Planet of Evil
|ISBN#||0 563 40597 X|
Arc of Infinity and Snakedance.
Planet of Evil
|Synopsis: The Doctor returns to the planet of Zeta Minor, 2,000 years after his last visit. There he finds the Morestrans are again attempting to remove the minerals from the planet and causing the anti-matter universe to spill over into ours.|
Recipe for Disaster by Daniel Coggins 8/9/98
Line to learn by heart: "Of the Doctor, none can say. He and the
handmaiden Sair-Ah were gone. Only Sorenson knew whence and he spake
only of a blue box which although small to unbelievers could contain a
thousand faithful souls."
Leyenda Negra, New Testament, CHAPTER 22, VERSES 56-61
And so the events of Planet of Evil become part of the Morestran holy book in Zeta Major, Simon Messingham's second Doctor Who novel. His first, Strange England, was the first and last Virgin NA I ever read. Draw your own conclusions.
In Zeta Major, he attempts to create a sequel to Planet of Evil. Zeta Major's main problem is that it has good and bad attributes so far apart that it threatens to tear a whole in the Space/Time vortex between our universe and Doctor Who's (The Whoniverse?). And it does, neatly despositing a video of Planet of Evil on Morestra, where it becomes a holy artefact (and the title sequence is described as some 'video and audio feedback'.). This is one of Zeta Major's best bits, which rather illustrates it sheer genius. Unfortunately, it also collides head on with the tedius and dull, as boring and confusing as Dullest Day. And while something like Eye of Heaven was confusing, it was at least interesting.
In this novel, you really can't enjoy the strokes of genius whilst wading through complete and utter rubbish. It's good bits (which really are great) are buried so deep that this novel is not advisable for all but the most patient and thorough Who fan.
Two Parts Great, One Part Bad by Robert Smith? 18/1/99
Zeta Major is quite a sophisticated book, in many ways. Spinning off from the tail end of Planet of Evil, it's taken a couple of ideas from its source material and developed them wonderfully. A lot of thought has obviously gone into the consequences of the premise, but there's also quite a bit of skill employed to make it all work.
One of the best things about it is the characters. Every single one of the Morestrans is thoroughly rotten to the core and this works wonderfully. There's political in-fighting, backstabbing, treachery and violence, but what's really good about it is that this works. I've seen this technique tried on other occasions and it really needs skill to pull off. Fortunately, Messingham has come a very long way since Strange England and there are some great bits of writing here.
The development of the consequences of Louis Marks' teleplay are also a highlight. Setting the story 2,000 years later is quite a touch, since we only get brief glimpses into the events post-Planet of Evil, many of which are thoroughly unreliable. This is so well done that I'm still undecided whether saying that Salamar survived the expedition is a continuity error or a deliberate act. Unfortunately, there's less excuse for the bit when the Doctor remembers that Sorenson died, but since other sequences obviously have him surviving, I think this can be overlooked.
The suppression of technology is a great way around the problem of 2,000 years of development. Ordinarily, you'd expect the Empire to have moved far, far beyond the levels they were at then, but this device allows a certain continuity with events from before that greatly aids the setting.
Sadly, the main problem with the book is the regulars. The device that gets the Doctor involved initially looks incredibly contrived, even when we later find out that it isn't. Tegan and Nyssa aren't given a whole lot to do and even the Doctor never feels right. I kept finding myself wanting to hurry past the bits with the TARDIS crew in them and get back to Messingham's original characters, who were simply a lot more fun. In some ways this is a bad thing, because I like to have a good grounding in the regular characters when I read Doctor Who fiction; on the other hand, this is such an unusual occurrence that I'm almost willing to overlook it.
