BBC Books
The Sleep of Reason

Author Martin Day Cover image
ISBN 0 563 48620 1
Published 2004

Synopsis: The near future: a man in a psychiatric hospital claims to be an alien time-traveller called 'the Doctor'. He once adventured across countless galaxies, fighting evil. The past: an asylum struggles to change Victorian attitudes to the mentally ill. It catches fire in mysterious circumstances. Now: a young woman takes an overdose and slips into a coma. She dreams of Death falling like a shroud over a benighted gothic building.


Scary shit... by Joe Ford 15/9/04

It seems odd to read an EDA in this pre-9th Doctor stage what with all the fuss and bother about the new series and the changes in the book range. I would have thought the books would seem tired and old, running for nearly six years and that we were just delaying the inevitable. Nothing could be further than the truth, for every reason conceivable The Sleep of Reason continues the astonishing quality of the post-Sometime Never... fallout. And for what is 60-odd books into the range this feels fresh and different, unlike any other EDA or NA.

It is a dark and mature book that grips you with the quality of the characterisation and the density of the prose. It manages to top Bunker Soldiers, Martin Day's last piece and that was brilliant enough.

Reading Martin Day's interview in DWM left me cold, he mentioned the book had a NA feel, was adult and hardly featured the Doctor, Fitz and Trix. All these are true but as far as this book is concerned they are all strengths.

Some might say that the majority of the NAs were adult because they had swear words and sex scenes but I do not subscribe to this view, in fact these are the very reasons I was angered by the range. The Sleep of Reason is my idea of an adult book, one that deals with serious and disturbing issues with sensitivity and emotion and looks at its characters deeply, allowing the reader to get under their skin and understand what makes them tick. Sex plays a crucial role in the plot and is not included as a gratuitous thrill. Swear words have a purpose, the meaning, the anger behind them are utterly essential to the enemy. Characters think about their ugly breasts or painting willies and it draws you to them as they open up so totally. As Day wanted, the book is grounded in reality but it never oversteps the mark or tries to sensationalise it. I like that.

The absence of the regulars was far more interesting than I could have imagined purely because it allows the book to explore how other people see them. As well as their scarce appearances there are no scenes written from the POV of any of the regulars, when they are around it is fascinating to see how they affect the lives of those they meet. I'm surprised that this has never been attempted before but it certainly gives the book a unique feel and helps to strength the importance of the characters. The Sleep of Reason is a Doctor Who book in every respect but it is also a great novel as well and so many authors forget to make that distinction when writing for the range (the last book I could say would work independent of Doctor Who is probably The City of the Dead).

The central character is Caroline Darnel (or Laska as she likes to be called), a self-harming delinquent who is admitted to the Retreat to rehabilitate herself back into society. The first chapter is astonishingly written to grab the reader and plunge them into Laska's world of darkness. You get intimately close to Laska throughout and are always aware with crystal clarity what she is thinking and going through. As the supernatural presence rips through the Retreat it is easy to sympathise with Laska's doubts of her sanity. The characterisation is pleasingly consistent, Laska seeing conspiracies every, in every conversation she has.

The Laska/Doctor relationship is what the books hinges on and thoughtfully written, it is his best relationship with a secondary character since Rhian in Book of the Still. It's great how initially sceptical she is of him and his eccentric ways (and his friends, the bitchy blond and the bimbo bloke!) and how he cleverly uses their sessions to grow closer to her to the point where she is reaching out to him in times of danger. The scene where she explores the Doctor's cottage and he comes barging in ranting on about good and evil, justice and prejudice... you can almost understand why people think he is a loony! His fierce interest and protection of her is fascinating and his little aside that he has been concentrating big issues for far too long and it is about time he started looking at the details, the lives of people he helps. After the events of the past ten books this is fabulous development of our favourite Time Lord, a blissful realisation that the good he can do can sometimes only extend to helping get a few lives back on track. Their last scene on the hillside before the Doctor leaves is beautiful; Laska's newfound confidence is a strong reminder of the magic that the Doctor can achieve.

Fitz and Trix are less important although there are a fair few classic Fitz moments especially concerning his lack of subtlety and his inability to read subtext in any conversation. Liz astutely observes the Doctor is fiercely protective of his friends and he orders them about as though he expects them to obey... seeing their relationship through fresh eyes reminds you what an effective unit they make. Perhaps there was a trick missed with exploring Trix's dark past given the psychological slant of the book but in all honestly it would have felt out of place in this already packed book and there are still three books to deal with her back story satisfactorily.

All the staff members of the Retreat come alive as real people. Liz, struggling to cope with an impossible situation with as much humanity as possible, her life seemingly nothing but work, work, work... Dr Oldfield is a suitably slimy piece of work, trying to undermine Liz's authority and find some dirt on her so he can take over as boss. James Abel, secretly sleeping with one of the patients and bursting with youthful enthusiasm. There is a feeling tension running through the first half as patients and staff alike all have their secrets which are bursting to be released and all hell break loose... an atmosphere of tense anxiety radiates from the characters that kept me reading hungrily to witness the explosion of emotions.

