BBC Books
Vanderdeken's Children

Author Christopher Bulis Cover image
ISBN 0 563 40590 2
Published 1998

Synopsis: Two empires find themselves in conflict over an enormous hyperstitial object. Past and future threaten to collide and the future of everything could be in doubt.


Van-What! by Daniel Coggins 19/8/98

The output of the BBC book's New Adventures are getting better. Sam, having learnt her lesson in Seeing I, is now more like Jo Grant than Ace. Vanderdeken's Children is a genuinely thought-provoking book, involving lots of complicated yet easily understandable stuff about time and closed loops. The only problem is that the thought-provoking stuff is hidden beneath a plot revelation, so keeping with the Guide's 'no spoilers' rule ruins all chances of discussion of this.

The Doctor is great throughout, posing as a Federation Moderator. And (drum roll and fanfare please..) reveals his own name. No one can pronounce it, leading them to just call him Doctor. Unfortunately it is hidden under a dash, so the reader doesn't find it out.

Vanderdeken's Children is deserving of a double-read
1) because the complicated hows and what-nots aren't visible first read,
2) because it's a great book. Not superb, but great.

If this was a televised adventure it would
1) have awful model work and
2) be one of the best Who's.

Don't just buy it, order it in the nearest bookshop just to confuse the person behind the counter. Altogether now... Van-what! (btw- Vanderdeken was the captain of the Flying Dutchman. Or so says the Doctor towards the end.)

Bulis On Form by Robert Smith? 14/12/98

Chris Bulis has a reputation for traditional adventures with decent enough plotting and prose, but shallow and unmemorable characters. Fortunately in Vanderdeken's Children, he's chosen to concentrate on an area where he excels and given us a really clever and involving story, where the characters are mostly incidental.

I can't rave enough about what he's done here, because it really is well constructed. What works even better is that Bulis' style is straightforward enough that it really aids the complexity of the events, presenting them with no fuss and no deception. A more complex approach in this regard would simply have lost readers, I think.

There's not much to say about characterisation that hasn't been said many times before. None of Bulis's characters are at all interesting or memorable, but they're not terrible either. For the most part, this isn't too detrimental to the story, since the investigation going on around them is enough to keep things moving along. The only time this is a problem is with Rexton, who really needs to be a much better developed character than the one we get here. There's nothing that's actually done wrong, but he's definitely lacking something, given how important he turns out to be.

The regulars don't come off too badly, either. Sam is bland, but not annoying (although there's an amusing scene where she regresses to a ten year old with few noticeable differences!). I never got much sense that this is the older Sam, though. What seems to have happened (judging by this and Placebo Effect) is that some of the more annoying teenager characteristics have been removed (for which I am terribly grateful, believe me), but nothing much seems to have been put in their place. I'm not asking for a hardened Dalek-killer (although at least that would be interesting), but just a little character that isn't annoying. Is that too much to ask? As bland-and-faceless-generic-companion, she works, but she doesn't shine. Perhaps I shuld count my blessings, though.

The Doctor is also decent enough, without being wonderful. His investigative skills are put to good use here; it's a poor substitute for characterisation, but it's better than nothing. Sadly, this automatically gives Bulis an advantage over many other EDA authors in terms of characterisation of the eighth Doctor. It's a sad day when I have to write those words. I have to say that Sam would be fine if the Doctor were a more interesting character. Unfortunately, circumstances seem to have lumbered us with two completely nondescript regulars. I've said in the past that the seventh Doctor was writer-proof (in that most writers couldn't really get him wrong). Sadly, I think the same can be applied to the eighth Doctor, except in this case it's that most writers can't do anything whatsoever with him. What's really frustrating about this is that I liked the eighth Doctor.

I was expecting to hate the activity on-ship (with the Mrs Bucket in space plot) when I first started realising what was going on, but I was quite pleasantly surprised. It does break up the action quite effectively and isn't brought in too often, so I think this works really well.

The 'closed-loop' idea is a great one and my only complaint is that it didn't actually happen. There's a sequence where the ghost of one character manages to alter the pre-determined sequence of events, leading the Doctor to realise that the future isn't set. Unfortunately, absolutely nothing is done with this and every subsequent event reinforces the idea that the future is exactly pre-determined. Consequently, I have to wonder just why this sub-plot was included. In fact, I think that if this attempt had been made and had failed, the book would have been even stronger. If the Doctor had realised that there was absolutely no cheating the pre-determined future, I think this would have really aided the revelation about exactly what that future becomes right at the end.

Minor things: I feel that the bit near the end where the Doctor simply evacuates people in the TARDIS is a bit of a weak solution. Far better, I think, would have been to have left the TARDIS on the ship and escaped via more conventional (and hence more exciting) means. However, I really enjoyed the way the artifact was described and the impressive way it's sheer size and menace was conveyed.

