The Psi Powers Series
Bad Therapy
Virgin Books
So Vile a Sin
Psi Powers Part Nine

Author Ben Aaronovitch and
Kate Orman
Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20484 0
Published 1997
[Note: Publication of this book was delayed]
Cover Jon Sullivan

Synopsis: The Earth Empire is dying and the house of Forrester is more caught up in the events than anyone knows. As alternate realities fracture and split, multiple Doctors find multiple tragedy. The real Doctor finds he must pay the price that he always knew was coming...


A True Epic by Joseph Nunweek 24/3/98

Due to the disasterous computer crash that is now famous in all corners of fandom, So Vile A Sin is the last Virgin NA (that is, with the Doctor in it) and the last released story of the 7th Doctor. And it seems like it too. So Vile A Sin seems to reflect on all Doctor Who thus far: references to the Time Lords and the Great Vampires, one of the best Ogron appearances ever, everyone's favourite archeologist, and a conclusion to the meticulous Future History established throughout the NA's. As a result, you get an epic saga with the size and scope of Star Wars, just more intelligent and complex.

The story is spread throughout the Earth Empire-- from the grimy Undercities to the dark dealings on the moons of Jupiter, the plot is tense, exciting drama with just the right degree of humor. Kate Orman completes the book seamlessly-- you hardly notice the two styles. The Doctor, Chris and Roz are brilliant and almost everyone else is great too. This is the good thing about the NA's: acting quality isn't a problem.

This is also the first story in some time to deal with the death of a major character. It is done incredibly well. The Doctor is broken-- again he came too late to save a loved one. There is a beautiful scene where he thinks he didn't deserve to survive the ordeal-- that one of the alternative, less flawed Doctor's should have survived. An incredibly brilliant moment for the Seventh Doctor.

What makes this book so incredible? I must point out it is not a stand-alone book, with ties going as far back as Transit, which was my first NA. And still, through all those confusing references, So Vile A Sin still drew me in, and convinced me to continue reading the New Adventures. A Hugo-worthy book.

A Review by Robert Smith? 26/3/98

Delayed, abandoned, rewritten by a different author, tying up so many plot points and writing out Roz-- this was a book that seemed destined for disaster. Which makes it all the more impressive that it's as great as it is.

There actually is a bit of a clash between Ben's and Kate's prose (I usually don't notice things like this, but I could spot the joins a mile off). That said, there's not really all that much of Ben's there, so it settles down after the early sections.

I had some doubts about the book telling us what happens to Roz from the start when I'd heard about it, but the book is written so well that this becomes one of it's strong points. The "date with destiny" style is wonderfully portrayed, the ending only marred by the inconsistencies with Eternity Weeps (where Bernice and Jason stated they were at the funeral and here it's made clear they weren't).

That said, the whole resolution to the psi-powers thread comes across well and the alternate futures are a brilliant touch. Very, very highly recommended.

A Review by Jill Sherwin 15/9/99

"If you step back into history, I won't be able to protect you."

The leavetaking of any companion (but especially the good ones) is traumatic, like losing a friend or family member. It doesn't matter how the companion parts from the Doctor, whether for a nobler cause or for hormones' sake, it's still sad. In So Vile A Sin Roz Forrester gives up travelling with the Doctor for a taste of home and family and she will definitely be missed.

A culmination of the last eight books or so, So Vile A Sin concludes the 'psi-power' adventures that started with Orman's earlier work, SLEEPY (or possibly even earlier). Warning: this is not a stand alone book. I recommend reading at minimum SLEEPY and Damaged Goods before you read 'Vile' if you want even a clue about the events leading up to it.

There are so many storylines and characters racing around in this book that it's impossible to cover tham all here. Suffice it to say the Doctor, Roz and Chris return to to Forrester family homestead to find the Empire in political turmoil (which might have something to do with the Doctor killing the Empress or it might not). As various political factions fight over who will next rule half of the known galaxy, the Doctor realizes that there are some very strong pockets of psi-power opening a Nexus, or doorway in the Universe, that bad boys the Brotherhood wish to utilize for their own nefarious plans. Various red herrings and loose ends from the past eight books and beyond are touched on here including: the War between the ancient Time Lords and the Great Vampires, the N-form psi-power-eating monsters encountered in Damaged Goods, the Forrester House's political ambitions and more.

There was a lot of ground here to cover and this book does manage to accomplish much event-wise while still delving further into Roz's character (as Orman did so admirably in Return of the Living Dad). The book deals with choices on the galactic scale and the interpersonal one as the Doctor and his companions consider what or who they might've been had they taken other roads.

