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Not-So-New Adventures

Timewyrm: Genesys

By David Lawrence

A column taking a fresh look at some of the older New Adventures novels

Timewyrm: Genesys would have to be one of the most eagerly awaited pieces of Doctor Who literature ever. With the likelihood of a new television series looking more and more uncertain, it seemed like the New Adventures might be the only future Doctor Who had. Stories too broad and too deep for the small screen - yawn. Yeah, so that label was used in the hope that the novels were going to appeal to a wide reading audience, but who honestly thought anyone other than Doctor Who fans were going to buy them? And you'd have to be a fan, if not a diehard one, to want to buy anything written by John Peel.

"Imagine my delight," says Sophie Aldred in her foreword, "when John sent me his first draft which I started reading and couldn't put down." I'm sorry, but I can only deduce from Ms Aldred's introduction that she was actually writing about Timewyrm: Revelation instead. A lot of people feel that Genesys is perhaps the worst New Adventure of the lot, and I'm afraid I'd have to agree with them. "John Peel has produced a two-fisted, sword-wielding, action packed adventure that doesn't pause for breath between the first and last pages," writes Peter Darvill-Evans. Again, I'm sure he's got it mixed up with Revelation.

The basic plot: alien crash-lands on pre-twentieth century Earth and tries to interfere with the future. The Doctor and Ace join forces with the locals to defeat the alien, and lo' and behold, the alien just happens to be the same particular alien they've been on the lookout for. At the same time another group of aliens want to wipe out human life so they can repopulate the planet with aliens of their own, but that's only a very minor subplot; which is a pity, because it's much more interesting than the main plot.

"'Songs later!' Gilgamesh called, a wide smile on his own face. 'Battles first! My axe is very thirsty!'"

Oh dear. The main supporting role, apart from the Timewyrm, is a big idiot in a loincloth who spends the bulk of the book either killing or shagging everyone he meets. I imagine the real Gilgamesh must be turning in his grave. The Doctor keeping telling Ace that Gilgamesh is actually quite a decent chap by ancient Mesopotamian standards, but we don't see anyone else in the book running around raping and pillaging. Only Abslom Daak and Dekker in Blood Harvest come close to matching the sheer stupidity of any writer that could waste so much of their book on such an unredeemable character.

Five years down the line, of course, he fares a bit better. When Genesys was first released, none of us had been exposed to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. In re-reading the book for this article I found it easier to think of Gilgamesh and Enkidu as a witty send-up of Hercules and Iolaus. Unfortunately we know that John Peel, unlike, say, Andrew Hunt in Witch Mark with Jack and David, was being deadly serious when he wrote it; that sending up a TV series that hadn't yet been created was far from his thoughts. If Genesys had been written in 1996 instead of 1991, people might have reacted rather differently to it in this light. Instead we just see Gilgamesh as basically a huge prat, and Enkidu as a rip-off of Nimrod in Ghost Light; a fact enhanced by every time he's so much as mentioned, Ace or the Doctor comments on how much he reminds them of Nimrod.

"The starship shuddered. Another bolt lashed though the ether and ripped at the ship's exposed flank."

Sound familiar? Yes, that's right; in editing Genesys, Peter Darvill-Evans very cleverly avoided running into copyright complications by cutting out John Peel's original first line, 'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away'. Consider: Genesys, like Star Wars, opens with a spaceship battle, during which something semi-robotic escapes in a life-pod, like Star Wars, to land on a rather backward planet, like Tatooine. And but a few chapters later the Doctor, as Ben Kenobi does in Star Wars, receives a recorded message from someone from his past. If we place Ace in the feisty, strong-minded female role, give the Doctor the part of ancient Jedi knight, and let the young dreamer Avram become the secret long-lost brother, then Gilgamesh gets recast as Han Solo (now that's even nobler than excusing him as a Kevin Sorbo send-up), and the hairy Neanderthal Enkidu is the obvious Chewbacca candidate. And once Ace and company reach the mountains of Mashu, we've got the 'two stupid robots' criteria filled too.

