THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Psi Powers Series
Cat's Cradle: Warhead
Warlock
Virgin Books
Warchild
Psi Powers Part One

Author Andrew Cartmel Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20464 6
Published 1996
Cover Jeff Cummins

Synopsis: Years after the events of Warlock, the suburbs have found a home grown menace. Just who is behind the vicious animal attacks?


Reviews

A Review by Sean Gaffney 21/8/99

OK, in record time, I have read Andrew Cartmel's latest, Warchild. And herein I pass sentence...

Well, I had mixed feelings about this book. Warhead and Warlock were both okay, but they seemed a little...cold. As if Andrew was so determined to write his own book that he forgot it was a Doctor Who novel. But Warchild put my doubts to rest as, despite not having much of the Doctor, it is easily the best of the three.

Plot - Well...I kept thinking of this book as being a big buildup. I didn't realize that the buildup was in fact the book itself until the very end. Things progress quickly, but it all has a "Chapter One" feel. Andrew also appears to want to try and cram as many influences of Stephen King as possible in this book, with CUJO, THE DEAD ZONE, and CARRIE being the most obvious.

The Doctor - virtually absent, as you might expect. He exists to set the ball rolling, then sits back and watches it roll. What else did you expect?

Benny - Since she spends the book with the Doctor, she is also mostly absent. She seems to be more grumpy here than in other books.

Chris - Ditto and ditto. Though a bald Buddhist monk is truly one of the funniest character twists I've ever seen. I've also now firmly decided that Chris is the most difficult companion to write.

Roz - Very Ace-like, and she gets the brunt of the book, shooting things and making smart remarks. Getting a bit less prickly as the books go on.

Creed - Well, this is his book, really. Creed and his family are the focus, and this is where the book really comes into its own. All of the characters in Creed's family are very well drawn, and particularly with Ricky, Andrew manages to capture teen angst very well. He also gets the USA pretty well defined, for a Brit. :-)

Style of book - The main plus. This book is beautifully written, and I can spot a bit of Kate Orman-influence. But this is a Cartmel book, and so you find lots of social thrusting and such. Unlike Warlock, though, it fits in very well. I enjoyed the writing of this book, which I don't usually say. You know me, I like to be entertained, and it doesn't have to be literature! (Down, Heinlein Avenger, Down!) But this book has scads of...well-written prose. Good stuff.

Overall - If you hated Warhead and Warlock, then don't read it. But I really enjoyed this book, lack of Doctor or not.

8.5/10


Is it really a Doctor Who story? by Tim Roll-Pickering 23/5/03

Reading Warchild it is easy to gain the impression that Andrew Cartmel isn't that interested in the Doctor and the series. There are extremely few continuity links at all, with no references whatsoever to the TARDIS or any of the regulars' origins. For the most part the book focuses instead on the other characters, especially Creed and Ricky, with the Doctor and Benny taking an extreme back seat throughout. Much of the plot is driven by loose ends from Cartmel's previous Warlock and the result is a small scale tale that feels very much like an anti-climax after the earlier novels in the 'War' trilogy.

One of the main obsessions of the book is with the notion of the way in which leaders emerge through possessing the 'alpha individual' characteristic. This is detailed in a scene where Chris, disguised as a Buddhist monk, is taking a class in Comparative Anthropology, but also in the way in which people react to Ricky and in the means by which the 'White King' leads the other dogs in a reign of terror. However this aspect isn't as fully explored as it might have been, with the result that it comes across as a late addition to the novel. What's left is a tale of Ricky starting a new school whilst elsewhere Roz and the security forces tackle dogs that have suddenly turned vicious. In the background all the Doctor does is bring a body out of suspended animation. Only towards the end of the book do the various threads come together.

The mysteries of this story aren't very well disguised either. It soon becomes all too clear just who it is that the Doctor has in suspended animation and what the background to the White King is as well, whilst the forces at work in the Agency also fail to stay disguised long enough to surprise. Compared with the scale of the earlier Cat's Cradle: Warhead and Warlock this is a novel that has a much narrower scope. Given Cartmel's determination to keep the Doctor a mysterious figure whilst at the same time not touching at all on his companions' future origins the result is that the regulars feel as though they have been added to the novel to make it fit into the New Adventures. Cartmel is far more concerned with Creed and Ricky, comparing and contrasting the two whilst narrating pivotal events for their family, but unfortunately he is unable to make either seem completely likeable, giving both weaker sides that make them less sympathetic. Cartmel's writing style and extremely short chapters do make the book easy to read, but this is one of Warchild's few redeeming features. The general outcome is a novel that may be a good science-fiction future story but it is also very weak Doctor Who and easily the weakest of the 'War' trilogy. 3/10


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 4/11/03

I thought that Warhead was absolutely fantastic. I was a big fan of Warlock. But Warchild is where the Cartmel train went catastrophically off the track. What happened? There are a few passages that echo some of the more successful elements of Cartmel's previous two books, but those sections are few and far between. The references to his earlier works (Warchild is a sequel of sorts to Warhead and Warlock, but knowledge of those shouldn't be required) are unfortunate, as they only served to remind me of much better books.

