Cat's Cradle: Warhead
Virgin Books

Author Andrew Cartmel Cover image
ISBN# 0 426 20433 6
Published 1995
Cover Tony Masero

Synopsis: There's a new drug on the street and Bernice and Ace are finding out the hard way that Warlock is the worst trip of all. A ruthless animal experimentation program is underway and someone has decided to play for higher stakes.


A Review by Keith Bennett 14/1/00

I was not a fan of Andrew Cartmel's first New Adventure Cat's Cradle: Warhead, despite reading it twice. It was a hard slog, with precious little dialogue, and approaching this book, a sequel to that one by the same author, and seeing it had 359 pages, had me in something of a rather dubious frame of mind.

I was then rather relieved to find that this is a considerable improvement over Warhead, and is one of the New Adventures which did a better job at keeping me interested. Although Cartmel occasionally falls into catatonic descriptions of people moving about in their homes, this story moves much more, and people acctually talk to each other. It doesn't seem like everyone's moving around in a dreamlike state all the time - which is kind of ironic, since this is a book about a unique drug, the Warlock of the title, and The Doctor and co's investigation into its use and misuse.

And, in the end, the subject matter, and portrayal of it, are what brought the book down for me. This is a gritty, unpleasant and disturbing story, very well written (the early scene of a group of drug dealers trying to seek out who the infiltrating cop is by use of the drug is enthralling reading) - but just not very likeable. The Doctor, Benny and Ace are the only characters who are readily identifiable, and they are not in it a great deal. Virtually all the other characters seem to spend their time spaced out on the drug themselves, and the two other most appealling characters, Vincent and Justine (from the first story) let us down in the end when Justine has a sexual fling with Creed, the investigator, and runs off with him. This is bitterly disappointing, and typifies the bleak view of the world Cartmel shows us.

It's hard to see whether this is meant to be anti-drug, or "use them the right way" in its message, which is a concern in itself, but there's no doubt Cartmel seems to feel somewhat passionately against using animals as experiments for human medicines. I'm no animal hater, but I'm afraid I found it harder to feel as passionate about that than I did about the gangster-led brothel kidnapping Justine and planning to kill her unborn baby. This is probably the most disturbing scene in the whole book, but is just an aside to the full story.

Ultimately, what brought me down about this is it just isn't Doctor Who. Okay, people want depth and adult-themed stories. Fine. But don't the classic stories we've seen on our televisions contain such factors? This book had me sometimes wanting to run to one of my favourite Doctor Who stories on video, or even read one of the Target novelisations. This is a very well written book, and it is very grabbing, but it depends what you want from Doctor Who of the nineties.

I can accept grim and disturbing stories to an extent (I didn't mind Daniel O'Mahony's Falls The Shadow as much), but ultimately, if they get this distressful, give me traditional Doctor Who any day. 6/10

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 21/4/03

Warlock is a collection of so many disparate ideas and strands that it stands as a real credit to Andrew Cartmel's skills and abilities that he not only wove them all together astoundingly well, but also managed to create a book that was engrossing, absorbing and absolutely unputdownable. It's another tome in his canon of bleak futures and stories where the Doctor is more a force of nature than a guy who bothers showing up in books that have his name on the cover. But its depressing nature is never gratuitous or overly unpleasant. I wouldn't like to see a whole series of Doctor-less Doctor Who books (the little fellow shows up even less frequently here than in Cartmel's previous book, Warhead), but when an individual story is done as expertly as this one is, that is a detraction I am more than willing to accept.

The plot is a bit of a mish-mash when summarized, but it works amazingly well in execution. There's a strange new drug called Warlock in the neighborhoods of the not-too-distant future. The Doctor thinks there's something curious about it, so he sends Benny off to New York to investigate, while Ace wanders off into a sub-plot of her own involving hippies, sadistic henchmen, and animal testing. Some gangsters, drug-dealers, and a sizable dose of trippy prose all get added to the mix. Cartmel takes these pieces and hones them into a rollicking good read.

There's something wonderful about Cartmel's prose. Ace spends several pages simply pottering around the Doctor's house on Allen Rd and it's absorbing. One chapter is entirely devoted to one man being ignored and it's riveting. Four whole chapters are spent waiting for cops to bust some drug-dealers and it's absolutely electrifying. It's one of the bulkiest Doctor Who books published at 359 pages, and yet the words just speed by. How does he do it?

