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All-Consuming Fire

By Andy Lane

Book review by Phillip J. Gray

I enjoyed All-Consuming Fire, because I found the idea of Sherlock Holmes meeting with the Doctor extremely exciting, being an admirer of both gentlemen. All-Consuming Fire is one of the better New Adventures. The book is strongly written and although there isn't a lot of plot, the characterisation is excellent. The two characters which stand out are Benny and Watson, who share the narration, a device which is handled very well. Watson comes across as a sympathetic man of his time. Unfortunately that the same could be said for Sherlock Holmes and the Doctor; Holmes is an immensely attractive character, and in fact I spent most of the enormously enjoyable London sequences following Watson and Holmes's experiences without realising ( or caring) that the Doctor wasn't there.

There are several incarnations of the Doctor in All-Consuming Fire, with the first Doctor and Susan making a third-person cameo at the beginning and end of the novel. The sequence with the velvet-jacketed gentleman doing the crossword in the Diogenes Club was marvellous! However, this is a New Adventure, populated by that tiresome individual known as the Dark Doctor, and in the London and India sequences he is not just dark but charcoal black. The Doctor improves when the location changes to the alien planet, and he is one of the redeeming features of the final section of the book, but in general is just unscrupulous and untrustworthy. The bickering between Holmes and the Doctor, while probably an accurate indication of what would have happened, becomes annoying very quickly. I spent a lot of time thinking that All-Consuming Fire would have been a lot better had it been the fourth or sixth Doctor with Holmes and Watson. Ace is relatively acceptable, and teaming her up with Watson makes an interesting partnership.

The writing is very good, aside from a few strange hiccups such as the clumsy continuity splurge on p.221, and the bizarre reference on p.86; is this meant to be Bertrand Russell? There are some lovely references to other Conan Doyle works and to Victorian society and literature, including Professor Challenger on p.96, another name on the list (a reference to Conan Doyle's The Lost World), and some awful puns, such as the one on p.143. Unfortunately, All-Consuming Fire does have quite a few problems, mainly with the historical setting and the plot. Quite frankly, there isn't enough of the latter to sustain such a long book, rather like Lane's co-authored Lucifer Rising. The sequences in London are exciting and atmospheric, with the revelations about the nature of the Diogenes Club and the peregrinations of the Holmes family. The journey by ship to India, and then the progress through Jabalhabad to the temple and the battle with the Rakshassi is where the novel's natural climax occurs, with the usual bildungsroman device of the journey being more significant than the destination. For me, the sequences on the alien planet were completely flat and anti-climatic. As for the five-page pointless sojourn in San Francisco - why? Does San Francisco have some relevance in the Who universe I'm unaware of? Does it have the same 'cultural' relevance as in our world? An intriguing suggestion for an otherwise pointless change of location, aside from the chance to link in the all-consuming fire motif with the setting. I would have preferred Watson's suggestion of Krakatoa, which could have been spectacular and would have fitted better with the book's Victorian ambience.

The only other complaint, and it seems petty until one considers the rave reviews about 'how masterly the historical setting is' in this book, is how plain wrong so many of the specific historical references are. For example, Mycroft accuses his brother of interfering and compares the interference with the "amorous predilections of Prince Edward, Luke of Clarence and Avondale". (p.93) mistaking the prince's nickname, 'Eddy', for 'Edward'. His real name was Albert Victor (he died in 1892). The following pages mention the political sagacity of Queen Victoria, "not blind to the domineering ambitions of Czar Nicholas I and Kaiser Wilhelm II" (p.95), even though Nicholas I died in 1855, and Lane must be referring to the last Czar, Nicholas II, but he didn't become Czar of all the Russias until 1894! Moreover, Kaiser Wilhelm II didn't become Kaiser in Germany until 1888, following the deaths of both his grandfather Wilhelm I and Frederick III that same year, even though All-Consuming Fire is set in 1887! Wilhelm I could not by any means be described as entertaining 'domineering ambition', and neither could Nicholas II or Wilhelm II until at least the mid to late 1890s. There are other mistakes but I won't bore you by going on about them. The point is that these references were not necessary, so their mistaken inclusion is irritating and detracts from the generalised picture of Victorian society (although even this is a stereotyped picture, despite its much-vaunted inclusion of the seamier sides of the period, and reeks of Holmesian pseudo-historicals to me).

I seem to have spent much of this review being negative, but I did enjoy most of All-Consuming Fire. It is well-characterised, generally well-written and aside from some structural and referential problems, it is a fine addition to the New Adventures canon.

Book review by Chris Girdler

Before All-Consuming Fire I was convinced that first-person narratives didn't suit Doctor Who at all. As a series that usually explores alien cultures, it is limiting to have a single perspective. I also usually hate crossovers, so the idea of a 'Doctor Who Meets Sherlock Holmes' ripping yarn set my expectations rather low. Jim Mortimore's disappointing novel led me to suspect that Lucifer Rising could have been a fluke, but Andy Lane's debut is an excellent showcase for his obvious talent as a writer.

Most of the book is set in England in the 1880s. Lane resists the temptation to throw in a Jack the Ripper clone. The London underworld is detailed and convincing with a savage streak, most notable in the behaviour of the street gangs. The narrative is at its most effective when dual perspectives from Benny and Watson describe the same scene.

Certain characters become more dominant in specific locations, depending on the environment and their familiarity with it. The first half of the novel is a Sherlock Holmes story - it is easy to forget you are reading a Doctor Who novel at times. The section set in India is where Bernice shares the narrative and as the Doctor goes missing on two separate occasions she has the dominant role here. Ace only enters the main narrative in the last quarter of the book but is integral to the plot in the New World. The Doctor maintains authority over most situations but never dominates the proceedings. The lack of information about his character adds realism to the narrative.

The villains, such as Maupertuis, are well crafted but appear infrequently. Sherringford's demise at the hands of his brother has echoes of William Conrad's Heart of Darkness, with Sherringford portrayed as a Kurtz-like figure. The alien creatures are imaginative - my favourites were the chocolate-flavoured religious skaters, and one of them appears on Jeff Cummins' pleasant if inaccurate cover painting (Holmes did not have a gun handy during the rakshassi attack in India).

Holmes is unfortunately reduced to a shadow of his former self when he arrives on Ry'leh, but the loss of his powers of deduction appears to be intentional. The showdown in Azathoth's domain is climatic and his manipulation of one of Ace's 'suicidal robots' was a clever plot device.

When one compares the surreal transportation of Azathoth at the end to Watson and Sherlock's train ride at the beginning, it is hard to believe that they are parts of the same parcel. However the transition from pure Holmesian mystery to something from a fighting fantasy gamebook is natural and easily accepted. The high quality of All-Consuming Fire not only suggests that Andy Lane was the driving force behind Lucifer Rising, but confirms that he is an excellent choice to introduce the new companions.

This item appeared in TSV 42 (January 1995).

Index nodes: All-Consuming Fire