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Timewrym: Genesys

by John Peel

Review by Paul Scoones

Ever since I first came across the plethora of novels based on the Star Trek series, I have yearned for a time when Target would extend their horizons beyond the TV novelisations. 'The Companions' and 'The Missing Episodes' were both steps in the right direction which unfortunately died before they had a chance to become established. A few years ago, I wrote an article for TSV 7 predicting that one day Doctor Who would be extended in the same fashion as the Star Trek books, and now finally the first of the New Adventures has arrived. I had waited with some considerable anticipation, but regrettably the first of the Timewyrm novels didn't quite live up to my expectations.

To my mind, the book starts off as a bit of a yawn. The first few chapters are very slow paced, and concerned primarily with character introduction and scene setting. On top of this, we are expected to swallow the idea that the Doctor would deliberately blank out parts of his memory and at the same time carelessly wipe his companion's mind. This is very clumsily handled, and just doesn't sit well with the personalities of the Seventh Doctor and Ace.

Following the tone of the last televised season, the story focuses on Ace more often than the Time Lord, and Peel expands even more on her background, but in places it is evident that the writer hasn't researched enough of what has already been established about her - for instance she provides a diversion at one point by breaking into song, an Irish folk ballad no less, and we're told that she's a natural singer, but hold on - Ace stated quite firmly in The Happiness Patrol that she couldn't sing, and even without this reference, does the above newly-revealed ability sound like Ace to you? I think not.

Criticism will undoubtedly be made of the sometimes blatantly sexual nature of the novel, and although to me it seems to add something to the atmosphere Peel is attempting to create of ancient Mesopotamian life, I can't help feeling that the author has only included the sexuality - even Ace is naked on no less than two occasions - in an attempt to justify the label of 'mature fiction' applied to the series by its editor.

What is perhaps most striking about Timewyrm: Genesys is its heavy reliance on Doctor Who continuity. Peel takes every available opportunity to throw in a reference to a past adventure, character, incident or device from the series. Admittedly to a series continuity freak like me, these are all very nice and appreciated, but I do feel that they will leave the newer fan feeling a little unnecessarily confused and bewildered. Indeed, one of the editor's stated aims with the Timewyrm series is to attract first-time Doctor Who readers, but I can see them being easily discouraged by all the series references in this novel.

One of the weakest points sees the Doctor summon up his third persona to deal with a problem. Although I liked Peel's rationale that each incarnation is a distinct individual with their own skills and methods, I felt it was quite out of character for the Seventh Doctor not to solve the crisis himself - especially as it wasn't made apparent exactly what it was that the Third Doctor could do that he couldn't. Quite apart from this, Peel's treatment of Pertwee's Doctor doesn't do him any justice, and he comes across as a bit of a twit, calling everyone by the names of his past companions and uttering 'Jumping Jehosophat'; a catchphrase which seems more suited to Troughton's Doctor.

If Peel had problems capturing the character of the Third Doctor, then he had no greater success with the current version. Somehow the Doctor seemed to lack the compassion, the humour and the dark mysterious nature that we have come to expect of Sylvester McCoy's distinct portrayal. Particularly disappointing was the Doctor's evident lack of feeling for Ace in the novel.

When I first learned that John Peel was to write the first Timewyrm book, I was a little dubious. A lot depends on the reception of this first book in the series, and Peel is not to my mind the best choice of author. I found his Hartnell Dalek novelisations particularly bland. Take away the seemingly endless references to characters, items and events from the Doctor's past - which are undoubtedly the greatest appeal of Timewyrm: Genesys - and what's left? A very blandly written, loosely plotted overlong straightforward adventure novel.

The greatest thing this book has going for it is that it is the first new Doctor Who story in more than one and a half years. Personally, I was expecting better.

Review by Chris Mander

The most significant development to Doctor Who fandom since 1989! Most keenly anticipated book since... well, since the last one!

