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By Nigel Robinson

Book review by David Lawrence

I've always hated insects. Things that crawl petrify me.

I've always liked Nigel Robinson's writing. His Target novelisations were better than most, and Apocalypse was a sorely underrated New Adventure.

And I like Bernice. She's a witty, strong and fun character with so much more potential that writers seem reluctant to explore, with a few exceptions.

These three ingredients probably played the largest, part in my enjoyment of Birthright. It's a crisply written fast moving book with a well-constructed plot and characters.

The Doctor is absent in person only. His presence is felt everywhere and one is given the impression that he's always behind the door or around the corner pulling the strings or pressing the buttons on the remote control. But this is very much Bernice's book, and that's good, because she seems to have taken a back seat now that Ace has returned, and Benny's too good a character to neglect.

The one thing that marred my enjoyment of the book was the section when Bernice goes into the TARDIS's telepathic matrix to battle Khan. It's an overused premise - it made The Deadly Assassin part 3 one of the most drawn out and tediously overrated episodes ever in my opinion, and it did little in The Ultimate Foe to improve the rest of the Trial season. When I came across it in Birthright I was still bored by the concept.

Apart from that minor gripe, I loved Birthright - great cover, too!

Book review by Chris Girdler

If you cast your mind back to the conception of the New Adventures, you'll remember that the Timewyrm series was as unbalanced as an average McCoy season - two excellent novels by Terrance Dicks and Paul Cornell, contrasted with the efforts by John Peel and Nigel Robinson. Peel's Genesys is the more maligned of the two, but I disliked Robinson's Apocalypse more.

So you can understand my disappointment when I discovered that Mr Robinson was novelising the experimental Doctor-less novel. I was especially wary when the only other time this has been attempted was with the rather pitiful Companions novels. I hate to judge a book by its cover, but Peter Elson's was a promising indication. It's the kind he does best (ie Witch Mark) - simplistic yet stunning.

Birthright is a vast improvement on Apocalypse. Originality is not Nigel Robinson's strong point but here he utilizes previous ideas to the novel's advantage. The symbolic tarot cards return from White Darkness, and the 'Ace' section has all the atmosphere of the first half of Time's Crucible. Ace's discovery of the secret of Antykon is straight out of The Mysterious Planet.

Bernice's investigation of the gruesome serial killings in Victorian London is similar to the midsection of The Pit. Of course here the reasons why the women were murdered are much more clever and relevant to the plot. There's also a delightful link with Evil of the Daleks.

Benny's fight with Khan makes for a few chapters of surreal storytelling in the style of Revelation, but it lacks the sparkle of Paul Cornell's work, and the shock value intended by Benny getting killed (twice!) is not achieved when the reader is well aware she is playing mind games. I liked the imagery of the dead companions' bones and the other companions in the puppet show, emphasizing the fact that this novel is about the people who travel with the Doctor.

The end result is a surprisingly entertaining read. Robinson redresses the balance after the excessive amount of Ace-related scenarios in Shadowmind. Most of the book is centred on Benny's adventures in the Charrl-infested England and Robinson writes very well for this character. Ace is also put to good use in her segment.

The novel has all the mysteriousness of a decent Blake's 7 episode without Blake in it. The Doctor is made even more mysterious by his non-appearance. You can still feel his presence - through business cards, when other people mention him, flowers he leaves at funerals, and so on. It's not one of the best New Adventures novels, but it's a step up from Shadowmind and at least when Robinson next puts out a novel, I'll be looking forward to it, not trying to avoid it.

This item appeared in TSV 37 (January 1994).

Index nodes: Birthright