Ambassadors of Death
New Adventures Roundup
The Well-Mannered War
Oh No It Isn't!
The Dying Days
The New Adventures Roundup Part Three
|ISBN#||0 426 20504 9|
|Synopsis: Bernice anxiously awaits the return of the Doctor, but when he arrives he has a new face. With the threat of first contact with an alien civilisation a sudden reality for 1997 Britain, Bernice and the Brigadier must adapt to this strange man whom they've always known...|
The Dying Days is now online at The official BBC Doctor Who Site
A Review by Robert Smith? 22/3/98
Waiting as instructed at the house on Allen Road, Bernice Summerfield is in for something of a shock when the Doctor, or rather the eighth Doctor turns up instead. Joining forces with the Brigadier and UNIT they uncover a plot to invade England by the ruthless Ice Warriors.
In case you haven't guessed already, The Dying Days is Doctor Who. Which is probably about the best compliment I can ever give to an NA, but I'll elaborate further. The Dying Days is everything that Who is and should be. It's Who for the nineties, but most importantly it's Who that we know and love.
There are in-jokes a-plenty in The Dying Days, especially in the opening chapters (and these aren't just silly "great if you know the author" jokes, but decent, clever jokes that any SF fan should be able to get with a moment's thought). The plot is about as traditional as you can get, which isn't a bad thing in this case and Benny and the Brigadier are done perfectly.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the eighth Doctor. I tried very, very hard to hear the Doctor in this book, but too often the characterisation went off-kilter, sometimes becoming Pertwee, sometimes Tom Baker. To Lance's credit he never became McCoy (which must have been tough after six years of McCoy NA's), but he wasn't McGann either, really. There is one marvellous exception to this, but I won't go into detail as it spoils rather too much! I suspect that the eighth Doctor is going to be a bit like Troughton's Doctor: popular and visual, but very difficult to capture on paper. I'm not sure that this bodes well for the BBC books.
However, that aside, The Dying Days succeeds as a novel and as the last of the Doctor Who New Adventures. There's plenty of fun to be had and I think the NA's bow out of the Doctor Who universe (well, sort of) with their dignity and success intact. There will, of course, always be a bit of controversy about the book (yes, it does do something which is a little tricky to fit in with the potential BBC Whoniverse, but this is the final novel after all and I think Virgin deserves it). There's also a bit of a template for the Bernice New Adventures so, although this is in some ways the end of an era, it's also the beginning of a brand new one.
Out with a Bang by Michael Hickerson 26/3/98
I came to The Dying Days with a sense of foreboding-- as the only 8th Doctor NA in the Virgin publshing line, I wasn't really expecting much. Yes, I'd read Mr. Parkin's two previous Who efforts and how enjoyed them, but to be honest, I didn't look forward to his books as I would a NA by Kate Orman or Paul Cornell.
That is, until I read The Dying Days.
If Virgin wanted to leave fans on a high note with a book that was one of the best Who novels ever written, they succeed admirably. From the open chapters that are chock full of pop-culture reference as well as a very interesting premise, the book seizes your attention and doesn't let up until the final chapter. In short, it's riveting, entertaining Doctor Who and everything the telemovie should have been but failed to be.
Lance Parkin pays elaborate tribute to the show's past by including all sorts of varied and intersting references to not only Who but other popular sci-fi genre offerings. Indeed, his inclusion of an old villain is wonderfully well done. I wish I could elaborate more here on who the old villian turns out to be, but that might give away some of the fun. Trust me when I say it's worth the ride.
But Parkin's real triumph is the newly re-generated eight Doctor. The telemovie served only to give us a glimpse of who he was, but Parkin takes less than ninety minutes of character development and turns it into a vibrant character. We really get a chance to know this new Doctor through the reactions by his previous companions. I think that is vitally important to not only the books sucess but the success of Who as a whole. I form opinions of a new Doctor by seeing how other establishes characters react to him. And with the inclusion of Benny and UNIT, we get a real feel for this new Doctor.
If anything, it seems like Parkin was audtioning for the right to script the next telemovie, if it sees the light of day. He incorporates some of the strengths of the movie admirably into his novel and gives them a unique and exciting twist. Indeed, when the eight Doctor announces that "I am the Doctor," in The Dying Days, it is a masterful, chilling, exciting, edge-of-your-seat experience. And one that has been burned into my psyche for all time.
So, if you were disappointed by the telemovie are looking for a great book that is everything that movie should have been and then some, I'd run, not walk, to my bookstore and find a copy of The Dying Days. You'll be glad you did.
"At an all time high!" by Tim Roll-Pickering 18/4/00
The (planned) final New Adventure attracted much speculation in the months before it finally appeared and so to a large extent expectations were high. Would it be a dramatic finale to the series? Would it showcase what would have happened had the series continued with the Eighth Doctor? Or would it be a nostalgic look back at the series? Fortunately Happy Endings was then less than a year old and so wisely the last option was not taken. Instead The Dying Days gives the reader a strong story that can both stand-alone by itself whilst at the same time highlighting some of the strengths of the New Adventures as a series.
