Planet of Fire
Caves of Androzani
The Ultimate Treasure
Planet of Fire and Caves of Androzani
Synopsis: The fifth Doctor and Peri go on a quest for a
Believing Three Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Sarah G. Hadley 24/4/98
As a general rule, I approach each new Chris Bulis book with an open mind and a smile... usually, I am rewarded with a good read and a feeling that I've not wasted my time.
The Ultimate Treasure starts out very slow. Peri goes shopping, she and the Doctor find themselves at the scene of a murder. They meet an eccentric character who disappears minutes later, yadda yadda yadda. In a subplot, the real murderers manage to overthrow their even more slimy boss, and in another, the Marquis de Rosscarrino?s daughter waits in boredom. Exciting.
Things don?t really start until page 77, when all parties concerned have arrived on the planet Gelsandor to find the infamous Treasure. Made aware of the ?rules? of the quest, the three groups set out:
1. The Doctor, Peri, the cowardly Sir John Falstaff, and their intergalactic
Lestrade, Inspector Myra Jaharnus.
2. The Marquis, his daughter Arnella, Professor Alex Thorrin, and the Professor?s assistant, Will Brockwell.
3. Qwaid, Drorgon and Gribbs, the late Alpha?s murderous (and thick-skulled) henchmen.
All are being watched by Dexel Dynes, of the Interstellar News Agency.
It?s rather sad that things start to become interesting here, because it all feels like a reworking of The Five Doctors... several groups of people passing various tests to reach a common goal. It?s a good reworking, however.
Myra Jaharnus turns out to be a more interesting character than previously expected. The other characters, unfortunately, do not share the same fate: especially Falstaff, who quickly becomes annoying, and the Marquis? entire intial team, who are just plain bland. Qwaid and Co. have possibilites, but those are unfortunately never explored to any great extent, because they are soon overshadowed by the appearance of... well, you'll just have to see about that, won't you?... who is rather more interesting.
The end is downright disappointing, and smacks almost unbelievably of a certain Fifth Doctor televised adventure (I won?t tell you which, but you can probably guess). Even a certain little surprise, thrown in for only two pages? worth at the end, seems somewhat contorted.
I can believe one impossible thing: that all the BBC Books will be better than the worst of Virgin?s. This book isn?t awful, nothing near it, just not great. I can believe a second impossible thing: that this was meant to be read only as a nostalgic piece of fiction combining elements from all over the Davison era. It wasn?t, I?m sure, but that?s the best frame of mind to read it in. Yet I cannot believe a third impossible thing: that Chris Bulis could possibly claim that most of this book is original. It?s fun, yet far too contrived and predictable, and that?s my final word. I?m off to breakfast now. 5/10
A Lightweight Adventure by Robert Smith? 17/9/98
I wasn't really looking forward to The Ultimate Treasure. It's a Chris Bulis book, so in advance I knew that it'd be reasonably entertaining and completely forgettable within a few days of completion, have a list of superficially interesting but otherwise cliched characters, none of whom would be at all memorable and have a Big Plot Twist [tm].
And, it must be said, The Ultimate Treasure has all these things.
That said, given that it's working within a Bulis framework, it's by far his most interesting book since Sorcerer's Apprentice, making the events actually interesting within their cliched nature. And The Ultimate Treasure, I think, works precisely because it is one giant cliche, right from the start.
The fifth Doctor and Peri are well drawn enough for the book's purpose, even if Peri does say things no American would say (then again, this is actually rather consistent with Nicola Bryant's portrayal in the series!). In fact, the characterisation of the fifth Doctor is perhaps the book's biggest asset. I was very impressed at just how readable and likable the fifth Doctor was and the author made it seem effortless, as opposed to some other fifth Doctor novels, where you can almost see the strain that went into getting the fifth Doctor's character right.
The supporting characters are all passable and completely forgettable a week later. Only Falstaff seemed as though he might prove to be something more than what he was, but the actual explanation, while workable enough, seemed something of a letdown. I thought the nature of Red was actually rather silly, having guessed it in advance. I can, in a sense, see why it was done, but I think it drastically undermines the thematic flow of the tragedy of season 21. Then again, this is a Missing Adventure, and very few of them seem to have understood the nature of the series they were supposed to be slotting in to, so I suppose I can't really single out this book for that fault.
