THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Burning
BBC Books
Time Zero

Author Justin Richards Cover image
ISBN 0 563 53866 X
Published 2002

Synopsis: At the Naryshkin Institute in Siberia, scientists are busily at work in a haunted castle. Over a century earlier, creatures from a prehistory that never happened attack a geological expedition. Pages from the lost expedition's journal are put on display at the British Museum, and a US spy plane suffers a mysterious fate. Deep under the snowy landscape of Siberia the key to it all remains trapped in the ice. Soon the Doctor is caught up in a plot that reaches back to the creation of the Universe. And beyond... to Time Zero.


Reviews

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 8/10/02

As the apparent conclusion to the Sabbath arc, this was a book that I was looking forward to immensely. Camera Obscura had been so brilliant, and I just knew the writing talent of Justin Richards would come up trumps. He, after all, has overseen this brilliant run of books - surely he was the best to round it off. The cover promised a magical world of isolation and cold, chilling atmosphere - this was a book to be savoured.

What struck me first of all was the new design. It isn't that different, but sufficiently so to make the book feel like something special (as if it didn't have enough selling points already!). The presentation of the book is excellent too. Richards chooses to tell the story in short chapters, and the chapter numbers are reversed. Thus we start with Chapter 53 and finish on Chapter 1. It's a brilliant way to present the story. The Countdown builds up the tension, and you are ready for something momentous to happen.

Splitting the key players up makes the short chapters essential. I always prefer short chapters over longer ones anyway - makes the book better and easier to pick up and put down. Being a reader who doesn't read DW books in one sitting (or even 4 or 5 for that matter), I like clear breaks, definite places every 5-10 minutes to rest for a while - it's how I enjoy books more. As Fitz goes off on his expedition, Anji is apparently getting back into real life. The Doctor flits around here and there. The Black Hole makers are doing their thing, and there's a fair amount of time investigations going on. There are so many stages on which the book is set, before they inevitably all coalesce in the snowy wastes of Siberia. There's also so many people to get to know - you just don't want to be away from any for too long for fear of losing the thread.

Half way through however I felt strangely blasť about the whole thing. Where was Sabbath? Why was the Doctor only in 1 in every 4 chapters (at least it seemed that way). Where had Fitz disappeared to? Maybe my concentration wasn't at its best, maybe my expectations were just too high. I'm really not sure. I put the book down, and had a few days rest. My reasoning was to build up my enthusiasm again, and the 2nd half would be better. I had been reading a lot of 8th Doctor books recently (to the exclusion of all else), and maybe I had reached some kind of burn-out. Whatever the reason I was better for that break - and the second half was better. Having now finished the book I can really see its merits and understand its structute more.

Justin Richards has rightly been applauded for his characterization of the 8th Doctor. He was the one who re-invented the series with The Burning. He made the 8th Doctor in that book just as interesting, if not moreso, than all the rest. That is all evident here a few years on. Richards has to be one of the best writers of this incarnation there is. There is even a reference to his 100 years stuck on Earth, one vital to the plot - yet another piece of the puzzle that Richards brings into the narrative. There are plenty of Doctor-ish scenes in this book too. The scenes in the Auction are particularly good, the way he forces himself on the Duchess' party excellent. The whole story is better when the Doctor is the focal character, too many of the earlier chapters concern other parties - it's why I stumbled a short way in. When the Doctor flies off to Siberia we're intrigued to know what he has up his sleeve. Why is this Duchess so interested in Fitz's Journal. We're intrigued to know what set of circumstances causes the image depicted so majestically on the Front Cover. And just where is Sabbath, he's bound to be lurking in there somewhere?

Fitz is another character Richards knows a lot about. I suspect it would have been quite easy to dismiss him, when the series was re-invented in late 2000. But Richards saw a character that could be a lot better than he had been thus far - and thanks to the last 2 years books - his decision has been justified. The writers love to write about him, and the fans like him too. Here he is off on the great Siberian expedition - it's simply something he wants to do. His Journal is the crux of the whole story, it is a story that revolves around Fitz's actions. Why that expedition is so important is one of the great questions of the book - and slowly and surely the answer emerges. The group he is with are the great supporting characters of the book, especially George Williamson.

Anji is the great new Companion from Richards tenure as Editor. I like her, without ever really thinking she is on a par with the Classic Companions of the past. I thought at first she was going to be hardly in this book, but rest assured she is. The group that she gets involved with are unfortunately the weak link in the book. I don't really find soldier types that interesting - and all that secrecy, honour and macho behaviour is just too much at times. Nonetheless Anji emerges from this lacklustre group with credit. She shows herself to be creative and resourceful - and in such a harsh setting as Siberia that's essential. I've invested a lot of time in these 2 companions recently, and that meant I really wanted them to survive - a great compliment to both creators and ongoing writers in the range.

Sabbath does eventually appear, and I couldn't help but feel he was underused. The trouble with an ongoing character is where best to use him. The key is not to use him too much, nor too little. I suppose after the Sabbath-centric book Camera Obscura, Richards thought his involvement here was enough. I just think the character is brilliant - and Time Zero just didn't feature him enough for me.

My lasting impression of this book is a good one, in spite of some very complex passages and explanations (and the reservations listed above). Don't let the earlier chapters put you off, the 2nd half of the book is better - but you simply have to pay total attention to see how all the strands of the plot weave together. The Sci-Fi concepts whistled over my head, but I still found myself intrigued about how everything would resolve itself. The threat is a good one, Time has never been used this extensively before, but it wasn't the Classic I was expecting.

Justin Richards started this new Who off brilliantly with Fire - The Burning. It seems fitting that the same man should conlude this Chapter with Ice - Time Zero. It has a symmetry that is no doubt intentional. It's been a fabulous ride, but it's not over. This book wasn't quite the conclusion that I thought it would be. The next chapter of 8th Doctor Adventures beckons, and I'm confident that it will be just as impressive. The BBC Books are in safe hands. 7/10


Remembering Fitz by Joe Ford 11/10/02

The EDA's have been slipping into my social life in a big way. You see I'm always boasting about this fabulous series of books that I read, versatile, exciting, superbly written and somehow each one just getting better and better...

I have a particular friend who is doing a degree in engineering...he is very, very clever, his brain works about seventeen steps ahead of mine. For ages he has scoffed and jeered at my love for Doctor Who books, saying I just cannot leave my childhood behind. If I dare to mention the books to him he laughs and says 'kids stuff'. To prove what a complete and utter bastard I can be I persuaded him (via several pints) to take some home to read (as an experiment) and gave him (chuckle) Adventuress of Henrietta Street and Camera Obscura. Bless him. He gave up on Adventuress ("that's not a kids book... it's too bloody complicated!") and was blown away by Camera Obscura ("it was really... deep, really rich"). He wants to read more. I shall be lending him Time Zero. It's, quite frankly another superb EDA, brilliantly written and mind bogglingly complicated. I predict it may turn him into a fan of the books...