The setting is Britain in early May 1997, the time when Virgin's license expired and even that event is parodied somewhat herein when the Home Secretary orders that the publishers of Who Killed Kennedy (which, just to add to confusion over UNIT dating is now said to have had the dates deliberately altered) be shut down. There are many subtle differences between the Britain described by Lance Parkin and the real one, but fortunately the differences are not too jarring so as to make it too difficult to relate to. Ironically Lance Parkin's descriptions of the crowds in London now reads as being very similar to those that appeared after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Throughout the book the description is quite good, whether it is through the eyes of Alex Christian as he experiences freedom for the first time in twenty years or though those of Xznaal the Ice Lord as he tries to understand human beings. The attention to detail is surprisingly good, though one thing that has been overlooked is the fact that there is a notional Jacobite claimant to the throne which would certainly deserve a mention amidst the constitutional chaos. But that's only a minor detail which very few people are likely to pick up on.
The plot is one of the most imaginative and surprising, especially when one considers, as Benny and the Doctor do, that the Martian Invasion has been more or less overlooked by subsequent stories (although we do finally get to see just how Lethbridge-Stewart becomes a General in time for Head Games). The main characters are all well handled, from David Staines, a somewhat typical Home Secretary who goes to pieces when the aliens arrive which is a very natural reaction for even one of the most senior government ministers, to Eve Waugh, an American news reporter who finds herself deeply involved in the coup. But perhaps the two most memorable characters of all are Xznaal and Lord Greyhaven. Each has entered into the alliance fully intending to dispose of the other as soon as they have outlive their usefulness and one of the most dramatic sequences in the entire book occurs as a dying Greyhaven confidently tells Xznaal that he has just destroyed the Argyre.
But it is the familiar faces that perhaps stand out the most. Benny is shown very realistically as she struggles to come to terms with both this new Doctor and then his death whilst at the same time mourning an old friend. The Doctor himself is handled quite well, showing both some of the familiar characteristics of all incarnations as well as the distinctive features of his newest one and I can easily imagine Paul McGann saying most of the lines, though one or two are so clearly Tom Baker. But the real tour de force is the Brigadier. Throughout the events one can really feel as though this could well be his final story and in a way it is -- since at the end of the book he has finally been promoted to the rank of General! The very last scene of the book, at the Recoronation is one of optimism and a good point on which to end the series.
As the final New Adventure, The Dying Days is one of the strongest and gives us a good storyline in its own right that showcases the style of the series rather than the content. Had Virgin retained their license it would have been interesting to see what happened next, but as it is the final book is one that lets them end, as the song goes, "at an all time high!" 10/10
A Fine Start/Finish by Richard Radcliffe 11/2/01
The 8th Doctor's first original novel remains one of his best. Alternatively Virgin bow out with one of their best! The story is a superior version of :Independence Day", the big blockbuster movie. The Ice Warriors form the alien menace with aggression. They are far more effective here than the recent Red Dawn from Big Finish.
The 8th Doctor is joined, at his house in Kent, by Benny - a fitting companion to finish the Virgin range. Benny was the best new character to emerge during Virgin's run. The 8th Doctor is superbly written throughout, providing a template for future writers of the BBC range.
Parkin hasn't written a bad book yet. This book further shows him to be one of the very best authors of DW fiction. In crafting a story and making the most of the characters involved, he is second to none. A fine book this one, making great use of an established character (Benny), and making us want more of a new character (the 8th Doctor).
Very good. 9/10
A Review by Dominick Cericola 18/4/01
Before I begin this review, I'd like to state for Public Record (Hmmm.. well, whatever..) that this was my third attempt at reading The Dying Days. The first time I tried, I had just finished reading Vampire Science, and I was kind of taken with their rendering of the Eighth Doctor. Sadly, I got as far as about as far as a third of the way in and just seemed to lose interest. The second attempt was equally ill-fated. Yet, as the phrase goes, "..third time's the charm..".
Parkin is one of those writers who is either black or white, he's never grey. What I mean by that is this: When he's good, he's really good, yet when he's bad, he's just plain bad (tho' not nearly as bad as that of Neil Penswick or Gary Russell!). Here, and in Just War, he shines, the characters sparkle in the literary brilliance, the story pulls us in head first, drowning in the drama literally as it unfolds before our eyes. However, I have had a rough time of sorts with his Prof. Summerfield adventure, Beige Planet Mars (tho' I think it may have something to do with his collaborator, Mark Clapham, on that one), as well as his Missing Adventure/New Adventure, Cold Fusion (which wasn't so much bad, as it wasn't as great as everyone had made it out for me. Something seemed to be missing. Perhaps someday I will go back and re-read it, maybe even do it a proper sort of review the second time around..).
But, with The Dying Days, he really pushes his creative boundaries.. It's the final entry before Virgin's Doctor Who licensing contract expired, so all stops were pulled out. Here was an adventure that very easily have made a fantastic follow-up to the TV-Movie. Full of edge-of-the-seat thrills.. A fitting return of an old villain, giving them a new edgier perspective, making them a worthy adversary once again.. As well as allowing the Eighth Doctor a fair chance to say goodbye to Professor Summerfield, for we all know a pairing of the two is unlikely other than in fanfic.