The actual nature of the treasure was passable enough, also (despite the attempt at a moral at the end). Not too hard to work out if you put a moment's thought into it, but that's not really the point. It's nice to see a book where there aren't any loose ends hanging around and I can appreciate the thought that went into it, even if I don't find that thought particularly deep. Similarly, the nature of most of the trials the various expeditions have to go through is entertaining enough and it's good to see that there was enough diversity that these didn't get boring. It only becomes a pity when there's a scene lifted almost word for word from Pyramids of Mars. The author even apologises for this through the characters! I thought that scene should have either been removed or made more clever with reference to Pyramids because the way it sits at the moment it looks awkward and somewhat cynical, as though the author was simply being lazy at that point.
The Ultimate Treasure isn't a particularly memorable book, but it's not a particularly bad one either. If you're hoping for something with the cleverness and the thematic flow of season 21 you're going to be disappointed, but if you're looking for a nice piece of Doctor Who fiction that has the fifth Doctor and Peri well characterised and doesn't make too many mistakes, then you could do a lot worse than this book. Lightweight, to be sure, but pleasing enough in the short term.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 25/6/01
Lightweight is perhaps the best and kindest way to describe The Ultimate Treasure. It is neither too memorable nor too bad. It does have strong characterisation where the regular team of the Fifth Doctor and Peri are concerned, however even if the supporting players are cliched and forgettable. The plot reads as a role-playing adventure, and is somewhat predictable, with not enough twists and turns to surprise the reader. One of Chris Bulis` poorer offerings overall.
A Review by Finn Clark 13/6/04
The Ultimate Treasure is one of Christopher Bulis's lesser books, if you think that's a meaningful statement. It's a sub-bog-standard magical quest with a sprinkling of SF trappings for the robots and ray guns crowd, so its plot is essentially a random assortment of challenges and logic problems. To give you an idea of this book's intellectual level, its first puzzle is the hoary "liar or truth teller" chestnut we last groaned at in Pyramids of Mars. Only the page count indicates that this book wasn't written for ten-year-olds.
So why did I enjoy it so much?
I think it's a question of reader expectation. You'll be sorely disappointed if you pick up a Bulis book expecting characterisation, depth or anything else one normally finds in a novel. I've just described The Ultimate Treasure as being written for ten-year-olds and that wasn't random abuse. As with Eye of the Giant, this feels like a novel-length World Distributors annual. Doctor Who has a long-standing tradition of lowbrow children's entertainment, including books, comic strips, Sky Ray ice lollies and even a few TV stories. Nothing wrong with that! I love those old TV Comic strips. I thus managed to enjoy this chunk o' Bulis by viewing him as writing firmly in that tradition.
It's possible that such books improve on second reading. Reader expectation can be a terrible thing... but nothing could knock your expectations of The Ultimate Treasure lower than having read it before! You've already felt the pain of the linear storyline, childish plot points, laughable characterisation and gratuitous retconning. However if you're steeled against those blows, there's a lot to enjoy here.
For starters, the book doesn't completely submit to its quest-based plot structure. It flags in the second half, but rival teams of treasure-seekers provide incident and jolly adventure. These bad guys would look dumb in a Terrance Dicks novel, but they're instantly recognisable as second cousins to the regular villain's comedy henchmen in cartoons like Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. They're comfortable to read about. Dexel Dynes (the slimeball journalist who returned for Palace of the Red Sun) is two-dimensional, but he's also a good old-fashioned hate figure who deserves everything he gets. He's fun too. 'Sir John Falstaff' is annoying, but I liked Inspector Myra Jaharnus the Tritonite. She's refreshingly down-to-earth and direct, not caring two hoots about the treasure but simply wanting to arrest bad guys.
The other characters blend into each other, with Brockwell's love for Arnella being comically undermined by the reader's inability to tell 'em apart. The Bulis likes an occasional romantic subplot, but this is risible even by its standards. The 5th Doctor and Peri are appallingly shallow, but at least the Doctor gets to show off his brains by cracking the Gelsandorans' puzzles single-handedly.
