BBC Books

Author Stephen Cole Cover image
ISBN 0 563 48607 4
Published 2003

Synopsis: The fuse has been lit. Reality has been blown apart, and the barriers that shield our universe from the endless others running parallel have shattered with it. The only chance the Doctor has of saving the multiverse from total collapse is if he can get back to Earth where the damage was first done - and put things right.


A Review by Finn Clark 23/8/03

The pain, the pain; make it stop! There's only one merciful action: kill the 8DAs. With the Richard E. Grant Doctor due in November, BBC Books can start publishing 9DAs instead. Admittedly one would sooner see the line end on a high note like the NAs, as opposed to drowning in a morass of careless ambiguity and self-contradiction, mind-numbing story elements and second-rate companions, but I guess one can't have everything. Well, there are always the PDAs.

Specifically addressing Timeless... this book is variously bad, dull, annoying and reminiscent of other sources which did its ideas better. Scarily, one o' those is The Last Resort. Yikes. 8DA story arc elements show up too, unfortunately. I imagine the alt.universe stuff in here contradicts something or other, but by this point I don't care enough to make myself plough through in search of tiny clues. I skimmed those bits. Things didn't fit together even before Timeless. This has been a dreadful story arc and I just want it to go away.

In fairness, Timeless does one clever thing. Despite being given the job of wrapping up this Alternate Universe Arc (in a sense and leaving other threads dangling for later... kill me now) it doesn't concentrate on technobabble at the expense of plot or characters. That's the good news. Instead it concentrates on its characters at the expense of plot. Most of the novel is given to meandering investigation of something that's daft as a brush and reminiscent of The Last Resort. Then as soon as that's been uncovered, new villains wander onstage with a plan which ends up going... uh, somewhere. Don't ask me what happened at the end. If only I was interested in the answers, I'd be asking questions here. For example, did I miss something or did that whole "Anji is a mother" thing end in a complete cop-out?

But Timeless does have a few good characters, Chloe and Jamais being my favourites. Chloe nearly (but not quite) justifies the daft-as-a-brush revelations. Mike is a good character too... but unfortunately he's Ricky Gervais's good character from the highly acclaimed BBC sitcom The Office, and so his chapters might go down better with non-UK readers who don't know what I'm talking about. Daniel Basalt is okay. Guy didn't really grab me, but I suppose he's meant to be a kind of everyman (as is suggested by his name).

Unfortunately the regulars don't fare too well. Fitz is Fitz, i.e. totally predictable, nothing we haven't seen before in the last four-and-a-half years. Anji gets a limp romance that's barely readable. And Trix... okay, I'm afraid I just don't like Trix. I liked Anji and Compassion; I even occasionally liked Sam Jones (e.g. Kursaal, Option Lock). However Trix is not someone I enjoy reading about. She's a perfectly credible character and she may yet evolve and surprise me, but in Timeless her scenes left me cold.

Oh, and page 143 left me sobbing on the ground. I toughed it out longer than many, but at last my saturation tolerance has been exceeded.

It's a tough call, but I think the last fifteen pages were the worst. Admittedly the preceding 260 were meandering and pointless, but the final hammer-blow was having to keep on reading about these bloody characters even after the story was over. Bizarrely, I've just rechecked those fifteen pages and discovered important stuff that had to be included... yet it still falls flat. Maybe it's because that stuff either feels like a cop-out or foreshadowed-since-2002 inevitable. I can't help feeling that more could have been done with this; it's hardly the worst example of its genre in Who, but it still kinda fades out with a whimper.

NOTE: I should add that other people have liked Timeless more than me - including its author, who's been quoted as saying he thinks it's his best book. Personally I think it squeaks past Parallel 59 to become his worst. If you buy this book, I hope you're one of those lucky people who found Timeless thrilling and its revelations fascinating. However I didn't.

Tainted beginings... by Joe Ford 1/10/03

Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! What a toe tinglingly, smile producingly, rib ticklingly, fabulously, wonderfully BRILLIANT book that was! After an uncertain few books for the EDA's they are back to form in the best way possible. I got the same giddy thrill reading this as I did when I read The Crooked World, Camera Obscura and Time Zero and you KNOW how much I adore those books! It was a perfectly adequate ending to the alternative universe arc, an emotional transition of characters, another superb chapter in the Sabbath arc and a riveting story in it's own right. After Ten Little Aliens I knew Stephen Cole was capable of great things but I never imagined he could write anything THIS good (no offence Stephen!).

Okay there's my standard burst of joy out of the way now let's get down to the serious stuff. There has been a real mixed feeling about this alternative universe arc that has plagued the EDA's since the beginning of the year and I can settle my opinions on the matter quite simply. It didn't work as well as it should. For a start not all the books were up to the usual quality of the EDA's. The Infinity Race was undemanding fare albeit with some entertaining POV's. The Domino Effect was better, exciting and eventful, it would have made a sterling four parter on the telly. Reckless Engineering faltered at its horribly muddled ending, decent prose and a stark setting helped but it was a little yawn inducing in places. And as for The Last Resort, a clever, memorable and vivid text but honestly... its narrative structure did everything possible to alienate the reader. One semi-classic, one love it or hate it and two mixed bags... not an inspiring line up is it?

And as if to make matter worse the books did not flow as well as they should. With an arc as concentrated as this there should have been some clear running storylines to gather momentum, to make you desperate to read the next one. Only Reckless Engineering played by the rules, following up the tantalisingly good cliff-hanger at the end of The Domino Effect. But The Infinity Race, Reckless Engineering and The Last Resort all had endings that were practically ignored in the beginning of the next book. What about Fitz's problems in Reckless Engineering... surely that melancholic cliff-hanger deserved follow up? And the huge number of people in the TARDIS at the end of The Last Resort? Just disappeared...

