THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Image of the Fendahl
Timelash
Alien Bodies
The Compassion/TARDIS arc
BBC Books
The Taking of Planet 5

Authors Simon Bucher-Jones
and
Mark Clapham
Cover image
ISBN 0 563 55585 8
Published 1999

Synopsis: The Doctor learns of a twelve-million year old war and feels he must intervene. But the consequences may have a devastating effect on present-day Earth and his own future.


Reviews

A Review by Mike Morris 9/11/99

I think science is great. No, really. It's brilliant. I love it. Relativity, quantum physics, all that stuff about the fabric of space-time... don't get me wrong, I'm no master physicist, but I have read A Brief History of Time.

I guess that's why, when a book makes a colossal scientific blunder such as claiming that the universe will be freezing cold at the Big Crunch (stand up Lance Parkin), I get quite disproportionately annoyed. And it's why I love a book that's clearly written by someone who knows a lot more about the subject than I do.

That was the main reason I liked The Taking of Planet 5. There's no cavalier attitude to science here. The authors have clearly imagined a universe with definite scientific laws, and they've set their story within it, staying completely consistent to their own rules. Concepts are discussed intelligently, although the flipside is that this reads a little like a textbook at times, and the occasional asides detract from the narrative a bit. We have ideas regarding timeloops (nothing new here, but done better than usual), genetic engineering, and more than anything the concept of scale. Previous Doctor Who books have discussed how big the universe is - this is about how small the universe is, in comparison to everything else outside it...

In its own way, The Taking of Planet Five is every bit as inventive as The Blue Angel. Sadly, though, it's also as generic as Attack of the Cybermen.

We have an old monster. In fact, we have the ultimate old monster; yes folks, it's death, it's immensely powerful, it manipulated mankind, and it was only ever used the once... say hello to the Fendahl! This isn't a spoiler, as the picture of a skull with a pentagram carved on it on the cover is a bit of a giveaway. The Fendahl's back. So too is Mictlan, the Celestis, and that future Time Lord war with... whoever.

In the case of the Fendahl, the old mythology is nicely used. The concept is more thoroughly explained, the timeloop of Planet Five is nicely examined, and various pieces of accepted continuity are turned on their head. With regard to the other topics, there are equally satisfying moments and some excellent characters, most notably One and Two, the Celesti agents. The development of the Time Lord future war is nice as well, and the revelation of the future Time Lords is genuinely shocking.

And yet...

And yet, despite the wealth of ideas, there's something slightly tired about all this, something that makes it very obvious that the authors are playing about with other people's ideas. I'm not entirely sure why this is. Maybe it's the characterisation; with the exception of Hume, and the aforementioned One and Two, the only really well-characterised individuals are recurring characters (and besides, Hume is... oh, never mind, you'll find out). The new Time Lords we're introduced to are completely faceless, as are the humans in Antarctica.

Set against this, Compassion is fleshed out for the first time. Her joining the TARDIS crew in Interference was muted, and in The Blue Angel she didn't do an awful lot. Here, she takes centre stage. She's amoral, scornful, has an acidic wit, shows a healthy disdain for just about everyone and shows no emotion at all, ever. As you can guess, she's hugely likeable, and could well become the best companion since Benny. Well done.

The prose is matter-of-fact, at times a little oblique, and at times a bit like an essay. It also contains some wonderful descriptive passages, most notably about a landscape of TARDISes being created. It isn't extraordinarily written, but it's simple and modest. On the whole, I liked the style of this book.

But still, at the end of the day, it's all about concept more than plot. If you like character-based drama, this might not be the book for you. If, on the other hand, you liked Season Eighteen, I think it'll go down well. Either way, it's pretty damn pivotal to the development of the Eighth Doctor range, so you'll have to read it regardless.

About this Great Story Arc we keep hearing about... has it started yet? There's a couple of gestures in The Taking of Planet Five, but on the whole there really hasn't been any development since Interference. In fact, there's a far stronger linking theme in the recent BBC Books; it's the The Doctor Doesn't Do A Bloody Thing "arc". The last few books I've read have been Beltempest, Revolution Man, Interference and The Blue Angel, and in every single one the Doctor contributes very little to events. Personally, I like this element; I'm fond of stories where the Doctor's involvement is tangential. And it is, at least, a definite direction for the range. I'm just worried that it'll alienate a reader or two.

However, criticisms aside, I'll give this one a thumbs-up. Perfect it isn't, but enjoyable it is, and it's definitely worth six quid.

Oh, and the interlude "An Odd Incident" was the funniest thing I've read for a long time.


A Review by Sean Gaffney 28/1/99

The difficulties with ongoing series is that sometimes you get two books with clashing styles right next to each other. Sometimes the segue between tones is light and easy, like a fun rollercoaster ride. And then there's The Blue Angel and The Taking of Planet Five, where moving from one to the other made my head snap off and roll into a corner. Which is odd, as they're both good books. I did have a few problems with Planet Five, though...

Let me confess right off the bat that I am not a big reader of hard SF novels. The very mention of Greg Benford or Jerry Pournelle sends me whimpering off with my tail between my legs. So when I noted that ToP5 has a 3-page thesis as its epilogue, I began to get that cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. After finishing it, I admit that I wasn't completely lost... but most of the tech talk just went WHOOOSH! over my head. Ah well.

PLOT: Well, we have 5 or 6 plots, but you can't really separate them into separate subplots, as they're all interconnected very well. So that's a plus. When the book gets into the nitty gritty of hunting monsters one by one a la Hinchcliffe Era, it's very good indeed.

THE DOCTOR: Still seems to be a tad unbalanced to me. I am at a disadvantage here, having never read about 20 or so 8th Doctor novels before this. And much of my niggles have to do with STYLE, about which see below. But he was certainly energetic and fun to read.

FITZ: I'm starting to like Fitz, even if he turns into a stand-up comic at times. He's the Everyman in the TARDIS now, and it's enjoyable to see him get angry at being the only one not going on. And the rescue of the Doctor at the end was just magical, probably my favorite writing of the book.

COMPASSION: It's becoming clearer as this arc goes on that Compassion is not going to be a long-term companion, which is a shame, as I haven't enjoyed reading about one so much since Bernice Summerfield. I applaud the authors for avoiding the tendency to make Compassion characterless because she follows the signals, and giving her a genuine personality. Sarcastic, selfish, and yet still likeable. And I'm not sure if even Compassion knows who she is yet. Ladies and gentleman, we have our arc.

VILLAIN: I suppose the villain would be One. For a while, he and Two reminded me a lot of Mulder and Scully. Then he went a bit Zaroff-ish on us, complete with explaining the entire evil plan. Of course, the evil plan had already been accomplished, so that was a nice change.

OTHERS: Nice to see the returning guest star again, and he's gotten a lot less annoying since his previous appearance. I wish we'd seen more of his travelling companion, though. The others tended towards the cannon-fodderish, especially McCarthy, who was such an annoying drip I wanted to see her eaten, and was disappointed when it happened off camera.

STYLE: My major problem with the book. I suspect it's Simon I'm leveling this criticism at, as I had the same difficulties with Ghost Devices when I reread it recently. I have nothing against humor in serious books. But this humor was really, really jarring. For example, the line about 'Does my aura look big in this body?'. It removes you from the story, and reminds you that you're reading a book by an author who wants to be witty. Now, much of the book is witty, don't get me wrong. But it's inappropriately witty, and no amount of finding 'Resolutions in Simple Drama' in fictional globes is going to rationalise that for me.

OVERALL: Apart from that, Planet Five is a gripping read. Nice balance between the incredibly huge war plot and the small scientists get picked off one by one plot. I also appreciated the NA refs, especially the Doctor having an 'Adventures of the New Frontier' book with him. Good stuff.