Fitz and Anji have made an excellent team over the past fifteen or so books. Finn Clark points out quite rightly that they are just like coming home to old friends each time you pick up a book. It's a clever combination, as they come from VERY different situations (she's an uptight City girl and he's a sixties dropout who works at a garden centre) but it makes for great humour (they are always digging at each other, Anji's "You're so sixties" in Mad Dogs was priceless) and drama because as they have travelled from one dangerous place to another they have put aside any class differences and just hung onto each for sanity (and survival). It has been very interesting to follow. And Time Zero rewards our paitence as the team go their seperate ways (okay this is on the blurb so no spoilers here!) and it is quite disheartening to think they will never travel together again. But of course things are never this simple...

Fitz is off to Siberia, on a geological expedition. Not exactly want you would expect our lovable rogue to be up to in a quietly intimate scene with Anji (and following on perfectly from Camera Obscura) we understand how he actually wants to DO something with his life, time travel is great but who will remember him for that. It is the best Fitz development since his love story in The Book of the Still. His adventures are gripping. And I don't say that lightly, Justin Richards manages to capture the horror and excitement of travelling through such a harsh wasteland. He throws in some unexpected obstacles and some fascinating characters and they race towards the climax getting more and more tied up in the plot. Fitz, probably the most human of all Doctor Who companions goes through hell here, and it is all the more dramatic for seeing the pain through his unique eyes.

Anji has gone home to her job. I've read some posts on Outpost Gallifrey where people HATE Anji. They call her a career Nazi and other such insults. Why? Because she has the common sense to decide when enough is enough and return home? I call that sensible, I call it a very different slant on a companion leaving. Of course life is never that simple and it doesn't take long for her to get embroiled in dangerous adventures but at least she had the CHOICE. And why not? She may not have been mentally abused (like Bernice) or turned into a psycho (like ace) but I genuinely feel Anji has been through hell in these past fifteen books. Since Adventuress she has had to cope with a weakened Doctor, who seems to be near to death at least once in almost every place they visit! She is often terrified that she may be stuck in a particular time without hope of escape (History 101, in particular). Anji's plot is just as brilliant as Fitz's, more so in spots as Justin pours on the action thriller atmosphere. Without ruining anything for you I will just mention the end of chapter 33 (okay not chapters, the backwards countdown!) is a supreme moment, easily the best end of chapter I have ever read. And the horror she has to witness at the Institute is page turning stuff.

Also worthy of mention are the thoughtful moments where Anji's true feelings for Fitz shine through. The first chapter after she returns home is especially wrenching. Justin Richards clearly understands these characters perfectly and this story is a perfectly natural accumilation of character work that we have been waiting for for a long time.

What isn't uncharacteristic is the excellent use of the Doctor. Needless to say (without tripping over my tongue into dribble-praise) he is once again well utilised. His plot at first may appear inconsequential compared to the amazing stuff going on with Fitz and Anji but as ever he is utterly vital to the story. Justin puts words in his mouth like no other and several outbursts and sudden delights the Doctor lets out took me entirely by surprise.

There has been a lot of rumours about who will make it through this book. I am not going to say who lives, dies, leaves, stays, joins up with a bunch of monks, eats tons of candy floss and dies of sugar overload, has a shave (finally) and accidentally slits their throat (two of these MAY be true). Read the book. That's part of the fun of this one.

The plot is superb, hugely complicated, but superb. I cannot imagine how Justin Richards sat down and plotted this one out as quite frankly the way the story jumps about from different time zones is boggling. You have to keep a sharp mind whilst following this one because the story zooms along mysteriously and suddenly the answers are spilling out of the characters in the last third. If you haven't been paying attention you may find the climax extremely frustrating. Justin demands a lot of concentration but if you do the book rewards handsomely. This is not just another of his charmingly done PDA's. This is a gripping, dramatic, hard SF novel the you must have some knowledge of (that's strong SF concepts) to 'get it'.

I just love how the Doctor's, Fitz's and Anji's plots weave around each other, slotting into the later revelations with a lot of skill. Of course the chapter numbers, that's a count down not up (to Time Zero, geddit?) makes it all the more tense as the last few chapters racket up the tension to an almost unbearable state. Frustratingly, you can't whizz through these chapters, you have to truly take in all the explanations.

Hartford is a terrifying character. I did not like him one bit.

The ending comes as a complete surprise, throwing the books into the most cliffhangingly brilliant new direction since The Ancestor Cell. Big, BIG revelations on those last few pages as the book series once again goes off on a whole new tangent. I was taken completely surprise (and I knew something BIG was going to happen). Needless to say future books (based on this revelation) should prove very interesting indeed.

Curtis was cool, but pretty scary. He gave me the willies.

Isn't it great how the books are returning to their roots of historical adventures. Okay this is chock-a-block full of science-fiction ideas but then so was History 101 and Camera Obscura. What these three books prove (consequtively, no less) is how much history can enrich the books. I find historical locations very atmospheric and a scene set in a tavern early in this book was another superb example.

Loved the links to an earlier book. Brilliant.

Well what else can I say but read this. Read all the latest EDA's. Savour the tightly plotted, exciting, edge of the seat arc that is emerging from the books that superb authors Justin Richards and Jac Rayner have created.

Read Time Zero and remind yourself that the books can reach into you exactly the same way the series did when you were a kid.

Oh and I LOVE the new page layouts.

As the Doctor says..."I have faced people that have become clocks. I've fought against beasts from other dimensions, and evil you can't begin to imagine. I've bargained with fire demons and I've forgotten more tha any of you can ever know...But I don't think i've ever had to face ANYTHING like this..."

Read it.

Supplement, 2/2/04:

Just imagine it folks... it's half seven on a Saturday night in 2005, we have already been treated to two gripping episodes of the new Doctor Who story Time Zero and are approaching the end of episode three. Anji, who has been dragged out of companion retirement realises that Hartford is dragging her to Siberia for much more duplicitous reasons than she was told. She explores the aircraft she is travelling in and discovers crates of weapons and ammo, even a bloody tank! Scared witless she throws a parachute from the craft leading the soldiers to believe she has jumped to freedom. Essential to their plans, Hartford orders the trained unit to jump after and send the weapons down too. Anji, relieved to be alone grabs a piece of wood and walks through the plane to confront the pilot and threaten him to land somewhere safe for her, walks into the cockpit and is astonished to find it EMPTY! She is alone on the plane which (as she stares out of the window) is heading straight for a mountain range...