I did enjoy the sequence where Nyssa discovers the truth about the Energy Tower. I thought this was a great use of her character and also a really well done way to bring home what was really going on. The initial sequence with the TARDIS crew getting separated reads like a great Doctor Who cliche... until they're just as conveniently reunited a few pages later. This works on a humourous level, but also gives Tegan the only really good bit she gets, with her interaction with Kristyan Fall. The Doctor also has one really good sequence, in the bit where he manages to completely outplot the villains (which works even better since he's done very little until this point, although I don't think this excuses the fact that he's had nothing to do thus far!). Other than a single good bit for each character, the regulars seem really poorly served by this book and I'm really not sure why.
The other problem I found was the ending. After the delights of the setup and the Morestran society and its inhabitants, I found the final third of the book to be a woeful letdown. The return to Zeta Minor sounds like a great idea, but it's done so badly here that I can't help but feel Messingham's original approach of keeping the source material at a great distance would have worked better. Sequels almost always fall down the instant they stop respecting the original and here the retconning of the original story causes this one to lose points.
I liked the constant use of different media to tell the story. As well as giving a different view on the events, this really broke the story up and enhanced it, so I never felt bored with the events. I did also enjoy the Doctor's little speech about the ridiculous science employed in Planet of Evil, mainly because this is delivered so tongue-in-cheek and the story doesn't dwell on it. There's also the marvellous sequence where somebody finds a copy of the video of Planet of Evil, complete with title sequence. That's got to be a definite highlight and the book is almost worth it for this alone.
Zeta Major really is a good book, but the regulars and the ending drag it down. I love what it did with the consequences of the source material and the original characters are a joy to behold, but it's frustrating to see something which was so good degenerate into something so mediocre at the end. However, given the enormous difference in quality between this and Strange England, I'm really looking forward to Messingham's next book. If he can make a similar leap of quality, we should be in for a treat indeed.
A Review by Dr. Terry Evil 18/4/99
Where did this one come from? A decidedly unpromising sequel to a decidedly dull story by a decidedly average writer. And it's bloody marvellous. Seeing I was the last book that caused me to stay up till 5am, desperately turning pages. Welcome to that club Mr Messingham.
I usually don't bother with MAs, but I took a flyer on this one. I don't really know how to begin to describe this book. It's got plots, counter-plots, splendidly amoral secret agents and a story that twists, turns and motors like a bastard from page one. Pedants may wish to point out that the characters of the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa aren't quite what we know and love, but who cares? They are recognisable and there's no reason why they wouldn't behave like this, given this particular situation (the Doctor even gets to say "Was that really necessary?" when an 'ally' callously kills someone). Other characters are fantastic -- the pointedly named Krystian Fall, 'the zero man who cannot lose'; Ferdinand, bloodily exorcising his demons; Hippolato and Antonio, the loving regents; various fat, cowardly church types. All are excellently realised and worth the price of admission alone.
How many other great things are there? The Doctor's sniping annoyance at being a messiah figure (always liked that idea since The Face of Evil); the little side story of Barldvin; 'I'm the [deleted] Pope!'; Tegan trying to rationalise Ferdinand; 'ante-matter'; the realistic portrait of a thoroughly sexist society (Lesser Ward indeed); the documents which enlighten the main text, especially the Watch Tower periodical; the fact that you are half way through and you've had more twists and revelations than you can possibly handle...
Imagine I, Claudius meets the Borgias meets Iain Banks meets Doctor Who at its most challenging. Buy this book; you'll either hate it or, if you have any sense, you'll love it to bits.
A Requiem in the Key of Zeta Major by Jason A. Miller 11/6/99
There's a scene in the middle of Zeta Major in which three characters find themselves watching, on video cassette, the actual Doctor Who episode to which this book is a sequel - 1975's Planet of Evil, the creaky Tom Baker vehicle which never quite stood out as one of producer Philip Hinchcliffe's great triumphs.
This scene, which lasts all of two pages and is the one truly light moment in the novel, represents everything that's both good and bad about Zeta Major, Simon Messingham's second Doctor Who novel, and his first in nearly four years. On the one hand, as a sequel to a story older than a sizeable segment of on-line Doctor Who fandom, it's a great success. Messingham takes prominent recurring themes from the seed story and spins an entirely new tale, set two thousand years into Planet of Evil's future. On that level, Zeta Major is fresh and original, the embellishments to Morestran civilization fascinating (though it helps that he gets to work with the very strong ideas planted by Louis Marks in the original). Further, the events within Planet of Evil itself are given literal apotheosis - the book is interspersed with dialogue from the original story, quoted as chapter and verse.