7/10.


A Review by Finn Clark 29/1/00

It's common among Doctor Who authors to complain that many fans are continuity-obsessed pedants. This is not untrue. Much criticism is directed at the books which has nothing to do with their prose, plotting or characterisation. The ideal author, one would think, would have to be a telepathic genius who can reach into the minds of a thousand fanboys and simultaneously satisfy the innumerable (and often contradictory) expectations therein.

Some of these expectations are widely held. Others are not. However I think the books depend to a great extent upon these very same continuity obsessions.

It's just the other side of the coin. Fred is outraged by the Interference shenanigans, but Alice loves inventing theories to tie Lawrence Miles's books in with The Pit and debating whether the latter contains clues to the identity of the Enemy and Professor Joyce.

The Taking of Planet 5 is written by a couple of Alices, but to my surprise it was great stuff.

You see, I personally don't give a monkey's about all those background details. I'm not Fred or Alice, but Auntie Lou. Professor Joyce bored the arse off me and all those subtle hints dropped in recent books go straight over my head. Does it affect the story at hand? No? Bugger that, then.

A further disincentive to caring about the complicated fate of Gallifrey in the books is that it's all unspeakably boring. Even Alien Bodies only kept my interest in all such background detail for as long as it lasted. I've read all the books but all I know about the Pythia's Curse is that it's the finest insomnia cure known to man. (No one try to explain it to me, please.)

But here it's part of the story. We're not just told about the War. We see it, complete with the authors' hideously mutated future vision of Gallifrey, the Time Lords and their time machines. Lots of lovely theories are thrown up, though I'm not sure they all survive close inspection. Can the TARDIS theory contained herein be extended to cover the TARDISes of the Master, Rani and Meddling Monk? No matter. It's ingenious stuff and worth a few hours of your time.

This isn't Gallifrey, but post-Gallifrey. One has to wonder how the ossified Time Lords evolved into something so gothic as Faction Paradox and the Celestis, but maybe the answer's in Lungbarrow. You've got to warm to a book that thinks on such a huge scale as this, raising the usual cosmic stakes by orders of magnitude. If nothing else, The Taking of Planet 5 warps your brain to handle rather more levels of reality than I hope you'll be used to.

I also liked its Lovecraft aspect, greatly to my surprise. I'm a HPL fanboy, but I really don't think he belongs in the Doctor Who universe and all such shoehornings have traditionally grated on my nerves. Here there's a groovy explanation. I won't give it away here, but it lets the authors cheerfully throw in references to Mountains of Madness, Pickman's Model and the Fungi from Yuggoth without hurting the reader's suspension of disbelief.

I really enjoyed this book. I read it all from beginning to end in the blink of an eye, though I'm not sure if it's got much of a plot. It doesn't feel like a complete story, more like an isolated episode. Really it's all surface dazzle and flashy ideas, but that was enough to pull me through. I'm not much bothered even by the fact that it's basically an exploration of the House That Lawrence Built.

The somewhat cursory plotting means that you might find it a bit hard going towards the beginning, but stick with it. It really grows, and Compassion kicks arse too. Loads o' funky fun.

Supplement 11/3/03:

The Taking of Planet 5 has big ideas. Really huge. It's even more cosmic than something like The Quantum Archangel, which is part of its problem... the scale of the story and the magnitude of the threat are so immense that it's hard for our characters running around to have any meaningful effect. We have different levels of reality (and even different kinds of unreality). On the one hand, this is the kind of thinking that could have produced a non-bathetic answer to the question: "Who is the Enemy?". It's hard not to be awestruck by the Fendahl Predator. But if you're looking for adventure on a more human scale, you're out of luck.

Personally I think the book manages to stay afloat, though others have disagreed. It's not like, say, The Death of Art, in which the various levels of reality appear totally disconnected. From the beginning this is clearly all meant to fit together, and there's plenty for the reader to chew on. The characters aren't rendered irrelevant, either; even the most powerful of them is also operating on the same level as the Doctor. However you'd better be interested in the ideas on display, since they underpin everything that goes on. If you couldn't care less about Mictlan or the universe outside our universe, all you'll see is a bunch of superpowered weirdos running up and down corridors.

This was our only glimpse of wartime Gallifrey, since all the other Alien Bodies-inspired books focused on the build-up to the War. It's outrageously bizarre, but no more than some of Mad Larry's ideas. Lance Parkin's Magistrate returns, suggesting perhaps that The Infinity Doctors was set on one of the Nine Gallifreys. (Maybe the man with the rosette in Henrietta Street was the Magistrate instead of the Master?) There foreshadowing for Shadows of Avalon, and even a comedy poodle mention on p144 which reminded me of Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

It's heavily Lovecraft-inspired, and I think Lovecraft fans might enjoy it more than most. I'm not just talking about The Mountains of Madness (though that's obviously the chief influence), but one can play spot-the-reference with the Fungi from Yuggoth or the Colour out of Space. Personally I found the Shoggoth-TARDIS comparison quite interesting. It's not Lovecraftian in style, mind you... more like what HPL might have written had he been force-fed thirty years of New Scientist, perhaps.

The characters are the biggest problem. I didn't really like any of 'em, though the scale of events was big enough to hold my interest anyway. Compassion probably fared the best, with her Remote nature from Interference being remembered for once. (I seem to remember the 8DAs portraying her mostly as a sardonic redhead who said "obviously" a lot, whereas on her first appearance she was far weirder than that. Taking of Planet 5 comes nearer than most to capturing Lawrence's Compassion and her signal-fetish, which I appreciated.)

In 1999, I really liked this book. I expected to enjoy it less second time around, the ideas being less fresh, but in the end it kept me reading happily. It's not so much the story of its characters as it is a story of space, time, impossibilities, higher orders of reality and universal destruction, but that was enough for me.


A Review by Elsa Frohman 14/3/00

Hmmm... After three or four tries to read this book that got interrupted enough that I had to start over the next time I picked it up... I finished it in something less than 24 hours.

A quick, non-spoiler evaluation: A bit of a Cusinart of a book... a lot of whirling blades... It could have come out mush... but with judicious use of the on-off button, it produced an interesting texture.

And if that doesn't sound exactly positive, let me say clearly that this was the best BBC book to date, in some aspects. We have a strong, pro-active Doctor. We have a complex plot that seems terribly confusing as you go along, but which resolves itself nearly completely by the end. It's only flaw is a certain lack of humanity. I didn't find myself terribly interested in any of the characters. This is a completely plot-driven book.

Lot of Lawrence Miles continuity here... and anything I'm not completely clear on may be the result of having read Alien Bodies quite a while ago and not remembering all the details there clearly.

But while I'm not at all a fan of Miles continuity, the way it was used here didn't piss me off... quite the contrary. A lot of what seems to be happening in this book is dismantling the Miles universe.

Now for the SPOILERS:

OK, one continuity thing that I'm a little fuzzy on...

Wasn't Homunculette's Marie murdered in Alien Bodies? Have I forgotten that she was brought back?

The main thrust of this book seems to be getting rid of the things Miles introduced in Alien Bodies. The Celesti are toast... The Faction Paradox have been marginalized.

The closest thing to interesting characters introduced are Holsred and Xenaria. I felt a little betrayed at dismissing Holsred's death with a little "We'll remember him..." Xenaria never really rose to full- fledged character status.

One and the Hermit are rather one-dimensional. It looks like they're going to be brought back as ambiguous "are they good or are they bad?" characters, but I'm not sure I care if I ever see them again. They pose a bit of a problem in that One is simply too all-powerful. He's not really a worthy adversary to the Doctor since he's magnitudes more powerful.