Cue music! Diddle-Dum, Diddle-Dum, ooh-we-oooo! Had the BBC the budget to realise this story and the nerve to tell such an exciting, well paced piece we would all be claiming it as the best Doctor Who story ever! In book form it is simply a treat from whatever angle you look at it.

It works as a character drama on all levels. Never before has the breaking up of the TARDIS crew seemed as tear-jerking because the Doctor, Fitz and Anji are much better written than 'shall we shag' companions Benny, Ace, Chris and Roz. We don't need to be told they love each other all the time because it is clear how fond they have grown from each in their hair raising adventures.

It is impossible not to think of Fitz going off to Siberia just to DO something with his life as the best development he has had yet. His determination to do something on his own, to make his mark on the world is very sweet. And you can scrap Sarah, Ace or Evelyn, never before has a companion seemed so REAL as Anji in the book's opening chapters. Her sudden realisation that the city is no longer her home but the TARDIS is and her eventual breakdown when she realises just how Fitz must have died prove what a rounded and engaging character she is. During his expedition to Siberia Fitz gets to start a friendship with his Doctor-substitute, George Williamson, and their amazing trek through the mountains being stalked by dinosaurs is impossibly exciting. It is when Fitz realises that George has to sacrifice his life to save the day that it is all brought home and his moving reaction to his sacrifice makes the eyes water. And I love it when Anji cannot stop hugging Fitz when they discover him alive, a far cry from the woman who could not stand him in EarthWorld.

And as a Doctor Who story it works too. There is a big bad nasty around every corner in this one. Like The Seeds of Doom, a nasty, sadistic assassin prowls the pages, gunning down characters the second he doesn't get his own way. Hartford is really a piece of work, his own 'heroic' sacrifice subverting his character in shock fashion. Plus there is a man who is turning into a black hole! How cool is that? He advances on the heroes, sucking in time and matter and threatening to crush them all into a singularity. His body ambles on with just a black cloud for a head in some memorably discomforting scenes. And let's not forget the dinosaurs, stepping through a window in time and forming an aggressive assault on Fitz and George at the castle.

In true Doctor Who style several of the villains rip away their disguises and reveal their true intentions. Sabbath is rather well hidden this time but the inclusion of new companion Trix is a complete surprise. The reason I went back and read this story was because I wanted to find out more about Trix but she is left completely ambiguous, no explanation as to why she is helping Sabbath or where she came from either. Is she still one of his agents? Or is the disguise Romanov more cunning than we thought? Watch this space folks...

Another way this works is as a damn good action adventure. The sudden lurch into murder mystery territory when Galloway is found dead in his tent, a tent peg smashed into his skull is unexpectedly delightful. The dinosaur attacks are non-stop and terrifying, the destructive (and very hungry) creatures are relentless. And the hardware fuelled Siberia scenes with the SAS, Hartford's mob and the Russians all firing at each other is captured with exhilaration. The death toll for this story is high and you know as more and more bodies pile up that things are getting more desperate, a scene with Hartford counting to ten and willing to kill a scientist if he doesn't get some satisfactory answers is unbearably tense.

But best of all is the last third which explores its hard SF concepts superbly diverting the story into science lecture territory in the most enthusiastic of ways. There are dozens of lovely scientific ideas chucked in, alternative realities, time travel, o-regions (universe so far away from our own they are mini universe in their own right), slow light, black holes, Schrodinger's Cat that lead into a complicated but extremely satisfactory climax if you have the stomach for it. A second read left me far more in the loop of just what happens in the last few breathlessly complex and riveting chapters. That it all comes down to one man's sacrifice, despite all the science involved, proves Justin is far more involved with his characters than his amazingly constructed plot.

It's a superb achievement and so good I cannot fathom why those fools on Outpost Gallifrey are ripping the books to pieces, especially those that haven't even read them! In all honesty the books have never been this gripping or intelligent, this holds up as a strong piece of fiction in its own right let alone being a strong Doctor Who book.

Plus it also has a brilliant twist ending that explains away the horrific fire creature in The Burning, a final, unexpected shock in a story that is full of them. Was this why Justin wrote this book, to explain away his earlier work? Of course not, but you have to admit it provides some extremely clever symmetry.

Proof, if it were needed, that the books are doing a fine job holding up their end of the Who universe.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 2/11/02

Time Zero takes a turn toward a more traditional style of EDA. It's not about a strong theme, or creepy atmosphere and deep character interaction, like History 101 or Camera Obscura, respectively. Time Zero is a well structured, tightly plotted technothriller centered around another time anomaly with universe-destroying potential.

Not much a surprise that such a story comes from the almighty DW plot king, Justin Richards.

The TARDIS team is split up. Fitz decides to make his mark by going on an expedition to Siberia in 1894. Anji goes home and back to her life. The Doctor, in mysterious mode, decides to look into the only record of the expedition to Siberia. Events spiral out from there and all road lead to a research facility in Siberia in the present, where a team hopes to create an artificial black hole by slowing down light.

I'm only touching the surface. Justin has written one of his absolute best twisty plots, with kick in the ass surprises coming all over the place. The chapters are numerous and short, revealing a three way ping pong match as events escalate for Anji, Fitz and the Doctor.

The regulars are brilliant. Anji shows a wide array of emotions as she deals with events both in and out of her control. Fitz is always well crafted in the hands of Richards, and this is no exception. One of the nicest touches is that Justin keeps Fitz serious throughout, and resists temptation to use him for comedy fodder.

The best of all is the Doctor, the same, mysterious Doctor that arrived in Middletown in The Burning, but so much more, incorporating some of the great touches Lloyd Rose added on in Camera Obscura. He's also more alien in this than in any story since The Burning making him unpredictable, a true Doctorish trait.

The guest cast are solid. Hartford is a cold hearted soldier thug with only one idea, completing his mission. Curtis and Holiday are a strange pair with hidden agendas. George Williamson is the most interesting and best developed, multi-layered and very sympathetic, despite his shortcomings and deceptions. And then there's the Grand Dutchess, who has her own agenda and isn't who she seems.

The usual Richards theme of deception shows up. Richards has a gift for mystery both in plot and in character, and it shows up full strength in Time Zero. There are twists galore, some obvious, some happen and make you mumble to yourself after the rug has been pulled out from under you.

And the verdict?

Time Zero is brilliant. (Then again, it a Justin Richards book, and he always makes me a very happy reader) It's a nice counterpoint to the creepier, fantastical Camera Obscura. It's also another reason why Justin Richards is one of the best in DW, full stop. It keeps the Dangerous Time Travel Arc moving along and adds a few new layers to the ongoing story line.

Highly recommended.


