Vengeance on Varos
Virgin Publishing
State of Change

Author Christopher Bulis Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books home page
ISBN# 0 426 20431 X
Published 1994
Continuity Between Revelation of the Daleks and
Trial of a Time Lord

Synopsis: The Doctor and Peri discover an alien presence has interfered with history, giving the Roman Empire modern weapons of mass destruction.


A Book with Wide Appeal by Tammy Potash 18/6/00

State of Change is a remarkable book. To begin with, I detest Peri. And I'm not that big a fan of the sixth Doctor, either. I understand I'm in good company. But State of Change might just make you change your mind on that. Another reviewer said that the 6th Dr. MAs' function is to take off the loud and abrasive coat, letting you glimpse the man (Time Lord) within. This is certainly the case. Here we have a Doctor who actually cares about Peri, and everyone else for that matter. He even cares about his enemies. His well-known propensity for violence is restrained here to participating in the gladiator arena, and it's not as if he had a choice. Plus, he doesn't kill his opponent, a nice touch.

How much of Peri's confidence is due to the change she is undergoing (look at the cover!) and how much she has always possessed is an intriguing question, but whatever is responsible for it, it's nice to see her so sassy, competent, directly affecting the action, saving the Doctor, and not a single whine in the book. Applause to Mr. Bulis.

The plot will appeal to anyone who has played Sid Meir's Civilization games or is a fan of alternate history stories. The laying-out of Roman pragmatism and efficiency, combined with forced technological advances, is a joy to read. They could never have done it on TV, which is a pity as it would have been a gem, following the also enjoyable Revelation of the Daleks. The person behind all this disruption of known history is wisely kept off stage for most of the book, but fans of said will enjoy the portrayal, all two of you. (grin)

Bulis does a nice job with the original characters who populate the book as well as the regulars. Unlike Blood Heat, people we've grown to know and like aren't wiped out at the end of the book.

About the only complaint I have with the book is no fault of Mr. Bulis'-- it's on the cover. The Doctor appears to be wearing lipstick and blusher! A surprisingly poor drawing from Alistair Pearson, who normally does much better. Buy it, read it, enjoy it.

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 22/11/00

The first of several Past Doctor novels by the prolific Christopher Bulis begins with this promising yarn.

PLOT: Basically it's an alternate history tale, with an old enemy thrown in for good measure. Simple, but entertaining.

THE DOCTOR: Well done for the most part, only using violence (albeit unwillingly) as a last resort. It is interesting to see how he copes as he regresses back through his previous incarnations.

COMPANION: Recognisable, but not distinctly Peri. Why she had to change back into a bird a la Vengeance On Varos is beyond me, however.

VILLAIN: The old enemy in the form of the Rani reappears,and frankly the novel doesn`t need her.

OTHERS: Ptolemy Caesar is the only character deserving any special mention, particularly with his political struggles which deserved more focus.

OVERALL: It's a typical novel really, the descriptive writing helps to serve the effective setting, but the plot is too slow and really deserves some tweaking. Promising though, but as Chris Bulis has shown he can deliver the goods when necessary. 5/10.

A Review by Finn Clark 21/6/04

That was a decent book! It's not a masterpiece to survive the ages or anything, but it's perfectly respectable and one of the few Bulis books I actually remembered. That's partly because of its attention-grabbing high concept, but also because in its unobtrusive way it's fairly good.

I like best its use of Peri. With the Doctor busy preparing to become a gladiator (albeit with a radio link to keep him in on discussions), Peri ends up taking charge of much of the story. I like what happens with her metamorphic problem, as you can see from the birdwoman cover illustration. She's practically the book's real hero, not the Doctor.

The Bulis's 6th Doctor isn't as strongly portrayed. There's a time-reversal effect which occasionally regresses him to previous incarnations, which is a cute idea which backfired when sometimes I couldn't work out whether I was meant to be reading about Jon Pertwee or Colin Baker! Despite a few token lines, this is the kinder, gentler Colin several years before Big Finish. He's a bit bland, to be honest. However he gets plenty to do and is always Doctorish, so on that level the portrayal works.

As an aside, it's weird to see a multi-Doctor Colin-era story with Hartnell. The Virgin MAs tended to be period pastiche, especially when written by the Bulis, so it feels odd to include a story element that would have been unfilmable in 1985. That's hardly a fair criticism, but it's how I felt. Maybe it's because the idea seems slightly wanky? In addition at the end we see the creation of a mirror-Earth which reminds me of Mondas's mirror-image continents. Was the Bulis trying to sneak in a Genesis of the Cybermen, just like the possible Genesis of the Movellans in A Device of Death? On reflection I don't think this can be Mondas, but it made me wonder.

