THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Virgin Books
Shadowmind

Author Christopher Bulis Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20394 1
Published 1993
Cover Christopher Bulis

Synopsis: The Doctor, Ace and Benny become embroiled in a plot by humanoid dublicates to infiltrate New Byzantium. They travel to the neighbouring planet of Arden to discover the native rodents who manufactured the duplicates are being controlled by an evil entity.


Reviews


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 10/7/02

I recently unearthed my copy of Shadowmind, which had been Missing In Action for the past seven years or so. The discovery yielded a puzzling result, as there was a bookmark approximately thirty pages from the end of the story, yet I had absolutely no recollection of ever reading any of this. I vaguely wondered what would have caused me to give up on a book when I had managed to get so close to the conclusion. Undaunted, I decided to begin reading again from the beginning. This time would be different. I would fight on until the very end, defeating any leaden prose, cliched characters, and banal subplots that dared to stand in my way. I would fight this through to the bitter end, to win now where I had been defeated seven years ago. And, after several long days, I succeeded.

Ow.

Okay, it's not as bad as all that. The beginning is quite good, and despite some problems with the end, there were several resolutions that I enjoyed. But the sections in the middle are so dull, so tedious, so devoid of anything remotely fulfilling that I almost gave up on Shadowmind for the second time. Even now, looking back at the events of the past few days, I'm not completely certain how I made it all the way through. Admittedly, there are more than a few blurry spots in my memory, and I just know there are several chapters that jumped ship before they could be transferred from my short-term to my long-term memory. But, somehow, I got to the end. Whew.

Anyway, as I indicated, there are some fairly pleasant pieces at the beginning of the story. The initial setting, where the Doctor, Ace and Benny decide to vacation, has the potential to be an appealing backdrop. At the other end of the gaping abyss that is the plot, the conclusion has some attractive features as well. Bulis inserts an interesting piece of angsty material that manages not to be gratuitous or overwrought. It's a bit contrived, but I felt that it worked. Perhaps I was merely delirious having just stumbled through the excruciating middle section, but I really was interested in what had been done with New Ace.

This interesting stuff from the opening all ends up being abandoned, and, unfortunately, the story is very very slow to actually move on to the later parts. It's all very well to have an authentic-seeming space opera where it takes multiple days to cross from one planet to another. But the danger in showing space travel as a boring and time-consuming task is that this can very easily make reading a boring and time-consuming task. Even the portions that take place on the planet surface are arduous and long. Yes, it may be quite realistic for complicated military procedures to take place over the course of several days, but, boy oh boy, you'd better have something interesting going on while all the boring marching is taking place. And there's nothing distracting during these sections at all.

There are lots of trees, to be sure. Trees don't equal excitement. And there are loads of extras just itching to be killed off. Cannon-fodder isn't entirely enthralling either. Approximately a hundred pages of the book can be summed up in four short sentences: People show up. Some are blown up. Others blow up things. Some do both. With those four sentences out of the way, you can now safely skip from about page one hundred right through until about twenty or thirty pages from the end. If you've never read this book and are planning to do so, please don't hesitate to substitute those sentences in. You'll save yourself many hours and many tears.

All that I really got out of the story is that the main villain is apparently some sort of angry adolescent briquette (I'm not making this up) bent on interstellar invasion by using a spaceship equipped with a sphincter (I couldn't make this up). There's some nice stuff tossed in randomly about making difficult decisions, but that honestly doesn't make the book worth it. Too many of the action sequences are boring and repetitive. This is the sort of book where if you accidentally turn over two pages at once, you may find yourself wondering whether it's worth expending the energy it would take to turn back the extra page.

But at least I learned why I gave up reading it the last time.


A Review by Finn Clark 31/5/04

You know, that wasn't so bad. I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly it's so far from being actually good that NASA could use it for a deep space observatory, but I was expecting worse. As a novel, Shadowmind is like a battle between two forces of evil that annihilate each other to leave infinite void.

On the one hand, you have the author: Christopher Bulis. On the other, this is a 1993 NA commissioned by Peter Darvill-Evans. I wouldn't want to imply that all the 1993 books sucked, but they had a definite suckage tendency and Shadowmind has everything that dragged down its contemporaries. Soldiers. More soldiers. Space battles. New Ace, blowing things up and having casual sex. A military-based plot that gives the TARDIS crew nothing to do. In outline this must have looked like Deceit II: This Time It's Even More Violent, but Virgin had reckoned without the King of Bland.

Y'see, this is a 1993 Virgin NA with absolutely no angst or gritty machismo. The military are fairly relaxed dudes. They're pretty boring, but they do their jobs and don't get in the way. No one has much of a personality, but the plot doesn't call for it. This may be the most un-gripping, unmemorable book ever published under the Doctor Who imprint, but at least it's not painful like Deceit or The Pit.

There are even good points. I liked the aliens (Umbra and the Shenn), which were fun. There are a few nice touches with the TARDIS crew. The writing certainly isn't good, but for my money it's the only Bulis book which shows signs of being perpetrated by a human being. More effort went into this debut novel than the norm of Default Bulis Mode. At times I could believe in its TARDIS crew, for instance.