A Review by Finn Clark 11/11/02

NO SPOILERS

Justin Richards's novels seem to fall into two types: (1) effortless adventures that roll off his word processor with the regulation number of plot twists, apparently written in less time than it takes us to read them, and (2) those other books into which he's put a little extra. Time Zero is of the latter kind and for my money it's the best 8DA of 2002. Over the past year I've been bombarded with many amazing ideas, but not much structure on which these ideas can hang. The 8DAs haven't actually been incoherent, but Time Zero has coherence squirting out of its ears. Its big ideas (and they're big as big can be) are harnessed firmly to one hell of a story.

Not one paragraph of this book meanders. You're never at a loss to know where the story's going. It's not built around its plot twists or set pieces, but instead tells an epic tale with pace and energy. Time Zero thinks big; in many ways it's a companion piece to So Vile A Sin (as well as to Justin's earlier book The Burning). You've got timehopping, multiple timezones, uncertainty about almost everything and a certain sadistic playfulness with the fact that this is an Important Book. We're given good reason to think that Fitz and/or Anji might not be around afterwards, and Justin milks that for all it's worth. (And no, I ain't telling you who leaves in the TARDIS at the end.)

In most hands, this would probably have been a 400-page monster. However the chapters are extremely short, with lots of quick cutting to show us what's going on elsewhere (or elsewhen). It's a full and detailed book, but it's such a fast-paced page-turner that it feels shorter than its word count would suggest. The short chapters encourage you to keep reading just a few more pages, and before you know it the book's flown past.

Early on in the book, the Doctor mentioned the immutability of history. Huh? Given the 8DAs' recent track record, I snorted with derision and made derogatory notes. Some time later, he went on to discuss parallel universes. Like a bull that's been shown a red rag, I got ready to ride my favourite hobby-horse (viz. explaining how an infinite multiverse would make the Doctor's adventures meaningless). But then the book's scientific philosophising really took off, taking us into new realms of probably unprecedented mind-bogglingness in Doctor Who. There's quantum theory, Schrodinger's cat and much, much more. I loved it! This is the kind of SF which Doctor Who does best - not daft astrophysics and contrived alien ecosystems, but tongue-in-cheek extrapolation of big scientific concepts.

In addition Time Zero provides some much-needed (in my opinion) clarification of the nature of temporal physics in the Whoniverse, without ever descending into "This Is My Pet Theory And I'm Going To Canonise It, Ha Ha Ha" writing. I liked that too.

There are some odd details. Hartford and his team are pretty stupid. Presumably cold-blooded dino-lizards seem mysteriously unaffected by the savage temperatures of Siberia, a detail which is never explained or even remarked upon. At times Anji seems to be harbouring feelings for Fitz that are so strong they're almost romantic, though this might be merely a consequence of their particular circumstances in this novel. I devoutly hope so, anyway. Despite the popular fan pastime of fantasising about romantic relationships between on-screen TARDIS travellers, such relationships never seem to work in the novels. (Says he, understating wildly.)

Oh, and is that a Hitch-Hikers' reference on p257? Normally I'd hiss like a cobra at any such suggestion, but somehow this worked for me... perhaps it's because it's sufficiently vague to be deniable and/or compatible with Hitch-Hikers being fictional in the Whoniverse, but perhaps it's just my sentimentality about Douglas Adams. Big guy, we miss ya.

One last comment. Look at the cover. Now look again, more closely. Betcha didn't spot that lurking behind the TARDIS, eh?

I really liked this novel. Its writing is efficient rather than brilliant, but it has a forcefulness and a drive that I've missed lately. We've had books that dazzle their readers; here is one that simply keeps you wanting to know what happens next. It's an under-rated virtue. This is a damn good book.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 27/1/03

Justin Richards usually treats us to a story with a carefully constructed, logical structure containing few thrills but enough plot twists to keep the reader involved. Time Zero continued his reputation in this manner and delighted me in many ways. Primarily a fun-filled action-adventure, the book has enough little extra touches and flourishes to pull it firmly above the bounds of mediocrity.

The back of the book tells us that Fitz has gone to his certain death, and that Anji has resumed her normal life and job. The most memorable sequences deal with those two companions, and in particular I very much enjoyed the chain of events that lead Anji back into the Doctor's company. In a series that at times recently has seemed to be more plot-based than character-driven (with a handful of notable exceptions), it's reassuring to see that the editor has a firm grasp of his major characters and is more than willing to let these characters control vast quantities of his own book.

The plot, as mentioned, is pure Richardsian logic, although there were one or two stretches that went a bit too far for the sake of plausibility. Of course, it was great fun seeing such varyingly different plot strands binding together to eventually form a single cohesive story. Fitz's Siberian expedition, Anji's reclamation of her life, the Earth exploration into time travel technologies, the research scientists' discoveries, and the Doctor's own investigations are intergraded together carefully and the numerous storylines make for an intriguing mystery.

On the down side, there are several action sequences that aren't quite as exciting as they should be; the tense drama comes from the scenes directly before or after them as the various characters discuss and reflect on their fate. This isn't wholly a bad thing, yet obviously I couldn't help but think that having everything running smoothly rather than having breaks for the physical conflicts would be better. Picky, I know, but I am usually bored by fight sequences in Doctor Who books, and while the ones in Time Zero were better than most, they were nowhere near to being my favorite parts of the book. At best they were acceptable, though the stress they put the characters through made them worthwhile.

The story may be slightly confusing in places and require a bit of flipping back to previous pages in order to work everything out, but I quite enjoyed the finished product. I almost always have a lot of fun following Justin Richards plots to their conclusions and Time Zero is certainly not an exception to that rule. This book seems to be setting up some conflicts and storylines that will have far-reaching effects upon the future of the series. A few of the Doctor's speeches on those subjects echo PDE's afterword to Deceit and I found myself digging up my copy of that NA to spot the parallels to that previous editor's understanding of the Doctor Who universe. Event novel, or not, Time Zero delivers the goods.


A Review by Mike Morris 13/3/03

"Doctor Who isn't about soapboxes, it's about stories."
So said Justin Richards to DWM some while back, before he became the Who bigwig that he is now. It was a comment that leaped to mind when forming my opinion of Time Zero, and where this book should stand in the ranks of Doctor Who fiction.

This, as we all know, is an 'event' novel - a curious term, since most Doctor Who stories have an event or two in them. They wouldn't be that interesting otherwise. But, you know, it's one of those books that, er, wraps up previous ongoing events and big things happen and stuff - in theory anyway (of which more anon).

It's not so long since I would have raised my eyebrows at Justin Richards writing this sort of book. For so long I thought of him as a purveyor of bright 'n' breezy stories, fun but inconsequential stuff - Grave Matter, Dreams of Empire, Option Lock. It's not that those stories are bad, quite the reverse, but they were diversions, nothing more, taking a delight in the Doctor Who conventions that limited them. The Banquo Legacy was similarly small-scale, with the arc-plot feeling out of place; there's always been something safe about Justin Richards' work.

