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By Trevor Baxendale

Book review by Brad Schmidt

Since the progressive excellence of these novels over almost a year, the sudden drop to pulp fiction Coldheart offers is a threat to its reception by a controversy-hungry fandom. Still, like Trevor Baxendale's earlier novel The Janus Conjunction, it's good pulp fiction. But not as good.

As if to escape the general disdain of being proudly average, Coldheart commences with what has to be one of the most terribly written opening chapters ever in Doctor Who. The Doctor and Fitz exchange dialogue that would be right at home in a 1960s Who annual, mucking about in a cave. Thankfully, the setting changes when their characters really don't. As constant as ever is Compassion, which says something for the characterisation of these novels considering what she really is. These new capabilities are worrying - she can get away with near anything, which is a perfect plot device for any author (apart from the creative ones). She's suitably assertive next to a hormonally distracted Fitz and a morality-ridden Doctor, who moves from varying but ever-present angst throughout the novel to feeding one of the story's protagonists, Tor Grymna, to a slavering monster with delicate precision. What's worse is that the Doctor deliberately intends to save said monster's life, making Baxendale's characterisation more confusing than his plot.

Perhaps this can be expected from the Time Lord, who really has experienced little reaction at all to the absence of the TARDIS after so long. There's a little superfluous introspection that is hardly convincing. Like the reader, Fitz ponders whether the Doctor is bottling his emotion up. Baxendale is a rising star, and seems like Christopher Bulis at his best. Thus the plot is methodical and interesting in the way science fiction used to be before science-fact revealed too many of its impossibilities. What makes him unique are the touching moments he incorporates unnecessarily into his obvious synopsis, such as the Doctor and Compassion both reflecting on their unique status under the stars of a quiet Eskon night. Eskon does not remain quite so peaceful, when civil violence erupts in conjunction with slimy monsters from beneath the planet's surface. It's a novel of extremes on a scalding desert world in which ice and cold become the enemy.

All in all, Coldheart is typically BBC - traditional scenarios, Odyssean quests, tentacled monsters on exotic worlds that could be just around the hemisphere from Britain, and a nice-but-corny ending that's very Hartnell. Eskon deserves revisiting, but under a different pen. [3/5]

This item appeared in TSV 60 (June 2000).

Index nodes: Coldheart