On the other hand, Zeta Major is Dark, capital D. It's also Grim, and Nasty. Cynical. Twisted. Gritty. After thirty pages, I found this intriguing. After a hundred and fifty pages, I was exhilirated. After two hundred and eighty pages (as with any BBC novel, this book runs exactly 280 pages in length), I was... bored. There's only so far you can take the dystopian approach with a fictional civilization without having something to say, and ultimately, Simon Messingham has little new to tell us about our own pre-millennial ciilization. While there's a novelty to the manners of gruesome death -- and energy invested in satiric riffs at Roman Catholic and Mafia traditions, at the end of the day, one can't be blamed for feeling somewhat ill-used.
While this is nominally a Fifth Doctor adventure, the Doctor on the printed page is hard to swallow without accompanying sips of televised Peter Davison stories, preferably viewed in between readings. Tegan and Nyssa are relevant to the plot - indeed, Nyssa's print potential has always been unlimited - but Zeta Major could easily been written for nearly any other team of companions and Doctor. The book doesn't suffer as a result of the generic characterizations, fortunately - there's far too much else to worry about.
A Review by Finn Clark 14/6/99
Simon Messingham's last book, Strange England, struck me at the time as a pile of poo. There was talent in there, struggling to get out, but for me it was yet another gratuitously confusing book in a line that specialised in that kind of thing. I just turned right off, though I'm sure there was lots of excellent stuff in there. Thankfully I enjoyed Zeta Major much more.
The first thing to realise is that this book is full of bastards. Utter bastards like you've never seen before in a Doctor Who book, ever. Imagine the most disgustingly callous git in any Who book you've read. Well, this is a whole society full of people like that. It's completely riveting in its own horrific way, much as one slows down to watch traffic accidents. Did that man really do that? Yup, 'fraid so. He did this too. Oh, and this. Such a book should theoretically have been a complete turn-off for me, since I normally have a very low tolerance threshold for stories jam-packed full of unsympathetic characters. Simon Messingham avoids this trap and I'm still trying to work out how. I mean, these guys are nasty. When told of one of their particularly unpleasant habits, Nyssa simply refuses to believe it (and I don't blame her).
This gives the story an immediacy that is rare in the PDAs. When Messingham hints at books bound in flesh and inked in blood, you believe him. When a bad guy demands the immediate execution of Tegan, you actually take it seriously. This is an incredible feat. We all know that nothing's going to happen to the TARDIS crew in a PDA. I mean, they even tell us which TV story the regulars will be going on to next. I don't know how well it sits in the Davison era (although I can imagine it more easily from Saward than from certain others) but quite frankly who cares?
The society is wonderful. You can see the bits of Planet of Evil that Messingham extrapolated from, but it all comes together to make a rich, believable culture. It feels extremely familiar to those of us who've been researching Renaissance Italy, but hey... Above all, this is an extremely intelligent book. For a while I even thought we were going to see that rare and precious thing, a Who book without in-jokes, but sadly not. Quite apart from That Video, the dreaded Zero Man's physical description is suspiciously reminiscent of a certain English secret agent. Zero doesn't act much like Bond for the most part, but there was one particular scene where I couldn't stop myself seeing Sean Connery playing the role...
Oh, and try saying the Zero Man's name aloud. No, not "Zero Man"; his real name. What does Messingham mean by that, then?
The story itself is good, with a suitably cosmic threat. (But then it was always going to be, wasn't it?) Messingham doesn't evade the moral consequences of the society he's created, addressing its dilemmas with at least two of the main characters. The regulars are given more depth than usual, although Tegan seemed a bit off to me. I hate to say it, but she almost seems too intelligent. The Doctor is fine and Nyssa gets plenty to do.