To be honest I was starting to worry a bit. But as usual I was jumping the gun because Timeless manages to do a great many things and clear up quite a few things that have been bugging me of late. What the hell does Sabbath want to achieve? He keeps cropping up with mysterious plots that are foiled by the Doctor but we never find out what he really wants to do! Why has the Doctor conveniently lost all interest in finding out about himself? Why do Anji and Fitz stay with the Doctor if he has become so seemingly callous and only concerned with saving the world regardless of the cost? Fear not... all these questions are answered quite provokingly in Timeless, a book that lives up to the hype levelled at it and more. As each of these issues was dealt with my spine tingled with excitement... after so much build up it was genuine thrill to get some answers. And boy were they satisfying...

If they can be of this quality I suggest that Steve Cole writes every Doctor Who book! I jest not! This book is expertly plotted by then that is not surprising since Mr Cole attributes some of this book's hard as nails storytelling to the book range editor Justin Richards. The book is written with an intriguingly deceptive structure, the first half is all build up, hopping about through the linear narrative with glee whilst second half capitalises on all the hints and whispers planted already and delivers a wham bang thankyou ma'am finish that doesn't give you a chance to put down. Certainly I was gripped by later developments, as identities were revealed I was smiling as another twist had beaten my deductive skills.

The all time best aspect of this book was the characters. Mr Cole states in this month's DWM that he was duly chastised for concentrating on plot rather than character in The Ancestor Cell and intended for this EDA to be different. Vanishing Point gave us a glimpse at how good his character work could be but in Timeless he has surpassed himself.

Take Guy, an everyday guy just going about his business. A few attempts on his life and he's suddenly embroiled in a huge universe spanning intergalactic scheme for ultimate dominance. His wonderfully naive, human reactions to the bizarre events around him are a joy to read. He strikes up an instant rapport with Fitz and so many of their scenes together discussing their love lives, BO, singing the James Bond theme tune whilst on a daring rescue mission strike a real cord of reality. Plus they are wet your pants funny too.

The there's Basalt, a real nasty piece of work. He is at least on par with Swan from Blue Box as best baddie of the year so far. I got the impression Stephen really enjoyed writing for this guy, his sadistic temper, his mistreatment of women, he is the guy everybody hopes they will never be. I saw myself in this guy on the odd occasion and that made him scarier. I loved how he tried to keep a grip on the situation right to the end, the exploration of his history and his ultimate desire for the future gave the book an extra dose of ambiguity. I guy you love to hate but with moments that make you feel sorry for him.

But nothing can surpass what he achieves with the regulars who have taken a bit of a dive recently after an astonishingly long run of excellent stories together. Love the Doctor in every single scene in this book, Cole has taken everything that makes this current amnesiac incarnation so special and applied him wonderfully to his story. A definite man of action (he sticks a pencil in a man's ear!!!) and sometimes overdoing it, a lust for life and a man who tries to shy away from the terrifying consequences of his actions. A short, sharp scene with Anji at the beginning brought home his actions in the last couple of books extremely well. He lifts off the page in this book, passionate and caring, it was a genuine thrill to see him at his all time most hyper active.

Fitz and Anji are the real stars though, spending much of the book apart but proving their worth as companions by remaining loyal and obedient and very humane. He swans off doing the James Bond bit whilst she hacks into computers and flirts outrageously with Guy, they both have millions of special, definable moments in Timeless. I can't talk about the ending without giving too much away but needless to say it brought tears to my eyes as I realised things would never be the same again. The last few chapters really made the book for me, taking it from classic to uber-classic! The consequences of the story have a profound effect on the TARDIS crew and the ending was judged just right, optimistic about the future.

Cole has honed an extremely entertaining, and what's more, evocative prose style which was another major plus point. The book flowed like a violent river, accelerating, twisting, gathering momentum. The writing was never overdone, in places it was thoughtful as we climbed into the minds of the characters and at other points it rocketed out descriptions like no tomorrow as the action flew by. Both styles suit the story well and it emerges as possibly the best written this year. Certainly in terms of clear storytelling, pace and creating mysteries to be solved and doing so satisfactorily it is the best book published by the BBC since Camera Obscura.

What else can I say to convince you to buy this? Oh yes! The ties to Time Zero were exciting for an avid of reader of the books like me and there were a number of references to books in the alt universe arc that helped when tying the whole thing up. Indeed I was shocked at just how that was done, ingenious and highly unexpected but honestly why didn't they think of it before??? For an alternative universe story it breaks all the rules but in a cheeky way using the idea to drive the story rather than to create it. Should even keep Finn Clark happy (fingers crossed mate!).

It was just super, a sterling return to doing what the EDA's do best. Intelligent storytelling with good doses of humour and excitement but never forgetting how important the characters are. It certainly bodes well for the future and I am more excited than I have been in quite a while to read the next book. Even the next PDA is worth getting heady about, Wolfsbane by Jac Rayner promises to be quite a read. Simon A. Forward, Justin Richards, Mark Michalowski and Jonathan Morris... it's the most inspiring EDA line up we've had for ages.

And in all honesty it is REFRESHING to have a book set back in our universe again.

Supplement, 26/1/05:

The 8th Doctor saga gets some real focus in this latest book by Steve Cole. Looking online and in magazines the general concessus seems to be impressive, the crowds, desperate for some answers and payoff in this everlong arc finally get some of the closure they seek. It is a book that solves a great deal and yet never forgets to tell an exciting and funny story and leaves you with a lump in your throat at the end. It is a very enjoyable piece of work in its own right and even more so when you consider what it achieves.

