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The Pit

by Neil Penswick

Book review by Paul Scoones

The Pit is comprised of three major plot strands which for most of the book do not intersect at all. The narrative is structured in such a way that the reader is required to jump between strands at frequent intervals and still presumably maintain interest in all three plots. I caught myself on several occasions skimming through sections to get to the next bit involving the Doctor. Any book which induces this sort of response in the reader is clearly at fault.

Penswick's writing style is particularly hard to get to grips with; his sentences are seldom complex, and usually consist of short statements. His descriptive passages are also sadly lacking in much depth and it is very difficult to get a feel for any of the locations. This is particularly apparent when the action moves briefly to a present day English countryside setting which is more vivid that the rest of the book simply because it's a familiar location. If a writer is going to set his story on other worlds he has to commit himself to familiarising readers with the invented environments.

Unfortunately this lack of depth of embellishment extends also to Penswick's characters who are for the most part a dull and uninteresting lot. Many people die in the course of the story, but I never felt for any of them. The writer comes across as too detached towards his creations. The Doctor and Bernice fare little better, and this may be because I brought preconceived notions of these characters to my reading of the book.

The character that Penswick did seem to put effort into was the poet William Blake. Quite what his part was in the story is beyond me. If Penswick was trying to imply that Blake's experiences with the Doctor were the inspirations for his poetry and art - in the same way that Timelash tried to do that for HG Wells then I think this will be lost on most of The Pit's readers.

Points of interest in the book include the reappearance of the sonic screwdriver, UNIT, and further confirmation that the Quatermass universe is one and the same with the Doctor's. It's probably just a coincidence, but hard on the heels of The Highest Science featuring a drug called 'A', this book has one called 'B'.

Unusually, the book's chapter headings are all just day numbers and time durations - almost all cover a period of four hours - and the events of the entire novel take place over 90 hours; almost four days.

The story ultimately concerns an ancient Gallifreyan, a contemporary of Rassilon, who has a terrible secret. The plot appears to be linked to State of Decay, but I'm not sure. In fact, I'm undecided as to whether the novel is very complex or just confused. Perhaps someone would like to write an article explaining exactly what it all meant?

Book review by Chris Girdler

As you work your way through The New Adventures, every now and then you come across a terrific read (Nightshade, The Highest Science). Then again, you can just as easily come across an absolute stinker (Timewyrm: Genesys, Transit). In the middle of these are novels which are simply average, and The Pit is one of these, complete with an average Peter Elson cover painting. Neil Penswick's debut novel has a number of intriguing ideas but for various reasons they do not appear in an intriguing story.

One of the faults in this novel is the characterisation of the Doctor and Bernice. The Seventh Doctor is rather bland throughout the book, adopting his 'mysterious' persona as we are treated to yet another terrible secret from his past. At least this time it has nothing to do with the Doctor being a 'higher power' than just a Time Lord, but is linked with the Rassilon era of Gallifrey.

Bernice is somewhat neglected for most of The Pit, lacking the sparkling characterisation she was given in Gareth Roberts' novel. However, as in The Highest Science, she reaches the central climatic location of the story before the Doctor.

The middle of the novel is where it really sags. As a pretty pitiful plot diversion the Doctor and William Blake wander around Victorian London while the few times we do hear about Bernice, she isn't doing a hell of a lot. All this happens while some rather tedious political scenes plod on at the heart of Nicaea.

The Pit has been criticised for not being 'Who-ish' enough, but this type of criticism is irrelevant. Now that Doctor Who has branched off into original novels the writers should let their imaginations run riot; it's not like they've got a limited setting or a low budget. Surely the idea of The New Adventures is to stretch the boundaries of what 'Who-ish' is?

As far as locations go, The Pit gets the thumbs-up. Excluding the disjointed inclusion of the 'Jack the Ripper' era, the un-named hell and the tropical Nicaea are truly alien, harsh and disturbing settings. The crucifixion murders were intriguing, although the concept behind these was blurred towards the end.

Towards the climax you realise that the novel is not a waste of time. In a break with the tradition of most New Adventures novels, the ending was very complete and well-rounded. Up until the climax, most of the characters were pretty predictable. Blake played a 'tag-along' role that brought back hideous memories of Herbert from Timelash. However a few seemingly insignificant players in the game are revealed to be much more important to the story than they seem. The various plot-lines - Swarf's plan, Gallifrey's past, and the Hunters' attack - were all linked together in a strong dynamic finale.

As you can see, I had mixed feelings about The Pit, but when the pros and cons were added up, it appeared to be a rather average piece of work. I liken it to the banal Timewyrm: Apocalypse, but slightly better. Unless you are an avid collector of this series, Neil Penswick's first effort could be pushed aside.

This item appeared in TSV 34 (July 1993).

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