My only slight quibble is that the story didn't pull me through to the end as well as it perhaps should have done. Mind you, given the bastards we've got as characters, it's really a miracle that I read past page one! The TARDIS crew are a big help here, with the nicest Doctor of them all, ably backed up by Nyssa and Tegan. With these three, at least there's no ambiguity about who the good guys are.
I loved this book, though it won't be everyone's cup of tea. If you can rant for hours about where Virgin went wrong and think Catastrophea is the direction the BBC Books should be going in, then you probably won't like this. However, if you would like to read an imaginative sequel that's far more than just gravedigging (with a far greater scale) then go for Zeta Major.
One final point. We've now had three original Doctor Who books starring the fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan... and they've all been sequels to Tom Baker stories. Goth Opera followed on from State of Decay (via Blood Harvest), while The Sands of Time followed on from Pyramids of Mars. I don't know what significance this has, but it seems a little peculiar to me...
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 17/8/00
Right, well as sequels go, Planet Of Evil isn`t the first story that springs to mind. Perhaps this is Zeta Major`s biggest problem; was there any need for a sequel?
PLOT: Difficult to follow and demands a lot from the reader. Basically in a nutshell; Morestran society is in decline, as The Doctor discovers when he revisits Zeta Minor. The Morestrans believe that only the Energy Tower, which the Church knows will never work is their last hope. Continually under psychic attack, The Doctor tries to convince the Morestrans that using anti-matter is not a good idea... Hmm, contrived, yes. Complicated, yes. Still at least you don`t need to have seen Planet Of Evil to understand it.
THE DOCTOR: For the most part he is the Fifth Doctor, or at least recognisable shades of him, such as the boyish charm and occasional tetchiness.
COMPANIONS: Hit and miss. Tegan is only really Tegan when she gets agitated over the sexism in Morestran society. Nyssa however, becomes anti-woman (as opposed to anti-man). Shades of Goth Opera I think.
OTHERS: Simon Messingham isn`t my favourite author and this book shows it. Every other character is something of a bastard, and there are only so many bastards I can read about in one book. Unfortunately, because of this it is difficult to differentiate between characters.
OVERALL: The characters are too samey, the regulars virtually unrecognisable and the plot simply isn`t engaging enough. And as for the cover...
A Review by Terrence Keenan 14/8/02
Simon Messingham is slowly moving up on the list of writers I like. I enjoyed The Face-Eater, despite its flawed ending, and Tomb of Valdemar belongs on anyone?s top DW book list.
I will admit putting off Zeta Major for a bit, if only because my only other forays into 5th Doc tales were the bad Crystal Bucephalus and the (come up with your own word for terrible) Divided Loyalties.
Despite some obvious show off writing tricks -- transcripts, newsletters, the Planet of Evil Video making an appearance (I?m still not sure if it's meant to be funny) -- and a mushy ending, Zeta Major is a fun read.
As mentioned in other reviews, Zeta Major is filled with Bastards. Complete, unrepentant, unlikable assholes. Assholes with no redeeming qualities. You're forced to latch onto any humanity you can find (Good luck there, Skippy!). And, without compromising their git-ness, you come to empathize (a bit) with a few of the characters. It also helps when you have a good TARDIS crew to work with -- a continuous strength of Messingham. The Doc, Tegan and Nyssa all hold up their own ends well.
The plot, which ties into Planet of Evil, but stands alone, and the politics of the Morestran Empire carry the story. And this is the problem with the ending (similar to Face Eater). Because of the build-up, the ending, unless spectacular, will fall short. It's not bad, but expectations make wish for something more.
But do check it out. Zeta Major is worth investing time in.
