The Invasion of Time
The Timewrym Series
Timewyrm Part One
|ISBN#||0 426 20355 0|
|Synopsis: A temporal projection of the fourth Doctor warns the seventh Doctor and Ace about the Timewyrm, a cybernetic living data-eater that can take over minds. In ancient Mesopotamia, the Doctor and Ace team up with Gilgamesh and Enkidu to help free the city of Kish from the entity posing as the goddess Ishtar. But what is Ishtar's connection to the Timewyrm?|
A Review by Keith Bennett 6/4/98
The very first New Adventures book is a very promising start to the series. These books were, of course, meant to be more "adult" and be more free with such aspects as swearing, sex and violence. Here, the sex is suggestive, mentioning realistically the exploits of the King and other high-ranking officials in Mesopotamia at 2700 B.C., while having one of the characters a young, naive prostitute who spends half the story topless (since that is the way of her profression). The violence is briefly explicit at times, at least when King Gilgamesh is lopping off opponents' heads with his sword.
But above all, the most important factor of all is that this is still Doctor Who. The Doctor is the Doctor and Ace is Ace, just as we know them, as they are warned by an image from one of the Doctor's former selves that a Timewyrm is threatening the universe, and the Doctor and Ace land in Mesopotamia to find the feuding betwen two cities is punctuated by a cybernetic, snake-like female creature (The Timewyrm) who takes on the role of the mythical goddess Ishtar and proceeds to do what she likes best-- controlling human minds and feeding off them, while planning conquest on a much grander scale.
The background and descriptions are good, without slowing down the story. John Peel sort of re-introduces the Doctor and Ace cleverly, and throughout the book, we get their feelings, especially Ace's, of how they feel about each other and where they stand at the moment. The supporting characters are also interesting and likeable; their barbarity shown in its truth, but not in an ugly or mangy way anymore than is necessary, like Ace's moral disapporvals of the casual sex that runs rampant through the land. In fact, the only reservations character-wise is the Timewyrm herself. She would have looked great on T.V., but what sprouts from her metallic mouth suggests we have another "You fools! Nothing can stop me now!" (laugh hysterically) megalomaniac on our hands, a daunting thought when one remembers she is to be the leading baddy for another three books.
Overall, however, a very promising start to the New Adventures. Good, solid, easy to read, humerous and, for the moment at least, still very much Doctor Who.
A Review by Matt Michael 23/4/98
It was with a sense of dread that I came to Timewyrm: Genesys. A New Adventures fan, I could not forget what John Peel had done to Remembrance of the Daleks in his BBC Book. I had been warned by friends that Genesys was dire, and to avoid it. But the time had come for me to read the whole Timewyrm series, and so, with a heavy heart I picked the book from my shelf and began to read.
250-odd pages later, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Timewyrm: Genesys is not nearly as bad as its reputation suggested (although neither is is particularly good). The plot is simple, but well-written, and the introduction of the Timewyrm herself is very well done.
Characterisation is slightly less impressive-- ostensibly, this is the seventh Doctor and Ace post-Survival, although they read to me more like the characters from Dragonfire. John Peel admitted he disliked Season 26, and wanted to return to the characters of Season 24, but I'm not sure whether this is really an excuse.
The most embarrassing thing about the book is the presence of topless priestesses. When Virgin said they wanted more adult-oriented books, I thought they meant in terms of complexity and characterisation rather than gratuitous nudity.
Overall, Genesys is a solid introduction to the Timewyrm series, with a lot of back story given. The Timewyrm comes over as a well-motivated villain, and the Doctor's final confrontation with her is the book's high point, particularly as it contains a nice twist.
Not good, not bad, just fair to middling. 6/10
A Review by Sean Gaffney 15/8/99
When I picked up Genesys I was just getting back into Who fandom after a long hiatus. I knew nothing of Sylvester and Sophie's portrayal. Therefore, I decided to pick up Remembrance of the Daleks novelized, and Genesys from my local Geppi's.
As a result, I didn't really see the huge character gap that exists in Genesys. I wasn't as familiar with these characters, the 'new' Doctor and Ace. I must admit, I liked Ben's novelization better.
On rereading it a couple of years later, I did notice these things, and they did grate a bit. But Genesys moves so fast that it's hard to concentrate on them unless you try. It's a light, airy read, without Gareth Roberts' tortured prose. But if you analyse it at all, then all the faults leap up at you.
So, I recommend reading this book quickly. On a plane, or something. It can be enjoyable, if not as a start to the NA's, then as a nice pseudo- historical.
