Pyramids of Mars
The Sands of Time
|ISBN#||0 426 20472 7|
|Continuity||Between Arc of Infinity
Sequel to: Pyramids of Mars
|Synopsis: The Doctor and Tegan encounter events out of order. Nyssa disappears, having been kidnapped to be the bodily reincarnation of Nepthys, sister and wife of Sutekh...|
A Review by Shaun Lyon 18/8/99
There's a sure way to hook me on a novel -- steep it in antiquity, give it an Egyptian flavor, and usually I'm sold. I'm a big fan of Egyptology and studies of that ancient culture; that was one of the reasons why one of my all-time favorites of the Tom Baker era was Pyramids of Mars (and why I love the film "Stargate," despite its obvious flaws). It was also why I was looking forward with baited breath to the new Missing Adventures novel The Sands of Time. Once I bought it, that's when everything went downhill.
The first thing that struck me was the author of the book, Justin Richards, which hadn't caught me before I bought it. The last Missing Adventures book of his that I read, System Shock, I detested -- not because of the story, which normally would have been excellent, but the execution. Specifically, I didn't care for System's pages and pages of exposition without so much as a line of dialogue in half a chapter's span. I don't like a paragraph of "what happened on Friday" and then moving on to another, whole scenes of dialogue reduced to "The Doctor and Mr. Jones spoke about it and the Doctor learned X, Y and Z." That's not good writing; you should never sacrifice your characters for your plot.
I was very much afraid that Richards would pull the same thing in Sands of Time. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he hadn't, but once things got going I realized I was in for a new problem: contrivance. Plotlines that take thirty separate pieces to put together before they tell a single strand of action are as fragile as the strand that holds them together; it takes a Great Talent to achieve it. Agatha Christie is a perfect example of a writer with flawless execution; for example, in her excellent "Ten Little Indians," Christie put ten people on an island, picked them off one by one, and the killer turned out to be someone already presumed dead. Not one to rest on coincidence, Christie then explained how the culprit had lived, what their motivations were, and how each and every person was killed from the shadows by showing us the pieces of the puzzle that were very much in front of us the first time around. I've only seen this same sort of detail achieved once on television: for all of its flaws, Babylon 5 is a masterpiece of the maze of plotlines; this was most evident in the "War Without End" two-parter, as we discovered Jeff Sinclair was destined to become the great Minbari leader Valen a thousand years ago, and the producers showed us hints which were always there, we just never picked up on them. Delenn's transformation happened exactly the same way.
Only one Missing Adventures novelist so far (at least the ones I've read; there are a couple I haven't, even though I own everything in Virgin's book series) has pulled off the contrived plot with ease: Craig Hinton in his outstanding Crystal Bucephalus. Hinton was able to tie in several strands that seemed to be completely unrelated and ended up with perhaps the single greatest example of technobabble that worked in every form of literature I've ever read. It was all nonsense, but it was literal nonsense, and it worked. (To give you an example of technobabble that does not work, tune into any episode of Star Trek: Voyager.)
Now that I've pontificated half of this review away, let me get back to my argument: Richards' contrived plotline didn't work. We end up seeing the 3/4's point of the story first, as the Doctor arrives with Nyssa and Tegan in London and everyone already seem to know him. Nyssa's immediately kidnapped and spends the rest of the novel locked in a sarcophagus; this is the kind of thing that John Nathan-Turner did with his companions in early Davison episodes because stories were already written with two instead of three companions, hence Nyssa's spending most of Kinda asleep. This time, around, it was for the sake of motivation on the Doctor and Tegan's part, as they then travel back in time to Egypt, then forward in time, all to unlock a mystery surrounding an ancient evil.