I'm not entirely sure that I caught the other side of the sticky labels on the controls. I can understand why they were there, but I don't know why the other labels were nonsense. However, given that the rest of the stuff is very well thought-out and explained, I'm sure that it's just my reading of the text, not a fault in Bulis's presentation.

That's about it for Vanderdeken's Children. It's one of Bulis's better novels and shows that when he's good he can actually be quite good. The story is impressively constructed and told. Characterisation could still use some work, but doesn't really impair things. Recommended.

A Review by Finn Clark 4/3/99

One doesn't read Christopher Bulis for depth of characterisation. Let's be fair, Bulis has an unfortunate tendency to write wooden characters in cliched situations. His alien societies are generally workmanlike at best, giving the strong impression that they were constructed to fulfil their roles in the plot rather than the other way around. His best book, The Sorceror's Apprentice, cleverly exploited these very limitations by creating a world that was deliberately populated by wooden characters in cliched situations. The ideas and sense of fun in that particular novel were a joy.

Vanderdeken's Children is no Sorceror's Apprentice, but it's possibly his second-best book.

First of all, I love the cover. It's a "proper" SF wrap-around cover, with a spaceship so big that it won't fit on just the front. This is cool. This makes the Doctor Who books look more like "proper" SF. I want to see more like this (although, ironically, the front viewed on its own isn't that impressive).

The book starts extremely well, giving a mental picture of the TVM console room that's one of the best I've read in the BBC Books so far. Sam isn't very irritating. The Doctor isn't blazingly McGann, but he does the job well enough. The various factions one meets do tend to blur into each other a bit, but their portrayal isn't offensively bad. One genuinely starts to care about one or two of the characters, a real bonus in a Bulis book. What really gets this novel going, though, is the ideas.

Sorceror's Apprentice worked because of the central concept. It's the same here. Bulis gives us a big dose of mystery and danger, never letting his characters sit back and relax. The space hulk is reasonably menacing and the problems Bulis throws at us are strong and involving. This book stands or falls by its plot, which is largely good. I did get a little confused towards the end, where a little more clarity might have helped the big ideas to have come through better, but on the whole one keeps re ading happily while there's still mysteries unsolved.

Other matters... I didn't notice any continuity references or in-jokes, thank God, which gets Bulis a big thumbs-up for a start. Also the title's explanation is lovely. To sum up, I'd recommend this book to almost anyone. Don't look for brilliance, but Vanderdeken's Children is a fair plod that's certainly better than his last four books.

A Tale of Two Halves by David Karlin 13/6/99

I've got a confession to make. As you read this review, you're going to guess it anyway, so I might as well come cleanly out of the closet - I love sci-fi / horror hybrids. Naturally, the Hinchcliffe era has always been the touchstone, but I must admit to a predisposition for this much maligned genre in all its many forms. I suspect this bias may taint the ensuing review......

I approached Vanderdeken's Children with high expectations. The first half of the novel built upon a delicious premise (hardly original, but an intriguing blend of Event Horizon and Iain M Banks' Excession) as Bulis exacted palpable tension from the mysterious nature of the derelict at the centre of an interstellar stand-off. Soon, the Doctor is leading an expedition into the bowels of the sinister space hulk, while experiencing the uncomfortable sensation that they are being watched..... It may not add significantly to the BBC range as a whole, but not every book need be Alien Bodies - there is plenty of room for solid thrillers / chillers. And Bulis' 'haunted house in space' scenario is genuinely chilling - right up until the moment the explanations begin. Sadly, the latter half of the novel, in which the nature of the derelict and its horrific inhabitants becomes clear, left me decidedly cold. Not so much Event Horizon as The Abyss.........

The characterisation reflects this general unevenness. While the regulars are pretty well crafted, the supporting cast suffer quite badly. Rexton, despite his significance to the plot's workings, never progresses from the one-dimensional, as a result remaining rather nondescript. Lyset, in a move representative of the novel as a whole, quickly peters out into blandness after a promising start.

Had the novel contented itself with an existence as a thrilling slice of horror hokum, this lack of character originality would not have so detrimental. Indeed, there are occasional signs early on that the narrative is self consciously ironic (a delightfully knowing exchange between the Doctor and Sam upon the TARDIS' arrival in yet another cargo hold...). As it is, Bulis has greater aspirations; ambitions he sadly never threatens to fulfil......

By no means a worthless entry into the BBC canon, Vanderdeken's Children slips into that frustrating cache of novels that could have been so much better. Great title though........

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 21/6/01

Vanderdeken's Children comes as a refreshing breath of air after the last few books that have been sacrificing plot for characterization (or just plain sacrificing both for nothing). Don't get me wrong now, I'd prefer to have both in a story, but if we're only going to get one at a time in this series, it is nice to mix them up every now and then.