The Burning represented something quite new, Justin Richards raising his game, cranking it up a notch and producing his best Doctor Who fiction. Time Zero is similarly impressive; it's almost as though, now that he is primarily responsible for the series' future, he is becoming less and less constrained by its past. This is very much a Justin Richards work, with the usual tight and twisty plot. But it goes much further than anything he's ever done before, etching a physical basis behind most of the Doctor's time-travel, sending Fitz off to certain death, and finally shedding light on what exactly Sabbath's up to.

So; "Doctor Who isn't about soapboxes, it's about stories." Justin Richards never deviates from this mantra; he doesn't introduce his own agendas about nihilism (Miles), metatextuality and other bullshit (Magrs), Cornellism (Cornell, obviously), and how attractive and vegetarian Paul McGann is (OrmanBlum). I'm not having a go at those authors, as writers should always write about what they care about and the joy of Doctor Who is how easily it can accommodate so much. But Richards' books have a simple, giddy joy of storytelling, which is gloriously refreshing. If he has an interest, they're worked into the plot with modesty and discipline, as in this book's grounding in quantum theory. His books may be unpretentious slices of inconsequential entertainment, but they take their inconsequentiality very seriously.

Time Zero is his best Doctor Who book to date. As a manifesto of his work, it is superb.

The book's main setting is the arctic, where Doctor Who appears to go quite a lot. Maybe it's budgetary. A bit like Dangermouse, then (which only went to the arctic for budgetary reasons, because the animation boys wouldn't have to colour anything in. Honestly, it's true; the arctic was DM's equivalent of a Doctor Who quarry). Cleverly, though, the TARDIS crew are split up and each arrives through a different route, giving the story a real drive and a good pace.

Of the three stories, Fitz has by far the most involving tale. This character has been knocking around for quite some time now, quite often threatening to split away from the Doctor but never quite managing it. What's interesting about this is that he seems rather incapable of living anywhere other than the TARDIS, of settling down to a normal life. It's this element of sadness that makes him interesting, in my view, and when he finally leaves the TARDIS this becomes terribly real; Fitz sets off on an expedition that can only result in his death. It's hard to swallow that Fitz might die, but as the book goes on this does begin to sink in. Various elements, such as torn fragments of Fitz's diary that are displayed in the British Museum, become more and more emotive, as we see Fitz realising himself that death is upon him. And the way that elements of Fitz's diary, from the turn of the century, repeat themselves in the Doctor's investigation is nothing short of genius, as is Fitz's desperate fight in a deserted fort, where Anji is being taken a hundred years later.

Good; better than good. Fitz's journey is the best thing I've read in Doctor Who for quite some time, and the denouement is completely unexpected and fantastic. I love the reasoning behind the final twist, too.

The Doctor's tale is a little more routine, although enjoyable; but far more Doctor Who staples are present. Rich businessmen. Countesses. England. A good old-fashioned mystery to be solved, and some tea and crumpets with Julian, Dick and Anne, George and Timmy the Dog afterwards (well, nearly). This is more old-school Justin Richards, that I fairly zipped through. It's pleasurable but, a few weeks after events, I've only hazy memories of an auction, and a funny house, and, um, standard stuff really. It's never less than entertaining, even if you'd have to be a moron not to spot Sabbath. His pseudonym comes from the 'Reverend Magister' school of transparency, although I suspect Justin wants us to spot him. He does that sometimes, bless him.

Anji fares better. Similarly to Fitz, she finds that her travels with the Doctor have made her rather dysfunctional when it comes to coping with everyday life, and Time Zero manages to evoke the passage of an uneventful year of her life very well. When some mysterious guy comes and demands that she come on a plane with him to an undivulged destination she's suspicious but goes anyway, almost as if she's glad of the mystery. Much of her story then consists of her struggling bravely, but futilely, against forces that she can't possibly beat. The passages of her escape from the plane, and the reaction of her captors, are just great - sourcing, as Richards has done before, the best elements of James Bond films to fine effect.

(And Bond actually has a lot more to offer than Joe Ford or Rob Matthews imagine. Gadgetry and macho copping-off aside, Bond is nicely based on improvisation, has a whole host of tongue- in-cheek and gloriously OTT bad guys, can be very imaginative when it tries, and features a very moral fight being fought by a very amoral man. I'm not a Bond fan and I recognise that it can be horribly shit and misogynistic, but it's fun and can have qualities. If you want to criticise a film for being a sickeningly macho isn't-fighting-great aren't-women-useless piece of shit, well let's look at The Two Towers. Christ, what crap! My blood boils just thinking about that plodding exercise in male bonding...)

(Right, ten minutes of mouth-foaming apoplectic fury has just been censored. Now, back to business)

Erm, right, Doctor Who. Time Zero. Eventually, we converge on the arctic, and the results are marvellously plotted and beautifully executed.

But, but...

Part of my problem here has been recently highlighted by other reviewers; Rob Matthews pointed out that there's a lack of passion in the books, and Finn Clark made the (brilliant) point that Richards seems more of a craftsman than an author. To adapt (oh all right then, steal) a quote from an old Shelf Life review of Kursaal, Time Zero sometimes feels that it's been put together by a skilled assembly-editor rather than a driven visionary. There's no shortage of craft but an indefinable lack of heart.

Something else. This has been marketed as a landmark novel, but it isn't really. Yes, Sabbath's aims are finally explained, but I'd see that as more of a correction of a mistake - the 'mysterious agenda' has been quite irritating, as the reader has no idea why Sabbath behaves the way he does. There's another ongoing element resolved, but in truth that was taken care of in Camera Obscura. Time Zero has confirmed an uncomfortable suspicion I've had lately, that the EDA's are becoming a soap. Various plot elements are running from novel to novel, but there doesn't seem to be any overarching plan, just a bunch of disparate storylines forming a trundling, endless narrative. Hopefully, the halving of the output will limit this somewhat.

Related to this is another problem. There's a point at the novel climax, where the Doctor faces the (brilliant, brilliant) adversary and makes a speech about never having faced anything like this. But, well, he has hasn't he? This is Doctor Who; the universe gets threatened every other week. Yes, the ultimate threat is pretty damn big - the whole universe, for a change - but, threats that big never really seem real. When I watch Logopolis, it's impossible to imagine an entire universe falling apart; really, I care about whether the Doctor will fall off the gantry, not the destruction of the universe. I know that won't happen anyway. Similarly, the ruthlessness of the army boys in the arctic is more threatening than Sabbath's big plan.