That ancient evil, it turns out, is related to Pyramids of Mars, which this book is noted as a sequel but in actuality only shares a theme with, that of the Osirans. (The most recent New Adventure, GodEngine, also uses the Pyramids themes, albeit on Mars rather than Earth.) Sutekh is gone, of course; Tom Baker destroyed him. That, however, doesn't mean that his sister/wife Nephthys is dead... she was supposedly the more evil of the two, and now, her servant on Earth, Sadam Rassul, has devised a method for freeing Nephthys from her deep sleep by using Nyssa. Of course, that's when things go a little crazy; it turns out the plan needs two women, Nyssa and another girl, and somehow, a prologue chapter involving George and Ann Talbot-Cranleigh from Black Orchid all ties into it.
By this point, I was ready to put the book down. The ending wasn't really much of a payoff either; the whole point of Ann Talbot was really no more than a clever way of getting out of a storyline without suffering many consequences. Nyssa is now two-thousand years older than everyone else around here (she doesn't look a day over 845!), and Tegan is so manipulated by the Doctor in this story that I half expected a chapter late in the book with the Davison Doctor talking to the McCoy Doctor about some sort of master plan. (The Doctor-as-manipulator is a theme very much a part of the New Adventures, as the McCoy Doctor has become Time's Champion.)
The supporting cast is quite a jumble as well, mostly because, other than a butler named Atkins who stays with the Doctor and Tegan, there are very few that make any sort of lasting impression. Vanessa, a girl who becomes linked with Nyssa's fate toward the end of the book, is little more than a faceless name who we really don't care about in time when she falls victim to Nephthys' evil. The others are rather lackluster.
I enjoyed some of the sequences in Egypt, but I was put off a little by the intricate descriptions of the hieroglyphs, as if they were anything other than red herrings. Likewise, I was also a little irritated when Richards had the Doctor and Tegan spend the night in the Savoy, followed by breakfast; the Davison Doctor, known to many who know me as my all-time favorite, was always a man of action who would spend his time getting into trouble rather than sitting a night out. Given the fact that Nyssa, a companion I have always believed he felt especially close to (given her scientific mind and intense compassion for those less fortunate than herself), is on the precipice of oblivion, I'd think that Davison's Doctor would have jumped into the situation and been up to his neck in danger before the first crumpet cooled at brunch. Tegan, more inclined to protest the Doctor's lack of action than assisting him in rescuing a woman who has obviously become one of her dearest friends of all, is wildly out of character in this novel as well.
It took me nearly two weeks to get through Sands of Time. I am quite satisfied with the story itself, but the execution could have been handled much better. I am certainly no fan of this author.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 21/9/99
Most people have their favorite DW author. A lot of people mention Kate Orman and Paul Cornell, excellent choices. Some mention Gareth Roberts, or Terrance Dicks. I could argue, but OK. A couple mention Barry Letts and Neil Penswick. Let's not even go there.
But for me, it's been Justin Richards. Three times has he released a book, and each time have I been amazed. Theatre of War - stunning. System Shock - thrilling. And now The Sands of Time - complex and brilliant. This was the first of the so-called "sequel" books that are coming out all through the summer. A sequel to Pyramids of Mars, regarded as the sine qua non of DW, it nevertheless manages to pull it off. Let's discuss:
PLOT: Gah. This book twists and turns like...a twisty turny thing. Told sort of sideways in terms of events, it nevertheless manages to drop enough hints to keep us one step ahead of Tegan, if not the Doctor. Has the feeling of a Christie mystery, sort of Styles meets Death on the Nile.
THE DOCTOR: Totally Peter Davison. Breathless, endearing, capable of even more righteous indignation than Tom Baker was, the Doctor marches through the book, filling in blanks, watching as people die all round (a Davison forte), and coming up with a brilliant bluff. Cornell would be proud.
TEGAN: Better written here than in most of the TV eps, this Tegan manages to be bitchy without being annoying, and seems used to the Doctor at last. A grown-up Tegan, something this era lacked at times.
NYSSA: Mostly absent, but still Nyssa-ish. I like the description of her as the ultimate innocent.
OTHERS: Atkins is sort of the Jeeves of the book. I imagined Stephen Fry playing him, which worked out fine. Rassul is sort of the villain, I guess, but he's mainly there to be chilling.
