- Series: Doctor Who
- Mass Market Paperback: 254 pages
- Publisher: Bbc Pubns (June 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0563538333
- ISBN-13: 978-0563538332
- Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.8 x 7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,289,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Asylum (Doctor Who) Mass Market Paperback – June 1, 2001
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Oxford, 1278 -- the Doctor is keen to put a stop to the pioneering scientific experiments of Roger Bacon. Bacon has developed ideas for submarines, explosives, telescopes and aeroplanes -- history will be cast into chaos if any of these ideas see the light of day.
Bacon is living among Franciscan friars who consider him to be a heretic embarrassment. When a friar is found dead in suspicious circumstances, they are keen to implicate Bacon and have him locked away for good.
However, more and more murders are being committed and it's increasingly obvious that Bacon cannot be held responsible for them all.
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That's not quite what we got, as it turns out. I'm sure we can all come up with our own theories about where along the road from conception to realization it went wrong, but being that Darvill-Evans is the same on the cover, he's the only one we can blame right now. And it's not actually a bad idea, the concept had lots of potential and the initial handling is well done. Yeah, there's some aliens involved but they are kept as far to the side as possible to not get in the way of the history and probably the only reason they even exist is because someone told him the story had to include some kind of SF element to keep the kids happy. But, comparisons to Umberto Eco aside (and I'm not sure if Doctor Who is ready for an extensive discourse on semiotics, even if the series is rife with potential, and hey, they got Michael Moorcock and Neil Gaiman to do stories) the idea of sending them back to solve a pre-Dark Ages mystery has some merit. Especially with the aliens gone we can get back to the old Hartnell school of historical adventures, where the crew was romping around the Crusades or with the Aztecs and showing that history can be interesting without having to insert spaceships and Sontarans at will. In fact, sometimes the historicals were done so well that the viewer wouldn't be wrong and asking who these weird people are showing up in the wrong clothes and messing up this nice BBC drama?
Unfortunately, that's the question the reader is going to ask. Every element of this story seems to exist for a reason, except those reasons are unfathomable, the use of Nyssa being the most glaring example. Showing her after her time with Doctor was a good idea, having her meet the Fourth Doctor before they officially know each other creates interesting but not insurmountable continuity problems so we'll roll with it, and the tension between wanting to help and not wanting to say some combination of "You're going to indirectly lead to the deaths of everyone I know" and "You may want to avoid radio towers at all costs" could have been gripping. But it goes wrong to the point where you wonder why the editor didn't step in. First of all, the potential for conflict is taken away when Nyssa is stuck in a castle for the entire story and does nothing that contributes to the plot. In fact she spends the entire novel having a Trakenite version of an existential conflict and wanting to die. This is in no way useful and becomes rather tedious, especially when you start wondering why they even bothered using Nyssa if a) she's not going to act like Nyssa and b) barely interact with the Doctor. Some folks have speculated that the author was using her to work through some personal issues, which seems like a rather mean suggestion but if that's in any way true, someone please drive to his house and give him a hug. Or a kitten.
If the rest of the book was awesome then maybe it could squeak out with a "Fair" rating. Alas, while there's no other gross missteps of that kind, there's nothing real compelling here either. The Doctor acts like a generic Doctor and seems to be there just to move the plot along, lacking any and all of the spark that Baker brought to the role. The mystery is interesting but not exactly Sherlock Holmes (the most obvious suspect is indeed the culprit, which is refreshing in its own way) and I just don't care about Roger Bacon as much as the book says I should. Furthermore, it's padded and still too short, with scenes just going in circles to fill out the length. And to keep the novel from being pamphlet sized, the author adds an essay at the end showcasing his extensive research into the time period, most of which he was able to work into the book. But said essay smacks of a need to fill up space and I paid for an actual story, not someone's notes for the story. I'm glad he's so fascinated by it, but throw that energy into making the plot work better. And for all the snark about the writer just doing a non-Doctor Who novel about this subject, considering how little the Doctor is in it, that's basically what we get here, so I can't say that a novel in that vein would have worked any better.
It's hard to tell where the train derailed. Maybe they had a topic first and tried to come up with a story after the fact. Maybe Nyssa was forced on him by editorial fiat (though he used to edit the Virgin line so you'd think he'd have some experience in dealing with heavy handed editors), maybe there were deadline pressures, maybe it needed one more rewrite. Who knows? All we have is this, and while it ranks as a good try, releasing a good try as the final result isn't going to make anyone happy.
Shame about the story, though. If this had been a history book, it would have been great. However, this is supposed to be an exciting Dr. Who adventure, and it falls a bit flat when it tries to fulfill that purpose. There is little mystery in the Name of the Rose style plot. The Doctor is generic, with even few of the mannerisms of the Fourth Doctor. That's surprising, because usually an author's generic Doctors have *only* the cliched mannerisms of the Doctor they're trying to portray.
The worst part about this book, though, is Nyssa. There is little point in having her meet the Doctor before he has officially met her in his timeline. Not much is made of that at all. There is no special relationship between the Doctor and her which would require this odd bending of the timestreams, and nothing comes out of it. It is nothing but an excuse to do a character study on Nyssa. Why couldn't Darvill-Evans have had the Sixth Doctor meet her? It would have had the same effect on the narrative. And raise your hand if you buy the "I'll remember to forget you" hand-wave to "explain" why the Doctor doesn't just say "Why hello, Nyssa, haven't seen you since the 13th century" when he lands on Traken.
The pathetic introduction of Nyssa is also disappointing. Darvill-Evans must have been reading some of the talk on the Net about how some fans fantasize about her. That's the only excuse I can think of for Nyssa's opening scene, where the author really emphasizes that Nyssa is naked throughout it, or swimming.
Then, when she gets to 13th Century England, she doesn't do anything! She sits in isolation, trying hard to remove herself from the world, until forced to do something at the end (how convenient). It may have made an interesting character study if: 1) it hadn't been written so tediously; and 2) it hadn't been meshed very badly with a murder mystery plot. In capable hands, the character study may even have been captivating. That being said, my image of Nyssa says to me that she would never reach this point of despondency to begin with. She is a strong character, who volunteered to stay among the futuristic version of lepers to help them find a cure for the disease, even though she may catch the disease as well. I can see her needing a break, especially after all of the stuff that Darvill-Evans describes that she's gone through. What I can't see is her attempted total withdrawal from everything. It just doesn't suit her.
The shortness of the book only demonstrates more that something more needed to be done. There's so much lavish description of Oxford showing off the author's research, that it's obvious if he'd taken any of that out, the book would have been too short for publication.
In short, read it if you have any historical interest in England or in Oxford specifically. If you're a fan of the 4th Doctor or Nyssa, stay away. No matter what the cover says, you won't find them in here. 2 stars for the historical detail, and that's it. Would be 1.5 if it were allowed.
Although it was a great idea to have a return of Nyssa meeting the Doctor before she had originally met him - it seems that it was done just to catch he audiences eyes. She does not take part in the main story of the novel and pretty much is depressed and possibly suicidal throughout the whole book - not really the way we'd like to remember Nyssa, I'm sure.
The murder investigation, teaming the Doctor up with one of the Friars, Alfric is quite entertaining (although you will guess who the murderer is pretty much straight away), but this aspect of the novel is very short. The Doctor's mannerisms are quite good, as are all the secondary characters - especially Alfric, but Nyssa is a shame.
Overall, this is a good little murder mystery but does contain a lot of padding, which it did need as it would have only run to about 100 pages in length. Plus it has helped tarnish an image of a popular companion - that's bad!!! GRRR!!!!