THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Vengeance on Varos
Killing Ground
Virgin Publishing
Time of Your Life

Author Steve Lyons Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books home page
ISBN# 0 426 20438 7
Published 1995
Continuity Between The Ultimate Foe and
Terror of the Vervoids

Synopsis: The Doctor infilitrates a futuristic television network in at attempt to piece together the reason and motive behind a series of unexplained crimes.


Reviews

A Review by Sean Gaffney 15/8/99

So we come to Time of Your Life. Now, I'm a big fan of the 6th Doctor (2nd only to the 7th), and so I was looking forward to this. Yet, at the same time, I was worried that, like State of Change, the Doctor would be badly characterized, and not seem Colinish enough.

I needn't have panicked. Time of Your Life is not only quintessential Colin Baker, but it is perhaps the ultimate analysis of his era, containing all the elements that were so controversial, heightening them, and then forcing us to look at them from the perspective of hindsight.

This is a Doctor who is so worried about what he has been shown of his future history that he has taken measures to avoid all contact. He becomes a hermit at last, and shuns all human company. However, this being the Doctor, company finds him.

Many people have said how disappointed they were that Steve Lyons took all the trouble to create a three-dimensional, real companion only to have her, for all intents and purposes, did on page 50. Well, I had heard all this already, and so I came in prepared. And I think I see why he did it. Angela is a lesson to the Doctor that, no matter how much he tries to avoid it, death will follow him (as Tegan pointed out). By keeping Angela on the ship, by trying to protect her, he leads to her demise.

This is a Sixth Doctor who must rediscover who he is, must realize that he is not the Valeyard. The cartoonish violence, appallingly over the top, is another example of how the Doctor cannot avoid who he is. I would be interested to see what this would have been like if the Fifth Doctor had been portrayed.

The violence and deaths were there, I know, but unlike Infinite Requiem, each of them had a purpose in the main narrative. This book was a cleansing of the Doctor's soul, and, as the Sixth Doctor cannot avoid who he is, he must be cleansed in blood.

9/10.


Almost a relaunch by Tim Roll-Pickering 8/1/00

The first Missing Adventure to feature the sixth Doctor, State of Change, was rather disappointing but Time of Your Life shows just how well this incarnation can be handled in print. Given that this story is predominantly set in and around television studios it could easily have been made for the small screen back in about 1987 and a cheap look would have been appropriate.

About a year after this book first appeared Steve Lyons wrote an article for Doctor Who Magazine about the sixth Doctor ('Six and Violence,' DWM #237) in which he suggested that the main factor missing in his stories was some form of acknowledgement of his violent streak and mistakes. This book is set immediately after The Trial of a Time Lord (but before his encounter with the Vervoids) and so the Doctor is caught between brooding over both recent events and the Time Lords' 'Business as Usual' approach and trying to deal with the perceived menace. Like The Twin Dilemma this story is very much a rites of passage as the Doctor realises that his approach of charging in headfirst doesn't always deliver the right results. With the Doctor's character development effectively a blank slate in this period (The Vervoids aside, but just how much of that was distorted may never be clear) the field has been left open for much greater character development than is normally possible in the Missing/Past Doctor Adventures and this book could well be considered a new beginning for this Doctor. Equally open is the possibility for the Doctor to have some other companions in the meantime before he finally meets Mel.

The beginning of the book suggests that Angela will be the Doctor's new companion, but she is primarily there to bring the Doctor's ability to make mistakes home to him when he discovers her fate. The real new companion is Grant Markham, but his background is sketched out in the vaguest of manners, only to be filled out in Steve Lyons' later book Killing Ground. In common with virtually all the companions introduced in the 1980s, Grant's debut involves his world being turned upside down and someone close being killed. But because there is so much else going on it is easy to overlook him at this stage.

The main settings in this novel are Torrok, which is clearly based on cities like Sheffield where the industry responsible for building the place has now gone, leaving the population with very little to do; Neo Tokyo a horrible attempt to recreate the Japanese capital and the Network, a giant space station version of the BBC overrun by power struggles, bureaucracy and anarchy.

One of the funniest characters in the book is Miriam Walker, a latter day Mary Whitehouse with equally fanatical views about television. Equally familiar is Timeriders, a popular science fiction series put 'on hold' in '89, which its fans want restored under a new producer - every character is as bizarre, making the Doctor seem quite normal by comparison.

The threat that the Time Lords have sent the Doctor to investigate is an intriguing one-Krllxk, an electronic intelligence that seeks to understand just what life is all about. The climax doesn't see the Doctor saving the day on the Network by expelling Krllxk but instead preventing it from becoming an even greater menace. This novel proves how well the sixth Doctor can be handled in print, especially his self-introspection, and makes me wish that he could appear a little more frequently.