Happy Guy rereview - 7/10.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 17/10/01
Looking back at the first New Adventure, Timewyrm: Genesis, it's hard not to crack a smile at the beginning paragraph of editor Peter Darvill-Evans' preface that reads, "Here is an introductory word about Doctor Who - The New Adventures: continuity." Fortunately, the words that follow make clear that the change in format will be taken to its fullest advantage and the Doctor and Ace will be traveling to places and worlds that would have been impossible for them to reach due to the limitations of the small screen. We know now how successful this experiment became, but how much of this was evident at the very beginning?
When we first encounter Ace, she has conveniently lost all of her memories due to the Doctor's accidental meddling. In keeping with the desire to tell stories that are more adult than could be shown on the BBC on Saturday evening, she has also conveniently lost all of her clothes. Don't worry -- she pieces together her mind shortly after a lengthy dressing scene. In having Ace gradually discover everything in her surroundings, John Peel gradually brings the casual reader up to speed with all the background details that he or she will need in order to understand the Doctor's adventures. The Doctor quickly explains things to her, while using the TARDIS to restore the bulk of her memories. This isn't a terrible idea (and ties up nicely with the memory circuits business at the end), but in execution it turns out rather poorly. The scenes of the amnesiac Ace just keep going on and on while the Doctor has to explain more and more of the plot. It was a nice idea to get some of the more difficult concepts across to the reader, but having this information dump lasting through multiple chapters just seems like cheating.
As for the gratuitous Ace nudity, sadly much of the book is equally as adolescent. Although there are one or two scenes of this nature that are serviceable, add to the plot and don't come across as needless, there are far too many scenes of people (usually teenage girls) wandering around naked with juvenile descriptions of their exposed parts. I understand the difficulty that the author and editor must have had to go from the virtually nonexistent sense of sexuality of the television years to the grown-up and sophisticated version that could exist in book form. Sadly, in this initial effort, the result is stuck somewhere in the middle of those and comes across as immature and childish.
The level of violence is also a little bit higher than we were used to on the show, though since blood and gore was something we had encountered before, it doesn't come across as that much of a difference. It's also written with a tad more subtlety than the nudity scenes, and it isn't dwelt on. Nevertheless, there are several battle sequences with rather high body counts. People lose heads, lose limbs, have axes buried into their chests and stomachs, etc. The violence comes across as being fairly cartoonish.
The plot of the story is relatively simple, yet fairly enjoyable. A cybernetic alien has crash-landed at Mesopotamia and is slowly preparing to use her powers of mind-control to enslave the human race. Finding a warning that he left for himself several regenerations ago, the Doctor has come to this time period in search of something called the Timewyrm. He finds the robotic alien who is masquerading as the Goddess Ishtar and attempts to put an end to her evil ways. In doing so, he inadvertently unleashes the very creature he had hoped to defeat - the Timewyrm, who escapes at the end setting up the events of the following three books.
The characters aren't drawn terribly well. The Doctor and Ace seem rather flat and generic. One wonders why the Seventh Doctor needed to summon the Third Doctor to solve a problem, when he'd been acting like that incarnation the whole way through the story. Gilgamesh is brought into the story, and in his opening sections he comes across as a fairly competent leader. Unfortunately, in each of his subsequent scenes he loses what depth he had and by the middle of the book he's degenerated into a drunken, screaming, bellowing, fighting buffoon. Ishtar herself is also portrayed a little strangely and I couldn't quite figure out her motivations. It's explained that she is a very advanced being from an extremely sophisticated society, and yet almost immediately after landing she becomes caught up in a bunch of petty feuds among primitive civilizations. To me it just didn't seem to flow correctly.
I have a few other small nit-picks. No explanation or reason for Enkidu the Neanderthal existing 5,000 years after he should be extinct (this is acknowledged in the narrative, but not justified). The endless continuity references that served no purpose other than to take up space. The numerous typographical errors (was it just my copy, or did the font suddenly change at the bottom of page three?) and as these sorts of mistakes are things that I almost never catch, I'm guessing that there were a lot of other misprints that I didn't notice. The Doctor and Ace arguing for no reason other than to artificially insert a level of angst that the story didn't require.
However, despite the problems with the characterization and sloppy prose, I was quite entertained while reading this. It's a slight, but enjoyable read. There are a lot of places that are a bit weak, but the pieces in between are very readable. The Doctor gets quite a few good lines: "I never make stupid mistakes, just very, very clever ones." Although there are numerous problems, somehow the whole ends up being greater than the sum of its weak parts and makes for a fairly entertaining book.
A Review by Clive Walker 27/3/02
The very first "New Doctor Who Adventure" is set in the 3rd millennium BC in ancient Mesoptamia, the cradle of human civilisation, and is a fairly traditional 'pseudo historical' tale of an alien attempting to pervert the course of Earth's history. For the most part this is a swashbuckling adventure, full of bloody incident, that canters along holding one's interest in an unchallenging kind of way. John Peel's writing style is clear, if unexciting, and the book, to me, has a similar 'feel' to a Target novelisation. Given that much of the book's readership would have graduated from the Target range this was not necessarily a bad thing.
