Time and Relative
|ISBN||1-903889-02-2 (standard hardback, ?10)
1-903889-03-0 (deluxe hardback, ?25)
|Featuring||The First Doctor and Susan|
|Synopsis: The harsh British winter of 1963 brings a big freeze that extends into April with no sign of letting up. And with it comes a new, far greater menace: terrifying icy creatures are stalking the streets, bringing death and destruction. Susan, isolated from her grandfather and finding it hard to fit in with the human teenagers at Coal Hill School, tries to cope, but she feels her memory slipping away and her past unravelling.|
A Review by Finn Clark 12/12/01
No spoilers; we don't hold with that sort round 'ere. (Well, unless you don't want to read anything about Time and Relative in order to preserve optimal surprise value. I'll mention the general drift of the story, but I won't give away any actual plot twists.)
For those of you who haven't seen 'em yet, Time and Relative is the first in David Howe's new line of Telos novellas. It's also by Kim Newman. The product itself is a plain-cover hardback with blue metal foil lettering (unless you've decided to splash out on the ?25 version, in which case for all I know you get naked dancing girls). Opening it up... well, allow me a few moments of childhood nostalgia.
I grew up on the Target novelisations. This recreates that. A slim tome, even down to the font type and size... everything to me screams that this is how Doctor Who should be. Printed pages were how I got to know the show, not through television. Virgin and BBC novels are all very nice, but this was like a piece of my childhood come alive. It's a very odd and probably entirely personal reaction, but that's how I felt.
But what of the contents?
This isn't an Elseworlds, thank goodness, but it feels free to take a step away from the accreted mythos and just do its own thing. Kim Newman gives us a lively, slangy teen diary of an unearthly child, quirky enough for me to find it funny as all hell. We even get John and Gillian - not necessarily the John and Gillian, but close enough for me. Oooooooh, that pressed my buttons. It's a fun reinvention of the early days.
We've had pre-Unearthly Child stories before, none of which showed the tiniest fraction of the innovation shown here. Hartnell on Gallifrey has been without exception a plodding exercise in join-the-dots, ranging from the disappointing (Lungbarrow) to the diseased (Divided Loyalties). Even Gareth Roberts's comic strip Operation Proteus (DWM 231-233) paid only fleeting lip service to the idea of a selfish First Doctor before getting on with Who as usual. In contrast Time and Relative is lots of fun and makes sense.
Susan's ordinary life is such fun that I was almost disappointed to see bad guys show up. Is that a spoiler? They're rather vaguely drawn, more there for imagery than for SF rationalisations. I had to slow down a tad to keep a grip on what was going on during these sections, but I don't think you're meant to be thinking about them in technobabble terms. It's Burning-esque, which makes it rather appropriate that they've got Justin Richards in to do some perhaps unnecessary fore- and after-words.
It's a novella. You read it swiftly, in an hour perhaps. I must admit, this felt like a better length than the great block o' words of a full-length novel... Peter Darvill-Evans started a revolution back in June 1991, for which I'm grateful, but I think Doctor Who works best for me as lean, swift fairy-tales rather than worthy SF tomes. (Don't even mention the short story collections to me.) Whatever eventually happens to Telos's line of novellas, I think they will have been a worthwhile and valuable experiment.
Time and Relative is a slim book, light on alien invaders and the usual SF baggage... but I think it's already one of my favourite Doctor Who stories. If nothing else, the length means it's very rereadable. Strongly recommended.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 13/2/02
We are currently in the middle of a mass market of Doctor Who products (late 2001). Most months produce the following:- DWM @ ?3.20, 2 BBC Books @ ?12.00, Big Finish Audio @ ?14.00, BBC Audio Collection @ ?14.00, DVD Release @ ?18.00, Spin-Off BBV @ ?10.00 You only have to look at the Releases Guide at Outpost Gallifrey to see the mass of DW products that persuade us to cough up our well-earned money. There is tons of the stuff, everywhere!!! And to think in the so-called Golden Age, we just had 6 stories a year, and a few TARGET books.
