BBC Books
Vanishing Point

Author Stephen Cole Cover image
ISBN 0 563 53829 5
Published 2001

Synopsis: The Doctor, Fitz and Anji find themselves hunting for a murderer who cannot possibly exist.


A Pseudo-review by Eva Palmerton 10/4/01

Well, I just read it... wow!

First I should say that the blurb is not a very good one. The name of the planet was never really an issue, and the character in question was a Diviner, not a Destinist.

Now on to the book. This is by NO means a lighthearted story. Anyone who read the interview on Outpost Gallifrey knows what inspired him to write this book. That being said, this is one of the most gripping stories I've ever read. It is one of the few books I've encountered in which I can relate quite strongly to nearly every major character, good or evil. The characterisation was excellent. All the major players were very well-defined and well written.

A major focus of the story is the tackling of various ways in which people cope with loss. In doing so, Cole commits what some fans see as the ultimate crime - he discusses religion in a Doctor Who story. But he does cover essentially the entire spectrum from non-believing to devout, which is what mattered in my book. (He commits one other "major crime," but I promise no spoilers, and it's one that didn't bother me anyway.)

The story itself is very good. It starts off fast paced and never really loses its momentum. There aren't many surprises at all, but events are laid out very well. There are enough small twists to keep it interesting, but the action alone is (IMO) enough to keep a person reading. I'm a big fan of good uses of descriptive prose, and this book stands up well on that front. I could very easily picture what was going on, which is pretty much the whole point of reading. I also particularly like the fact that this book could easily stand alone. There were relatively few major continuity references, and he left no real loose ends to tie up. In other words, I have absolutely no complaints about the writing.

My only complaint involved the science aspect (which was really secondary anyway.) The major science in question is genetics. Cole was basing what he wrote on an accepted theory, but one that I've been taught to disagree with. It is instict at this point for me to scream in agony when anyone uses the phrase "junk DNA." Just because we don't know what it does, that doesn't mean it's not doing anything! But I digress... :)

This has been my favourite book so far - maybe because I stopped halfway through Devil Goblins to read it, or maybe because I can relate so strongly to where the story came from. I think I was probably reading it more for what it was about than for the fact that it's a Doctor Who book. I also tend to be much more impressed by a story when it's clear that the author really poured his heart and soul into writing it... when it means that much to the author, it has a much stronger effect on the reader.


A Review by Finn Clark 1/5/01

With thanks and acknowledgement to Art Banana, the first Poet
Reviewate of rec.arts.drwho.

Ladies and fanboys, no spoilers are here
So you all can read without hindrance or fear.

This book's by Steve Cole, but to my surprise
Its pages did not make me claw out my eyes.
Yes, it reminds you of his EDAs,
But it's more reader-friendly in various ways.
It's not being "Epic", for which we give thanks.
It's not pointless and macho, with bombs, guns and tanks.
There's no bloody rebels, the Doctor's quite cool
And the death toll ain't that of a blood-hungry ghoul.

It's still pretty grim though, with precious few laughs.
These bad guys don't go about evil by halves.
It's a world without cheer, jokes, wit, humour or charm,
Where life is oppressive and strangers mean harm.
But thank God, that's not true of all men we meet;
The folks we encounter are often quite sweet.
You like them, you trust them and want them to win,
So for their sake you plough through this story of sin.

The plot hangs together, but what's great's the theme.
Religion's been done, but it's so big you'll seem
to discover afresh the concepts galore
And forget all the Who books that went there before.
Here God is real - they know his address.
Life in His heaven is fact, not a guess.
Pratchett's Discworld is similar, but that's just for jokes;
This grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go.

Overall, it's a winner. I can't say it's fun,
But it sets up big questions and then lets them run.
If death isn't death, then should we be grieving?
What's faith, if you've got no choice in believing?
I guess it's updating that Hitch-Hikers thought:
"Proof denies faith, without which I am naught."
You'll care for the characters, hope that they live
And maybe - just maybe - learn to believe.