As for the writing, I felt myself drifting occasionally from the event scenes, being much more drawn to the intimate personal scenes that are Orman's speciality. There are enough beautiful scenes appreciating the fullness of Roz's role as companion and character to satisfy any Roz fan. Equally, there are enough lovely little fannish references to everything from Star Trek to British cult author Jeff Noon to satisfy the most esoteric of readers. Orman's wry humor comes through as well, giving all of the characters wonderful self-aware, self-deprecating moments.

If I seem to dwell on Orman's contributions rather than Aaronovitch, it is due to the overwhelming impression that though the shape of the book was sculpted by Aaronovitch, the personality was given by Orman. If it was a more collaborative partnership, then I praise Aaronovitch for allowing the voice of Orman, most truly the voice of Roz, to shine through.

On another note, it's quite nice to see the image of two strong, successful African-American women gracing the cover of this book, an unusual occurrence still, even for science fiction. Actually, another favorite cover of a New Adventure that stands out also has a stunning portrait of Roz on the cover. (I vote for Alfre Woodard should Roz ever see the light of screen.)

I waited some time for this book and I was not disappointed. I have not yet read any of the New Adventures that chronologically follow this one (even though they've been out in the stores for months) as I'm a purist and wanted to read it as it 'happened'. It is a frustrating path the New Adventures chose to follow by becoming serial adventures rather than stand alones, but this 'Missing' New Adventure caps the psi-power stories well, though it would've been tighter (not to mention easier to remember which plot threads to follow) had this been published as the third direct book in a trilogy with the aforementioned SLEEPY and Dangerous Goods.

Still, if you've been paying attention for the last few books, I think this proves a strong addition and a well-plotted (credit to Aaronovitch where it's definitely due) denouement.

So long, Roz. Make justice.

A Review by Dominick Cericola 22/3/00

Recommended Songs/CDs To Read By: Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited", Christopher Franke's Babylon 5 soundtrack (Vol. I), Tori Amos' "Under The Pink".

I was going to hold off doing this review, basing it on a third re-reading (this time, after reading them in order, as my collection is now complete, except for Lawrence Miles' Christmas On A Rational Planet). However, I gained a well-defined perspective from the second time (re-read it back at the beginning of the year), much of which has stuck with me long after placing the book back on my shelf.

So Vile A Sin begins to set the stage for what is to come, eventually leading the way for Marc Platt's Lungbarrow, culminating with the 1996 TV-movie of The Enemy Within (introducing us to the Eighth Doctor!). It is a heavy mood through out, angst and self-doubt practically oozing from each page, but as I learned from the re-reading, it was important to the story and all that would come after it.

It is in this book, actually within the first two pages, we are shown what a toll being Time's Champion has taken on The Doctor. It is during the funeral for Roz Forrester, a Companion who was so much more in such a short time, that we witness his hearts attack, brought on from all the stress and everything that he keeps within -- for with whom can you truly share a burden such as his?

Roz's death, while not actually attributing to anything he did, has a disturbing effect on The Doctor. After the funeral, and his hearts' attack, he goes to see the recently-married Professor Summerfield-Kane and her husband, Jason, off on one of their archaeological digs. He doesn't speak or react, just shutting himself down. It is a Time Lord's equivalent of a nervous breakdown, one in which he is given a rare moment to reflect on his Life, all that he has done, and the impact he has had on the Known Universe. [SIDE NOTE: If you look at The Enemy Within, in the beginning, during the TARDIS sequence, the 7th Doctor truly seems at peace, something which this book and the other four after it -- Bad Therapy, Eternity Weeps, Room With No Doors, and Lungbarrow -- seem to contribute greatly.]

And then there is poor Chris Cwej. Chris really well and truly cares for his partner, Roz, despite the fact that they aren't really Adjudicators any more. Then again, the feelings he has for aren't all the professional, so it really doesn't matter. His pain goes deep, yet it is only hinted at here, allowing The Doctor to share the center stage, leaving Chris time to allow his pain to build up -- it will run into all four books, finally culminating in Kate Orman's Room With No Doors.

Despite the fact that Ms. Orman had the chore of finishing a book, written by an author who writes in a style completely different from her own, the book succeeds. It is deep and heady, offering views on Life, Death, and the roles both play in the Cosmos. It shows the fullest extent of the Human Spirit. And, most of all, it is Who, down to its very core, a story that reminded me of the late Robert Holmes at his very best (something he had no trouble achieving). It's not a difficult book to locate (I've seen it turn up at used bookstores), and one which you should seek out. One word of advice, tho': Read it once. Go and read the other Chris and Roz adventures, then re-read it. The Bigger Picture will blow you away..!