In fact, to summarise these points; this is not a special novel. That's not intended as a slight, because I'll state again that this is a beautiful piece of work. But, to nick yet another quote, Finn Clark says above that this is one of those books into which Richards has put 'something extra'. I say that 'something extra' should always go into every book. This is a novel that is quite imaginative, very well-plotted and competently written, made by special by its ambition and hard work. As such it is not a landmark novel, not something to be considered atypical or astounding. It is an exemplar for what all Doctor Who books should be. Richards is no Paul Magrs; he's not outrageously talented and he's not inimitable. All Doctor Who books can, and should, be as good as this.

And this book is damn good. It's consistently enjoyable, and has some genuinely touching scenes - the final scene between George and Fitz is tears-in-the-eyes stuff. There's a really great link to The Burning also. Provided you don't expect ongoing plotlines to be wrapped up, and treat it as another instalment on the ongoing saga, Time Zero is a relentlessly brilliant slice of escapism and congratulations should go to all concerned.


Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 7/4/03

Justin Richards seems to write in two flavours, good and bad. The good books are very good, and the bad books are very bad. Unfortunately, this book is not a good book.

It's hard to tell exactly why this book goes wrong, but I think the first port of call is the plot. Or, to be more accurate, the mess of a plot. Big events (I think) are happening here, but what exactly they are is not clear, and what effects they have are not properly stated. In many ways it looks like this book is the kicking off point for a small arc of stories, but that doesn't forgive not explaining the start precisely, especially as I doubt these events will be fully considered later on. (This reminds me of some of my arguments against Alien Bodies.) To be clear myself: this book is a set-up, but it's not a well explained set-up, and I expect later books to work from that set-up without clearing it up any further. I could be wrong, only time will tell. (Side note: I'm pretty sure Justin Richards even sets up The Burning here.)

In many ways, Justin Richards is trying to be too clever here. We're presented with dollops of quantum mechanics theory, but none of this is really integrated properly, and is used more to motivate events than explain them. We, the readers, should be treated better than this, and from looking at the people Justin Richards consulted about it (from the Acknowledgments page) there should have been plenty of opportunity to get it right (although there was one name I was looking for that was missing, but I'll bring this point up later).

Enough of this plot ranting, what of the characters? When Justin Richards writes good books, it's usually because he's focusing on the characters and letting them guide the story. What we get here is three or four... or is it five?... different groups of people, with some groups taking over from others, other groups dissolving away, more groups coming into the picture (perhaps it was six groups...). As much a mess of people as of plot. Aside from the regulars only two characters were well established; George Williamson, very much a hero character, very well rounded out, and Alexander Hartford, leader of a bunch of hard-arses, and much of one himself. The other characters didn't really get enough screen time to be fleshed out properly, and even those that were important to the story didn't really make much of an impact characterisation-wise (for example, Curtis was particularly not there, and not for the obvious plot-related reasons).

As for the regulars, the Doctor seems to be losing characterisation by the page. He spends most of the book just wandering around explaining things. And we know Justin Richards is capable of more than that. As for Fitz and Anji, it's like Justin Richards wanted to give them a big shake up, but is hampered by (as it were) their contract of having to be in the series (which is probably more of a spoiler about the events in the book than I should say). They're nicely handled, but there is the impression that there was something else the author (wearing his editor hat?) wanted to do with them.

In the end, this books feels like it was written by someone other than Justin Richards, and then published under that name to avoid embarrassment. Well, I'm here to say: Justin Richards, you are Lance Parkin and I claim my five pounds.


Is this the end for Fitz? by David Massingham 28/10/03

In the few reviews I've written about the EDA series, I feel I have made one thing quite clear -- Fitz is one of my favourite Doctor Who characters ever. As such, the back cover blurb to Time Zero worried me greatly... "with Fitz gone to his certain death". What a horrible combination of words. But as with all things in this superb book, things are not quite as they seem...

Justin Richards has almost outdone himself with Time Zero. Come to think of it, there is only one EDA I have enjoyed more than this one -- and that was The Banquo Legacy. Time Zero is many things -- an immensely readable book, for one; a clever and well-thought out narrative as well; and yet another novel to paint the regular cast in the most flattering light possible. The Doctor, Anji and Fitz are, quite simply, superb. The Doctor is at his most ingenious and heroic; he leaps off the page, whether it be posing as an police inspector at the scene of a crime, chatting away to folk at a quiet pub, or embroiled in the bizarre happenings in Siberia. Anji is even better. She starts the novel by returning to her old life, and Richards does a terrific job of geting inside her head. We feel her disillusionment with life in the city. We understand her apprenhension and anger at being uprooted from her life by the mysterious Hartford. And we certainly fear for her life as she slowly realises that Hartford is not all he seems and the plane she is in, flying to Siberia, is a potential death-trap.

However, as I predicted, the character that really pulled me in to this story was that lovable rogue, Fitz Kreiner. And I'll say this straight up -- I haven't read a better portrayal of this character. Fitz's story is separated from the Doctor and Anji's by a hundred years, and he holds the whole thing together. Fitz owns this book. Justin Richards is so pitch perfect in everything about Fitz in this novel. His friendship with George is wonderful, executed brilliantly... we care about George simply because Fitz does, we see this integral character through Fitz's eyes. When Fitz is angry at George, we are angry at him. When Fitz is thankful for him, we are. These two characters form a bond that is touching and engrossing; it's almost a pity that George cannot join the TARDIS crew at the end of the novel.

Speaking of the TARDIS crew... does Fitz even survive to Time Zero's conclusion? Well, that would be telling. One thing is for sure -- Justin Richards manages to make us genuinely suspect that not all of the regulars would survive this adventure. Anji, too, has some doubt cast over her. I have a friend named Mike who often has the misfortune of hearing me blabber on about Doctor Who. How he must of hated the week I read this story in, as every time I saw him I spluttered incoherantly about how my mate Fitz might die in this book I was reading. But you really do suspect that anyone could cark it. It feels like free game -- not only important members of the guest cast could drop at any moment, but Fitz, Anji, maybe even the Doctor, could collapse, extinguished once and for all. This is one of the great triumphs of the novel. Anything can happen.

And lots of things do. The plot for Time Zero is complex and diabolical, but if you pay close enough attention, it all makes sense in the most satisfying way possible. There are plot twists galore, many of them completely unforeseeable. The characters are used extremely well, particularly the aforementioned George; also worthy of mention are Hartford, Price, Curtis, Thorpe (who managed to come across as a truly scary, human villain, despite having little impact on the plot), and the Duchess. I don't think it is much of a spoiler to note that Sabbath once again appears, and he is used sparingly, but effectively.

