THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Timewyrm Series
Virgin Books
Timewyrm: Apocalypse
Timewyrm Part Three

Author Nigel Robinson Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20359 3
Published 1991
Cover Andrew Skilleter

Synopsis: Visions of the Doctor's second incarnation lead the Doctor and Ace to the planet Kirith, billions of years in the future and Ace falls in love with one of its peace loving natives, Raphael. Just what is the connection between Kirith and the Panjistri, led by the Matriach, a woman the second Doctor met as a girl, who has now been possessed by the Timewyrm?


Reviews

A Review by Keith Bennett 29/6/99

A less satisfactory story here, involving the theory of the Big Bang. The Doctor and Ace land on the planet Kirith (thankfully, away from Earth) and find the seemingly perfect Kirithons being ruled by the Panjistri, who provide them with everything they need to the point where they don't have to think. It turns out that this is at the end of time, when the Universe is supposed to have "expanded" as much as it can, and now is ready to fold back in on itself, and the Panjistri are using the naive Kirithons through experiments to create the "God Machine", an all-knowledgable creation to stop the end of the Universe. But, fight and agression is one thing missing from this creation, so when they see Ace...

The Timewyrm, of course, is the being behind all this and, like Exodus, she appears in very little, but she is becoming a rather limited nemesis to keep fighting against. The adventures themselves, however, are entertaining, with an interesting array of aliens and creatures.

A concerning factor is continual references to the Doctor's second self who, at the beginning of his regeneration, seemed to ignite the problem that's now at hand. In Genesys, John Peel had the Doctor get a warning from his fourth self at the beginning, and called his third self into him at the climax, peculiarly because his current regeneration didn't have the necessary skills. Here, we have another warning from the past.

Let's not overdo the multiple Doctors bit, huh?


Paralyzingly dull, boring and tedious! by Andrew McCaffrey 7/11/01

When I first read Timewyrm: Apocalypse back in 1993 or 1994, it was only a matter of weeks later that I was unable to recall more than a handful of details about the book. Rereading this in 2001, I recognized only the barest trivialities. I don't expect to retain anything more from my reread than I did from my initial perusal of the text.

The prologue of the book begins with several one and two word sentences which are supposed to represent the primitive thoughts of the awakening adversary. One and two word sentences never inspire the reader to have much confidence in the rest of the book, and sadly this assumption proves to be correct. One thing that any future authors can take away from this experience is that if one is going to base the first fifty pages of one's book off of a previous Doctor Who serial, do not redo The Krotons.

The major problem with this book is that it is hopelessly padded and, worse, it's extremely dull padding. The page count is just one over two hundred, yet strangely Apocalypse could easily lose about fifty pages without breaking a sweat. There are far too many scenes of people being captured, escaping, running away from monsters, etc. The style of prose does little to help move the plot along. Sequences are broken up with numerous pages of random information about the way of life on Kirith. These passages don't help to build up a picture of alien life, rather they just seem like irrelevant details. It seems heavily influenced by the very worst of the Target novelisations. When those books were at their poorest, they were nothing but lines of dialogue with random "extra" paragraphs of exposition. This is exactly what many sections of this book feel like. It isn't pretty.

Not to say that there aren't a few moments where the book is entertaining. There's a sequence in which the Doctor is being chased through a forest that's realized quite effectively. The passages involving the villagers awaking from their long conditioning are also noteworthy. Unfortunately for every one of these, we have something like the part where a seagull poos on the Doctor or one of the many useless facts about Kirithian culture. One step forward, three steps back.

All in all the ending of the book is enjoyable enough, it's just a pity one has to read through all the other dull stuff in order to get to it. This would make a much better novella if one, in addition to removing much of the padding, remembered that good writing involves more showing than telling.


A Review by Finn Clark 11/7/04

I can see why many people don't rate Timewyrm: Apocalypse, but I've always liked it. There's something rudimentary about it, at times distractingly so, but it has powerful concepts and themes. If you can get past its Target-level prose, there's a strong story lurking underneath.