Does the Doctor know he destroyed Gallifrey? Does he want to know? After his vivid nightmares in City of the Dead he seems to have pushed his memories to the back of his mind but here he is forced to confront the issue again, albeit very briefly. This is a revelation especially since the Doctor seems to be terrified of finding out more information about his people, the drama is very palpable as he turns on Anji who, subtle as ever, forces the issue. He shuts her up with a few well chosen words "Is that how you see me, a survivor?" and tells her to shut up. The book manages to do wonders for restoring that compelling edge to the character the COE arc started, I think some horrifying revelations are on the brink of being discovered and he is almost there. This is an example of the longwinded arc really paying off.

Sabbath is really a love him or hate him sort of character. I was on the fence for a while, he kept cropping up with more and more elaborate schemes, never revealing his true intentions and remaining frustratingly obscure as to who his masters are. After Timeless I am certainly in the favourable category, not only because he continues to be as vicious and as witty as ever (Steve Cole at his all time best) but because his plans finally get some closure and we finally find out just what he has been up to for the past twenty or so books. This is another rewarding piece of the puzzle because you can see that the series editor hasn't just been making up as he goes along, there has been a deliberately (and confusingly misleading) plotted story, one that reaches a stunning climax in this story. It is to Cole's credit that after so much buildup the answers actually manage to impress, lots of different clues scattered in earlier stories help make his final, universe spanning scheme very in character and easy to spot if you had been paying attention. Time Zero sets up much of this story, the two intertwining superbly as the two editors bounce their plots off each other.

Its also a transition story and quite a touching one at that. We've known for a while now that Anji will be staying on Earth as soon as they get back to the real Earth. She has made no secret of it since Time Zero, making her exit here all the more heart breaking. It has been a wonderful few years' travel with the disarming stocks broker, her modern day look on their increasingly loony adventures proving largely entertaining. Anji started her adventures with the loss of her lover and her life and it is touching to see her effortlessly slip back into her old life after all the horrors she has faced. A scene with her wrapped up in bed, totally content, is very revealing. The last few chapters are positively tearjerking, Cole writes her last few scenes with particular intimacy.

Who's this Trix person who has been wandering the TARDIS for so long? It is one of the most frustratingly vague things about the latest batch of EDAs and rather than providing a shock revelation at her discovery, she is already integrated in the book long before the first page. Anji's utter hatred of the woman provides some ripe bitchiness (in a way that only Anji can...) and her enjoyably complacent attitude towards the adventure provide some delightful insight into this intriguing character. I am gutted to see Anji go but Trix is going to be a terrific new companion.

Fitz and Trix? What a name combination!

Perhaps the biggest achievement Timeless manages is how it effortlessly turns the alternative universe nightmare arc (or the AUN arc!) into a coherent story. Until the end of The Last Resort patience was being tested by the jumbled plots that refused to mesh into anything resembling a running story... things just seemed to be going from bad to worse, no victories for the Doctor, Fitz and Anji forced to make some life-changing decisions and the universe was unravelling into chaos... gripping certainly but hardly explained well enough. It felt as though the EDAs were fighting against their audience, turning each book into a piece of a larger puzzle rather than entertaining stories in their own right. With Timeless it is easy to see the bigger picture, how one book led into another and just how well plotted the whole thing has actually been. Shame on me for almost losing faith.

It is because of these reasons that I suggest a second read of this book. There is so much going on and it easy to lose some of it whilst you are concentrating on the actual story. To my delight it was even more satisfying on a second read as I discovered so much that I missed first time around.

The whole story of the Timeless organisation, with Chloe, Jamais and her guardian Erasmus manages to be the main focus of the book, weaving quite imperceptibly through all of the twists above. The threesome make this a fascinating read especially when you find out some vital information about them.

The supporting cast is strong, Stacey actually came out best this time with some shocking revelations about her past providing the story with some real heart. Guy is still a top character but I kind of got this impression this laddish sort was overwritten in places... he seems to have sex on the brain, enjoys fast chases in sports cars and really, really wants to get in Anji's knickers! The perfect foil for Fitz, they are practically the same character separated by a handful of decades.

Timeless has dragged the 8th Doctor books kicking and screaming back into the world of cool. I was blown away by my first read and extremely impressed by my second. I think this will be a period of stability for the books now, some top notch authors are on their way starting with Simon Forward and if the little teaser for Emotional Chemistry on the BBC website is anything to go by it will be a hell of a read.

A real yummy book.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 23/4/04

With that much Doctor Who merchandise available these days, I was glad when they lowered the BBC Book range to one a month. It didn't bother me whatsoever that we would have only half of the original output. I would have fewer unread books on my bookcase (and I don't buy all of them either). However I do sympathize with the fans who moan at the lack of 8th Doctor books, as it must be very difficult picking up the story 2 months hence from the last one. They've read great Who, want to read more, and have to wait a couple of months. I save the books up, and then read about 3 at a time. I'm then ready to move on to another series. It's just that this 8th Doctor one now has been running ages.

Timeless was read just a few weeks after I had finished Reckless Engineering and ,a href=resort.htm>Last Resort. I feared another Last Resort, rather than the adventuring spirit of a Reckless Engineering. It actually fell very nicely between the two camps. It wasn't exceptional, but it told an interesting tale well, and it answers a great deal of questions arising from books going way back.

The Doctor glories in a mass of companions here. Fitz does what Fitz does best, a sort of loping heroic figure, doing as the Doctor tells him and protective of his master. Anji reaches a logical conclusion - the inevitable result of the previous few years' books. It's a shame she is now gone, as I really liked the character. New girl Trix is more difficult to assess this early on. There's a mystery about her, there's a definite personal agenda to her travels with the Doctor. Yet she also seems to fit in with the present day - being well rounded and streetwise. An Ace clone she isn't though, it will be interesting where she goes.