There are some of the most horrific images we have seen in a while in The Sleep of Reason, a disturbing mixture of the psychological and the visceral that creeped me out totally. Bodies burning, skulls smashed in, patients being hideously abused, rational men doused in petrol and threatening to burn themselves alive... this horrific material is a welcome relief after the frivolous fluff of The Tomorrow Windows and SynthespiansTM. I have always been creeped out by books set in insane asylums... something about the unpredictability and homicidal nature of patients that unnerves me. In here Day ensures you are aware that at any moment any of his characters is capable of cracking. The image of the bloated, foam-lipped wolf savagely ripping into people is one that will stay with me for a good while.

The writing styles of The Sleep of Reason and SynthespiansTM are interesting to compare because they both contain lots of internal dialogue, characters thinking about their situation and their feelings and yet this book is far more professionally written and edited, the emotions of the characters expertly written to grip the reader at the right points. The tones of each book are completely different of course, last month's was deliberately light-hearted and chaotic but I personally prefer a writer who is economic and considerate with his writing, who writes what is needed to involve the reader rather than indulging in playful frivolities. Martin Day has come on in leaps and bounds since his modest beginnings with The Menagerie and this book keeps its razor's edge tone throughout and never loses sight of its plot or characters.

Extra merit must be given for the superb flashbacks to the history of the Retreat written in the form of diary extracts. These cuts back to Masoleus were terrifyingly good, especially concerning the psychotic orderly Fern. The atmosphere of this Victorian madhouse is stiflingly scary.

I cannot praise this book enough. I loved every word. And despite Day's claims that his old associate Mr Cornell is a better writer this is far superior than any work we have seen from Cornell is ages. The pupil has outgrown the master.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 26/10/04

It's been a while since I picked up an 8th Doctor book, but this one sounded so good, and was getting such magnificent reviews, I was drawn in. Believe the reviews, this book truly is excellent.

Usually I hate it when the Doctor is sidelined for great chunks of Doctor Who Books - but when the story is as involving as this - it's just fine. He really doesn't appear till 70-80 pages in, but in the meantime we have been getting acquainted with Laska, and the rest of the Retreat's residents and staff. Laska is the star of this book. Her emotional journey was fascinating, and she leapt off the page as a real life person.

It was only when I was reading the last few chapters of the book that I had realized that Sleep of Reason was extremely confined in its setting. I can only recall one time (when Laska takes the Doctor for some more diary extracts) when it leaves the Retreat. This is in no way restrictive though, especially as the narrative is punctuated by reminisces from a hundred years past, when the Mausolus was the institution in question.

Thanks to two diary entries (Dr Christie and Rev Macksey) we learn slowly about what happened here in the early 20th Century. Clearly a similar pattern is emerging here and now, and the Doctor is there to unravel it. The question will be whether Laska (the key to the past as the owner of the diaries) finds in the Doctor someone to trust - and that was the main fascination of the narrative.

The book is very adult in its style - but this is handled so sensitively, and everything strikes a realistic chord, that I was not offended in any shape or form. The dealings between doctors, nurses and residents is particularly intriguing - and plays like some warped TV serial. Have they seen what they thought they have seen? That question also dominates the book. Who can trust their own mind, and who in reality are the personality disorders?

The eighth Doctor is brilliantly characterized throughout. Never pushy, but always caring. Eating away little by little at the truth, then wonderfully all over the place when dealing with it in the end. Fitz and Trix are in this book too, but their presence is only really felt towards the end. It is Laska and the Doctor who carry the first 200 plus pages.

Challenging and highly intriguing, in equal measures, The Sleep of Reason has to be classified as one of the boldest novels in the range. It also brings Martin Day to the forefront of Who authors - a brilliant novel that I will definitely read again sometime. 9/10

A Review by Finn Clark 22/1/05

Astonishingly good. I'd practically given up on any expectation of seeing books like this in the post-cutback era, let alone ones starring the 8th Doctor. Not merely the best 8DA I've read since Christmas 2001, but possibly up there in my all-time top five 8DAs.

It starts slowly but powerfully. We get a worrying prologue in which a mysterious patient announces his retirement, then a chapter about a disturbed young girl that's downright hard to keep reading. This is a book set in a mental institution, both in the present day and 1903, and for many chapters its focus is firmly on the people who live there, both staff and patients. A significant effect of this is to nail our attention to the characters and their problems. Without aliens, spaceships or any other such nonsense, we can settle into an actual novel.

It's superbly written, too. The 1903 diary voice is utterly authentic, so clearly distinguished from the present day sections that there's never the slightest danger of confusion. (In comparison it took me a while to learn to distinguish some of the individual characters, whose voices are less distinctive.) Each era is beautifully portrayed, sucking you in completely.

The TARDIS crew hardly appear in these early chapters, which is a good thing for reasons other than the obvious! The book takes its time building up towards Whoishness, so for quite a while the 8th Doctor, Fitz and Trix are kept offstage or only met en passant. The result is that these people of whom I'm, uh, not fond are allowed to grow into actual characters. Martin Day isn't in denial about Trix's character flaws, so paradoxically her portrayal feels more honest and sympathetic than usual. Fitz made me laugh. Even the 8th Doctor is more vivid than I can remember him being in ages, his powerful presence in the background almost making him feel like the NAs' 7th Doctor at times. He carries it off well. He's unquestionably McGann rather than McCoy, but for the duration of this book I actually liked him again!