Virgin, however, also wanted the new series of books to attract an older, more sophisticated readership than the Target range. The aim was to tell stories "too broad and too deep for the small screen". Aware, perhaps, that there was little in his novel to attract a more adult readership Peel decided to set a large part of the action within a temple cum brothel where the 'priestesses' are bare-breasted girls in their early teens.
Now, I have no hang-ups about the use of 'adult themes' in Who novels - sex, swearing, drugs - I love them all, but I found Peel's inclusion of the teenage prostitutes wholly gratuitous. Whilst historically accurate this has no relevance to the story and the author has nothing worthwhile to say about the issue. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that this is simply a piece of background 'colour' used to justify the novel's classification as 'Adult'.
This is actually just one symptom of this novel's biggest weakness, namely Peel's failure to bring ancient Mesopotamia to life. He obviously researched the period well and throws in lots of facts about the food, drink, clothes and buildings of the time but it reads like a documentary and at no point did I get a sense that the events are occurring amidst a thriving civilisation. One does not, either, get a sense of the scale of the arena in which the action occurs. Uruk and Kish were around 120 miles apart yet this novel gives the impression that this is no more than a day's walk. Similarly we are told that Ace's journey with Gilgamesh to find Utnapishtim takes 7 days but are given so little sense of this that it might as well have been an afternoon's ramble. As a result the epic scale of the story is lost and it is reduced to little more than a series of set-piece scenes.
The characterisation of the TARDIS crew is disappointing. The Doctor is generic and only the frequent mentions of his umbrella reminded me periodically that this is meant to be the Sylvester McCoy version. Ace too seemed 'wrong'. Whilst the brattish elements of her personality come out clearly enough her speech patterns don't seem quite right. I just don't believe that would use a phrase like "they'll make chicken a la king of you in seconds" as she does to Gilgamesh at one point.
The supporting characters are also largely poorly realised. Gilgamesh, in particular, comes across as little more than an unlikeable, boorish yob who it is difficult to imagine becoming a renowned leader of men. Interestingly, the strongest characters, in what is very much a man's world, are the female ones. Ninani and En-Gula are both well-rounded and sympathetic personalities whilst Ishtar/ Qataka is marvellous, a hate-filled embodiment of evil in the grand tradition of Who villains.
My final gripe about the book is that it is marred by some grating and unnecessary pieces of continuity and flashbacks to previous Doctors and companions - a sign perhaps of a lack of confidence in the ability of the novels to stand alone. There is also a clumsily executed sequence near the beginning of the book where the Doctor wipes Ace's memories. This is meant as a device to establish the characters for readers new to Doctor Who, but it is far too long and adds nothing to the story.
In conclusion this is a rather disappointing start to the novel range. It's OK as an adventure story and on its first release I'd probably have rated it higher but we expect more from a Who novel these days. I'll give it 5/10.
A Review by Brian May 22/3/04
On its publication, John Peel's Timewyrm: Genesys had a daunting task. It was the first of a new series of Doctor Who adventures, almost two years after cancellation of the television programme. It's up to the first novel to create the best impression; to instil in the readership of fans a confidence that the books would continue the series they love - especially the high standard of the last two seasons, which would have been fresh in their minds in 1991. Even now, with a plethora of books published, Genesysm will always stand or fall on its success or failure as the debut novel.
In my opinion, it succeeds. Although that's not to imply that it's the best Doctor Who novel ever written - because it certainly isn't. But Genesys convincingly tells a traditional Doctor Who tale. The New Adventures would see some radical changes - a shift to "adult-oriented" storytelling i.e. sex, violence and profanity (for better or for worse, but that's something we've debated for aeons), plus drastic changes in the characters of the seventh Doctor and Ace. Genesys is as close as you can get to a normal adventure - it features some of these "new" elements, but the basic plot is similar to televised stories like The Time Meddler, The Time Warrior or The Masque of Mandragora: an alien being/force in Earth's past, whose actions will bring about a radical alteration of human history. An unoriginal premise, but if done properly, makes for an enjoyable romp.
It's got a nice traditional feel, with Ace bombing her way through everything and inadvertently spoiling the Doctor's plan, the Time Lord using his respiratory bypass system to bamboozle the enemy, plenty of escape and capture, and a splitting up of the characters which includes a long quest-style journey, very reminiscent of season 1. Ishtar is particularly menacing, with an omnipotence that reminds me of Sutekh from Pyramids of Mars. Like in the Tom Baker tale, there's a genuine doubt as to whether the Doctor can defeat such a foe. Ishtar is very sadistic, as seen in her interactions with Dumuzi, especially with taunts like "...you pray that someone might come to free you from me!" as she reads his mind. Agga and Ninani come in for a particularly nasty tortuous experience near the story's end. The pacing of the story is also good, with some nice action scenes (the bombing of the temple) and some quiet, breath-gathering ones (the night in the tavern, the Doctor and company resting outside the TARDIS, and the feast in Uruk).