Evil... the sequel! by Joe Ford 6/11/02
Boy oh boy did I have a busy weekend. Babysitting, planning a move, essays to write, to shifts at work... it was one long endless slog and I was glad to reach Monday morning. Zeta Major is the one thing that stopped me going stark staring mad during that weekend, a chance to switch off and read some good 'ol traditional Doctor Who. I wasn't going to buy it, I have never bought a book with Peter Davion's mug on the cover (because of his boring character, not because he's hideous or anything) but stuck in Aldershot (with its three shops... wow!) this was the only book on their shelf (out of three Who books) that I didn't have. Ashamed, I took it to the counter.
And to my everlasting surprise it actually turned out to be pretty good. Not perfect, not heart racingly gob smacking (like the EDA's) but for a PDA it was exciting, gripping and well told.
Simon Messingham doesn't seem to be a very popular author. His The Face-Eater wasn't recieved all that well I seem to remember and Strange England (oh so long ago) seems to be universally reviled. I've always enjoyed his prose but found his storytelling and dependence on gore a little tiresome. Add to this the fact this book contains the celery wearing buffoon and that shrill Australian thing AND it's a sequel to a superior Tom Baker story (and come on sequels never quite captured the magic of the originals, do they?) I was expecting to be bored to tears.
Not so. From prologue to epilogue I was hooked. I'm not sure if it was the relentless pace that kept me interested or maybe it was how wicked some of the characters were. Lots of things happen, very fast, there's a tonne of violence and action and a whole bunch of horror rip offs too (mimicking Planet of Evil). Whilst the story itself veers off a little in the last chapter I can honestly say I wasn't once bored during this books 280 page length.
First surprise was the TARDIS team. Everything was basically a perfect representation of the era it came from. The Doctor is ignored for the entire length of the book, aside from his mental 'troubles' his actions don't really carry much weight. Everyone seems determined that his feckless, boring fool could never BE the almighty Doctor who once visited the Planet of Evil (hee hee). The Doctor just hangs around on the sidelines until the end where he pops to save the day. Quite frankly he's not all that interesting enough to be involved. Just as it should be. Tegan was perfect, bossy, shrill, irritating and shouty! She just blunders about screaming at everyone and generally being a bit of a nuisance. Again, perfect.
It was Nyssa who comes off best and that's just how the world is supposed to operate (in my eyes!). It's very rare for a book to use Nyssa for anything other than scientific technospeak or nurse maiding and I truly appreciated how she was in the thick of the action, thinking, reacting and improvising. Her infection is quite similar to her vamping in Goth Opera (without all that Paul Cornell angst of course) and I'm glad they chose Nyssa because she was the only regular I could give a damn about! Her investigations into the University are great too, especially how she talks to some people ("I agree Harwood. Slit her throat" is not quite as out of character as you think when you remember the gun toting Nyssa from Keeper of Traken and Arc of Infinity). Needless to say Sarah Sutton would have done this material proud.
The secondary characters were very well done but there were times when there were so many people flitting about I was finding it difficult to keep track of them. As if sensing my irritation Simon whittles them down to a core group in the last half by subjecting many of them to undignifying deaths and inexplicable betrayal. My favourite was the guy who was skinned but the death of Hippolito and Duke Angelo's visit by Fall were just as shocking (and brilliant). As stated in other reviews nobody in this story is very nice, most aren't characterised strongly enough (or don't last long enough to be!) to be especially memorable but there were a dozen stand out moments for Kristyen Fall, Ferdinand and the two brothers. I quite liked the Dean too, who while not appearing much, is enough of a wanker to like.
My next surprise was how ingenious the links to Planet of Evil were. I was dreading a re-hash of the earlier story but no, Simon takes the core elements, Anti-matter, Zeta Minor, Anti-men... and weaves them into a solid story. The two sides in the conflict, the Church and the Imperialists, were portrayed well and with all the entertaining political back stabs and assasinations things were kept very fun indeed. The final space battle was a little anti-climatic but the actual fight was well described. The whole book is basically a long run-around until we reach the Tower and answers surrounding it but at least its a snappy run-around and not a boring political affair.
