This is another in the Monster Collection of stories, originally published in 1997 and now republished in 2014, with an Introduction by Mike Tucker. It was originally being written as a possible script for a 1990 season which never happened.
In this story, the Seventh Doctor and Ace are in London during the Blitz in WWII. The Doctor has brought Ace here at her request, and it becomes clear in the story that he hopes that a little reality as to the horror of war may help Ace find an adult response to situations that doesn’t include Nitro-9. To put Ace’s timeline in perspective in this story, it’s set after Survival (the last episode of the tv series cancelled in 1989), so Ace is still a young woman who has had a troubled life. Her responses, as shown in the first part of the book still involve explosions and agression. It’s really good to see in this book that she matures in her outlook somewhat, and I found myself liking her a lot more by the end of the book as she finds a new way to deal with some of the issues in the story.
This is a pretty dark story; set in and around London during the War, there is already death and violence from the nightly bombings by the Germans. Add to that a killer stalking the streets of London and some strange metallic rustlings coming from the sewers, and you have what the Doctor knows can only be something really really bad – and alien. It’s no surprise (given the cover picture) that Cybermen are in this story, and they are out to cybernise as many humans as they can. But the Nazis want their technology as well, and they will stop at nothing to get what they want. Can the Doctor and Ace stop alien future technology falling into anybody’s hands and stop the killing?
I really enjoyed this story; the writing is fast-paced, the characters alongside the Doctor and Ace are well realised, and the ‘bad’ guys are nicely subtle. At the end, there’s a really nice nod to the 1968 televised story with Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor, The Invasion. This is well done, as the Cybermen in this novel are clearly the older style of Cybermen (we know that from their description in the book and also their voice tones used) as depicted on the original novel’s cover, and not the newer style of Cybermen depicted on the cover of the novel in this reissue.
on 27 March 2014
This is a fairly typical Cybermen romp and it ticks all the right boxes. The Cybermen are a threatening presence in the background for the earlier stages of the book. This is an area where they are quite successful and lends itself wonderfully to a chaotic Second World War London during the blitz. The Lurker is particularly effective in this environment.
The Cybermats are also included and they have one of their more substantial roles, featuring throughout the novel. Oddly they are somewhat reminiscent of those who have appeared more recently during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure. In fact, the question of what era the Cybermen are from ion this novel tends to permeate the whole story. It is never actually disclosed but in leaving it vague they could be any number of Cybermen designs.
The Doctor and Ace are both well characterised and pretty close to their television personas. Although the Seventh Doctor’s pre-occupation with chess is a little dull by now. Ace participates in plenty of action. She has a lot to do which is quite varied, including flirting with McBride (who for some reason is called ‘McBridge’ on the back cover of the book).
There are some decent subsidiary characters, even one called Peddler (a reference to the co-creator of the Cybermen I presume). McBride is probably the best of them and gels well with the Doctor and Ace. Unfortunately his role dwindles away quite considerably in the latter stages of the book.
The multitude of German SS and military figures are all quite stereotypical, but that is to be expected considering the limits of their roles. However, the comparison and contrast between their ideologies and objectives and those of the Cybermen is an area of philosophical interest.
With a lot of action, a lot of tension and a story that feels very much like it belongs in the Seventh Doctor’s era, this is certainly an entertaining story and a good one to represent the Cybermen in the Monster Collection.
Originally published in 1997, Illegal Alien was a story that was originally pitched to the Doctor Who production office in the late 1980's and had the series not been cancelled after S26 it may have appeared on television. As it was, it turned up in book form a few years later and was a strong entry in BBC Books' early range of original Who fiction.
Placing the Cybermen (and despite the new front cover, these are very much Troughton-era Cybermen) into WW2 was inspired - and whilst the story is a bit of a run-around there are some good moments. The Cybermats are more scary and vicious then seen on screen - here they can strip the skin from their unfortunate victim. The Cybermen too have some moments which remind the reader of their 60's heyday.
With both the Allies and the Nazis keen to utilize Cyber technology for their own ends, the Doctor has to prevent this and also the somewhat vague plans of the Cybermen themselves. The Doctor and Ace are well characterised - both are closer to the TV performances of McCoy and Aldred than the way the characters were portrayed in the later Virgin New Adventures range of original Who fiction.
Although the book probably promises more than it ultimately delivers, Illegal Alien is still a pretty good book and well worth a read.