So did it live up to the expectations? YES! But it didn't quite hit the Peter Darvill-Evans hype-machine criteria that are spread all over the outside and inside of the book. "...stories too broad and too deep...", "...complex, challenging plots with serious themes..." Themes? Umm... the misuse of power, I suppose. Doesn't exactly leap out at you. "...two-fisted, sword-wielding, action-packed adventure..." Yes, definitely. Very readable, very good Doctor Who tale, exciting even.

The Seventh Doctor and Ace characters deserved to be given this further lease of life; possibly more so than any other combination in the programme's history, given both what they did, and were not allowed to, achieve on television.

Ace comes across better than anyone else in the book quite easily (and Sophie Aldred writes a pretty darned good introduction). There isn't much character development for Ace (none of the which-bit-of-her-past-shall-we-dredge-up-today syndrome) or for any of the others, come to that. But there is a lot of character, and it's exactly right as a continuation of the TV series.

As for the Doctor - well, he's there about as much as you read him in to the part. His character and motivations aren't dealt with much at all, but there's a lot of mysteriousness and quirkiness in his actions and lines. Personally I enjoyed being able to decide for myself exactly why he did what, and fill in my own ideas about his personality. Hence John Peel's treatment of the Doc comes very close to my ideal "what the Seventh Doctor should be" somewhat because there isn't much there to contradict it, which isn't bad as far as I'm concerned.

The villain - she who eventually becomes the Timewyrm - is a great concept and just as capable as any previous Doctor Who baddie. Completely nasty with a predictable hint of insanity, but then just when you thought you had her pegged she gets really, really nasty. I'm not sure if there's quite enough depth to her character to last through another three books, but that is in the hands of different writers.

The ending does make a brilliant hook into the next part - probably the best head start in publicity Terrance has ever had. After this you'll want the next one.

There is heaps of continuity. This you will either like or hate, I think. Even if you enjoy recognizing (as I found I did) constant references to bits from literally all over the place in the show's past, at times it does get a bit much. A far too over-the-top characterisation of Doctor Three doesn't help, either.

The story is incredibly sexist. It's somewhat like an avalanche of titillation in front of which Ace occasionally gets up and yells and stamps her foot indignantly - and then gets swept away by it just the same... An avalanche? Well, maybe not that overwhelming, and mostly it fits into the location and society of the story. What makes it more dubious is John Peel's intentions in putting it there in the first place. If it adds anything to the story, well, fine; but it seems very likely it's just another element purposefully thrown in to try and draw a "mature'' reading audience. Or to get a whole lot of adolescent teenagers excited. To a lesser extent the hack-and-slash axe-wielding battles fall into this category too.

Which brings me to an interesting point. A stated main aim for the New Adventures series is to grab an older audience and broaden the readership. Bollocks! If this series succeeds (and from Genesys it deserves to) it'll be because all of the original Who fans buy them. No self-respecting science-fiction reader is going to pick up something in the shops with Doctor Who written boldly on it. The programme hasn't captured a new viewing audience of young kids for many years (in Britain, anyway) and these books simply cater for a fan base which is becoming progressively older. And thank heavens for that! Reading some of the more simplistic Target novelisations these days for me is something I have to force myself to do. Mostly I don't, so Genesys makes a refreshing change.

To sum up - basically it's a damn good book! It just scrapes into the "too exciting to put down" category, and its faults aren't overwhelming enough to get seriously in the way of this. Apart from missing any serious character development, it's about as good as the traditional Doctor Who adventure story gets.

So go and buy it! Yes, Gynysys is wyrth the $16 (or lykely more) that you'll have to pay for it here. (Wyll, cympared to $13 for Syrvivyl it definytely is. Syxtyyn bycks fyr y Dyctyr Why byyk! Blyydy hyll!)

Review by Felicity Fletcher

I would never have persisted with this book had I not been sick at the time with nothing else new to read in the house.

Genesys is a boring story, many facets of which are badly handled by the author. Ace for example is introduced as having suffered a very implausible memory loss. The editor Peter Darvill-Evans vainly hopes that these books will appeal to other than just Doctor Who fans and thus Peel needed some way of explaining the TARDIS to the ignorant reader. So Ace conveniently loses her memory and the Doctor states a few facts about his craft: very clumsily handled.

