|ISBN||0 563 48611 2|
|Synopsis: In the swirling maelstrom of the Time Vortex, The Council of Eight maps out every moment in history and takes drastic measures to ensure it follows their predictions. But there is one elemental force that defies prediction, that fails to adhere to the laws of time and space... A rogue element that could destroy their plans merely by existing.|
A Review by Finn Clark 2/2/04
Well, well, well. Sometime Never..., the culmination of an 8DA story arc so crappy that it stained my bookshelves brown. Any attempt by your loved ones to read these books should be countered by lethal force. To put it mildly, my expectations weren't high.
Sometime Never... is really good.
For starters, it's not an alternate universe story. That was the whole point of Timeless, remember? Thus for the first time in over a year we can actually care about what's going on (!), instead of knowing nothing matters and that next month we'll be reading about a completely new universe that'll also inevitably unhappen. This made me happy. Parallel universe issues crept in towards the end and nearly derailed the book with their mere existence, but thankfully Justin Richards managed to overcome that hurdle.
Still more amazingly, this novel manages to weave in all kinds of ongoing story threads and turn that into a good thing. For the first time all the random shit of the past two years is made to feel deliberate... some of it may even have been deliberate, but it never felt that way. The Alternate Universe Arc tried to make each book build on what went before, but was handicapped by the fact that the only linkage was technobabble. You could read most of 'em in any order and they'd make just as much sense.
However here Justin Richards ties together books going back almost to the start of his time as editor and builds them into an epic. Forgotten story elements come together and the result is something special. It even ties in the recent PDAs! That impressed me. Since 1996 the BBC Books have been compared unfavourably with Virgin, but the scale of this novel's original mythology goes beyond anything Virgin ever gave us. It takes a while to get going, but eventually it's great. Even Sabbath becomes compelling again, after becoming a parody of himself by being a predictable stock villain in inconsequential books. The key difference is that Sometime Never... actually feels as if it's going somewhere, both with the character and with the 8DA story.
The only bits that felt wrong were the Sam Jones references. They felt mean-spirited to me, as if the author didn't care because he knew no one liked the character They make sense within the story being told, but I bet Justin wouldn't have done the same to Benny.
Unfortunately this book stars the 8th Doctor, Fitz and Trix, but even this problem is admirably overcome. Fitz and the Doctor are written with zest and fun, while at one point Trix reacts like a human being! I still want her out of the TARDIS (along with the other two, naturally), but after this book at least I don't want her boiled in oil. That's a big improvement.
(a) Lord Scrote?? Dunno about you lot, but where I come from "scrote" is a vulgar term of abuse. I'm sure you can work out the derivation for yourselves.
(b) "It's the Key to Time!" I thought at one point. In fact I was completely wrong, but it's still an interesting comparison. The biggest difference is that the crystal of the Key to Time was all about the number six, while Sometime Never... is obsessed with eight.
(c) Who's the political activist on p236? I identified the others...
There's even some fun mathematics! I was reinforced in my belief that the end of the universe is boring while if the Council of Eight ever return then I'll probably kill someone, but otherwise this is a far better conclusion to an interminable story arc than I'd dared to anticipate. Despite what I occasionally thought, it all makes sense if you think about it. There's something at the end which looks like a retcon but in fact offers one possible answer to a question that's been left dangling since The Ancestor Cell. (Personally I prefer it to Lungbarrow.) At times this book feels like Sapphire and Steel, but in a good way.
This book has lots of continuity but is almost entirely free of fanwank. I haven't enjoyed an 8DA this much since... hmm, Time Zero. Writer-editors haven't had the best of track records in the Doctor Who books, but here Justin Richards shows us the potential benefits of the arrangement. This is the kind of arc-culmination which The Ancestor Cell so desperately needed to be, but wasn't. It's not a great work of literature on any high-falutin' level, since its prose, characterisation and so forth aren't significantly better than you'd expect from any half-decent 8DA. However its story blew me away.
In the words of Edina Monsoon... "Fabulous darling!" by Joe Ford 5/2/04
You could almost think of Sometime Never... as the BBC book version of Planet of Fire, almost, because it is infinitely better than that hotch potch. This book has a million and one things to achieve and it gets on with the job admirably, telling a ripping yarn as it does. Emotional Chemistry should have been removed from the schedules and placed after this because reading Timeless and Sometime Never... consecutively results in the best run of two books in the range since... well ever.
