It's hard to rate "Drift". It's a debut novel, nominally a 4th Doctor and Leela book, the second in four for the PDAs (coming behind "Psi-ence Fiction"). Leela is very much a minimal presence, which I think is probably a good thing, especially coming so soon after a book by the guy who created her.
What's most noteworthy, I think, is that "Drift" is set entirely in the United States (southern New Hampshire)... and actually feels like it's filmed in the US, as opposed to TC4! Let's face it, most "Doctor Who" novels set in the States miss the mark in terms of what characters would think and say. When Forward describes a stretch of I-93 in New Hampshire, though, you can actually believe he's driven it (as I have). The character names are more diverse than in "Salvation" -- although when a guy named Marotta shows up here, as sure as eggs is eggs, the word "Brooklyn" is close behind -- so there's finally a sense that not ALL Americans in "Doctor Who"have Anglo names and speak with stilted southern accents. On the other hand, the token New England general store clerk doesn't say "Ayuh" once, so maybe Forward doesn't know his cliches all that well.
I enjoyed the sense of menace that gradually builds up over the first 175 pages or so, and unleashes over a prolonged, violent, action-filled climax. 80% of the word count is devoted to descriptions of snow which, let's be honest, grate after a while, especially when the author has to resort to phrases like "cold inferno" on page 217. Before the action takes over, we meet several characters, military and civilian alike. The military leader is not a closed-minded buffoon, and even the drunken ex-husband gets a few moments of pathos before the inevitable happens.
The plot is hard to make out if you're reading too quickly. The details involve an extraterrestrial device of unspecified origin; a couple of incognito aliens (again, unspecified) looking for a way home; and psi-conscious cultists looking to cross over. Most of this information is kept in the margins -- perhaps too far in, especially in the case of the cultists, who are massacred offscreen practically before page one, and the survivors of whom streak across the first 4/5ths of the novel committing random violent acts for reasons we're never fully made aware.
Even if rookie author Forward gets a little carried away with choice of language and stylistic techniques -- clarity and simplicity really are virtues, even though the BBC editors don't seem to encourage them -- there's also solid plotting, good characterization, and well-visualized action on display. And, lest you think Forward is taking this too seriously, the day is saved because the hero gets drunk. The palette is small (one New Hampshire village) but well-defined. Honestly, I enjoyed this far more than Stephen King's comparable "Dreamcatcher", which distended over 900 pages and was a lot more gross.
One thing that jarred is the sudden intrusion of body horror at the tail, tail end of the novel. Most of the early deaths are suggested at, not shown, or least played as CGI effects rathern than gore. In the last chapter, however, one character dies when icicles spike through their eyeballs. This jars, and I can only assume it was the fault of A) an editor who failed to take it out, or B) an editor who insisted, "Hey, this is a "Doctor Who" novel with psi-powers, so we have to trot out the same anime-style deaths that the New Adventures ran into the ground during their psi-powers arc!".
Otherwise, Forward manages to rise above more recent DW cliches, by leaving most of his regular cast alive, and reasonably happy, at the end of the day. All together this is one of the more enjoyable debut novels of 2002 and stacks up well with the fandom-acclaimed (and doubly oblique) "History 101".