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The caves of real: The Exile in Waiting by Vonda N McIntyre (1975)

Vonda’s work as a science fiction writer was very  influenced by the American feminist movement and her friendship with other women writers who changed the direction of science fiction, hitherto dominated by male writers. She was  only the second woman to win the Nebula award  for Dreamsnake (1978 and the third to win the Hugo award for best novel.

She was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Having grown up reading science fiction, Vonda started writing herself  and  sold her first short stories in 1969.  In the summer of the following year Vonda  attended the Clarion writers’ workshop at Clarion State College, Pennsylvania, where one of her instructors was science fiction writer  Joanna  Russ.and  studied in Seattle where she  attended the University of Washington, earning a BS in biology but leaving in 1971, part of the way through her PhD  course in genetics to take up writing.

Inspired by her experience at the workshop, she  established Clarion West writers’ workshop in Seattle and helped run it for three years (1971-73), with her  fellow  science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin as one of the tutors. McIntyre lived at Le Guin’s isolated cabin in Oregon which  is where  she completed her first novel, The Exile Waiting (1975).  It’s dedicated to “Ursula and Charles, with fond memories of their Charitable Home for Writers.”

The novel is set on a future Earth, turned into a desert  by some environmental catastophe.  The only surviving city is Center an underground city run by a handful of wealthy families who control the air, food,  power and water.  Many of the inhabitants are little more than slave in thrall to the familiess.

Beyond Earth is the Sphere, civilisations in space spawned by Earth who visit from time to time to trade.

…The Three Hills rose up, as crowded with dwellings as Center’s walls. Their interiors were mazes and warrens, labyrinthine byond mythology. People with no work and no way of to support themelves live dthere, at the core of Center, existing on the city’s paltry charity.

Mischa is a teenager, scraping a living  in the back streets of Center by any means possible, including stealing. She is also an empath who senses the moods of others, including her sister Gemmi with whom she has a strong emotional  link that keeps her trapped in Center.

When Mischa left the city, as she was determined somehow to do, it would be by her own will, her own plan. She had no intention of being driven out because of an ability for which she did not even have a word. Mischa imagined being chased into the deep underground: as a prison, it would lose its beauty and its fascination. And she would be doubly trapped. If she were seen near the city again, she would be killed: if she stayed in the underground  and tried to defy Gemmi’s inevitable call to  return, she would go mad.

Mischa makes her way into the Stone Palace –  home to one of the Families who control the landing field and trade –  in an attempt  to get work but it ends badly when  she angers Lady Clarissa  who  orders her to be whipped which  takes place in a public square, and is brutal.

While Mischa is recovering, looked after by her friend Kiri , Center is invaded by a party of space travellers led by pseudosiblings Subone and Subtwo, who ensconce themselves in the Stone Palace in return for trade.

Mischa  manages to get into the  Stone Palace  and meet Subtwo who discovers that she has remarkable  mathematical powers. He offers her work and the possibility of leaving Earth. She is taught   by one of the space travellers, Jan Hikaru, whom she befriends.  Mischa laps up this new  knowledge:

Every subject she studied came easily. She seldom forgot anything she read. She was happiest with mathematics and theoretical physics; each level of study pulled more facets of reality into an elegant and intricate and consistent  system of natural laws. The new knowledge pleased her  in a way few things ever had, speaking to a sense of beauty and order that she had perceived, yet never had a means of expressing…

Vonda McIntyre

After Mischa’s brother Chris is killed by Subone she goes on the run with Jan, delving ever deeper into the caverns below Center. Here  she makes some startling discoveries that shape the rest of the novel.

Forty years after it was written, the novel seems as up to date anything I have read recently. Mischa is an  engaging heroine, not dependent on men for agency or rescue,  and we  follow her adventures avidly  with the fervent hope that her dreams  of revolution and  escape will become reality. The novel highlights the importance of women’s  friendships, a theme that runs through  Vonda’s  later work.

 

 

Moving Moosevan by Jane Palmer (1990)

In a previous post I reviewed The Planet  Dweller by Jane Palmer. Moving Moosevan is sequel to that novel, also published by Women’s  Press in 1990 in  their groundbreaking science  fiction series.