That comparison with Target novelisations wasn't random, by the way. Nigel Robinson was the Target editor for many years and wrote several novelisations. It shows in this book. In a sense, it's a glimpse of the alt-universe Virgin line that could have been if Peter Darvill-Evans had had a different vision of what post-TV Doctor Who novels should be like. It's short, perhaps not even reaching 60,000 words, and its prose goes between simple and simplistic. Sometimes this directness is a strength, but with characterisation it's not. The TARDIS crew particularly stink up the room. Frankly, some of this book's character moments feel childish.

However it would be a mistake to judge this book by its prose. Underneath, it's far from shallow. There's a theme of innocence, with the TARDIS landing at the end of the universe on the paradise planet of Kirith. Everyone there is perfect... but the Doctor and Ace become serpents in Eden. In this book innocence is violated in all kinds of ways, some of it by the Doctor himself for these people's own good. He himself is haunted by his second incarnation, which is so perfect thematically as to be almost beautiful. After everything we've seen, innocence destroys the beast at the climax. And p197 nearly made me cry.

This book's treatment of amnesia effortlessly blows away half a decade's 8DA-related argument. Amnesia here is the worst evil imaginable, with the author hardly having to lift a finger. (There's also a related snook at what happened to Jamie and Zoe after The War Games on p148.)

The fanwank is relatively restrained, but it's jarring in a setting billions of years in the future. I can just about imagine, for instance, that Galaxy 4's Rills (p33) might survive for millions of years, but billions? Other wanks include hat-tips to famous lines from the TV stories, which probably seemed cute in 1991 but really haven't aged well.

To enjoy this book, you've got to cut it plenty of slack. It's almost best viewed as a historical curiosity, the misshapen offspring of two opposing forces: the Virgin NAs and the Target novelisations. In particular the characterisation is something that you've just got to accept, but its story is sad, simply told and not afraid to get nasty. I even ended up caring about some of the people. It won't be for everyone, but I really enjoyed this book.


A Review by Brian May 27/10/04

Timewyrm: Apocalypse is a rather underrated New Adventure, a conclusion I made after a recent re-reading. I hadn't picked it up for about eight years, having not remembered it as anything special. I now realise that it's a fun, enjoyable, smartly paced little adventure, although far from perfect.

My first criticism is that it's too simple and straightforward. Also working against the story is its unoriginality. This may be a strange point to make, as Doctor Who is unoriginal to the core, but its success has always been in the stylish and clever ways it has ripped off or paid tribute to the original material. Apocalypse wears its sources so obviously on its sleeve that it's devoid of charm. The "trouble in paradise" story is the primary inspiration, with a seemingly utopian society concealing a dark underbelly, the strongest imagery coming from H.G Wells's The Time Machine. In addition there's the subject of eugenics (also examined in the Tom Baker tale The Face of Evil) and another lesson on xenophobia, represented by the Kirith's fear and dislike of the "others" who live in the forbidden realm of Darkfell.

The story takes another idea previously used in Doctor Who - that the situation the Doctor faces is a result of his own actions in the past - also from The Face of Evil. Although never stated on television, Terrance Dicks's novelisation of that same story places the fourth Doctor's initial encounter with Xoanon during the events of Robot, in which he was still unstable after his third regeneration. In terms of continuity, a rather neat explanation. Here Nigel Robinson makes the second Doctor culpable for all that's wrong on Kirith, shortly after his first regeneration. The only new addition to this scenario that it's the Timewyrm that's been meddling in the Doctor's past. But it's not conveyed in a dramatic way whatsoever and therefore seems like mere recycling.

Speaking of the undramatic, the story is full of such moments. Robinson fails to create any sense of tension in his scenes. The revelation that Kandasi is in fact a space station; the sea dragon's attack on the boat (with the exception of Mirli's death); the Grand Matriarch's interest in Ace; the dramas that befall the Doctor and Fetch during their space walk; even the final twist - that the Grand Matriarch is in fact the Timewyrm - falls flat. (Indeed, her inclusion is very awkward.) The title Apocalypse is inappropriate - the blurb begins with "The end of the universe. The end of everything." But nowhere is there an apocalyptic feel - not once does it seem like the fate of the universe is at stake. The Doctor's plan to reach the Matriarch on p.185 makes no sense at all. And at times it seems like the author is insulting the reader's intelligence - the Doctor encountering the false Ace across the canyon - it's obvious she's not real the moment she calls him "Doctor" instead of "Professor", which the Doctor doesn't pick up on (Robinson insults his intelligence too).