MOOD: Totally gothic. Lots o' mummys, some burning shoulder corpses, and lamb cutlet fun - who could ask for anything more?
OVERALL: I really liked this book. With Happy Endings and History of the Universe on top of it, May is perhaps the best book month...since the one with Justin's last book. More!
A Worthy Sequel by Richard Radcliffe 22/2/01
Sequels to classic stories are so often disappointing. This is the best Book sequel to a TV serial DW has created. The story it follows is Pyramids of Mars, that wonderful tale of Egyptian mythology disguised as Who. This book uses all the ethos of that story, to create another Classic tale.
The story switches scenes constantly. We join the TARDIS crew in Pyramids, stately homes, museums. It is primarily a story of friendship. The 5th Doctor, at his heroic best, and Tegan, displaying much compassion, search for Nyssa who has been kidnapped.
As a Missing Adventure it faithfully re-captures the essence of the 5th Doctor era. Only Gareth Roberts has done this as well as Justin Richards does here. The overall effect is a classic adventure, with a strong focus - Nyssa's disappearance.
Highly enjoyable. It is amongst the very best of DW fiction. 10/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 13/4/01
The Sands Of Time proves that there is nothing like a good story told well. Even if it is a sequel, in this instance being Pyramids Of Mars. Justin Richards does a great job in characterising the Fifth Doctor and Tegan (whose most annoying habits are played down) and the relationship he presents between the two is one more of discomfort than anything else. It is therefore a shame that Nyssa is unconscious for the vast majority of the book, although this is part of the plot; the final act of revenge of Sutekh`s sister/wife Nephthys.
The plot does see the book jumping from time period to time period, perhaps inevitably, and as such requires reading in one go. Although it also withstands repeated reading and demands your attention. This is just as well as you woudn`t necessarily think it was a sequel without looking at the cover, as The Sands Of Time doesn`t refer back to Pyramids Of Mars too often. This proves that it can be called a story in its own right as well as a sequel and a top one at that. 9/10.
What Balls by Terrence Keenan 30/4/03
Justin Richards pulls out all the tricks in The Sands of Time, a direct sequel featuring The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa in a battle to prevent the rebirth of Sutekh's wife, Nephthys.
JR messes with cause and effect. He plays with time lines. There are plot twists galore, a lot of them obvious. Some not so. But there is one that... well you'll have to read it to find out for yourself. Although, fanwank-haters will no doubt roll their eyes and speak in tongues.... Since Justin Richards is my second favorite writer, I'll give him a bit of latitude. JR is having his usual fun, with early chapter setups paying off in the climax.
He manages to give the Fifth Doctor some much needed personality, and shows him to be more than just an innocent -- something most of the fifth Doctor books have neglected. Tegan is bitchy, as in the series, but by sidelining Nyssa (in a way that's integral to the plot) she's given some room to show other traits of personality. The guests characters are fuctions, although well written ones. The two standouts are the main villain, Rassul, and Adkins, a butler who comes along for the wild ride with the Doc and Tegan.
Um, the plot... well, I've summed up the gist of it at the beginning of this review. But this is a Justin Richards books, so you know the path is about as straight as a stumbling wino on a bender. Best to go into it as cold as possible.
The style is typical of JR, stripped-down prose that will have you turning the pages. There are several short interludes that intersect with the story which are praiseworthy. Some have payoffs in the main plot, others are just fun.
I liked The Sands of Time quite a bit, although I will admit that part of it is author appreciation. It's a top Fifth Doc novel, if only because most of the ones that have come out before and since The Sands of Time been really, really bad.
Pyramid Power... by Joe Ford 25/2/04
Rather wonderful, and an unexpected treat for those us who feel Peter Davison's era is the cack end of Doctor Who. I went into this book with little preconceptions and enjoyed it twice over, it is a prime example of exactly what the current PDA's should be aiming for: a surprising plot, delicious imagery, well managed regulars and a brilliant ending. Every Doctor Who book should be this good.