Moving Moosevan follows directly on from The Planet Dweller with many of the same characters and some new ones.   Neighbours  Diana and   Eva are once again  caught up in the battle to save the world from   invasion by the  malodorous Mott,  asssisted by  Yuri,  and  also  Drax and Reniola, two inter-galactic super-intelligences able to  shapeshift into other forms, including a cat and a woman who looks disconcertingly  like Mrs Thatcher.

Inept  frog-like Olmuke underlings Kulp, Tolt and Jannau are assisting the Mott invaders  by  trying to open a portal to earth from  the Mott planet.  And there are some new players  in the game:  Yat and his fellow androids on  the Mott planet scheming to take the earth for themselves.

The planet dweller herself,  Moosevan, now firmly entrenched below ground  starts to make  changes  to the earth, unhappy with what humanity has done to the  planet’s environment. Britain and Ireland start moving southwards, for instance, and mountains topped  with observatories grow much taller:

Under the curious  gaze of the Pole star even stranger things were begining to happen. The ozone layer, seasonally shredded by pollution, was reknitting itself. The palls of smoke which regularly hung over so many parts of South America were inexplicably doused and trees with manic growth rates began to reforrest the scarred land. …In the north of the continent similar dramatic acts of land reclamation were underway. All the open-cast mines and  quarries whch  had scarred the land were inexplicably filled in.  The ground was being shaken up and put back in its original shape. Topsoil was strewn over the blasted land and vegetation shot up like a tapestry to weave it into place before the winds could scatter it again. Being so public an exercise, no land agent could persuade buyers to claim a plot of this miracle pasture. Even prairie dogs thought twice about taking up residence.  It was no place for the God-fearing, superstitious or nervous rodent. So, like belladonna, being allowed to fruit, beauty was left to  prosper.

Industry flanking the Rhine slowly sank, and plants once more secured the eroded banks of the Ganges and Brahmaputra

Oh , and there is Salisbury, “a tall, lean, friendly-looking man, ” who unknowingly  is Moosevan’s new object of desire.

By the end everything is resolved in a good way, although humanity has been moved to a new home, Titan. So a sequel beckons.

Jane Palmer designed the book jacket.

 

Out of the Unknown, Series 1, episode 11: “Thirteen to Centaurus” by J G Ballard,

“Thirteen to Centarus” was broadcast on 13th December 1965

Cast: Dr Francis – Donald Houston, Abel Granger – James Hunter, Colonel Chalmers – John Abineri, General Short – Noel Johnson, Dr Kersh – Robert James, Zenna Peters – Carla Challoner.

Script: Stanley Miller

Director:  Peter Potter

Designer: Trevor Williams

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik, 

Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

J G  Ballard was one of the most influential  post-war British writers. His work includes novel such as The Drowned  World, The Crystal World, Crash, High Rise and Concrete Island.  Whether or not he was a science fiction writer in the classic sense is open to debate –  his  preoccupations are often inner space, rather than outer space –  coupled with dystopian tales  of modernity in Britain:   Ballard’s manor  is  the world of supermarkets, motorways and high rises.

“Thirteen  to Centaurus” is a short story  which was first published in Amazing Stories in  April 1962. This  adaptation follows the story closely with some  minor alterations.

The station crew

Set in a station whose purpose is yet to be revealed,  it begins with the  funeral of the captain with those present heartily singing “Onward Christian  Soldiers” as the coffin is dispatched into, well, where exactly?

In this community,  numbering just a dozen, Dr Francis wields  much authority,  constantly monitoring the behaviour and thoughts of the crew. He orders a young woman  Zenna to report for conditioning which he says is weakening in her: we  see the inhabitants working out in the gym to the accompaniment of a recorded voice, endlessly repeating:  “This is the world and the whole world. There is no other  world but this. There are no other  creatures but the chosen, and their children shall  the universe. This is the world and the whole world…”

But a young man called Abel  (who suffers from a recurring  dream of a burning disk) is asking pointed  questions of Francis.  Abel  is the Einstein of this tiny world. In his essay about the station he called  it “The Closed Community” and  worked out that  the station appeared to be revolving at about two  feet per second.   Francis  decides  is now  time to tell Abel the truth  and puts him  under the  conditioning to bring back his memories.

“When  you wake up you you will know  the truth:  that this station is in fact a spaceship. We are travelling from our home planet  Earth to another planet million of miles away. Our grandfathers  always lived on Earth. We are the first people to  attempt  such a journey. We were chosen from all people.  You can be proud of that Abel.. You were chosen before  you were born.  Your grandfather was a great man,  he volunteered to come – and so  you are here too. Never forget …The station must be kept running properly…this is a multi-generation space vehicle. Only your children will land  and they will be old when they do.”