Having Fitz and Trix work together, in the search for Daniel Basalt, provides another facet of the book that bodes well for the future. This relationship will be a vital part of coming books. As for the Doctor, he seems to pick up another companion (just for this book) in Stacy. I couldn't help but think of the Radio Times comic strip companion.

The book glories in many a supporting character also. The initial events of the book revolve around Guy Adams. His relationship with Anji is particularly interesting. I also could relate to his office life, and Stephen Cole makes many a good observation on this type of work. This contrasts well with the fantastic of the book - everyone trying to kill him and the whole multiverses complications. Zapping round the whole story is Timeless Organization. Chloe, her doll and Jamais I found very difficult to understand at first. Trying to figure out a connection was frustrating, until eventually it was all explained. Sabbath's involvement is also very good, and there are plenty of revelations about this most excellent of villains.

Timeless is a very involved story, not to read lightly, but the kind of book that rewards the regular reader. With its mass of questions answered (I must confess to being a little confused at times because I only read about 2 out of 3 BBC Books - but synopses have helped) it looks like the current arc is finally closing up. Sometime Never... really will be the end we are told, but this goes well on the way for that process.

I think we are approaching the end of the 8th Doctor line over the next year or so. I can't see there being more than about 7-8 more, but we have had more 8th Doctor books than any other Doctor. I hope the range shies away from continuous arcs after Sometime Never... - it's just not fair on anyone. Regular readers aren't getting the books often enough. Periodic readers are lost in the complexity of the continuous story. Let's have stand-alone stories for the next year or so, and let's enjoy this magnificent incarnation in his swansong.

It's easy to judge Timeless as one of the final chapters of a bigger story, but on it's own it is a good book, without hitting the heights of the best of the 8th Doctor range. I found it easy to read, and I'm glad the whole running story is coming to a satisfactory conclusion. 7/10

Time and Spaced by Rob Mattthews 25/5/04

Despite being, on the face of it, little more than an extended run-in to Justin Richards' trademark Big Arc Climax Sometime Never..., Timeless is an enormously enjoyable read. After the dismal two dimensional torpor of The Domino Effect and the dizzing multidimensional madness of The Last Resort, it's very refreshing to get a fairly leisurely character-based book. And amidst all the, well frankly, hype of the 'buggered time' arc it's good to be reacquainted with mundane, domestic settings and human problems on a smaller scale.

Not to imply that this is some kind of kitchen sink drama, of course - the big-scale universe-warping plot elements that have become routine for recent EDAs are there all right, but they don't overwhelm the book. Quite rightly Stephen Cole takes them as the backdrop they've become over the course of preceding stories, treating them pretty much as of secondary importance to his characters and veritably basking in his lack of obligation to clear everything up by the final chapter - he knows he can just leave all that to Justin.

The central character here, of the non-regulars anyway, is Guy - a simple yet inspired choice of protagonist on the part of our Mr Cole. Why? Well, he's a fella in his mid-twenties, stuck in a bit of a rut in a dull job and just sort of drifting aimlessly. He is, in essence us. No offence meant, of course, but let's face it, the majority of Doctor Who fans who are reading these books are likely to be people who grew up with the TV series and thus somewhere between their mid-twenties and mid-thirties; and they're more likely than not to be dissatisfied with their jobs because very few people feel entirely happy in their work. Just by law of averages, a lot of us are going to find ourselves relating to Guy's situation (at least, I hope it's not just me!) This is, I think, a Doctor Who novel that's first and foremost very aware of the particular audience it's playing to. Finn Clark mentioned, for example, that Guy's annoying boss Mike was just a steal from the UK comedy series The Office. Well, I agree with Finn but I don't see why that should be regarded as a negative point. Doctor Who has always been a plagiarist's paradise, and in evoking the soul-numbing grind of boring jobs in boring workplaces, The Office is simply the obvious pop culture touchstone. Plus it's not like Mike is a central character anyway.

What strikes me most in reading Timeless is the author's obvious certainty about who his readers are - this is not a Doctor Who book which imagines itself to be for kids, or which teeters awkwardly between aiming itself at children and aiming itself at adults. Its concerns, the concerns of its characters, are the twentysomething ones of work, relationships, property and who fancies who. Which I know makes it sound like the most ghastly soap opera, but for once none of this stuff feels like it's been awkwardly shoehorned into what's basically an escapist adventure story. Instead it just feels like the texture of the book, it's who these people are. Anji, for example, has always seemed to me like a character conceived as the sort of person who'd be in a This Life or Coupling sort of show, and then transplanted into Who in the hope of making it seem more hip. And because of that she's never quite fitted for me - she always seemed more suited to snorting cocaine in trendy wine bars in North London than battling talking Tigers on a colony planet in the distant future, and it was always emphasised that she wasn't the sort of person who would like Doctor Who anyway, so I always thought 'Oh just go back to bloody futures trading, whatever the bugger that is, and then the Doctor can get someone on board who actually likes the idea of travelling to the furthest reaches of time and space' (like, wouldn't someone along the lines of Simon Pegg's character in Spaced or Shaun of the Dead be a more apt choice of companion if you're aiming for audience identification?)

But - surprise of surprises - Anji fits here. This is a story that suits her, and I even liked and empathised with her by the end. I think this is because, as I say, she's always come across like part of the ensemble cast of some twentysomething drama series cut adrift in the world of Doctor Who. But here, dammit, she finally has that ensemble cast around her. She's got a potential fella in Guy, she's got a hated rival in Trix, she's got a sort if beloved daft brother in Fitz, a kind of gay friend in the Doctor (don't get yourself up in arms, gentle reader, I merely refer to the fact that there's no chance of sexual tension there. Honestly, don't read anything into the velvet). Turns out all Anji needed was a bunch of peers, because she works here extremely well.