At times I have felt like I am the only person who is still enjoying the EDAs. Pop over to Outpost Gallifrey, there are a couple of nutcases over there who take perverse pleasure in ripping every single one to pieces without even reading them! The reviews last year were variable, experiments like The Last Resort proving to be love it or hate its. People were starting to feel as though they were being led around maypole for nothing, that the story was being made up as it goes along and that too many hints and whispers were being made without any payoff. With extreme conviction and pride Justin Richards sticks his fingers up at all those people with Sometime Never..., a confident, clever and damnably satisfying end to the arcs that have started since Father Time. He manages to tie up just about everything that was left hanging and provide some wicked cool explanations for some stuff I had forgotten all about. What people tend to forget is that this book would have been released last June had the two a month distribution continued.
Admittedly even I had my doubts when it came to the alternative universe arc, chaos being unleashed, all of time and space on the brink of collapse only to be stabilised into one single timeline... why? Aha! Justin pulls out his ace here and provides the explanation and trust me you will never, ever guess it. I cannot delve deeper because of fear of spoilers and this more than any other book in the past two years should be read unspoiled. Needless to say the confident direction the arc was heading in Timeless climaxes here brilliantly, providing lots of clever explanations for plot twists over the past five EDAs.
Should I be clawing my eyes out at the amount of continuity in this book? No. Why? Because unlike the similarly continuity changing Zagreus it manages to alter continuity in a fresh and invigorating way that at no time insults the series and its legacy. I have no qualms in telling that there are mentions of tons of past books and stories from the TV series. Sam Jones, Jo, Sarah, Harry, Mel, Ace, Anji... oh yes there are references galore for those continuity lovers out there. But it is needed, it was time to pull this arc into sharp focus and to explain what was going on and Justin does that by reaching out into past stories and collecting them together into his running story, maybe this was planned all along, who knows, but I cannot think of a better way to grab the audience than to introduce an enemy who threatens all the good that the Doctor has done, all he has touched.
The Council of Eight is one of the most original concepts we've had in a while. Existing in the Vortex, they map out the whole of existence to ensure it follows their predictions. Surely the most insidious of all the Doctors villains, the Council see him as a threat just because he exists, because he travels through time and dares to threaten the timeline they are creating. But why are they so concerned with this one Rogue Element... what on Earth is all their plotting and scheming in aid of? The answers come thick and fast in Sometime Never..., explaining away Eater of Wasps, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, Anachrophobia, Camera Obscura, Time Zero... as the Doctor finally faces the Enemy that has been manipulating his life since he lost his memories. It is such a shock to have the answers suddenly there for the taking, especially after so much build up but never once was I let down. Constantly shocked and shaking my head in disbelief.
All this tying up of plots might lead you to think that Sometime Never... is a bit of a textbook novel but let me assure you it is not. More than any other in AGES this book feels like Doctor Who: The series. The first third of the book has a Keys of Marinus/The Chase/Seasons of Fear 'hunt the key' feel, with the Doctor, Fitz and Trix all exploring different time zones to discover where history is being altered. At first I thought these jaunts through history would chew up time needed to provide explanations but it soon becomes apparent how well plotted the book is and how essential to the story this snippets are. Plus Justin describes the variable locations with his usual panache and does lots of fiendishly clever things while the TARDIS crew are visiting.
Then even more brilliantly we are suddenly trapped in a base under siege story! Trapped in the Institute of Anthropology being menaced by Vortex creatures and animated skeletons, we are suddenly awash in the atmosphere of season five albeit with yet more astoundingly smart twists and concepts thrown in. I loved these middle sections with the very core of my being; all that chasing about provided an excellent counterpoint to all the information I was expected to remember.
Then like all good Doctor Who it is time for the confrontation with the villains and this is where the book goes from being merely good to being classic. In a brain bursting parallel, Sometime Never... reveals its own twists and turns, Justin refusing to let the reader stop thinking and exposes just how deviously plotted his story is whilst simultaneously explaining away the past two years of Doctor Who fiction, PDA and EDAs alike. There is a hell of a lot to take in and I suggest a second read to let it all digest properly but I found the answers to be a joy.
There are loads of incredible scientific (or ludicrous... I'm not intelligent enough to say) concepts thrown in. How does a structure exist in the Vortex? How do you freeze time? Why would you go back to the beginning of Time to ensure that the universe is constructed out of a certain material? How do you predict the unpredictable? Justin ploughs through each of these with a thorough and believable explanation, linking them all to the fast moving plot. I love the books when they are dealing with HUGE SF ideas just in reach of comprehension and this book is full of them.
