Hey, if you're going to go out, you might as well go out old school. Although there was still one more Past Doctor Adventure to go before the line was put to bed presumably forever, it would have been probably entirely fitting to end with a novel featuring the original TARDIS team and calling it "The Time Travelers", a nice look back into what made that first crew work so well and the days when being in the show was about being a lost explorer who occasionally managed to save the day but more often than not got into danger that had less to do with saving the world as much as saving yourself and the three people you came in with. All so you can dive back into your magic box and do it again. Yay!
First Doctor adventures are interesting because at the time the show was more an ensemble cast with a serial nature, so at least in the first season or so you got to watch Ian and Barbara and Susan and the cranky Doctor all kind of learn together and grow into a weird sort of family, as opposed to the focus being on the dude with allegedly two hearts who's out to save the world because he's a genius, while everyone else is along for the ride and conveniently around to ask questions or have things explained to them. Thing is, I'm not sure how well that reads, which puts an author in a weird position of recreating the creaky halcyon studio bound days of 1963 or rendering it so modern as to sandpaper away all the charms it once has.
To his credit, the author here makes a valiant attempt and really only fails by being too ambitious, which you can probably chalk up to First Novel Syndrome. The Doctor and his sprightly companions land in London in 2006 and instead of being greeted by a cheeky blonde with a dead-end job, they encounter a London that has been destroyed by war (again, presumably) and in fact realize that the war is still going on. Immediately after arriving they find a man dead but soon after discover him alive again. As it turns out, both things are true simultaneously. Did someone say time travel paradox?
For the most part it seems that the only way to make time travel paradoxes work is by sketching out notes for all the shifting timelines in a way that would probably take up the entire room of a house. And maybe he did, but it doesn't come across here. He's attempting to do two things here when he should have just stuck with one concept and brought it all the way home. On the one hand you have the time travel experiments, which result in multiple copies of one person from all different parallel timelines (and all you Eighth Doctor readers thought we were done with that stuff) and seems to be capable of breaking down time. On the other hand you have the idea of a world in peril and twisted beyond recognition, with England's enemies making plans to finally fix things once and for all. Oh, and did I mention it's all the fault of a certain homicidal computer?
The problem is everything feels vague. Once we have the initial situation, the book more or less treads water, giving us various people doing various things, but none of it really moving the plot forward so much as getting us page-count wise to the point where the plot can start to matter. We have hardnosed generals, double agents, the dark threat of war, some history to learn but in the finest tradition of a four part episode given two extra parts it didn't need, there's an awful lot of vamping going on here. And what's worse is that the threat never feels specific, the Doctor keeps insisting that time is broken but he never goes into detail (and there's at least two points where we've given something to be believed at face value and at the point where it would get in the way of the plot, the Doctor simply says "I lied" and we're in Opposite Land suddenly). We see preparations but it's just generic war, we don't get a sense of what's at stake. If time is broken the multiple copies of Colonel Andrews should be a symptom but instead it seems a way to kill him over and over while still having ones left around to be useful. It's not even played for absurd comedy, despite comments about their differences. There's very little spark given to the concept, as if we're supposed to be dazzled by the concept of Broken Time (and the Doctor suddenly saying that his bold statement of not being able to change history by one line was just him being over-enthusiastic, extra fiber and all that, you know) and not notice that everyone surrounding the concept is a bit drab.
The shift in scenery about two-thirds through is welcome but doesn't really improve things too much. Multiple copies of Ian attempt to shake things up but we'll get to that in a moment. Our heroes have to change history but it seems it's simply easy enough to change the course of history by going out for a few drinks. Not the world's greatest climax, unless it's one of those Simon Pegg/Nick Frost movies where everyone's a right bloke at the end, wot? Nor is there any sense of history actually changing, as everyone just leaves, content that everyone is okay now and they're not going to emerge from a TARDIS into an Earth where the currency is clown noses.
Otherwise, he's pretty good. He gets the tones right, with the Doctor being all cranky and grandfathery, Susan not as fluttery and screamy as she could be, and Ian and Barbara being the steady levelheaded presences they all were, best friends and noth-
Actually, about that. While the aims of the plot itself aren't so detailed, the book doesn't devote large sections of text to Ian and Barbara musing on their feelings for each other, which turn out to be rather deep. And in case you missed that, we have future versions of Ian who seem to be married to Barbara and discussions between the two of them about said feelings and futures together. It's hard to argue with any of this on the face of it, since if you're going to put together anyone who ever traveled on the TARDIS, it might as well be them and in fact they make a better couple based on the chaste televised evidence than a couple seasons of Amy and Rory actually being a couple. By now it's probably an accepted piece of fanlore that they're together after travels end (and if "The Romans" proved anything it's that it probably didn't start when they left the Doctor) but having our usual stiff upper lip heroes spend pages wringing their respective hands over their feelings for each other feels oddly out of place, like a fan-fiction draft that got mixed in with the other stuff. This isn't the first time the BBC novels have delved into this and once that door was kicked in everyone probably felt obligated to put their personal stamp on it, but as much as I like these people on paper, I just can't imagine William Russell and Jacqueline Hill mooning over each other like this. For goodness sakes, they were adults, not lovestruck children. If I wanted to experience a real mediocre time traveling romance, I'd watch "The Lake House" in all its glory.
Still, for all my complaining, he manages to extend their farewell scene in "The Chase" a couple more minutes and get a perfectly charming romantic ending, as well as a nice point to say goodbye to these two, so I can't say that I mind it completely. It just seems that at some point during the writing he became so interested in making connections to other stories and setting those little balls in motion that he forgot to put as much passion into the plot. As it stands, he conjures up the spirits of these people just enough to make it roll pleasantly along fueled by our affection for them and to a lesser degree by their open affection for each other. It's a good effort from a first time writer, but if there was a need for an inaugral book for the "TARDIS Romance" line, we wouldn't have to look much further for a good candidate.