Curiously, this book has a fair bit of Whoniverse history if you're prepared to dig for it. It invents a Cartovallian Empire (c.2000 BC) and builds a slight plot point around the fall of the Earth Empire in the 31st century. This seems to be a favoured Bulis era, with four of its books set here or hereabouts: this book plus The Sorceror's Apprentice, Palace of the Red Sun and Vanderdeken's Children.
This is a forgettable book that almost redefines the word 'throwaway'. (The proofreading's horrible too.) It's not down there with Shadowmind and A Device of Death, which start scrubbing themselves from your brain before you've even finished 'em, but I can't imagine anyone particularly caring about this book. However anyone looking for mindless entertainment could do worse. It's like turning on the television. It doesn't make you think or challenge the brain, but runs in circles for 281 pages and then dies. However on its own terms, I had a lot of fun with it.
A Review by Brian May 8/6/05
To sum up The Ultimate Treasure in one word, that word would be "fun".
But then that would be a very short review.
So, to stretch things out, it's an intelligently written, well-paced adventure tale, with good characters and ideas. Of course, it's all highly unoriginal, the premise being clich? to the hilt, but Christopher Bulis has realised this from the beginning and so makes no apologies. It's no more than a quest adventure: a treasure hunt on an alien planet, with the usual obstacle courses, pitfalls and a twist at the end. But often the best kind of rollicking adventures you can hope for are similarly derivative. You just have to hope they're done well, as is the case with this adventure.
The characters are all well thought out. Alpha is a more than interesting villain; Bulis leaves much ambiguity to who, or what, he exactly is. But he's a wonderfully sophisticated, cold, nasty and amoral individual; his final transformation at the end convincingly makes him a formidable foe, and his rationalised killing of Qwaid (p.238) is a very good moment. Qwaid, Gribbs and Drorgon are your stock standard henchmen, but they're all expanded on just that little bit further - Qwaid especially. The team of the Marquis, Thorrin, Arnella and Brockwell are perhaps the most hackneyed of the lot - and in many ways they remind me of Bulis's 1930s ship crew from The Eye of the Giant - although they're much better. It's obvious the nice guy Brockwell will win the heart of the frosty aristocrat Arnella, the latter of whom will realise that class and rank isn't everything - but the evolution of their relationship is carried out with a considerable charm that you can't help but barrack for them.
Jaharnus and Falstaff are excellent. The former is a great take on the cynical, veteran cop, while the latter is wonderfully flamboyant and bombastic, taking on the attributes of his Shakespearean alter ego, which is slowly peeled away to reveal his true identity, unmasking a genuinely sad and pathetic man. The Doctor and Peri are remarkably faithful to their televised versions - Peter Davison comes to life on the pages, complete with mannerisms, shrugs and sighs of "mild despair" very convincingly. The author has also written Peri exceptionally well - from her perspective, this adventure takes place immediately after Planet of Fire, so she's new to the whole space/time travel experience. Bulis uses her first moments to adroitly convey her wonder and awe at the journey she has commenced. He doesn't put her through too much, appreciating that for The Caves of Androzani, Peri needs to be fairly new to life with the Doctor (cf. see my review of Superior Beings for more on this).
The treasure hunt plot moves along nicely. The pacing stops and starts, but this suits the story well. The expository scenes in Astroville Seven are definitive and to the point, so too is the set-up with Shalvis on Gelsandor. After this, there's the risk of the reader being bored by continual obstacle after obstacle, so Bulis gives us one problem for the treasure hunters to face before shifting elsewhere, although never spending an overt amount of time away from the main action. Some of these "away" moments are quite thrilling to read - Dynes "interviewing" Peri and Gribbs (Peri is fantastic when she gets the better of her captor) and the crash of the Falcon are high points. The scenes in the village of Braal are well depicted, reminiscent of many a fantasy novel, and make for a nice interlude, until the reader is jolted back to reality with the sudden and unexpected advent of the trial.