One final comment.. Above, I offered a list of songs and CDs to read SVAS by. Those, for me, are the definitive soundtrack to the book, esp. Ms. Morissette's "Uninvited". First time I heard that song, I was reading the opening prologue, during the funeral -- and on one level, I am listening to the song, while trying to digest everything on the page -- it all culminates with me sitting there crying, and I hadn't even gotten to the end yet! Very rarely do I try to influence people's decisons, but I think in this case, it is okay to bend the Universal Rules. Cheers, gang.

A Review by Finn Clark 17/12/01

A lot of this is superb. There's a real epic feel to it, with the depth and breadth of an Interference; one puts it down afterwards surprised that it all fitted into a mere 312 pages. Ben Aaronovitch is working his imagination as hard as in Transit, albeit this time building on foundations established in previous novels. (Had Virgin not lost the licence, they could have run a long way with this material.) Mr Fact and Mr Fiction are funky. There's a great scene between Roz and the Doctor. All this and more is very impressive, yet...

I was bored. Finn's First Law rides again: only one plane of reality at a time, please. For me, reality-changing stories have no dramatic tension. Is this real or is it a parallel universe? Will everything I've read be undone in the next chapter? Do I give a monkey's?

But that's only half the problem. For the first hundred pages, nothing happens. (The Ogrons are vaguely interesting, but unfortunately Gareth Roberts got there first and was funny.) The sheer scale of events becomes a problem, as the plot becomes a string of epic incidents that don't feel particularly connected to the characters. There are some attempts at humour that I'm sure were written at 4am.

It's all too big, vague and reality-shifting for me to care. Page 135... who the fuck are Simon and Genevieve? Flick, flick. Did we meet them earlier?

Maybe it's Kate's fault. She'd been so busy pushing her frock agenda since Sleepy that it's as if she'd forgotten how to propel a plot. Or perhaps we should blame Ben. He was apparently having trouble with this even before his computer crashed, which speaking from personal experience was perhaps because it was crap. One's subconscious often sends you these little warning signs: "I don't want to do this, boss!"

Roz's death falls flat, IMO. Others will disagree, I'm sure. Her disagreement with the Doctor before going off to war is spine-tingling, but everything afterwards is reportage. In fact all the Earth Empire stuff is deathly dull. In fairness, though, the reality-shifting didn't help me care. When the Doctor the Empress, I wasn't sure for a while whether that had actually happened or whether it was yet another abortive timeline.

Some of it works. An N-form (see Damaged Goods) crops up, just long enough to get squished and lead us to some Big Time Lord Secrets that are genuinely impressive and comfortably the best bits of the novel. I liked that chapter.

Overall, I had to admire the novel's ambition. It's big. Really big. The events herein are awesome, but unfortunately my interest had long ago been beaten into submission by aborted timelines and a drifting narrative. However DWM's Shelf Life thought it was a masterpiece, so you might give it a try anyway.

So Might Have Been by Jason A. Miller 8/11/02

This was supposed to be the "It" novel of 1996. The Virgin Doctor Who New Adventures had been given their death sentence, a victim of the US TV movie which regenerated the Doctor. The NAs promptly responded by crafting together a series of novels which brought the 7th Doctor right up to death's door, while closing out the storylines and themes of 60 well-received books. So Vile A Sin had the task of writing out companion Roz Forrester and sealing the NAs' version of "future history" with an ironic little bow.

So what happened? The novel died. A victim of author Ben Aaronovitch's ambitions and the much ballyhooed "hard-drive crash" that torched the original publication date. Four subsequent Roz-free books hit the market, and indeed the Virgin license had technically expired, by the time a restored Sin, now written by Kate Orman, hit the shelves, sans the Doctor Who logo.

It remains to this day hard to judge just how good So Vile is. Orman and Aaronovitch have vastly different styles, but they essentially write to the same purpose. Their "joint" novel takes us to the ends of the Earth Empire in the late 30th century, from the moons of Jupiter to the planets of the distant sun Agammemnon, from the Time Lords' darkest secrets to the death of Doctor Who. And yet, for all that travel, we barely see a thing.

Properly set up at 400 pages as intended, this book may indeed have been a wonderful epic. Instead, it feels more like a string of disjointed episodes. Many characters are introduced in a sprawling, harshly-written prologue that must have been written by Aaronovitch (drenched with military speak, cultural annotations, and a too-long history of 30th century prostitution -- Doctor Who was originally a kids' series). However, the chess pieces fade in and out for hundreds of pages at a time, and their role in the grand finale is unclear until you read the book at least twice.