One of the worst aspects of this book is the portrayal of the Doctor and his relationship to Ace. The great strength of Season 26 is the development of the friendship between the two main characters. But as far as Peel is concerned it never happened. The Doctor is callous towards Ace's feelings about her loss of memory and about her being sexually harassed by Gilgamesh. He shows some concern over her involvement in life-threatening situations but it stops there: he doesn't even understand why she feels it necessary to risk her life to help him. With his abrupt and unsympathetic nature, this book is easier to accept if you think of the Doctor as being Colin Baker's rather than McCoy's. And apart from the constant nitro-nine references, Ace is interchangeable with Peri - there is so little characterisation.

The pivotal character of the adventure is a sexist moron called Gilgamesh. He is portrayed as a kind of Hercules - strong as four men, felling vast numbers with his battle axe while holding conversations with his sidekick. However this fairytale approach to his character is at odds with the more realistic interpretations of the others. The other characters talk and think while Gilgamesh bounds around constantly hitting people with his axe. It's like having Itchy and Scratchy in the middle of I, Claudius.

Other than Gilgamesh the characters from the period are quite interesting although their roles are very slight. They are thoughtful and rational with understandable motivations and fears. However this in itself creates a problem of inconsistency in the narrative. Gilgamesh's sexual marauding and his 'kill first' mentality is constantly passed off as being normal and acceptable for the time, yet no one else in the book behaves in this way. He is a barbarian among civilised people who are constantly denying that they are civilised just to try and make Gilgamesh look acceptable to Ace.

Obviously it helps the story if all the characters can communicate in the same language, and it is accepted convention in the programme that anyone travelling with the Doctor can understand the same languages as himself. So it is not too difficult to suspend disbelief over the lack of a language barrier in this story. But Ace singing an Irish folk song and having it understood by these people of prehistory stretches credibility too far, and makes the reader all too aware that this is just a book. It is clumsy things like this which repeatedly mar the story.

As for the 'adult' nature of the book, well there is a lot of violence and a bit of nudity (female characters only). But the violence is boring and the nudity is devoid of meaning; not adding to nor even detracting from the plot.

Last of all, the Timewyrm concept itself. The Timewyrm is nearly defeated, but rises again, and again. And again; like the perennial villain of a comic strip. However it is not an intrinsic part of the plot that the villain be the Timewyrm, and it seems like an afterthought tacked on to satisfy requirements. Linking the books together in this way is limiting and I can only hope that the other authors handle it better - especially after this unpromising start.

Review by Jon Preddle

Timewyrm: Genesys will probably go down in Doctor Who history as one of the most eagerly awaited pieces of merchandise - because the New Adventures books are the closest we will get to any TV adventures for some time.

I first heard about the Timewyrm concept from David Bishop when I was in England this time last year. Now, twelve months later, I have a copy. But was it worth the wait?

Yes!

Peel has perfectly captured the Doctor and Ace's relationship, a good sign as this is the part of the McCoy era which makes it a joy to watch. Although we are without McCoy and Aldred's visual performance, it was easy to "hear" them speaking the book's dialogue.

I looked up Gilgamesh in an encyclopaedia and discovered that whilst Peel has kept to the basics of the 'true' history, he has deviated in some instances in order to make the book work, so it shouldn't be taken as 'gospel'.

The book has a few slow moments, particularly at the beginning, but it soon picks up and I found that I couldn't put it down once I got past Chapter 16! As the introductory book to the next three, it works well even though the Timewyrm of the title doesn't actually appear until the last two chapters.

Another negative aspect of the book and one that will turn away prospective new readers (those who are unfamiliar with the series) is the self-referencing to the series. Peel shows off his knowledge of the show's history with small references to past adventures. Some are on the point of overkill - like comparing Enkidu to Nimrod from Ghost Light almost every time the character is mentioned. Some readers may wonder who Katarina is and when did Ace go to Paradise Towers?

That aside, the book is one to buy if you only get a few Doctor Who books. At 230 pages it is the longest book to date, but at NZ$16 it may out of the reach of some readers.

This item appeared in TSV 24 (August 1991).

Index nodes: Timewyrm: Genesys