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on 3 August 2004
Justin Richards is the editor of the Doctor Who line of books, so it's only fitting that he get the occasional "big" book rather then just doing fill-ins when an author misses a deadline. He can always be relied upon to give us an interesting story, often compelling and never boring. Time Zero is one of the big ones, though not as big as everybody thought it would be. It doesn't really end the Doctor-Sabbath war of ideas concerning how the timestream will ultimately work, instead blowing everything up and forcing the Doctor to try and pick up the pieces over the next few books. Time Zero keeps moving at a steady pace, gripping the reader, but then it hits a patch of ice. Still a very good book, though.
After the events of Camera Obscura, Fitz has decided to join an expedition to frozen Siberia in the 1890s and Anji just wants to go home. The Doctor is alone again, but things are already set in motion to link him with his companions yet again. Fitz's expedition was attacked by dinosaurs from a history that never happened, and the Doctor has Fitz's journal to prove it. The journal also indicates that Fitz never returned. Anji's back working the financial markets, but gets co-opted into joining an American expedition to Siberia that has unknown purposes, though it involves the Naryshkin Institute. The Institute ostensibly is trying to create a black hole, but why? And what do the Americans want with it? Are all these events linked? The Doctor seems to think so. He's the only one who does, and his arrival on the scene could be the catalyst that destroys the world, or at least the past. Repercussions could stretch back to the beginning of the universe. Or even farther.
Richards manages to tie all of these events together expertly, leaving each plot line to move on to the next one just when it's getting good. The suspense was killing me at a few points, when Fitz was endangered by the dinosaurs or it looked like Anji might get killed. This had the classic feeling of a "companion leaving" story, and I wouldn't have put it past Richards to kill one of the companions in their final book, so the sense of danger was palpable. Only the Doctor seemed safe, as it's obviously his series. Richards also keeps the reader guessing on how everything ties together, with only Siberia visibly linking everything at first. It's definitely a high-concept book, with alternate realities, time experiments, black holes, and an examination of the universe and how it functions. But Richards also grounds this in some believable characters and modern-day action, including two Special Forces units.
The characters are what make the book great. The Doctor, Anji, and Fitz are simply wonderful, with the Doctor being at his frenetic best. He's on top of things, he's a force of nature at times, almost child-like at others, but always the moral center that everything revolves around. He's calm when everything around him is hysterical and he's intelligent as well. Gone are the days when he would do something truly stupid and na?ve, the "congenital idiot" that some fans labeled him. Anji and Fitz are just as good, each leading their own scenes, taking charge (figuratively, if not literally) and displaying the attributes that we've always loved about them. While this is the Doctor's book, they aren't sidelined like they are in Camera Obscura. They are an integral part of the plot. While Anji doesn't get to actually do a whole lot, she gives us a viewpoint into Hartford's team and what they're doing, and she shows quick flashes of brilliance even as she's horrified by what Hartford is doing.
Most of the other characters are quite good as well, though I thought Hartford was a little too over the top in his ruthlessness and I didn't quite buy his transformation at the end. It does give a new look at his previous actions, but I don't think it actually worked. Hartford and his group are chilling and work wonderfully, but Fitz's expedition members are given just enough characterization to make them mildly interesting, but the bits before the expedition reaches the castle dragged a bit because I just didn't care that much about them. Things picked up once the dinosaurs got involved, though.
So the book is moving along very nicely, I'm contemplating taking a longer lunch at work because I want to finish this fascinating novel. The Institute is rigged to explode and there's a countdown and everything. Then Richards steps on a technobabble landmine, all of a sudden trying to explain all the concepts that he's been examining. Revelations of who's who and who's been pretending to be who come fast and furious, and the book comes to a screeching halt. I put the book down and went back to work, eager to finish it but not driven to like I had been. The tension burst out of the book like a balloon. Don't get me wrong, Richards quickly recovers from it and the climax is just as exciting and thought-provoking as the rest of the book, but there's a brick wall right in the middle there that just brought everything rudely to a halt. It's the only real problem in an otherwise wonderful book.
Don't let that stop you, though. Time Zero is yet another hit in the Eighth Doctor line of books
David Roy
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on 29 April 2009
Justin Richards' novel is probably my favourite original Doctor Who story from the range that was published between 1999 and 2004. Justin Richards is an immensely readable author, and the adventure fair romps along from start to finish. A superb read - if you like Doctor Who you won't be disappointed.

60s Londoner and one half of the Doctor's current travelling companions Fitz gets the best of it in this book, and after an inauspicious start in `The Taint', his character really begins to take shape. The Doctor on the other hand doesn't really feature that much here, but when he does it's the quirkily energetic incarnation of the Time Lord that we first saw in the TV movie; making it even more of a shame that Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor only got one screen outing.

Ultimately though, Time Zero is a resounding success; a cracking Doctor Who novel that would grace any era of the show. Always engaging, even in its duller moments (which are few and far between), Richards has penned what is easily the finest original Doctor Who novel to date.
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I really enjoyed this! I have a massive soft-spot for anything to do with quantum physics and any book in which Fitz features large is going to please me and his sudden transformation into Schrödinger's cat was especially enjoyable.

Fitz gets the best of it in this book, the meatiest, most entertaining plot line and a rare chance for his character to shine. The Doctor, by contrast, doesn't really appear as anything like as important to the tale as he should. At times, his sudden appearances felt more like a series of cameos - wonderful cameos, with the quirky, jumpy brilliance and energy of the movie-Doctor coming across especially strongly. I loved him in this story; I'd have liked to have seen more of him.

Each character lives their part in separate time zones that mesh wonderfully well. It's a complicated story but Justin Richards keeps it well in hand, ties up all loose ends and even manages to throw in some apt references to previous EDAs.

The weakest moments have to be the sudden appearance of Sabbath, which felt entirely irrelevant and tacked-on, and the final chapters, with precipitous descent into unlikely science and babbling which dragged the formerly frenetic pace and made for a disappointing conclusion.

But the weaknesses are hugely outweighed by the strengths. Time Zero is, at its heart, a corker of an old fashioned adventure, very well told. The (dubious) science is tricky but it rarely gets in the way of the story (as so often happens in the EDAs). Always enthralling, even in its duller moments, my interest in what was coming next never flagged for a moment - and I couldn't say that for most books in this range. Definitely on my EDA A. list and highly recommended as a first time read for anyone new to the Eighth Doctor.
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VINE VOICEon 3 November 2002
The first half of this novel is a surprisingly simple but effective tale of mystery amongst the frozen wastes of Siberia. Unfortunately the last half is bogged down by an overcomplicated plot, with weightly info-dumps replacing drama.
Add to this the ridiculous idea of having Sabbath masquerading as another character for the majority of the novel when there is absolutely no good reason for him to do so, and the result is a story that promises more than it delivers.
Still an enjoyable read, but far short of the 'event' book promised by the hype.
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