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Doctor Who: Millennium Shock Mass Market Paperback – 24 May 1999
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The Millennium Bug is threatening to bring the world's computers to a standstill. Experts struggle to avert disaster, but a powerful force seems determined to work against them. In Britain panic has set in, what can the time-travelling Doctor do to help?
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The premise is that a company called Silver Bullet are putting a chip into various electrical devices which allow them to control it remotely, and will also trigger once the new Millennium dawns thanks to the Y2K bug.
The story is bordering Tom Clancy territory, with an alien race shoe-horned in to make it Doctor Who. Personally I don’t think Justin Richards should be doing Doctor Who novels like this, he obviously enjoys a good spy thriller, but Doctor Who just isn’t the place for it, at least not in the quantities Richards seems to be churning them out. You also have to beg the question why MI5, the Military and the CIA are used, when using UNIT would be more of a tie in to the Doctor Who Universe. It honestly reeks of original novel with Doctor Who stuffed into it. The actual plot is interesting and well researched, it just feels the Doctor is there for the ride.
Where the story is slightly lacking Richards make up for it in characterization. The 4th Doctor is portrayed wonderfully and Richards has his mannerisms and style down perfectly, the only negative being his absence from the early part of the novel and him sometimes coming across as Jack Ryan figure. For the first time in the PDA range the 4th Doctor’s companion isn’t Leela which is great news. Sarah Jane Smith makes the briefest of brief cameos leaving the Doctor to team up with Harry Sullivan again, albeit after he left him originally. Harry is done very well, with both his M15 persona and his social life being very interesting to read.
The main alien threat are the Voracians, a race already encountered in Richard’s System Shock for the Virgin range. Whilst a nice idea, I can’t help but think Richards included them to make the novel a Doctor Who one, and thier plot to take over Earth was originally due to be a criminal mastermind of sorts. They never really come across as true evil though. The supporting characters are all a bit hit and miss. Some are Voracian, some are not Voracian, some might be Voracian… you get the idea. The trouble with Richard’s novels is he has so many characters and plot twists and turns that no one really gets any chance for character building. Oh and the lack of UNIT is criminal.
Millennium Shock is pretty standard Justin Richards fare with absolutely nothing in it which will surprise you. Mediocre is probably the best word to describe it as it’s neither good nor is it bad. If you like Justin Richard’s other works then you’ll like this one too as it really is a Justin Richards novel by numbers. Personally however, I’d rather see him shake his formula up a bit.
The 'skitishness' of the 4th doctor is really focused on. It is done in such a good way too. He gives him an awful lot of humor, but keeps the seriousness too. Very keeping with the t.v programm of the time.
If you are a true Dr who fan, you will love this . BUY IT
Sometimes that can produce great results, as in the shadow in the glass and the banquo legacy.
But on this occasion, it fails. This is simply a retread of system shock, and the only real difference is the absence of sarah jane from this one.
System shock is well worth reading. This is just pretty forgettable.
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But while we ponder that, why don't we focus on the rest of the novel as well? A Fourth Doctor adventure, it features everyone's favorite scarf wearing time traveller hooking up with old friend Harry Sullivan to fight some aliens who are taking advantage of the upcoming Y2K bug to try and take over the world. Or activate a sentient alien computer virus that will take over the world for them. It all really amounts to the same thing.
Richards sets up an interesting premise that unfortunately has kind of dated horribly. When the book was released the fears over Y2K were fairly imminent, but they were fears that went away on January 1st, 2000 when it was clear that if the world was going to end, it wasn't going to be due to computers that didn't know how to read a calender. Thus the gripping sense of suspense isn't exactly going to reach Tom Clancy levels of "It could happen to you!" that it seems to be striving for, even though Richards gets bonus points for having things actually go wrong, so we get a glimpse of what might have happened. But even that seems to fall by the wayside and the brief broad scope we get isn't really enough.
Which leaves us with nonstop intrigue and action. Sort of. The novel seems to be striving for several different tones all at once, with a creepy sense of encroaching paranoia seeping into the scenes where the aliens are manipulating events and performing surgery on people, a James Bond sense of careening action every time Harry Sullivan whips out a pistol or when a CIA agent shows up (U!S!A!), and the suffocating complications of global politics as the Russians wander in from another story entirely.
The problem is that these all seem to be occupying different novels and thus in order to make them coexist inside his own book, Richards has to basically flatten out the tone so that every thing reads at the same general level of excitement . . . that is to say, more like a medium speed car chase. While the Doctor and Harry do quite well for themselves and manage to engage in several clever things (the Doctor in particular gets several good scenes, made all the harder by not getting into his head, which means that since he's often alone you have to judge him purely by his actions, not an easy thing with this more distant incarnation), there's a certain rote progression to everything so that it never really feels organic. This is the way the plot has to go and thus it does.
It doesn't help that the aliens are never really scary, coming off as second-rate Cybermen (at least none of them ever say, "You will be like us" as they convert yet another person) or that with the characterizations not being the most dynamic thing in the world it's hard to tell who are real people and who are emotionless aliens. It boils down to people in suits sitting in rooms discussing their plans and things blowing up in between discussions, with the occasional gunfight just to liven matters up. It's well done and the aliens' plan does seem to be rather well thought out, even if the solution does somewhat hinge on the sonic screwdriver once again doing whatever the plot requires it to do. But the Russian plot also never seems to really connect with the rest of it and for some reason it feels like the mixture of action, military plotting and political maneuvering should have more impact.
But it's nice to see Harry being proactive and the Sarah Jane cameo is nice. It would have helped to have read the Missing Adventures novel that this is based off of sooner than ten years before but that really isn't the author's fault. It's all very competently written and sometimes even exciting but more often than not you're turning the pages mostly due to habit, waiting to get to the climax.
This the Doctor Who response to the Millennium. Not the first, I might add, since the Paul McGann TV movie also partly partied on this night of festivities. Justin Richards takes his starting point from the Millennium Bug, something which really might cause catastrophe on the night of 1 January 2000. Condef, a British electronics company, has developed a chip to counter the bug. But the British Government is also preparing to bring out the troops to help people when the crisis hits. But some people are determined to take advantage of the chaos. Could there really be a coup? And just who is trying to steal Russian nuclear weapons? What does it have to do with a pen given to Harry Sullivan by Sarah? The Doctor and Harry (now of MI5), must battle to expel a snake from netparadise...
'Millennium Shock' starts slowly, and the Fourth Doctor is a bit of a disappointment here. Richards gets his mannerisms right, but what's left is merely a cipher. Once the action does get going, the book is quite exciting. However, there is something iffy about the resolution. And as for the millennium? Well, even Ian McEwan's Booker Prize winning Amsterdam mentions that.
One company, Condef, promises to provide solutions to every Y2K problem, no matter how unprepared you are. But someone is gathering together old I2 equipment...
The Doctor is duly aided once more by Commander Harry Sullivan of MI5, formerly a travelling companion. And, while she is largely absent from these pages, Sarah Jane Smith is still a significant player in this book. (Interestingly, apparently Justin Richards had planned for Harry and Sarah to be married...).
The book's main problem is that it suffers from sequelitus - if you've read 'System Shock", you know a lot of what happens in 'Millennium Shock' even before you pick it up. Still, it isn't a bad read.