Dear, dear Sabbath, I think we all know that this will be his last adventure, given Justin's promise of wrapping EVERYTHING up and drawing back from the continuity for a while to let the non regular readers catch up. Sabbath was an intriguing attempt at trying something definitively Who-ish in a period of the books that were moving away from what we recognise as Doctor Who. When he was written with panache he was the best thing about the books, a manipulative yet predictable nasty with a black sense of humour (Camera Obscura, The Last Resort, Timeless) but when he was handled by a less skilled writer he could seem almost a parody of all the worst bad guys (The Infinity Race, The Domino Effect). Finally, after a long, long wait, we are treated to a look at his Masters and get to understand what the hell he has been doing for them. Justin pulls off another of his tricks, making you think he was not as important as we were led to believe. Suddenly the entire book, the entire universe, the entire EDA range leads up to one almighty Sabbath moment that proves to be THE most important thing since the Doctor wiped Gallifrey from the face of the Vortex. Oh boy is that a chilling moment. Sabbath gets the exit he deserves, proud, in control and smug as hell, his final fate will make you realise just how cool he was.
Trix is really growing on me; her interaction with the Doctor is another highlight of this book. I loved the early scenes where they take the piss out of poor Fitz and how he trusts her with some of the most vital jobs in the book. Like Stephen Cole, Justin writes her as sexy and sassy but damn intelligent to boot, I still miss Anji a tad but I have to admit Trix's willingness and abilities to cope with pretty much anything that is thrown at her is a refreshing change.
Which is good because there is a definite vibe of discontent between Fitz and the Doctor. Maybe it is because there are so many vital things happening but the Doctor treats Fitz in a patronising and insulting fashion, barely acknowledging his presence at times and expecting him to do as he's told. I got the same vibe in Em Chem then tried to think of the last time I saw the lads having a laugh together and it was waaay back in The Infinity Race! Is this leading to something? Will Fitz finally snap and lose his patience at being treated like the odd one out? Things are rather hectic here so it is understandable that the Doctor is a little distracted but if he doesn't buck his ideas up soon Fitz could very well tell him where to shove it...
The Doctor. I love him. The amnesiac Monkey as those fools over at OG call him is now easily my favourite incarnation. This story shows why, highlighting him as the most unpredictable and reckless force in the entire universe! What a guy! Whilst he is zipping around the timeline, observing changes, organising catastrophic events and generally making a nuisance of himself to the Council of Eight, Justin takes the time to show just how tired he has become of his recent adventures, non stop chaos, always running, just out of reach of Death, each adventure that little closer to dragging him down... in one touching moment the Doctor watches three people laugh and joke and wishes he had the time to join them. I have a feeling some fun is waiting around the corner, some therapy for the big man.
Despite the fact that he has been beaten, well and truly, he never gives up. Right until the end, he is still fighting for the right of the human race to have free will. Refusing to see them shaped and manipulated, he offers the gift of chaos, of unpredictability back to universe. How cool is that?
Justin's prose is direct but visual, the story demands a lot of attention so he makes sure you are treated to some fine locations, exciting action and a fair few 'gosh wow' scenes such as the one with the avalanche. How he manages to pack so much into 280 pages is beyond me but this book is as dense with incident and explanation as they come.
Appropriately, the Sometime Never... feels important. It is the most important book in ages, it effectively manages to take the last three years worth of books and whip them up into one coherent, satisfying story. It features the shock return of some characters (oh just you wait!), Sabbath departs in style and the series is free to return to the adventuring of old, albeit with three regulars that have changed because their adventures.
I knew the ending would be this good. And I cannot wait for what is to
Reasons to enjoy Sometime Never...
A Review by Phil Fenerty 19/2/04
I read the reviews for The Adventuress of Henrietta Street before writing this, probably because it's one of my favourite EDA's and I wanted to see how it had been received. One thing which came out in those documents was how excited people were by Lawrence Miles' portrayal of the Doctor as an elemental: my online dictionary defines this as "of or resembling the powerful and primitive forces of nature," and shorn of the mythology built up around Gallifrey and the Time Lords, that's what he had become. In Sometime, Never... however, Justin Richards reduces the Doctor from an Elemental to an element: something small, insignificant and able to be manipulated by The Council of Eight. Yes, he's a Rogue Element, but the Council and their machinations since Time Zero have shorn him of his power.
Ah yes, the Council. At last, after two years, we have finally discovered just who it was controlling Sabbath. Their origins may be deduced from the ending of Timeless, and they are a far better enemy than many people had believed. The Council are responsible for reducing history to a single timeline, which they constantly monitor to ensure that there are no unpredicted temporal events which could threaten them. Rogue elements (such as the Doctor) are a constant problem.
From their Palace, a fantastic structure looping around in the Time Vortex, they have predicted, planned and controlled the entire History of Earth. If they need to, they send agents to push events gently down their correct timeline.
Sometime, Never... resonates to similar structures as in Justin Richards' previous book, Time Zero. The Doctor and his companions are split up into different eras. Trix (like Anji) takes a tortuous route to be at a climactic moment with Fitz and The Doctor. One of the characters is not who he or she appears to be. A gun-toting Sabbath appears when things couldn't get much worse.