The characters again become something that Cartmel excels at drawing. Even relatively minor players are given intriguing back-stories and believable dialog. This is a more character-based story than Warhead was, which makes sense, given the more introspective nature of the storyline. The Warlock drug plays a heavy role in the plot, and many sequences revolve around the effects that it has on the minds of the users. These sections contain a lot of great writing, with the paranoia and other effects produced by the drug being very realistically portrayed. The portions of the story where characters attempt to navigate their way through the mind-bending and bizarre qualities of the Warlock drug were far and away my favorite parts. The things that Cartmel does here are quite chilling.

There are some minor flaws. One of the themes running through the book would appear to be that scientific testing on animals is immoral and wrong. Whereas, all I got out of it was that scientific testing on animals is immortal and wrong if undertaken by a bunch of sadistic and maladjusted bullies. Cartmel has occasional bouts of playing too heavy-handedly with his themes, which would be enough to derail a lesser book, but isn't an unpardonable sin here. He also rushes the plot a bit at the end, which is excusable given the amount of stuff that he has going on, but also odd when one considers the large page count. It would be greedy of me to wish for an extra fifty pages at the end to give the story a smoother conclusion, but a four hundred page Warlock is something I'd leap at the chance to read.

But these really are minor grumbles in a story that I hugely enjoyed. While Warlock is technically billed as a sequel to Warhead, everything you need to know from that book is explained here. So if you haven't read Warhead, it's safe to read Warlock. If you have read Warhead and enjoyed it, then I can definitely recommend Warlock. And if you haven't read either of them, then stop stalling, and get out there and read them both now. Yeah.

Mature... by Joe Ford 23/7/03

Fans might have been put off by the 359 page length but to be honest it's still shorter than most works released by popular authors. It matters not a jot here because the book is well written and engaging...

But honestly, who the hell did Andrew Cartmel think he was kidding? This isn't Doctor Who. Not by a long, long, long, long shot.

This a book filled with hate, written by a person with a real grudge against the world. The first half is concerned with the experience of drugs going into intense detail all about the ecstasy that comes with the trip. It is absolutely obsessed with the stuff. Then we have an obsession with death and lost love ones. Add to the mix some horribly graphic scenes of animals being tortured, people being massacred in the streets, stories of rape and then bizarrely, hints of bestiality. Oh and a woman strapped to a bench about to have her baby "scrapped from her womb".

It's just all wrong isn't it?

Doctor Who is a brilliant programme that deals with the fantastic wonders of the universe, takes us to wonderful planets of adventures and fun. Bringing the show down to this level is so wrong and a strong reason why people were turned off of the New Adventures. I've always said Doctor Who can be anything but I will take that back if it includes such grotesque pessimism as reached here.

Another sign that this is clearly not a Doctor Who book is the fact that he appears in about five scenes in the whole book. Oh of course he's involved just like he always was during this period, he's pulling the strings but for God's sake! He doesn't do anything throughout! No witty quips or charisma from our hero makes this a very dour book indeed. I cannot think why Cartmel chose to write him out in such an abusive way but his absence is sorely missed and only enhances the feeling that there is something wrong with the book.

Mind you Benny and Ace are poorly used too so that can't help either, the book is much more concerned with Cartmel's own characters and the companions are sidelined quite a bit. Ace is the better of the two, her thoughts are quite revealing here and her principles and morals are exposed with the right amount of compassion. But she's still missing for too much of the book. Benny looks like she's going to have an important role in the States early on but soon returns to the UK to do not so much.

And yet this book has some expertly written sequences. While the animal torture scenes are disturbing to read they are written with absolute conviction. I'm a firm believer that if you're going to deal with a strong issue it is better to expose it as brutal and ugly as it is rather than pussy footing around the subject. Andrew Cartmel's prose is extremely readable and vivid, not quite to, say, Lloyd Rose or Kate Orman's standards but easily surpassing stalwarts like Justin Richards and Paul Cornell. And while the tone of the book is so angry at least it is believably done with some convincingly viscous characters like Tommy and Pam. I had no problem visualising anything either, everything was beautifully described and in some places the description was inspired.

Unfortunately the story stretches a wafer thin plot out into 359 pages. Ace, Shell and Jack are trapped early on and aren't released until the end, in the middle there are simply loads of scenes getting into their heads. Whilst this fleshes them all out very well it doesn't t make particularly pulse racing reading. Similarly with Creed, he does little but brood until two thirds in where he finally steps into action. The story can basically be summed as Bad Drug on the market... must find out about it by creator. That's it, blunt but true.