Robert Smith? recently commented in his Time Zero review that it is amazing that author Justin Richards is still at the top of his game after so many years (and books) under his belt. This is his third book and sure indication of treasures that were to follow; Justin proudly wears his fanboy hat and bravely attempts to write a sequel to a much-loved story (loved, except by that old fool Rob Matthews!), The Pyramids of Mars. To attempt something this audacious, especially with David A McIntee's terrible Talons of Weng-Chiang sequel lingering close by, is right up Richards' street and he proudly proves just how a sequel should be done, not copying everything that the original story did wrong and adding a few new characters (stand up Twilight of the Gods, The Bodysnatchers, THE QUANTUM ARCHANGEL!!!) but to take the best of the serial (the terrifying Mummies, the Egyptian mythology, the period setting) and creating an entirely new (yet distinctly related) piece that stands up in its own right.
Pyramids of Mars is a near perfect Doctor Who story and The Sands of Time follows in its footsteps, taking the gothic horror theme to a whole new level. This is a story that revels in atmosphere and there are tons of scenes that I would love to see on screen (Yes Mike, I am still trying to shoehorn pieces of literature into moving pictures...). Take the mummy attack on their camp in Egypt, the crew all resting in their tents when suddenly these powerful, silent beasts assault, silhouetted against the moon they stride through the sand, merciless, unstoppable, until they throw some dynamite at one... it detonates and the mummy continues its advance, writhing with flames. Suddenly the power pack is struck by flame and the mummy explodes, lighting up the Egyptian night. Now tell me you wouldn't love to see that on screen? The story is crammed full of such scenes... the candlelit ceremony in the British Museum as Nyssa is sent back through time... the mummies attacking Norris' house, ripping the door from its frame... the sudden hurricane that rips through the pyramid, lifting Simons from his feet and bashing his skull in against a wall. Memorable and pretty damn scary.
Stealing away the heavy Egyptian themes from Pyramids is a fabulous idea as anything to do with this fascinating culture intrigues me. Rather than just stealing the iconic imagery -- the Pyramids, the Mummies, the bald headed tomb raiders who always crop up in these types of stories -- Justin bothers to fill us in on some of the history and mythology of ancient Egyptians. Through a series of short, snappily written interludes we discover the story of Sutekh and Nephthys and their destructive relationship with father and son Osiris and Horus. Reading this it is clear that Robert Holmes neglected his audience a bit, with a few facts to back the story up The Sands of Time helps to flesh out Pyramids of Mars considerably. That is how to write a good sequel.
You would think that the story of Nephthys' resurrection would be enough to thicken this book but Justin doesn't stop there, turning the piece into an essay on pre-destination as well. It is another of Justin's exceptional talents (I expect a big cheque for this review Justin...), how he constructs a puzzle story like this one, the Doctor and Tegan at the Savoy having already been expected, everybody seeming to know who they are and being well acquainted with the honourable Lord Kenilworth despite having only just arrived, and happens to explain it all away through a dense, non-linear plot that ties up all its loose ends. Brilliantly the first few chapters dish out a dozen or so mysteries (most of which are tantalisingly present in the blurb) and every few chapters the Doctor and Tegan correct all of the discrepancies, an example of some clever plotting and wonderful at keeping the reader interested.
Gosh golly wow this is a book that manages to take hold of the vomit-inducing team of the fifth Doctor and Tegan and squeeze a good deal of potential from their relationship. Even more astonishingly they don't actually behave that differently to how they did on the telly. Perhaps it is the access to their internal thoughts that fleshes them out more but I would rather thank the juxtaposition of having these two in a story that I would have loved for them to be in, placing this gothic horror in the diabolical season twenty is stroke of genius that benefits both characters.
Tegan Jovanka. What a woman. She'll bitch and moan and gripe and yet unlike her arrogant portrayal on the telly here she is portrayed as a confident and intelligent woman albeit with a nervous streak that makes her run off at the mouth too often. She was a joy to read about here, her concern for Nyssa was believable and sweet and her frustration with the Doctor who seems to be too involved with the puzzles than saving his friends life is understandable. If only she were given sound motives for being so pessimistic before, perhaps her and me could have got along fine.