A Review by Graeme Burk 19/6/01

It is pretty much impossible for me to separate Steve Cole the former editor and Steve Cole the author. Therefore I might as well come out and admit it: Steve Cole's career as an editor, frankly, disappointed me. He started out with the range with some degree of promise, but as time progressed, the books just seemed to get worse and worse. (And if one reads the introductions to his Short Trips books, one wonders if that was just a byproduct of a job which probably wasn't very rewarding). I said in my review of Frontier Worlds that I believed that the books (from both ranges) in the latter half 1999 were among the worst ever, and I hate to say it, but I think that in part stems from a complete apathy of editorial direction and a willingness to let the writers indulge themselves.

But that said, I admire Steve Cole as a writer. I love his stories in the Short Trips anthologies (which he wrote under the pseudonym "Tara Samms")-- in fact I think "Glass", "Totem" and in particular "Monsters" are three of the finest Doctor Who short stories ever written. They had a unique narrative voice to them and prose that positively sang. "Monsters" may be the best Doctor Who short story written. It asks hard questions of the TV series and its heroes but for once the questions felt appropriate and thoughtful. So far, he hasn't been able to translate this incredible skill to his co-written EDAs, but I'm lenient toward them as they were both last minute writing jobs.

This preamble is necessary to understanding my own feelings about Vanishing Point. Vanishing Point demonstrates what I love so much about Steve Cole's writing (and a few things I'm starting to dislike immensely). But it also showed what I wish he could have done as an editor for the range as well.

If there is anything that I think came out of Steve Cole's tenure as editor, is that I think Doctor Who in general became about Big Ideas. The Scarlet Empress, The Blue Angel, Interference, The Taking of Planet Five, Unnatural History, the list goes on and on. They're books obsessed with Big Ideas: history, continuity, canonicity, politics, time travel, paradox. But I found these books surpremely dissastisfying, even though I appreciated many of them. The source of my frustration remained unnamed until Paul Cornell said to me in an interview for the fanzine I edit, Enlightenment, that the chief concern of Doctor Who monsters is often "the triumph of big ideas over small people" and I think that spoke volumes to me about what was wrong with the Big Ideas approach to the books: it was a form of literary fascism-- gaze in awe of all that is nifty and clever, ignore the characters and the storytelling. It's no wonder that the Doctor was so often pushed to the side of these adventures-- the Doctor is emblematic of the needs of small people, the individual who triumphs in the face of them.

This has a great deal to do with Vanishing Point, trust me.

Vanishing Point is about Really Big Ideas: Genetics. God and Faith. They don't come any bigger than that. And as an exploration of these ideas in a fictional forum, you can't find a better book than Vanishing Point. It's remarkably thoughful and, even better, remarkably thought provoking. He uses the great and grand tradition within Doctor Who (and speculative fiction dating back to Gullivers Travels) of setting it somewhere where something ludicrous is true: a world where God really truly exists, where people know where they're going when they die. But instead of dismantling this world (pace The Happiness Patrol, Vengeance on Varos, The Sunmakers), this world is peeled back layer by layer and explored. We get closer to the truth about this world at the end, but things aren't neatly resolved like an episode of Star Trek (or, even, The Face of Evil, which this story is a great-grandrelative). I find the idea that genetics and faith might more complement rather than oppose each other by turns naive and really compelling -- which I suppose speaks to my own schizophrenia about such things than Stephen Cole's. Nonetheless I appreciated the thoughtfulness and nuanced attention he gave to these concepts.

But Vanishing Point goes one step further. In the midst of Big Ideas, we have the concerns of small people.

In short, Steve Cole shows how it should have been done while he was editor.

Cole recognizes that we aren't going to care about the ideas unless we care about the characters and so we have two characters who explore the issues from opposite sides of the same coin: Nathaniel Dark (I must digress: was Steve Cole thinking of the DC Comics character from the 1980s Nathaniel Dusk?) the holy man who struggles with the ideas of genetics and what makes the world, and on the other side, Anji, the secular woman who is left to ponder what it means to be in a world where God is real. It's such a simple technique, but it's incredibly effective in how it works.

That's not to say that the characters are only mouthpieces to a debate. The characters in general are what matter in Vanishing Point. I really cared about the characters in Vanishing Point. I cared about the conflicts they experienced internally and externally. I was even surprised by the secrets they held. One of Steve Cole's gifts is his ability to flesh out characters and make them come alive off the page. Ettianne Grace could have been a dull stereotype and yet I was always being surprised by her -- even more impressive since she was not always a sympathetic character.