And then there's Roz. Clearly this was meant to be her apotheosis. The book's third and final segment shows how the honorable yet disgraced 30th century cop is torn between her sister's Imperial ambitions and Doctor's unique sense of justice ("You might be asked to choose sides. Do you want my advice? Don't."). We learn of her family's history, and rise to nobility. Roz has hard decisions to make, and her exit from the series is heroic and boneheaded all at once.

Where's the problem? Well... Roz had no character, for the 18 or so novels before this one. News of her death was well-known to fandom, long before her first adventure belatedly hit US bookshelves. If all of her books had been like this, her finale may have been grandly moving. Instead, there's a bit of an "eh" to it. Ben Aaronovitch clearly understood her better than anyone, but he only wrote for her twice. Kate, in his place, merely ramps up some aimless sexual tension between her and the much younger Chris Cwej. There's a very muted family tragedy that I'd completely forgotten about, again probably due to missing text.

Surprisingly, the psi-powers element of SVAS is well done, even as the preceding stories in the psi-powers arc were among the worst the NAs gave us. The book's first great scene (all the way along on page 111) shows the root cause of psychic powers in the Universe, and there's a great mini-speech by the Doctor later on about how Time Lords came to be. These are grand visual moments, what DW always did best.

Other things of note: old companion Bernice Summerfield's return for Roz's funeral; Roz's young 30th century clone; and the "alternate" Doctors accidentally released by the book's psi-powered bad guys, the Brotherhood. But in the end, it's just another space opera, with lots of cramped spaceships and dark tunnels and claustrophic marketplaces. In this one instance, less was not more, and the best version of So Vile A Sin probably still resonates in Ben Aaronovitch's head. Or on his computer.

A story too broad and too deep for Ben's hard drive by Andrew McCaffrey 15/4/04

Everyone reading this review doubtless already knows the story of how two names came to be on the spine of So Vile A Sin. I have nothing to add to the tale other than to relate that I always picture Kate Orman coming to the rescue as a Doctor Who version of Harvey Keitel as the tuxedoed Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction. ("You're sending the Orman? Rebecca, mother-editor, that's all you needed to say!")

Vastly different images come to mind when I think about the past works of Aaronovitch and Orman. Saying "Kate Orman novel" to me conjures up thoughts of many heartbreakingly touching character moments strung together in a tight plot. "Ben Aaronovitch novel" makes me think of solar system-sized transit mechanics, solar system-sized civilizations, and armies dropping big things out of orbit onto the heads of other armies. However, these caricatures of mine do both authors a disservice, as each has his or her particular strengths and weaknesses. A fan of their previous individual work, I was extremely curious as to how their styles would mesh. Although it's perhaps a little unfair of me to judge this as a true collaboration, given the circumstances behind the pairing.

The combination of their two distinct styles is very interesting. Some of my favorite moments in Orman's novels have been when she concentrates on illustrating a single setting, such as the human colonies in SLEEPY and The Year of Intelligent Tigers. Here, she does much the same thing, only instead of confining herself to one place, she has several of Ben's Really Big settings to populate. The first hundred pages are spent warping from one gorgeous setting to the next. Although these are great locations (and superbly brought to life) I kept wondering when the story was going to settle down and get started. (My thought processes: "Wow! This is a great location; now the story will start here! [A few dozen pages later.] Wow! This is another great location! Now the story will start here! [Even more pages later.] Ooh, an even more interesting location... with robots and hardware! Now the story will surely begin here!")

The impression that this gave me was (and I am likely completely wrong in this evaluation, but it's how it felt to this reader) that it was a struggle to get all of these great individual pieces into the final manuscript. More thought may have gone into determining how to flesh out each of these components with little time available to figure out how they fit together and whether they were all really needed in the first place. It's not that all these things jar with each other, more than they just don't quite mesh smoothly.

I think the biggest problem is that there's just too much going on. Indeed, I was surprised when I got to the end and realized that the Ormanovitch managed to fit everything I had just read into a mere 312 pages. We aren't given the chance to really dwell on anything, and this is a pity because there's a lot of great stuff going on. This is why I find it difficult to be too critical of the content; it's the structure that doesn't seem to work. The character of Vincenzi, to take an example, is given quite a bit of build-up, but then just seems to fade. On the other hand, the galactic politicking is mentioned early, but so casually that the later power struggles seem to come out of nowhere. Roz's death (no spoiler this -- it's mentioned on the first page) is indeed haunting, epic and powerful. But while the sacrifice itself engages on the emotional level, the actual events leading up to it seem somewhat cold and detached.