However, rather than trip over my metaphorical feet, I'm going to step back from the review, focusing instead on the key characters, borrowing once again from the inimitable style of Sean Gaffney..
THE DOCTOR: One of the big complaints I had heard regarding The Dying Days was how Parkins' dialogue for The Doctor made him sound more like Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor as opposed to Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor.. I didn't find this problem when I was reading it. At first, I did -- largely because I have become so used to BBC Books' shaping of the Eighth Doctor. However, once the story began to really kick in, I had no difficult associating McGann's voice with his written dialogue.
As far as characterization.. I thought he was dead on. Someone (and Memory eludes me as to whom) once figureed that this book falls into Who continuity during the beginning of Vampire Science. And, you know, it works. Under Parkin's care, we are presented with a Doctor who is still not 100% settled into his latest incarnation. Yet, he also knows that he is an important Player in the machinations of the Universe. He knows he is the one who makes the difference -- he still knows of his former title of Time's Champion. This is a less manipulative, more observant Doctor.. And, dammit, I like it a lot.. :)
PROF. SUMMERFIELD: Gods, it was good to see Benny with The Doctor one last time. And, what a treatment she got.. Great dialogue with just the right amount of wit!! Some cool Benny-esque fashion statements!! Thank you, Mr. Parkin, for giving her a less scathing adventure than the hell you subjected her to under the Nazi's care in Just War. My only regret came on the last page, for I wished this wasn't a goodbye between two characters who worked very, very well together.. Geez -- The Beeb and Virgin Books need to swallow their Collective Pride and come to some of a mutual agreement! GRRR!!!
THE BRIGADIER:I was really surprised at how well he was written. This was a very believable Brig -- loving of his wife, Doris, yet at the same time, at odds with himself over retirement. Parkin does a great job of expressing the sorrow and longing he has, to be out there with the "boys" of UNIT... And, the dialogue was dead on as well. I could actually hear Nick Courtney speaking the lines, as if he were sitting beside me on the train ride home..
THE ICE WARRIORS: WOW!! Were these guys just too terrifying or what? Alright, maybe "terrifying" isn't the right word. But, they were definitely threatening! I am hoping to see them in the BBC's line, tho' I doubt they will be able to acknowledge this meeting. :(
A fitting way to close the door on Virgin's New Adventures. I only hope that with Justin Richards helming the Editor's Chair at BBC books, the Eighth Doctor line can be just as good. And, for those you who are still here, reading this -- get up, get out, and search out a copy of The Dying Days! It'll be money well spent..!!
A Review by Terrence Keenan /7/02
I am of the belief that if youčre going to go out, go out in style. Lance Parkin was tapped to write the last Virgin Doctor NA. And after reading The Dying Days, I'm pretty sure that Parkin had the same idea about going in style.
From reading Father Time and Trading Futures, I knew that Parkin would have a great Eighth Doctor. Dying Days is no exception, although different because he's leaning on the Virgin continuity. However, Parkin's Eight Doctor is a man of direct action, the one to charge in and face the enemy head on.
Parkin also gives us a Bernice Summerfield that's fun, exciting, humorous and without political agendas (especially shrill bad PC ones). She carries a good chunk of the book and does it well; the character sings on the page.
The main villains are a well matched pair. Lord Greyhaven fulfills a similar role to Bob Holmesian villains like Scarman from Pyramids or Li Hsien Chang from Talons. Xnaal, the Martian Ice Lord is a once a bully, a warrior and a mean bastard. He claims noble aims, but is shown in the end to be another maniac out to destroy the Earth.
We get visits from several Virgin characters, wither in decent support roles, or in cameos. Lethbridge-Stewart and Bambera have supporting roles, while a few others either get name-checked, or pop in for a couple of minutes.
As for the story, Parkin steals from Independence Day and reconfigures it for the DW universe. Parkin is a master of balancing humorous scenes with action bits. I fell on the floor laughing during the whole coronation scene (the "Who iss thiss Jessuss Christ" line slayed me). And Parkin takes what would be a total cheeseball moment where the Doctor comes to confront Xnaal for the last time and makes it work beautifully. And as for the last part with Bernice and the Doctor? Well, I hope they tore the walls down... (and yes, I thought the kiss in the TV movie rocked, too.)
The Dying Days takes the Virgin line out in style. Find a copy and check it out for yourself. You'll have a rollicking good time.
Such A Thing As A Free Lunch by Matthew Harris 25/9/02
Goddamit, but this book had better be good.
Not because it's the last Virgin NA to feature the Doctor. Not because it's the first to feature McGann. Simply because of the grief I got from my printer. Damn it, Parkin, you'd better give me a great book for my pains. You'd better give me God's own story on a plate. You had better give me glory.
He gave me a great book. He gave me glory. And not just me. Lance Parkin has given the entire Doctor Who universe something to be cherished and blessed. Forever.
Spoilers follow, but if you've not read this yet, quite frankly, you're a plum. And I have no sympathy.