In terms of the ongoing character development, it's pretty much the same: Anji continues to be the source of real fascination -- she is a great character. Fitz gets some good moments. The Doctor still has none of the gravitas or steel that made him so compelling during the earth arc. He's still benign and friendly and chirpy with requisite bits out outrage. While I find this disappointing, at the same time I must say I'm thrilled he's predominent through the entire novel and is very much at the forefront of things.

My main complaint about Steve Cole's storytelling is his tendency to leap into comfortable Doctor Who cliche. I winced in Parallel 59 when all of a sudden Compassion found herself involved with a rebel faction, and the same problem occurs throughout here. In Vanishing Point we get (in no particular order): Companions Separated, Capture-Escape-Capture, Companion's Faulty Ankle, Villain Tells All and much much more. Some authors (like Jac Rayner in EarthWorld) would do this with some knowing irony. Others (like Mark Gatiss in Last of the Gadarene) would just celebrate it as part of the Doctor Who formula. I think Steve Cole just uses it as convenient shorthand, a sort of laziness, and it really sticks out given how well developed other parts of the story are.

But I have to say, that complaint looms so large because the writing is otherwise so accomplished. The plot is solid, and while the prose didn't 'wow' me in the same way Cole's short stories did, there are some extremely well written passages in the book -- in fact some of the best writing I've seen from the range this year.

Vanishing Point is, I hope, the book where reviewers (like myself) will finally divorce Cole the once-editor from Cole the writer. As his first solo novel, Vanishing Point shows that Steve Cole the writer is a welcome addition to the range. I really look forward to his next book.


A Review by Mike Morris 9/7/01

One of my favourite Bob Dylan songs is 'Dark Eyes', a hauntingly simple and throaty song that evokes at once a tired, disgusted world-weariness and a contentment with the beauty of being an outsider. It's the last track on Empire Burlesque, a spectacularly awful and tacky album that's physically painful to listen to. And possibly the most important goal in Manchester United's recent history, a spectacular right-foot shot following an inspired sixty-yard run and immaculate chest-control, was scored by, er, Lee Martin, a woeful left-back who was sold to Celtic a couple of years later and vanished without trace. It was his second and last goal for United.

So good things (provided you're a United fan, which come to think of it I'm not any more - too money-oriented these days) can come from unexpected sources. If you'd have told me I'd enjoy a Steve Cole novel as much as this I'd have laughed and laughed. But he's gone and produced something very good indeed. Although it is replete with a fair few problems... occasional tracts of mediocre writing, a sometimes unclear and confused plot, and a few holes and unresolved issues in the central concept, Vanishing Point rises above all these limitations by virtue of the earnestness and care that's been put into thinking it up. The result is a book that's not quite one of the best EDAs, but certainly one of the better ones, and one that I think will have a more lasting worth than many better-realised but less ambitious novels like, say, The Banquo Legacy.

In case you haven't heard, this is about religion. Religion, and the nature of faith, and why we believe (or don't), and death, and that kind of stuff. Or, at least, it kicks off that way, although Vanishing Point manages to marry all that (evoked through two fine characters, Nathaniel Dark and Lanna) with a nice SF tale that's well-told and constructed. By involving the Doctor in standard Who themes (alien manipulation of an unwitting society) this manages to be very much a Doctor Who novel, but with a weight that other EDAs lack.

The sheer brilliance of the Doctor's introduction to this story deserves a special mention. He just sort of... shows up. This was a new one on me. Right, smack-bang in the middle of a fight, the Doctor walks up and is instantly in the thick of the action. Remember this formula folks, it's a good 'un.

The prose is mostly good, although a bit clunky in places, and I suspect POV is overdone, although nowhere near as badly as in the two previous books... maybe I just have a bee in my bonnet about this lately...

Either way it's applied to strong characters (Dark and Lanna, Etty, Vettul) and two good settings, a standardish SF city that's nicely counterpointed by the cliffs and waves around Etty's farm. The city's full of world-weary, tired people who know God exists. They have absolute faith, complete certainty, but essentially they're just normal, and the city is reassuringly similar to any city anywhere (buses, office-blocks, slums). Make no mistake, a lot of thought has gone into this, and it shows. This planet sucks you in; it's believable. So I actually cared for the characters, and I cared for the civilisation as a whole. By the time the whole concept of the "Vanishing Point" had been explained I was enthralled, and boy, "vanishing point" is such a good analogy.

Just in case I wasn't won over, Steve Cole has a sly little dig at poxy tacky "organic" architecture. I appreciated that, dull old Rationalist that I am.

Vanishing Point loses a bit of impetus midway through, and I certainly couldn't read it all in one go, but there's nothing wrong with that. It's when we kick into the second plot thread (genetics) that it all goes slightly wrong. The "junk" DNA stuff is (as had already been said) not all that accurate, although this isn't new for Doctor Who (Logopolis ain't too accurate on the Second Law of Thermodynamics either) and didn't bother me too much. But the "godswitch" stuff is opaque, and required a lot of reading before I fully understood it; and while I liked the "rogue trader" analogy, I'm convinced it doesn't make much sense. I didn't really know what the main bad guy's plan was based upon, I didn't understand all that stuff about fingers, or the reincarnation / DNA recycling thing... maybe I'm just stupid, but I frankly couldn't make sense of it. The basic premise is good, but when it starts being explained in scientific terms it becomes garbled. I think there's a fundamental flaw here; as a book about religion, a certain level of fuzziness is required in the explanations so that we don't end up with the "God's a computer!" clichÈ. It's important that we don't know the exact nature of the creator, or how his system works. But when the focus shifts to the genetics idea, then it's far more important to be specific. Steve Cole does his best by referring to the complexity of DNA, but what is pleasingly vague when we're talking about faith becomes confused when we're talking about science.

Thankfully, this is disguised by a plot that incorporates a lot of running around, fighting and gunshot-wounds, which kept my level of interest up (no irony, honest). And there's more bonuses. Fitz does well here, as he always seems to (writer-proof? Quite possibly) and Anji's relationship with Etty is just lovely. And as for the Doctor... wow. Great. Running around, energetic, and that callous streak is taking off in a big way. This is a Doctor who laughs, jokes, shows a lack of delicacy of feeling, smiles, cares for individuals, and then threatens to break people's legs. This is a Doctor who, when he's dared to set off a bomb and kill innocents, might just do it. This is the Sixth Doctor done right. This is spiky and dangerous and downright compelling.

The ending is good, the fate of the bad guy is satisfactory, and although it's a sort of anti-climax I didn't mind. The last passage featuring Vettul is a marvellous conclusion, and I was impressed by the epilogue too.

But ultimately I don't think it's the "faith" debate that really makes Vanishing Point as good as it is. More than being about religion, Vanishing Point is about being alone. Everyone we meet is alone and tired and in pain (which might be why recently-bereaved Anji seems to fit in here). Lonely people are holding on for others, coming together briefly, cherishing moments of feeling wanted. Brief, beautiful love-stories (all ill-fated) abound, and understated as they are they're the best thing about the book. The only character who doesn't get treated this way is this Doctor... but we already know that the Doctor is alone, don't we?

Vanishing Point thinks about faith, which is nice; but faith, more than getting someone to heaven, makes someone feel as though they belong. For me, it wasn't about god, or belief; it was about a man who feels a woman touch his fingers and realises he wants someone to stay with him tonight.

If only bits of it weren't so tangled, and other bits weren't so clumsy, Vanishing Point would be simply magnificent. As it is it's still a fine achievement, and I can't think of any other book which has surprised me so much. Stephen Cole, you have completely won me over. More please.

One out of Five by Jamas Enright 7/9/01

Stephen Cole is not one of my favourite authors. This is something of an achievement in itself, as while I have authors I really like, I don't have many authors that I can put into the 'dislike' category. Yet, Stephen Cole has earned himself a place there.

This is not entirely due to Vanishing Point, but it stands as a good example of what he's done. The book has the concept of 'what would religion be like if we knew there was a God.' What Stephen Cole then does is give us a murder mystery (from the Doctor's point of view) and a search for the snake in the garden.

But this is done in a very unsubtle way. The motives of the bad guy, Cauchemar, are very straight forward, and he's so obviously against God (whilst still wanting to be with God) that he should have just taken out adverts saying 'I'm the villain, and I'm going to kill you all!' You're trying to take down the establishment and have everything your own way, I get this, get over it. (Which, ironically, is the role usually reserved for the Doctor, but the city officials are the good guys here.)

Not that the good guys are better off. The heroine is Etty (a name I'm more familiar with from Green Lantern comics, so had a little time adjusting), whose family is killed off, she lives on her own, and harbours a great secret that the rest of society must not find out about. What secret? That there are outcasts from this society, and they should be protected. How do we know they're outcasts? Because they're all (using the popular term) freaks! Can we have this point made more clearly please, I think there were some people who fell asleep that might have missed it?

Speaking of falling asleep, no matter how many times I tried to read it, the scientific technobabble about what caused everything, including the 'godswitch', just didn't make any kind of impression. I've heard of being beaten down by words, but this made my eyes glaze over and my brain switch off.

Does Stephen Cole manage to do anything right? Well, he does handle the regulars competently. Fitz gets some real special treatment, although the bit at the end reminded me of The Also People. Anji is sidelined a lot, perhaps out of a lack of familiarity? The Doctor is all over the place, getting stuck into any situation he can find, including the chance to indulge in his unstated passion for cross-dressing!

There are two other characters worth mentioning. The detective, that is the religious Diviner, Nathaniel Dark. His perspective was an interesting one, and I looked forward to his scenes. The other character was the woman he interacted with, Lanna. Their relationship wasn't what I was expecting, and there were some nice twists in there that kept that fresh.

In the end, Stephen Cole provides another ham-fisted attempt at writing a story, not at all delivering the potential of the possibility. It was supposed to be a look at death and religion, and it exactly that in an obvious and overly blatant way. Stephen Cole wanted to write a Doctor Who novel this year, and this was it. Does that mean we're free of him for the rest of the year?

A Review by Dave Roy 5/10/01

Vanishing Point is a novel that's hard to pin down. It starts out as a very nice examination of religion and how people relate to it. There is the crisis of faith as seen from both the layman's side and the clergy's side.

It then becomes a study on genetic engineering, though that part is not very deep. The issue gets glossed over and replaced with a "should we experiment on people who don't know they're the subjects of experiments?" book.

Finally, it becomes an action/adventure story. This is where the book fails, I think. There is a place in this world for books that examine hard issues. There is a place for adventure stories. They can sometimes even coexist. However, in this novel, the reader gets a bit of whiplash as it moves from one to the other.

That being said, I did find this novel quite interesting, and one of Steve Cole's best. While he doesn't write a theological text, the issues are brought up very well by the supporting characters who inhabit the novel. I particularly enjoyed the Nathaniel Dark's character and found his dilemma very poignant. What does a clergyman do when he begins to doubt? The conflict is well-established and his final decision, while inevitable, is still gut-wrenching.

The ending, though, is a disappointment. While I was on the edge of my seat wondering exactly how the Doctor was going to fix everything, I don't think it necessarily fit with the rest of the book. Year of Intelligent Tigers is a good example of how to do a "heavy" book that still has good adventure elements. In Vanishing Point, it falls a little flat. There's just too many "car chases."

It is still well worth a read, though.

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 16/12/01

There's nothing more frustrating than seeing a book that has a lot of potential starting to lose steam. Unfortunately, I experienced that sensation far too early in Vanishing Point. There's a lot of really excellent material in the book, but for everything that it does right, there's something that it does wrong. A few changes, and this could have been one of the all-time best Doctor Who stories, but alas, much of what exists now simply doesn't quite work, ambitious though it is.

The premise to this book is fabulous. A society exists where God is real and death has meaning. Their faith isn't defined in the same way that ours is, as their religion is based upon fact and hard evidence. This is a beautiful premise and that it ended up being mishandled was quite frustrating. After carefully setting up this interesting scenario, Stephen Cole quickly backs away from it and confounds our attempts to view this sort of society by introducing us only to characters who begin the book full of doubts about the "facts" of their religion. The beautiful background simply never materializes, as apart from a few information dumps at the beginning, it never quite makes the impact on the story that it should have. No one that we see has really bought into the religion (though we are told that loads of other people in the population have), so it's difficult for the reader to understand the doubts that the characters already have. People with doubts are certainly interesting to read about (and they are portrayed extremely well here), but one really gets the impression that there was an opportunity wasted here.

That said, the characters that we do encounter are drawn extremely well, never falling into cliche or stereotype no matter how easy it would be for them to do so. Every action is believable and interesting. The regulars get a lot of good stuff to do and each of the secondary characters leap from the page. This makes up a little from the fumble that I mentioned earlier. The characters that we end up being presented with are drawn extraordinarily well.

The action flows fairly quickly and entertainingly. There are a few nice twists and turns to keep the reader interested, but there are also some long fight/escape sequences that go on for a tad too long. The prose is quite variable; while it mostly remains passable in some places it's quite effective and in other places it's difficult to read. A little sharper editing could have fixed these problems quite easily. What we have is good, but needs some further refinement. The ending also feels a bit confused and uncertain, with a few Doctor Who stereotypes rearing their ugly heads. If I never see a bad guy laboriously explaining his intricate plan to the Doctor before allowing him to escape, then I doubt I will miss it all that much.

Something else that should have been left on the cutting room flow was the strange and pointless "romance" that Fitz gets himself involved in. I put the word romance in quotation marks, because it's one of those romances that leaves you unsure of just what happened. It comes out of no where, lasts all of ten pages, and then leaves no impact on the rest of the book. On the other hand, the other slight romance in the book is handled relatively well. It's nicely understated and does everything right that the Fitz romance did wrong. It's just a pity that this one, too, dissipates halfway through the book.

It's a shame that the book contains the flaws that it does, because this really could have been something really special. If it had gone through another draft or two, we'd be discussing one of the great Doctor Who stories. The addition of an another character, one without doubts (or perhaps showing the Holy Man, Nathaniel Dark, at a point while he still has complete faith), would have made a world of difference in showing off the excellent premise. While I will always enjoy something that aims high like Vanishing Point does, it's even more frustrating when a book like this doesn't quite pull off all the tricks that it could have.

A Review by Terrence Keenan 25/2/03

Didn't know what to expect with this one. A Stephen Cole solo entry. The other books I've read with his name on them were tag team efforts (Ancestor Cell & The Shadow in the Glass), which can prove to be deceptive as to a writer's personal style... Anyhoo, the Doctor, Fitz and Anji land on a planet where 'God' exists, so to speak. The planet's population is under siege from terrorist attacks. Not being part of the ideal genetic form is an automatic death sentence. Well, for all the debate about God -- The Creator -- in Vanishing Point the story itself is very much an old school DW affair, complete with Mad Scientist, lots of running around, the education of one of the native denizens on how the universe really works and a big DW type climax ending. Because I don't read the books in order, it was nice to see something more science than magic in an 8DA, even with all the God stuff. Unfortunately that's where the book went a little bad for me. I was spoiled by Jim Mortimore's Beltempest, which to me is the be all on religion in DW, not that Cole did a horrible job. It's just that he didn't go far enough.

The prose is workmanlike, similar to Trevor Baxendale. Nothing to write home to mom about, but not embarrassing, either. Characters? The regulars are well done. Fitz and Anji are great. The Doc gets lots to do and doesn't act like a goofball -- always a good sign. Of the originals? Nathaniel Dark was a great creation, the man of faith who loses it. The chief villain, however, was your typical raving loon, a letdown that could have been better with some tweaking. The others are solid functionals.

Overall? It's recommended -- not in a "Get your bum to the local bookstore and buy it now" way, but in a "this is solid stuff"

A little bit of this/a little bit of that... by Joe Ford 30/5/03

It is incredible how this book manages to get so many things right and so many things wrong. It is one of the bravest Doctor Who books I've ever read but I don't think it entirely succeeds. In a book that struggles with high concepts such as God and genetics Vanishing Point is just a little too traditional for my tastes. That's not to say it's a bad book, on the contrary it is highly entertaining throughout, but I just feel it could have been more.

The best thing about this book is the characterisation. I feel Steve Cole has an excellent grasp on how to created good, rounded characters in his books. It was there in Shadow in the Glass and Parallel 59 and it crops up again here in abundance. I love how his characters are never perfect, any of them, they all have flaws of some kind and that is why you are rooting for them so much, because they are so real. Take Etty for example, caring, considerate and trying to survive but on the other hand she can be cold, paranoid and angry. It even extends to the TARDIS crew, Fitz might be brave and heroic but he's also egotistical and stupid. As the book progresses you get to see the three dimensional characters from all angles and before the end of the book the story is practically self perpetuated by the characters they are so well defined.