Let's not get carried away, though. All this Shadowmind praise starts from the basic standpoint of "this book eats brain cells". It has good points, but so does catching syphilis. I bet even the Bulis itself couldn't remember what happened in it after it finished writing. The plot is a huge problem, starting out with 35 pages of non-action (it's Ace's birthday!) before segueing into Invasion of the Body Snatchers and then degenerating into a book-length military campaign. Yup, the army save the day. The TARDIS crew are military consultants, no more. There's planning, strategy, battles against a faceless enemy and... sorry, went to sleep for a moment there. There's a dramatic bit at the end, but I couldn't recommend ploughing through its 244 pages just for that.

Some books actively repel you. This is more of a stealth book, sending hypnotic signals... "put me down, do something more interesting". It took me forever to get around to finishing it.

This book is better than I'd expected, but on reflection I'm not sure that I wouldn't have preferred to read something actively bad. Its most distinctive features are: (a) horrible proofreading, (b) deformed people on the cover. Is that meant to be Bernice Summerfield? I don't see the point of all the Shakespearean names from As You Like It and Midsummer Night's Dream, as cited by the text on p159. Oh, and anyone looking for a cruel anti-Bulis quote could do worse than the one on p163:

"What the Captain was asking for was that most challenging of intellectual feats: original thought."
'Nuff said.


A Review by Brian May 8/12/08

I won't beat around the bush; Shadowmind is dreadful. It's a dull, amateurish effort with leaden prose and atrocious grammar. When you combine all this with a completely unengaging story, with little tension, little atmosphere and repetitive shoot-em-up action sequences, things don't get any better. And they get even worse with the zero dimensional characters: every single non-regular is horribly rendered. There are too many of them and, to whit, they're a virtually interchangeable, faceless, personality deficient bunch. They're also so sodding perfect! When they aren't congratulating the Doctor on every single word he says, they're all being ingenious, worthy heroes, slapping each other on the back and congratulating each other on every single bloody word they say! This isn't Star Trek!!! These people need some interpersonal conflicts, they need some edge, they need... something more than what we have here. The only occasion when such an event might have occurred is when it's revealed Cheyney is a duplicate, but up to this point he's been a difficult, obstructive git and therefore, given such black-and-white depictions of people, it's obvious he's not what he seems.

The regulars don't fare much better. Ace is woeful: she's the militaristic, bloodthirsty New Ace with all of the cliche and none of the character. (Some might argue whether New Ace had any character at all, but you know what I mean. Bulis's rendition is worse than most.) The Doctor is inconsistent and dull, and the ideological conflict between these two is risible. It could have been quite good, but the best opportunity goes begging. On pp.237-238 the Doctor tells her "You might have to hurt innocent people to save others." Why on Earth didn't Ace make a sarcastic comment about Jan (Love and War) and thus been given an inch of much-needed focus and consistency? Bernice is not spectacular, but she's the best realised of the three, which is a very back-handed compliment. In the author's defence, the TARDIS crew have one great moment: their little conversation in the final chapter brings out the best in all three. But this is too little, too late.

I couldn't get excited over any of the "action" sequences. They're slow, verbose and virtually unreadable. The countless space battles, simulated or otherwise; Ace being hunted in the sculpture park; and the entire final battle (and pointless post-battle battle); there's nothing to recommend from any of this. The descriptions of both Tairngairne and Arden are conspicuously unremarkable, and neither the Shenn nor the Umbra are impressive entries in the pantheon of Doctor Who aliens. Repetition is another key problem: the constant mental lapses of the possessed humans are overdone so that they lose any hope of subtlety. The attempts at surprise also fail; for example, the revelation that the wounded mess is Kim Talavera (p.168) could be seen coming from miles away.

This is one of the worst of the early New Adventures. The Pit has similarly awful prose (possibly worse), but there were interesting ideas bubbling through. Deceit is another shocker, but at least it was written in the spirit of the series, not like this Star Trek reject. Shadowmind is for completists only. 1/10


A Review by Matthew Clarke 4/4/12

Shadowmind is very much on the 'Trad,' rather than the 'Rad' side of the fence amongst New Adventure novels. It is a fairly traditional Doctor Who story using the very conventional theme of alien duplicates of human beings. This gives us room for the kind of Body Snatchers paranoia of The Faceless Ones.

It's a fairly interesting story, but it is not the most well-written of New Adventures. The combat scenes are dreadfully tedious. The original characters are not terribly interesting. NA Ace is portrayed as gung-ho as ever, but is kept free from angst. Bernice is not given an awful lot to do in this story. Christopher Bulis has not got a good feel for the Seventh Doctor. He makes him a little more arrogant than usual and a good deal less interesting.

Umbra, the alien villain is a typical New Adventures astral entity. He is fun and fairly well characterised. The alien race, the Shenn are quite interesting too.

If you are a New Adventures fanatic like me, you will want to track down a copy. If you are not, you need not bother.