The story brings us back into the lives of a few characters from the aforementioned Cartmel novels. This book begins the Psi-Powers story-arc and given the events of Warhead and Warlock, it made sense to have Cartmel write a third story featuring psychic powers. Cartmel does a good job of reusing these plot elements without rehashing them.

So, what is the single biggest flaw in this book? I think for me it was that I could never escape the feeling that I was reading a sloppy work. We know that Cartmel is capable of writing very disciplined material, but he didn't accomplish that this time. The jumbled mood is present in many different aspects of the novel. For instance, the plot can only continue due to laughably outrageous coincidences and implausible actions. Character motivations aren't terribly strong, as people do things for no reason other than the story requiring them to. The themes and allusions that the novel is making might have actually been interesting had they not had all the subtlety of a bulldozer.

Another area of sloppiness is in the use of the regular characters. In the first two books of the War-trilogy, the Doctor is a player behind the scenes. He has few actual appearances in the story, but when he does appear, he's a force of nature to be reckoned with. His presence is felt on every page as his plans gradually unfold. By contrast, in Warchild the Doctor spends most of his time defrosting a skinny, naked guy. He may get more actual screen-time in this book then in any other portion of the Cartmel trilogy, but his impact on the story is a fraction of what it was in those other books.

I know I won't be the first person to state this, but this felt horribly like a Benny and Ace book that was hastily and clumsily altered to accommodate the change in lineup. Roz becomes virtually indistinguishable from Ace (I imagine a simple search-and-replace was involved and then a quick addition of a few cursory "the scowling black woman walked into the room" sentences). And poor Chris Cwej must still have the bruises from where he was awkwardly stapled into the plot.

Something else that I am also not the first person to report was finding the book's portrayal of women to be somewhat... well... let's be polite and call it "old-fashioned". At first, I thought it was just me; after all, I read Warchild immediately after completing Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which has a dearth of strong women characters and a similar immature attitude towards the female of the species. However, a quick search through Google's archives and reading other reviews revealed that I am not alone in this observation. On the other hand, this may have been a deliberate stylistic choice -- one of the book's main themes is a load of nonsense concerning the concept of the "Alpha Male". But whatever the reason, it left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Warchild had one or two excellent set pieces, which are horribly let down by everything that surrounds them. I don't know the circumstances concerning the writing and publication of this novel, but it certainly reads like something that was rushed to print without the necessary time and care being put into it to ensure that it all makes sense. Even the quality of the prose of Warchild seems like a step down from the heights of Cartmel's previous novels. A huge disappointment.


A Review by Finn Clark 9/7/04

The most lightweight of the War trilogy, but also the most enjoyable. Warhead and Warlock were grim, humourless tracts, but this has a sense of humour. At times it's actually fun! On an intellectual level I think it's talking bollocks, but otherwise I'd recommend this book.

Its plot is more traditional than either of its predecessors. A fair chunk of the book is given over to Cujo-style antics with killer dog packs... and incidentally it's amusing to see that Warlock's animal rights message was followed by a sequel in which our heroes kill dogs with knives, pistols and machine-guns. It's like the canine equivalent of a Living Dead film. Monsters want to eat us! Admittedly they're on four legs and once answered to the name "Rover", but they're still pretty damn scary.

The only problem with the doggy stuff is the fact that anyone who read Warlock will have guessed the whole B-plot in advance. However even if you know where it's going, it's still good. That aforementioned humour is sparingly applied, but where humour's concerned, a little goes a long way. Mrs Woodcott and Pangborne are amusing, as is the banter between Roz, Redmond and Creed. I even laughed aloud at p294.

The rest of the book is about Creed, Justine and their boy Ricky. This book's big thing is the Alpha Male, just as Warlock was about drugs and vivisection, but I wasn't particularly convinced by what it did with it. Firstly, Andrew Cartmel doesn't really have anything to say about alpha males. We see 'em in action, but there's nothing to make you think. More importantly, I disagree with how the book portrays them. The alpha males of Warchild are so over-the-top that their powers seem more like magic than anything else. (Thinking back to Warhead and Warlock, that's not such a far-fetched possibility... well, psychic rather than magical, but you know what I mean.) Ricky doesn't want to do what he does, but his talents manifest whether he likes it or not. Meanwhile the White King appears to have telepathic control over every dog in London.