It's hard to care about a character who can do absolutely anything and cannot be killed by any means. Furthermore, the extremely powerful One rather undermines the Doctor's proactive persona in this book. The Doctor is finally doing something, but in the end, we find out he was just a cog in One's plan. Erk... Sorry... I just want the DOCTOR to save the universe for once.

I keep coming up with objections, but really, I liked the book a lot. I think this is what Lawrence Miles would read like if he was edited well. The short intercut scenes and complex plotting work here because it's all adjusted to lead you along rather than jar you off course.

So, I liked it.

This book is a 9/10 in my estimation. If the characters had been a little better drawn, I would have given it a 10.


Image of the Sequel by Jason A. Miller 22/3/00

As soon as I read the back cover blurb for The Taking of Planet Five, it was fairly obvious to me just who the returning villain was supposed to be. A little too obvious, perhaps. Doctor Who fans have been taken in by wild promises of returning villains before. Millennial Rites, anyone? Exactly -- no thank you, please! This joint novel between Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham is no more a sequel to That Particular Tom Baker Story than it is a sequel to "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3", although the book works better if you transplant the movie's cast into print.

There are basically three stories that could have been written, had Planet Five been a sequel in the strictest sense of the word.

  1. Same Plot, Different Day: This time, it's a different bunch of scientists running around Fetch Wood, and one of them also just happens to be an occult figure attempting to unleash havoc. If we were reading Star Trek novels, that's what this would have been.
  2. A Virgin New Adventure: Adam Colby is back, and this time he's insane (and bearing very little relation to the character we met on TV 25 years ago). He knows that UNIT has discovered Something Nasty in Antarticta and attempts to try and stop them. Neither side has savory motives, so the evil being is of course unleashed about 200 pages in. The Doctor accidentally stops them, only to incur the wrath of his companions.
  3. The Book We Got: Keep the UNIT and Antarctica and Mad Scientist threads. Throw in everything else we've learned about the Time Lord's future from various Lawrence Miles novels. Faction Paradox isn't back -- but that's because they're writing the book this time. Two guys, who between them have previously written one novel with the Doctor Who logo, rewriting all sorts of past history and stories, with purely sardonic motives. And they still haven't bothered to tell us just who that 12 million year-old skull belonged to in the first place! Maybe that'll be in another book later.
Planet Five works best, I think, as an accumulation of set pieces. The October, 1999 Antarctica sequence is the most Who-ish element in the book; alas, it's also the least developed. The returning character from Alien Bodies (about whom I could remember nothing) bridges that storyline with Future Time Lords and agents of the Celestis (Future CIA Time Lords who've dropped out and established their own Hell somewhere outside of time). The Future Time Lords are made of papier mache. The Future Celestis Agents sound like Turlough and Peri. So many over the top cast members, so many sides to the conflict, so few pages...

But Wait! You Also Get:

On the whole, Planet Five is reminiscent of, say, Episode 13 of a science-fiction TV program's 22-episode season-long story arc. We have to pause just long enough to write out an annoying recurring character (or recurring planet), and since the setup is so elaborate, the regulars have no effect on the plot. This being a book, not TV, there are lots of gags and pseudo-science and "23 years ago on Doctor Who" flashbacks to pave the way. But this is more of a clear-the-stage book than a self-contained story in its own right. Sequel Options 1) and 2) mooted above might be less original, but they'd have been better self-contained novels.

Instead, take the occasionally effective chunk of this book (for instance, anything to do with Compassion, who appears to be both Kamelion done right, and of still limitless potential) and enjoy it in isolation. The rest of it sets the stage for.... some final battle, at some... yet-to-be-determined time. We think we know who the players are now (hint: the Eighth Doctor is not one of them). We might see this concluded in 2000. Or in 2002. Or we might see it in 2022. In the meantime, on to Frontier Worlds and your regularly-scheduled non-experimental Novel With Story.


A Review by Dan Perry 8/4/00

I really, really, really wanted to adore this book. In fact, there were several elements in it that should have made it an instant favorite, making the run from Interference 3 for 3 in producing novels that just knocked my socks off.

Instead, I was struck with the sense that the book was serviceably bland.

Why? I'm not sure. Part of it is the monster used. The instant it was identified, I couldn't stop my eyes from rolling. In fact, my eyes are rolling as I type this.

Another part of my disenchantment is really an expansion of my first point against the book; the rampant stomping all over previous stories and various series asides. They're pretty much pointless. I didn't find them to be funny. They didn't enhance the sense of threat within the narrative. It was almost as if the authors said, "Let's see how many series references we can cram in here. Bonus points for random one-liners that have no impact on the stories that they're originally from!" Many fans enjoy that type of thing; I just happen to be one that doesn't.

Thirdly, skimming reviews led me to think that Compassion was going to rock in this book. She did some cool stuff, but the character herself still seems, well, there. I enjoyed her more in The Blue Angel, and she spent most of that book sitting in the corner scowling. In this book, she reminds me of new Ace sans personality avec screaming PMS.

Also, how many times can the Doctor be cruelly tortured/inflict egregious pain upon himself in order to solve a problem before it becomes a cliche? The answer is: however many times it happened before this book. There are two scenes in here that caused me to snort with laughter that fall into this category. One occurs shortly after the revelation about the monster, so I was actually snorting while rolling my eyes, which led to a really bad headache.

On the plus side, this is a great rendition of Fitz, although I'd like for more repercussions from what he went through with Faction Paradox. I also liked the descriptions of the effect the War had had on the Time Lords, and the character Hume was almost perfect. The core plot is actually pretty interesting once you remove the big monster (or invent a different monster that does the same type of thing).

All in all, it's a perfectly adequate book. There are great ideas, but there are also some unnecessary silliness that detracted from the story. It was also a disappointment since I absolutely adored both Interference and The Blue Angel.


Rad-wank by Robert Smith? 3/6/00

The Taking of Planet 5 is a symbol of everything that's wrong with the EDAs at the moment. It's full of huge and interesting ideas, drowning in clever continuity and no reward whatsoever for the hapless reader. This is a book with all its joins showing. It's desperately failing to be as good as Lawrence Miles and trying to push all our buttons at once.

It's got some very nice scenes, to be sure. My favourite is the scene with the Doctor pleading to be killed, which is very amusing indeed. The museum of things that doesn't exist is a fantastic way to begin the book and doubtless the submitted sample which got the novel sold to the BBC. The suggestion of who the enemy might be is hilarious. The civilisation that forgot circles is great. Many of the ideas have merit.

Sadly, it's here that the book falls apart. Every few pages brings another huge idea, but sadly the talent with which to turn these ideas into an entertaining story is severely lacking. Take the villains, for example. They're not a credible threat, because they're just an abstract entity, battling of a much higher plane than anyone could reasonably care about. As a novelisation of scientific papers, it's intriguing and fascinating. As a novel, it's a dismal failure. And I say this as someone with three degrees in science to his name.

This book should have been the BBC Books' salvation. It should have taken the house that Lawrence built and shown us the way forward, that the books had vision, were going somewhere and could produce fantastic books when the arc got turned up. Sadly, while this book has vision aplenty and while the books do appear to be meandering somewhere, this book, like Unnatural History before it, shows why no one other than Lawrence Miles should be allowed to do this sort of stuff.

I mean, c'mon, using Lawrence Miles for your vision of Who has got to be a bit silly, really, hasn't it? I mean, it's not like he's exactly enthralled with the idea of a shared universe and he's not out to cut his successors any breaks. The man's a genius, no question, but his stuff is exactly the sort of thing only someone of his unique talent can pull off.

There's only one character in this book, including the regulars, that I cared about in any way whatsoever. Sadly the authors kill off Holsred for no apparent reason about halfway through and the only bright spark of the entire novel is gone. I'm convinced they were unaware of the extent of this character's appeal and were hoping we'd all be excited about bull TARDISes or something. Sigh.