This is the hardest Science-Fiction story that the Doctor Who series has had in a while. Derelict spacecrafts, time paradoxes, hyperspace tunnels, and echoes from the future all feature heavily. The Doctor and Sam get to play Sherlock Holmes and Watson while helping two different human factions uncover the mystery of an abandoned alien ship that's apparently home to some familiar ghosts. The plot is genuinely interesting and I was kept on the edge of my seat waiting to see how it would unfold.

The characterization is uniformly shallow with one or two sections where it descends into tedium. I couldn't see how the subplot concerning the husband, wife and the other woman made any difference to the story. I realize that they were also experiencing the same sort of future echoes that the rest of the passengers were and I thought it was a good idea to show some of the other effects of the time loop. But while it made for a diversion from the main action, it was not an interesting one, and in my opinion it should have either been strengthened or cut from the book entirely. Every time that section came up, I inwardly groaned at the cliched dialogue and the stereotypical "tough wife and passive husband" relationship.

But as this was mainly a plot driven story, the characterization didn't distract from it all that much. There are a few places at the end where the explanation about the future time lines seemed to fall apart. I was especially annoyed at the eventual explanation for what the origin of the ship was. However, overall this was a very good book and I highly recommend it for fans of the book series or for people who are unfamiliar to the Doctor Who format. The book seems specially designed for beginners to the line and starts off with a short and unobtrusive introduction to the main characters, the TARDIS and the series particulars.

A Review by Steve White 14/5/14

1998 wasn't a good year for the EDAs, according to general fan consensus. It's pretty easy to see why when five of the seven novels preceding Vanderdeken's Children were either easily forgettable or severely lacking. With Vanderdeken's Children though, Christopher Bulis has managed to stem the flow and written a novel that is one of the better ones of the era.

The Doctor and Sam stumble across a derelict space ship that is being claimed by two different nations at the same time. The trouble is, the ship is seemingly protected by unknown forces and both sides struggle to get a foothold. Once finally on the vessel, it soon becomes clear that the craft isn't quite as abandoned as first thought when the crews are attacked by "ghosts".

It soon becomes clear the ghosts are that of the crews of the two ships, and the derelict is in fact a bridge in space and time, leading to a future where the entire sector of space has been wiped out due to war. The Doctor and Sam are powerless to prevent the future and even unwittingly help to create the time loop.

Vanderdeken's Children has extensive use of science fiction and technology, which I enjoy as long as it makes sense. Bulis has managed to do just that, creating believable scenarios with complex themes without too much technobabble so even someone of my limited capabilities can understand it. The ending is a little bit too complicated, and takes a few reads over to fully comprehend what has happened. The fact that the alien ship was never actually created was a bit of a cop out to me.

The Doctor is done perfectly as a calm, youthful figure whose eyes betray his inexperienced look. The 8th Doctor isn't as manipulative as the 7th, yet you sometimes wonder that, in conceding a loss, if it isn't the outcome he wanted after all. Bulis gets this across very well. The Doctor is also shown to know a lot about the alien craft and to be fiercely intelligent but Bulis never pushes this too far, unlike Gary Russell in the previous novel, Placebo Effect, who seems to think the Doctor is some form of superman. Not a perfect depiction of the 8th Doctor, but close enough that it doesn't really matter.

Sam is in mature mode after Seeing I, actually helping the Doctor in the "Smith and Jones" routine as opposed to finding something to campaign against. Whilst she does come across as a stock companion at times, sometimes it's all that's required, especially when the setting is in such a small environment.

The supporting characters are all done well. The two nations, the Eridians and the Nimosians, make for an interesting side story and friction between them allow for some good characterization. There are a lot of stock characters, but when you're dealing with marines and passenger liners there is bound to be. The major players are done well and that's all that really matters. The Eridians are on a passenger liner and Captain Lanchard obviously is drawn between passenger safety and responsibility to the empire. Likewise, Vega, the Captain of the Nimosian vessel, faces emotional turmoil with sending his troops to their demise just to get one over on the Eridians. On the Eridian vessel, you also have Counciller Rexton, who obviously knows more about the derelict than he's letting on; Delray, who is a famous actor; and his partner, Lyset, who is a famous photographer. Much like his PDA The Ultimate Treasure, Bulis has written some very strong characters, which makes the novel come alive in your mind.

The enemy are truly chilling. They are misty, ghost like creatures who can form whatever shape they like, usually choosing something terrifying. It soon becomes clear that they are in fact ghosts of the crew of the boarding party and of a future war, gone insane by years of torment. It's very cleverly done, and a moral message of people being their own worst enemy is clear.

Vanderdeken's Children is a surprisingly mature, intelligent and atmospheric 8th Doctor novel from Christopher Bulis that is light years apart from his previous PDA (The Ultimate Treasure). Whilst not overly memorable, it deals with some thought-provoking and challenging themes and still serves as a decent Eighth Doctor novel.