Before I sign off, I should point out that despite the paragraphs I've spent complaining (I find it strangely easier to analyze flaws than to praise successes), I ultimately did enjoy reading this. In addition to the aforementioned settings, the characters are fantastic. I enjoyed seeing Roz interacting with her family, even if their motivations baffled me. The plot, although wandering and disjointed, is ultimately satisfying. The development of the book's alien races and the future history that builds upon what we saw in Original Sin are also both a lot of fun.

Given the circumstances surrounding the publication of this novel, it's almost ludicrous to suggest "oh, if only they'd had more time to iron out the problems", because, obviously time was not a luxury available. But, oh, if only they'd had more time to iron out the problems. Although it suffers from some flaws, I can't help but love a lot of the pieces that make up this novel. At times it touches brilliance, which is exactly what we would expect from a book with those two names on the cover.

A Review by Neil Clarke 5/3/10

I love So Vile a Sin.

I got back into Doctor Who after the 2005 season, after a lapse of a few years, although more in spite of than because of RTD's approach. I've been gradually rereading my favourite books, and getting hold of ones I never got round to reading the first time. I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to get round to So Vile a Sin; I already knew I loved it, from when I was a kid (got it in a library book sale: 20p. Suck on that, eBay!); but still, something was putting me off. What if it didn't live up to my thirteen-year-old memories of its gloriousness?

I needn't have worried.

It's such a beautiful book, cleverly but economically written. The way the huge scale and future setting is suggested through little references to the bigger picture, while being grounded in realistic reactions is quite wonderful, and all the characters are constructed with a minimum of fuss.

Heartbreaking, too, of course; the inevitability of Roz's death is so brilliantly set up throughout the book. The funeral epilogue-prologue is an absolutely wonderful piece of writing; I read it by itself a couple of months ago and it instantly made me cry. Placing Roz back within the context of her own time and family is also a beautiful way to make her death more resonant. Even the fact that her death isn't seen, per se, is such a powerful decision (the impersonality stops any potential mawkishness).

I absolutely love the Seventh Doctor (in fact, much as I love, say, the First and Second Doctors, I can't get away from feeling the NA Seventh Doctor is "my" Doctor) - and, considering that he's being written by Aaronovitch and Orman, it's a foregone conclusion that he's handled brilliantly. I love his spare appearances, and his contrasting emotional vulnerability and overarching manipulation; it just reminds me what a good character the Seventh Doctor is. (Which decries Uncle Terrance's assertion that the Doctor's always the same man, but with different hats; or, at least, shows that the Doctor can be more than just an archetype.)

The alternate Doctors are intriguing, although an idea like this could all too easily have become a fanwank of monumental proportions, thanks to the authors' discretion though, it's effective because it's done with constraint. (I'm particularly fond of the ancient, wheelchair-bound Third Doctor.)

It's so nice having a book which is very much Roz's; she's so wonderfully unlike any other companion. As ever, the NAs are so many miles ahead of... well, everything else, that your "conventional" companions pale into insignificance by comparison. (Okay, maybe a bit strong. But I really like Roz. She's a bit world-weary and rough round the edges, and feels like a Real Person (!) in a way that even Benny doesn't always.)

It's bizarre really that such a "huge" book is so personal and affecting, too, which comes down to Roz alone (for example, plot-wise, there's only the slightest conclusion). It's impressive also that the book is epic, moving - but also really funny, in a knowing, deadpan way.

Roz's death really bothers me, actually; I think because it's written so sensitively and perceptively. It's really nice getting Benny's perspective at the end. I think also it's true that Roz is a character that, while she might have become familiar, as Bernice says, you don't really know her, and it makes everything all the more poignant.

Maybe there's too much, but I do like all the continuity - and the way none of it is dwelt on (I guess there was a lot to tie up). In fact, the way the novel never stoops to explain anything and you have to really use your intelligence is wonderful (especially in relation to the new series); I really appreciate having to mentally piece together all the disparate characters, etc.

I guess it's all too easy to look back and dwell on a past era, but it's so sad they literally don't make them like this any more! The NAs really are "my Doctor Who", so it makes me sad that they're kind of being erased by the new series. (I know it's a bit petty to complain about, but the Doctor's assertion that he's only 903 in Voyage of the Damned does seem like the TV series shitting on the NAs, EDAs, audios, etc. Wasn't he 1002 or something in Vampire Science? Although, saying that, isn't he 953 or something in Time and the Rani? In which case, RTD's just plain wrong, and we can safely ignore him.)

Genuinely intelligent, moving, complex and adult Doctor Who; you can't ask for much better than that. So Vile a Sin is gorgeous.