The Doctor gets nothing to do, yet again. Fitz is similarly ignored. Fair enough, that's the house style, but Compassion's not very interesting either, especially given how much this should be her book. The future Time Lords are worse than dull, they're dull with painful ideas grafted on. Yeah, let's regenerate them into big insects for infiltration purposes. Why don't I claw my own eyes out while I'm at it? The future TARDISes are just as awful. Everything in the future-war stuff reminds me of Doctor Who given the Leekley treatment. It's one thing to have vision and ideas that carry the series forward. It's another to change things just because you can, especially -- and this is the important bit -- when every single one of those changes is demonstrably less interesting than the original.

The Fendahl? The Time Monster? Timelash? We're really scraping the bottom of the continuity barrel, aren't we, guys? This book was published concurrently with Divided Loyalties, which seems oddly appropriate. DL was ultra-trad fanwank pushed to its ridiculous extreme. The Taking of Planet 5 is ultra-rad big-ideas-can-substitute-for-talent pushed just as far in the other direction.

The future used to be interesting. After the past had been well and truly covered in the NAs, Alien Bodies came along and gave us shocking and intriguing snapshots of the future of the Whoniverse, complete with a credible reason as to why the Doctor accidentally got embroiled in it. Now the Doctor runs across the future Time Lords willy nilly, and we get painful slabs of exposition that consist of the authors leaping up and down going "Look, isn't this bit brill? No, don't worry about good writing or characterisation or giving the Doctor anything to do yet again, we've got some ideas you'll find so interesting we'll even publish a paper in the back of the book." Kill me now.

This book is screaming "Love me!" so desperately it hurts. Some very nice scenes, none of which last more than a page and are stuck between at least 30 pages of excruciating stuff. This should have been brilliant, it should have been the pivotal arc book that told us that the EDAs mean business and it should have had some sort of actually entertaining story to wrap around its stream-of-consciousness style. Sadly, it's all rather tragic to watch and leaves a particularly unpleasant aftertaste.

- Dr. Robert Smith? B.Sc. with Honours (first class), M.Sc., Ph.D. and fan of entertaining Doctor Who stories.


A Review by Dominick Cericola 3/12/00

WHEW! I just finished reading The Taking of Planet 5, my first EDA in MONTHS (!). It's been a while since I read any, the last being Lawrence Miles' Interference and that was a heady read, as my review (and many other fans' reviews) depicted it. This one was rather difficult to consume in one bite, but still interesting in itself. Let me see how well I can sum up this "..long, strange trip" First off, the story.. Despite the use of the word "strange" above (Thanks to Jerry Garcia), that doesn't even come close to describing this adventure. My head is still reeling from the implications of the story's finale.. Bucher-Jones and Clapham tie together events that seem to begin with Miles' Alien Bodies, yet pulling the folds back of our Collective Consciousness, reveals it goes further back..to Virgin's penultimate Who novel (and considered by many to be one of the best), Marc Platt's Lungbarrow.

For all its ideas and concepts, the story wasn't everything it should have been for me. It started off interestingly enough, even holding my attention nearly halfway through. Then, it just became like the meal you feel obligated to finish when you are invited over someone's house for dinner. Plain and simple, it just seemed to run out of steam! Before this review joins the ranks of the many which have knocked TTOP5, let me discuss what I did enjoy -- like the development of certain characters..

THE DOCTOR: At times I liked the direction they were going with him, as he was starting to relax after the events in Interference. Yet, before I knew it, he was kinda mopey, a bit of the Down On Himself Doctor. I think many of the new authors seem to feel that the Eighth Doctor needs to repent for all he went through under Virgin's care during his Seventh Incarnation! And, while we are at it, what is the deal with The Doctor getting roughed up in these New Adventures (not just this one)?

FITZ: I've liked his character since his introduction in The Taint. Fortunately, he really wasn't treated as badly or mishandled as much as poor departed Sam. He's grown a lot, given far development. In many ways, I see him as a less-muscular version of Chris Cwej. I'm going to be quite sad to see him go when they eventually write him out..

COMPASSION: While she had some interesting scenes in the book, I can't say as I was able to form much of an opinion about her. I still have to read Peter Anglehides' Frontier Worlds next, so hopefully it will give her some more development.. I mean, based on this book and Interference, I can't see a reason for having her join the TARDIS crew. And, then there was the Supporting Cast..

The CELESTIS: Yawn.. Very, very fluffy! I expected a lot, figuring whoever picked up from where Miles left off would incorporate the Dark Mood they seem to evoke. Yet, here it seemed like play acting, without any real direction. Not unlike when you are old enough to learn that the monsters aren't the big screen are fake..

HUME: Another borrowed Miles character, this time Humunculette from Alien Bodies. And, to be honest, he was lame. Plain and simple. Nothing was really done with the character. All he seemed to do was go through the motions, not unlike a puppet.

The TIMELORDS: I'm sorry, but this whole "Future War" story is really getting old. I was really into when it was first introduced in Alien Bodies, but as it has progressed, it has become as overused as the character of The Master. It's a good idea, it truly is, yet no one else seems to be able to handle it or know what to do with it. Lately, it seems to be growing into something huge and mysterious, yet at the same time, I sense an effort on the editors part to knock the wind out of it.

Let me close this review with this final comment.. I like the Eighth Doctor line of books. Considering that there probably will never be another Eighth Doctor story on television, this is all we currently have to go on. However, the rate at which they are coming out seems to be limiting the story development (e.g., having to re-hash the "Future War" story), offering a potentially shorter life in the not-too-distant future. I have all the faith in the editors, and I hope this is just a temporary thing. I still have to read Paul Cornell's contribution to the Eighth Doctor line, The Shadows of Avalon. From what I am told, that one will restore my faith. :) We shall see. Cheers..!


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 26/9/01

The Taking Of Planet 5 just doesn't feel like a complete work. I must agree with other reviewers who have stated that the authors don't appear to be comfortable working with the ideas and themes developed by other writers. This is unfortunate because almost the entire story is nothing but ideas that have been pulled from previous books (most notably, Lawrence Miles' Alien Bodies). The concepts never evolve past the point of being Someone Else's Creation, and the result is that nothing feels as though it has any consequence at all.

There are a few good ideas contained in the book, but almost every one of them fails to yield anything of further interest after being stretched out to their full potential. I'll use an example from the very beginning of the book: the Museum of Things That Don't Exist. When this is first mentioned in the story, there's a certain air of mystery about the place. It certainly sounds like an idea brimming with creative potential and something that the Doctor Who format could do particularly well, especially in novel form. The problem with it is that when we actually get there, the museum turns out to be dead boring. Instead of surreal displays or books of magical and unexplained happenings we end up with nothing more than reconstructions of a few hoaxes and fictions that would only be significant to someone from Twentieth Century Earth. A nice idea ruined by poor execution, which is indicative of the majority of the flaws present in this book.

The plot is very complicated and there are several things going on at once. This results in the people involved in the story coming across as rather shallow. There simply isn't room inside the story for all of these characters. This is a pity as there are one or two there who seem like they could have been quite interesting, if only there had been room enough to flesh them out completely.

There are one or two bright points in the book. The Interludes are very strongly written and effectively convey some of the concepts that the main portion of the book had neglected. The Doctor is characterized well in the portions that he's in; it's a pity that those portions are so few and far between. The book seems far more concerned with relating more pieces of the future war between the Time Lords and the enemy than it does with telling a full story. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing except that it takes the Doctor out of the main thrust of the story right from the beginning, and the hints about the War (and the fate of the Celestis) simply aren't interesting enough to sustain the book purely on their own. But these hints and disclosures are all that we have here.