Besides the Doctor doesn't help, all he seems to do is tell her to be quiet and wait. This is a spot on portrayal of Davison's Doctor, but the one from Frontios and Caves of Androzani, polite and friendly as he always was but with a touch of impatience and superiority to go with it. Davison would have had a ball had this been one of his scripts, a story that plays to the strengths of the characterisation he brought to the Doctor, slipping effortlessly into high society, seemingly to have a thousand thoughts rattling around in his brain and solving the problem without once resorting to violence or disagreeable behaviour. Somehow Justin manages to make this blank character shine, God bless him.
Nyssa is written out (again) and yet this time it suits the perfectly, in fact it is essential to the story's success. I had the most wonderful surprise at the end of chapter one, the only time I can admit to have said "Fucking hell..." at the climax of a Doctor Who chapter. The story is built around Nyssa's journey through time, mummified in the cellar of a British manor, and as the tale progresses it becomes patently clear how involved she actually is with the plots of Nephthys and the terrible consequences of her awakening. I do believe Nyssa's character is one that could be utilised more in the books (Empire of Death...) but just this once I will admit writing how out of the main body of the book was the perfect choice.
The secondary characters are an odd bunch, some compelling, others forgettable and this appears to be Justin's greatest weakness when it comes to storytelling. Atkins the butler is an example of Richards' ability to create replacement companions that I would love to see kept on, this guy, obedient, concise, thrilled by the opportunity to help makes a good impression and I was happy to see he got a happy ending (it is so unlike Justin to write an everyday 'nice' character into his books without something to hide and I was pleasantly surprised to see there was no such twist revelation about Atkins) as he works bloody hard with relatively little reward throughout. Razum was an effective nasty, sinister and manipulative but with a poignant backstory that refuses to paint him in black and white.
But some of extraneous characters, the helpers in the Egypt scenes, Aubrey Prior is hardly distinguishable from Kenilworth and Vanessa hardly seems to have a character at all. But a lot of them are just ciphers in Justin's crazy framework of temporal horror. With so much hopping about through time, crossing the globe and making Tegan palatable I was hardly distracted by a few bland characters.
Somebody above suggested the prose was nothing to write home about but I have disagree, so much of this book is visual, the action moves like lightning and there is always a surprise or two every couple of pages. Justin keeps you involved with some snappy dialogue, shock moments of horrific violence and some decent character conflict. Aside from the plot I would have to say this is a very good piece of writing in its own right, uncomplicated, direct but not without some depth.
Read The Sands of Time if you can get hold of it, in amongst all those throwaway Missing Adventures you will discover a diamond in the rough, one that actually bothers to tell a story and not just fill in a gap between two televised stories.
Terrific page turning stuff.
A Review by Finn Clark 21/5/04
The Sands of Time is intricate and ingenious, with a time-travelling plot that doubles back on itself in many clever ways. It's an honest sequel to Pyramids of Mars, if anything erring in the direction of being too faithful. It's also something of a fan favourite, according to Shannon's Online Rankings the fourth best regarded Virgin MA. Unfortunately I found it uninvolving.
The problem is its characters. More specifically, there aren't any. Atkins tags along and occasionally amuses with his pathological Victorianisms, but he doesn't do anything. No one does. The Doctor and his friends spend three hundred pages bouncing from pillar to post, following the plot's paper trail without ever doing anything clever or confront the bad guys. The TARDIS works overtime, taking the Doctor to 1896, 1996, 1926, 2000 BC and probably more - but never to do more than study Egyptology, sympathise with the locals and mutter ominously. The Laws of Time have much to answer for.