However the original characters are extremely vivid and you never once doubt their believability. Creed is obviously Cartmel's favourite as he lavishes a lot of the book on him and it pays off well. You get very close to the man and before you've turned the last page you know him intimately in a way only a well written book can let you. Other characters like Jack and Swan also make an impression and you really do care for them when their lives are in danger. Justine's pain is especially real and gripping.

I just don't know what to think about this book. If it wasn't for the Doctor Who label on the cover I would think a lot more of it as it is clearly the work of a very talented man. But it doesn't capture any of things that made the show and the current BBC books so special, engaging adventures filled with wit, action and fun. It is 359 pages of aggression and real life trauma that would make an excellent stand alone novel for the crowd who revel in this sort of pain.

Doctor Who it ain't.

A Review by Finn Clark 6/12/04

Warlock has always impressed me the most of Andrew Cartmel's War trilogy. It's a powerful piece of work, so powerful that it's been accused of being manipulative. It has pungent opinions on its chosen subject matter, which would have pretty controversial even with a more middle-of-the-road treatment. It's intelligent and vividly written. Unfortunately it's also no fun.

In its favour, Warlock's near-future world (probably 2016 or so) is a harrowingly realistic milieu of violence and fear. I admire that. This book is a total immersion experience, plunging you into its menacing world of clever, intimidating badasses and fucked up psychos. This never feels like a BBC set or a set of corridors. Eventually you'll almost find yourself gasping for air. It's oppressive; somehow you don't expect everything to turn out well. This isn't a happy reading experience.

The War trilogy famously sidelines the Doctor, but after a while this book barely even features Benny and Ace either. However what's most impressive is that you won't notice. I was totally gripped by the doomed downward spiral of Creed, Justine, Vincent and the others. These are strong characters in a vividly portrayed world... and what's more, I think the world of the War trilogy plays a bigger part in the books' power than is generally acknowledged. Compare and contrast with Andrew Cartmel's Telos novella, Foreign Devils, which was kinda bleah.

Mind you, the TARDIS crew may not appear much but they're all well portrayed. The Doctor pulls focus like nobody's business when he's even mentioned, while Benny and New Ace are much better suited to this kind of story than TV Ace was in Cat's Cradle: Warhead.

This book wants to talk about two issues, each far bigger than we normally get in any given Doctor Who novel. Those issues are drugs and animal experiments. The book doesn't compromise in the slightest, going off so vehemently on its diatribes that at times it feels almost bitter. I don't agree with this book's position on every issue... but I love the fact that it makes its case in such venomous detail. This is what political Who should be, not the limp-wristed whinging in, uh, certain other novels. I like its anger. I like its courage. Bravo!

The writing is always strong, but particularly good when it comes to altered states (either drug-induced or people seeing through animals' eyes). These altered states are so vividly described, in fact, that one... uh, wonders. Ironically these "people seeing through animal eyes" scenes are far more convincing than anything written from an actual animal's point of view. These cats and dogs have such sophisticated thought processes that you half-expect them to start applying for job interviews and campaigning for the vote. Mind you, to an extent that's deliberate. It's clear from the doggy renal bulletin boards (urine-based telegrams) that animals in the War trilogy can think and communicate on a level that's practically human. Some people might suggest that this goalpost-shifting undermines Cartmel's arguments on animal experimentation, but I didn't mind it.

Mind you, the fate of Chick has become funnier than I remembered back in 1995. Had this book been published after Human Nature, we might have had the happy sight of Wolsey being sadistically tortured to death. Having long ago lost patience with all those dratted cats in the Doctor Who books, I found myself happily anticipating one of the furry bastards getting its just desserts. [NOTE: more tender-hearted people may have a different reaction to these scenes.]

That was a laugh, but knowing in advance what would happen with Justine, Vincent and Creed was simply depressing. I don't mind the odd bittersweet ending in Doctor Who, but for me this entire book became a downer. Turning the pages one by one, knowing what lay in store, was no fun at all. It certainly added to the atmosphere, but I can't say it made for a reading experience I'm in a hurry to revisit. [Though having said that, the last chapter surprised me by being in an odd way almost upbeat.]

This isn't really a Doctor Who novel. Even when the Doctor saves his friends and foils the bad guys, all the excitement happens offscreen! However it's one of the most powerful Virgin NAs ever written and a tour de force of angry polemic. I can't promise you'll enjoy it, though.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by Jacob Licklider 10/8/18

I opened my review of Cat's Cradle: Warhead by asking you to imagine The Green Death mixed with the scale of Logopolis and you would have something close to what that novel was like. Andrew Cartmel's second novel, Warlock, has a similar scale but has the anti-drug messages of Nightmare of Eden and plot aspects Mindwarp, except it's done subtly and in Cartmel's usual bleak style of storytelling.

This time around, Cartmel increases the levels of bleakness for the story and the length, as he is much more passionate about his topic and vividly paints the picture of a future I can really get behind. The plot sees Ace and her cat meet up with some hippies and investigate a research laboratory while Benny is sent off to America to get the Doctor a sample of the newest drug on the market, Warlock. Both plots end up intertwining and the reappearances of Justine and Vincent from Cat's Cradle: Warhead, who are now married and play an essential role in saving the day. There is also detective Creed McIlveen, who is trying to take out Warlock, as it poses a danger, and a plot involving IDEA, which arose out of the Butler Institute as the drug takes over people. The plot is both one of the highlights of Warlock yet is one of its downfalls, as it is so long and has so many plot threads laced throughout the novel it becomes difficult to keep track of everything going on and who is allied with whom and where everything is going. Still, the novel is able to keep me interested in the plot and Cartmel's penchant for flowing prose.

Andrew Cartmel also uses this novel as his own version of Birthright, as the Doctor doesn't feature prominently in the novel, only appearing at the beginning to get the plot going and sending Ace and Benny off on their own little plot threads, and the end to defeat Warlock and save the day. This is a double-edged sword, as on one hand he can be the master manipulator in the background moving the pieces along, as was the case in Birthright, or he could just not be important to the plot at all like Strange England. Warlock actually gives us a mix of that, as there are several points where he is working from behind the scenes, but there are also moments where he is nowhere to be found. When he is in the forefront, the Doctor has the best moments of the novels.

Cartmel also gives us the best portrayal of the New Ace yet. Yes, she was better than Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore's portrayals. Here she is sympathetic to the cause of Shell and Jack, as she despises animal experimentation. Her shining moments are in the first chapter where she recounts her relationship with her cat Chick, who is a character in his own right. She and the Doctor helped a cat give birth, and it led her to take affection to the cat, which we haven't seen in ages. The first chapter alone gives us a great look into her mind and processes, as she serves as the closest thing to a main character in this novel. The way Cartmel portrays her makes me want to see this adapted into a Big Finish play, even if it would have to be toned down extremely for a more general audience. Sadly, this cannot be said about Benny, who is really bland here, mainly because Cartmel doesn't know what to do with her. She goes to America for several chapters to get a sample of Warlock for the Doctor, which is pointless as Ace ends up getting one.

The novel also has a lot of interesting supporting characters. Vincent and Justine reappear here halfway through the novel, which is one of Cartmel's best moves for the novel, as he develops them both into mature adults. Justine has a baby on the way, and they are now married, which makes the stakes higher when Justine is captured and tortured. Luckily, the baby will survive to see another day. Ace meets up with Shell and Jack, a hippie couple who invade the research labs as animal-rights activists. Shell is the more interesting of the two, as it is eventually revealed she was mugged and nearly raped when she was younger, so she tattooed her body to make it her own and show control. Her damaged psyche is fascinating and only get more so when she is on Warlock, as the drug makes her have visions. Jack, while being well developed, is just less interesting as a character. The least interesting side character is Creed McIlveen, who is your stereotypical detective character, even though he gets a good introduction.

The final points I'd like to make on this novel are the two aspects of genius that Cartmel inserted into the novel. First is the titular Warlock, which is revealed to be an alien being that serves as a drug, allowing Cartmel to experiment with its effects. It varies from person to person as the drug reads their mind and emotional state, allowing it to become either heaven or hell for them. It's a brilliant idea and used for a lot of tense moments, especially for Creed's introduction, as he is put under the influence with a group of people trying to discover who a cop is. The thing is, he is the cop, and if he lets his emotions show it, he is dead. It is a terrifying sequence, which I love. The second of these aspects is the portions of the novel that are written in the perspective of animals, mainly Ace's cat, Chick. It really makes you care for Chick and gives a unique perspective for when some of the human characters have their minds transferred into animals, which I love.

To summarize, Warlock is the first Virgin New Adventure to really shine in its quality. I love its plot and the writing style of Andrew Cartmel, which is always fun to read. It is full to the brim with good ideas, and in many places it shines out its predecessor. Sadly, there are quite a few problems with its length and pacing, along with a human villain who just isn't very interesting to read about. I recommend it, as, with these flaws, it is just as good as Cat's Cradle: Warhead. 80/100