Original Sin

After reading the NDAs and being on the whole thoroughly unimpressed by them, I didn't feel any particular need to start reading one of the TDAs when they came out, even though I picked them up early due to one of Ottakars' perennial three-for-two offers. Instead I began to look elsewhere for my Who fiction fix, and decided to read some of the NAs. After all I have often said that in my opinion the NAs represented the very zenith of Who fiction - indeed in many ways I prefer the NAs to the television series that preceded and ultimately followed it. There remain some NAs that are considered classics, or at least very good, that I've never read, even though I do own the entire range. And so I decided to dip my toe back into the waters of Who fiction with one of these classic-but-never-read NAs and remind myself of what I'd been missing these past several months, and I settled on Original Sin.

The reasons for my settling on Original Sin are partly luck and partly that I have read many of the proceeding novels featuring Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej, and having found them to be rather interesting and well-rounded characters in later books I had long intended to get around to reading the book that introduced them, despite its decidedly unpromising cover.

The story starts with the Doctor and Bernice arriving on 30th century Earth after having become embroiled in some alien conspiracy theory immediately prior to the start of the novel, and they are immediately spotted by some old enemy of the Doctor's. We don't find out who immediately, but he's a rich industrialist who was in the classic series, knows the Doctor of old in a different body, and is probably the only person on Earth who remembers genuine police boxes; the book drops several hints as to who it might be from the start, and anyone familiar with the 60s Cyberman stories will probably be able to guess that it is Tobias Vaughn by about halfway through. Conveniently I'd watched the surviving episodes of The Invasion the week before I started reading Original Sin, which is actually worth doing just to get a handle on Vaughn's modus operandi and to find out that just because he is repeatedly described as having a "rich, fruity" voice he doesn't actually sound anything like Tom Baker! Vaughn is desperate to get his hands on time travel technology and so spirits the TARDIS away without a second thought; much of the rest of the novel is taken up with him trying to manoeuvre the Doctor into a position where the Doctor will give him the TARDIS key, either through his being dead or forcibly coerced. Needless to say Vaughn is also involved in the alien conspiracy too, not to mention having a great many thumbs in a great many pies of dubious moral footing, all of which play a part in the unfolding of the tale.

Aha, I hear you cry. But what of Roz and Chris? They are introduced when Vaughn frames the Doctor and Roz for murder - as it happens, murder of a Hith, the aliens whose plot the Doctor came to Earth to investigate in the first place. Roz and Chris are Adjudicators, a sort of cross between NYPD Blue and Force-less Jedi, a quasi-religious order of armoured peacekeepers intent on enforcing justice across the Earth Empire. The all-important early scenes between these two are truly superb - the reader sympathises with Roz's bitter world-weariness easily enough and it contrasts well with Chris's chipper idealism, but he is written just well enough to be endearingly optimistic without ever crossing the line into becoming an irritation. They track the Doctor down, and with members of the Landsknecht - the Earth Empire's stormtroopers - begin to unravel a massive conspiracy behind a sudden spate of inexplicable violence across Earth space that will eventually lead them to a showdown at Vaughn's headquarters.

The characterisation is consistently strong throughout, with some wonderfully defining character moments for Roz, Chris and the Doctor. The standout scene for the Doctor is one in which he, in an attempt to track down the source of the radiation that is causing the random violence, is forced to talk to Professor Zebulon Pryce, an expert in the type of radiation responsible and certifiable murderous loon. It would be difficult describing Pryce without using the phrase "Lecter-esque", so I'll do so - Pryce is somewhat Lecter-esque, a totally sociopathic genius with a nice line in quiet and intelligent dialogue while simultaneously doing something extremely unpleasant (making a tool out of a metal cup for removing someone's eyes, for example) and a knack for getting people to confront unpleasant truths. The scenes between him and the Doctor are remarkable in that the Doctor is forced pretty much for the first time to explicitly try to justify his own stance on murder ("killing is wrong except when it's right, and I know the difference. That's all I can say"), and admit that he's afraid of dying (a theme that would be followed up, after a fashion, in the later NAs Head Games, The Room With No Doors and Lungbarrow); the Doctor is forced to look for proof that he hasn't set himself up as some Great Moral Force For The Universe and finds it lacking, which is obviously disturbing for him and gives the dedicated NA reader a great deal to think about. These Doctor-Pryce scenes are even more remarkable in that Zebulon Pryce, important though he might be in these moments, is actually only a relatively minor character with respect to the whole story. Pryce is not alone in being extremely well characterised, though; pretty much every character in the book, from major to minor, is handled exquisitely, including Tobias Vaughn's future self.

The whole book clips along at a tremendous pace yet never feels rushed; neither, despite being considerably longer than the new series novels, does it ever get plodding and dull. There is a good balance of introspection, exposition, explanation, humour, horror and good old-fashioned complex plotting to be had here; there are several nice touches, like the reader being kept informed of the interplanetary events marking beginnings of the end of the Earth Empire by each chapter starting with a daily news report, and lots of nods and winks and nudges to other Who stories both on screen and in print - here Andy Lane manages the tricky balancing act of getting them in for the fans to notice without them becoming gratuitous and confusing or tiresome to the novice.

I have heard it said that the NAs, from Original Sin to The Dying Days, marked a true golden age for Who fiction, for those who liked stories "too broad and too deep for the small screen", and I have to agree. Roz and Chris get the best introductions of any print companions ever - not even Benny got such good treatment on her first outing - and it is fascinating to see the Doctor realise and then react to the knowledge that he, the arch-manipulator, is being manipulated throughout this story. All too often I hear criticism of the NAs along the lines of the Doctor's foreplanning of adventures and manipulation of others "isn't very Doctorish", and whilst I actually loved the concept of the "Dark Doctor" and "Time's Champion", it's interesting to see it turned on its head here - with the Doctor deprived of his TARDIS, his liberty, and ultimately forced to rely on his wits, ingenuity and improvisational skills, and still come out on top. In many ways this is a traditional Who story but set very much in the middle of the NA continuity - there's something here for everyone!

Original Sin is a fantastic novel and anyone who likes the Doctor's print adventures in general or the New Adventures in particular owes it to themselves to read this book. Try it - I sincerely doubt you will be disappointed.


Review by Valedictorian


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