All in all, the presence of several big concepts and arc-related revelations don't prevent this book from ending up being extremely dull. It's not a poorly written book, just one that feels more like a vessel for bigger things to be put through it, never once standing up and existing on its own merits. It tries to be hard-SF by throwing around a lot of scientific gobbledygook, but it's never quite as clever as it thinks it is.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 9/12/01

This book, like the it's two predecessors, causes an extreme reaction. People are going to either hate it or love it. Simon Butcher-Jones and Mark Clapham throw DW into the world of hard science, just as Magrs and Hoad threw DW into a post-modern world in The Blue Angel. They also wallow in the big rad continuity of Lawrence Miles. There are ideas and concepts all over the place. Unlike the previous two stories, this one tries to be a normal DW story, which gives the whole thing an odd spin.

I'll break it down into good and bad points.

Three characters stand out and shine: Homonculette, Fitz and Compassion. All three get lots to do, and all have their moments to shine. Homonculette seems more grounded in this book than in Alien Bodies, which is a nice touch. Fitz is Fitz, and moreover, gets to act like Fitz, which is always enjoyable. Compassion is always lots of fun for me, and is very active throughout the story.

The interludes are very good. The one about denial of circles had me LOL. The others were a bit more disturbing, and came at the right breaks in the action -- similar to Alien Bodies.

The Doctor gets lots to do, and although is a bit more goofy and flaky than I like, comes cross okay.

And I enjoyed the "Museum of Things that Do Not Exist." I read this section and thought about how someone never thought of it before, as it makes perfect sense in a series about time travel and alternate realities.

Unfortunately, the hard science, although readable, comes off as technobabble. Also, by working on such an immense scale, the reader is left with no way to actually visualize the events in their mind.

The Celestis are horrid, though not as bad as the villains in Avalon. The Time Lord strike team are reduced to military cliches. And some of the writing and dialogue are cringeworthy.

The authors, like many before them end up with developments so out of control that any ending might seem like a cop-out or, at the least a disappointment. Planet 5 is no exception, even resorting to the main baddie spelling out every detail of his plan to a captive audience.

Overall, this is probably one of the most schitzophrenic books in the line, highlighting what makes really great DW fiction and what sinks it to new depths. This book is actually helped by a second read, but be warned, some of the flaws seem bigger during trip two.

Caveat Emptor.

6 out of 10

Supplement, 27/3/03:

Planet Five oozes with earnestness. Mark Clapham and Simon Butcher-Jones desperately want to show that they can play in the Larryverse with the same aplomb as Loz Miles does. They also want to present a multiverse with hard boundaries, a "world" of such scale that dwarfs what comes before it. Planet Five also wants to be an old school Who story, complete with monsters and corridors.

Schitzoid comes to mind.

Earnestness can go along way. Butcher-Jones and Clapham go all out and present their take on the Future War -- sentient war-TARDISes, a Gallifrey consumed with pollution and paranoia, the Celetis and their Investigators -- and add a couple of original elements -- the Museum of Things that do not Exist (brilliant), a planet which loses the definition of circles -- and lots of fanwank (Among other things, there are jokes based around The Time Monster and Timelash) from both the TV series and the novels.

Somehow, in all this referencing and creation, several interesting characters emerge. The Doctor is a bit generic, but has enough Doctorish traits -- flippancy, the surprise, the whirlwind of emotions, the compassion. Fitz is his usual enjoyable self. He is everyman: in over his head, and trying to maintain by cracking wise and acting like a goof. One is OTT, but an enjoyable OTT. Despite how corny it is when you think back on it, One's explanation of events as they occur in the climax -- the master plan coming together -- is done with such earnestness that I couldn't hate it. Homunculette (Nathaniel Hume) is a badass Doctor substitute. Different than the paranoid version in Alien Bodies, this Homunculette is cool under fire, flippant and on a misssion to save humans from themselves (gee, sound like anyone we know?).

And then we get to the star of the show, the best book companion ever, Compassion. It's her coming out party, and she's given a thorny personality, lots of intelligence and a relationship with the Doctor not seen since the Lady Romanadvoratrelundar first popped her gorgeous brunette head into the TARDIS in ,a href=ribo.htm>The Ribos Operation. Her best moment occurs when she encourages the war-TARDISes into rebellion. It encapsulates her personality and resason for being in a few pages. She's playfully bitchy, but dependable when the chips are down. She also has empathy with Homunculette (most Doctorish type stuff). I wanted to hug her.

The Time Lords and human investigation team in Antartica are a bit faceless. Functional cliches come to life.

There's a good use of parallel plot strands and multiple locations. Events hop back and forth in Antartica without confusion. They conclude in a logical fashion. And they're damn exciting. C'mon, you have TARDISes attacking Mictlan, Hume and Compassion battling an investigator and One seeing his master plan come to fruition. I dug it.

The Taking of Planet Five is a book that improves with each reading. And I think it has to do with that the authors are trying so hard to do so much, you get swept along with events. There are some cringeworthy moments -- fan wank jokes -- but Planet Five is a rollicking good time.


Help my brain! by Joe Ford 29/1/06

OH MY SODDING GOD...

...that was my first reaction to The Taking of Planet 5. Whilst I was reading this book I felt as though I had had my brain surgically removed, shoved in a blender, whipped up with some vodka and poured back inside with a very small straw. The resulting experience almost left me comatose, awash in a world that made no sense at all with no chance of escape. But then I actually thought about what I was reading and saw past the near impenetrable prose and absence of characterisation and started to see some pretty cool things going on. It actually took me over two weeks to finish this book (my standard read being two days for a Doctor Who book) and that is quite telling, for the bad aspects of this book left me wanting to abandon it at the first opportunity and the good stuff left me like the Fendhal Predator, wanting to devour everything!

Hmm that is just about the most schizophrenic sentence I have ever written but this a pretty schizophrenic book all told. It tries and tries to impress so hard that it cannot help but succeed in some respects but the sheer earnestness of the writers' boundary pushing left me thinking of dear old Joseph Lidster over at Big Finish; authors that are not without talent but don't know how to restrain themselves and write a wholly satisfying story. Once I reached scenes of characters exploring their art for splatter collage (that's emptying the insides of somebody's head and making pretty pictures with it) I was shaking my head with despair.

The most amazing thing about my mighty eighth Doctor marathon is how much I am enjoying the continuity-driven arc plots that are building up. For one thing I am reading these in order so I am able to pick lots of detail that actually allows this convoluted Time War make sense (it just confused me when I first read about it) and for another it is blatantly obvious that much of standalone output from the Stephen Cole-edited era is absolute rubbish and the writers only seem to raise the bar when trying to impress via this twisted arc. Lawrence Miles is the instigator of this massive undertaking, introducing most of the ideas in Alien Bodies (a book without a plot), extrapolates them in Interference (once again forgetting about a plot) and now they are bearing fruition in The Taking of Planet 5 (just like nature abhors a vacuum, clearly Lawrence Miles' ideas abhor a plot because this is another ideas-heavy story with a skimpy narrative). I heavily criticized Alien Bodies for its revisionist Gallifrey and its future War (much of my annoyance was how the author could introduce these concepts and just talk about them, refusing us first hand experience of the intriguing concepts) and I would now like to eat my words (enjoy this moment Morris!). Clearly there is some mileage in this idea, a beefy future featuring Time Lords who rape and torture their TARDISes into fighting their battles and the ideas-bound Celestis evolving super weapons to attack their Enemy. It is a much nastier, grittier, riveting timeline than we are used to, this isn't Doctor Who and the Zarbi anymore... we're talking people who free Death itself to destroy their own people and prevent even more powerful creatures from being attracted into our universe and devouring it. The ideas are skull-splitting, I felt my fictional world of Doctor Who expanding as I was reading the book, half scared that I wasn't really reading Doctor Who anymore and half glad of the format-stretching wonder.

