on 25 October 2013
The Face Eater is an Eighth Doctor novel by Simon Messingham whose previous offering to the BBC Books range was the ill-conceived sequel to Planet of Evil, Zeta Major, a novel so dull it was a wonder I finished it. Fingers crossed he does better this time around.
For a Doctor Who novel, The Face Eater starts by being incredibly Doctor-lite, with him not showing up until around the 40 page mark. Whilst this could be deemed as a bad thing, Messingham has created an exciting premise with an interesting set of characters. We are introduced to Ben Fuller, a cop on Proxima II, the very first colony World of Earth. Fuller is trying to catch a murderer, Leary, but soon starts to question whether he actually is the killer after experiencing some unexplained behaviour. Meanwhile a workman, tries to get it looked into by the colony leader, Helen Percival, but she doesn't want to know.
The Doctor and Sam arrive, posing as investigators from Earth, and instantly earn Percival's distrust. Sam tags along with Fuller to investigate the deaths whilst the Doctor teams up with a scientist who has been protecting Leary to see what is causing the native Proximans numbers to be dwindling. They both soon discover that the killer(s) are a shape shifting alien race called the Face Eaters who are infiltrating the humans lives by posing as members of the colony.
I enjoyed the story tremendously, although a lot of it doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. The Doctor and Sam do take a back seat for a lot of it, but Messingham's characters shine through. The only downside was the ending which was a slight letdown in the fact that nothing is really resolved.
Sam is still as irritating as ever, right off the bat she's rude, obnoxious, and even tries to fight an eco-war in which she is the only person who cares. Messingham acknowledges this behaviour, has her apologize for it, then has her doing it all over again a few pages later. She does get better, and her escapades with Fuller are interesting. The Doctor is back to his usual 8th self after his funny turn in Beltempest and Messingham writes for him very well, showing off his compassionate side, making him eye candy for the ladies and having an air of magic about him.
I don't normally like shape shifting enemies but the Face Eaters are interesting and well written enough for them not to bother me as much as these type of enemies usually do. The only criticism is that you just get used to them being a race, then they are a gestalt entity, then a machine, then a tentacle creature etc. etc. I'd rather the author pick one and stay with it, as you struggle to see how a gestalt machine would be able to summon vampire like minions.
Messingham has managed to jazz his writing up since Zeta Major, and The Face Eater isn't a bad novel at all. His story keeps you interested throughout and his characterization is spot on, including the annoyance that is Sam. Whilst not a must read novel of the range, it is an entertaining book which is well worth a read if you have the time.
on 28 November 1999
What begins with a sense of mystery and wonder, not to mention a creepy atmosphere, falls apart half way through, as Messingham's narrative becomes slugish and messy. The 50's style monster (ala THE BLOB) becomes tiresome and somewhat out of place in the world of the Doctor, and the creepy atmosphere almost totally disappears under a tide of action scenes that fail to grip. Not terrible then, but if it's horror Doctor Who you want, try the excellent KURSAL or the impressive THE JANUS CONJUCTION