Mind you, at least the Doctor knows what's happening, which is more than anyone else does. This book's humans are window-dressing. I liked the relationship between Henry Atkins and Susan Warne, but it's irrelevant to the plot and only pops up for a few pages. Lord Kenilworth is amiable, but hardly compelling. Sadan Rassul scours the world for seven thousand years, presumably in the hope of acquiring a personality. Tough luck, mate. Vanessa, Norris and Prior had potential, but they're walk-on roles at the arse end of a plot that has bigger things on its mind.
Nephthys doesn't help. She's an Osirian who's even scarier than Sutekh, so her return would mean the immediate end of the world. Hmmm. Spot the plot problem. Result: second-string villains who are being manipulated by a higher power which can't come onstage and take the limelight. Nephthys doesn't even get any dialogue, unlike Sutekh. Gabriel Woolf's sinister tones were one of the best things about Pyramids of Mars, but there's no equivalent here. The result is a story that's hollow.
There are mummies. At one point there's an action scene in the desert, but otherwise they feel underused. In fact, all the book's liveliest bits have their roots in scenes from the original TV story in 1975. We even get organ music towards the end for no obvious reason!
The regulars are okay, but no more. Justin Richards does a good job of capturing Peter Davison's performance but never gives a sense of the man beneath the mannerisms. Tegan is Tegan. No real depths, just the character we saw on television. Nyssa... well, let's just say that we saw more of her in Kinda. She's important to the plot, but not as a protagonist.
The historical period is strongly portrayed, with Atkins being a walking advertisement for Victorian stiff upper lips. The 1890s are Justin Richards's home from home, with Time Zero and The Burning both set in 1894, The Sands of Time in 1896 and The Banquo Legacy in 1898. One thing I've noticed from rereading all these Victorian-era Who novels is their wide-ranging geographical exploration. This novel goes to Egypt, All-Consuming Fire to India, Time Zero to Siberia, Eye of Heaven to the Easter Islands in the Pacific, Empire of Death to the afterlife and Imperial Moon to the moon! Maybe it's an unconscious reflection of the British empire? The Victorian age is antiquated enough to be historical but modern enough to let authors do almost anything one could in a modern novel.
The Egyptian research is impressive too.
As with Goth Opera and Blood Heat, this book was echoed by a Marvel comic strip - in this case The Curse of the Scarab (DWM 228-230), which was another 5th Doctor sequel to Pyramids of Mars. Oh, and there's an unfortunate namecheck on p167: Colonel Finklestone.
I sort of enjoyed this book. It's dry and hardly thrilling, but it's an accomplished brainteaser. Its ingenuity means that it holds up well to rereading, with the exception of the "oh no, Nephthys has beaten me" climax. Justin Richards had a reputation as a master plotter which this book supports... but personally I prefer to see plots based around characters.
A Review by Brian May 23/6/04
Writing a sequel is risky enough. Writing a novelised sequel to a televised Doctor Who tale is even riskier. And writing a sequel to one of the most well known and highly acclaimed adventures in the programme's long history, Pyramids of Mars, could be a sign of insanity. Justin Richards set himself the task of doing just this, and The Sands of Time is the result. So just how does it stand up?
Rather good, actually. Of course, it's not a patch on the Tom Baker tale, but Richards has wisely kept to telling a different story, with only occasional nods to its source. The story basically concerns the attempts of the Doctor to prevent the awakening of Sutekh's wife and sister, Nephthys while at the same time saving Nyssa, who falls under her power. The plot is fundamentally unoriginal and derivative, but the real strengths of The Sands of Time don't lie here - they lie in the storytelling and narrative.
The way in which this story is told is enthralling, entertaining and very intelligent. It's unfortunate that for a series about time travel, Doctor Who has rarely looked into time paradoxes, or mind bending concepts that make you pause, reflect and actually put your brain to work and figure out what fits where and when. Day of the Daleks and Mawdryn Undead are the exceptions, but often it's Hollywood cinema, with films like the Back to the Future and Terminator series, and even non science fiction fare like Pulp Fiction and Memento have been more thought provoking than most of Doctor Who, when it comes to putting chronologically scattered pieces together.