There are just so many great things about this book. The humour. The cameos from famous people! Benny squeezing past the Spice Girls at the party! Patrick Moore having a discussion with Bernard Quatermass on American TV! The in-jokes! The in-jokes! The ACTUALLY FUNNY in-jokes! Xznaal's view of Earth! "I challenge thiss Chrisst to a duel, with weaponss of hiss choossing."
Then there's the creep factor. The Ice Warriors (who are hardly ever referred to as such, interestingly) are given a huge sense of menace; Xznaal in particular is chilling in his arbitrary-villainism. The Red Death is terrifying, full stop. A gas with claws that kills people by shooting up their noses and through their mouths. Is that scary, or is that scary? No, wait, that's the same question twice. Well, you know what I mean.
Characters. Greyhaven makes for a great he's-the-bad-guy-oops-no-he's-the-stooge type, and am I alone in being genuinely surprised when Staines suddenly became Mr Great at the end? Oh, I am. Meanwhile, Lance seems to have actually bottled Nick Courtney and sprinkled him over the book, because Lethbridge-Stewart is... he IS Lethbridge-Stewart. Bambera's spot on as well (she even gets to say, "Oh, shame," at one point), and as for Bernice... well, it's fairly simple: Benny. Is. Wonderful. She catches the NA torch from the Doctor with both hands, and then does a little dance, throwing the torch from hand to hand as she does so. While singing "Paddy McGlinty's Goat" out of time with her dancing. Er, I mean she's superb in this book, blasting any doubt about her ability to carry a book range by herself out of the water. As if there ever was one.
Oh, there's one other character: this Doctor person. Now, his characterisation has been criticised, as has the fact that for a quarter of the book he's dead (which was a valid criticism when he was new and people needed more information, but less so now). But remember: Lance had fully 75 minutes of the Eighth Doctor (Eighth Man Bound, as he says. What a great phrase) to go on when he wrote the book. And with that in mind, the boy done good. He's as different from McCoy as he could be, without being unlikeable in any way (are you listening, Eric Saward?). Emotional, dynamic, a little flamboyant, magnificent. Certainly a better springboard than The Eight Doctors ever was.
What really makes this book, though (although all of the above would be plenty normally) is the tiny details. For example. When Xznaal is seen from the point of view of Greyhaven, the Doctor, or Benny, the pronoun Lance uses for him is "he". Fair enough, you might say. Why the hell do you bring it up anyway, you might say. Get to the goddamn point before I beat you in the face, you might say. Well, simmer down. The point is: from anyone else's point of view, from an ordinary Tellurian Joe's point of view, suddenly the book refers to Xznaal as "it". As in, "Xznaal moved its scaly body". See? Almost imperceptible, very clever, extra dimensions, more kudos to Parkin. Then there's the Human names as sounded out in Ice Warrior fashion by Xnaal: Gerayhavun is a good one, but I actually thought "Xztaynz" was an Ice Warrior name at first. Because I'm a moron. And more kudos for Parkin.
Then there's the money shot. I defy you, I really and truly defy each and every last one of you, not to punch the air in utter, euphoric delight at McGann's speech the end of chapter 14. The Eighth Man Bound has arrived, ladies and gentlemen.
So. In summary: read this book. Read it now, and then read it again. You can get it for nothing for God's sake! For nada! For free! For a God-Bless-You! For no more than a minute's phone bill, tops! The link's up there, people! It's worth the hassle of printing it! Go and get this book! Go and get it!
You're still here. Why are you still here? Go and get The Dying Days. It's the best opening story for the Eighth Doctor since sliced bread. And it's free. Quick, before the BBC change their minds.
Those Were The Days by Marcus Salisbury 6/10/02
'The Martians are here,' Eve insisted, 'But nothing else has changed. The Archers is still on twice a day, the milkman still brings you bottles of milk, the BBC is still funded by the licence fee. People are quite capable of turning Britain into Bosnia without any help from aliens.'For all its faults, and there are a couple, The Dying Days is a flipping good book. Tightwad hermits like me who live 150 kilometres away from the nearest bookshop, and who have finally got around to reading it on the BBC Doctor Who website, might be surprised at exactly how much fun Dying Days is. After ploughing through the (admittedly brilliant) post-Gallifreyan angst of The Burning, Henrietta Street, Parkin's own Father Time and so on, maybe I'm ready for some undemanding but beautifully-executed frippery. It's like reading Jack Vance after ploughing through Heidegger's "Being and Time".
Maybe I'm getting a bit nostalgic for the good old days of the Virgin NAs, which contained some of the best Who ever written. The Dying Days is a fitting conclusion to the Virgin series, and a poignant pointer to what could have been an outstanding late '90s version of the TV show. I can't help thinking of it in visual terms... this is a book that starts the movieola running in your head, as all good Doctor Who should. It's the kind of book that you can't help casting. (Ian McDiarmid as Greyhaven, anyone? What about Rachel Griffiths as Bernice Summerfield? Action by HAVOC?)
Plot-wise, Dying Days is avowedly conventional. It's the standard alien invasion scenario, done with the attention to local detail (some would say benign parochialism) which typifies Doctor Who. The Martians have landed, for cucumber sandwiches on the lawn at Buckingham palace. As ever, the Doctor and UNIT are there to set the world to rights. That's the initial premise... fill in the details yourself by reading the book at the BBC website. Go on, try it. Your eyes will love you for the rest of your life.