Daniel Basalt is the other big factor here in Cole's, erm, strategy - before Sabbath and Kalicum turn up he's the monster of the book, and it speaks volumes that this is a monster who's all too human - a sexual sadist in point of fact, and a violent selfish bastard, the kind of person we readers might have been unlucky enough to come across ourselves, or who we at least know of through friends who have. A villain in the Sarah Swan vein whose sense of threat, because familiar, makes Zygons and Sontarans and Quarks and all that seem rather silly. He too, is of Anji's world, and of Guy's and of ours. The scene where he assaults Stacy is a real shocker, frightening in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with the back of the sofa, and it's a worthy rejoinder to Joey's suggestion in his Rags review that Doctor Who shouldn't touch the nastinesses of the real world with a ten-foot Rod of Rassilon. That said, it's also a worthy vindication of Joe's suggestion in his Mind of Evil review that, er, yes it should sometimes, come to think of it.

I'd never realised it before because I've only read (or listened to) his collaborative work, but Stephen Cole is one of the best Who writers on the beeb payroll - in fact he may be the best dialogue writer they have. Why on Earth doesn't he write on his own more often? I betcha it was him and not Paul Magrs who wrote all the funny lines in The Wormery, you know - and there I was thinking Paul had had all the fun while Steve sat in the background stitching the plot together. And I was particularly impressed to see that here he managed to write a whole chapter which was basically a six-person conversation, without losing track of a single one of them or having anyone say anything totally out of character just to move the plot along. Mike Morris noted sagely of The Domino Effect that it didn't work as a novel, but rather a sort of flat-pack guide to imagining a TV story. But the two approaches don't have to be contradictory, as he himself also noted of Jonathan Morris' superb Festival of Death; Timeless works extremely well as a novel, but it's easy to imagine how easily it could be played as a television episode too, such is the strength of the dialogue. I mean, I too read Who books as books and not as imagined TV episodes, but it's very easy to envision how this one would play on screen, probably with a far more intimate and edgy, handheld style of direction than the TV series ever attempted (though may well be more likely to attempt when it returns to the screen courtesy of the RTD massive).

Speaking of edgy, the Doctor is a right old whirlwind here, never ceasing to entertain, surprise, and just generally be funny courtesy of Cole. Like Joe I loved the bit with the hair torture! And his continuing mood swings from manic to depressive and back again are a good choice of portrayal for this story - the Doc caught somewhere between enjoying having a good old adventure and desperately attempting to halt the seemingly irreversible collapse of time as he knows it. His despondency in the TARDIS with Anji and his impulsive kicking of Basalt in the ribs both serve to highlight the passionate side of his nature. Incidentally, Joe remarked to me that the latter bit had caused a bit of a stir on Outpost Gallifrey because it's contrary to his pacifism or something. Oh, how paralysingly dull, tedious and boring some fans can be! The Doctor is a character, not a walking set of prescribed rules - maybe he kicks Basalt in the ribs because Basalt is an utter fucking bastard and he loses control of his temper? You may think it's questionable, but these things happen - the Doctor might have morals and values but he's not a bloody automaton (or, as Joe more amusingly put it, he's not a damn nun!). This is Doctor Who not Doctrine Who, thanks, it's a neverending story not a closed book, and I just don't understand why supposed enthusiasts are so eager to see the thing ground down into a thin, consistent paste, every serving of which tastes exactly the same.

Speaking of taste, we're fortunate in getting another serving of non-vanilla Sabbath here. This big bully is the direct opposite of a writer-proof character; done right he's excellent, but done wrong he can come across as little more than a fat slapheaded Master. Here Cole tops Paul Leonard's impressive rendition from The Last Resort, managing a Sabbath who seems to me very true to Lawrence Miles' more ambiguous model - indeed, this is a rendition that Mile himself might be able to bitch about in less then five thousand words. Which seems about as close as you'll get to a compliment from Mad Larry these days... And actually, Justin Richards' contrite Sabbath in Sometime Never... feels something of a disappointment after this.

Kalicum, too, is a great creation, extremely creepy. And Chloe and Jamais are a well-drawn little pair - the scene where she gets her eyes warped by the book is very memorable, and the hints of what became of 'the Elementals' post-Gallifrey are a welcome attempt to embroider some of the loose ends from Cole's earlier (collaborative) effort The Ancestor Cell.

A couple of weaknesses in the narrative are an over-reliance on a particular descriptive formulation that goes 'It was like (a) by way of (b)' (ie - 'It was like a PG Tips commercial directed by Quentin Tarantino'), which I find a bit glib. And the phrase 'You would, wouldn't you?' is the most hackneyed attempt at laddishness this side of all those crap men's magazines. Though at least the author has the decency to appear slightly ashamed of that bit, and really these are the only bumps in a very smooth road.

Two strong underlying themes emerge from the book overall - one is a very positive one about taking control of your life and not losing your passions and interests or settling into a dull torpor, the alternate universe idea used well to illustrate the idea of seeing what you might have been if you'd made different choices (like Nencini or Stacy). The other is a far bleaker one which suggests that only the fear of consequence stops us from killing people willy nilly, and if we could get away with it we'd do it almost as a recreational activity.

This make for a good balance of light and dark, a book that's got head as well as heart, and balls as well as, um, broken ribs. Plus Steve Cole manages to keep a grip on his own dark side by not once using 'Diamonds Are Forever' as a chapter title...

So, like Last Resort this is a book that works well as part of of a story arc, but is also good enough on its own terms to be considered... Timeless.

Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 16/8/04

What was what? What... was... that? What the ing was that?