Given that the story's background draws heavily on the second Doctor, the various flashbacks are quite decently written. However the vision the seventh Doctor encounters of his previous self doesn't completely work. Robinson has some of Troughton's mannerisms right, but overall it feels a mess - especially the second Doctor's mentions of Ace. It just brings to mind the awful dredging up of the third Doctor in John Peel's Genesys. The (seventh) Doctor and Ace come across convincingly enough, but the rest of the characters are dull, with the exceptions of Mirli and Raphael.

Well, after four paragraphs of negatives, how can I justify my opening declarations - underrated, fun and enjoyable? Well, despite all its flaws, Timewyrm: Apocalypse has some good moments. The majority of the quibbles I've made are centred on the last sections of the book. The first hundred odd pages are the enjoyable parts - as the story unfolds. It's like many a televised serial, in which the first episodes are highly enjoyable but the quality drops towards the end. The fun is in the exposition and the mystery, when the reader is wondering what exactly is happening. The locations are good, and would not be out of place in a fantasy novel. The town; the forbidden realm of Darkfell; the harbour where the Panjistri arrive and leave; the mysterious "island" of Kandasi; these are all captured very well. Nigel Robinson isn't the best Doctor Who writer ever, but he's certainly not the worst. He can create an atmosphere, and his descriptions are all succinct. The short length of the story helps, with the narrative never getting bogged down. And chapter 15 is excellent! The murmurs of discontent among the people, the near revolution and its suppression are all described concisely and rapidly, without losing any of the intended impact.

As for underrated? Well, to be more accurate, it's not as bad as I remember. I was impressed as I read it again, taking in the good aspects as well as the bad. It's still rather inconsequential, and it fades from the memory shortly after you finish it. But while you're reading, it's quite fun. 6.5/10


Apocalypse Dull by Matthew Kresal 12/10/10

Had I have been reading the Timewyrm novels that started off the Virgin New Adventures, I have noticed that these early novels tend to be hit and miss. They got off to a wooden beginning with Timewyrm: Genesys before picking up greatly in Timewyrm: Exodus. As I came to this novel, I wondered if it would be a hit or a miss in terms of success. The answer is for the most part is that it is a miss.

The novel's single largest hit or miss is in the characterization of the seventh Doctor and Ace. The hit is Ace, who gets captured rather well by author Nigel Robinson, especially in her scenes with Mirli and Raphael. In fact, Robinson ties her rather nicely into the novel's climax and makes it work surprisingly enough. The miss is the seventh Doctor who doesn't quite seem to be the seventh Doctor but one of his earlier incarnations, depending on the scene. That said, Robinson does capture the seventh Doctor twice: pages 128-131 and then in the last few pages of the novel. It is in the last few pages that Robinson gives the seventh Doctor and Ace a beautiful scene that sets up one of the major plot points that was to follow later on in the New Adventures.

The supporting cast is pretty much cardboard, sadly. The two exceptions to that are Mirli and Raphael who get some really good fleshing out as the novel goes along. This is especially true of Raphael who becomes very much a companion to the Doctor during a large portion of the novel. The rest of the supporting characters ranging from the alien Kirith to the novel's villains, the Panjistri and their leader, the Grand Matriarch, are sadly cardboard and predictable. After the well-drawn supporting characters of Exodus, it seems a shame to go back to the cardboard ones of this novel.

Perhaps the novel's biggest problem is in the prose. Despite being shorter then the two previous novels, at 201 pages this novel feels much longer than it actually is. The novel doesn't flow and neither does it have a sense of real tension, especially with seemingly random sections detailing the life and culture of the Kirith which could have been interesting but come across as dull. Then there's a simple matter of yet another past Doctor cameo. This one is thankfully better written that those found in Genesys, especially as Robinson not only captures the Doctor in question but ties nicely into the plot as well. While these sequences are written well, they don't fix the main problem. The problem is that the emphasis of the novel seems to be more on action that doesn't come across well than on descriptions or plot. The lack of emphasis on plot is in itself rather sad.