Perhaps this was intentional, a way of bringing events to a close by holding a mirror up to the other end of the arc. But it did seem to be a little more formulaic than required.
Of the regulars, it is (perhaps surprisingly) Trix who fares least well. Richards, having defined her poorly in Time Zero cannot seem to write for her in Sometime, Never..., and we see little from her point of view, barring short interludes in different eras. Most of the events involving her are seen from other points of view. Fitz is, well, Fitz, but has started to show Dr Watson-like glimpses of inspiration which bode well for future development.
Sabbath's origins, motivations and fate are examined in depth here. It is gratifying to see more of this character. At times (Anacrophobia) he's been acting in concert with the Doctor (rather than against him), and the reasons for this are well-defined. He has been a wonderful addition to the Doctor's "Rogue's Gallery." All that transpires in this book is consistent with what we have seen of him before.
Of all the "event books" of recent years (The Ancestor Cell, Escape Velocity, Time Zero), Sometime, Never... is, at the start, the most leisurely-paced. Great chunks of the book are spent scene-setting the events leading up to the apocalyptic events in the Institute of Anthropology. The early stages of the book feel like a sedate jog rather than the 100 yards dash, as if slow-burning towards a huge climax. As a result, the finale in the Vortex Palace seem a little rushed, dashing through the connecting of loose ends and resolving of plot threads in an almost unseemly manner. A careful second reading of some passages may be necessary for the unwary. Having waited for so long for the arc to be concluded, the manner of its resolution is disappointing. Justin Richards' obsessions with temporal physics raise their ugly heads again. Readers who struggled with Time Zero will be glad to learn that good editing has reduced this to a minimum, however the rationale behind the Council's machinations requires some head-scratching and brain-knotting.
Sometime, Never... does bring a whole parcel of story-lines to a close. It doesn't open up whole new arc possibilities, nor does it contain any major surprises. It is a better story (and arc resolution) than expected: many of the possible cop-outs have been avoided. But the novel doesn't have a "wow" factor, and won't leave the reader waiting expectantly for the next one.
Overall: Workmanlike and worthy.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 28/6/04
As I sat down to start to read this book the announcer of Star Trek exclaimed "And now for the Conclusion". This voice was actually in my head, but Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's tones seemed to fit perfectly with what I was about to undertake.
I have followed the 8th Doctor book line ever since it began. I was only a periodic purchaser of the early titles though, reading just less than half of the first 3 years output. I even lost complete interest for a year after Interference (only reading Banquo Legacy). Then Gallifrey was blown up and encouraging previews made me very excited again - the Caught on Earth arc was splendid, and I was a regular purchaser once more. In the last 3 and a bit years I've only left alone 5 books - such was the general excellence that run of books produced.
I liked Anji, introduced in Escape Velocity. I was amazed with Adventuress of Henrietta Street and the new character of Sabbath. I even grew to like Fitz, who I had previously dismissed as being dull (I really like the chap now!). This whole business of leaving all the past behind, with the Doctor remembering nothing - that was fantastic - and most authors seemed to be inspired by the new approach.
After Time Zero failed to answer questions I expected, I lost a bit of interest again. But with only 6 books since then published I managed to catch up pretty quick. Only Domino Effect and Reckless Engineering excelled during that time though, and I was glad when Justin Richards announced the finish of the arc early 2004. And so onto Sometime Never..., written appropriately by Justin Richards himself.
I really enjoyed the 8th Doctor's character in this book. Maybe I've got all nostalgic at this soon-to-be previous Doctor - but I really did enjoy being with him again here. His dealings with Fleetward, as he assembles the Crystal Skeleton - splendid. I could just imagine the Doctor whipping around through time - finding the pieces of this unique Jigsaw. Fleetward is in awe of him, and after this book I must confess being a bit Fleetward-like myself!
Fitz has a wonderful, easy-going character about him too, that is a joy to read about. The eternal wanderer perfectly complements the Doctor - and I'm intrigued as to what life is in store for him without his mentor. I also enjoyed Trix here, after finding her character rather elusive to nail before. The scenes in the Tower are full of foreboding, yet rather sweet too.
The Council of Eight are a strange bunch. It's essential for the conclusion of the arc to have them in there - but I couldn't help but read there scenes quickly to get back to the Doctor and his Companions. Nonetheless there's a Tides of Time feel to their presence - and that can't be all bad.
This really does finish the running arc that has been an ever present in the books for a few years now. It was going to finish anyway, regardless of the new series. It's a good finish, with the slate wiped clean for the future. The main success of this arc has been Sabbath - it will be a shame to read no more of him. I reckon he knocks spots off the majority of Who villains. The two architects of his creation - Justin Richards and Lawrence Miles - should take ovation.
