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by Mark Gatiss

Book review by Simon Hardman

I'm not normally one to overly enthuse about the qualities of Doctor Who books but I can make an exception in this case. This is the best Doctor Who book ever and once you are halfway through you will find it a real struggle to put down.

If you have ever read a Quatermass book you will know exactly what to expect from Nightshade; an electrifying and genuinely involving sci-fi horror thriller. The Nightshade TV show of the title is a thinly veiled disguise for the fifties series Quatermass, and Gatiss freely plagiarizes from this show. The episodes of Nightshade that are described are all identical to Quatermass stories.

One of the book's main characters is Edmund Trevithick, an ageing actor who played the role of Professor Nightshade in the series of the same name. The line between fiction and reality is blurred in that Trevithick the actor has a family identical to that of Bernard Quatermass.

Nightshade starts steadily enough, with strange disappearances and supernatural phenomena being visited on the sleepy village of Crook Marsham. In the first hundred or so pages the excitement comes, as in most of the best Who stories, from the Doctor playing detective but the start of the book is also vital to its impact as it is in these pages that Gatiss sets up a multitude of convincing characters. As the villagers find themselves trapped and under threat, the tension builds to fever pitch.

What saves Nightshade from being just another high body-count horror is that because you relate to the characters, you can feel their plight. The shock when one of the main characters dies - as happens quite frequently - is one of the most memorable aspects of this book.

In its closing stages Nightshade is tense, urgent and claustrophobic as the trapped inhabitants of Crook Marsham wait to die. Unfortunately the end of the book is a bit of a let down with the inevitable scientification of the supernatural monster, and when its defeat comes it is without warning and holds little excitement. However, in comparison with the rest of the book, it is easy to forgive this small lapse.

Nightshade is well in line with the spirit of Doctor Who, if a bit gory, and would make outstanding television, either as Doctor Who or as Quatermass. There aren't enough clichés to describe this book, but I will say that if you like Doctor Who at all then you should beg, borrow or steal this book - just as long as you read it.

Book review by Paul Scoones

There are a couple of New Adventures which read to me as if the authors intended them for a different place in the series from that which they were given. Time's Crucible, for instance, reads astonishingly like it was Marc Platt's bid to be the very first book, carrying on directly from Survival. Similarly, it is my strong suspicion that Mark Gatiss wanted to write Ace's leaving story. Hints of her impending departure are subtly built up over the course of the novel so that by the final few pages it seems utterly inevitable that she will go, even though we already know from advance publicity that this doesn't happen until the following book. Gatiss may well have intended Ace to stay with Robin Yeadon in 1968, but it was not to be. When I'd finished reading I was left with a fleeting sense of profound sadness for Ace, and something approaching bitterness towards the Doctor - which should indicate just how engrossing and powerful a book Nightshade really is.

The novel is packed with a multitude of richly-portrayed very real, very human characters. Gatiss has the rare skill of being able to bring people to life utterly convincingly on the page, and I found myself reacting to each of them. Few survive to the final pages however, and the numerous deaths are made all the, more tragic because the reader has got to know and understand the victims beforehand.

Nightshade begins, a little deceptively, as a slow, gentle story about a village of predominantly middle-aged and elderly folk living somewhat detached from the more dramatic events of 1968 - the year of my birth. It's hard to think of this as a 'historical'; unlike Ace, I existed in the England of December 1968, albeit just six months old!

By the time the Doctor and Ace arrive on the scene, the reader is already familiarised with the residents of Crook Marsham and the radio telescope on the hill. This makes a change from most of the other New Adventures in that it is easy to believe that the characters actually had lives before the adventure.

If I can make any criticism of the book, it is that it perhaps takes a little too long to set the scene, but once the pace picks up, it never lets off. I read the book in two sittings, the first covering the first sixty odd pages, and the second kept me enthralled and unable to put it down until the very last full stop. Nightshade is one of those books that have you wondering how the hell they are ever going to solve the crisis, and because there were so few pages left to go by the time things started going right, I was half lulled into believing that perhaps the Doctor wasn't going to succeed at all! And that for me is one of the hallmarks of a very good book.