My point is that when Telos Publishing announced that even more DW books were coming out I was astounded, and a little cheesed off. I was struggling to get through the existing books that are released. To have yet more seemed like overkill. Then I found out they were shortened books - Novellas is the posh name - about the size of an old TARGET book. My interest increased. Then I found out they were higher priced, and in 2 editions, deluxe (for proper collectors, which I am not) and standard (?10 for me then) - so more money for less words, that didn't seem right. I was back to cynicism again.
Then the book was released. I looked on it in the shop with confusion. Could I spare ?10 - was it worth it for a 118 page book? I left it on the shelf. Interview with Kim Newman appeared on the Web. Glowing review appeared on the Web. I now knew what the story was about - A Susan Dairy from a time just before Unearthly Child. I had to see for myself what it was like. I rushed back to the shop and bought it. And you know what - I am very glad I did. We can argue about whether a half book should be twice the price, but you have to admit the nice little hardback is cool. But it is what's inside that matters.
It begins at a leisurely pace. DW has done first-person narrative before, notably the Daleks novelization - it's a good way of pulling the reader in. Susan has been given some bad press too, so it's nice to have that put right. She was the first after all. I was also pleased with the when. I had never thought about adventures at Totters Lane, and there is no reason why there can't be.
The book nicely explores the feelings of a teenage girl at a loss to understand her world. When that world is literally not her own, then there is even more scope for a good story. The Doctor is secondary. He's there, always called Grandfather, but Susan is the Star. Her acquaintances at Coal Hill School are quite interesting too. John and Gillian were the Comic grandchildren, here they are just students at the school. Ian and Barbara are just teachers, nice to be included, but not part of the main thrust of the story.
The deep freeze presented in the narrative make this a wonderful little story to read at Christmas, which is actually when I read it. Ironic considering it is actually set nearer Easter. Snowmen coming to life might seem a bit coy, but it actually provides some very scary scenes. We get right into the heart of the story thanks to Susans' scribblings - and are really caught up in the early part of 1963.
Kim Newman has given us a side-step of Doctor Who that has never been done before. It is a cracking little story, if the Novellas continue in this vein then it looks like I will be buying them all. It also doesn't stay around too long - which some longer books most definitely do. It feels just about the right length it should be - which is exactly the reason behind this new series from Telos Publishing. A welcome and very good addition to the mass market. 8/10
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 27/3/02
As the first book in a new line of Doctor Who books, Time And Relative had a lot that it needed to accomplish. Not only is the first story of a series held up (perhaps unfairly) as representative of how the line will progress, but it helps to establish the tone and style of a particular publishing group. With the Doctor Who book market already stretched to almost the breaking point, this new line will have to accomplish great things in order to justify its existence to the consuming public. Fortunately, it turns out that this book is a fine example of a good Doctor Who story. It isn't the greatest Doctor Who adventure that has ever been written, but there are many little reasons that definitely make this worth the time it takes to read.
As a story that is told entirely from the POV of Susan's diary, one may be a bit concerned with exactly how well this will be executed. During the course of her travels on-board the TARDIS, Susan was not always the most interesting of companions despite the unique relationship that she shared with the Doctor. When I heard that Time And Relative was set before An Unearthly Child and that there would be no viewpoint outside of Susan's, I feared the worst. Susan dealing with rotten teachers. Susan dealing with catty classmates. Susan dealing with... boys. The horror, oh, the horror.
To my complete shock, my favourite portions of the book were those that focused on Susan's comparatively mundane adventures at Coal Hill School. Those diary entries are excellent. Many teenagers feel like outsiders at times, but an alien from a far off place stuck in an English school in the 60's is truly a unique individual. And Kim Newman captures her perfectly. As a character study of the two explorers that we met in An Unearthly Child, this story excels. The mystery that was so prevailing and compelling about those early days is back in full force, though there is a slight added twist, which you'll have to read for yourself to discover.
The story actually takes a slight dip once the main plot begins and the inevitable Doctor Who monsters show up. They're quite well written and interesting, but these passages simply aren't as good as the sections that heavily feature Susan's thoughts. Her viewpoints and opinion come through occasionally, of course, but they're spread too far apart. Susan and her strange Grandfather are the real stars of this story, and we hate being distracted from them, if even for a moment.
