The Gallifrey Chronicles

The Gallifrey Chronicles. Probably the most anticipated BBC Doctor Who novel of all time. At last, after months of waiting (the last EDA, Stephen Cole's To the Slaughter, was released in January 2005, a whole five months ago now), we finally have it. And with it, we were promised, we would get all the answers.

And we do.

Sort of.

The job of The Gallifrey Chronicles was to provide resolution and closure to the ongoing arcs in the EDAs. It wasn't supposed to, of course... those arcs were doubtless going to find their resolutions at some point, but the announcement of the new series expedited the process slightly. Some might argue that this is a good thing - many people, myself included, feel that some of the EDAs' main arcs, most notably the whole post-Ancestor Cell amnesia arc, have been going on for far too long with no clear sense of direction or purpose. The Gallifrey Chronicles follows a run of relatively standalone EDAs that, post-Sometime Never..., have been generally well-received. The Gallifrey Chronicles itself, bizarrely, continues that trend, and is that wonderful and possibly unique creature - a stand-alone arc book. By which I mean that Lance Parkin was exactly right when he said that practically no prior knowledge of the EDAs is needed to read this book. You get told everything you need to know, but Lance does this in such a wonderful way (usually by telling established facts and scenes from an alternate viewpoint or in his own words) that it isn't intrusive to the long-time regular EDA reader. Indeed, it can come in very handy in referencing long-forgotten scenes and events that we'd otherwise have to be furiously thumbing through earlier novels to catch.

So. Let's get the basics out of the way first, shall we? Be warned, as from here on in I won't be pulling any punches with regards to spoilers. Right? Right. I'm not responsible for any ruining of plot that might happen from here on out. So there.

Yes, we do find out what happened to the Doctor's memories.

Yes, we do find out why he hasn't tried to get them back before now.

Yes, we do definitely find out what happened to Gallifrey in The Ancestor Cell.

No, it definitely isn't the big time war with the Daleks that the new TV series has already told us about.

Yes, we get an explanation as to how the TARDIS can keep functioning with the Eye of Harmony gone.

Yes, it gives a possible explanation as to how and why the TARDIS changed so much between the TVM's Victorian-gothic-steampunk chic interior and the lived-in quasi-organic functionality of the new series' domed console room (the TARDIS has a small nuclear bomb explode inside it, which pretty much totally wrecks the interior decor).

Yes, we do find out what is making those scratching sounds behind the TARDIS's "back wall" (mainly referenced in Lance Parkin's previous EDA, Trading Futures). In fact, that sequence must rank as one of the best moments in the whole book - be prepared to be very surprised, and then very surprised a second time in rapid succession, at that point.

And I shan't keep you in suspense any more - yes, there is a regeneration. In fact, the book starts with it. Surprised? Read on.

The book begins with a very old man, lying in his deathbed, surrounded by family (we later find out, his adopted family). This man is, it seems, an author of something like two to three hundred books written over the course of the entire 20th century, all of which are science fiction novels that exhaustively catalogue the history of an alien planet - its hundreds and thousands of years of recorded history, its endless rituals, its arcane and insanely complex social structures. Only problem is that he can't remember the name of the planet in his stories, and the old man passes away, wishing with his last breath that he could remember the name.

The old man's family leave, and his nurse Rachel begins to tidy his room - when the old man's body starts to glow, and he regenerates right in front of her. Sitting bolt upright in bed, the newly rejuvenated Time Lord remembers the name of the planet in his books - and it is, of course, Gallifrey.

The next major section of the book consists largely of switching back and forth between two major threads - the Doctor, Trix and Fitz travelling and concluding a variety of adventures (the funniest one of these is the Doctor foiling a Dalek invasion of Mars, in what is according to Trix a "record-breaking" four minutes), and Marnal's gradual discovery that, to his absolute horror, the unthinkable has happened and Gallifrey is gone. Tracing the Doctor to the event and having him down as the only survivor, Marnal hatches a plot to lure him to Earth to question him, which duly works. The Doctor arrives on Earth and, separated from the TARDIS and his companions by Marnal, soon finds himself being blamed for a crime he doesn't know he's committed - the destruction of Gallifrey and the Time Lords.

The third major part of the novel occurs when Earth is suddenly invaded by large insect-like aliens called the Vore. The Vore chase any temporal anomaly, but only because they are attracted to them like moths to a flame - they aren't actually intelligent at all, they can just travel through hyperspace. On the face of it, they are just an archetypal faceless alien enemy and not terribly interesting. They are like interstellar locusts, and whether by accident or design are reminiscent in many ways of the Kalik in the 7th Doctor comic strip Train-Flight, only non-sentient. What they do is provide an excuse for the Doctor and Marnal to start working together, and help flesh out Marnal's character (he's the only person to have ever encountered them directly before and survive, and the circumstances in which that occurred prove to have far-reaching consequences).

Marnal's character is well-written by Parkin. He's characterised as a fairly conventional Time Lord - arrogant, aloof, dismissive of "Earthly concerns", and only using others for what he can get out of them. Oh, and intellectually brilliant, of course, if lacking in worldly experience. However, over the course of the story he is plagued by overconfidence and elements of self-doubt. His attitude to the Doctor is interesting - viewing him initially as a curiosity, then as a criminal, then as a grudging ally, and then as the potential saviour of everything he has ever held dear. The Doctor's attitude to Marnal is no less interesting, and some mileage is deservedly wrung from the fact that the Doctor is quite content to have forgotten all about the Time Lords and to have left them far in his own past if they were all like Marnal appears to be.