Although it takes some welcome liberties with "continuity", one of the main selling points of this book is its lucid use of the trappings of the show's past, and also with late '90s popular culture. (Bernard Quatermass with Patrick Moore? If only he'd met Kit Pedler). It's an interesting thought that The Dying Days gives a glimpse of a possible TV Doctor Who serial, in which the series took on a late 'nineties flavour... with a touch of Season 7. Jon Pertwee's first season as the Doctor is held by many discerning viewers as the most grown-up in the series' history (so grown up, in fact, that the X Files was using similar plot elements 30 years later). Dying Days returns to this renaissance in the show's history. The allusions to Ambassadors of Death abound, but they don't cramp the storytelling. "Mars Probe 7" is a lot easier for the casual reader to comprehend than the TV movie's "Eye of Harmony" must have been.
An unsung (or at least under-rated) influence on this era was Gerry Anderson's series "UFO" (featuring George Sewell of Remembrance of the Daleks fame). Starring actors only slightly less wooden than the Tracy family in Anderson's "Thunderbirds" show, "UFO" featured unseen (and therefore implicitly enigmatic) aliens equipped with bizarre hardware, an outnumbered and outgunned set of good guys, and the usual government conspiracies and military overtones. While I don't remember too much else about this show, I still recall its authentically eerie atmosphere, as if the near-total absence of naturalism in the acting reinforced the weirdness of the plot (the same Brechtian effect employed by Stanley Kubrick in the first half of "2001"). Not that Dying Days has anything directly in common with "2001" - this is strictly "Mars Attacks" territory.
A comparison of Dying Days and the 1996 TV movie is an interesting exercise. When Target embarked on their series of Who novelisations in the early '70s, they drew on the pool of seasoned and talented writers for the series. So Malcolm Hulke, Terrance Dicks, Gerry Davis, Brian Hayles and co. brought their immense talents to kickstarting the new-fangled print version of Doctor Who. The Target series lasted 20 years, and arguably gave resonance to the idea of continuing the series in novel form in the early '90s. Phil Segal in 1996 could have drawn on an equally talented (if not more so) group of writers... imagine the TV movie as written by Paul Cornell, or Kate Orman, or Lance Parkin. It's just a thought, but what a thought.
Technically, Parkin's work is excellent. Not outstanding in a verbose, improvisatory, head-expanding Lawrence Miles kind of way (well and good, as the only person who can write well in the Miles-style is Lawrence Himself), but Parkin writes accessible, fast-moving, visual books which still hold interest and gain depth when you re-read them. It's no surprise that he has recently attempted to write an 8DA in the manner of a James Bond thriller. Dying Days has the glossy, skewed-camera feel of late '60s shows like "The Avengers" and "Adam Adamant Lives". Bernice makes an excellent Emma Peel to the Eighth Doctor's John Steed, by the way, and Dying Days is as much a fitting valedictory tale for the talented Professor Summerfield as for the Virgin NAs.
If there is a gripe about this book, it's that the Doctor is not as involved in the action as he ought to be. Character-wise he comes over well, not as the indeterminate cipher of the early 8DAs, but as a Romantic (in the artistic sense) wanderer, light years removed from his insidious previous self. The point has been made elsewhere that he's still a Frank Herbert Face Dancer at times; shifting from Troughton to Baker via Pertwee and back again. (Although this features in most 8DAs from the period, so the fault is not exclusively Parkin's).
The Virgin NAs were Doctor Who in the 'nineties. While it's a shame the series had to end, it provided me (and many others) with a version of Doctor Who in which sheer imagination and honest writing talent at last outweighed BBC corporate resourcing and industrial relations compromises as the impetus behind the franchise. In retrospect, the Virgin NAs were a definite high point in the continuing story of Doctor Who. After a muted, conventional start with Timewyrm: Genesys, and other novels by well-established Who writers, the series gambled on the introduction of a deeper, darker tone to the series in Timewyrm: Revelation. While Dying Days doesn't quite match up to the epoch-making standard set by the former, it's still a book that I enjoyed immensely. And a final thought: if a Dying Days script (or something similar in style and substance) had been the basis of the TV movie instead of the so-so Enemy Within scenario, we might still be watching new episodes on TV.
The Dying Days might have been published five years ago, but it's one of my top Doctor Who books of the year.
A Review by Ben Jordan 2/1/03
Very little about Dr Who is free these days. "So what, Ben? Very little of anything is free these days!" But remember the days when you didn't have to buy a new Dr Who story? You could watch it on free-to-air t.v, and if you wanted a video copy, you could just pop a tape into the vcr, and you'd have it. Today, forkloads of cash must be parted to obtain your fix of new adventures, whether it's a cd, book, or indeed anything Who-related. Perhaps we were spoilt before. Understandably, the fan base for the programme has shrank considerably, since only the die-hards are going to actually pay for new stories. But amidst all this gloomy dose of real-world capitalism, BBC Online have stepped into the gaping breach and began serialising the New Adventures, starting with the very worthy finale, The Dying Days, by Lance Parkin. And we don't have to hand over a single shekel for the privelege (don't start on the internet-connectivity fee aspect!). When first I heard of this momentous move, I rubbed my hands with delight. Thank you BBCi, and thank you Lance. The steps you've made here are far more important than many realise.