Dr Francis and Abel

He explains to Abel that the ship set out 50 years ago and is heading for a planet that revolves around  the Alpha  Centauri.“The social  engineering that went into the building of this ship was more intricate than  the mechanical side….One day the project will be you responsibility.”

So now we and Abel  know the truth. Except we don’t know.  For on one of  Francis’s screens showing the starfields a shadow of a man  appears,  prompting  him to go through a hatch  to find himself…not in outer space,  but  firmly on the ground on Earth.

The station is in fact a  scientific project to test the ability of humans to endure centuries of travel to the stars. They have been conditioned not to question why Dr Francis is not an old man.  But the mood of the government and  public has changed since the project began  50 years before.  One of his colleagues tells Francis. “Even the public is beginning to feel that there is something obscene about this human zoo.  What began as a grand adventure has dwindled into a grisly joke.”

The new commander General Short  tells  Francis that a decision  has been taken to shut down the project.  “What we propose is a phased withdrawal, a gradual re-adjustment  of the world around the crew, that will bring them down to Earth as gently as a parachute. Some of you may have other suggestions. But however we do  it, Project Alpha Centari will be discontinued…The returned   crew will have to be given every freedom and every tv station and  newspaper network in the world  will want to interview  each of them a hundred times.”

General Short

Francis  vehemently objects; “It’s crazy. They will be bound to find out the truth… I don’t think you know what you are  saying General.  Bring them back? How can you bring back the dead?  How can you restore  the lost hundred years?… The task of the original project was to get them to Alpha Centauri. Nothing was said about bringing them back. ..I/m thinking about the crew. If it takes 50 years to get them there, it should take the same time  to bring them back. ..What I don’t know is how each individual is going to react. The people inside that dome hav veen taught to believe since they were children that they are living in a world of their own..and that they would never meet anyone else in the whole of their lives. …The people inside that dome do not want to come out. “

Francis suggest  a chilling  alternative solution:  that the project continues but with  no further children being born until the crew  are all dead as the life span within the dome is only 40 years on average.

Back inside the station the balance of power  begins to shift from Francis to Abel who has started an experiment, conditioning  Francis every day for hours on end and unsettling him  by changing the meal times.   Francis stops leaving the station, which worries the controllers of the project.  They prepare to send in a recovery crew,  but Francis threatens to reveal the nature of the project to the station  crew and the raid is called off. Finally he cuts  off all communication  with the outside world  with the words, “I’m going to Alpha Centauri.” Short wonders, “Whose really in control?

We discover that Abel in fact   knows  there are people outside the station, something he seems to have known for some time.  When Francis discovers he tells him he should leave and  be free Abel responds, “Free?  What does that mean? Neither of us is free. This is our whole world and these are our people. The burning disk is the eye of God and Abel is his servant,chosen of the Lord.”

Abel  continues his experiment on Francis,   conditioning him to lose  his memories of the outside world. and to make him believe that he  is flying to Alpha Centauri but will never live to get there.  At the end of the episode  Abel plays  a recording he has made himself: “This is the voice of the chosen of the Lord. This is a spaceship.  We are the first people to undertake such a journey Doctor Francis.  This life is your only life. This ship is your only world. You will never see another. You are flying to Alpha Centauri. You can be proud of that, Doctor Francis.”

In  his epic poem Paradise  Lost Milton gave a now famous line to Satan: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Is that the choice that Abel has made?

This is a successful  production, creating  a  distinct claustrophic intensity and makes good use of  the array of   solid acting talent eg Noel Johnson and Robert James  available to the director. James Hunter is particularly  good as Abel, moving convincingly  from gaucheness to  authority in the course of the episode.

 

Where Have I Seen Them Before?

John Abineri appeared in Doctor Who in  “Fury from the Deep” (1968)  as Van Lutynes, in “The Ambassadors of Death” (1970) as General Carrington, in “Death to the Daleks” (1974)  as Richard Railton and in   “”The Power of Kroll” (1979)  as Ranquin

Robert James appeared in Doctor Who in “The Power of the Daleks” (1966)  as Lesterson  and in “The Mask of Mandragora”  (1976) as the High Priest.