I really enjoyed Sometime Never... I'm not a "read-everything" kind of fan - but I picked up most of the previous references here. Above all it contains a wealth of excellent characters - as outlined above. Plus a surprise - lovely to see them again! I'm confident of rating Sometime Never... in the top 8th Doctor Books - a series that has produced a fantastic amount of excellence. 8/10
A Review by Mike Morris /8/04
A while ago, a bloke called Dr. Terry Evil posted the rather hilarious Meaning of Vortis, a sort of Meaning of Liff of the Doctor Who universe. I would hereby like to propose an addition: -
Ogros: The sudden, crashing, inescapable realisation that Doctor Who is really very silly after all.
Sometime Never... brought about a huge, unending Ogros in me that lasted several days. About halfway through a book that was trundling by amicably enough, without ever approaching what I'd call in any way good, the scales fell away and I suddenly realised just how incredibly stupid it was. I mean, incredibly stupid. What really hurt, though... what really made me doubt all of Doctor Who's output... was that I hadn't even noticed something so obvious for over a hundred pages. I had to go scurrying for my DVD player and watch The Caves of Androzani, just to reassure myself before my entire belief system collapsed. Even afterwards I felt shaky.
Sometime Never... is cliched, silly and all in all it's a load of old tosh.
I could kind of stop the review there, really. Having recovered from my bout of Ogros, I don't feel I have any great insights. I don't feel motivated to be offended by this book. I bear it no malice. It just happens to be the daftest, most ridiculous, stupidest book I have read for years. And years. And more years. All I can do, really, is point out some of the sillier bits. And say in a Mrs Doyle voice, "come on now. It's silly. Admit it, it's silly. Go on. Go on, go on, go on, go on."
I suppose it's got to be examined in context. Sometime Never... is the culmination of a whole heap of books, dating back to The Adventuress of Henrietta Street really, although in a tighter sense the arc spans from The Domino Effect onwards - with a strange time out to make room for Emotional Chemistry. Of the books in this arc I've only reviewed one, The Domino Effect, and there's a reason for my reticence; it's been a rather underwhelming time. Since Time Zero the only books that have impressed me have been Timeless and the aforementioned Emotional Chemistry, which wasn't part of the alternate universes arc at all.
I don't think I'm being controversial if I say that this story arc has been more than disappointing. The tension has (theoretically) come from two sources - whether the Doctor can manage to restructure reality, and who Sabbath's employers are. Unfortunately, neither has been particularly arresting. The Domino Effect and Reckless Engineering were both rather undercut by the knowledge that the realities in which they were set were temporary and hence unimportant. While The Last Resort and Timeless were more honest and applaudable in getting to grips with the concept of constantly changing realities, it didn't really help much; a lot of the reasoning in Timeless was fuzzy, and The Last Resort was nigh-on incomprehensible. The problem, I felt, with the idea was that it was just too damn big for the average reader to get a grip on. The notion that everything keeps changing every two seconds, and hence everything might suddenly stop existing, is too vast and impersonal to feel any drama. The world ending, for example, is something we can just about conceive; it brings with it associations that are genuinely human. We have ideas like death, pain, loss and suffering, which are human concerns. By contrast, the notion of a universe ending is an abstract one, and it doesn't imply the same things - everything being whipped away in an instant wouldn't hurt. In fact, The Last Resort actually showed those pain and death as meaningless, since a character who dies in one reality survives in another.
Coming in with the brief of wrapping all this up, Sometime Never... is a disappointment, although I can't think of any way that a story like this could be remotely satisfactory. Sometime Never... effectively takes the massive concerns and shoehorns them into a fairly traditional Doctor Who story, replete with small settings and stereotypical characters. The question of who Sabbath's employers are is also answered, and a rather silly answer it is too, although this question has been hanging around for ages at this stage - even if it's never been a particularly urgent one, unlike, say, the Milesian question of The Enemy.
The Enemy... cor, that's going back a bit. Still, that comparison suggests another. If anything, Sometime Never... is The Ancestor Cell of the latest arc. It wraps up the storyline in a competent way, but there seems to be very little joy in the concepts. The big concepts of the previous few books are - through necessity- brought down to a manageable scale, which unfortunately only make them seem like something stoners come up with at bad parties.
The core of this book revolves around two settings. One is a museum where there's a lot of running about. The other is eight people sitting around talking. They're called the Council of Eight, because there's eight of them. They aren't exactly a "council", since they don't represent anyone except themselves, but what the hey. The Council of Eight are all named after the numbers one to eight - because, as we established, there's eight of them - and the're all pretty much the same except for one of them, who's therefore a bad guy. They spend their eternal lives sitting in a space station talking. Mostly, they tell each other stuff they already know about their big plan, which involves them surviving the end of the universe. After this plan works, they intend to hang around and not talk at all, since their entire topic of conversation will be gone.