The obstacles faced by the treasure hunters are interesting to read; the flight of steps is a particularly clever idea. There is one glaring exception however - the rip-off from Pyramids of Mars. Since it began in 1991, original Doctor Who fiction has constantly referred to the television series, sometimes in clever and often charming tributes, but more so in shameless gratuity. The above example leans dangerously towards the latter. It's a case of mere copying; an attempted clever nod that falls embarrassingly flat.
There is one other link to the televised series, in the form of Kamelion. On my first reading I dismissed it the way of the Pyramids reference, but picking up the novel again I find this not to be the case at all. The recent events of Planet of Fire, especially the android's death, make this so. Although I still believe his presence didn't work for other reasons (his disguise as Red feels a little too deus ex machina at times), resolving his relationship to both the Doctor and Peri is nicely done. Indeed, his second death is more tragic than his first.
Overall, Christopher Bulis has given us a simply but skilfully plotted adventure story. Of course, the treasure is not what it appears to be. The plot twist, while not unexpected, is a satisfying one and quite consistent with the philosophy prevalent in the Peter Davison era (Snakedance, Enlightenment). The literalism in the descriptions of what lies behind the four doors (pp. 256-257) is masterfully done, as is the case when the Seers make their prophecies in the opening chapter. Bulis hides the wood among the trees, making sure we have to go back a few times and read things more carefully. Such thoughtfulness, added with clever prose, good characters and an enjoyable plot, makes The Ultimate Treasure, going back to this review's opening sentence, good fun. 8/10
A Review by Steve White 26/3/13
The Ultimate Treasure was the first Past Doctor Adventure I read back in 1998 and, in order to write a fair review (and also because I'm reading them all in order), I read it again.
It features the 5th Doctor and Peri, which was the main reason I bought it back in the day. Peri was always my favourite companion and she didn't get much time with the 5th Doctor on screen; I felt her appearances with the 6th were tainted slightly by the way the 6th was written. The book starts with the Doctor taking Peri to a massive space shopping centre called Astroville. Think Lakeside, but even odder. Whilst there, they stumble across a dodgy antiques dealer who has given coordinates to the location of Rovan's Treasure (aka the Ultimate Treasure) to various parties. Unsurprisingly, the Doctor and Peri get dragged along for the ride. An exciting premise and it makes you want to read the book.
It is similar to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in places, with rival gangs searching for the treasure/grail going through varying challenges along the way. For the most part, this is entertaining, but some bits do drag on a bit too long, which is a shame as it could easily have been shortened. For example, the treasure hunters don't actually get to the start of their quest until around page 80. The plot goes through many twists and turns before the end, but none of them are unexpected, except the return on Kamelion, but more on that later. The end twist wasn't unexpected as I'd read it before, but even if I hadn't, it's pretty obvious. Essentially The Ultimate Treasure offers nothing new or original, but is still strangely entertaining.
Both the Doctor and Peri are written as you'd expect them to be on screen, with Peri getting some pretty good character-building, as this is her first story after meeting the Doctor in Planet of Fire. The supporting characters are all very well written with the exception of Thorrin's team, who fade in and out of obscurity at times. However, for the most part, you still know exactly who is who and how they are with only the smallest of introductions. For me, this is the mark of a good author, so Bulis gets credit for this, despite many characters being stereotypes.
I especially liked the character of Falstaff, who pretends he is the character from Shakespeare when he clearly isn't. As the book goes on, more and more of his good-natured charade is dropped and it really is interesting stuff. Likewise, the Police Inspector from Astroville, Jaharnus, is a joy to read. Maybe it is because she isn't human, but I found her riveting. If the range was still going I'd be asking for more of her please Mr Bulis. On the flip side, a character is introduced midway through called Red who turns out to be Kamelion, who was supposedly killed in the previous story, Planet of Fire, and who dies for a second time here. Essentially Peri needs to be rescued by someone, or something, but quite why Bulis decided to resurrect him for this is beyond me, I'd have left the annoying robot dead and found some other way to help Peri. Red himself was cool, but when he turned into Kamelion I was a little disappointed.
In summary, The Ultimate Treasure is an inoffensive 5th Doctor story, which remains loyal to the TV era. It breaks no ground, but it is entertaining nonetheless. You could do far worse than this book.