The plot itself is fairly simple and occasionally borrows from other stories, but it is quite well suited to the novella format. The ending is perfect, with the actual turning point at the conclusion being a stroke of genius. There are only a few points where it feels like a run-around, which it really is at the heart of it. It's all this other wonderful stuff around the bare plot that makes it so enjoyable.
As the beginning to a new line of books, Time And Relative largely succeeds. If you're curious about this series, then know that this story is a great beginning. It plays to the strengths of its novella-sized format and includes some excellent character pieces. It may not be the greatest Doctor Who adventure that you'll ever read, but it's certainly one of the better ones.
Captivating by Robert Smith? 17/4/02
Time and Relative is really, really good. I zipped through this in no time at all and loved every moment of it. Reading a novella is a weird experience; the Doctor Who short story has had a hard time working for anyone, while the Doctor Who novel is a path so well trodden that I was actually genuinely surprised when this book ended. What's more, it ended at exactly the right place, something the novels almost never manage. It's possible that the Novella has been a missed opportunity for Doctor Who fiction all this time.
It's probably no coincidence that it reminded me of a more distant, childlike age, when Doctor Who consisted of 25 minute episodes on TV and the only Doctor Who books were Target novelisations. I love the way that, Peanuts-like, only the children and the Doctor have any sense about what's happening and the other adults are completely incapacitated when faced with an unexplained phenomenon.
The MAs and PDAs have revitalised the Hartnell era as a concept, but they never really got a handle on Susan. Neither did the TV series, come to think of it. So it's a testament to Kim Newman's skill that Susan carries this book effortlessly. She's a great lead character and presenting the book as excerpts from her diary really works. I also appreciate that the easy route of including enhanced roles for Ian and Barbara was avoided. It's nice to see them, but they're just there and barely dwelt upon, which is how it should be.
On the other hand, there's a lot more of the Doctor than I was expecting, but I'm quite happy about that. He's fabulous, as you might expect, especially as viewed through Susan's eyes. He doesn't dominate the book, but he hovers in the background with just the right amount of menace. It's fun to have Susan's friends be named John and Gillian, rather than the fanwanking I feared it might be.
Unfortunately, that brings me to the only thing that I thought brought the book down. All the stuff about the Time Lords and the Master and a trial where memories of the Doctor would be removed... none of it is overdone, thankfully, and treating it at one step removed helps a lot, but it just seems a bit gauche. The characterisation and focus on Susan and the other children and comparing how they deal with the Cold to how adults do is fantastic. Throwing in references to the Master, even disguised references, brings a great book crashing down to a mediocre one. I'm not sure if they're there because someone thought that the book wasn't Whoish enough without the continuity. If so, they're flat-out wrong, as Justin Richards' afterword notes. What's more, they detract from the book's ending, as the Doctor's decision to meddle doesn't come across as a pivotal character moment, but rather just another continuity hole that's being plugged. I think you could have left just this and maybe his wariness of teachers (which only works because it's funny) and jettisoned the rest of the continuity and Time and Relative would be stronger for it.
The Cold is genuinely scary, in a way that Doctor Who books never are for me. It's such a primal phenomenon and Kim Newman brings it across so vividly that by the end, you fear for every footstep the children take. The idea of snowmen coming to life is cute and would probably have been enough if this were a BBC book, but the visceral nature of the Cold hovers over every page. This is fantastic writing.
There are so many neat touches here, from the way Gillian's family life is far, far scarier than deadly snowmen and Susan having been in 1963 for five months in March, to the way that people's suspicions about the Russian and Alaskan projects turn out to be valid and what it is exactly that causes the Doctor to change his mind.
Time and Relative is excellent. In fact, it's so good, it almost justifies the exorbitant cover price for its slim page count. The continuity brings it down slightly, but it's still a fabulous read. Telos Publishing's idea of using 'proper' writers to pen Doctor Who novellas is a good one, sadly undercut by the fact that two of the next three books are by Dave Stone and Keith Topping. I mean, it's not like we've never heard what they have to say, is it? With this and the expense in an already flooded market, I'm not sure I can see this series taking off, which is a bit of a shame, given how good this first book is. I guess Time will tell, though.
