Home : Archive : TSV 51-60 : TSV 55 : Review

Placebo Effect

By Gary Russell

Book review by Brad Schmidt

Had it not been so ubiquitously reported, I would have avoided mentioning the Wirrrn in this review, with the intention of increasing the surprise at the return of these less-than-fearsome adversaries from The Ark in Space. Also present are the Foamasi - an unlikely combination; however, because Placebo Effect is such an enjoyable novel, their unified appearance works well in the melee of species that constitutes the Galactic Federation of 3999.

The Doctor and Sam are on Micawber's World, attending a celebratory event for two old companions. Like Deceit and Mission: Impractical before it, Placebo Effect intertwines the continuity of the three mediums in which Doctor Who is commonly presented, here with the appearance of Stacy and Ssard from the Radio Times comic strip. Along the way the Doctor not only refers to the comic's events, but also to the time he spent with an (unsurprisingly unidentified) archaeology chum, saving Earth from alien invaders. Oddly, though, the opening scenes featuring the Doctor and Sam aren't nearly as interesting as the exploits of the supporting characters.

The Doctor's reasoning for travelling to Micawber's World seems irrelevant, pointless and comes across as being an overly convenient plot device. Quite frankly, it is. However, Gary Russell's style is such that it is highly enjoyable, in true Happy Endings style. It could easily have made the novel drag on, but after the trauma our heroes suffered on Ha'olam, it is nice to see them relaxing in the utopia that is Micawber's World.

Of course, and in the best Who tradition, after their arrival, it isn't a utopia for long. A complex plot unfolds, compromising but never fully destroying the pleasant atmosphere, with Stacy and Ssard abruptly disappearing, Sam struggling with the ideals of an irritatingly calm Reverend, and the Doctor seemingly dealing with everything at once. His character seems strangely variable for much of the novel, swinging between McCoy and McGann in an instant, while facing hostility from almost every (human) establishment.

I had hoped the Wirrrn would live up to their potential and be truly frightening. They don't. But this doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the novel. It's not frightening, but it's suspenseful. It's interesting. It's fun. And that's what makes it so wonderful, after the dark novels which have preceded it. I'll look forward to more novels written in Russell's jovial style, as Placebo Effect is a refreshing glimpse of a future to which I am hoping the Doctor returns. [5/5]

This item appeared in TSV 55 (October 1998).

Index nodes: Placebo Effect