It is really unfortunate that writers Bucher-Jones and Clapham (both pretty weak writers on their own) don't bother to make this book accessible to a non-fan. Not only is the book driven by ideas you really need to have read about before, but the prose itself is fighting its audience. The book is bound up in horrifically long sentences, full of nonsense-science, which seem to go on forever without making an actual point. The book refuses to cohere into a satisfying narrative for a long time, splitting off on bizarre tangents throughout, with about seven plotlines running concurrently, refusing to evolve because the book would be over if they did. Whilst this is going on, ideas are being pumped into you en masse, as though the book comes with a free meme hypodermic needle. It really is a fucked-up experience, individual set pieces shooting you up with adrenalin, distracting you from the fact that the authors are stalling you from finding out the main focus of the book until the last possible moment. The climax manages to be satisfying, not only because you finally understand what the hell the book has been about, but because something of relevance happens! Hurrah!

The regulars are lost in a cast of hundreds (okay slight exaggeration, maybe twenty) but still manage to have a few choice moments despite this. It is nice to think that the Doctor's legacy has stretched forward in time to the Future War and these battle-hardened Time Lords read stories of his adventures in the form of lurid and speculative fiction. Thinking with his nob as usual, Fitz wonders if he'll ever have Compassion but thinks this will only occur when she has a personality transplant and he gets drunk. The ice maiden is really the only character in the book who makes any real impression, finally coming out of her muted shell and kicking ass in a way only Compassion can. Anyone who says the Virgin companions could kick the arse of the BBC ones I take issue, Compassion could brush aside Ace, Benny, Roz and Chris with a flick of the wrist. This is Compassion's book through and through and she is described as being Remote in every sense of the word; independent, unpleasant, cynical and amoral. Somebody actually asks her if her name is ironic. Her communion with the war TARDISes is a real eye-opener and an appetite-whetter for what is to come. Thank Christ we have got rid of Sam and dragged some cool companions into these books.

It is not fair to say that the Bucher-Jones/Clapham collaboration is just a wank job over Lawrence Miles' ideas (Miles himself said this was one of his favourites because it bothered to do something decent with his ideas) because there are plenty of fresh concepts the writers think up. The Museum of Things that Don't Exist is a great, wacky idea to start the book on, I would have liked to have explored its exhibits more. Then you have the War TARDISes, machines built to swallow moons and drain stars of energy, the UR boxes, signalling to the vortex that everything is normal in time whilst the Times Lords invade a period and make changes and the wonderful idea of Compassion being spat out twelve million years into the future (a twist I never saw coming!). I don't want to dismiss the authors' efforts because they are clearly sweating blood to impress and I would rather have too much ambition in a novel than not enough.

Not to mention it is a really funny book in places. The Doctor is like a tornado in one of his energetic moods. When the Doctor and Compassion discuss the parallel canon, Fitz compares that to them comparing the merits of pointed sticks. The Doctor, Fitz and Compassion play "guess who the Enemy is" with hilarious results. The reason so many Time Lords are so narrow-minded and dull-witted is because the responsibility of infinite power is so great, they are trying to avoid becoming corrupt like the Master, etc. The Doctor's assistants are described as bipedal sheep who follow him around and contribute nothing. Apparently the 1970's is the peak years for alien invasions, a weekend could not pass by without some three-headed bastard demanding the brains of Earth's poodles. Well I laughed.

This is a bold experiment in a time when the books were finally exploring exciting new ground, I'm sure with some tighter editing this would have been a lot more accessible but it wouldn't feel half as risky or as unique. It isn't entirely successful because it makes the reader work far too hard for its rewards, but the best parts are very good indeed. Even if it did give me a headache.


A Review by Brian May 29/1/11

"Two frowned, working her way through the convoluted syntax of his statement until she was satisfied of being as close to comprehension as possible." (p.98)
And she's not the only one! The reader can only empathise as they endure The Taking of Planet 5, for there's a lot more convoluted syntax where that came from! On many occasions, I waded through several sentences, at times an entire paragraph, going back over the words as my brain struggled to arrange them into some sort of logical order. It's not just the turgid writing that lets the novel down, but also a melee of sequel whoring, fanwank, and the unfortunate reality that the co-authors can't write like Lawrence Miles - and the fact they're striving to do so is glaringly obvious. Mictlan, such a warped, disturbing place in Alien Bodies, becomes a string of badly realised cliches of hell that would make a Gothic hack blush. Most of the novel is taken up by runarounds, interminable fights, interrogations and rambling cosmic showdowns, all conducted by one-dimensional characters whom the reader can find little to care about. The Miles contrast can again be seen with Hume. The truth he's really Homunculette from Alien Bodies is not a closely guarded secret, nor is it meant to be; even if the astute reader can guess his identity, it's made clear at the end. But he's aeons away from the portrayal in the earlier book, lacking all the paranoid incompetence that made him so memorable. The regulars don't escape, with a lifeless eighth Doctor and, surprisingly, a pretty poor rendition of Fitz, usually a writer-proof character. Compassion is slightly better, but she never rises above adequate.

The humour is resoundingly unfunny, with the usual smarmy and self-indulgent references and in-jokes. Indeed, Timelash gets two nods, one seemingly a chance for the authors to editorialise on how much they hate it. However, the worst example is the reuse of the crude but nevertheless amusing nature of Tersurus from The Curse of Fatal Death. But Steven Moffat's spoof is actually very funny; this isn't. Even when the humour is trying to be sophisticated - for example, the combative banter between One and Two - it falls completely flat.

Then we come to the sequelitis. Image of the Fendahl is one of my all-time favourite Doctor Who stories. It did not need a follow-up. I groaned and thought nasty thoughts when reading scene flashbacks, nor did I appreciate the explanation of the time fissure, much preferring the televised serial's lack of it. But then, every single loose end from TV had to have some half-hearted elucidation by 1990s writers, didn't it? The Fendahl was such a unique creature that any return appearance was virtually impossible. Granted, the writers acknowledge this to a point, but to create the Fendahl Predator? This incredibly lame and needless value-addition dilutes the original monster to an insulting degree. The fact that the Predator's rampage is a semi-humorous sequence of occurrences, including the aforementioned Tersurus, trivialises the overall effect even more so, especially where the book should be at its most serious. (Speaking of Image, its slow burn, horror-laden atmosphere is more of a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft than this book's blatant gushing.)

Not having read any of Mark Clapham's work before precludes me from commenting on him, but Simon Bucher-Jones seems to know his science; the notes from his cosmobiology paper at the end, whether genuine or not, at least cite real sources. His previous novels, The Death of Art and Ghost Devices were similarly knowledgeable, but the author's scientific penchant wasn't matched by a literary one; in both cases, any coherent writing or plot were submerged beneath reams of technobabble, no matter how accurate. This effort is actually an improvement, so perhaps we have Clapham to thank? But this doesn't count for much in the long run, as The Taking of Planet 5 remains a poor book. It's a key novel in an ongoing story arc, what with the continuation of the War, the fall of Mictlan and the hints as to Compassion's fate, but the writers simply don't have what it takes to keep up the momentum, or even tell an engaging tale. 1/10


"Got Any More War-Stories, Rep?" by Hugh Sturgess 2/8/11

Like my last two reviews, this one has spoilers, so I wouldn't allow your wife or servants to read it.

