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The King of Terror

By Keith Topping

Book review by Paul Scoones

Now here's something that doesn't come along very often — a thoroughly engrossing, top-notch Fifth Doctor novel by an author who has gone to some effort to ensure that that above all else, the Doctor and his companions are clearly recognisable as their TV counterparts. In particular, the Doctor couldn't be anyone other than Peter Davison. He's troubled by the morality of war and happier to help out from the sidelines than to get directly involved in the thick of things. As such he's perfectly suited to being teamed up with the Brigadier, as he is for the majority of the story.

Tegan and Turlough are similarily well-served. Every so often an author decides to give a companion a bit more of a backstory and extra depth to their character. Topping clearly has a great fondness for Tegan, and has constructed a past and future for her that it can only be hoped will be both upheld and expanded upon in future novels. Her relationship with rock star Johnny Chester is particularly intriguing, although I'm left wondering why, if Chester is so well known, no one seems to recognise Tegan...?

The King of Terror is in many ways a throwback to the heady early days of Virgin's New Adventures. Heavily influenced by politics, contemporary music and classic British TV drama, it will remind you of the first time you read Timewyrm: Revelation and realised just how good original Doctor Who fiction could be.

Keith Topping has the enviable ability to get inside the skin — sometimes quite literally — of even minor incidental characters, which is all the more effective when it becomes apparent that some of the people we get to know quite well don't make it to the end of the book.

This is a novel thoroughly deserving of its nominated placing in Season Twenty-One: people die sudden and meaningless deaths, and the TARDIS crew get to feel some of the emotional and physical pain of the struggle. If this had been a television story it would be vying with The Caves of Androzani for the best of the season. [5/5]

This item appeared in TSV 61 (December 2000).

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