Richards has rectified this deficiency, messing with the laws of cause and effect with skill and relish. There's the Doctor and Tegan having been known by Kenilworth and Atkins before they actually meet them. (A similar occurrence happens in Kate Orman's excellent NA, The Left-Handed Hummingbird.) There are, briefly, two Nyssas in 1896 London (she steps out of the TARDIS into the British Museum and is almost immediately kidnapped and transported back in time, but at the same time she's also in the sarcophagus, to be revealed the following day). Then of course, there's Atkins, who accompanies the Doctor and Tegan back in time; he shares the adventures in Egypt, and then has to stay out of sight because there's two of him walking about upon his return to London (bringing to mind the Brigadier in Mawdryn Undead.) This, in turn, leads to the "original" Atkins being none the wiser to his master's references to him being on the expedition. Then there's the Doctor making sure that the sarcophagus gets to London - "no matter what Blinovitch might think", to ensure that everything happens as it did in the future, but from his point of view, the past! Phew! Richards cuts and pastes all this back and forth, making it an effort, but not an unrewarding one, on the part of the reader. And the self-fulfilling prophecy on pp.171-172 is rather amusing!
Speaking of Blinovitch, it's good to see his or her famous Limitation Effect finally given an attempted explanation, whereas the televised stories glossed over it. And, to his credit, what Richards offers is quite reasonable and plausible. At least he has a go.
Another of the story's strong points are the various interludes, placed between the chapters, jumping back and forth in different time periods. Rassul is an unsettling presence; his appearance in so many different times and places gives him an omniscient air, hinting at a foe that will be difficult to defeat (done so in a rather obvious way, but it still creates the desired effect). Character-wise, Nephthys is wisely kept to the sidelines. Without going into too much plot detail, Nephthys was split in two; her body takes over the form of the clone Vanessa, while her mind is seeking to be reborn via Nyssa. But she's not seen in her true form - during the showdown at the end she effectively is Vanessa. She's an enemy by proxy, which is quite a smart move; we don't just want a carbon copy of Sutekh, and it adds to her mystery, not having her being encountered directly.
The Sands of Time is not exactly a character study; Richards never intends his players to be of any depth or magnitude. There are plenty of cliches, such as Kenilworth and his fellow Egyptologists. However, despite being the token, proper English butler, Atkins is very likable (and I think I'd rather have him as a male companion rather than Adric or Turlough - but as it stands, he deserves his happy ending with Miss Warne!). The smaller characters, such as Margaret Evans, are given the best treatment, coming across as the most three dimensional in the few paragraphs solely devoted to them. The capture and possession of Nyssa leaves her out of the proceedings, but given the surrounding televised stories, with lots of possession going on (Kinda, Time-Flight, Snakedance), this fits in well. It also allows some character focus for the Doctor and Tegan, who come across quite well - the latter's concern for Nyssa gives her a compassionate side that the televised serials never managed to convey convincingly, while her getting drunk is another moment that focuses on her "normalcy".
I mentioned earlier that there are several references to Pyramids of Mars. The service robots re-surface, in what Richards practically treats as a return guest appearance, creating havoc in a couple of memorable action scenes. The author gets very post-modern on p.189, when he has the Doctor explain away a television "goof" - namely, the fact that Sutekh had at his disposal all the tools he needed to escape. The "instant freedom or instant death" challenge, complete with Decatron crucible, also makes a comeback, an inclusion that leaves me somewhat ambivalent. It's feasible to assume that all Osiran tombs would have such traps and tests, but it's written in a style that has more than a smattering of self-consciousness - not to mention continuity awareness! The final fate of Nephthys is a more elaborate version of Sutekh's demise, and the very last line of the novel is a bit too clever for its own good.
The other glaring television reference concerns the Davison tale, Black Orchid. To avoid spoiling things, I won't go into detail, but the connection brings about the story's resolution (a clue is thrown in close to the beginning), and seems a convenient cop-out. If this had been left out, I would have been able to tolerate the more continuity conscious Pyramids references a bit more. (But despite this, Richards never goes as quite as far as Mm Cornell, Hinton or Dicks.)