It is sad because Robinson draws much from the works of Christopher H Bidmead who script edited Season 18 (Tom Baker's final season). The fact is that the novel starts with a passage from Bidmead's own novelization of Logopolis, which gives the reader a clue that this is very much Bidmead-ish territory. In particular, the themes of oppression and alien races with dark secrets in their past that occupied so much of Season 18 are put to some nice use here. Sadly, the poorly done emphasis on action takes away from the plot which in itself is interesting for the most part.

Another reoccurring problem of the Timewyrm novels is in Apocalypse as well. The Timewyrm, the great threat that she is, once again appears very little in the novel. She appears at the start (sort of) and then disappears for the most part of the novel. Thankfully, when she finally appears, it is something of a surprise and it eventually leads to the single best written part of the novel on page 197. That said, I am seriously wondering what the point of the Timewyrm is, as she is responsible for very little in the novels so far and especially in Apocalypse.

Despite having a potentially interesting plot, Timewyrm: Apocalypse is let down by the sum of its parts. With mostly cardboard characterization and poorly placed emphasis on action rather then on the novel's rather interesting plot idea, it is far from the greatest Who novel ever and (like Genesys) is very much one for fans seeking to kick off the New Adventures properly.


A Review by Jason A Miller 5/6/11

One problem associated with reading a series in chronological order is that you can't avoid the bad books. I have long carried distasteful memories of Timewyrm: Apocalypse, based on memories from the early 1990s. Coming after the high of Exodus and standing as a roadblock to Revelation, I was not looking forward to reopening what I recalled as a poorly written little waste of an early New Adventure.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Apocalypse surpassed all expectations and actually wound up being tolerable. It's still by no means a great novel, but as the last action-driven NA before the more reflective Revelation and Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, Apocalypse has some high points and I'm glad to have found them. I think in the final tally, after I've done the whole run through to Lungbarrow, it may well escape my bottom-five list.

The plot of the book is straightforward and is set up well in the early going, through an epigraph from the novelization of Logopolis and then a prologue that purports to show the final end of the Universe by heat death. It's never a bad idea to build your story on the concepts from Logopolis. There's even a near-direct quote in the text, when the Doctor tells Ace: "But nothing like this has happened before."

Beyond Logopolis, the first two chapters of Timewyrm: Apocalypse use the Patrick Troughton era as their jumping-off point, and that also has its entertainment value, especially as author Nigel Robinson, former editor of the Target novelizations, did much to revive the Second Doctor in print before the NAs began. Chapter One borrows heavily from The Krotons: an intellectually-favored youngster is summoned from his humble home to lend his mental powers to mysterious and evil overlords. Years later, Lawrence Miles would do far more interesting things with the Kroton monsters themselves, but Apocalypse was only the third original Who novel so the rote retelling of a lost TV story was still interesting. Later sequences set in an abandoned biohazardous ruin - left as a grim monument to a civilization's barbaric past - comes from The Dominators, if you need it. Chapter Two features an appearance of the Second Doctor himself, set somewhere in between Power of the Daleks and The Highlanders (the selection of this particular period in the Doctor's life has plot significance later on), and there are several more appearances from him later in the book.

Once the Seventh Doctor and Ace finally arrive on the planet Kirith, ten years after the events of Chapter One, well-worn science fiction cliches propel the story forward. You'll have to get past an abundance of Silly Space Names, of course: "Darien had set out for the Harbours of the Chosen, where he was met by Reptu and taken across the seas to the Skete of Kandasi, the complex of buildings on Kandasi Island which was the home of the Panjistri." C'mon, Nigel, you left out a few nonsense words ...

The plot is familiar, if scientifically improbable: At the end of the Universe, the elusive Panjistri seek to create a group consciousness that will compensate for the loss of the CVE (that closed in the Prologue) and prolong the life-span of the Universe. The Panjistri are led by the Grand Matriarch, who knows the Doctor of old. While the Timewyrm does not reveal herself until the final chapters, it is not difficult to guess in whose mind she's been hiding. At least her absence for much of the book lends her the subtlety of character that was so non-evident in her first appearance...