But enough dramatics. I recommend that those who enjoyed reading the original go back and take a look at what's offered here, as Lance has done the equivalent of a Special Edition, with new passages, and artist Alan Bednar has spiced it up with some great colour illustrations. More of an impressionist than a realist, but they work well. I couldn't tell you what Lance has added to the original, having never read Dying Days before. I can only tell you that I seriously enjoyed what was there. Given that Lance went on to become a very popular writer of the BBC novels, I guess that's not much of a statement anymore. We all know that his stories tend to be those that involve cataclysmic universe-altering events. In that vein, The Dying Days is perhaps tame by comparison, though it would have been true to form if it had kept its original ending. The basic premise of the book is a Martian invasion of the United Kingdom. This is a very specific kind of invasion, for which the rest of the world does their best to keep out of. And a very specific clan of Martians too, the Argyre (sounds really Scottish to me), not the entire race of Ice Warriors in some kind of generic faceless endeavour. Thus what we have is a conflict between not two planets, but two states that just happen to come from two different planets. And of course, it's up to the Doctor to make sure that the first Martian monarch of Britain is nothing more than a temporary arrangement.
For the most part, the novel tells its tale quite well, from the opening revelation that a Martian warship is on its way, with power-hungry government officials seeking to take advantage of the situation, to the invasion itself. Set in contemporary London, Lance is obviously trying hard here to make us visualise what it would really be like if the Ice Warriors landed in all-too-familiar surroundings. Perhaps this attempt suffers a little, with the Londoners usually just described as a faceless mob; it's hard to get a sense of how individuals really reacted to it, although there are a few moments. As such, the author relies on expected reactions - fear, rioting, dumbstruck awe. But as realistic interpretation goes, it's a world apart from the unlikely events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. That of course was set in the future. Just goes to show that the old adage of writing about what you know is always best, especially for drama.
At this point, the Eighth Doctor was not very fleshed out as a character, and Lance has only the t.v movie to go on. Thus we see a very active Doctor running around the place much as he did around San Francisco, as events are set in motion. His is a Doctor with a great love of life, and a satisfaction that he's lived a long and worthy existence. This is emphasised a great deal, no doubt, because the original manuscript would have seen him killed off. Although this was rewritten prior to the NA's release, much of that storyline is still there, and when the Doctor nearly dies towards the end, it really does seem to be goodbye. Unfortunately, this means that his reappearance near the end ironically cheapens the whole thing. It makes me wonder how the novel originally ended. How did the others save the day?
Bernice is drawn quite well, she of course having been written for quite a lot by this time. The attraction of the Eighth Doctor's female companions would become a recurring theme later, but not even Grace managed to get as far as Bernice does. You'll just have to the read the end to find out what I'm talking about! The novel has her returned to Dellah when all is over, ready to begin her own New Adventures. Also well done is the characterisation of the Brigadier, who takes a central role in the action, far more than he did in Battlefield, the previous chronological adventure for him, where he was more of a reactor than an instigator. By the end of the novel, he has accepted that retirement for him means peace and quiet until the next aliens come along, which is a great way to live out his remaining life. It's a very great way of giving the old man dignity, by giving him the knowledge that no matter how old he is, he will always be needed. Ironically, Bambera suffers once again by his presence, her character having little to do and nothing new to add.
And the Martians? The Argyre seem bereft of the honour code that the Peladon stories instilled in them, and as such they return to the far more aggressive, predictable, and downright dangerous beings they were in the Troughton stories. As such, it is very satisfying when they meet their Waterloo in the climax of the story. The idea of different Martian clans gives the potential to do a lot more with the Ice Warriors (and is a more interesting idea than having a Warrior and Civilian caste a la Godengine), but it doesn't seem to have been picked up on much since then.
Lance's narrative style is quite evenly paced. Not the sort of author to tell a story where action is constant, he tends to lull readers and indeed the characters into a false sense of peace and tranquility, when all hell suddenly breaks loose. But moments of quiet never drag, and moments of action never seem gratuitous excuses to have something happen. He achieves a balance that many authors cannot. There were times when Bernice's diary extracts felt more like 3rd-person narrative, rather than someone's personal record, but it's only a minor quibble.
It seems almost superfluous after all that to say that I do certainly recommend this book, but it really is worth a read. Now you'll have to excuse me. I'm already far behind in BBCi's next online book, Human Nature. Long may this e-text series continue!
(As an aside, I wrote this review on January 1st, 2003, post-alcoholic rehabilitation. So I feel compelled to say Happy 40th Anniversary, Doctor Who!)
A Review by Finn Clark 11/2/03
No one seems to share my opinion of The Dying Days. It's enormously popular, was the first e-book from BBCi and used to fetch Ebay prices that could finance a new series. Wherever I look, I see happy positive comments about it. So if you read this book, you'll probably enjoy it more than I did.