Okay, going in I knew this was a book by Stephen Cole. Honestly, I should have stopped there. His last Eighth Doctor adventure was Vanishing Point, not the greatest testament to anyone's writing craft, but I had been illusioned (the opposite of disillusioned) by Ten Little Aliens into thinking, hey, this might not be that bad.

I really should have known better.

With a title like Timeless, and in this arc, one could be forgiven for thinking this was it, this was the epic climax to the arc. Well, one would be wrong. Ye gods, BBC Books, finish this arc already! Especially if continuing it means putting authors like Stephen Cole back in print. This book isn't any grandiose statement about the nature of the universe, it's not an epic battle between good (the Doctor, one would presume) and evil (signified by Sabbath, one is led to believe), it's not even a race against time to stop something terrible from happening! It's about a stupid company and a guy that everyone wants to kill (and, frankly, I'd let them).

Were we supposed to care about any of these people? Stephen Cole works hard to make Chloe likeable, and does succeed, but aside from one or two others, he tries to make out the rest of the cast as victims and people we are supposed to feel kindly towards because of that. Erm, no, not me. Not because I'm cynical, but because most of them are too stupid to still be living. And if it wasn't for the interventions of the Doctor and companions, they wouldn't be. Daniel Basalt is about the only one we aren't supposed to like (he is the closest we get to the villain of the piece), but frankly he's too superficial to be interesting.

I'm also going to bring up the companions here. What happens to Anji, fine, I wasn't expecting it, shame really, but there you go. But what was the deal with Trix? We've had companions join abruptly (Dodo, step on down), but what was the deal with Trix? Please, someone, tell me, what the ing was the deal with Trix? I know I don't pay attention to the book news, and everyone else might have been expecting it, but this is too stupid to believe it could happen. (To be honest, I won't be too surprise to find out I've been duped and things are back to normal next EDA... or maybe I'm wishing that'll happen.)

I would mention the Doctor and Fitz here, but they were both acting too generically to remember anything about them...

One minor point I'd like to raise is the editing. Or, more likely, the lack thereof. There's an unnecessary italicised line I saw, but my favourite goof has to be top of page 230. I can see that being raised in trivia quizzes to come: "In what book did the Doctor refer to Sabbath as 'a lazy get'?"

Stephen Cole... hate him or loathe him, just don't let him near the typewriter again. (I'll repeat one last time: what the fuck was that?)

A Review by Donald McCarthy 25/8/04

Timeless is the beginning of the end. The Doctor has finally escaped from all of those alternate universes and is back in ours. Now the fun begins. The Doctor has to figure out just what is going on.

And he sort of does.

But not really.

I mean he kinda does.

Well I'm not sure anyone knew what was happening during this book. The Doctor has revelations about what's going on, on every page but declines to really explain it until the end of the book and even then there are still some surprises to come. The surprises are big and very important in the ongoing arc.

But, alas, the parts of the book that don't deal with the arc don't fare as well. In the beginning it looked pretty good. A man named Guy (no, really) is attacked by people he knows and likes. He can't figure out why they are doing this and things get even more confusing when the Doctor shows up. I liked this part. I thought Guy was an interesting character, at least at first. Then he sort of enters generic character mode as the book goes on.

The book shifts away from Guy's plot and it starts to lose steam. Fitz and Trix's storyline isn't very grabbing. Their plot doesn't add much to the book and could have been trimmed down quite a bit. Anji fared OK and I actually enjoyed her character in this book as I'm usually more of a Fitz person. The Doctor's plot is the best of them all, though. His section really made me want to turn the page and see what was happening. His companion, Stacy, was very interesting as is what happens to her at the end.

Once Sabbath enters things pick up a bit but still seem to drag a bit. Luckily Sabbath's characterization is spot on. I was very impressed as it was almost, but not quite, as good as in Camera Obscura.

Once the characters meet Sabbath the book starts rolling along. I won't say what happens but I enjoyed the last 80 pages or so a lot.

The other plot that I haven't mentioned is Chloe's. I can't say too much without venturing into big spoilers but I will say that she was a well drawn out character, who had a very important background.

All in all the book was good but could have done with a bit of trimming down. I'll give it an 8.5/10.

A Review by Mike Morris 1/9/04

In my review of Sometime Never..., I made a couple of throwaway remarks about Timeless which were, maybe, a bit unfair - and The Last Resort as well, come to that. Reading what I wrote, I suddenly thought hey, it was actually quite good, was Timeless. Then I thought, hang on, no it wasn't. Then I realised I could barely remember a damn thing about it. Almost as soon as I'd finished it, it evaporated from my mind. Which probably didn't help when I read Sometime Never.... Maybe, I figured, a re-reading is required.

Upon reading Timeless for the second time, I was amazed at how much I'd forgotten. I'd forgotten, for example, how the big problem the Doctor had getting back into the right universe to get the book back is sorted out in the first thirty pages or so, thanks to a splurge of science stuff about going back to the Big Bang. I didn't understand it at all. Bluntly, though, I never really understood the whole thing about why it was so important to put the book back in the shop in the first place, so that's hardly unexpected. To me it's just been blah blah paradox blah blah unstable blah blah. Boring. How about some proper storytelling, people?

The way it's wrapped up so quickly suggests that Steve Cole shared my impatience with all that pseudo-science. So, having dealt with that, on we go to the main attraction.

About halfway through the book I thought to myself, "bloody hell, I've underrated this one. It's fantastic."

Then I finished it and I thought, "Oh yeah. That's right."

And I constructed a scenario in my head. Steve Cole, running breathlessly into the office.