Noel Johnson played the effortlessly  suave civil servant  J M  Osborne in A for Andromeda  (1961) and The Andromeda Breakthrough  (1962)

“the plug-in society…”: The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner (1975)

The Shockwave Rider is one of a series of influential  and wildly imaginative novels that Brunner wrote in the 1960s and 1970s in which he  imgined how society might develop in the future under the impact of  problems such as over-population and environmental pollution.

In The Shockwave Rider, Brunner’s focus is  the impact of computers on society, a technology whose use in the early  1970s was confined to large corporations,  scientific research institutes  and the government. Computers were large machines which filled whole rooms: the idea of home computers was just a distant dream. (You can find a timeline on the development of computers here).

In his introduction to the novel John Brunner writes:

People like me who are concerned to portray  in fictional terms aspects of that foreign country, the future, whither we are all willy-nilly being deported, do not make our guesses in a vacuum. We are frequently – and in this case I am specifically  – indebted to those who are analyzing  the limitless possibilities of tomorrow with some more practical aim in view…as for instance the slim yet admirable hope that our children may inherit a world more influenced by imagination and foresight than our own.  The scenario (to employ a fashionable cliche) of The Shockwave Rider derives in large part from Alvin Toffler’s stimulating  study Future Shock, and in consequence I’m much obliged to him.

Future Shock, published in 1970,   was written by Alvin and Heidi Toffler. The Tofflers argued that society was  undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a “super-industrial society” a  change which was overwhelming  people and leaving them suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation” ie “future shock”  In their view the majority of social problems  were symptoms of  “future shock”.and “information overload.”

The Tofflers explicitly referenced  science fiction: “… science fiction has immense value as a mind-stretching force for the creation of the habit of anticipation. Our children should be studying Arthur C. Clarke, William Tenn, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and Robert Sheckley, not because these writers can tell them about rocket ships and time machines but, more important, because they can lead young minds through an imaginative exploration of the jungle of political, social, psychological, and ethical issues that will confront these children as adults.” 

Brunner  specificlaly references the book in the novel :“oh, well the fact it it took us by surprise is just another example of Toffler’s Law, I guess: the future arrives too early and in the wrong order.”

So to the story. Nicholas Haflinger is a “dodger.”  In this  future society  computers log all citizens  and their activity,  but  Haflinger can create his own identity on the data-net (as Brunner calls it)   by  inputting   fictitious details from his veephone  – and then disappear from the gaze of the authorities.   Periodically Haflinger  purges his existing identity  and  creates a new one.

The data-net

In this future those  with money   have adopted the “plug-in” lifestyle”  which offers  never-ending change as one  vacuous trend replaces another, one job replaces another, one house replaces another,  one partner replaces another… ad infinitum.  Television offers multiple three-vee channels which are periodically hijacked by pirate channels broadcasting from satellites. There are also  competing religious groups: eg the Billykings (Protestants), the Grailers (Catholic), the Jihadi babies (Muslims),  who attack  each other in gang wars (known as “triballing).

The computer networks offer public Delphi boards  on which the public bets on the outcome of predictions.

It works approximately like this.

First you corner a large – if possible, a very large  – number of people who, while they’ve never formally  studied the subject you’re going to ask them about and hence are unlikley to recall the correct answer, are nonetheless plugged into the culture to which a question relates.

Then you ask them, as it might be, to estimate how many people died in the great influenza epidemic, which followed World  War 1, or how many  loaves were condemned by EEC food inspectors as unfit for human consumption during June 1970.

Curiously, when you consolidate their replies they tend to cluster around the actual figure as recorded in almanacs, year-books and statistical returns,

It’s rather as though this paradox has proved true: that while nobody knows what’s going on around here, everybody knows what’s going on around here.

Well, it works for the past, why can’t it work for the future? Three hundred million people with access to the integrated North American data-net is a nice big number of potential consultees. Unfortunately  most of them are running scared from the awful specter of tomorrow. How best to corner people who just do not watn to know?

An orphan,  Haflinger was  was recruited from school  by the government and taken to a training and educational facility called Tarnover. It’s dedicated to:

…exploiting genius. Their ancestry could  be traced back to the primitive “think tanks” of the mid-twentieth century, but only in the sense that a solid-state computer was descended from Hollerith’s  punched-card analyzer. Every superpower, and a great many second-hand and third-rank nation has similar  centres. The brain race had been running  for decades and some countries had entered it with head start. (The pun was popular, and forgivable.) 