I like most of the other characters: Avram, Enkidu and En-Gula come across particularly well. The musician is probably my favourite - he reminds me of so many nice-guy characters that meet the Doctor and quickly become one story sidekicks (think Duggan in City of Death, Richard Mace from The Visitation and The Awakening's Will Chandler). I've read quite a few objections to the characterisation of Gilgamesh - I quite like it, as he probably would have been a boorish, arrogant and childish upstart, used to getting his own way. It's also one of the best uses of an historical figure. If you forget the Hartnell tales, in which meeting famous characters was the norm for the programme at the time, only one such appearance in recent Doctor Who was justifiable (George Stephenson in The Mark of the Rani). The inclusion of H.G. Wells in Timelash was stupid and unnecessary. William Blake would surface just as needlessly in an upcoming New Adventure, and John Peel would do the same with Rudyard Kipling in his Missing Adventure, Evolution. These examples all seem to include the relevant historical figure in the story at the whim of the scriptwriter/author - basically because they want to, not because there's any significance. Gilgamesh, like Stephenson, is an exception, as his role is quite pivotal to the plot, tying in with the larger theme of Ishtar interfering with human history.
Okay, now what you've all been waiting for - the sex and violence! Most of the violence is fairly tame - what you'd expect from the programme (with some exceptions, such as seasons 21 and 22). It's mainly explosions and Lord of the Rings style battle sequences; the one glaring exception is on pp.97-98, as Gilgamesh and Enkidu converse while disposing of their combatants in a variety of nasty ways, elucidated by Peel with a relish that verges on the bloodthirsty. It's meant to be funny, as they banter and kill away, but it isn't. It bodes what would come in later novels.
Another major complaint in the book is the inclusion of the temple prostitute, En-Gula, especially her revealing attire. Going beyond the standard "it was customary for the time, so I'm just telling it like it is" defence that would have been the first thing on the author's mind, I don't find anything that's exploitative. The only mentions of her bared breasts are the initial description as she enters the story; a passing comment from the Doctor when he meets her (and he's as innocent and asexual as ever), and Ace's observation when she meets the girl. Not what I'd call gratuitous at all.
On the subject of Ace, I find her to be quite well written. She's as boisterous as ever, loyal to the Doctor and thankfully angst-free. I love the scenes with her "bath" and the conversations she has with the Doctor about culture, standards and customs. I tend to like Ace as a stranger in time, and her reactions to the mores of whatever period she finds herself in (Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric). However, Peel's comfort with depicting Ace does not translate to his characterisation of the Doctor. I tend to agree that he's fairly poorly depicted, and the use of the Time Lord's third and fourth incarnations is an act of desperation (the use of Pertwee's Doctor at the climax is dreadful).
This allows for a nice segue into the use of continuity references - "fanwank" is now a common term in Who fans' vocabulary. And this, the first book, has plenty of it. The aforementioned use of past Doctors, plus references to the Brigadier, the cloister bell, Paradise Towers, the Cybermen, K'Anpo, the events of The Invasion of Time, and quite a few others. There are also continual references to his deceased companions, Katarina, Sara and Adric. I'm a bit more lenient on the last one, as it indicates the guilt the Doctor faces - the first real time this had been developed for the seventh incarnation, and a portent for what would follow, in stories like Revelation and Nightshade. Furthermore, several of the above instances are inaccurate. Ace recalls Paradise Towers, but she never went there. When the cloister bell rings, the Doctor mentions that "It's not sounded... since the Logopolis affair." How about Resurrection of the Daleks, then?
Timewyrm: Genesys is a solid, if unspectacular, start to a new era of Doctor Who. It's entertaining enough, and leads quite well into the next adventure, convincingly establishing the feel of a story arc. It pales in comparison with some later New Adventures, but that's to be expected as the series develops and finds its feet. 6.5/10
A Review by Finn Clark 11/10/04
You know, I can't think of a better man to write Timewyrm: Genesys than John Peel.
Think back to all those Who novels set in the Victorian era. Yup, the politically correct ones. All these authors who think no one's ever said before that the 19th century had poor people, sexual inequality and racial prejudice. It gets repetitive after a while, doesn't it?
Mesopotamia in 2700 BC would give these people a heart attack. You have mindless violence, wanton abuse of power and a paedophilic fantasy of sexually active thirteen-year-old girls. Any normal author would hyperventilate in horror at the problems inherent in trying to address such a setting. Twenty thousand brands of political correctness would burst from their bleeding ears.