"I've had a brilliant idea! Listen, listen! There's two people who are left alive after the destruction of Gallifrey, and this dog, and they can travel between the universes, right? And here's what they're doing - they're bringing people from sideline universes into our universe, where they can go from miserable lives to great moments of happiness. They think they're helping them! But they aren't, of course - they're damaging the space-time continuum, and these wraiths are slipping through from outside our universe... they're sentient forces of nature from the space-time vortex that've been allowed in at last... and they could destroy everything. This is another in the ongoing adventures of the Eighth Doctor and all that. Hey, I like what you've done with the office, Justin. Moving the filing cabinet over there. Seems much bigger."

And that's brilliant, isn't it? Better still, it means you could make room for Sabbath quite easily - it's his kinda gig, after all. And the way something so small-scale could in fact be so huge is just fabulous.

To go all Douglas Adams on y'all; sadly, a terrible stupid story arc occurred, and the idea was mangled forever. This is not Steve Cole's story. This is the story of that terrible stupid story arc and its consequences.

Or something.

Of course, that's probably not how it happened at all, because this book makes surprisingly good use of the altering universe idea. But the fact remains that this book is just great, absolutely great, for two hundred pages or so, and then goes downhill faster than a demented bobsleigh. Finally, the changing history setting makes sense, the notion of Timeless is fabulous, and Daniel Basalt is the sort of character that gives everyone the shivers and never seems anything but real. There's a hell of a trick to creating a real psychopath, and Cole succeeds brilliantly. Chloe, Jamais and Erasmus are terrific. Sabbath's appearances are genuinely surprising and unsettling. It's all good - well not all, but mostly.

Then something weird happens. Sabbath says "Ha-ha, you have been investigating the mystery of Timeless and have fallen into my trap! It was simply a ruse! Now the real plot begins!"

And the real plot is, uh, well, y'know, um, ah, oh.

The last third is cripplingly disappointing. Suddenly, the story degenerates into a sort of runaround involving diamonds and the beginning of the universe and double-crosses and all sorts of palaver. It's all a bit daft, and yet again I barely understand a word of what's going on. Who's Kalicum again? Who's he working for? What does the universe end up being seeded with? Now, some of the answers are sort of contained in Sometime Never..., I think, but even they don't make a whole lot of sense. Kalicum does exactly what Sabbath intended to do anyway, so why does he do what he does? And the whole thing about Timeless just being a cunning trap or something... that doesn't make any sense either. None. Not a lick.

It's frustrating, because the Doctor's investigation of Timeless is gorgeous. It introduces three main characters: the aforementioned Daniel Basalt, a genuinely chilling villain; Stacy, a sympathetic and likeable woman with an agenda of her own; and Guy, a typical everyman completely adrift in a world he doesn't understand. Steve Cole gets a lot of mileage from these three, which is rather impressive given that there's nothing particularly interesting about the last two (apart from the twist regarding Stacy, which is superb).

Most pleasing, however, is how comfortably Steve Cole gets his hands dirty. The whole tone of the book is grimy and hopeless, the trail leading to lonely old ladies in their threadbare flats, and rich women subjecting themselves to abuse just to elevate their dull lives. Steve Cole doesn't do this in a showy way, though, and he's equally effective at portraying the pristine, the vacuumed, the carefully cleaned. Guy's office is a suffocating environment and every bit as hopeless and meaningless as the old men in their bedsits waiting to die. Cole uses a light touch, borrowing heavily from the brilliant sitcom The Office (including, with a less light touch, its lead character), but it's portrayed with great confidence.

The downside is that Steve Cole doesn't push this as he might. Guy is a bit reminiscent of Tim from The Office - doing a job that bores him senseless, and constantly taking the easy route. He is, although he doesn't know it, very unhappy. But despite all that talk about changing his life and stuff, Cole doesn't really get to grips with the fact that this bloke is every bit as much "waiting to die" as the Timeless clients. Instead we keep returning to this crap laddish humour, which is fine... but what really rankles is that it's presented as some sort of happy average state, the definition of normality. I can't really talk, because I've uttered sentences like "You would, wouldn't you" on countless occasions - but seeing it presented as a wonderful freewheeling definition of healthy male behaviour is a bit much even for me.

That said, Cole's grip on characters is generally good and it improves with every book. He still lets his prose drift to the clunky side, and there are some sentences that made me wince; "Stacy's face had softened in a moment, and Anji could see from the well-scored lines of concern there that this woman was a born carer, a listener." Aaargh! Cole consistently bullies his characters along like this, with sentences that are completely unnecessary. We know that Stacy's a listener, we can tell it from her actions. The normal euphemism for writing is show don't tell. Bad writers tend to tell and not show. Steve Cole has an annoying tendency to show and tell.

For all that, the passages with Chloe and Jamais are so good and so well-written that you could still argue that he's one of the best prose writers currently working in Doctor Who fiction. His dialogue, particularly, is razor-sharp. I just wish he believed in his characters a bit more. And - as with Vanishing Point - when he finds himself compelled to give us an all-action climax things fall apart a bit, and I found myself having to reread passages to work out was happening.

Overall, though, Timeless is worth a read and has lots of good bits, but it doesn't hold together at all well. The wraiths that are so frightening early on just sort of (no pun intended) evaporate from the story, the path back to the one true universe is a bit fuzzy, and the link between Timeless and Sabbath's story is extremely contrived. It's involving for a long time, but the end is so confused that I'm not surprised I forgot so much about it (and this is me rereading it after having read Sometime Never...!). There's a good book in here but it buries itself deeper and deeper as the story goes on, until by the end it's too far underground for the reader to locate. The abiding impression, therefore, is one of confusion. What a pity.