Silly? Silly doesn't even come close. I mean, what do they do? How do they get their kicks? What are their motivations? And since they're capable of time travel, why don't they just travel back in time to the start of the universe? And what's all this quantum theory gobbledygook they keep coming up with?
In fact, if the Council of Eight are comparable to anyone, it's the Guardians (particularly curious, given that I shared Finn Clark's suspicion that the Key to Time was going to make an appearance). Now, we all know the Guardians are a bit rubbish, but one of the most incisive things I ever read about them was written by Gareth Roberts, who said that during the Williams era the Guardians "never get close enough to let us realise how silly they are." The Council of Eight are so close we can't miss it. It's just a sequence of endless scenes of them talking in a room somewhere, in dreadful mock-political dialogue. I mean - oh, for god's sake, they're called after their numbers. Do I have to say any more? Do I? They're just crap. With a capital crap.
A similar, symptomatic lack of subtlety is displayed in the prologue scene, where the agent-thingy causes a storm by - releasing a butterfly! You know, "butterfly effect" and all that. Hmm, I reckon we're smart enough to know about it without using an actual butterfly! We're smart enough to ask ourselves, hey, why didn't the thing just wiggle its fingers a bit? Some of us are even smart enough to say to ourselves that hey, the whole point of the butterfly effect is that such incalculable factors tend to cancel each other out and, empirically, patterns remain generally predictable, and anyway, surely the presence of the agent-thing would have a far greater effect than the presence of the butterfly...
Okay, okay, getting technical. Forget it.
But it happens all the time! Just when there's a neat touch, like the funky glass skeleton, something stupid pops up. I mean - a Schrodinger Cell? A bloody Schrodinger Cell? I mean, I think there is such a thing (they mentioned it in The Lesiure Hive commentary, see), but I assume it doesn't do what this one does, as what this one does is daft. Besides, it just sounds stupid, doesn't it? Schrodinger Cell. Hey, they're aliens anyway! Why would they call it a... oh, what's the use?
I'd much rather be all Rob Matthews-y and analytical and work out what the problem is, rather than just enumerating stupid bits. It's just that there's so many. Every three pages (after the Ogros set in) I found myself raising my eyebrows and thinking, well that's just stupid! Stupid!
But yes, okay, the problem is rather deeper than that. I think the core difficulty is that Justin Richards is very much a professional, clever storyteller who builds small-scale, twisting plots; he would always be rather uncomfortable producing this sort of concept adventure. Even with his superlative work on Time Zero, he found it necessary to introduce Bondian shenanigans and a murder-mystery plot - not unreasonably, as this is the idiom where he is most skilled and most comfortable. The genius of Time Zero was how well Richards covered the joins, and the staple ingredients felt like a democratic way of getting any Who fan into a story with big concerns. It worked.
Sometime Never..., though, is different. It feels more like one of Richards' lightning-quick schedule-fillers. It's nowhere near as well-crafted as Time Zero; more rushed and less love gone into it. It's got "trad Who" in the shape of corridor-chases and a base-under-siege, but this time round the ideas feel like a security blanket to which Richards keeps returning out of either fear or laziness. Just look at the chase-scenes in the museum; they add nothing, absolutely nothing, to the story and they go on forever. Other ideas just feel old and boring. Time stopping, for example; come on now, this was in The Time Monster. It's also in about six million television ads.
I think it's the schism between the big ideas and the small setting that leads to many things, that Richards has successfully used before as pleasingly traditional touches, coming across as tacky. Trix's disguise, for example, is easily spotted and also utterly pointless - what does she gain from it, exactly? Even the quantum theory used so beautifully in Time Zero falls flat on its face this time, reading like technobabble. Oh, and the hourglasses are, erm, silly (hmm, I sense a pattern forming). Energy created from unmade decisions? Give me strength. And hourglasses? HOURGLASSES?
Funnily enough, for all the bile-filled rant that The Ancestor Cell attracted from some quarters (this one not excluded), Sometime Never... has received nothing like the same criticism. There are maybe a few reasons for this. Under Justin Richards' tenure the books have been far more about fresh, fun adventures, rather than heavy concepts favoured by Stephen Cole; and also, this arc hasn't really got many pulses racing, and the two factors meant that much less was expected of Sometime Never. More importantly, Richards' storytelling skills remain first-class, and silly as all this hokum is, it is always clear, easy and digestible. I've not exactly been complementary about this story, but I should say that it zipped by and I never found it trying or annoying. There are also some good moments; Sabbath's fate is satisfying, even if it is very laboured.
