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Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark

by Andrew Hunt

Book review by Simon Hardman

You could sum up this book in one word: traditional, or if you like, unadventurous. The characters of the Doctor and Ace in particular seem to predate the rest of The New Adventures books and even the 26th Season. Although the Doctor suspects the true nature of the planet Tir na n-Og, we don't see any of the smug omniscience which dominated (and in my view wrecked) the later stories of the McCoy era. The Doctor is portrayed as genuinely compassionate towards Ace and Bathsheba. We also escape the terrors of Ace's adolescent angst, but the flipside of this is that she is quite a two-dimensional character.

Witch Mark follows the conventional patterns of 'swords and sorcery fantasy to a large degree, and Hunt acknowledges this in the novel, which features Tolkien's Hobbits. The plot is nothing special either, with a major twist that dates back to The Daemons. To be fair though, no one has ever tried to write this style of fantasy into a Who story before, and as a result the book seems quite fresh and original.

Probably the book's greatest strength is that, unlike so many other New Adventures, it does not try to overreach itself. It is traditional fantasy with an equally traditional Who element, but within these limits it is very well written. The minor characters (with the exception of the two Americans, who are movie stereotypes), are very good and are a major strength of Witch Mark.

Another good feature of the book is that it has many different and seemingly unrelated sets of characters and plots, which are finally drawn together at the end. Unlike many other recent Who books, this is very coherently done and you never feel lost or confused in the intricacies of the plot. The culture of Tir na n-Og is quite well detailed and, as in most fantasy books, a lot of the interest in the story comes from the characters' - and the readers' - discovery of the mythical world.

As with Warhead, Witch Mark has no real place in the Cat's Cradle series. The final chapter is the only one with links to the trilogy. It seems tacked on and made little sense to me, perhaps because I haven't read Time's Crucible.

With regard to The New Adventures 'motto', Witch Mark is neither too deep nor too broad for the screen. There is no sex and little gore until the end. One can well imagine the show's special effects budget running to centaurs and unicorns, although they would presumably be quite laughable. The Doctor is not required to be menacing or callous (something McCoy was never really up to). There isn't much in the book that would be unsuitable or incomprehensible for the viewers that TV Who must always cater for, and indeed it could be enjoyed by people of any age.

This is a very different book from, say, Warhead or Revelation, but if you expect Doctor Who to be straightforward, well-written light entertainment, then you will enjoy it as much as I did.

This item appeared in TSV 32 (February 1993).

Index nodes: Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark