Here's a book with everything in it. You got your multiple doctors, check. Montage of scenes from "The Mind of Evil", "The Brain of Morbius", and "The Creature From the Pit" (!), check. Obscure continuity references, check: members of an alien race referred to in passing in "Time-Flight", and lyrics from a song once recorded by Jon Pertwee.
So. What's "Cold Fusion" about?
Buried deep in an interview on the BBC Doctor Who Books website, Lance Parkin reveals that the germ of "Cold Fusion" was the war in Yugoslavia. At its heart this was a book about the Fifth Doctor ("Bland") fighting in a local war... and opposed by the Seventh Doctor (the "Dark" one) masterminding the other side. Great idea! However, it doesn't really play out here. "Cold Fusion" is consumed by flashbacks, by references to past and future Gallifreyan history, and by any number of "Oh! Look how clever" moments. The novel is consequently much darker than the dark comedy left on the drawing board.
"Cold Fusion" had me scratching my head. The book is seven years old, and subsequent developments in the book lines rendered its revelations moot. I searched the Internet in search for other commentary about just what it all means, but apart from the brief interview with Lance, couldn't find any.
This is the plot, all spoilers: The Fifth Doctor, before the death of Adric, lands on a 30th century Earth colony, where the scientific ruling elite is threatened by terrorists, and undermined by the descendants of UNIT. Lost beneath the snow is a TARDIS from ancient Gallifrey. The pilot -- Patience -- is still alive, and regenerates. We learn she's the wife of the Other -- one of the creators of Gallifrey who vanished into history to enter the Doctor's own timeline. Meanwhile, the journey of Patience's TARDIS unleashes the Ferutu -- Time Lords from the end of an alternate Universe. In order to save the web of time, the Doctor must send the proto-TARDIS home to ancient Gallifrey. However, the Seventh Doctor, shortly before the death of Roz, outwits his earlier self, and uses the proto-TARDIS instead to destroy the Ferutu and their universe. Most of the colony is wrecked, and Patience is killed by UNIT. Roz knocks the Fifth Doctor unconscious so the Seventh Doctor can make his getaway.
Deep, deep stuff. Any one of the three stories here is interesting, but not all together. The colony story sort of just fades away, both sides thugs, Lance's pointed political asides disappearing into the ether. I came away with a loathing for the Seventh Doctor... who really wasn't about the things he did in this novel. The Ferutu remain inscrutable, not tragic.
The black, black comedy intrudes. There are two very funny moments of 30th century hijinks: the Doctor disarms a "war-droid", which rattles out a string of hilarious operating instructions. Later, we learn that robot labor speaks in working-class accents and govern themselves with dilatory union tactics. Both these moments are laugh-out-loud funny. They're also followed by brutal deaths just paragraphs later. Maybe that sums up "Cold Fusion" in a nutshell. It's got these great ideas, but just doesn't know where to put 'em.
"Cold Fusion" is sad, sad, sad. There's a lot of death -- maybe the highest body-count ever in "Doctor Who", apart from what was implied in "Logopolis". But the end of the Universe in "Logopolis" was balanced by themes of rebirth. "Cold Fusion" is ambitious, and weighs on the mind when it's all over. However, as dark as it is, what does it all mean? What's it all for?