Another major plus point for Time Zero are the short chapters. Generally averaging about six or seven pages, this helps the novel become unputdownable. "Oh, I might as well read just one more chapter", you say to yourself, and before you know it you've finished a third of the book. And because the chapters are so short, if by some chance you begin to get bored of one particular plot strand, you can rest assured that in three pages time you'll be reading about another part of the story. Thankfully, as far as this reader is concerned, the entire novel is worthy.

Honestly, this is great stuff. The arcs are addressed and elaborated upon here, and Time Zero concludes with the EDAs spinning off in a new and exciting direction. I for one am along for the ride. Thanks to Justin Richards and one Fitz Kreiner, Time Zero is one of the highlights of the entire range. Kudos.

10 out of 10.


A Review by Rob Matthews 30/10/03

Right, I'll fess up: From Dreams of Empire, Option Lock and The Burning, I had sorta got myself the impression that Justin Richards was just a pretty good writer of rather clunky but fun novels. Now I've read a little bit more of his work I'll admit that that was really just the (bad) luck of the draw. Between Time Zero and Tears of the Oracle, I've finally discovered why he's held in such esteem by people whose opinions I respect. Turns out he's a highly capable storyteller, but one who doesn't do himself any favours by occasionally falling short of his own high standards. Tears and Time Zero were such fluid and flawlessly plotted reads, I couldn't quite believe they came from the same pen as the man who tried to make a revelation out of the fact that an unusually strong and emotionless man who lives in a base full of robots was - gasp! - in fact an android in Dreams of Empire.

Time Zero's been referred to as a bit of an 'event' novel, which I'm not sure about - okay, the fate of the universe is imperilled here but in Doctor Who the fate of the universe is endangered every fortnight or so, and usually to a lot less dramatic effect than many stories which are smaller in scope. 'Bigness' doesn't necessarily make for an 'event', in my view - hyperbole can tend to nullify drama (think Craig Hinton). Also, I think it's gonna be quite some while before any writer in the Whoniverse can outdo Larry Miles' Spiral Politic for scale and complexity anyway, and they probably shouldn't be trying at this point.

Moreover, I don't think Justin Richards has the, for want of a better word, arrogance to write a 'landmark' type of Doctor Who story. I suspect the kind of author who wants to do that does need to have just a few delusions of soapboxes, to have a vision so strong and unyielding that it occasionally winds the reader right up with it's sheer bloody cheek. And Time Zero is... well, it's just Justin. Richards seems just too humble a writer to do that sort of thing - he's not out to engage us in an intellectual scrap, he's out to entertain us with a cracking yarn.

For my money the type of Who story this most resembles is not, say, a paradigm-buster like Human Nature or Interference, but rather the TV serial Robots of Death; resembles it in that it's a strong and enjoyable story told with absolute conviction, and that it subscribes thoroughly to a central theme without ever shouting about it.

Antony Tomlinson dissed Robots of Death not so long ago as 'the most average Doctor Who story ever', which I wish was true as it would say a hell of a lot about the general quality of the show. But in fact, for me anyway, the genius of that story was in the simplicity of which I guess Mr T disapproved - its basic theme being the anxiety of death or walking nonexistence that the humanoid automatons provoke, the 'uncanniness' of being surrounded by things that are designed to appear human, but are all the more creepy for the subtle signifiers that they aren't - as illustrated with the body language theme - a theme which in turn allowed the Doctor's instinct-led companion Leela to become a significant part of the story, rather than a scantily clad accessory. For me, that serial is a great example of how a story with a rather obvious premise (killer robots!) can be elevated through intelligent attention to story crafting.

Same goes here. Time Zero has a similiarly well-grounded feel to that story, though in this case the grounding is in an exploration of quantum theory - the riddle of Schrodinger's Cat being analogous to the discussion of body language in Robots of Death, a straightforward crystallisation of a central concern. And as with Robots of Death, the companion characters are not simply tacked on askers of questions, but play an important role in the proceedings and go through a bit of development too. Fitz's 'mission' in particular is a case in point -it doesn't feel at all contrived (as one might expect of a sudden decision to have a quick jaunt to Siberia) because it emerges from character stuff that's been steadily built up in the preceeding novels. Anji too leaves the TARDIS at the beginning but gets hauled right back into it through a perfectly convincing set of circumstances (Tegan Jovanka take note!).

I've thought before that one thing missing from Richards' work is memorable bad guys. Not the case here. I have a sneaking suspicion that that nasty fucker Hartford is modelled to some extent on Scorby and Reegan, but conscience-free pragmatic bastards like that pair haven't really cropped up that often in Who, and he works well. In a way, you could see him as a bit of a reworking of Lytton too, except done better, since it's a genuine surprise to see him in a sense 'come good', but we're in no sense expected to forgive him for all that time he spent being bad.

Time Zero's a bit of a 'cinematic' book as well - treating these novels as unmade movies is an approach which has plagued the BBC line (see Hope, for example), but it doesn't feel so great a failing here. Certainly the dinosaur bits are completely skippable filler, but there's also a great high-concept 'monster' here - a man who's a walking black hole. Cool. And it's somehow satisfying to know that all the clues about him were there in the narrative (the bit with the floorboards and such), even though there's virtually no possibility the reader could have guessed at so utterly silly a revelation.

It's not perfect, though. Trix is another ingratiating example of this ParkinRichards James Bond thing that keeps happening in the EDAs, and IMO any character who appears to have emanated from the imagination of a fourteen year-old boy doesn't do much for the literary credentials of these novels.

Sabbath has never done that much for me either, and even though I've only read three of the novels that feature him (Adventuress, Anachrophobia, Obscura), he's getting pretty tiresome. To be honest, speaking as a casual sometime reader of these books, it's getting more an more tempting to pick up PDAs or older Eight Doctor novels than try to work out where I am with current EDAs. The focus on oh-dear-time's-all-going-wrong stories ever since Gallifrey got flushed is already beginning to bore me, since we're hearing more about Time now than we ever did when its self-proclaimed Lords were still knocking around - a misjudgement on the part of Richards as editor, I think, since the best books I've read post-Ancestor Cell have been Turing Test, Intelligent Tigers, Mad Dogs & Crooked World (which has grown on me hugely since my rather disparaging review of it), each of them bugger all to do with Time and everything to do with Storytelling.

So, er... yeah, kudos to Richards for getting a good book out of this Time nonsense. It's probably all down to him doing his homework, quantum theory-wise. I doubt it's going to work that many more times though.

Oh, love the symmetry. A better title for the book would surely have been The Freezing.


A Review by John Seavey 6/11/03

Reading Time Zero is a bit like that joke about the man who wanted to test his turn signal. First it was working, then it wasn't, then it was, then it wasn't...

