Dancing the Code
Virgin Publishing
Speed of Flight

Author Paul Leonard Cover image
ISBN# 0 426 20487 5
Published 1996
Continuity After Dancing the Code

Synopsis: The TARDIS materializes on a planet that is literally at war with itself.


A Review by Sean Gaffney 8/9/99

Well, finished Speed of Flight, and was... ambivalent.

This book was OK, but no great shakes. Paul was trying to do Ursula LeGuin, and it didn't quite come off.

Plot: Confusing. I know it was supposed to be revealed gradually, but not enough was revealed at all. The whole idea of the dead was never really explained (and was I the only one to be humming Gene through the book?), and several times the alienness of the world was given as a reason, without further explanation. Still, the pace gallops along. Actually, that's another problem; the book starts too fast - there's no time to build up, to get to know these people.

The Doctor: Fine, when he's there. Why do Pertwee authors feel it necessary to have him absent from half the book? What we see of him is fine, though.

Jo: Well, when she's Jo, she's fine too. Nice reaction to Mike's killing her - I can see why the relationship sorta died there.

Mike: Not especially necessary, in my opinion. There were no real reasons for Mike to be in the book, except that Paul wanted him in it. And he spent far too much time confused, IMO.

Others: Epreto was the only one that made an impression on me, and I'm not sure about his "repentance" in the end. The others really didn't gel in my mind. Unlike Damaged Goods, Speed of Flight didn't really seem to want you to know its minor characters.

Style: Pretty good.

Overall: Workmanlike, but no great shakes. Oh, well.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 3/9/00

Difficult to pin down this one, but anyway I`ll try.

PLOT: On the planet Nooma, there is industrial revolution, survival has become almost a religion and the planet is at war with itself; literally.

THE DOCTOR: Recognisably Pertwee, but nothing special given that he doesn't feature enough, as he should do.

COMPANIONS: Jo Grant is Jo by numbers, there is nothing really for her to do. Mike Yates is present, though seemingly there just to kill Jo. Perhaps had it just been him and The Doctor, this would've been more interesting. As it stands it isn't.

OTHERS: The characters really are too minor to sustain any interest. Epreto is okay,but substandard.

OVERALL: It didn`t take me very long to read this and as such this is reflected in my review. Despite the confusing plot,it isn't a must read book, just average. Although by Paul Leonard's standards this is well below par. 3/10.

A Haiku by Finn Clark Updated 3/5/20

Superb world-building,
Dramatic developments,
Forgettable cast.

A Review by Brian May 4/5/06

Speed of Flight is a book that definitely benefits from a second reading. My first evaluation of it was "okay, but a bit wordy." However, picking it up again I found this was not the case at all. Maybe it's because I was familiar with the story's structure and ideas, so it was easier to take in. But anyway, I'm now of the opinion that Paul Leonard's third Missing Adventure is one of the series' best ever.

It's up there with Jim Mortimore's work when it comes to hard science-fiction but, shock horror, it's actually readable! The Artifact from Parasite is an astoundingly weird and wonderful place, but the book is a nightmare of extended and incomprehensible prose. The system of planets, moons and artificial bridges from Lucifer Rising are similarly astounding and thankfully Mortimore had Andy Lane to rein in his verbal excesses. But, with the world of Nooma, Leonard gives us a similarly alien environment, in an easy-to-read format! In my opinion it's the closest a Doctor Who book has come to feeling like Ursula Le Guin. The ambiguous nature of gender - among the "men", i.e. Epreto's kind, there are only men; when Xa is Promoted he becomes female - reminded me of her marvellous book The Left Hand of Darkness, as did the primal, practically sexual urge to fight for Promotion (both concepts reminiscent of the act of kemmer). There is also a strong fantasy element in the Tolkein vein while the ideas of transcendence and transformation, as men turn into winged beings, are very Biblical. Oh, and of course, there's Chicken Little!

Leonard's descriptions are detailed but to the point, lucid and at times just plain gorgeous. The different buildings, lands, environments and life cycles of Nooma are captivatingly brought to the page and also happen to be fascinating. The description never goes overboard, not even in the action oriented battles in the Sky, nor the lengthy prologue (this is perhaps the part of the book that's better second time round - I take back what I said about it when I reviewed Genocide last year). It's also interesting that the naieen are never described in full. We know they are winged beings, but that's it - and I rather like it! It leaves more to the reader's imagination; it's up to us to picture them as angels, birds or simply humans with wings. Xaai's predicament, her attempts to remember her past and her escape from the Temple, along with her sensual reactions to flight I thought were notably evocative, as I did the book's closing moments as Epreto ponders his redemption.

Epreto is one of Who's best ever anti-villains. I immediately thought of him as a cross between Alexander the Great and Brunel - an unusual combination indeed. He's arrogant, cruel and ruthless, yet he invokes a sort of sympathy from the reader. Perhaps it's because he's a passionate man. He's a fanatic, he plans mass murder - none of this can be justified in any circumstance, but there's a certain nobility too. Xaai is remarkably captured, no pun intended, and the reader suffers along with her pain, frustration and yearning. She's the book's most tragic figure, although she does seem, Master-style, to miraculously escape death a few too many times. And ironically enough, I felt it would have been more fitting had she remained dead at the very end. However the very nature of this world, in which the dead can be revived, really leaves the author no alternative: Mike has to be resurrected for the fundamental purpose of continuity, and there's no real reason Xaai shouldn't be. However we do read a tragic, final death - that of Aapurian, another sympathetically drawn character.

Leonard has written a near-perfect third Doctor. In fact, I can't find anything to fault his portrayal. His actions and words are very Jon Pertwee, and you can imagine those fold-up wings as a perfect accessory for the Time Lord's "man of action" third incarnation, especially when freed of budgetary restraints. Mike gets his trip in the TARDIS the televised series never allowed him to have, although he and Jo aren't as good as Leonard wrote them in Dancing the Code. There's something lacking here, making it quite advantageous that they're both out of character for the best part of the novel, what with their possession and being "dead".

A few gripes: one concerns the revelation that Nooma is in fact a failed experiment carried out by an amoral galactic corporation. Not the revelation itself - it's quite good - but the Doctor seems to learn about it when consulting the Compendium, only revealing the full story to the other characters - and the readers - near the end. The fact that he knows what's been going on relatively early, and keeps it to himself lessens the tension and sense of climax. The attempt to put the TARDIS in the pod in order to reach the Sky is the one section in the book that's tiring to read. It seems like it was written to fill a page count, and is even more of a letdown when the attempt fails and the Doctor just uses the TARDIS anyway.

But overall Speed of Flight is a delight, depicting a beautifully realised and truly alien world. It's magical and wondrous; one of the best examples of how imaginative Doctor Who could be when the sky - excuse another pun! - is the limit, not a meagre BBC budget. 9/10