Once the plot is established, and after nearly 20 years' retrospect, one can see that this book is actually the prototype for the Dark Doctor New Adventures that would follow. The editors insert a fleeting foreshadowing of the following year's Cat's Cradle arc, as Ace asks the Doctor about "animals in the TARDIS" and starts to tell him that she thought she saw... the sentence is never finished but is likely a reference to the cat that threaded that arc together. More broadly, the first hints of the Cartmel Masterplan finally seep through, after the brighter nostalgia of the John Peel and Terrance Dicks novels. The Grand Matriarch (who's in a position to know) observes that the Doctor "is not only a Time Lord". The book's crisis is resolved thanks to the noble self-sacrifice of a secondary character, who it is intimated was manipulated into this act by the Doctor in order to prevent Ace from suffering the same fate. I suspect this act of perceived manipulation was not made explicit in Nigel's original outline but got emphasized by the editors; this is not the last time we'd see the Doctor be tangentially responsible for someone else's heroic death. Ace even asks herself, in the midst of a dream sequence, "Just how safe is it travelling with him? Can he be trusted?". The Doctor also pulls a gun on the story's villain, with malice in his eyes; in a later book we'll actually see the Doctor pull the trigger, but he's not there yet. On a side note, the Doctor is still not yet a vegetarian.

Ace gets the larger part of the book to herself. Her affinity with nitro-nine (probably her defining character trait in the pre-Love and War NAs) takes center stage. In this one, she's also seen to have computer hacking skills, a trait I don't think was ever utilized before or after. The best for her character was still yet to come; again, apart from making her the object of the bad guys' lustful thoughts, middle-aged authors never seemed to know what to do with her.

The writing style hasn't aged well. Nigel was an effective writer of novelizations but seems challenged by the 80 extra pages he's given here. Character motivations are revealed through clumsy info-dumps rather than organically weaved into dialogue or observations. Certainly Terrance Dicks didn't have that problem in the previous NA. One character is compared to Captain Hook, a literary reference which I'm fairly sure won't be common knowledge among insular medieval aliens at the end of the Universe. Back in the '90s on r.a.dw, the phrase "an almost sexual thrill" was mocked as proof of Nigel's inept prose style; variations on that phrase appear three times in Apocalypse. The most sophisticated writing that Nigel allows himself - "And if it was no longer possible for Revna to love with passion, then she would hate with fury" - may be the best sentence in this book but would be the worst in each of the next few NAs to follow. Nigel also has no idea what to do with an offstage character named Kareena, who disappeared as a pre-teen but whose jilted fiancee is later seen searching for her.

More soft continuity references abound, as would be common in the Timewyrm arc. On near-consecutive pages are references to artron energy (Four to Doomsday) and the delta-wave augmentor (Kinda). We learn that the Rills (Galaxy Four) visited Kandasi Island years before this story occurs. The Doctor compares the rapid healing of the citizens of Kandasi to those of Alzarius (Full Circle). Ace remembers Mrs. Smith's boarding house in East London (Remembrance of the Daleks). This is an impressive breadth of references spanning the Hartnell through McCoy eras. Nigel even slyly quotes from his own novelization of The Time Meddler, as the Doctor observes: "And besides, he was a Time Lord, not a blessed mountain goat." Better are the allusions to other stories - Apocalypse samples not only from The Krotons and The Dominators, but also gets it right when it homages better source material such as The Savages (the Panjistri's parasitic relationship to the Kirithons).

On a final note, Apocalypse features the first in a long line of truly uanattractive NA cover illustrations. The story's decoy monster is the Homonculus, the first of many gross nightmare-monsters that would plague the NAs in later years. Made from the disparate body parts of discarded lab experiments, it dominates the cover, menacing a poorly drawn rendition of Sophie Aldred. While Apocalypse did not turn out to not be as bad as I remembered, the artwork does demonstrate that you really can judge a book by its cover.


It's not that bad by Andrew Feryok 21/6/13

"What's that?" asked Miril. "Something I learnt from Ace," he [Raphael] said and grinned at his old teacher. "It's called a Hiccup in Paradise."
- Raphael about to use Ace's Nitro-9 to blow out of a jail cell, Timewyrm: Apocalypse, Page 110, Chapter 11.