The USA entered the race on the grand scale very late. Not until the nation was reeling under the impact of the Great Bay Quake was the harsh lesson learned that the economy could not absorb disasters of even this magnitude. Even then it took years for the switch from brawn to brain to become definitive in North America. ..the goal? To pin down before anybody else did the genetic elements of wisdom.

Haflinger flourishes at Tarnover –  but  then  he discovers that they are trying to   make  a superhuman through genetic experiments, creating life that is brought to term in an artificial  womb. Appalled, he goes on the run

At the start of the novel,  after deleting  his identity as Arthur Lazarus, founder and proprietor  of the Church  of Infinite Insight  in a converted drive-in movie theatre near Toledo,  Haflinger creates  a new identity as Sandy Locke, a computer-sabotage consultant, and  gets a job with  a corporation called G2S.  All well and good and as planned.  But then he meets a woman  called  Kate  Lilleberg  who sees  right through his role-playing. “You Sandy Locke are trying far too hard to adhere to a  statistical norm. and I hate to see a good man go to waste.”

Californian commune, 1970

The strain of living too many lives and having to constantly maintain a facade brings about Haflinger’s mental collapse from which he is rescued by Kate.  They become  lovers and go on the run, eventually  ending  up at at Precipice, one of the settlements created  by refugees from Northern Califiornia after the Great Bay Quake which levelled San Francisco.  The town is reached by a meandering electric rail-car.  “Among the things Precipicians  didn’t like  might be cited the data-net, veephones, surface vehicles not running on tracks, heavier-than air craft…modern merchandising methods and the Federal government.”

Precipice rejects “the plug-in society”;  the inhabitants   lives  life in environmental way  with  a strong sense of  place and community, guided by a grassroots democracy. But it hides some vital secrets that  protect its  independence  from a Federal governmnet that loathes it and from the tribes  who  try and  raid the town from time to time. This description of a human-based society  seems very inspired by the communes that sprang up in California in the 1970s.

After a falling out Kate and Haflinger  spilt up and leave Precipice.   Haflinger  is identified and captured, returned to Tarnover  and questioned relentlessly  about his life on the run.

His interogator Freeman tells him: “…But you see you are nobody. And you chose to be so of  your own free will. Legally, officially,   you simply don’t exist.” Kate too is abducted and interogated to put pressure on him. But, convinced by Haflinger’s relentless logic, his interrogator Freeman releases them unofficially.  The couple then criss-cross  the United States, borrowing home computers   as Haflinger creates and releases  a  worm that cannot be killed   into  the data-net, as he tells a press conference held in building occupied by students;

…consist in a comprehensive and irrevocable order to release at any printout station any and all data in store whose publication may conduce to the enhanced  well-being, whether physical, psychological or social of the population of North America. Specifically…information concerning gross infringements of Canadian, Mexican and.or United Staets legal enactmnets respecting  – in order of priority- public health, the protection of the environment, bribery and corruption, fair business and the payment  of national taxes, shall be dissemminated automatically  to the media.

In other words there are  no longer any secrets.

They return to Precipice where  they  and the town face  a final  apocalyptic threat from the Federal Government  that only Halflinger’s extraordinary talent for altering the data-net can save them from.  Can  he achieve  the impossible?

The Shockwave Rider  is  at heart a novel of ideas and possibilities :  the core of the novel is Freeman’s and Haflinger’s dialogue on the kind of  society they are living in – and what an alternative might be.  Highly recommended.

 

 

“Fun for all”: The animated version of the Doctor Who serial The Macra Terror (1967, 2019)

As an avid Doctor Who viewer since the first episode on 23rd  November 1963  I  almost certainly watched “The Macra Terror”, aged 11, on its original broadcast March to April 1967, but I have no recollection of it whatsover. Which means that I got to this watch  the serial as though I was seeing it for the first time which was  a real pleasure.

“The Macra Terror” was one  of the many Doctor Who serials that was wiped by the BBC  in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Home video was just a distant dream, even  on Tomorrow’s World:  drama of any kind  were very rarely repeated so there was no notion at the BBC  that anybody in the future would want to see these programmes again.