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 13/9/04

If I were to review this book in a couple of phrases, I'd describe it as a mediocre novel with an atrocious ending. Unfortunately, I'm far too grumpy to simply leave it at that. Timeless is a frustrating book in a series that I've been increasingly frustrated with. A multi-part story-arc really shouldn't be interfering in an individual book to the extent seen here, yet that's exactly what happens. The story-arc should enhance an individual tale, not drag it down to the depths of incomprehensibility.

The back cover states the plot involves "saving the multiverse from total collapse". Well, this doesn't exactly increase the dramatic tension for me. I mean, first of all, any reader is going to take it for granted that the book doesn't end with the multiverse in a state of total collapse. So the state of play isn't where the book is going to be setting its conflict. What we're left with is to observe how the Doctor saves the universe (or multiverse or whatever). Here's where we have the problem. The threat to the universe has been described with ever increasing gobs of technobabble over the past few books in the series. And it doesn't take a genius to realize that the best way of ridding the world of technobabble is to attack it with even more confusing technobabble. This is not something I enjoy reading.

Now, I'll give Stephen Cole some credit here. When addressing conflicts that potentially alter the entire course of creation, it's handy to see the effect that these Big Events have on actual living people. Made-up science-stuff that doesn't even remain consistent from book to book can be a little -- shall we say -- difficult to grasp. So it's nice to see time spent on developing characters. Stacy, for instance, worked quite well for me, and I enjoyed her subplot as well as her character (if the whole book had worked like this, I would have rated it much higher).

On the other hand, I was more lukewarm to Guy. He's a fairly standard character, but I suspect that's done deliberately. If you like this sort of thing, then you call him an everyman. If you loathe it, then you call him a walking stereotype. My opinion moved back and forth between the two extremes. I think my main problem was just that Cole's attempt at making him a sympathetic and identifiable figure went a bit too far and I couldn't actually imagine anyone this generic really existing. I note that other reviewers have had no trouble identifying with him at all, so it appears the mileage varies on this point.

As for the plot, for the most part Cole is capable of keeping the individual strands separate and interesting. I really liked Fitz and Trix's investigation taking place a number of weeks removed from the main action. But there are way too many little moments where Cole has to cheat in order to allow the plot to emerge in the way he wants it to. Take for example the Doctor and Stacy escaping because the bad guys just throw them off a boat, let them get away and only then do they think to give chase. Sloppy and regrettable. And as for the conversation two grown male characters have about women... well, I'm speechless in my amusement. It reads like a conversation that two twelve-year-old boys would have about girls, but only in the unlikely event that they didn't know any dirty words.

But the biggest problem is that I simply cannot care about the book's main conflict. Now don't get me wrong; I like science fiction that handles big scientific ideas. I have no trouble with the idea of a story doing big things with the universe. But this never felt like "Big Ideas". This felt more like "More Made Up Mumbo Jumbo From The People Who Brought You That Other Made Up Mumbo Jumbo." If there hadn't been any silly story-arc stuff going on and the book had been focused upon the human villains, I'm sure I would have been very positive about it.

I sort of enjoyed reading the first half, but after a while it just wore me down. It also feels far less ambitious than his previous EDA, despite dealing with huge universe-shattering events. Vanishing Point was an exploration of a society with apparent proof as to existence of the afterlife. It may not have fulfilled its potential, but I admired it for trying. Timeless, on the other hand, is about what happens when overwhelming technobabble meets unstoppable gobbledygook. It may not have started out that way, but unfortunately, that's how it ended.

A Review by John Seavey 21/1/05

Dear Lord, it's the Story Arc That Would Not Die!

OK, I'll admit there's a lot to like about Timeless. Fitz is well-used, and so is Anji. The central plot, the one that's actually pretty irrelevant to the arc material, is a pretty neat idea (the Timeless organization, the way they transplant people into their alternate selves, the guilt-free killings, et cetera.) The sequences with Guy and all the people suddenly and motivelessly trying to murder him are great stuff, very shocking. Stacy's a good character. The prose is nice. It does resolve the "infinite universes" stuff, albeit in a stupid way (the Doctor saves the universes by returning a book. That's all he had to do? Five books of run-around, disasters, collapsing multiverses, and all he had to do was visit a second-hand store?) It's neat to see more post-Gallifrey Time Lords, even if Chloe shouldn't exist, being a Time Lord child (although there are ways to wiggle around that).

But the arc material... first, it still didn't end. It. Still. Didn't. End! Since Time Zero... which in turn, resolved plot threads set up in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street... which, in turn, was just clearing up loose ends from The Ancestor Cell -- but that, of course, was just tying off the bloody stump of Interference... which really can't take all the blame, because that was just following up on the hints offered in Alien Bodies... since, it seems, almost the beginning of the BBC line, we have been offered false resolution after false resolution in which the Doctor's solution leads to some new problem that the next story arc solves. It is driving me crazy. If Justin Richards is reading this (and I sincerely doubt that he is): I just want a resolution. I want a status quo. It doesn't have to be the old status quo; we can have a new multi-verse, in which future humans take the place of Time Lords and the Doctor is a renegade from them as a member of the old order. I don't care. But I want to read a book where, at the end, things have ended, and I haven't gotten one of those in a long time. Oh, and I want the Doctor to get his memory back, because this is just getting silly.

Further problems persist: What the heck is Jamais? Why is Trix so annoying if she's now to be the new companion? Is Fitz going to stay in the TARDIS until he dies of old age? Did Sabbath really have to go to such insanely elaborate lengths to get some diamonds? Argh! There's a good book in here, but it's buried under the weight of a story arc that needs to DIE.

Perhaps in another year or two, once things are finally sorted, I'll be able to look back on this book as part of an arc that has ended, and I'll enjoy it for the cliff-hanger it is. But from where I'm at now, it's just another frustration in a long series of them.