For all that, the big ideas come across so dull. When we see the end of the universe, it's... it's a few punters hanging around a space station! That's it! I mean, Douglas Adams satirised this sort of thing decades ago, and here it is played straight! Between that and the Powerful Aliens In A Room Talking, the entire basis for this story is one big long cliche. Perhaps this is why it took me a while to notice how rubbish it all is - reading this sort of story you tend to shrug and say oh, it's a bit like The Ark in Space, only different. Cliche becomes cliche because we're used to it, so it tends to go down easily.
The patchwork agents are cool; the Doctor is nicely written. Fitz is Fitz. Trix is... vaguely interesting, but not very. Sabbath's story is phenomenally predictable at all times. The guest characters are all rubbish, and all the settings are crap. A Museum. A Space Station. Rooms Full Of Hourglasses. Come on now, surely we can do better than that?
Final random observation; Singleton's (a name straight from Justin's big book of transparent pseudonyms) ultimate fate. This is fanwank. This is incredible fanwank worthy of Craig Hinton. I mean, I know it's Justin Richards and all, and he's great and we love him and he doesn't do that sort of thing; but if it looks like fanwank, and spurts like fanwank, it's fanwank.
In short, Sometime Never is nonsense. It passes the time and offers moments of cosy pleasure, but then again, so does shooting up heroin in a public toilet. I have lost some valuable hours of my life on this appalling load of pleasantly-written drivel. It's just that it's a bit like watching Pokemon or something, after a while the sheer silliness of it all becomes oddly hypnotic.
So if you pick it up it may hold your interest, but I really wouldn't bother. I have survived the experience and give this warning; run away! Save yourselves! There's a beautiful world out there full of wondrous pleasures. And this book is stupid, stupid, stupid.
A Review by Donald McCarthy 8/9/04
This is it. The book that Justin Richards promised would tied up almost all of the loose ends from the Sabbath Arc that really began with The Burning.
The big question is: Does this book succeed by tying up loose ends but while doing so weave a good tale?
The answer to the first question is kind of while the answer to the second one is yes.
Let's start by analyzing the story before dealing with the arc. The story takes place in a few different time zones, namely the middle ages and the end of time, but the chunk of the book takes place in modern day or on the time station. The plot follows the Doctor and his companions going through time trying to collect crystals that appear when the timeline is changed.
This is actually interesting and you wouldn't expect it to be since you're waiting for the Doctor to meet the Council of the Eight. I don't want to spoil anything because this is a fun read if you don't know too much about it, so I'll just say that it is a great tale that keeps your interest... usually. There was a part where I was saying to myself, "Oh, God, Justin what are you doing?" This is better covered when analyzing the...
...arc part of the book. Everything is set for a big show down between the Council of the Eight and the Doctor. There is no huge show down, unfortunately, just a show down between the Doctor and Octan. During the scenes on the Time Station I was beginning to worry as it seemed that nothing would be resolved satisfactorily. Justin soon proved me wrong. Without giving anything away I will say that this book had an excellent ending that will leave you lost for words.
Sometime Never... is excellent even with its flaws. 9.5/10
P.S.- What happens to Sabbath is one of the best parts of this whole arc.
Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 22/9/04
Um, what happened before this again? At the beginning of the previous book (Timeless) there was a 'what had gone before' section, and given the gap between reading that and this (five months), it would have been more than helpful to have something like it again. Still, this book gets the award for 'Wankiest Line to Start a Novel'.
Unfortunately, it goes down from there. Once more, we have a book that is mostly set-up. Even after events have been set-up, this leads to set-ups for further events! And in between that, we are presented with slabs of expositional dialogue about physics and mathematical concepts that Justin Richards doesn't quite get exactly right.
But, nevertheless, this is an epic book in the events of the Eighth Doctor arc. Or, at least, so we are led to believe. What we get is that everything is run by a group of shadowy guys who sit around a table. Yep, that's big, never come across anything like that below. Good to see something original being offered up to the readership. (Note: sarcasm.)
I was able to guess the truth about the opening scene long before it was evident. I knew who Devine was straight away. And the result of the epic climax (and I use those words loosely) was obvious as we were trudging through it. But if you don't get it, don't worry, Justin Richards will detail each and every point that lead to the unveiling of truth, and will even go on about past novels just to make sure we can all appreciate the detail that went into creating this over-arcing story-line (and appreciate we must, even if we don't want to).
Oh, and rather irritatingly Justin Richards gives us an epic event in the history of the universe as a casual chapter. Oh, there's so much more that could have been done with that idea...