Doctor Who is for me all about rolling English countryside, mysterious - almost supernatural - goings-on and yes, even radio telescopes, with the Doctor as a quietly authoritative and knowledgeable adventurer investigating and battling against the odds. Nightshade has it all. It is classic Doctor Who, worthy of a place alongside the very best stories of the TV series. If you've never read any of The New Adventures then this stand-alone story is a superb introduction.

Book review by Fleur Hardman

I have to say that I think Nightshade is probably one of the best New Adventures yet. It's original (without being too way-out), well written, and not too complex to confuse the average reader. If it was a TV story it would have been described as 'atmospheric'. In fact it bears a close resemblance to the classic The Daemons. It too is the story of a village cut off from the rest of the world by an unseen menace. The book is set in 1960s Yorkshire and this historical aspect is appropriate for a story which is essentially about nostalgia and the past.

One of the things that set Nightshade above other New Adventures is the characterization of the Doctor and Ace. The Doctor is emotional, vulnerable and often confused by the events around him. At the end he comes across as a lonely man who needs the company of the many companions he's had over the years, just to stay sane. We see a reversal in the Doctor and Ace's usual relationship in that the Doctor doesn't know what's going on and needs Ace to help him through. The book gives one of the best portrayals of Ace as the Doctor's helplessness brings out the best in her. Their relationship is summed up well by Ace's simple statement, "I'd do anything for him."

The best of the other characters is probably Trevithick. He's funny, heroic and amazingly tough for a guy who's supposed to be in his seventies. Trevithick too is a nostalgia reference on Gatiss's part as his character and his past have more than a passing resemblance to those of a certain Bernard Quatermass.

Another amazing thing about Nightshade is that it would work as a TV story. The special effects requirements wouldn't be too much and perhaps the only cuts needed would be to remove the nudity and reduce the violence to a less graphic level.

Basically Nightshade is great. It would have to be up there with Exodus as the best New Adventure yet. Funny that; I thought nobody liked historicals...

Book review by Jon Preddle

Several reviewers have labeled Nightshade a traditional Who story in the context of the TV series. The original intention of The New Adventures was to get away from these, but I feel that there is still a place for this type of story.

Gatiss is obviously a fan of both Doctor Who and Nigel Kneale's Quatermass serials. It was hinted at in Remembrance of the Daleks that Professor Bernard Quatermass was a real person, so Gatiss has come up with the clever idea of creating the Whoniverse's equivalent of Kneale's TV character - and calling him Professor Nightshade.

The book is set in the quiet English village of Crook Marsham in the days leading up to Christmas, 1968. Without warning the people are dying one by one, with no explanation as to how or why. At the local retirement home is actor Edmund Trevithick, who once played Nightshade on television. As we later discover, it is through him and other inhabitants of Crook Marsham that the entity which has taken over the village manifests itself into something truly sinister. Into this nightmare come Ace and the Doctor, who wants to 'retire'. As the back cover blurb states, he believes he has done enough, however he is soon caught up in the events that unfold at the village and, more importantly, at the nearby radio-telescope, a setting which hails from the fourth and final Quatermass serial.

Gatiss has also taken elements from some of Doctor Who's best horror stories - The Awakening, The Daemons, Image of the Fendahl and The Curse of Fenric - and woven an intelligent ghost story which doesn't hide from its obvious origins.

I really liked Trevithick, a role which I'm sure Peter Cushing could play admirably! Robin, however, is a total dweeb. Given Ace's involvement with the dreary Jan in Love and War, she certainly has bad taste in men!

This is one New Adventure I had been looking forward to, mainly because of the Quatermass parallels, and I wasn't disappointed. It would be great if Gatiss would write a sequel featuring Trevithick - or better still, how about making the old man the Doctor's next companion?!

This item appeared in TSV 32 (February 1993).

Index nodes: Nightshade