But luckily for us, John Peel doesn't care about that! It's the arrested teenager of the Doctor Who authors, sniggering and nudging us in the ribs at every opportunity. In Ace's first scene, she studies herself naked in the mirror and sets the tone for the book. Underage topless prostitute-priestesses? No problem. De nada. Nowhere is there any suggestion that there might be anything dubious about this. (Ace at one point tries to raise En-Gula's consciousness, but on the level of career choice rather than whether or not it's suitable for a thirteen-year-old.) Similarly Gilgamesh's slaughterings are depicted with joyful glee, like Robert E. Howard writing Conan the Barbarian.
Basically, John Peel thinks 2700 BC is really cool. And you know what? He's right! Unrestrained by conventional morality, this book is a blast. The Doctor is aware that you'd hope to find different standards in most other civilisations, but his non-judgemental acceptance of Mesopotamia feels surprisingly right. However Ace's reactions are even more entertaining! Her exasperated relationship with Gilgamesh (more Neanderthal than the Neanderthal) and her outrage at anything and everything (e.g. bathtime) make this book a laugh riot. I roared.
I enjoyed the characters. Gilgamesh is a cartoon in all the best ways... overbearing, self-obsessed, over-impulsive and perfect for driving Ace nuts. Enkidu is charming. The girls (Ninani, En-Gula) are probably the best female characters in a John Peel novel, and they're quite good too.
Ishtar, aka. the Timewyrm, is of course the belle of the ball. Played by Kate O'Mara if you believe Andrew Skilleter's cover illustration, she's vicious and vibrant enough that you'd happily read four novels about her (not to mention the unofficial fifth Timewyrm book: Happy Endings). Unfortunately this would be Ishtar's only appearance as herself. Hereafter she was merely the Timewyrm, a vague technobabbly thing of power but no personality. This book would have been stronger if it hadn't had to set up the following books, to be honest. The ending's a bit crap. Ishtar gets trapped in the Vortex, then the book ends. It's logical and it makes sense, I suppose, but it's still lame.
Ideas I hated in 1991 make more sense in the context of other novels. The idea of the 7th Doctor summoning the 3rd Doctor's ghost because he's Peel's favourite is annoying, but it's almost a kind of foreshadowing for Timewyrm: Revelation's dreamscapes. What's more, the book follows on beautifully from the Perry-Tucker PDAs! Ace's memory-wipe in her first chapter could be the Doctor's way of healing damage caused by the timeline-warping of Loving the Alien. He claims it's accidental on pp21-22, but he protests too much.
This notion even explains the p81 revelation that Ace is a fantastic singer with perfect pitch! I don't remember this extraordinary factoid appearing anywhere else, but for a post-Loving the Alien Ace all kinds of character details could be up in the air.
One feels that John Peel put more effort into this than usual. There's even stylistic experimentation, with the equivalent of a psalm halfway through. The story is straightforward, almost simplistic, but that's no bad thing. This TARDIS crew is also better than in any of Peel's subsequent novels, with Ace circumventing the bad language barrier by coming up with pungent metaphors instead of just lame non-swear words. I chuckled at "professional ceiling inspector" on p100. I've read criticism of Peel's 7th Doctor, but I rather liked him. I was even charmed by the poor proofreading, which harks back to an era when typos were typos rather than the collateral damage of spellcheckers on the rampage.
This book is a lot of fun. Admittedly at times it feels like the work of a sniggering schoolboy, but I suppose it could have been worse. Ace might have had to pretend to be a topless prostitute-priestess. (You know, on reflection I'm slightly surprised that never happened. A missed opportunity for more juvenile gags, methinks.) Peel's later Who novels left me dumbstruck with horror when I reread them, but this was a pleasant surprise. I really enjoyed it.
It Begins! by Andrew Feryok 3/11/09
"No Doctor - I am Ishtar no longer... I have gone beyond the entity that was once Ishtar. Now I am more than humanoid, more than computer programme - more, even, than the elemental forces of the Vortex itself. I heard the Chronovores whispering in the time-winds. They gave me a new name. Timewyrm."
- Ishtar's transformation, Chapter 23, pages 224 and 225
Timewyrm: Genesys marks a turning point in Doctor Who fiction. After years of novelisations and annuals, Doctor Who finally got its own series of original novels. The anticipation was high due to the sudden cancellation of the TV program, and many fans looked to the new book adventures as a means of continuing the series forward. Living in 2009/2010 with a new series on TV and years of books and audios, it is often difficult to realize just how groundbreaking this book was at the time it was published. But not only did it have the responsibility of kicking off the book series, it also had to kick off a four book story arc. With all this pressure, would the book hold up?
John Peel's book does hold up pretty well although it is certainly not a story that can be called a classic. It's actually interesting that John Peel should choose to take the Seventh Doctor and Ace to ancient Mesopotamia for their first book adventure, paralleling the first episode of the series, which saw the First Doctor traveling to 100,000 BC. However, the Doctor never once refers back to that story. Instead, Ace constantly recalls her encounter with Nimrod, the intelligent Neanderthal from Ghost Light, which is actually not a bad move since this story would be much more fresh in a fans' minds than An Unearthly Child. But then again, it was around this time that An Unearthly Child was made widely available on VHS, so go figure.
I have some qualms with John Peel's depiction of the Seventh Doctor. Considering the book series was supposed to be a continuation of the TV series, it seems odd that Peel would take the character of the Seventh Doctor back to the bumbling fool of Season 24 who flew by the seat of his pants and would often get things wrong. He is many light years away from the confident manipulator that he had been building into throughout Seasons 25 and 26. It's also rather sad that in the final battle between the Doctor and Ishtar, the Doctor had to summon the mind of his third incarnation in order to defeat her. What the heck? Sylvester McCoy beats Ishtar by channeling the spirit of the Third Doctor into his body and using his expertise in gadgets to defeat her? But that doesn't make any sense! How come the Seventh Doctor doesn't have the same skills? He's the same person! Or do some skills fade with each regeneration? I suspect the real reason is the one given by a previous reviewer that John Peel's favorite Doctor was the Third Doctor and he couldn't resist sticking him into the conclusion of the book whether fans liked it or not.
Ace comes across pretty good, although I find her amnesia at the start of the story highly unbelievable. It's a clever idea to re-introduce readers to the characters of Ace and the Doctor, especially for new readers. However, let's be honest here. The vast bulk of the people reading these books are Doctor Who fans and have most likely been following the Seventh Doctor and Ace on screen over the last couple of years. So why go through such an elaborate introduction? Still, at least it is only confined to a few chapters here. Terrance Dicks made an entire book out of the idea (see The Eight Doctors if you dare...).
By far the most entertaining characters in the book are the triangle of Ace, Gilgamesh, and Enkidu. Gilgamesh is such a delightfully blunt, barbaric, and brute character while Enkidu, who looks like a savage, unintelligent Neanderthal, turns out to be highly empathetic and intelligent. The way in which these two characters bounce off of the exasperated Ace who is constantly fending off Gilgamesh's not-so-subtle approaches is highly entertaining to read. It almost reads like a Donald Cotton story: the heroic and legendary king Gilgamesh turning out to be not all that the myths and legends say he was. If there is one problem it is that in Gilgamesh's first scene with Ishtar he is shown to be unusually intelligent and resourceful for a man of his time, but then becomes reduced to a silly caricature from then on.
Speaking of nudity, sex, and violence, I didn't actually notice it as much as reviewers closer to the time period did. Perhaps its because I've since become desensitized to it. Today's TV shows and even the later books and audios from Doctor Who are loaded with this stuff. I mean just look at how sexually charged the new series is with its constant innuendos and romances. But, for its time, this was quite shocking since fans had never seen sex and violence of this type in their "children's show." Looking at it from the perspective of today, I think it was pretty well used. After all, this is ancient times and certainly nudity was much less of an issue in those days and the idea of priestesses and prostitutes being one and the same was more acceptable. In keeping it within the context of the time period, John Peel is just able to get away with it.
The character of Ishtar/the Timewyrm was a bit of a disappointment. While I liked her abilities to take control of the minds of individuals by implanting mind control devices through the "embrace of Ishtar," I thought her character was pretty one-dimensional. She spends most of the story bwa-ha-ha-ing and shouting "FOOLS" to everyone like a complete moron. It's actually amazing that the Seventh Doctor fails to take advantage of her arrogance more. It's also a shame that John Peel introduces us to Ishtar from the very first prologue of the story and follows her crash landing on Earth. I think it would have been far more effective to have had the Doctor and Ace land in ancient times, hear about a goddess come to Earth, and have them investigate this goddess. It would have made Ishtar far more mysterious and threatening. It would also mean that her ranting and insanity would be confined to the very end of the story and allow her character to gain some gravity. Unfortunately, we get to know her too quickly and she is left with few surprises to reveal to the reader by the end of the story. This also doesn't bode well for the rest of the story arc. After all, if we know everything about Ishtar by the end of the story, what new things could we possibly hope to learn as it goes on? I can only hope that the future books manage to find something for her to do other than rant!