I think this is too much "nature" and not enough "nurture". Charisma isn't something you're allotted, so much and no more. You can be trained up in this kind of thing. Actors do it all the time. It's called stage presence. It's not actually very difficult once you've got the knack... admittedly the personal factor is important too, and the abilities of Ricky and the White King are practically superhuman, but I still wasn't really convinced. This wasn't any kind of alpha male concept I recognised, but more like an X-Men comic book.

One further thing about this book worried me. Reading the War trilogy left me vaguely uneasy about its view of relationships between men and women. Normally there's nothing I hate more than projecting an author's work onto the author himself, but here I couldn't help wondering if Andrew Cartmel was going through relationship problems in the nineties. Warlock broke up a marriage, driving someone into the arms of a third party and leaving the poor spouse out in the cold. Depressing, I thought, but I read on. Then Warchild does exactly the same! The Roy and Jessica stuff is vaguely disturbing, as is the Doctor's analysis of Jessica's motivations on pp250-251. I don't want to make too much of this, but I was slightly spooked. You'll have to look long and hard to find a lasting healthy relationship in this trilogy.

Warchild feels less futuristic than its predecessors, despite being set much further ahead (2032 instead of 2009 and 2016). Cyberpunk has abated. Overall, this is a well-written, enjoyable novel and the only one of its trilogy not to leave me vaguely depressed. Again it gives us strong characters in a vividly portrayed world, though again the TARDIS crew don't see much action. (Roz doesn't do badly, I guess.) Admittedly on one level I have slight issues with it, but as a piece of storytelling I think it's great. The books even work well as a trilogy, as opposed to being random sequels that happen to last three books (e.g. The Scales of Injustice, Business Unusual, Instruments of Darkness). Definitely recommended.


Going Nowhere by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 22/11/18

Let me start by saying that the only reason I read Warchild is because I wanted to read the Psi Powers Arc. I certainly did not read it on the strength of the previous two entries in the War Trilogy, neither of which I found to be a particularly enjoyable or rewarding reading experience. Were it not for it being the first part of the Psi Powers Arc I wouldn't have touched Warchild with a bargepole. Warhead has the most interesting storyline of the three novels. Warlock is a lengthy, tedious and unrewarding experience and possibly my least favourite of all the New Adventures so far. Warchild is by far the the most engaging, the most accessible and the most coherently written book of the War Trilogy, and it actually made me want to read on because I was enjoying it rather than because I simply wanted to get through it and finish it, as had been the case with Warhead and Warlock. But Warchild suffers from the same problem as Warlock: namely, that it really only contains enough of a plot for a book half its length. Consequently, it is padded out mercilessly, and it constantly feels as though the main body of the story is yet to kick in. By the time you reach the halfway point of the book, not an awful lot has happened; the Doctor and Bernice are at Allen Road, Roz has machine gunned some dogs on a London estate, and Creed is having some problems with his home life. This essentially carries on all the way until the 'blink and you'll mss it' climax...

Creed and his family are frankly tiresome. Cartmel seems more interested in writing endless family drama, and for me this is one of the serious minus points of Warchild. When I read a Doctor Who novel, I want an interesting Doctor Who plot, and this is not really what Warchild delivers. The War Trilogy drifts further away from what feels like actual Doctor Who with each book. In terms of the Trad vs Rad debate, I'm equally in favour of both. I really like rad Who books, but they at least have to have an interesting and engaging plot. I'm simply not interested in reading about endless domestic drama when I pick up a Doctor Who book. Yes, it is essential to have well-rounded, fleshed out and believable characters, but Cartmel takes it all a little too far and at the expense of an engaging narrative. As a writer, he seems very interested in the human aspect of the story, and consequently there is much pondering and agonising from all parties. It could be argued, and quite rightly so, that this is a crucial part of good storytelling. The problem is that Cartmel takes it too far, and, as a result, the prose begins to seem like filler. This is one of the reasons why I found Warlock so unenjoyable. Trim the fat off Warchild and we'd be left with a considerably shorter book...

Another problem is that the regulars don't fare too well under the Cartmel approach. Roz is given most of the limelight and as such comes off more successfully. The Doctor and Bernice are hardly in it, and Chris simply isn't Chris. He's a series of actions and dialogue and goes by the name Chris, but that's as far as it goes. As with everything else in Warchild, Creed and his family come first. The regulars are of as little significance as the plot (what there is of it...).

Ultimately, I have very mixed feelings about Warchild. It is the easiest to read of the War Trilogy and the closest it comes to a 'page turner'; this despite the fact that it really isn't a very interesting book at all (I'm not quite sure how Cartmel has managed to be dull yet engaging at the same time, a point which still baffles me). I certainly enjoyed it more than Warhead and Warlock though I'm at a loss as to explain why. But it barely qualifies as what one would call an actual Doctor Who novel and is populated with irritating characters and tiresome dynamics, confirming Andrew Cartmel as my least favourite writer of Doctor Who novels.