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Doctor Who - The Shadows of Avalon Mass Market Paperback – 7 Feb 2000
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From the start we know we're in a Paul Cornell novel: the Brigadier is back: angst-ridden and torn over the death of his wife Doris; and Compassion has been left on Earth by the Doctor in order to "experience humanity". We first meet her in a house she shares with five or six blokes--one of them is in love with her and she didn't help matters by snogging him extensively. She also has a cat - which she has somewhat bizarrely named Cheese. All these things are typical Cornell and, unfortunately, given the lack of character development of Compassion in previous books, do not ring true at all. If Compassion had a cat, she'd call it "Cat". No way would she snog a human, and given that she has agonised over the lack of 'input' when away from the TARDIS, it's hard to see her willingly agreeing to an enforced stay, on her own, on Earth.
We then launch into an uneasy plot in which a vortex opens up between Earth and Avalon (the land of Faeries) and the Doctor, Fitz, Compassion and the Brigadier find themselves involved in a war between Humans and those in Avalon (which number include Silurians as regular Doctor Who readers will realise). There's also a sleeping King (whose dream has created Avalon), brutal Gallifreyan Interventionists sent by President Romana to ensure a certain outcome and lots of tactical battles, explosions, and death.
Overall it's a bit of a mess, although it is quite an easy read. Cornell drags the reader along with him through a multitude of confusion until we reach the revelations at the end.
And it's the end which really makes this book. Over the last few titles, those in the know realised that there was a kind of story arc going on but it was hard to detect its presence. With this book it all comes to a head, and results in one of the greatest innovations that the Doctor Who novels have yet delivered which readers will just have to find out for themselves.
What this outcome really proved, however, was how Compassion really needs to be more defined and likeable to the readers beforehand. As it is, some of the power of what happens is muted as you never really knew or liked her in the first place. Peter Angelides--the only author in recent time to have really understood the characters--should have written this book.
All credit to author Lawrence Miles, apparently, for this outcome, which has been in the offing since Compassion joined in Interference. Maybe now knowing what the outcome is, re-reading those books might shed more clues but, ultimately, it really doesn't matter because a series of stand-alone books which are connected by near-invisible threads would work better than a series which you have to read and remember all for any to make sense. --David Howe
A tale in which magic faces down science and dragons duel with jet fighters. But is there some greater power manipulating this war in the other-dimensional world of Avalon?
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The Brigadier here is quite different from the character of the same name in Mark Gatiss' Last of the Gaderene. This is not to say that either of these authors have got him wrong. In Gatiss' book, the Brigadier is the character that we knew and loved from thirty years ago. The Shadows of Avalon presents the Brigadier as he is now (well, now as in the future - it's a temporal thing). For one thing, Lethbridge-Stewart has been promoted to General. However, everyone still calls him 'Brigadier'. For a moment, you can imagine that Paul Cornell has been delving into the files of Police Squad, ready to reveal that Lethbridge-Stewart was christened 'Brigadier' (like Frank Drebin's (sic) first name was always 'Lieutenant'), but he resists this. Due to events in past novels ('Happy Endings'), the Brigadier has also been rejuvenated, and there are some interesting scenes with him and an aged Munro. But although the Brigadier is youthful, he is far from happy, for his wife has died. This is on the back cover blurb, so it's not a spoiler.
So, the Brigadier finds himself in the mythical land of Avalon, along with the Doctor. Avalon's home to the Catuvelauni, a Celtic tribe who fled there from the Romans. Also living there are the Faeries - don't groan - who are the original inhabitants. These Fair Folk bear little resemblance to popular images of fairies, and are more familiar in a malignant sort of way. With their presence, it would certainly seem that Avalon is a good bolt-holt for people running away from things, and it's as good an explanation of dragons as you're likely to find in the Doctor Who universe. It's not long before the Brigadier is caught in the midst of a civil war between these two peoples. Shadows of Avalon retains the contemporary political feel of recent EDAs, since this does resemble Kosovo at times.
There was a great deal of fuss prior to the publication of the Shadows of Avalon due to Cornell's decision to portray a black Time Lord. In this aspect, it also resounds with Battlefield, since that story had a black woman as Brigadier. Initially, I thought Paul Cornell had failed in his good intentions, since the only explicit reference to Gandar's skin tone is one character describing him as a 'darkie'. However, this comes from a character whose perceptions have been affected by his living in our society. No one refers to Gandar as 'black' on Gallifrey, because his skin tone isn't an issue there. Most of the time he and his fellow agent, Cavis, dress up in disguises to perform their duties as agents, whether that means wearing monsters suits or the full Celtic look. Like every other character in this book however, Gandar isn't static - like the Brigadier, he develops and evolves with a great deal of compassion. Paul Cornell deals with racial conflict within these pages with a high degree of sophistication.
So, like a lot of Doctor Who books nowadays, Shadows of Avalon opens at a relatively gentle, some might even say dull, pace. As usual, we're introduced to a lot of new characters who require some time to empathize with. But if you leave your copy of Shadows on the 08:47 from London Bridge to Hastings after scanning just a few opening pages, then you'd be missing the point. Doctor Who has graduated from the regular twenty five minute cliffhanger. Now the books tend to build up to a barnstorming end - and this is where Shadows of Avalon excels. The ending is a bungee jump into oblivion, with adrenaline even approaching excess.
There are a few things which jar - one of the greatest elements of Doctor Who disappears with a whimper rather than a bang, and maybe the two Gallifreyan agents are a little too groovy to be taken seriously, like something out of Buffy. But then again, one of the agents is preordained Cavis, which I think must derive from Latin (what was that mosaic in Pompeii? 'Cave Canem'?). When you think about the Latin elements of the story, it soon becomes clear that there couldn't be a more appropriate setting for this story. There are ironies within ironies, until they alchemise into gold. Judging by the reaction of one of the characters, the Enemy has to be feared. This is a most stimulating novel, one which will stay with me for a long time. It's part of the ongoing story, stopping off here and there, like The Armageddon Factor of twenty year ago, and resounds with such quality as Edge of Darkness. These two aren't name-checked by Cornel, but I think I can see them. The Great Escape is certainly referred to, but given the nature of this novel, it's hardly gratuitous. Shadows of Avalon seems to resemble a classical work: there's a justification for every idea here. And combined with elements from Lawrence Miles' story arc? Sweeter than eye of newt.
Of course, one can only imagine the Doctor's reaction to seeing Ian Chesterton in a German POW camp, but that's another story. Maybe it's the beginning. Whatever. I think that we can certainly let Paul Cornell get away with this one.
You can tell Cornell is a brilliant author - my other half recognises the name, and decides she's going to have a night out while I read it.
It was a good thing she did - I picked it up and have no idea how long it took to read as I simply could not put it down. The Brigadier comes across as a man of action, torn by his emotions in a way that only Cornell could manage. The Doctor loses the TARDIS, and has to consider life without it. Compassion comes across as a real person for the first time in the range, which is ironic considering the ending. I won't give it away, but let's just say I had to gasp aloud and explain the plot in length to my ever suffering other half. Fitz is, well, Fitz. The other characters all come across as real people, and you actually care how things are going to turn out.
It all makes sense - which is Cornell's greatest strength.
The book says this is the end of one chapter in the Doctor's life, and the start of another. Trust me, you don't want to miss this ending - it also makes one hell of a beginning.
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