The Abominable Snowmen by Joe Ford 15/7/02
I wasn't going to buy any of these Telos novellas. Upping the price and lowering the content! What an outrageous concept! But after the overwhelming string of good reviews I found myself curious. I had heard of Kim Newman of course but thought to myself surely tampering with the basic frame work of the show was a mistake... surely he would take the magic out of the pilot episode? I spotted several hundred copies in Forbidden planet in London and throwing aside the 25.00 pound copies (fifteen quid for a signaturre!!!) I snapped it up.
What a revelation this story is. Not the dull political affair I was especting by a rivetting character study and a damn fine SF/horror story too. As soon as I delved into the private diary of Susan Foreman I was gripped. I actually read the whole thing in one go, through the night and finished at some time around 4-ish. This is a book that demands to be read in one sitting, to break the flow of it's narrative is just wrong. I think the reason I savoured it so much was because it was SIMPLE. Not childish but told from a child-like perspective and that just made the whole scenario that bit more frightening, I will admit the whole Cold knight thread gave me the willies.
I have never been that fond of Susan although I will admit she was a vital part of that all conquering first TARDIS line-up. Steve Lyons did beautiful work with her in The Witch Hunters and Kim Newman continues that tradition here. Being so different from everyone around her it gives her a unique perspective on the whole situation, I greatly appreciated the inclusion of Malcolm, the little boy who Susan can tell her fantastic stories too and listens in awe. She was seeing so many things that she hated on Earth and yet here was one little boy who she can see everything that is GOOD about the planet too. It was little details like that that make the book so rewarding.
John and Gillian (finally a decent in-joke!) were exceptionally well done. Once again told from Susan's perception (well, it is her story!) they came alive on the page. How they all got along before the crisis was sweet but their true colours were revelaed once the monsters closed in and with one I was impressed but the other I was horrified. Zack is also worthy of a mention as you think he will be a minor player but turns out to be much more interesting.
Several scenes were stunning in their brutality and simplicity... the scene in the Wimpy bar was extrodinary... simply because it capatilises on all the emotions being thrown up by the situation but the DT horror with the ladders was superb too.
I loved that how (after the diary extracts) it was one continous story with no leaps forward to the next day or a week later. We followed the desperate attempts to return to Totters lane all the way and it made it more gripping for doing so.
Of course the Doctor is there too. I will not ruin the surprise but this was the begining of one particular trait in his personality and by golly gosh it was wonderful to experience with him! Everybody's reactions to him were quite extrodinary.
I guess I've rabbited on enough about a book that has less length than a Target novel but this feels fresh, exciting and new. It was the perfect length to capture my interest and follow through to a damn satisfying conclusion all in one hugely enjoyable sitting. Bravo to Kim Newman... he has made my love for the show that little bit stronger!
Oh and I went watched An Unearthly Child immediately after reading...
A Review by Jason Wilson 6/3/11
The Telos novellas, few though they were, offered a fresh approach to DW Fiction and seemed to strike a definite chord with those who were finding the PDA's a tad predictable. Now that we have a TV series again it doesn't matter so much if the books aren't amazing, but when they were the only new Who we had it did. And most of these little books were rather good.
Time and Relative is an impressive pre-Unearthly Child tale set in and around Coal Hill School. After the other Hartnell novella, the impressively high concept but slightly plodding Frayed, it's a real breath of fresh air. It's written from Susan's viewpoint and so invests massively in her as a character. Her comments on the world she finds herself in are very real and show convincingly an alien adolescent trying to adjust to interacting with a comparatively primitive peer group. It's a bit like Adrian Mole at its most sardonic except that, whereas Mole the pseudo-intellectual teenager just thinks he knows more than his peers, Susan of course actually does. While her contempt for it all doesn't seem to quite square with the obvious affection we see in An Unearthly Child, this can be seen as getting used to something that becomes desirable only when it seems to be lost.