The era in which Pat Troughton played the Doctor from 1966 to 1969  was particularly  hard hit because of this policy with 14 serials either  partly or wholly missing at one time. Fortunately some of  those are now available  to us once again, either because they turned up abroad (where they had been  sold decades ago to foreign broadcasters) in the case of the “The Web of Fear” and “The Enemy of the World” or  because they have been turned into animations using the original soundtrack which  forunately have survived. This was done in the case of “The Power of the Daleks”, the first serial in which Pat played the Doctor  for the first time, and which was wholly missing, The DVD was released at the end of 2016, 50 years after ist first broadcast. Now “The Macra Terror” from 1967  has also been animated  – in colour.

In an interview  published in Doctor Magazine (536) to coincide with the release the director Charles Norton said, “It’s not a reconstructuion of the original – it’s a new production of the story. The existing set designs and things like that are really more of a starting point than an end destination” while Adrian  Salmon,  who storyboarded the production, said, “We decided not to refer to the original  shooting script, but rather cast a fresh eye over the performances in the audio.”

The story  begins in the Tardis  with the Doctor  showing his three companions, Polly (Anneke Wills), Ben ( Michael Craze) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) a device known as Time Scanner which  looks into the future. Suddenly a large claw fills the screen.

On landing the travellers find themselves  on a human colony planet (how and when this colonisation happened is never discussed). At first glance this appears to be a space age Butlins with a drum majorette leading a parade as the travellers arrive, while there are constant exhortations from louspeakers: “The colony needs you” and “Fun for All.”. The Pilot (Peter Jeffrey), is in day to day charge,  but orders are received from the Controller (Graham Leaman) whose image  is seen on screen only,  like Big Brother.

This is your Controller speaking. There is no need for alarm. You may all continue your work and play confident that the best is being done for you…. Now, return to your work and play with fresh heart and renewed energy.

The travellers receive a friendly welcome and  are offered steam baths,  beauty treatments etc.  The Doctor even has his suede shoes polished.  All fine.

But the Doctor is already suspcious after an encounter with  Medok (Terence Lodge),  a  colonist who claims  that there are creatures that come out at night.  Soon we too will learn the truth about the colony –  and who is really in charge.

One  of the key  themes of the story  is how dissenting voices are treated by a society. In the case of the colony there is a Corrections Unit and also sleep-machines which brainwash Ben into  conformity for a time with their re-iterated messages;

The sleeper must relax and believe. Everything in the Colony is good and beautiful. You must accept it without question. You must obey orders. The leaders of the Colony know what is best. In the morning when you wake up you will be given some work. You will be glad to obey. You will question nothing in the Colony.

The Doctor  asks the Pilot: “Why do  you want to make everyone the same?” Why indeed.

To my eye this is a better animation than  “The Power of the Daleks” . If you are purist you can watch it in black and white, rather than the colour.

“The Macra Terror” was not the greatest story  of the Pat Troughton era  but it is still a welcome return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name…” the new Doctor Who novel: Scratchman by Tom Baker and James Goss (2019)

This Doctor Who novel was a long time in coming. It began life as a joint  script dreamt up by Tom Baker and his co-star,  the late Ian Marter (who played Unite medic Harry  Sullivan in  Doctor Who between 1974 and 1975).    A good deal of the original story seems to have been  worked on between rounds  in their favourite London pubs or the Colony Club. Giving  it the name   name Doctor Who Meets Scratchman the two actors got as far as talking to director James Hill about a possible film,  but it never progressed any further.

Flash forward forty odd years and the project has been  revived and turned into a novel  in a collaboration between Tom and the very  experienced writer James Goss,  whose previous Doctor Who work  has included  the novels City of Death (2015), The Pirate Planet (2017) and  Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (2018). In an interview in Doctor  Who Magazine (534)  James says:

At the start of the project I sat down with Tom and a storyline… Although a script of Scratchman exists, there were a  few hints that  it wasn’t quite what Tom and Ian had originally envisaged. So we went right back to the original story and built it up from there.  ..Tom was very influential in shaping the story. 

Scratchman features The Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan. The story is told in a series of flasbacks by the Doctor himself who has been hauled up in front of an assembly of Time Lords with the snappy  title of the Convocation of Oblivion. They’re not happy.

Your recent actions endangered the enture universe,” the Zero Nun informed me.

Yes. Something trivial like that.

The crowd seethed. There was hunger to them….