The Doctor is written for by one of his best writers here. Mr Cole knows the 8th Doctor inside out (having helped to create him in print) and helps him to display some of his pre COE charm before he became amnesiac and broody. He leaps into trouble in this book, here there and everywhere he is meddling and plotting and on the run. The Doctor is totally involved every aspect of this book. What the COE arc helped add to his character were gorgeous moments such as snapping the finger of the Holiest and threatening to break a guy's arm. It is these quick but shocking moments you remember when the book is over. That darkness he exhibits comes out in unpredictable bursts but when it does it merely adds a lot to the mystery and danger of the guy in a way that makes my toes tingle.

And then there's Anji, new to this type of adventuring and throwing herself into the action. It is easy to forget that this only Anji's third story as she already comes across as a fully rounded character in a way that took New Ace and Bernice five or six. It is quite knowing that all my favourite bits in the story were Anji's mostly because Steve Cole displays his marvellous sense of humour when he's focussing on her. The discovering of the huge space cows and the little orange carrot on Fitz's underpants were very funny. And her relationship with Etty is sensitively handled, initially both suspicious of each other by after the usual chases, threats, etc they are clinging on to each other for dear life.

Nathaniel Dark was extremely well written and I feel it is through him rather than Sheratt that the stories theme was best explored. Here's a guy who is desperate for answers, whose faith in the Creator is dwindling and knows there is a conspiracy of silence on religious matters he is supposed to sort out. Now there is an opportunity for some good drama, and indeed his sudden role as the rogue at the Doctor's side provides some terrific moments. I especially liked it when he smiled at the point that he realised just how much he was enjoying being a rebel! His scenes with the hooker Lanna were excellent and their night together provides the book with possibly its best scenes.

So the characters were all great, what the hell went wrong? To be honest, the plot. Genetics and religion are both strong ideas to include in a SF book but I was willing to give it go considering all the nice things people have said about the book on this site. Its not that they are mishandled but they are abused in some places, when the answers started spilling out about how the Creator can give you eternal salvation and why genetics are forbidden I was left distinctly unimpressed by it all. Its just so complicated and overblown... this race of beings who can transplant their souls into other people used these people as guinea pigs... I mean I was expecting something a little more down to earth than that! Add to this the inclusion of Cauchemar who isn't exactly the scariest villain around and you have a plot that carries no momentum or dramatic charge. Indeed Cauchemars inclusion simply muddies the water even more (especially with the whole Etty/Jasmine thing).

These things wouldn't be quite so bad if the plot wasn't so damn traditional. And people say it's Trevor Baxendale who's guilty of this charge! It's a whole bunch of running about, getting captured, brainwashed, escaping, running, finding answers, running, getting captured, finding more answers, confronting the bad guy, the end. It's all so formulaic it would have made a great four parter on the telly. But in novel form the plot for this story just sucks. Nothing incredible or new is tried, this is Doctor Who 101.

And yet....

The writing is bloody brilliant. I think Steve Cole has been practicing because this book is stunningly written! His prose in the first two chapters borders on the melodramatic (I mean how many ways can you describe a stormy seaside night?) but he soon settles down and the book is eminently readable from about chapter three onwards. His snappy, no nonsense style is perfect for this sort of fast paced story and although I wasn't thrilled by what was going on it was certainly well evoked.

It has the unfortunate position of being stuck in between EarthWorld and Eater of Wasps, two favourites of mine and sandwiched between it does fall rather short of their brilliance. But on the whole the book passed the time, it was interesting in spots and I really did care about the characters. There was no point where I put the book down with no desire to pick it up again.

If we were scoring it would go something like this...

Prose: 9/10
Plot: 3/10
Characters: 9/10
So overall it would probably get a passable 7/10 from me, a good read if a little under.

However, I am greatly looking forward to Steve Cole's upcoming EDA Timeless as it looks as if it might resolve a whole bunch of stuff currently going on in the EDA line. And with his quality prose and excellent characterisation the arc heavy plot of that book should make it a total winner.