The third part of what Finn Clark calls the "What the Fuck" arc begun in Interference, The Taking of Planet 5 is, in its own way, just as weird, out-of-control and definitive as its two predecessors. Indeed, Interference, The Blue Angel and The Taking of Planet 5 form a three- or four-book (depending on how you count Interference) block where something in the BBC Books universe has just clicked and authors are being inspired to write something a bit more interesting than usual. I can only think of the City of the Dead / Adventuress of Henrietta Street / Mad Dogs and Englishmen period (or maybe History 101 / Camera Obscura / Time Zero, when even the titles sounded nice together) as something comparably impressive in its showcase of all the different things Doctor Who can do. Usually, Doctor Who authors remember the '70s and aim to reproduce that kind of running-around evil-mastermind plotting. Nothing wrong with that, if it's done well, but these little episodes, these brief flourishings of sometimes-overly-audacious imagination are a joy to behold. Of the three such flourishings I've just mentioned, this Compassion-Gallifrey-driven one is probably the weakest (though The Blue Angel is probably better than any individual one of those other books) and The Taking of Planet 5 is definitely the weakest of the three stories in it. It's certainly distinctive, but not as distinctive as Lawrence Miles's angry rant or Paul Magrs's work of almost crystalline delicacy.

"Change is good," runs a Time Lord propaganda slogan in this book, and that infuses the entire narrative. Bucher-Jones and Clapham try their best to push every element of the Doctor Who "mythology" that they pick up to some deranged extreme. The Borad gets his brains blasted out with a self-aware critique of Timelash, Delphon is blown up in the background, the Fendahl has been gobbled up by something bigger and badder... Lawrence Miles said that this book is what he would have written if he'd forgotten about his audience and taken off all the safety-catches. In some respects, you can see what he means - on the surface, this is something like a Larry story on steroids - but in other respects he couldn't be more wrong. Vanessa Bishop was right in DWM when she said that Miles could never have written this. She didn't mean that as a compliment to Miles, but it ends up being something like one. At its heart, there's something... caricatured about it? The authors' determination to make every concept Lawrence Miles invented as mad as possible means that sometimes they lose their subtlety.

Take the Future Time Lords. Miles's vision of the Time Lords has always been a grand combination of The War Games version - sterile, emotionless gods - and The Deadly Assassin one - a bunch of conniving, incontinent old ratbags who are too dull-witted to recognise the awesome power they wield. His Time Lords are - like Wells's Martians - "intelligences vast, cool and unsympathetic", but also such massive bastards that they will quite happily annihilate whole worlds, commit the most immoral acts and generally curse everyone to hell whenever they feel like it. It's a nice, effective way of reconciling their godlike powers with their physically shrivelled nature.

Bucher-Jones and Clapham blow that depiction out the water, not with something better, just louder. The vision of Gallifrey IX is a Dickensian nightmare filtered through the mind of Giger, with gigantic Loomstacks belching foul smoke and temporal furnaces blazing away in the murk. For heaven's sake, the Master is the President (I'm not sure whether this was added by Miles or not, he's definitely in The Book of the War, but that came after this) and if you fail him he'll have you recycled. It's intended as the precise opposite of the series's vision of a sterile, arid place, but it comes across as a little, well, primitive. It's the Planet of the Satanic Mills. Similarly, the Time Lords themselves are made to be as mustache-twirlingly nasty as possible. They'll flog you if you take Omega's name in vain and they have punishment points built into their bodies. It's more like a Mirror Universe episode of Star Trek than anything more sophisticated: something deliberately flamboyant, over-the-top and caricatured. Lawrence Miles may be insufferable as a person, but he'd have put together something a bit more interesting. You can almost feel what he would have done with his concept of a Time Lord War if given the chance. Hell, RTD's vision of a never-ending Time War so horrific that the dead are constantly dragged back into a monstrous parody of life to fight the good fight is much, much better than this. These guys just seem nasty, brutish and short; Time Lords, I imagined, would have been a bit smarter.

Same with Mictlan. In Alien Bodies, it is depicted as a kind of Hell, but a prosaic, more authentic kind of Hell, an inner-city council-estate wasteland despoiled by half-formed industrial monstrosities where everything looks rank. It was actually closer to a post-apocalyptic version of this book's Gallifrey IX. Here, it's Hell. The Hell from Medieval fairytales and South Park: flames, baby-eating monsters, forests of suicides and air thick with vapourised blood. However, in this case, this bit of revision and simplification is a positive; Mictlan and its inhabitants feel impressively disgusting and loathsome. This grand guignol nastiness leads to the book's most effective joke with language, with a reference to Two "casting a scientist's eye" over a set piece... and then taking a dainty bite out of that eye. It makes sense that this represents Time Lord society at its most decadent and corrupt: true arseholes who meddle in the affairs of lesser species for fun. I even saw some of this depravity and sordidness in the Gallifrey of The Ancestor Cell. The descriptions of Mictlan are deliciously over the top and filled with fire and brimstone.

Taken with the book's vision of the Time Lords, this is presumably so far into the future (Homunculette seems to think the War is going balls-up for Gallifrey by this point) that everyone has become a twisted parody of themselves, which is a nice piece of continuity linking this to the time-travelling, death-dealing terrorist-cult Faction Paradox of The Ancestor Cell. As Xenaria thinks to herself, those who fight monsters turn themselves into weapons systems, and everyone here believes the other side to be monsters, because they are.

Naturally, this being a Lawrence-Miles-inspired book, the authors also want to share all their Mad Ideas with us. Here is the biggest difference with an actual Mad Larry book. His ideas are usually on the level of a fairytale, or perhaps an urban myth. He doesn't need technobabble to explain how the Eleven-Day Empire exists or how the Time Lords affect the universe; if it's aesthetically pleasing, then it "works". This book exists against a hard-science background. It ends, quite without irony, with a flipping scientific paper! This isn't so much playing in the House That Lawrence Built as sneaking in for a Backyard Blitz while he's out.

Is it any good? It's different, certainly, and the books are richer for it. Bucher-Jones and Clapham are probably the only people who have managed to take Lawrence's core concepts and put their own spin on them, actually do something with them that (crucially) Lawrence wouldn't. Unnatural History fails to capture the essence of the Faction because Lawrence didn't explain it well enough to the OrmanBlum and The Ancestor Cell reduces everything to its most simplistic form and then blows it up. This book doesn't even bother trying to ape Lawrence. Well, maybe it's trying and failing really badly, so badly that it's quite good at being something else entirely. Alien Bodies and Interference shuffled Doctor Who forward with little nudges, suggestions about Time Lords, their war, their TARDISes, etc. This book hits you straight away with Time Lord warriors who embrace the notion of change and "local solutions". Instantly, the Whoniverse is tipped on its head. By the end of the novel, it's as though it has gone through something like a fruit mixer. As you can imagine, it's incredibly fun for most of it.

And for a book so clearly written by fans of Mad Larry, I'm surprised at the continuity glitch during the otherwise hilarious "who is the enemy?" discussion between the Doctor and his companions. Compassion has no idea about the Future Time Lord War or who the enemy is... and yet she is from that era and was the one who told us that the enemy was from Earth! Come on, someone in the editor's chair really should have noticed that.

The Lovecraft thread in the book is enjoyable too. It's a massive two-fingered salute to the Virgin NAs that outright pinched the names of Lovecraft's monsters and slapped them onto the Great Intelligence, the Animus, Fenric, and so on, but that's a huge part of why I liked it. "Lovecraftian" I can accept, enjoy even. His concept of unspeakable evils from the dawn of time that can never be understood by a human being without going mad is great, but slavishly copying the names and dumping them into Doctor Who is observing the letter and not the spirit. This series is simply too humanistic to be considered in some measure the same universe as Lovecraft's. Beyond stylistic clashes, there's no originality involved in this kind of base appropriation (or "plagiarism" as we like to call it when it's from fiction that isn't out of copyright). Like the whole Greek-myth "Time's Champion" stuff with the Doctor's "gods", or Barry Letts's determination to the make the Doctor a Buddhist, it feels limp just to insert a whole mythology into the set-up without thinking about how it fits.