Gradually the Whoish plot surfaces. The book accelerates into a traditional "save the day" scenario, but without sacrificing the characters and quality that brought it this far. It's rather exciting! I can imagine a certain kind of reader finding the early chapters slow going, but they'll reach more familiar territory if they persevere. Enough is unclear in the ending for a hefty dose of "I'll explain later" to be required, but in fairness the book does actually explain later. And don't think Martin Day has forgotten the prologue... there's a real surprise waiting with that one. I liked that too.

What makes this book special is its writing. The plot commendably gives its characters all the room they need to grow and breathe, but weaker execution could have made those early chapters crawl and made some of the revelations look risible. (Even in the book as it stands there might perhaps be one character revelation too many... the coincidence factor felt a little strong at times, though admittedly it's implied that they may not be mere coincidences.) The action in the ending is linked to the themes of the novel that built up to it. Even the Black Sheep cover for once has a bit of atmosphere.

This book had huge problems to overcome. I was (and remain) predisposed to hate any book starring the 8th Doctor, Fitz and Trix, partly because of the characters and partly because of what's happened over the last couple of years. Instead this book won me over. This is a novel to reassure anyone who hasn't much liked anything since the books went monthly. Martin Day has outdone himself. Nice one!

A Review by Donald McCarthy 28/2/05

The Sleep of Reason is the only Martin Day book that I've read. Suffice to say it made me want to go read some of his others. Somewhere along the line I realized that this was probably the best Doctor Who book since The Adventuress of Henrietta Street and, rather ironically, these two books have a similar feeling: grimness.

Yes, this book is, at times, very grim but overall the book is never depressing. The dark tone comes from two facts:

  1. the book is set in a mental institute
  2. the main narrator is a manic depressant.
However, neither of these facts bring the book down in the least bit. Laska, the depressed patient, is a truly wonderful character vividly brought to life by Day. The setting is depicted extremely well and even after reading the books I can still clearly see the building and the surrounding areas.

The main characters are all in good form. The Doctor appears maybe twice for the first hundred pages yet his shadow is always there. As the book goes on he gets more involved and becomes the main character of the novel. Fitz and Trix are used even less but when they are used they're on form.

As for secondary characters? Each one is brought brilliantly to life and you either care or hate each person. There's not one character who you say, "meh" about (*cough* unlike, say, in a Dicks novel *cough*).

The plot is a "horror" one but it still manages to be Whoish in the end. Overall, I'd say the book was damn near perfect: 9.5/10

Four out of Five by Jamas Enright 7/3/05

'Caroline was fifteen when she'd first taken a blade to her arm.'

When you come across a line like that in a book, you tend to mentally gird yourself for a hard slog and expect to spend much text spent psycho-analysing the effects and extent of depression and how much life is a terrible burden, et cetera, and so on, and so forth. Especially when that line is the first line of the first chapter.

And, indeed, Chapter One is hard going, full of arm-slashing moments and life-draining events. But once that is over... well, it's not a roller-coaster ride of run, but The Sleep of Reason is an enthralling character study that motors along at a steady pace and doesn't give up the creeping sense of thriller, even though inevitably must come the explanation du Doctor Who.

And as a character piece, it does work well. The characters are well drawn out, and you are actually interested in what happens next. Events flick between present and past, although I sometimes lost track who was the voice in the past and so got events slightly twisted. (And I guessed the 'what' of the Prologue quickly, but not the which. [Somewhat oblique, but I don't want to give anything away there.])

The Doctor isn't the main focus of the novel, but he still manages to be a hero. Unfortunately, he remains rather generic in nature, and that generic nature isn't too indepth. Fitz and Trix aren't the focus either, fortunately, which makes them (and by 'them', I really mean Trix) bearable and maybe I might be able to put up with another book with this companion pair (especially as the next EDA author is Trevor Baxendale!).

The focus of the book is Laska, and her journey to acceptance of who she is. This isn't done via a long drawn out series of internal monologues, so don't expect to drown in scene-chewing passages. Instead, we see the world through her eyes, experience what she experiences and think with her thoughts. It's because she lacks overwhelming introspection that this ride is enjoyable, and worth taking.

The other characters help fill out the book and add to the unfolding character drama, but don't otherwise have substantive roles. In many ways, the past story has more interesting characters than the present, but this is due to the little pieces of characterisation Martin Day is able to fill their writing with, bringing them alive in ways the present-day characters can't get. (That said, I'm glad the present-day story wasn't treated in the same way, otherwise I really would have been lost.)

The ending (as much as I can talk about it) is far better than recent novels as it is presented in an almost magical way. There are still explanations to be had, but there is a refreshing lack of technobabble, and the Doctor gets to save the day in a far more hands-on approach than usual. Other authors could learn a thing or two from this.

The Sleep of Reason, despite an uninspiring start, is a decent read, one relying on character rather than gimmick. Guess we now know where the talent that pairing really lies...