What's a Vanderdeken? by Andrew Feryok 6/12/15

I have not read this book since I was in high school, but memories of it were very positive even if I couldn't remember a lot of the details. In fact, I remember a lot of the details of the explanations going right over my head. Now, almost a decade later, I'm revisiting this book, and it turns out to be a hidden gem of the Eighth Doctor Adventures and easily one of my very favorite Doctor Who books!

The mystery right from the start is something that will have any science-fiction fan drooling: an alien ship of unknown origin is sticking out of a temporal portal and two warring societies are vying for control over it without even knowing its true nature. The cover really helps this story because not only do we get a good look at what the alien craft looks like but its dark green look sets the tone for this surprisingly dark story. This may be one of Bulis' finest books for the range, and he is of course a master of description, sometimes even going overboard at times. But here he hits it just right and paints a picture of a spacecraft that is somewhere between V'Ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the alien mother ship from Ridley Scott's famous movie Alien. Clearly, Bulis had this and similar movies from the time on his mind when he was dreaming up this strange and paradoxical spaceship filled with strange and fantastical sights and frightening ghouls of unspeakable form.

The ghost monsters are one of the most frightening enemies that have been dreamed up in a while for the book series. Not only do they not have a consistent form (and recall the creatures from the recent Twelfth Doctor story Flatline) but they are also not interested in outright killing you but instead dragging you through the mysterious barrier in the heart of the ship into whatever horrible dimension they come from. And the more we learn about the reality of these ghosts, the more horrible they become!

Bulis pulls a miracle in delivering a really wonderful Eighth Doctor and Sam. I was not picturing any other actor in the role except for Paul McGann while I was reading this story. I could see him in his Victorian outfit charming Captain Lanchard and Vega while locking heads with Rexton. Bulis seems to give him the naivety and sense that he could lose that comes with the Fifth Doctor while also giving him a hidden maturity, confidence and manipulative skills that usually come with the Seventh Doctor. Thus he retains the wisdom and skills from his predecessor while tempering them with the youthful naivety of the Fifth Doctor. He's a wonderful creation in the hands of Bulis and I would love to see the Doctor written like this more often! Sam is also great. At the time of reading, I have not yet read the Sam is Missing book arc that preceded this book. But whatever happened to Sam during her time separated and lost from the Doctor, it has certainly done her some good! No longer do we have the pouty, clingy teenager who turned into a green-eyed monster of jealousy whenever any female happened to look sideways at the Doctor. She seems more like what Rose would be in the New Series: a character who enjoys her travels with the Doctor, can handle a crisis on her own and is an equal partner in her adventures with the Doctor. She can certainly pull off being a Moderator just as confidently as the Doctor!

The book is populated with many fantastic characters who all have their own backstories and subplots that are beautifully and subtly set up and given appropriate payoff throughout the story. This applies from the major characters like Lanchard, Vega, Rexton, Leyton and Delray to minor characters such as the hero-worshipping Dan Engers and his parents, Lester and his brow-beating wife Rhonda or Chen and his brother on the Starfire. The number of characters are breathtaking when you really step back, and they all reach a point where you are truly invested in their fates and feel a pang of anguish when the whole world seems to be going to hell and you realize that they may not escape this situation with their lives. I wasn't entirely enamored with the whole conflict between the Nimosians and the Emindians when it first got presented. But because we got to know individuals from both sides in great detail, it made their Cold War and its eruption into outright war tragic and heartfelt.

The story is filled with crazy and fantastic science-fiction ideas: portals between dimensions, ghost ships, time loops and even a Cruise Ship in space, which adds a bit of brightness to the otherwise dark story. The great thing too is that Bulis does not leave any loose ends whatsoever. Every mystery he presents has an explanation by the end of the story, and many times things that didn't seem relevant earlier in the story suddenly had great significance later on. For instance, Sam getting zapped by a beam of time energy on the alien ship reverting her into a small child seems like a pointless bit of danger that is resolved a little too quickly to be called true peril. But it actually has a part to play in the story since it explains the epilogue. I won't say more, because to give away this story's revelation would be a horrible crime, since it is well worth reading through to find.

This is well and truly a page-turner that had me at the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, if the characters were going to make it out all right and if I was going to find the answers to these bizarre mysteries coughed up by the author. And, in true authorial style, as soon as we get explanations, it only spawns deeper questions that draw us deeper into the mystery. Definitely not an EDA to miss, and one of the standout books of the range. I really enjoyed this one and would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a good standalone Eighth Doctor book.

PS: For those want to know what "Vanderdeken" is supposed to mean: it comes from the name Captain Hendrick Vanderdecken, who was the fabled Captain of the ghost ship The Flying Dutchman. So being the children of Vanderdecken means that they are the children of the ghost ship, which is actually a clever hint from the author regarding the solution of the mystery!