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By John Peel

Book review by Jeff Stone

What a load of old cobblers!

The above statement is about the kindest thing I can say about John Peel's second original Doctor Who novel. In my opinion, Peel has until now been treated very unfairly in fan circles; the Dalek books were supremely readable and engaging and Timewyrm Genesys was nowhere near as bad as the "Eeeeek!! Sex and violence in Doctor Who?! NEVER!!" school would have us believe. But any brickbats aimed at Peel for Evolution are well and truly deserved. After an auspicious debut, the Missing Adventures have already hit a low.

It's the little things in Evolution which bother me the most. Top of my list is the bizarre and unjustified introduction of sadistic sides to both the Doctor and Sarah Jane's characters. Witness Sarah's threat to gouge chunks out of the face of Jen Walker for no real reason, and our favourite Time Lord's constant promises to Ross that he will cut him into little pieces. I am totally at a loss as to why Peel has done this - is he paving the way for the 'gritty' style of the new TV series, or is he just being childish? Either way, he has failed the Missing Adventures brief - to accurately capture the feel of both the era and the characters. Further evidence of this failure is shown in the Doctor's perpetual wisecracks (Tom Baker fooled around a bit during the Williams era, but this is supposed to be Hinchcliffe-era Doctor Who), and Sarah has been written as a truly irritating harridan. Her non-stop whinging reminds me more of Peri than the Sarah we all know and love.

The story is nothing to speak of; really your typical 'something's afoot on the moors' mystery, put across very blandly and with such deliberation that one is swiftly bored. The clues left for the Doctor and company to follow are too blatant to suspend the reader's knowledge of whodunnit, and Peel gives away so much in the Interludes that you know whodunnit practically before you start reading!

Character-wise, the story is bogged down by too many minor players and the totally unnecessary inclusion of Rudyard Kipling. Indeed Kipling contributes little to the tale and seems to be there merely to give Peel an excuse to show how 'Women's Lib' Sarah is, via the duo's sarcastic banter. Unfortunately, Peel's idea of Women's Lib appears to be that feminists are bad-tempered moaners.

Finally, to top off the book's multiple shortcomings, we are presented with the rather far-fetched plot device of the healing gel. As Craig Hinton puts it, it is very odd that the gel just happened to fall into the hands of the one person who could use it to the best (worst?) effect; and a terribly vague main plot concerning the merpeople that culminates in one almighty fizzle of an ending.

In short, Evolution is one of the worst Doctor Who novels I have ever read. Streamlined by about 100 pages and with judicious editing of characters and dialogue, it might just work, but as it is it's just appalling. Still, it is quite impressive that someone has actually succeeded in writing a book that makes Terrance Dicks' novelisation of The Space Pirates look exciting!

Book review by Jamas Enright

I found this book incredibly boring. The plot dragged. By page ten, I found myself saying 'Get on with it.' It was not a good start. I was tempted to skip ahead to see what the Doctor and Sarah were up to. Unfortunately, when they did come in, all that was going on was that the Doctor was brooding and Sarah was taking a swim (the only reason for which was to have the end refer to the start by use of the 'bathroom').

The plot itself dealt with sinister experiments involving morphing humans with other mammals, in particular, the creation of a new race of merfolk. Only it didn't. Instead, most of the story revolved around the various 'guest stars' John wrote in, and 200 pages are taken up with their tedious exploits, leaving only 50 pages to introduce the real villain and defeat him.

All this would be fine if the last 50 pages were rushed (which would have left us wanting more), but they weren't, leaving one with the impression that this book wasn't slightly padded but completely engulfed in padding. There certainly was action; kidnapped children, dead bodies, warped monstrosities, but as it took so long to meticulously detail each event the pace was lost.

Due to the cover painting (which was quite well done), and the era the book was set in, I had in mind the Doctor as he was in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. However, John's Doctor didn't come from there or from Season 13, but was more from the end of his era, being moodier and more threatening than in his earlier stories.

Sarah Jane Smith fared better in that she had a more active role. She actually went out and found her own clues, and was prepared to follow-up on her own leads, although she did tend to follow the Doctor around too much to begin with.

One thing I can't understand is why John included so many 'guest stars'. Certainly, Sir Alexander Cromwell and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are big names, but to have them both? And the less said about Rudyard Kipling the better. Their inclusion seems rather facetious, and one wonders if John thought they actually had a point, or if he just got carried away.

The novel comes off lower than average, and worse than Genesys (which I thought was rather average). Better luck next time, John.

This item appeared in TSV 42 (January 1995).

Index nodes: Evolution