Drift is a Past Doctor Adventure featuring the 4th Doctor and Leela.
If I had to choose one word to describe the first book written by Simon Forward, I'd have to say "atmospheric." Forward does a wonderful job of setting the scene, but he falls down a little bit on the characters, which brings the ranking down.
The Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive in New Hampshire in the middle of a blizzard which has closed off Melvin Village. They meet up with White Shadow, a US Special Forces group that is in the area looking for a downed experimental aircraft. There's also a survivalist cult which is under observation by the military. Meanwhile, personal problems and strange disappearances affect some of the residents of Melvin, problems which result in these residents getting caught up in the saga of the downed jet. There's something out there in the snow, something that kills. Something that not even the Doctor understands. The Doctor must not only deal with this alien menace, but also some menaces that are all too human.
The main character of this novel, you could say, is the weather. A blanket of white coats this entire book (and not just the cover!). The atmosphere in this book is almost chilling as everybody is out wallowing in the snow, trying to get to where they need to be. The snow is almost a living creature in this book, and Forward almost makes you feel cold with his descriptions of what's going on. It's been a long time since I've had a scene in a book set as vividly as it is here. Sometimes, you get an image of a town that's in one of those sno-globes, which you pick up and shake. Other times, the atmosphere is menacing. It's always perfectly placed, though.
The characters aren't as well drawn, however. Most of the Special Forces soldiers have a personality quirk or something to identify them, but otherwise they're pretty faceless. The only ones who don't have this problem are Morgan Shaw (the captain), Kristal (the Native American guide), and Joanna (the medic). The rest are indistinguishable. The same can be said for the townspeople, other than the sheriff (Makenzie Shaw) and Amber, the daughter of Makenzie's girlfriend. They have a personality conflict which ends up with Amber getting intimately involved with the ongoing menace. But their story itself is rather dull. Other characters (both soldiers and townspeople) seem to be around just to be killed off.
This lack of character extends to Leela as well. Leela comes from a primitive society, and she is always learning from the Doctor's tutelage. When Forward concentrates on this, Leela shines almost as much as she does when her creator (Chris Boucher created the character on television) writes her. However, there isn't that much of this, as Leela is quickly separated from the Doctor and she's on her own. The rest of what happens to her is fine in a character sense, but she just doesn't get anything to do. She follows Kristal around for awhile and senses a kindred spirit, but that's it. She's sidelined to a great extent.
There are also two characters that, while I found them interesting, I found them unnecessary. They are two NSA agents who are harbouring a secret of their own. The mystery is fairly effective, but once it's revealed, not much is done with it. It becomes just a background trait, and it lost a lot of its interest when that happened. They didn't really need to be in the book, and I thought they detracted from the rest of the story. As characters themselves, however, they were quite good. Too bad they weren't in another book that was about them.
The Doctor is relatively well done, as Forward captures Tom Baker's manic energy that he brought to the television role. He's bouncing back and forth between situations, making foreboding comments to the locals and generally doing his best to solve the problem. He's fine, if rather stiff. And if I heard one more character (or even the narrator!) call him Doc, I was going to scream.
The situation that Forward presents, however, is very interesting. I like the idea of a weather-based foe for once. Usually, when you think "elemental," you think of water or fire, so this was a nice change of pace. The method of attack the creature has was pretty neat. I could have done without the zombies, though. The editor of the Who books seems to have a thing for zombies. I wish I knew why.
All in all, this is a pretty decent book, especially for a first novel. It's way above a 3-star book, but not quite a 4. Since I have to choose one, though, I'll choose 4. My advice is to revel in the atmosphere and not worry about the characters so much. You'll like it a lot better.