Character-wise, the regulars are in typical form. That isn't to say they are wonderfully, fully-realised, in-depth, multi-layered personalities. No, they are just typical for how everyone else writes them. Sabbath (who's regularilty status is somewhat dubious) is about the only one who has anything happen to him, and that's largely by authorial force.
Of the others, the Council are a neat concept, but just a concept, and not really substantial past their obvious role in the story. Fleetward is generically nice professor type, Zezanne doesn't really get enough screen time but comes across as fairly unlikeablely arrogant, and as for Zezanne's mother, that smacks a lot of being a stunt for the fans, and this fan could have done without it.
So, Sometime Never... is the end of the arc, although there are now hints of another story taking shape. Given the spaced out (I meant time between published books, not the state of the authors' minds) nature of the stories, it's hard to get a decent impression. However, I think, ultimately, this book gives a sense of relief that it's now over. We can only stagger dazed and shaking our heads wearily on to the next story...
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 14/11/04
I'm actually shocked by how much I disliked Sometime Never... There are some decent set pieces. Some boring set pieces. Things unfold because the author decides that what needs to happen. There's some corridor-running. Worse, there's some technobabble-laden corridor-running. But overall, the whole exercise just lacks oomph. Not only is it a poor resolution to a, frankly, terrible story-arc, it's not even a decent book in its own right.
First of all, can I state how tired I am of the whole "a butterfly's flight changing the course of a hurricane" thing? Yes, I liked Ray Bradbury's "A Sound Of Thunder", but I am absolutely sick to death of encountering and revisiting these references in time travel fiction over and over again. Maybe this is a sign that I need to vary the fiction I read. But, look, this sort of stuff was clever the first million times I saw it; can't we just grab hold of some other idea to beat to death?
Getting to the book's specifics, this is a story where The Universe and/or History Itself is threatened. Again. Yes, in resolving a story-arc in which each uninteresting story concerned threats to Everything, we are presented with a story in which there is an enormous threat. To Everything. You can only go to that well so many times, and I think this aspect of the story-arc overstayed its welcome at about, oh, the third or fourth time out. Yet there we go again. A universe populated by utterly uninteresting characters is again faced with absolute, total, and certain destruction. There's something wrong in a book where I, the reader, find myself cheering on the collapse of everything only because I wanted to see something (anything!) interesting happen.
The resolution to the story-arc is vaguely logical, but totally uninteresting. The back of the book tells us of the Council of Eight. And now that I've read about them, I'm disheartened to report that they are exactly as boring and stereotypical as their initial description would suggest. They're mysterious. They have a mysterious plan. They live in a mysterious fortress which is mysteriously cut off from the rest of the universe. There's very little that's original here and, thus, all attempts at forging a creepy or fearful atmosphere fail. And what original material exists is utterly lacking in soul. The plot unfolds dryly, with no passion or imagination.
For a book about predictability, predetermination and events unfolding logically, Sometime Never... strangely feels random as hell. And worse than that, it feels awfully contrived. Villains delay attacks long enough for the Doctor to explain the plot to the dumb humans. Exposition is given by having two characters explain things to each other that each is already aware of. This is not what you expect from an author whose resume is as long as Justin Richards' is. Richards has written much better than this before. Richards has written much better than this in situations where he's slapping something together at the last minute to fill the book schedule. What's the excuse here when the book was presumably planned out literally years ago?
Oh, and that weird reference at the end utterly baffled me. It wasn't until I started wandering around the Internet that I found out it was a tie-in to Scream of the Shalka. Um, couldn't we have had a reference to something that was actually good? What is the bloody point referencing a dull story in the middle of another dull story? Boredom raised to the power of banal. Oh, and what was up with that bizarre An Unearthly Child thing? I mean... What?! Why?!
If not for the fact that the Internet has informed me that future stories in this book series are more standalone (and indeed will eventually be replaced by Ninth Doctor Adventures), I think I would be giving up now. It's depressing to think that this is the book that the series had been leading up to. This whole arc has been a series of failures at both the individual book level (save for some worthy exceptions such as the brilliant Emotional Chemistry) and of the overall meta-story. Thank God it's over. And let's hope that the powers that be have learned from their mistakes. Here's to the future.
A Review by Jason A. Miller 6/4/05
Six weeks ago, I was profoundly annoyed by the beginning of this book. Well, it got better. Number one, it had the courtesy to hit the reset button. Number two, once I finally guessed who the Council of Eight were supposed to be, I enjoyed that. It helped that they were each given names that corresponded "One" through "Eight", and that Two and Three were constantly bickering with each other. Oh, and of course what happened to One and his new companion at the end. I also enjoyed that the Doctor encountered a plot device at the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, although my fiance made fun of me for that ("Oh, look at me! I shop where Doctor Who shops! That makes me SO COOL!").
8/10, just for doing us the courtesy of having an ending.