Or at least I hope so, since I think it's boring.
The thing about The Dying Days is that it's a gnat's whisker from being crap. I'm not just talking about "not very good", but steaming unadulterated horse manure. Plotwise it's on a par with Escape Velocity and The Janus Conjunction, if not even a bit below that. Look, it's the Ice Warriors! Er, that's it. Greyhaven's machinations add a slight spark during the first third (he's like the book's real hero, but evil), but once the Ice Warriors have landed it's bog-standard stuff along the lines of a rejected Pertwee script. Greyhaven stops doing anything interesting and the book becomes trivial nonsense.
The only thing that raises The Dying Days up to respectability is Lance Parkin. He's a very good writer and he's obviously having so much fun that it's hard not to do the same. Fannish moments and good jokes will put many a smile on your face. I laughed aloud on occasion (p291 springs to mind) and enjoyed the nods and acknowledgements of a character, a comic strip or indeed the novels en masse. Benny wears gold hoop earrings again. How cool is that? One of my favourite touches is the French version of UNIT... it's "NUIT HQ, Paris", which is authentic (they have a different noun-adjective order, e.g. AIDS becomes SIDA) but "nuit" is also French for "night". For some reason that really tickled me.
It's odd... normally I hate in-jokes and the like, but The Dying Days gets away with it. Firstly it's fluff and knows it, so the in-jokes are almost the point. And secondly, of course, there's its status as Virgin's last Doctor Who NA. In many ways this is a 297-page bow to the audience.
The Ice Warriors are great. I forget who originated all that Sword of Tuburr bollocks, but they definitely needed shooting for it. Check out Legacy, GodEngine or Gary Russell's Radio Times comic strips for the gruesome details... or on second thoughts, don't. Lance turns the Ice Warriors into hostile, dangerous warmongering bastards again and it's about bloody time. I even dared to hope that we wouldn't see the word "Tuburr" at all; unfortunately we do (p248) but on the plus side it's mis-spelled. I liked all that.
Stuff I'd hated on first reading was less of a problem this time. Knowing it was coming, I braced myself. The Mars revelations still strain my disbelief muscles (this is where I start discussing the escape velocity of oxygen molecules in a third-gravity environment) but I suppose 'twas inevitable given the Ice Warriors' presence there in the first place. Regarding the end of chapter fourteen... well, we've seen moments no less bombastic with far less excuse in certain 8DAs. It's forgiveable.
The Dying Days flows, with great jokes and iconic characters. (Not all of them are from Doctor Who, but one can take Dan Dare and Francis Urquhart more seriously than one could Sean Connery in Trading Futures.) Some of it is charming; I adored Eve Waugh and Alan on p69. The Brigadier gets some great moments too. In many respects it's everything you could want from a novel... but its story left me asking "what's the point?"
Far Better Than I Expected by Isaac Wilcott 5/6/03
I put off reading this book for so long because it sounded like a retread of The Ambassadors of Death, or nothing more than "Independence Day: British Style". By page 50 my first suspicion was confirmed, and by page 100 the second as well: alien spaceship descending over a famous landmark, much to the amazement of the general populace and the apprehension of the military. We also have the usual blockbuster's cast of characters: a bored TV cameraman, an ex-stripper gung-ho American journalist who sidles up to Those In Power in exchange for gaudy bits of jewelry and exclusive interviews, a woman military commander, an escaped prisoner who is more than meets the eye, scheming politicians, sycophants, and (of course) invading Martians. Yet I kept reading regardless because it was so well written. But by page 150, I was nicely surprised when it started to tell a story of its own, and a very good one at that.
And I must say, it was so refreshing for once to see the alien invasion actually succeed! It's one thing to narrowly avert such a thing, another altogether for it to really happen. This upped the stakes and made the proceedings far more weighty and suspenseful. It also turned a routine invasion story into a true epic of patriotism, heroism, villainy, tragedy, and valor.
The coronation scene told from Xznaal's perspective was absolutely hilarious. Indeed, all the scenes from the Martians' point of view were superb. My only complaint about them is how some of the human's names were spelt using Martian phonology: I didn't realize "Xztaynz" was Staines until the book was almost over. I kept wondering why there was this whiny, sycophantic Ice Warrior, and where the Home Secretary had gone... Okay, so I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. A minor quibble.
The characterization of the Brigadier and his wife was beautiful -- he loves her so much, and she trusts him even when he brings an ax murderer home! A wonderful marriage relationship, which contrasts nicely with the mind-bogglingly depressing and angst-ridden post-Doctor lives of many of the other NA/MA companions (including Benny).
I also admired how Parkin strayed from established continuity by having Benny complaining to the Doctor that none of these events happened according to her knowledge of history. I am repeatedly appalled by authors who forget that the Doctor is a time-traveller, and therefore the web of history around him is always changing -- sometimes minutely, sometimes greatly -- and that such change is a natural consequence of his activities. And that the continuity-conscious Lance Parkin, author of A History of the Universe, was the one to do this was a pleasant surprise indeed.