And the final resolution is very convoluted. I was scratching my head, trying to work out exactly what happened (like when watching The Masque of Mandragora or Time-Flight). There's a lot of technobabble in the book aside from the ending, much of which is quite interesting, albeit unfathomable. For instance, all the mathematics and topography regarding the pyramids and their positioning, plus all the astronomy from the tests in the tomb. It's cleverly written and conceptualised, though.
But all in all, an enjoyable, well written book, in which the telling of the story is cleverly done and indeed, more enjoyable than the story itself. This is not to deride Richards's plot, but rather to compliment his skills as a writer. As sequels go, it's not bad, and I'll look forward to giving it a second read. 8/10
Circle in the Sand by Joe Briggs-Ritchie10/10/18
Nyssa was always a bit of a problem when it came to accommodating her within the plot and making sure she had enough to do instead of just shoving her out of the way. Having Tegan and Adric to compete with, she was frequently sidelined and then the same briefly with Tegan and Turlough. Justin Richards sidesteps this problem entirely by having Nyssa mummified for 4000 years in the early part of the novel. A drastic step perhaps, but it does solve the problem of her being a third wheel. In fact, if anything, it makes her central to the plot without actively taking part in it. This is rather a clever turn on the part of Justin Richards.
Justin Richard's novels aren't really what one would call profound, not in the same way that the word might be applied to the works of Kate Orman or Jim Mortimore. What they are is well-crafted page turners that are easy to read and usually very enjoyable. The Sands of Time is no exception; in fact, it's one of his better works and one of the strongest of the Missing Adventures. This alone would be commendable enough, but the fact that it manages to achieve this whist being a sequel to Pyramids of Mars -- a story held in such high regard that many writers wouldn't even think of attempting a sequel -- is doubly impressive. Richards builds effectively on what we learned in Pyramids of Mars and fleshes out the Osirans, giving us glimpses of their culture, history and technology in a way which complements the original while still telling his own story.
Characterisation of the Doctor and Tegan is pretty spot-on, and it's easy to imagine them speaking Richards' dialogue. Certainly, he captures the Fifth Doctor better than he did the Fourth Doctor in System Shock and Millennium Shock. As Nyssa barely features, Atkins steps in as a sort of stopgap companion in her place, and this is actually a very nice move. He is a believable and likeable character, who undergoes development as the story progresses, coming to accept that there is more to life than the stiff and stuffy mores of polite Victorian society. His implied romance with Miss Warne is really quite touching.
But rather than just turn out a simple runaround, Richards also injects it with a good dose of temporal shenanigans, playing around with the principles and practicalities of time travel. The Doctor and co essentially have to avoid their past selves while also taking steps to ensure that those same past selves perform the actions that they are meant to so that the timelines stay on course. I had to make the effort to wrap my brain around some of it, and I took this as a sign that Richards knows what he's doing. Our old friend Blinovitch also gets mentioned. This isn't really something we see that much of in Doctor Who; it may be a series that uses time travel to get it from A to B but most of the time it isn't actually about time travel per se.
Sequel can often mean rehash, but The Sands of Time is distinct enough from Pyramids of Mars that it feels like its own story rather than simply a love letter to one of the classics. I'm deducting a few points for the climax in which the Doctor disposes of Nephthys in exactly the same way as he disposed of Sutekh, but by and large Richards does his own thing. He also presents the Egyptian aspects of the novel convincingly so he's clearly researched this well. I won't spoil it for anybody who hasn't read it, but the very last page is the icing on the cake, bringing The Sands of Time full circle and deftly linking it to Pyramids of Mars so casually it's almost an afterthought.
The Sands of Time is a joy to behold. It is tightly plotted, engaging and one of the better outings for the Fifth Doctor in print. Not my favourite Missing Adventure, but certainly one of the best ones.