I'm in two minds about the prose itself. Simon doesn't seem to want to get into the minds of his characters too much, he seems to be having too much fun with his twisty-turny plot for that, which means some of the characters come across as quite shallow. However, his simpler, more pacy prose means that the book is never dull. He sure knows how to write an action scene and fills the book with many memorable images (my favourite being all the Anti-men crawling over the horizon on Zeta Minor... scary...). I loved how he kept things fresh by telling the story from different perspectives, the dialogue only scenes were quirky (and full of non applicable foul language!) and the bible extracts so funny I attracted looks from my partner whilst reading them. The nerve of this author continues when he has some characters actually watching Planet of Evil on telly with title sequences and all ("I've edited the best bits together. It's quite good!") is just genius. So I'll give the prose a thumbs up as I was constantly amused and shocked.
My final surprise was the cover, which let's face it, is complete trash. The two least important aspects of the story inside on the cover... me no understand. I'm sure they had their reasons.
The ending doesn't live up to the build up, it's true but the build up is so good it doesn't really matter, When you've been entertained right up to the last chapter does it really matter if it's a little pedestrian in delivering good answers and a satisfying round off. I've said before that I hate books which start well and end badly but in Zeta Major's case this is only a minor blemish, the story is still good, the writing's okay, it's just I was expecting... I dunno MORE.
Overall it appears Simon Messingham has been improving in spades. After reading this it actually makes me eager to read his upcoming EDA. And I can't think of higher praise.
A Review by Brett Walther 19/11/03
Zeta Major packs more atmosphere in its ten-page prologue than the last few EDA's I've read put together.
Although I'm not a huge fan of Planet of Evil, there's no denying that Zeta Minor was a damn scary place. The sequences shot on film in the elaborate jungle set, the moody lighting, the desiccated corpses materializing after having been absorbed by an invisible force...
Somehow, Simon Messingham has managed to capture everything that made Zeta Minor terrifying, and amplified it a hundred-fold for this book.
The Doctor is wracked by terrifying dreams of a black wave sweeping across the universe, captured in passages so beautifully -- and simply -- written, it's impossible not to get goosebumps. Our hero is nearly incapacitated by these premonitions of universal destruction, which only serves to underline the threat Messingham has devised so skillfully in the form of the Energy Tower.
The Tower is an incredibly creepy concept. A bizarre, needle-like tower anchored on a planet that stretches miles into space, the Tower is an awe-inspiring visual, and also the source of a number of well-crafted mysteries that keep the reader enthralled throughout. What will happen when the Morestrans try to activate the Tower? Why has the Church refused to let any technicians or diplomats visit the Tower? Who has smuggled the anti-matter on board, and why?
The rather blase treatment of anti-matter in Planet of Evil was always one of my biggest problems with that serial. Throughout the four episodes, the viewer never really gets a sense of what anti-matter is. Is it the crystals? The universe beyond the Black Pool? Are all of these components of a collective entity? Messingham improves on Planet of Evil in this respect by developing the concept a little further (he admits a more appropriate description of the stuff would be "ante-matter"), and building on the Doctor's encounter with the anti-matter creature and his experiences on "the other side".
As an added bonus, Messingham lets us into the minds of the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan. Tegan's always been one of my favourite characters, and she gets a lot of attention in Zeta Major. I found myself cheering her on when she is being interrogated on board one of the church ships early on. She's definitely got her claws out in this one, and takes her inquisitor completely off guard by throwing the Morestrans' opinion of women as mindless cattle into chaos.
Furthermore, the text is broken up in a highly original and refreshing way, with excerpts of the Morestran holy book -- the "Leyanda Negra" -- reproduced (complete with chapter and verse markings!), recounting the Doctor's original involvement with the Morestrans in Planet of Evil. A number of sections are also presented in the form of transcripts, hand-recorded by scribes as a result of the Morestrans' lack of faith in technology. These passages are radiant, and help to further establish a sense of Morestran culture, which is extremely detailed and frighteningly believable.