We don't see her interact with Ian and Barbara, though they're referenced (and of course the Doctor couldn't meet them as that would really retcon continuity), but there are plenty of other teachers on show in all the grotesquery that children portray them as. There's also other bits that hit the right note such as a night out that goes a bit wrong, and... oh yeah, there's also John and Gillian! Yes, the BBC and TV comic continuities get knitted together as the Doctor meets them. Imagine now a point in the TV run where the Doctor slips backs to be on his own for a bit, and meets them again.... And everything fits together. They also get a solid reimagining as gifted kids under pressure to achieve, and their interaction with Susan is tremendous. Gillian even threatens her at one point to try and get the Doctor to act.... But she and John are instrumental in getting both Gallifreyans to see that us poor human saps are worth saving and hanging around with. And if Susan's faith in the Doctor being another factor galvanising him to act feels very New Who, it's understated enough not to be in any way schmaltzy.
Because this isn't the hero that the Doctor became; it's a pre-Unearthly Child Doctor, desperate just to stay out of events and initially even siding with the Cold - a waking sentience that spawns ice soldiers and creates a beautifully evoked winter - on the grounds that it was here first. He tries to reason with it and is ready to give up when it doesn't listen, but eventually finds a compromise solution that works. The Time Lord noninterference code also serves to sum up Susan's ambivalent attitude to Home.
So this is really a Susan story, a written Companion Chronicle if you will, and works very well in that regard. It realy does pay sometimes to have a few sci fi pros on board, and it's a pity there have been no more Kim Newman DW novels, much as he annoys me on DVD documentaries! Given decent visuals, this would have made a nail-biting TV story with a strong character element. The Ice Soldiers' storming of the school is tense stuff and the doggedness of the militaristic adults thinking they solved it all is amusing and worthy of RTD at his best actually.
Classy stuff. Telos are worth tracking down if you can find any cheap ones.
Another book series begins by Andrew Feryok 8/8/13
"There's one last rule Grandfather hasn't broken. A big one, a defining rule that is written into his (my?) brain, like the impulses that keep the lungs breathing and the hearts pumping. The primary rule says we mustn't meddle. We live outside time and space, looking in, observing, noting, taking an academic interest. But we do not meddle. The theory is that it is all none of our business. We accept no blame or credit. We know everything but affect nothing. Here, I can admit this: I am a rebel. Like Arthur Seaton. Like Lawrence of Arabia. I don't think I believe in rules at all. Even - especially - the primary rule. I think meddling is an obligation."
- Part of Susan's musings about the rules of the Time Lords and her philosophy on meddling, Time and Relative, Pages 43 and 44
This is the first in the short lived but well received Telos novella range. The series' reputation as well-written stories made them as accepted to Doctor Who canon as the BBC Books and Virgin Books series.
Unfortunately, the books had a limited printing, were exceedingly expensive to buy, and ended up getting canceled as the series returned to TV screens in 2005. But while the series was short lived, the stories were of a high quality and this is readily apparent in the first book, written by Kim Newman.
The book is set just before An Unearthly Child, when Susan is still a student at Coal Hill and the TARDIS still operates as it should. The book is written non-traditionally and presented as Susan's personal journal. Hence instead of chapter breaks, we get new date entries and updates throughout her day. This format makes it unique but is also one of the reasons why I was initially finding the book a slog. While the later parts of the story are very exciting and insightful, the early half seems to be nothing but a typical journal that winds its way through the ordinary life of a teenager in High School.
Not terribly exciting and it appears to have no point at first, although the threat of the Cold is always sort of lingering in the background. It's also a little unbelievable that in the midst of fighting the Cold in the later parts of the book that Susan would take so many opportunities to update her journal and in such detail that it reads like a book! Well, this aside, the book is very good and well worth the perseverance if you initially got turned off in the early parts.