Timewyrm: Apocalypse is not the best loved Doctor Who book in the whole world. In fact, it often shows up on a lot of fans least favorite New Adventures book lists. I think this is extremely unfair and is due in large part to the fact that it happened to land between two classics: Terrance Dicks' incredibly revered Timewyrm: Exodus and Paul Cornell's debut story Timewyrm: Revelation. By comparison, this book looks really bad. In fact, having read Timewyrm: Exodus but not Revelation, I could totally understand someone feeling let down after Exodus whose reputation is well deserved as a classic Doctor Who adventure. But I also came to this book after reading a lot of other books in between, and so in a sense I got to read this in isolation.

I like Nigel Robinson's writing. I had previously read his adaptation of The Edge of Destruction and was extremely impressed. He doesn't disappoint here either, producing a book that blazes along with a shorter page count and a high action quota that keeps going at a breakneck pace while also intriguing us with a lot of cool mysteries. For instance: Who are the Panjistri? Is the Kirithons' history fabricated and if so why? Why are the Panjistri breeding a vicious and aggressive homunculus in their mad scientist laboratory (seen pictured on the cover)? Who is the Grand Matriarch? Why is she so focused on getting Ace? What revenge does she want against the Doctor? And how did a previous visit by the Second Doctor affect events in the present? All these questions get answers and for the most part they are good answers with a few exceptions. For instance, the Doctor's guilt about how he inadvertently brought the Timewyrm to Kirith is extremely far fetched, rendering a perfectly good subplot completely superfluous and makes the angsting Seventh Doctor look like an idiot.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that this is a sly crossover novel in much the same vein as the later BBC Books adventure Colony of Lies, except that the tables have turned and this time the Second Doctor is meddling in the Seventh's timeline. Robinson successfully captures both incarnations of the Doctor very well. The Second Doctor is childish while not seeming a complete buffoon. He also takes a note from John Peel rather than Terrance Dicks in making the Seventh Doctor more like his TV persona than the dark manipulator he would become as the New Adventures progressed. In fact, there is a wonderfully Doctorish moment where the Doctor is in the middle of a field of sheep shouting to the skies in defiance to the Grand Matriarch who he knows is watching him. He tries to goad her out into the open but instead only succeeds in having a seagull poop on him - at which point he crankily decides to head of and play the Panjistris' game. The Doctor comes off as mildly manipulative but seems most of the time to be flying by the seat of his pants and is much more of the wandering explorer than the Time's Champion he would become. In fact, this may be the last time that the Doctor was depicted like this because Paul Cornell's interpretation pretty much cemented the way he would be portrayed ever after in the next book.

While I do like Ace's final confrontation with the Doctor over his manipulative methods, I thought it was a bit unfair because after all the Doctor wasn't responsible for what Raphael ultimately did to save everyone (and I won't give away anything further on that). In a way, he's trying to tell Ace how much he loves her but just can't bring himself to be that direct, leading to what appears to be the first signs of a rift forming between them that would ultimately shatter their friendship in next year's story Love and War. Robinson captures Ace beautifully in this story who manages to walk the fine line between being an annoying teenager and a hero we can root for throughout the adventure. And I love how the Kirithons pick up on Ace's comment in calling her explosives "hiccoughs in Paradise". The Kirithons and Panjistri are each given their own set of characteristics and history while also being entertaining to learn about as an alien society. We keep peeling away the lies that surround this alien culture, and it all seems very logical and intriguing at the same time.

Is this the best book in the whole world? No. Is this book as good as Timewyrm: Exodus? Certainly not. Is it the worst New Adventure ever? Absolutely not! I would definitely recommend this book and it manages to strike the balance that Exodus did that Genesys could not: being a story in its own right and a part of the ongoing saga with the Timewyrm. In fact, this book manages to incorporate the Timewyrm saga more seamlessly into its story than either of the previous two books. As good as Exodus was, you could easily cut the Timewyrm out of that book and it would work on its own just the same. This could almost be true for this story as well, but it wouldn't be nearly as good without her. And, for once, the Timewyrm actually came across as a scary, manipulative and terrifying villain for the Doctor to face instead of a bwa-ha-ha-ing, mustache-twirling nincompoop like she was in Genesys and the end of Exodus. In fact, this story left me wanting to go on and see how this all ends in the upcoming Timewyrm: Revelation... 9/10