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on 27 June 2012
I've always lauded the BBC 8th Doctor Who books as a great collection. We didn't get to know Paul McGann's Doctor much on the TV, but through the novels that expand his adventures he has fast become one of my favourites - slightly hippy dippy, with a tendency to mistakenly exterminate races as much as save them. The great thing about the Doctor and companions like Sam is that you know them already so you can get on with the adventure. This time in the form of the Year 3999 on a pleasure planet holding the intergalactic Olympic Games. TARDIS lands, Doctor exits, adventure begins.

If only Gary Russell had heard this theory before writing `The Placebo effect'. The plot is a pretty straight forward one, but the number of new characters introduced certainly isn't. There are several different alien races with their own agendas all planning something during the 3999 games. Throw in a crazy royal who is introduced, then thrown away, and you have one confused reader. Through the core of the book is a coherent story, a race that absorbs other races is making its move, but that is hidden behind too many side plots and side characters.

Once the intrigue is over with and the action proper begins you realise two things; the book is almost over and this is actually fun. The final 50 pages are action packed and a great read, it's just a shame that the earlier 200 pages feel like a trawl. Russell would have been best making use of the fact that the Doctor, and to a lesser extent Sam, is a known entity. Instead the book lacks Dr Who and is more Who are all these new characters and How can I possibly remember all their names?
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on 26 January 1999
Yes, the only problem with Placebo Effect is that what with the Wirrrn (with 3 r's), the Foamasi, Stacy and Ssard from the Radio Times Comic Strip, and far too many supporting characters that you can't possibly keep track of them all which can leave you a little confused as exactly who had done what by the end. The climax is also very hurried and is rather too similar to the end of Starship Troopers. These gripes aside however Placebo Effect is excellent. Gary Russell has come on in leaps and bounds since he wrote the abomination that was Invasion of the Cat People. Sam is given further character depth when she is forced to examine her beliefs and she really feels like she's grown up since Seeing I. The Foamasi are given a whole race background, and the author does a very good job of explaining how the Wirrrn absorb people into their collective (like Star Trek's Borg, a similarity which Russell acknowledges in his introduction). Probably worth a second read this one, to try and work out all those supporting characters. Although it's not written with quite the grace of a Kate Orman or a Justin Richards, it's still light years ahead of anything by John Peel. Highly recommended.
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on 30 January 2003
A bit of a mess this one. I was looking forward to reading this after the author's introduction, I thought this would be a good traditional Who adventure, but it was just hard work.
I was never a big fan of The Wirrn anyway, but they were a bit more interesting in this adventure. However, this was the only plus point in a story that simply features far too many characters and at least half of them irrelevant. I found The Royal's farcical and the religious cult predictable and annoying. The idea of an intergalactic Olympics has a great deal of potential, but the arena is blown up before any action really kicks off.
As for the Doctor and Sam, once again they are lost in a sea of excess detail. After the revelations of Seeing I, I was expecting some good banter between the reunited pair and some development in their relationship, but this was virtually business as usual, and once again they were split up and Sam becomes involved with another hapless do-gooder, a repetitive feature of Sam's narratives.
Could've been a Gold medal winner but came in as a limping also -ran.
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on 21 September 2000
This could have been a really great story; it has several original and exciting concepts at its' heart to make it so-the 3999 intergalactic olympics, a plethora of alien races, and an old enemy lurking mencingly in the background. Unfortunately, for me at least, the book is a very unsatisfying read.There are just too many elements working against it. Too much time is wasted concentating on the Foamasi and their lodges, a strange religious order is included that neither interest nor contribute to the plot, and the Wirrrn in the background are just, well... too much in the background always, so that their effect is pretty much negated. The story simply treads water too often for its' own good, with the main plot becoming so obscured by tedious and irrelevant subplot that by the dull ending you hardly care any more. Not quite as bad an effort as, say, Beltempest, but not really much better either.
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on 19 July 2013
So Sam is back with the Doctor and they set off to have more thrilling adventures, or not as the case may be. Kicking off year 2 of the EDA's is Gary Russell's latest offering, Placebo Effect. The novel takes place in the year 3999 at the Intergalactic Olympic Games and features a myriad of different plot threads and characters. You've got the Wirrrn taking over people, Foamasi infiltrating companies, a cult taking offense to mixed species marriages, and a business acting dodgy. It's all fairly interesting but there is just so much going on it really is hard to keep track.

The trouble is that although there is all these things going on, nothing really happens after the first few pages until the end of the novel. The rest of Placebo Effect is filled with Sam or the Doctor talking to various other people whilst investigating missing agents and dead Foamasi. It's not boring, but neither is it that exciting and the story will be forgotten within a year.

The final showdown gets a little better, but for me the ending wasn't at all satisfying and left me wondering the fate of many of the characters.

Gary Russell usually sticks to Past Doctor Adventures and it's easy to see why, he really can't write for the 8th Doctor. Early on the Doctor is captured, and to escape uses violence, despite not actually being threatened by anything other than capture, which is more a trait of the 3rd or 6th. The author also has him knowing far more than he possible can with an air of mystique about him which is reminiscent of the 7th. In fact the only way you can tell it's the 8th is because Gary Russell keeps telling you he is tall and slim, with long flowing hair.

Mr Russell does do better with Sam though, although he still can't resist having her throw her lot in with a do-good group. She starts off the Sam of old but soon matures and realizes her old self was irritating and decides to make her own decisions.

Gary Russell is one of those authors who writes a decent enough story, but just irritates you throughout. He is guilty of fanwankery in the extreme, and whilst it's nice to have references to the past, they seem shoe-horned in for little to no reason. Whilst forgivable in the PDA's, the EDA's should be pushing the story forward, not reminiscing about era's past.

In short Placebo Effect has all the making of a pretty good Doctor Who novel. Sadly it's ruined by too many characters, bad characterizations and far too much fan wankery. If you can get past that, then it isn't a bad book, but it's all a bit chaotic for no real reason.
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on 28 February 2000
A very good story that reintroduces the Wirrrn. The book quickly becomes creepy and if you dislike bugs like I do it becomes downright icky!
The action takes place on an artifical world called Macawber's World where the year 3999 Milennium Olympiad games are about to take place. Add in corporate espionage, a fanatical religious group, a wedding where the Doctor is the Best Man and green, scaly aliens and you've got yourself a ripping good story! Makes you long for a really big can of bug spray!
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on 2 June 2013
Read this book first while I was in hospital is a yarn about the whirren which is interesting if you are a dr who fan appeared in the ark in space
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on 24 May 2001
This is a really enjoyable novel which is fun but at the same time quite serious. It's good to see the return of the Wirrrn. The reader is given a very interesting insight into how their hive mind works. The characters are all fleshed out very well and the plot works quite nicely. A highly enjoyable read!
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