The Cold makes for an interesting and unique monster, not unlike the water aliens from the new series book The Feast of the Drowned. The Cold is a terrifying elemental force; literally, living snow! It's an intelligence born from the snow during the Earth's first Ice Age and was the first attempt by the Earth at intelligent life (obviously predating the Silurians). The second half of the book is exciting as all communication and society itself breaks down in the face of the Cold and its Cold Knights. The idea that the snow you are walking in could suddenly sprout ice teeth and chew your leg off at any moment makes this a really freaky and terrifying enemy! I also like the fact that, after spending so much time setting up a seemingly disparate community of pointless characters, the second half tests them to the limit as they either rise to the occasion of facing the threat, have a nervous breakdown and become insane, or die at the hands of the enemy. The ultimate fate of the Cold is rather satisfying and original as well.
But by far the most fascinating aspect of the story is the Doctor and Susan. We get some insight into Susan, who is just as much an enigma to the series as the Doctor. The Doctor is written spot-on and contains both the adventurous qualities of his later incarnations and the dark and callous edge we saw in the early pilot episode. This Doctor actually sides with the enemy, having determined that the Cold is the rightful owner of the Earth and refuses to stand in the way of its reclaiming the Earth. And I love how the author seems to mirror the Doctor's contempt for humanity with the contempt that the elder people throughout the book hold towards the younger generations. In fact, the rivalry between the younger rule-breakers and the older generation is a driving theme in the story and is a constant tension between Susan and the Doctor. Whereas Susan is more readily able to accept the idea of interfering in time for the greater good, the Doctor has to learn this from Susan in order to break out of what Susan describes as "the fog" in their minds. Indeed, it is revealed that the Doctor and Susan have been mentally conditioned by the Time Lords to not interfere and it takes a great effort for them to break out of this conditioning and also to break through the fog and remember details such as the name of their planet and who they really are. This seems to be the book's explanation for why the Doctor isn't so forthcoming in the early years of the show with details we fans learned in later years of the show. I also like the sly bit of back-story they gave to the Master as the "Truant Officer" who was overzealous in prosecuting Time Lords for breaking the law. When the Doctor and Susan ran away, the Truant Officer took particular pleasure in pursuing them for his own political ends. At the end of the story, the Doctor is paranoid that his first bit of breaking the cardinal law will alert the Truant Officer and fears he will send agents to capture them, hence setting up his mistrust for the arrival of Ian and Barbara. I would have loved to see where Kim would develop this thread about the Truant Officer in a future story!
I also like the characters of John and Gillian who were a sly nod to the First and Second Doctors' companions in the comic strips. I was almost hoping Kim would have gone a step further and actually provided a window where they accompanied him in taking the Cold back to Pluto and had a series of adventures together (the Virgin book series actually stated that John and Gillian actually only existed in the fiction universe from The Mind Robber where all the Doctor's other comic adventures take place). We learn a great deal about their troubled home life and how it has initially formed them. By the end of the book, neither character is the same as Gillian meets a man who can take her away from her abusive father and John is faced with dealing with the death of his father.
On the whole, this is a great story to kick off a creatively different series from the normal book range. The characters are well written and, while they may seem a bit random at first, Newman does a great job of incorporating them all into the later parts of the book. The villains are fantastic and the book is just long enough to fulfill the needs of its story without feeling overlong. It is definitely worth seeking out even if it is a bit pricey these days. I can't wait to read the rest of the novella series now! 9/10
A Review by Jacob Licklider 10/11/15
This novella is an interesting one in that it takes place just before the events of An Unearthly Child, giving us the chance to see the Doctor and Susan before the cataclysm of Ian and Barbara. Told through the eyes of Susan in the form of diary entries, we gain insight into her thoughts of Earth and 1963 and the people she encounters. We discover that she got a job babysitting and she used it as an outlet to tell stories of her travels. We discover she has friends and that she doesn't like school as much as you would think. This isn't really a story about the Doctor but about Susan and how she tries to save the day when the Cold invades. Yes the Doctor does eventually solve the problem but not until Susan pries him to break the no-meddling rule and actually begin the streak of events that led to the Doctor we know today.
The Cold is a great idea for a villain because of how deadly it is and how it makes everything feel claustrophobic. The Cold puts the whole of England in a new type of environment, which causes the adults to go into a survival situation, making them react irrationally to their situation, and it's up to Susan and her small group of friends to find a solution. This leads to a great climax and the final few pages contain some emotional dialogue as Susan's relationships deteriorate.