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Cat's Cradle: Warhead

By Andrew Cartmel

Book review by Jon Preddle

Warhead is not a very good Doctor Who story.

It is, however, a very good techno-thriller in the mould of Blade Runner and Max Headroom. Cartmel himself has said he is a fan of William Gibson's Cyberpunk books and that this was the style he was trying to duplicate. I haven't read any of Gibson's works so I can't say if Cartmel has succeeded. He also says that he is obsessed with the way technology is evolving, and this is the underlying theme of the book.

The Doctor has become concerned with the way Earth has become overpowered by big corporations, resulting in social, political and technological decadence. To put a stop to this, he and Ace set out to obtain the components for, and then assemble, the ultimate weapon. This search takes the Doctor and Ace to Turkey, England, and finally to New York.

Continuity plays a very minor role in this book. Apart from the brief appearance of Ace's friend Shreela (from Survival), the only other continuity reference is to the strip Fellow Travellers, written by Cartmel for DWM 164-166, which featured the Doctor's house in the country; the Doctor hides part of the weapon at the house while waiting for the second component to arrive.

Although it is the second in the Cat's Cradle trilogy, Warhead has no links to Marc Platt's Time's Crucible apart from the brief return of the silver cat from Platt's story. The cat even appears on the cover of the book, but the scene depicted in the illustration doesn't even occur in the story! The impression given is that the cat was added at a later stage in order to substantiate the book as part of the trilogy.

Despite being script editor for all three McCoy seasons, Cartmel seems to have had difficulty with the character of the Seventh Doctor. The Doctor still seems to know precisely what is going on, keeping in tune with the television Doctor, but he just comes across as being too knowledgeable; he has everything planned to the nth degree and is just waiting for all the pieces to fall into place. This aspect of the TV Seventh Doctor is one that I like, but in the novel, Cartmel has taken this 'power' to new, but awkward, levels.

Ace, on the other hand, is handled a lot better. Cartmel has allowed her to mature physically and mentally. Even her relationship with the Doctor has undergone a major development. A delightful scene occurs at the Doctor's house; Ace is taking a shower while another character, Vincent, is having a bath. He falls asleep and nearly drowns. A naked Ace goes to his aid, and the Doctor rushes in to assist - and neither Ace nor the Doctor appear the least bit concerned by, or even conscious of, her state of undress!

Reading the book, I got the impression that Cartmel had written the story years ago, with the two main characters 'becoming' the Doctor and Ace in the transition to a New Adventure. This is why I feel the book fails as a Doctor Who story.

Still, Warhead is definitely one of the more adult of the six New Adventures published to date; its themes both topical and disturbing. Although I can't place it higher than fourth (behind Time's Crucible, Exodus and Revelation), it is still a worthwhile read...

Book review by Felicity Scoones

While I agree that Warhead does not make good use of the concept of Doctor Who, I still found it an intriguing and at times gripping book. 'Doctor Who meets Cyberpunk' is a phrase that springs to mind. The technology is not quite that advanced, but an intimate degree of interfacing with computers is an everyday part of life and the anarchical world in which the story is set is reminiscent of the grim Gibson novel, Neuromancer. It is, unlike Genesys or Exodus, unquestionably a science fiction novel with the whole plot hinging around this ecologically devastated, violent and technology-conscious society of the near future. It is very well written and Cartmel manages to convey a strong sense of realism, especially when describing computer linked weaponry.

Read it and see what you think.

This item appeared in TSV 28 (April 1992).

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