the rules of their chosen medium.

Sanctuary's prose is a bit turgid at the start (something I've said before about McIntee novels) but he really brings the 13th century to life. As with Lovecraft, sometimes it's good to drench the narrative in layers of description. This is a long novel by Who standards (about 300 pages) with a fairly straightforward plot, but its careful pace and painstaking scene-setting are what make it special. That's what I missed in books like The Witch Hunters and Bunker Soldiers, which were good stories that nevertheless didn't seem to put much effort into evoking their chosen eras. In that sense they almost felt more like novelisations than novels. (Mind you, the heavy prose I'm praising in Sanctuary is what bogged down First Frontier and Lords of the Storm, but that's another review.)

Doctor Who fans often praise the show's ability to embrace so many genres, including historicals. David A. McIntee's similar literary experimentation hasn't always been successful, but with Sanctuary he hit the bullseye.

One oddity struck me. Certain authors have favourite periods, e.g. Lawrence Miles (late 18th century), but Doctor Who's historical novels have tended to concentrate on certain eras. Apart from Miles and Kate Orman we've had clumps in the 13th century (Bunker Soldiers, Sanctuary, Asylum) and the 17th century (The Plotters, The Empire of Glass, The Roundheads, The Witch Hunters) and otherwise not a lot until the 1870s... whereupon they start coming at the rate of three a decade. It's almost as if the late Victorian era has become so familiar that it's no longer historical and is now merely 'period'.

Sanctuary has McIntee's strongest cast, good guys and bad guys alike. Guy de Carnac kicks arse, while the villains are poison. The Inquisition is bent on religious genocide, wiping out entire societies on a point of faith, but that's not the half of it. Guzman is vile, but Louis de Citeaux and Philippe de Montfort are flat-out evil. These guys make most Doctor Who bad guys look like Pinky and Perky. You're desperate to see them die, preferably over a period of several hours at the hands of their own torturers. [That's not my usual cheerful hyperbole, by the way. I was genuinely disappointed that the villains' deaths in Sanctuary weren't more drawn-out and agonised.]

The last hundred pages of Sanctuary are less intense than the first two hundred because the villains take more of a back seat. The Doctor and Benny are engrossed in a murder mystery instead, which is still good stuff but less powerful than our heroes going toe-to-toe with monstrous bastards. In those earlier sections, Sanctuary shows the NA Doctor at his best. He's strong, menacing, ominous and trapped in a situation so grave that even his darkest hours don't feel inappropriate. [However he also gets a few McCoy moments in the last third, just to show it's not all gloom and doom.]

Benny is recognisably herself, albeit more capable and efficient than the Bridget Jones "academic in a pub" version she's become in recent years. This Benny has an astonishing memory, a detailed recall of 13th century history (not implausible but still impressive) and is more than handy at aikido. McIntee has said he was ready to write this book for other TARDIS crews, but the 7th Doctor and Benny are so perfect for it that I can't imagine it with anyone else. Hartnell could have pulled off the 7th Doctor's role here, but no one could have replaced Benny. Her relationship with Guy de Carnac works so well that for years afterwards I begrudged Jason Kane for not being Guy.

[Incidentally we recently heard that McIntee will be writing Guy de Carnac novels for Twenty First Century Books. The first one, provisionally called Descent, is due later in 2004. Can't say I'm surprised.]

Sanctuary has plenty of continuity references, but the ones I noticed were generally to other NAs. I didn't mind those. When exploring the TARDIS in Chapter Two, it doesn't feel inappropriate to mention Nightshade, Iceberg, Blood Heat, All-Consuming Fire, White Darkness, Infinite Requiem and more. The danger with continuity references is that they can pull you out of a book, but Sanctuary sustains its mood so strongly that this is never a problem. The Knights Templar appear in its pages as the shadowy manipulators of overheated 19th-century imagination, but at least in 1242 they still really existed (i.e. it's before Philip the Fair's demolition job on 'em in 1307-14). I can live with that.

I adored this book, though many of the qualities I admire in it are subjective. I love McIntee's experiments with archaic vocabulary, unlike many readers I'm sure. Similarly its prose style and attempts at 13th-century dialogue won't be everyone's cup of tea. Nevertheless I still regard it as a highpoint in the Doctor Who books, an excellent read and a standard-setting historical that in some ways still hasn't been surpassed. They don't write them like this any more.