"From outside came the sound of another dull explosion.
Ishtar swivelled to face the source of the sound. 'What was that?' she hissed furiously.
'Sounds like a friend of mine,' the Doctor replied. 'It has all of Ace's subtle undertones.'"

Perhaps the biggest question anyone will ask after reading Genesys is this: has John Peel ever actually seen any episodes of Sylvester McCoy playing the Doctor? One could be forgiven for thinking not. The Doctor and Ace in Genesys bear little resemblance to their television counterparts. Ace says "wicked!" every now and then and throws a lot of nitro-nine around (something she'd outgrown by the last season of the television series), but that's where the similarities end.

The first time we see them, the Doctor has casually wiped Ace's memories. Okay, so this event is intended as a device for introducing readers unfamiliar with Doctor Who to the series, so that as Ace tries to regain her memories the Doctor can give her a quick run-down as to what happens in your average Doctor Who story. But like I said, how many readers unfamiliar with Doctor Who were going to pick the book off the shelf in the first place? Any attempts to appeal to a wider audience are defeated by the lashings of obscure continuity references forced down our throats from the moment the Doctor first appears.

Poor Ace. Chapter four is basically a two-way conversation with the Doctor and herself, and only thirteen of Ace's fifty lines aren't 'What's going on, Doctor?' questions. The Doctor shows no concern or compassion for her, and then in chapter eight it's suddenly revealed that despite her claims to the contrary in telly episodes, Ace is a brilliant singer with perfect pitch! I don't think so! Bonnie Langford might perhaps have been able to quell a pub full of rowdy Mesopotamians by pulling out her cabaret act, but Ace is a wee bit out of character. Imagine that; in Survival she could have easily warded off the Cheetah People by doing her best Andrew Lloyd-Webber number.

As for the Doctor, he rants and raves and makes endless continuity references. His resemblance to McCoy's television incarnation is only fleeting; in Genesys the Doctor and Ace read like Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford. Sorry John, that's another ten points off for characterisation.

Continuity, Nudity and other animals

For the third time: no one other than Doctor Who fans was likely to purchase Genesys. Any attempts to appeal to a wider, broader audience are negated by endless continuity references, lack of originality and a writing style that's not much better than the kiddie-style Target novelisations. And if you're going to force continuity down our throats, at least get it right. Ace did not visit Paradise Towers (although Paul Cornell fixes this mistake in a later book), and Logopolis was most certainly not the last time the cloister bell rang. And as if John Peel's characterisation of the Seventh Doctor isn't bad enough, there are cameos by the Third and Fourth Doctors as well. The Third Doctor's scene is particularly atrocious. Every second line he calls people 'Jo' or 'Sergeant Benton' and behaves like a general idiot.

Ancient Mesopotamia is a civilised place where they all speak, we are expected to believe, twentieth-century English. Oh, no, hang on, the word 'ziggurat' has been thrown in several times to make it look authentic. Kate Orman would have got the bloody setting right!

As for all the nudity and sex and general machismo, the claims are that the book is aimed at a more adult audience and that feminism won't be invented for thousands of years, but I can only conclude from Genesys and Peel's novelisation of The Power of the Daleks (check out some of the stuff pertaining to Janley - it's not in the script), that John Peel is a misogynist. Ace only ever seems to be naked so he can talk about bras, other than that none of it serves any purpose to the plot.

There are some good points, though:
1) Some of the chapter titles are quite clever, such as chapters three, eight and nine - but then on the other hand, there's chapter twenty-three...
2) The prologue, despite its Star Wars origins, is actually very nicely written.
3) The plot moves along at a fairly good pace and, most importantly...
4) better books, namely Timewyrm: Revelation, followed!

This item appeared in TSV 49 (November 1996).

Index nodes: Timewyrm: Genesys