My only real gripe about this book is the name. Time of Your Life is Paradox's new game show and features on the cover but the Doctor's direct involvement is a little too minimal to justify it having the title. But this is only a minor flaw in an otherwise enjoyable novel. 9/10


Time of Your Death, a chaotic look at Video Nasties of the C. Baker Era by Matt Haasch 13/8/00

I'd just like to point out, this book has an amazing ability to morph a modernistic sci-fi setting you'd find with TV or movies today, along with making it seem very Doctor Who, in fact very season 22/23. The Doctor finds a society of people just like myself: stuck in front of a television, on the planet Torrok. He roams the empty streets there, being lonely, thinking, and shouting at the Time Lords, who once again need him to be their patsy (sound familiar Slipback?). He's in the midst of a mid-life (or pretty close to-900 years) crisis, Valeyard waiting to take over, and Colin is doing all he can to prevent the inevitable, hiding from a programmer named Mel.

It makes a nice spin on what happens after the trial, and the settings on board the space broadcasting station where the Doc ends up floods my mind with the settings in The Two Doctors (on board the 3'rd zoner's space station.) While on the planet of Torrok, New Earth, and the Station, all hell is about to break loose. Two Marston spheres (One of which is the Death-Hunt Sphere) go out of control, trying to merge with the station, Krllix (who took over one of the Doctor's friends, which makes it all the harder for the Doctor to defeat) or whatever it's name is almost collides with the station, but docks and lets havoc loose on the computers, and people are dying everywhere (kinda like a 5'th Doctor story. Kinda, get it?)

In the end, our baddie is like Drathro (mentioned in the book) A good intentioned form of A.I., but rooted in a false hope (Slipback too, again!) It's gruesome at times, following in the traditions which Whitehouse would've complained at. Lyons knew this all too well, so he's practically put her in the book, only under a different name, and she gets a pink spaceship.

The last half of the book spends a good 30 pages scattered throughout with fight scenes! All sorts of well constructed 3 to 8-dimensional characters are created and die anywhere from 1 to 100 pages later! It's got more corpses than a cemetery (incidentally I grew up in one). You'll be rooting for certain people, just then they get decapitated by robots or eaten by wolf-like cyborgs! Errrgggg!!

This book is 30% satire based off of the real life making of Who, 30% horror/SCI-FI, 30%drama and add 15% for a few chuckles (While the Doctor fights Anjor) and you have 105%, I know, but that 105% is all Doctor Who. I loved it, and can't wait for my copy of Millennial Rites to come in the mail to see this dramatic transformation from my newest favorite, the Sixth Doctor, into the Machiavellian Time's Champion. That's where my brother's quote comes in : "The game isn't over until I have won." Can't you picture McCoy saying that?


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 24/11/00

With the exception of Business Unusual, this is the only MA that sees the Sixth Doctor companionless (to begin with anyway); it is not the first to see him trying to avoid his possible future however...

PLOT: Primarily Time Of Your Life is several different things mixed into one, part parody, partly deep, but almost certainly it is a character study of The Doctor. Fortunately it is also highly enjoyable.

THE DOCTOR: Spot on, difficult to fault, as it is indeed a character study. Perhaps my biggest gripe would be the overdose of violence.

COMPANIONS: As the plot unfolds The Doctor has been on Torrok for two months, acquires a new companion Angela, who is killed early into the book. Given the themes of the book, this perhaps isn`t too surprising and neither is the fact that he soon gets another in Grant Markham, a companion with potential, but no background (in this book anyway).

OTHERS: Time Of Your Life is also populated with great characters, Miriam Walker is clearly a parody of Mary Whitehouse, while Raymond Day is also an example of life after soap opera.

OVERALL: Well the book ends with lots of fights, and the villain that is an alien entity is defeated. Even so Time Of Your Life is great, because of its character development for The Doctor and the fact that it pays homage to several cult TV shows including Prisoner:Cell Block H and Doctor Who itself. A must read book. 9/10.


Trip To The Past Part 2 by Robert Thomas 24/12/00

In one word excellent.

I never realised that a book this symbolic had been published. If I had I would have read this at the time it came out. I have read the majority of Steve Lyons' work and cannot believe this book passed me by.

It's going to be interesting to see what Paul Magrs does when he gets around to penning a 6th Doctor story. What he did to the 3rd Doctor era in Verdigris and the whole of Doctor Who in The Scarlet Empress was started here by Steve Lyons.

What this story is, is The Doctor stumbling around a giant space station not being able to carry out his intentions as he is manipulated by two opposing figures of power who work underneath an absent boss ( JNT, Eric Saward and Michael Grade).

So many characters and so many subplots make this book so amazing. Even things that the casual fan may not associate with the era are in here. I loved the fans' protest and the line about conventions.

The Doctor however is the best part of the book - being literally put through hell in mind and body. I liked Lyons interpretation in Killing Ground but this blew me away. One word - Perfect.

The companion subplot is also one of the best to grace the book range. Who we think is the companion has an interesting and disturbing fate. While a character who makes a late enterence and who does not come to prominance later in the book takes the place.

This has rocket into my all time favourite stories in all, not just the books, Who. Go to your book shop or find a dealer this is a must read, do not be put off by the worst cover ever. If you like Colin Baker you will like this, if you hate him you will still like it.

It's not about having favourite Doctors, it's about having good stories and characters. It's so easy to critisise the era in which this is set but take this book as it stands alone, a masterpiece.


A Review by Finn Clark 22/2/04

I remembered this book as hateful, depressing nonsense with a good bit at the beginning... which after rereading it seems pretty fair. In many ways Time of Your Life is rather interesting, but it might be the worst piece of plotting ever inflicted on the Doctor Who books (with the possible exception of The Space Age). In many respects it's quite good. Its prose is reasonable and its characterisation is courageous, but its plot is so shambolic that I can only assume it's deliberate, to make a point about the 6th Doctor. Its sequel Killing Ground also had a eccentrically "more Sawardian than Saward" plot structure, but in that book it worked. Time of Your Life could could lose a hundred pages and you wouldn't even notice.

I'll start with its good bit. Time of Your Life's first 21 pages are fantastic. I really liked Angela and was creeped out by the environment she found herself in. Watching this poor deprived girl venture out into the world and make contact with an embittered, solitary 6th Doctor was lovely stuff. I cared about her... which is exactly what Steve Lyons wanted, the bastard!

After that the action moves to the Network and the book goes downhill.

This might be the angriest Doctor Who book ever. Many books are discussions or theses, but this is a scream. Steve Lyons is writing about the television industry, but not from the insider's perspective of Vengeance on Varos or Prime Time. Instead it's written by a Doctor Who fan in 1995. This novel is paranoid, toxic and disturbing. Everyone except Angela is hateful, not always excluding the Doctor. Giselle the bitch in charge is a loathsome toad. Mae is practically a whore. Raymond is a murderer. Zed Mantelli is a smug self-satisfied ratings hound who's hated by all right-minded people. There's even a Mary Whitehouse figure (Miriam Walker). The television industry is portrayed as eating itself and everything it touches, turning the planet Torrok into a blasted wasteland whose populace cannot work or think for themselves. Is this piece of background (kept offstage for most of the book) one of the most vicious attacks in Who?

The book overplays its hand, implying that Doctor Who's fate was down to an irrational vendetta from BBC decision-makers. (The Network owns a Who-like programme called Timeriders and one of the book's characters blames it for ruining her acting career. "I was even grabbed by another Timeriders moron on the way here. He wanted an interview for some fanzine, as if I'm not sick enough of the programme.") Similarly over-the-top are Network shows like Death-hunt 3000 and Bloodsoak Bunny, in which members of the public sign up to die on live television. (Though having said that, this book is set in 2191 - barely a century before the era of Vengeance on Varos. Maybe there was a market for that kind of television around then?)

Too often the book's too busy with the vitriol to say anything that's actually interesting, but when it does find its target it doesn't hold back. The energy level flags in the middle of the book, since not even Time of Your Life can keep up this level of sustained hatred for 277 pages, but when it's on form it's astonishing. [It also has a few moments of blackest comedy, which to my surprise are genuinely funny.]

I'm probably turning this into a must-read, and indeed for a while I was quite getting into it. Unfortunately we don't care about any of the characters. We're not supposed to. When the apocalypse eventually comes, Steve Lyons wallows in killing off his favourite hate figures, one by one. So we're stuck in a book full of people we want dead, without even a decent story to keep us going. The Doctor's not doing anything effective - and nor is anyone else. Everyone lives in their own little bubble, oblivious to everything as the Network falls apart around them. The Doctor doesn't get his arse in gear for nearly 200 pages, until then merely railing against his fate, managing to annoy random television executives or getting trapped on lethal game shows. Maybe it's a comment on the 6th Doctor, or maybe it's a comment on Season 22. All I know is that it's a bit boring, which is quite a feat in the context of story material as extreme as I've described.

This is an immediately post-Trial 6th Doctor, determined to avert his future of carrot juice, the Valeyard and Melanie Bush. Fresh from Season 23 and its accusations of blundering mass-murder, he only wants to avoid hurting anyone else just as he hurt Peri (he doesn't remember the exact details). When Angela first approaches him, he drives her away. In many ways it's the Shalka Doctor eight years before Cornell created him. When he's forced to act, this combination of brashness and hesitancy proves a lethal combination. He screws up. It's not pleasant to read about - but it's not meant to be. I may not like Time of Your Life, but I have to admire its balls. Forget the kinder, gentler Colin of the Big Finish audios. This is the real deal, pushing our hero to his limits and showing us the bloody consequences. When the gut-punch comes, this is powerful stuff.

So is the plotting deliberate or not? The 6th Doctor was often sidelined on TV, because that's how Eric Saward's Whoniverse worked. Time of Your Life seems to take that idea and run with it. This book is many things - a tragedy, a primal scream and a fascinating, courageous exploration of the series' lead character that will probably never be equalled. However for much of its length it's also an unpleasant, rather dull mess.