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Doctor Who: King of Terror Mass Market Paperback – 1 Nov 2000
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The Doctor is summoned to a meeting with Brigadier who shows him a photo of a media mogul named Sanger - who's bought enough plutonium to destroy the world ten times over. The Doctor finds himself engaged in a race against time to save planet Earth.
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Much of the same ingredients are used in ‘The Devil Goblins from Neptune’, co-written by the author of ‘The King of Terror’ and featuring some of the same characters. Most of the themes and much of the subject matter are also quite similar without any worthwhile development. It is more of a case of repeat rather than continuation.
The Doctor has a relatively minor role. Rather than being a Doctor Who story this feels more like a Doctor Who spinoff where the Doctor makes the occasional appearance. When he is featured, the characterisation of the Fifth Doctor is usually quite off and really doesn’t capture his nuances.
Tegan and Turlough are both shoved off into subplots of their own with mixed results. Tegan is reasonably characterised and receives a reasonable storyline which actually develops her a bit, but the whole romance she is given doesn’t quite ring true. The author doesn’t seem to have much of a role for Turlough other than to leave him imprisoned and tortured. Although this ‘experimenting’ on him serves a minor role in the plot it is far too dominant and often unnecessarily gratuitous.
Being a novel that inevitably features UNIT (considering the subject and style) the Brigadier also plays a role in events. He is much better characterised than the others based on onscreen characters. Mainly this is the Brigadier post ‘Mawdryn Undead’ and, possibly, the spinoff ‘Downtime’. However, there is also an ancient over one hundred and twenty year old version of him that appears for no real apparent reason.
There is a lot of time in the novel, especially earlier, that is devoted to pointlessly following around a few characters (mainly Paynter and Barrington and a group of cultish, drop out ‘terrorists’). None of these sequences are that interesting, are quite drawn out and often not that relevant to the overall plot.
The story takes a while to get going. It develops into something a little more intriguing when it becomes about two alien races threatening to invade the Earth, one pledged to destroying the other. This does make the resolution to the story feel all a little bit too convenient, a touch predictable and, at times, farcical.
The Fifth Doctor with companions Tegan and Turlough head to Los Angeles at the request of the Brigadier who suspects that a multimedia company are up to no good. Through in a band of terrorists and the prophecies of Nostradamus and the result is a quality book.
The plot is very good, even if the powerful company threatening world safety is an idea oft used in Doctor Who novels. Topping begins the novel with a couple of UNIT members, Paytner and Barrington, who seem very uncharacteristic of a Doctor Who novel and are a welcome inclusion. Both characters have strong characterisation which makes both of them likeable.
The regular characters fair well mostly. The Brigadier is in top form, although his appearance doesn't seem long enough. Turlough has some nasty surprises in store for him and Tegan is as fiery as ever. The main problem is that Topping hasn't quite got the Fifth Doctor's character right. It's fine at the beginning of the book but somewhere around the middle the character starts to slip and this results in some uncharacteristic behaviour.
Overall, "The King Of Terror" is a good, solid novel. It's first hundred pages or so are fantastic and kept me reading well into the early hours of the morning. But the last hundred and fify pages aren't as good, and the lapse led to me loosing interest in the plot. That said, the plot is good with waring aliens being at the heart of events. It moves along quickly but I felt the ending was a bit of an anticlimax. "The King Of Terror" is a good book, but it's not as good as "The Hollow Men" which Topping co-wrote with Martin Day as it fails to maintain the quality of the first hundred pages.
Keith Topping's writing is fine, so it's not his prose that's at fault here. It's the simple fact that the series regulars (Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough) are surplus to requirements throughout the novel.
Turlough gets kidnapped early on and spends his time out of the action, while Tegan wanders around not doing much other than being slapped in the face by a UNIT soldier and constantly moaning that he's a git - shortly before kissing him?!?
The character who comes out worst in this novel though is the Doctor himself. Consistantly regarded as a weak, ineffectual Doctor on TV, the Fifth incarnation does absolutely *nothing* in this book. *Nothing*.
Until we get to the very end, where the Doctor, in a sudden burst of inspiration, says 'Oh, let's do this to defeat the alien menace!'. Needless to say (and without spoiling the book too much for anyone who hasn't read it), the aliens don't stand a chance against the Doctor's genius.
If only he'd struck upon his cunning plan in Chapter 1 - I might have been spared the rest of the novel...
I enjoyed 'Devil Goblins from Neptune', but this one just didn't work for me. Better luck next time, Keith - I'm already looking forward to 'Byzantium!' despite my adverse reaction to this one.
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