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Tragedy Day

By Gareth Roberts

Reviewed by Chris Girdler

Contrary to previous reviews of Tragedy Day, I found Gareth Roberts' second novel to be every bit as enjoyable as The Highest Science. There are times when it seemed a little rushed but this added to the immediate tense atmosphere of the book. Weaving in ideas from The Happiness Patrol and The Sun Makers, Roberts makes more extensive use of the New Adventures format this time round; Olleril society is thoroughly detailed and realistic.

The violence which is part of this downtrodden society is sometimes described in pure Varos-style (i.e. the shocking fate of Gortlock), but this is juxtaposed with comic characterisation. Comedy has been a major factor in recent New Adventures but it works best in Tragedy Day as the strongest attribute of the charming addictive style of prose.

As with The Highest Science, the villains are terrific, from Ernie 'Eight legs' McCartney to the adorable Slaags. In a revelation similar (but superior) to the one in Conundrum, the Supreme One is a delightfully obnoxious character, and my favourite in the novel. The companions are put to good use - Ace's fears of becoming a killing machine, when confronted with Meredith, hark back to the final moments of Shadowmind and White Darkness. It's also nice to see that not all male 'guest companions' are heterosexual macho men.

The flaw in terms of characterisation lies with the depiction of the rather hyperactive Seventh Doctor. A variety of writers and ideas may lead to different personalities for the regular team but with the recent novelists all accepting the more low-key mysterious nature of the present incarnation, Tragedy Day stands out as the contradiction.

Roberts used some of his best ideas in The Highest Science, but at least Tragedy Day ends on a satisfactory note and there is a greater sense of unity, due to the detailed society, taking in Twentieth Century parallels to which the reader can relate. The novel could have been more powerful had it concluded with the destruction of the Luminus society rather than the Friars of Pangloss sub-plot. The disillusionment that Roberts has for the new Ace and Doctor does not show through, except for some OTT elements of the Time Lord's persona. There is no sign of lack of intelligent plot ideas since Roberts' debut. I'm convinced that his best work will be set in an era he is more comfortable with and that The Romance of Crime will be to die for.

Book review by Jamas Enright

While I was reading this book, I was reminded of so many other stories that had used similar plot ideas that I spent most of the time looking for other links, and not actually enjoying the story (for instance, the missing crystal in Planet of the Spiders). But it was an enjoyable story. The way these ideas were brought together and the originality of some of the characters meant that this story was not just a rehash of past ideas.

Meredith and Ernie McCartney were two characters I really liked. Meredith, the assassin that was going to do the job, no matter what, and Ernie the western assassin, proved that the more evil characters are always more likeable.

The plot was really appealing. I could imagine a popular television show overtaking an entire population (you're not suggesting something, are you, Gareth?).

One of the subtle plot devices (that of Forgywn's sexual preferences), was too subtle. Such an idea is not often encountered in Doctor Who and I thought that it should have been made a bit stronger, without entering into any sensationalism. Well done, Gareth, for at least including it.

Book review by David Lawrence

Tragedy Day is a lot darker than Gareth Roberts' first novel. In fact, I was wondering where the humour had gone for the first few chapters. The story is a considerable bit stranger than The Highest Science and every bit as enjoyable.

Olleril is a vicious parody of Twentieth Century culture while at the same time very Orwellian in its nature. The characters are reminiscent of some of the quirkier stories of the McCoy era such as Paradise Towers and The Happiness Patrol - Tragedy Day would sit well within that era. The Doctor is pleasant and confusing, but nothing like the manipulator we've come to know. Bernice is well-written, as she was in The Highest Science, and now that she and Ace have resolved their differences, even Ace is a nice person. Pity; the sadistic, antagonistic cow-act was beginning to grow on me.

I really enjoyed Tragedy Day. It has the flavour of a decent Graham Williams-produced. Douglas Adams-script edited story. The affection Gareth Roberts has for the Tom Baker era shows - and also bodes well for The Romance of Crime being a very good book!

This item appeared in TSV 40 (July 1994).

Index nodes: Tragedy Day