It's a sinister empire, where there's a bifurcation of church and state, and further divisions between the ranks of those groups. Promotion is achieved through blackmail and murder, and technological development is strictly prohibited unless it is in aid of the Energy Tower. Even Chris Boucher's "planet of the bitch-people" in Corpse Marker doesn't hold a candle to this corrupt, masochistic and violent world. The revelation of what exactly the Zeta Project entails is particularly horrific, despite Messingham's classy decision to avoid dwelling on the gore -- the concept is frightening enough.
Yes, the homeworld of the empire is a very scary place, and in many ways as deserving of the title "Planet of Evil" as Zeta Minor.
Although the climax is a slight let-down after such a palpable build-up of drama, Zeta Major remains a thoroughly delicious thriller. It achieves something that most sequels cannot, by enhancing the original rather than merely leeching from from it, and in the end it succeeds in making Planet of Evil even more enjoyable.
A Review by Steve White 17/7/14
Zeta Major is a Past Doctor Adventure by Simon Messingham featuring the 5th Doctor and is a sequel to the TV serial Planet of Evil.
Story wise, Zeta Major suffers from many different characters and plot threads, making it hard to keep up, and leaves you feeling fairly unsatisfied, despite the main story actually being fairy interesting deep down. The prologue features a crew landing on Zeta Minor, a planet long abandoned due to the evils that lurk there, but required nonetheless as an energy source. The first chapter then flits between a secret agent being set free from a high-security prison, his "rescuer" being blackmailed by a different group, the agent himself setting up a project of some sorts and the Doctor having a series of hallucinations. Each bit has various characters and you're left fairly confused as to what is going on. Essentially the Morestrans are starting to use antimatter again, although this is covered up, and the Doctor has to put things right again.
Zeta Major is a fairly dull book, the story doesn't grip you as it should, and I found my mind wandering and struggled to read much per session. Whilst the story is interesting, the novel seems bloated and the actual story is interspersed with quotes from texts, and transcripts to do with the Church and the various groups in the book, which just makes a dull book even duller.
The 5th Doctor isn't done that well. The hallucinations affecting him in the early part of the story make it difficult to relate to his TV persona. I think the main issue is that 5th Doctor just doesn't really work on paper as he is pretty dull when compared to the others. So not only does Zeta Major have a dull story, but it also has a dull Doctor. When Messingham does try to jazz him up a bit, he has him threatening someone with a gun, which is totally out of character. I feel the book would have benefited from a more proactive Doctor, like the 6th, and the loss of a companion would have helped the book to flow more.
Companions Nyssa and Tegan are both are done well, with both companions having a fair bit to do. Tegan is hypnotized and then spends the rest of the novel trying to stop Ferdinand acting out revenge, including shooting someone, which the Doctor never reprimands her over. Nyssa on the other hand is sent away to find out the reasons the energy tower will fail, which essentially gives her something to do, but along the way gets caught and infected with antimatter and turned into an antiwoman. Whilst she is written pretty much spot on, I felt her being the sole survivor of antimatter infection just because she knew the correct mathematics a little contrived. Both companions also suffer at what is a very male society, but it's a fairly boring sub-plot, which goes nowhere.
As previously mentioned, Messingham has gone for quantity over quality with the supporting cast. There are so many characters in this novel that you easily lose track of who is who and keep having to backtrack, which is never a good thing. There are only really two characters of note, Kristyan Fall and Ferdinand. Fall is called the Zero Man, a James Bond-style figure who is in things for himself and betrays just about everyone. Ferdinand I'm guessing was meant to be the anti hero, someone who wants to bring about the downfall of the Church but realizes that there is more to life than his own prejudices. Sadly, he never lives up to this, as this character turn is quickly reversed again and he blows himself up, more out of rage than any noble gesture.
Zeta Major is a below-average Past Doctor Adventure that fails to live up to the story it is a sequel to and struggles to live up to other titles in the Past Doctor Range. Whilst not the worst Doctor Who novel I've ever read, it still took a lot of perseverance to make it to the end. One for completionists only I'd say.