I like this subtle approach to continuity, though. For example, the TARDIS is equipped with Hartnell's furniture. Even in the Virgin era of Hinton, Lane et al, the Bulis was keeping its fanwank to delicate touches instead of hammerblows. Nice one!

The book's biggest problem is its apparent alternate universe. My interest started recovering halfway through when we learned the real situation, but even so it took me a while to care about the local politics. I'm not always gripped by real-life Imperial Rome. Giving me an unreal substitute wasn't a good move. The characterisation is variable... some of the locals are dumb stereotypes, e.g. comedy tomb robbers on the run from Terrance Dicks, but I liked Ptolemy. He's not deep, but he's sympathetic. The Bulis seems to have a knack for such characters even in otherwise undistinguished books, as with Amelia Grover in Eye of the Giant or Max the synthoid in A Device of Death.

This is a decent book with some interesting themes (see the title) and a fun set-piece or two. I enjoyed the Doctor's gladiatorial fight, with which the Bulis sensibly doesn't even try to scare us. We know the Doctor won't die. We only want him to entertain - and he does. The book isn't particularly well executed, but its prose and characters are passable enough not to hurt the story. I couldn't say that this book cried out to be published, but it does its job and it's better than many other Doctor Who novels I could name. I enjoyed it.

Rome but with Zeppelins by Jacob Licklider 5/8/18

The Sixth Doctor's redemption may have begun with his appearance in the Big Finish audio dramas, but I would argue the seeds to this redemption were sown in this novel. State of Change is Christopher Bulis' second novel and is leaps and bounds ahead of his first in terms of writing quality. He paints a realistic portrayal of Roman society that drags you into the narrative and intrigues you to know exactly where the plot is going to go. The plot involves the Doctor and Peri arriving in Rome on what appears to be an alternate Earth where technology has developed, but all is not well. Stepping out of the TARDIS in Cleopatra's tomb, the Doctor reverts back to his fifth incarnation and Peri begins to sprout feathers a la Vengeance on Varos. The plot goes exactly where you would expect, with the Doctor trying to figure out what's causing this with an eventual twist on who the villain is, which I won't spoil, but I will say their returning caught me off guard, and Bulis works better with this character than anyone did on TV. The plot is a breath of fresh air as it really feels like it came out of the missing Season 23, which allowed me to quickly get through the novel.

The Doctor is perfectly characterized here as the softer Six, as he cares immensely for Peri and finds the villain's plan full of horrifying implications. His actions towards Peri are so good that he is worrying for her safety as he leaves her in the TARDIS slowly turning into a bird woman. At one point, the TARDIS is confronted with tomb robbers and the first thing he asks Peri is "Are you all right?" Bulis is able to get him out of his coat and into period dress. His eventual defeat of the villain is very satisfying for the novel. Peri also gets better characterization here as she has her own little character arc. The experiments of Vengeance on Varos have taken a toll on her psyche and makes her kept in fear. She turns into a bird and embraces it as a way to tell herself she can get through it. It makes her an immediately stronger character and, I'd argue, explains her better relationship with the Doctor seen in The Mysterious Planet. It's down to these two characters alone and the villain that this should be a contender to be adapted for audio.

The supporting characters are varied, with a few of them sticking out but many of them being forgettable. Peri gets some great stuff with Ptolemy Caesar, which I really like, and the gladiator sections are cool, but the characters are pretty one note for the most part. Bulis, however, is good at describing the characters' appearances and the setting, so they feel like they can be real people. I feel like I'm in Rome while reading this book, and the added technology actually feels pretty natural for the most part. The biggest problem with this novel is its pacing. It begins with a prologue that really isn't very necessary except to introduce some of the characters and is followed by fifty pages of worldbuilding. This worldbuilding helps with keeping the setting well defined but makes the plot drag slightly and makes the eventual pacing increase come across as slightly rushed. The conclusion of the novel also has quite a few problems in that it all starts to happen. Bulis has a great twist in that it isn't an alternate Earth but a sort of time bubble, which is a great idea. Sadly, the idea doesn't translate well into an actual story, and it feels a bit cheap as a twist.

To summarize, State of Change is the best Virgin New Adventure since Goth Opera. It isn't perfect, but, with some great characters and plot ideas mixing in with a great villain and a twist, leads to a novel that really anyone can enjoy with very few problems. The supporting characters are weak, and the first third of the novel becomes a real slog to get through, but if you get past it, you will see a novel showing exactly how Colin Baker should have been done on television. 78/100