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It's not enough to simply identify the body
on November 17, 2007
Ten years out from its publication, this has been regarded as one of the best Eight Doctor adventures and while I haven't read enough of them to get a feel for what the "best" might be, this one is the closest they came so far to replicating the feel of the old Virgin New Adventures. Reading the stories in order, this one comes across as remarkably different in both tone and approach, trying to push the boundaries of the range and the character as far as it can (as far as anyone can with the BBC looking over your shoulder, I imagine). Right from the opening, a somber bit where the Third Doctor plans a funeral for the first true astronaut, you know you're going to be in for something different. The Doctor stumbles into an auction with a strange array of bidders, who are fighting over an object that means a great deal to him personally, something that forces him to confront his own eventual mortality. Miles crafts a novel that plays with the mythology of the show but isn't afraid to introduce new ideas and elements into that mix and that is probably where the book succeeds the best. Putting aside the central concept of the book (which I can't reveal without spoiling, rest assured it was something the series hadn't even attempted to tackle before this), Miles whips out interesting ideas on nearly every page, with far-future Time Lords, entities that exist solely as concepts, the whole Faction Paradox crew, living TARDISes and so on until the book feels nearly ready to burst. He plays these against the backdrop of the auction, letting the various personalities clash as everyone tries to decide what they want and how they're going to get it. Even Sam, who for most of the books has languished as an annoyance, gets her own mystery, as Miles dangles the possibilities of "Dark Sam" before the reader. His portrayal of the Eight Doctor feels like a distinct entity from the other incarnations, acknowledging that the writers haven't really settled on a concrete personality for him, but giving him a sense of steel and eccentricity that at least attempts to stake out different territory from the others. If there's any complaint about this book it's that Miles doesn't go far enough, for all the wild ideas being thrown about all over the place, most of the book feels like a setup for future plot threads, with a lot of the implications in this book being used later on down the line. Which means that the impact of what happens here is a little diminished, as other writers would take what Miles started and run with it. Thus the plot is a little thin, with everyone simply running around and debating until the story is over. But Miles manages to keep it moving in the meantime and makes the particulars fascinating to keep the reader engaged. By turns playful and horrifying and thought provoking, it's far more complex and adult than any of the books before it and in a sense feels like a manifesto of sorts, Miles going and showing the other authors how he thinks the line should be, leading by example as it were (he's always been vocal about how the show should be, and has pretty high standards) and showing that it doesn't have to be content to simply go over old concepts. Coming from an author who had just written one Who book thus far (Virgin's "Christmas on a Rational Planet"), this was astounding work and proved that the range could be both intelligent and complex. It's probably slightly overrated but still worth tracking down anyway, to show the BBC finally starting to get it right.