In conclusion, not a bad book, but not a spectacular one either. It's got an entertaining triangle of characters with Ace, Gilgamesh, and Enkidu and it moves along at a brisk pace. The ending in which Ishtar tortures the Doctor and friends by taking control of the mind of Ninani is quite effective. But the villain is horribly one-dimensional and does not bode well for the coming story arc. The book would have worked far better as a standalone story with Ishtar as a one-off villainess and it would have helped if we had seen less of Ishtar and left her to be more of an enigma to be revealed as the story arc progresses. Overall, average to fair. 5/10
A Wooden Beginning by Matthew Kresal 11/8/10
After bouncing around the New Adventures, I finally found myself coming around to their very beginnings in the Timewyrm series. I was aware of that series' reputation, so approached this novel, the first of that series, with some caution. Sure enough Timewyrm: Genesys was not the best Doctor Who novel I've read by any means. In fact it can be easily summed up in one word: wooden.
The woodenness can be found throughout the novel but especially in its characterization. Author John Peel's version of the seventh Doctor is not the same one we left at the end of the final TV story Survival. He seems to be more like his third or fourth incarnation and this is confirmed when the Doctor takes on his earlier third incarnation and I couldn't tell the difference. Peel's version of Ace is an improvement over his version of the seventh Doctor but Ace comes across as an almost generic version of that character. The woodenness continues throughout the supporting characters as well especially in the character of Gilgamesh who is nothing more than a drunken, sword-swinging idiot. Characterization is defiantly a failing of the novel.
Peel does a good job at bringing Mesopotamia circa 2700 BC to life. Peel captures an interesting portrait of that time and place especially in relation to the religious orders of the time. The song in chapter twelve captures the spirit of the epic tells that came out of this era. Yet, when combined with the science-fiction elements, it is the historical elements (despite the wooden characterization of the people populating it) that win out. The science-fiction elements of the novel are not exactly original by any means and help to make the novel wooden.
Then there is the issue of continuity. The novel starts off with an introduction by the editors of the book range about the use of continuity in the New Adventures. By the end of Timewyrm: Genesys, it comes across as a warning. Peel starts and ends the novel with a load of continuity references, including a cameo appearance by the fourth Doctor and the aforementioned use of the third as well. Along the way, there are references to countless companions and events in the series that really don't seem to serve much of a purpose. Then again, considering that Peel would infamously go on the butcher continuity a few years later in War of the Daleks, this isn't too surprising. There's also the matter of the Timewyrm who is mentioned in the beginning, has nothing to do with much of the novel and suddenly appears at the end. One gets the impression that Peel took his story and just inserted the Timewyrm into it at the behest of the editors and the novel isn't helped by it.
With its wooden characterization, cliched science-fiction elements, needless continuity references and the superfluous use of the Timewyrm, this wasn't exactly a stellar start for the Doctor Who novels of the 1990's. The novel does have one plus in that it features an interesting portrait of Mesopotamia circa 2700 BC. Thankfully. Besides that, it is a wooden start to the New Adventures and a novel only for those seeking to kick off the New Adventures properly.
A Review by Jason A. Miller 17/3/11
Timewyrm: Genesys was published nearly 20 years ago, and as such kicked off the still-going-strong line of original Doctor Who fiction. At the time, I was mesmerized, thinking that a 245-page Doctor Who novel was perhaps the most exciting piece of literature I could ever hope to read. Bear in mind that I was then an 18 year-old college freshman and English major, so I read Genesys right around the same time as Heart of Darkness, Frankenstein, and King Lear. I loved all four books equally.
Genesys has aged poorly in the intervening years, in part because our expectations of Who fiction have gone up significantly. While the plot is fun and still kept me turning the pages, I now find some of John Peel's storytelling choices jarring in a way that they were not when I was 18.
I still enjoy the hook: the first original Doctor Who novel takes place during the first book ever written, the epic of Gilgamesh. As such the story is a blend of the historical (Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Uruk and Kush, Ishtar and Ea) with the time-travel/science-fiction Doctor Who formula (a cyborg female from the stars crash-lands in the early Bronze Age with an evil scheme for universal domination). Enter the Seventh Doctor and Ace, helping Gilgamesh find his destiny while keeping him away from the local beer and keeping the raping and pillaging to a bare minimum.
However, I was kind of surprised this time to realize that here is absolutely no craft on display in the introduction of Gilgamesh. A more subtle author might have left Gilgamesh's identity ambiguous until Ace (our audience identification figure) figured it out two or three chapters later. Peel, however, calls him Gilgamesh from the get-go. And, sakes alive, not every word requires a modifier! "Agga collapsed wearily onto his throne, ignoring the fawning ministrations of the nobles and servants that surrounded him," we are told. Another character employs some very un-lyrical turns of phrase when she says of Ishtar: "She was standing against the wall, in the one place where the wall was not covered by the tall metal cabinets that the goddess had had brought down from her buried ziggurat in the wilderness." Paging Mr. Bulwer-Lytton, paging Mr. Bulwer-Lyttton, we are holding your dark and stormy night at the customer service desk.