The Taking of Planet 5 just says straight out that it's all made-up. This might add weight to the idea that the Virgin and BBC lines take place in different universes (and if the Gods of Dellah were the BBC Time Lords, as was hinted by Lawrence, then when they took new names for themselves, they might have pinched Lovecraft's to seem extra-impressive). Alternatively, the fact that All-Consuming Fire (the most explicit of the NAs on this issue) is "written" by Watson (who often changes names to protect the innocent, apparently) might be a get-out clause.

But what suffers from all the idea-wanking is both plot and character. In short, there isn't much of either. When summarised down to a few sentences, the plot is so light-weight as to be astonishing that it takes so many pages. About a third of the way into it, I was struck will how little development there'd been. It feels faintly like the authors are playing for time, but they aren't, since the plot is progressing, just very, very slowly towards a fairly unclimactic conclusion. That's perhaps the plot's biggest problem: the prehistoric, cosmic thread of the plot starts out, continues along predetermined lines and ends as it is expected to. During the 'climax', if it can be called that, the authors try to throw us off by having Xenaria guess consistently wrong about One's plan and launch several attacks on him in an attempt to drum up some excitement. This is just trickery: One's plan comes off perfectly, without any hitches, the Doctor plays his part perfectly and then departs. The story ends. It's not unimaginative, or unsatisfying; I don't know, I just felt like it lacked drama. That sounds like a deep insult, but in this book you could pan the plot and still say you liked 'the rest' without sounding cruel.

The characters... Hmm. Well, Compassion and One are probably the main protagonists/antagonists, and they're reasonably well-rendered. Actually, scratch that. Compassion is wonderful in this book, especially given the lack of page time she got in both her previous stories. She's described as "Remote in every sense of the word" and it's great to have a companion that is so... well, sort of scary. She barely comprehends the Doctor's morality (though, given the ideas she received from Sam in Interference, I wonder whether Lawrence intended her to possess some "human" morality) and basically does "the right thing" out of expedience. She doesn't think much of his intervention in moments of "planetary calamity", dismisses humanity as primitives and eats her lunch as Homunculette dissects a horribly mutilated corpse. Someone even asks if her name is meant to be ironic. Her response to that is priceless.

One is less well done, and he's naturally irritating as yet another figure in the Lawrence Miles ethos who's a bloody know-all. Like I.M. Foreman in Interference (and, I suppose, Daedalus or even Iris in The Blue Angel), he completely depth-charges any tension in a scene because you know he's invulnerable. Here, it's taken to absurd heights: One is literally unstoppable. The remorselessness of the two Celestis archons can be impressive, but it can also be damn tiring.

As for the rest... well, it's basically divided between the humans in 1999 and the Time Lord infiltration team twelve million years previously. While they are all believable as characters and aren't at all badly written, they're also completely unmemorable. The Time Lord warriors suffer from names composed of syllables chosen entirely at random: Holsred, Allopta, Ostrev, etc. Xenaria has a bit of a ring to it, but the rest are entirely without resonance and that handicaps them as characters. Holsred belatedly emerges as the story's only real supporting character, and to be honest I found him rather charming. A sort of Elder Thing Sergeant Benton. Xenaria has lots of lines, but mainly she's there to give One someone to explain the plot to. The Time Lords also suffer because they're superfluous. One is the only being in this story that matters. So if a whole cast of Time Lords become minor players, you can imagine how the humans fare. Particularly as their segment takes place literally millions of years after the story has ended.

Oh, and the Doctor and Fitz? Yeah, they're in here, but are, like everyone else, largely superfluous. The Doctor does sweet FA for most of the book and eventually performs a vital element of One's plan but doesn't realise it. As a character, he's at his most childlike here, all big eyes and bouncing curls. I personally find this depiction tiresome without any meat behind it. The post-,a href=ance.htm>Ancestor-Cell Doctor can be childlike and naive right before he pulls you through a hard vacuum entirely unprotected to save your life (see Fear Itself), while this doofus just pads around the story like a puppy-dog being kicked by everyone and then manages to do something sort-of-important to the plot. This wouldn't be that bad, if this wasn't his depiction in every single other EDA of the time. He's just as ineffective in Interference and The Blue Angel, though perhaps a bit tougher than in the former.

Lawrence Miles offensively believes that fans hate books like this one "because they can't stand the idea of their Time Lord love-poppet failing in any way", a statement so blatantly stupid as to be beyond normal comprehension. We don't mind the Doctor failing, screwing up, letting Rutan into lighthouses or even suffering crushing defeats. What we do mind is have him stumble through the narrative without contributing to it as though the author's taken his SF novel idea and pasted a character called "the Doctor" into it. It's just bad writing to put your protagonist out of the picture for so long. And, in classic EDA style, he's tortured rather horribly by One, masquerading as Allopta. I liked the concept of the Black Stone, actually, and even its bizarre link to the Ogri, which I thought was cute.

The prose is variable, alternating between somewhat overblown metaphors, some genuinely funny stuff from Fitz's point of view and a scientific essay. I'm impressed with the level of thought Bucher-Jones (for surely it is he and not Clapham who wrote these bits) has put into the mechanics of "his" Whoniverse, but the result of too much technobabble (even strictly accurate jargon) is something left a little sterile. Not to mention alienating for (I imagine) a lot of readers. "Eventually, pure randomness within the deep-foam structure of its underlying superstrings produced a number of acausal point formations in which parity was invalidated and gross amounts of either matter or antimatter could come into 'real' existence." That's a real quote. I know what it means, but it took me several goes to work it out. And the entire book ends with a scientific paper, which I fail to understand, though my failure of comprehension here is in regards to the point, rather than the substance. What was Bucher-Jones doing here? Verisimilitude? Elaboration of his exciting concept? Showing off? Simon Bucher-Jones: licenced to thrill. Totally superfluous and not a little dry.

What the novel does get across admirably is a shocking sense of scale. From the prologue, the universe is shown up as tiny against the REALLY big things out there. The Swimmers are so colossal that it's impossible for the reader to relate to them, but it's difficult not to be impressed by the ambition. It's also difficult not to be impressed by the Fendahl Predator, the thing that eats the thing that eats death. The novel operates on such a cosmic (well, more than cosmic) scale that it excuses the Doctor's (and everyone else's) inaction: they're simply too small to play on this field. This might have been really effective, had the Doctor been more active in the previous two stories and not a bumbling idiot who's consistently wrong about everything. The Time Lords' extreme regeneration is a great concept as well; the idea of humanoid Time Lords like the Doctor being forced into the shape of crabs or Elder Things is brilliant, and I would have liked to have seen a bit more examination of that, perhaps in place of the standard gruff military chat from the troops themselves.

Unfortunately, for all the scale, for all the sequences with the Shoggoth-TARDISes, for all the stuff with Compassion, The Taking of Planet 5 suffers from being not quite as good as its immediate predecessors. It's not as important or as funny as Interference, and not as well-written or as, well, fabulous as The Blue Angel, and its ideas aren't as imaginative as either. It isn't a terrible book by any means, and I'd rather read this than (say) Coldheart, but it can only come a weak third to its forebears, which aren't perfect either.

Actually, The Taking of Planet 5 is most notable for "just" being a Doctor Who novel. It doesn't really achieve anything greater than being an important, interesting Doctor Who story. Both its predecessors managed to be much more. Once again, where's the editor? It isn't as extreme as in Interference, but there is stuff here crying out for an editor's appraisal. Just a tweak or two would make this book great, but it's just good.