on 29 July 2001
The TARDIS is drawn to the far future when it detects an anomaly in the time-space continuum, where upon arrival he discovers that the technographer, who had been studying a member of the Franciscan brotherhood Roger Bacon from the thirteenth century, is someone who knows who he is, but he has never met her before, and that all of her research has now been altered by the anomaly. Soon he sets off to the time of Bacon to discover just what happened there, but the technographer, with her advance knowledge of the TARDIS, manages to stowaway on board.
Peter Darvill-Evans' latest Doctor Who book 'Asylum' features the Fourth Doctor and Nyssa of Traken in a pseudo-historical story, although that said the elements that make it a pseudo-historical rather than just a historical story are kept to a minimum. From the Doctor's point of view, this story seems to take place in the gap between The Deadly Assassin and The Face Of Evil, and sees the Doctor, between companions, meeting up with a future companion in Nyssa who has already travelled with the Doctor's future self.
I enjoyed this novel much more than Darvill-Evans' most recent Past Doctor Adventure 'Independence Day' which was heavily flawed, but with 'Asylum' he has produced a much more enjoyable book, even if it does have some problems. These range from the fact that Darvill-Evans doesn't really explain the events of the first prologue, preferring instead to leave the mystery of what they were completely unanswered. This does work on one level, but some sort of explanation for them would have helped. The shortness of the novel doesn't help it much either, as it leads to the feeling that very little has actually happened throughout the novel.
The premise of the Doctor meeting an older Nyssa, who has been through a lot since she left the (Fifth) Doctor in Terminus, before he's even met her is an interesting one, but Darvill-Evans' spends nearly twenty pages setting this up, and then instead of Nyssa being integral to the plot she is sidelined for most of the novel with very little to do. In fact after taking so much trouble to bring Nyssa into the story, it seems a wasted opportunity. Finding out what has happened to her after she left the Doctor in Terminus is interesting, but aside from discovering that she has become tired of the violence and destruction in the Universe, the inclusion of Nyssa to this story really adds very little. Nyssa spends almost the entire book separated from the Doctor, and while he is off investigating the anomaly and the murder of one of the Franciscan brotherhood's friars, Nyssa spends most of the novel relaxing. On the way to this she captures the heart of a knight, Richard, as her beauty and demeanour enchant him. This subplot actually works quite well as Richard becomes more and more infatuated with her, it becomes quite poignant that his love for her will always remain unrequited.
The Doctor himself is excellent. He is the bold, brooding Doctor of the Fourteenth season, and for the majority of the novel it becomes very easy to imagine Tom Baker saying the Doctor's dialogue. The way that he integrates himself into the world of the thirteenth century is classic Doctor, and the way that he goes about the investigation of the murder of the friar is quite excellent.
One criticism of 'Asylum' is that it is very short. Darvill-Evans' devotes thirty odd pages to the prologue of the story, which makes the actual story very short indeed. The page count is filled out by an essay on the writing of the novel, and whilst that makes fascinating reading giving a real insight into the process of writing historical fiction, it doesn't make up for the shortness of the novel itself.
Overall, 'Asylum' is an enjoyable novel. It's well written with an interesting Thirteenth Century murder mystery at it's core. Darvill-Evans presents the world of Oxford circa 1278 AD as a fascinating place which he has recreated vividly in the form of his prose. His characterisation of the Doctor is good, and the idea of having the Fourth Doctor meet a Nyssa from the future who knows what is going to happen to the Doctor is an intriguing one, but unfortunately Darvill-Evans doesn't really exploit Nyssa's presence as well as it could have been. His characterisation of the older, more jaded Nyssa is good, although she isn't used enough really to justify the lengths that Darvill-Evans goes to include her in the novel.