Every woman we meet over the first half of the book, including Ace, is stark naked; most of them admire their reflections in mirrors, or have Gilgamesh slurp body shots from their navels. In a historically debatable plot thread, Peel describes the alleged Mesopotamian practice of temple prostitution, and he has the women involved keep reminding us how good they are at their jobs. (Speaking of Mesopotamia, Peel also indicates that the locals are familiar with elephants and tortoises... can this possibly be true?) This is a very different set of sexual politics from where the NAs would conclude six years later. There is more innuendo in this novel than in a French bedroom farce. That's John Peel for you; all tell, no show. Genesys was his only New Adventure and it's easy to see why.
While Peel generally does a good job of keeping the Doctor and Ace on center stage, it must be said that the Doctor's first appearance in the novel is ridiculous: as an amnesiac Ace stumbles across him meditating in the TARDIS console room, he leaps out at her in a comical fighting crouch and his first words are "Didn't I tell you not to do that?" The NAs would go on to define the Seventh Doctor as Time's Champion, but in this entrance he's more the Congenital Idiot from the first year's worth of the Eighth Doctor Adventures. Just to show us where his loyalties lie, Peel writes two other Doctors into the book to assist the Seventh: the Fourth Doctor shows up to deliver a warning (from somewhere during the middle of The Invasion of Time) and later on the Third Doctor's personality is overlaid on the body of the Seventh in order to solve a technical hitch (of course, he botches it up). Who wouldn't want to have seen Sylvester McCoy impersonate Jon Pertwee?
While Ace is the audience identification figure, it's interesting to note in the first few NAs how the authors, middle-aged men, were not quite sure what to make of her. Ace uses Nitro-9 indiscriminately on crowds of Mesopotamians, "having no time to see if they were still alive or dead". Not much continuity from the last televised adventure, Survival, in which Ace rejected a life of animalistic savagery...
Also jarring is the massive quantity of continuity references. At the time, the books seem to have been narrow-cast to the most niche audience of Doctor Who die-hards, rather than attempting to serve as a broader introduction to a wider audience. Trying to read the text as someone not familiar with every adventure from the 26-year run of the classic series must cause a lot of head-scratching. The first continuity reference in the New Adventure canon is to The Deadly Assassin: Ishtar refers to Earth as being in the Mutter's Spiral. While this is fine and subtle, later on we get a clumsy data dump of the first 14 years of Time Lord mythology: "And before you ask, Gallifrey is the world I come from, where the vast majority of the Time Lords live. And the Matrix is a sort of data storage bank for almost every piece of information that has existed or ever will exist." Thank you, John, that is exactly what I needed to know.
Occasionally there are continuity errors, which is a peril, I suppose, of relying on past memories to tell your own story for you: Ace recalls having been to Paradise Towers; the cloister bell is said to have not rung since Logopolis. The Brigadier makes a pointless celebrity cameo; again, Peel seems to wish he was writing this adventure 17 years earlier. Slightly more affecting are the repeat references to three companions who died (Adric, Sara and Katarina, although not Kamelion), in what serves as an arc set-up for the finale of the Timwyrm series six months hence.
There are some effective turns of prose; we are told that "there's more merriment in a field of unburied corpses than in the temple of Ishtar." It is also fun to see some NA trademarks on early display. Chapter 8 is titled "Band On The Run", the first of many NA chapters named for a favorite song. The Doctor also quotes not only from the classics (Hegel, Watership Down), but also Stan Lee. And there is still nothing better than when the Doctor, any Doctor, sets a verbal trap for the bad guy, such as when he unmasks Ishtar's mind-possessed slave by bombarding the guy with anachronisms and gauging the reaction.
As villains go, Ishtar is banal and one-note; she is given lifeless generic-villain dialogue like "I am surrounded by incompetents" and "This has gone far beyond your puny powers to correct." There is no elegant villainy here, just scenery chewing. Doctor Who as a show often lived for its over-the-top baddies, who succeeded (Soldeed in The Horns of Nimon) or failed (The Castellan in The Five Doctors) based on the quality of the actor reading the lines. It is difficult to imagine an actress garnering acclaim for reading the lines John Peel gives Ishtar... but stranger things have happened. An "I must pay the tab" scene, as given to Jean Marsh in Battlefield, would have gone a long way to lending Ishtar at least a second dimension.
In the final tally, while Genesys remains an enjoyable read, it has fallen pretty low in the ranks when compared to its successors (something you would never say, for example, about An Unearthly Child). An interesting game to play: how would this book look today had it been tackled by one of the later NA authors, the ones who helped define the series, rather than by John Peel? One could look to Kate Orman's Walking to Babylon as a counterexample to Genesys, the same way that Lance Parkin's Just War would be an effective counterpoint to Terrance Dicks' Timewyrm: Exodus. With fewer gratuitous continuity references, and a more subtle handling of Gilgamesh and Ishtar, this first NA could still have been one of the series' best even today, 20 years later.