“All right,” I told her. “But in order to do that I need to teach you about the fear”.

“Fear?” she blinked. That got her.

“Yes.” I addressed the  entire chamber. “You see, even the Time Lords are afarid of something . And tonight, I’m going show you what it is. Are you sitting  comfortably? Of course you are. And  I’m  rather afraid that’s the problem…”

The novel opens  with the Doctor and his companions landing on a  remote Scottish island. (Science fiction and Scottish islands seems to  naturally go together, one thinks  of Target Luna, The Andromeda Breakthrough, Orbit One ZeroAliens in the Mind etc).

A peculiar breeze drifted through the fading daylight on the island. The strange wind howled around the field, circling like a cat before settling down.

A sheep observed all this curiously. Confirming her worst suspicions, a large blue box pushed its way out of thin air onto the grass. The ewe shook her head sadly and trotted away.

The island is picturesque,  but the Doctor senses something in the air. He’s right, of course. They  soon discover that the scarecrows on the island are mutated villagers. They are alive (sort of)  –   and  malevolent,  and it’s not long before the Doctor and the remaining  villagers are barricaded  in the local church in a  classic “base under siege” scenario with the scarecrows hammering on the doors. (The Doctor comes up  with a collective noun for scarecrows, by the way  “a scratch”)

The Doctor manages to get them out of this,   but this is just the begining of their troubles. If the first half is gothic in feel, the second half draws on classic Greek tales, particularly The Odyssey.

The Doctor, having been separated from Sarah and Harry, finds himself in a mythological place. If I tell you that he’s driven there by Charon (in a London taxi) you’ll probably guess where he is (or appears to be, for nothing is straightforward and nothing is what it seems). Can the Doctor free himself and rescue his companions?

Between them Tom and James have successfully evoked a particular era of Doctor Who without it being a pastiche and I  personally enjoyed it a great deal, particularly some of the phrases in the novel. Here are a few of my favourites;

“Oh,”  said Sarah, and it was the saddest of “oh’s”.

“I love a good barricade, it reminds me of the Siege of Leningrad”.

“That”,  I said very  gravely, “is a bag of jelly babies”. I took the sweets  from Harry’s hand and offered them around. No takers.

I took refuge in the canapes, successfully helping myself to a vol-au-vent. It’s quite something when  only the profiteroles believe in you.

“What lies beneath… ” my review of the Doctor Who novel: Molten Heart by Una McCormack (2018)

This is one of three novels  published by the BBC which  feature The Thirteenth Doctor for the first time (the other two  are Combat Magicks by Steve Cole and The Good Doctor by Juno Dawson).

Team Tardis (the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham) land on Adamantine, a planet on which nothing ever seems to have happened, nor ever seems likely to . But nothing is what it seems (is it ever in the world of the Doctor?)

The best travellers  – the very best – aren’t fooled by surfaces. The best travellers know that if they want to find treasures, they must dig, dig deep, below the surface, down to the heart. And below the surface this world – Adamantine – indeed has many treaures to show. Many trearures, and some terrors,  and always, always adventure. The best travellers  always find adventure.

The time and space travellers do indeed find adventure, coming across a beautiful  city. This is  how Yaz sees it;

Sheer white towers shot skywards.Anywhere else, Yaz might have thought  they were glass skyscrapers, but not here.These were like huge  stalagmites, hollowed out, a whole city of crystals. They seemed to shine from within, and here and there white jewels and pale gemstones – sapphire and ruby and topaz and emerald  – had been set into the crystal structures to make patterns  and decorations., beautiful and intricate mosaics. Light bounced off these from every angle.  The whole City shimmered, as if the stone was gently swaying to an alien rhythm.

The city’s inhabitants (some friendly, some not) are even more remarkable:   the Doctor and her friends quickly  find themselves caught up in a  power  and philosophical struggle whose outcome will determine the future of the planet.

A key theme in the book  is  how  people (whether humans or aliens)  respond to challenges to existing thinking.  Some will  accept new knowledge  which overturns orthodoxy, others will violently  reject it as heresy.

Nobody  is truly evil in this book.   There are people making the wrong decisions from fear or ignorance,  but not from malevolence.

In conclusion, a excellent addition to the canon of Doctor Who novels  which  stretches back to 1964’s Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks written by David Whittaker (and which I  can remember reading as a child )