He is also, as it turns out, the original (or at least, a previous) owner of the Doctor's TARDIS, before the Doctor stole it from Gallifrey, and it is the Doctor's TARDIS that the Vore are pursuing. Exactly how Marnal and the TARDIS came to be separated, and Marnal trapped on Earth with a damaged memory in a manner quite reminiscent of what happened to the Doctor after The Ancestor Cell, is a vital plot point... though the implication of who the people responsible are couldn't be made more clear (even though it's never directly stated), it's really something you should read for yourself and I won't spoil it here.

The book does have its humorous moments - the Doctor is as full of life as ever he was, and Parkin always did write for the 8th Doctor well. While scanning the Doctor's timeline, Marnal is heard to utter in disbelief that the Doctor has no fewer than three ninth incarnations (clearly intended to be Rowan Atkinson, Richard E Grant and Christopher Eccleston - see also The Tomorrow Windows). Various characters comment that it would be nice if the Doctor could acquire some fashion sense soon as he's gone around in absurd clothes for far too long. One joke I particularly liked is Marnal's weapon of choice, a maser, which can be used to stun but on more subtle settings, as befitting a Time Lord weapon, generate varied weird and wonderful neurological effects. In scenes reminiscent of Eddie Izzard's stand-up routine about phasers in Star Trek, Marnal sets the maser to Serious Indifference in order to get past human policemen and Vore drones. References to other significant stories, people and events in the EDAs are common, though just on the right side of gratuitous - there's several references to the New Adventures, mainly Timewyrm: Genesys and The Dying Days, which is quite pleasing to those of us who remain desperately fond of the NAs. I'm fairly convinced there's also a reference to The Room With No Doors. BBC books referenced include The Ancestor Cell, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, Father Time, Unnatural History, Half-Life, and most interestingly of all The Infinity Doctors - indeed, this book might actually provide the first concrete clues as to the placing of TID with respect to the extended continuity of the Doctor Who universe. People who put in cameos, either in person, via flashback, or name check include Sam Jones, the 8th Doctor's original novel companion; Compassion, the Doctor's companion-cum-TARDIS; Anji Kapoor, who appears in person; Ace; Miranda; Larna, from The Infinity Doctors and Unnatural History; Mr Saldaamir, from Beige Planet Mars and The Infinity Doctors; K9; Romana; the 7th Doctor; the Master almost certainly puts in quite an interesting and unexpected appearance at one point; and someone called "General... err... Lethbridge-Stewart, I think he said it was"!

It's not all perfect though, by any means. There are a couple of logical flaws (the worst one I've spotted is either the Doctor lying to comfort someone in their final moments, proof that the Doctor has been lying all along concerning his amnesia which this book otherwise goes through great lengths to give a plausible and actually pleasing explanation for, or simple author's oversight). Some scenes, particularly those involving people fighting the Vore, can fall a bit flat. The Vore are actually quite uninteresting for a monster, but that's forgivable as they aren't the main drive of this story at all and don't appear until over halfway through the book (unless you count the cover, of course), and in the end event are by and large rather easily dealt with by the Doctor just being clever. The main problem I have with the book is that it just sort of stops, rather than coming to a decent end, with the Doctor and his companions preparing to enter the climactic battle with the last of the Vore. Yes, that's right - the book does not feature the 8th Doctor's regeneration after all, though it does end on a rather open note which sets up a potential regeneration quite well should anyone ever choose to write about it. In that regard it's a bit like the end of The Flood, the final (to date) 8th Doctor comic strip in DWM - at the end the 8th Doctor is still alive and, having been revitalised by the story's events, is ready to head off for new adventures come what may.

In conclusion. The Gallifrey Chronicles has had more fan expectations riding on it than any other EDA - certainly since The Ancestor Cell, if not before. For the most part, it succeeds in delivering on those expectations - I have been a moderately vocal critic of the interminable and seemingly never-ending amnesia arc in the past, but the explanation of where the Doctor's memories went, and why he lost them, and why he's not been able or particularly willing to recover them, is extremely neat and rather clever, and entirely in keeping with the character with the 8th Doctor. Plus it also sets up the return of the Time Lords, and potentially Gallifrey itself (or a version thereof), in order for them to go to war and be destroyed - for good and all, this time - prior to the start of the new series. However, fans expecting big, earth-shattering, perspective-shifting, life-changing revelations of the sort seen in Lungbarrow will, by and large, be disappointed. The 8th Doctor doesn't go out with a whimper, but he certainly doesn't go with a bang - more a sort of shedding of old baggage and with renewed optimism for the future, which is quite a nice parallel for the new series in general.

The Gallifrey Chronicles is a fairly enjoyable book. It packs in enough continuity to please the die-hards, but is open enough for someone with only a passing acquaintance with the EDAs to be able to leap in and get much the same enjoyment out of it, which in itself is no small feat. It is engaging and witty and certainly entertaining. Its major problem is that it has quite a weak ending, mainly as a result of it being left open and possibly being a touch too self-aware for comfort - and the Vore, and indeed Marnal himself to a certain extent, just aren't going to be joining the ranks of the great Doctor Who baddies any time soon. And some might argue that the revelations contained in the book about Gallifrey and the Doctor's memories are long, long overdue. The Gallifrey Chronicles just isn't of the same stature or impact as Lungbarrow was for the NAs, and to my mind The Dying Days remains Lance Parkin's best Doctor Who novel to date.


Review by Valedictorian


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