The book reads a bit like that. At first, when Justin is setting the scene and we're getting hordes of minor characters trooped through the place just long enough to give their name, rank, and serial number, it's quite off-puttingly dull. Later, as the action picks up and the characters either develop a personality or helpfully die off, it gets quite interesting. Then, as the Doctor and Sabbath debate quantum physics and the nature of reality, it gets eye-glazingly dull again. Then, as George has to decide whether he'll sacrifice his life to save the universe, it gains a certain grandeur... then it's back to debates on quantum physics, but if you can stay awake long enough to keep through that, there's a nice bit at the end.

The regulars are well done, particularly Anji... except that it's quite frustrating that after a whole book of her realizing she's had the time of her life in the TARDIS, that she misses the Doctor and Fitz terribly, and that she thinks of the TARDIS as "home" now... she then abruptly decides she doesn't want to travel any more in the TARDIS, just so that she can then not get her wish again. God, it's as if Tegan had just asked for a lift home from Amsterdam. :)

The prose is at Richards' usual standard; clear, intelligible, and crisp, if not particularly dazzling. (This may sound like damning with faint praise, but I've always felt that the ability to write clear and intelligible prose is one of the most underrated of writing skills. Sure, you want to be witty, but you also want to be understood.) There are some good bits here and there, and certainly nothing actively bad... except, of course, for the Doctor's habit of dropping in huge chunks of Quantum theory for no apparent reason save that people will need to understand it later when it becomes relevant to the plot. We also learn just what the creature from The Burning was, although I still feel that there are a lot of unanswered questions there.

Ultimately, it's another "mythos" book... you should probably read it, and it's got a decent enough plot that you won't walk away disappointed, but it definitely caters to my personal distaste for "hard science". Oh, and the Doctor broke the universe at the end. Gallifrey, reality... my goodness, the Eighth Doctor's clumsy!


Time's Hero by Robert Smith? 20/1/04

A Doctor Who story with 'time' in the title that doesn't suck. Wonders will never cease.

I have to say, I'm not entirely sure what the big deal is with this book. Maybe that's a function of being behind in the novels, but this one seemed to be presented as something big and momentous, whereas it's really just business as usual. It's very good business as usual -- and it perhaps demonstrates the extent to which the BBC Books have come, if something of this quality isn't a standout novel -- but I'm still not sure what the fuss is all about.

Part of it is that it's doubtless a novel of its time. I'm sure that if you'd heard the buzz and then read this in the month it came out, you might be fooled into thinking that Fitz really might die or that Anji had left. It's unfortunate I didn't get to experience that... although what the internet being the thing it is, it's exceedingly rare that one can remain fooled like that for long, at least if you don't live in Britain. Instead of the wrapping-up story I'd anticipated (I guess Camera Obscura was probably that, in retrospect), it's much more a fresh start for the novels, evidenced in part by the new layout.

The novel itself is another extremely solid offering from Justin. It astonishes me that he's still at the top of his game after all these years and time spent editing, but there's some great stuff here. It's much cleverer than it first appears as well and some selective rereading showed me just how well-structured this is.

The first part of the book focusses on the three plotlines involving the regular characters. Anji's section was my favourite: her antics aboard the plane are exactly the sort of gripping action Justin has always done well, but is never remembered for. Probably rightly so, as his other talents are more impressive, but this sort of thing is often what sustains the bulk of the book. That said, the identity of the murderer in Fitz's team isn't exactly hard to figure out. I mean, it's essentially a murder mystery with one suspect, like Quantum Leap used to do. My cat could figure it out. And I don't even have a cat.

The Doctor's subplot is the weakest, as well as being oddly populated. Being so behind in my reading makes the appearance of Trix a lot more interesting than it would have otherwise. But I really have no idea why we're supposed to be so enthralled with Lionel Corrall (page 36), who seems to know a lot more about the Doctor than he should. Hopefully he'll pop up later as well. Mind you, I'm still waiting for some explanation - or even acknowledgement -- of the incredible shrinking TARDIS interior and Fitz's disappearing memories from Trading Futures, too.

Oh, and Control also appears, fulfilling his contractual duty to show up for no apparent reason, act as though we're meant to care despite the fact that he was invented by Keith Topping and do entirely random things before disappearing from the book entirely. One day I'm sure we'll get the book that tells us exactly who he is, why he hardly seems to age and just what kind of surreal journey he's on. Doubtless that book will suck the bag, but there you go.

The only really painful moment of the book is the scene where the Doctor goes to the pub in the rain and there's an oh-so-funny-really! sequence where the locals can't figure out why he doesn't have an umbrella. Justin's never been great at comedy, but it's not usually as painful as this. Reading this scene was like dying a slow death. Who on earth edited this? *looks at handy guide in front of book* Oh.

Once the Doctor reaches Siberia, it's a pretty unrelenting march forward as the novel picks up steam. I like the idea of the military force being too understaffed to guard the prisoners and relying on the honour system. That's one of the most Whoish things I've seen in the books in a long time. And all the quantum stuff is great, although the Doctor does keep bringing it up at bizarre and inappropriate moments early in the book. A bit like my cat, who's sitting on my lap at this very moment. Which isn't out of character, but you can still hear the clanking of the writerly gears. It does lead to the best line in the book, although said line is actually part of the acknowledgements.

And then we meet the grand evil, the thing the Doctor says is unlike anything he's ever encountered before. It's huge, it's terrifying and I was utterly gripped by such an impossibly epic idea. It's... a man who attracts heavy things. Um.

It's not that I don't appreciate the attempt. But as I'm sure Justin must advise writing hopefuls, it's one thing to tell the reader that your monster is unlike anything the Doctor's ever encountered before, but it's quite another to show it. And frankly, the Doctor bumps into things like this every time his tea gets cold. In a post-Miles Whoniverse, trying to wow us with big ideas isn't going to cut it any more. It's like designing the model spaceship from The Rescue and expecting it to compete with today's CGI.

On the other hand, the reverse numbered chapters are a stroke of genius. They add to the tension no end and play into the story really nicely. And the various cold/ice motifs work really well, which is probably a lot more impressive than it seems, given that in recent months we've had both Time and Relative (to which we even get a neat reference on page 40) and Drift. That said, there's a really bizarre moment when the fire monster from The Burning gets helicoptered in to the plot for no readily apparent reason. I'm a little suspicious that the entire book exists solely in order to explain that away, as though there's an online thread somewhere that's been itching for an explanation for the past 23 books. Which is odd, because usually The Burning follows the itching.

Other things:

On the whole, there's plenty to enjoy in Time Zero. The plot is excellent, producing some extremely pleasing payoffs. There's some really good stuff for the regulars and the quantum theory is nicely presented. The reverse numbering is a stroke of genius. It's a shame about some of the clunky bits, but they don't ruin the novel (although the umbrella scene comes close). Pretty impressive, all up.