The best scene was where the Doctor risks his life to save a cat. Being a real cat lover, who often has greater affection and respect for animals than people, I really, really enjoyed this touch. I'm not too keen on the Eighth Doctor, but my regard for him just jumped up several dozen points! And having the Doctor "dead" for 90 or so pages was a stroke of genius -- having built a solid cast of interesting characters that included Benny, Lethbridge-Stewart, and Greyhaven, such a plot twist truly increased reader interest, the exact opposite effect that this stunt usually produces.
So all in all, this is by far one of the best New Adventures -- so much so that I can forgive the tokenistic politically-correct balderdash thrown in, as well as the gratuitous, stupid, and incredibly offensive scene with Benny and the Doctor at the end... Anyway, I regret having put off reading it for so long.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 11/6/04
The Dying Days: eagerly anticipated before its release; desperately searched for as a rarity since then. How does it stand up today? This is the third time that I've read this novel, and to be honest it's lost a little something for me on each reread. Which isn't as bad as it seems, since I thought it was absolutely brilliant the first time.
I've seen this novel hailed as a penetratingly thoughtful meta-textual discussion on Doctor Who, both as it existed on TV, as it continued in the Virgin novels, and then as the book license was snatched away back to the BBC. I'm wondering if I missed something somewhere. Yes, I saw the jokes, but I didn't think of them as anything more than a handful of throwaway jokes. Though as jokes go, these are quite good. Hilarious, in fact. I don't think Parkin gets enough credit for his humor, to be honest. I've laughed much more at some of his witty sentences than from whole pages of some "comedy" Doctor Who writers.
However, one of the jokey things I felt backfired somewhat was Parkin's clever trick of only having three invading Ice Warriors ever seen in any one given scene. Apparently this was a response to a statement made by Philip Segal (producer of the Paul McGann Doctor Who TV-movie) saying that they couldn't have had the plot of the film include an alien invasion because creating hundreds of prosthetic costumes would have been too expensive. Parkin wanted to prove that assertion false by writing an action-packed adventure where, in long-standing Doctor Who tradition, we only see three or four costumed actors at a time. (Apologies to either of the two gentlemen if I'm paraphrasing them inaccurately.) He sort of gets away with it, yet I felt he was placing too much of a limitation on himself, with no clear benefit other than successfully winning an argument. The supposedly huge invasion of Earth just doesn't feel in any way epic. He proved that this sort of thing can be done, but, in a novel, should it?
The characters are a lot of fun, if not terribly deep (partially a reflection of the novel as a whole). The most interesting thing about the story is not the alien invasion (done a thousand times before), but the takeover of the British government by rogue forces working from within. Parkin's well-known shtick of having Ian Richardson "playing" a character in his novels leads to inevitable (and very welcome) comparisons to House of Cards, the mini-series in which Ian Richardson's character backstabs, lies and cheats his way into 10 Downing Street. Here in The Dying days, a character not totally dissimilar in description to Ian Richardson, backstabs, lies and cheats his way into 10 Downing Street with the help of some invading Ice Warriors. A fun spin to put on both the otherwise tired invasion plot and the political intrigue plot.
The other characters seem a bit shallow in comparison (I wonder how much of Greyhaven's superb characterization was due to me having seen House of Cards, and simply overlaying some of that character onto this one), and there's an unfortunate instance of the clichd "underling who stays loyal to his higher masters" bit. That said, the Doctor Who regulars themselves are great. Benny has never been better, and Parkin sets a high standard for writing the Eighth Doctor that has rarely been matched. And while Paul Cornell is the novel author who seems the fondest of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Parkin's ability to give the old soldier dignity, great lines and serious gravitas blows many of Cornell's attempts out of the water.
All right, perhaps I've been a bit hard on the book in this review up until now. So at this point I'm going to really turn on the praise. What a fun, rollicking, entertaining romp this is! It's exciting, and filled with thrills and spills. And coming from the pen of Lance Parkin (or keyboard or quill, or whatever it is he uses to write), it maintains his high quality of prose. The actually writing itself is very good. Little thoughts and tidbits are scattered throughout, making the book never dull. The NAs had a reputation of attempting to go a bit deeper than the series went, and since this was the first bona fide "alien invasion of contemporary Earth" story that the series did, Parkin goes in a little more for describing how exactly the population and the world would reaction to a literal invasion of Britain. The results are entertaining, exhilarating and often amusing. Oh, and the pacing is so gripping that I couldn't imagine even someone who disliked the book finding it boring.
Lance Parkin is, of course, also writing the (forthcoming) final EDA, which is oddly appropriate given that he wrote the final Doctor-led New Adventure, which was also the first original Eighth Doctor novel. I'm expecting very different things. While he presumably will be subtly tying up some of the continuing EDA plot-strands, here the only thing he had to do was move Benny from point A to point B, so that she continue as leading lady of the New Adventures. Whether having fewer or greater numbers of restrictions/demands will affect the quality remains to be seen. The Dying Days perhaps lacks the drive of Parkin's previous NA, Just War, but I can forgive that, given that it's not trying to be an intensely emotional drama but rather a rompy action-adventure. Like the New Adventures themselves, it may have had a few rough spots, but overall it's a good ride. It's books like The Dying Days that serve to remind me of how much I miss this novel series.