- Series: Doctor Who (Book 8)
- Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Bbc Pubns; 1st edition (March 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0563538252
- ISBN-13: 978-0563538257
- Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.8 x 6.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,801,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Escape Velocity (Doctor Who) Mass Market Paperback – March 1, 2001
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It is the first day of the 21st century, and a space race between rival Earth entrepreneurs is underway.
Both teams are being aided by an alien race called the Kulan. They were stranded on planet Earth after their scout ship crashed there and, as far as the rival teams are concerned, the Kulan are motivated by a desire to get back to their home planet.
What they don't realize is that in fact the wrecked scout ship was part of a Kulan invasion force, sent ahead of the rest of its fleet to investigate Earth. The Kulan are a ruthless race who invade planets to exploit whatever economic value they contain, and the rest of the fleet is due to arrive in 2001.
However, the stranded Kulan need to escape planet Earth's radio-thick atmosphere to contact the fleet and arrange their rendezvous. Will one of the teams succeed in helping the Kulan to destroy Earth -- or will the Doctor succeed in averting a catastrophic attack?
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Frankly, I'm rather amazed that they gave this one to a first time Who writer. Normally you give the arc-ending stories to the Big Guns, your Lawrence Miles and Kate Ormans and Paul Cornells, the people who could handle the big emotional fallout and changes that would come along with the end of a long running storyline, setting us up for the epic and then leaving us prepared for the new status quo. Here we basically get a resolution that is low-key and it quickly becomes business as usual, which is mildly disappointing. For several books now we've watched the Doctor make his way through the twentieth century the same way you and I have to, one slow year at a time. But his character doesn't seem all that changed by the experience, nor does he really make any mention of anything significant that might have occurred during that time (like, say, raising a daughter), other than a subtly disturbing moment of physical violence, he more or less seems like the same man before he lost his memory. The reunion with Fitz, which we've been anticipating for several books now, is more or less matter of fact and completely what you'd expect, without any fanfare. Which would have been okay if the book had then set out how just because the Doctor and Fitz were back together again things wouldn't exactly be the same, leaving Fitz to adjust to the new situation, or the Doctor to adjust to having a friend again, albeit one who remembers being with him far longer than he recalls.
Except it goes out of its way to reassure us that matters are going to be just like they were before, like the last several books had never happened. In fact it goes so far as to imply that with the Time Lords being erased from history, the events from "Ancestor Cell" won't even be remembered either. Which makes you wonder if none of those events ever happened, if he lost his memory too? I also wonder what the Eighth Doctor was doing during the UNIT era of the Third Doctor, when aliens were invading left and right. But that's just me.
Instead we get this alien plot, which seems remarkably similar to recent plots with aliens hidden on Earth and secretly manipulating technology for their own ends, especially since we have the now getting cliched idea of having two factions, one wanting to get off-world and one wanting to take over the world. The aliens themselves aren't too bad, except they're basically defined by whatever camp they fall into, either bloodthirsty or noble.
Ah! But at least we get new companion Anji, you say. Which is a blessing, in a sense. It's always nice to mix up the TARDIS crew with some new blood and in her first outing she definitely doesn't rate as annoying as Sam did. But she doesn't rate as much as anything, giving us the usual fish out of water stance and yelling at her boyfriend an awful lot (the book narrowly misses the opportunity to give us a situation where a couple is staying on the TARDIS, which could have presaged Amy and Rory by a whole decade practically . . . even if that would have made Fitz rather uncomfortable). She plays well off Fitz and Brake does get some mileage out of the fact that Fitz's mentality is set in the middle of the century in terms of his slang and worldview, even though he looks like a young man. Having Fitz back might be the best change, as his bravado and comedic timing is sorely missed, plus with the Doctor still having holes in his memory it makes him look like the seasoned professional.
For the most part, the plot tends to spin its wheels until we reach the ending, feeling like a stock adventure when everything should feel changed. Having the TARDIS crew go through what should be a normal adventure but having to deal with nothing being the same would have been an interesting contrast, comparing how it was before to how things could be now. Instead we get a subplot with a rival for UNIT (and a supporting character from another novel) that winds up not amounting to much of anything and really just wastes pages, existing only to attempt to liven things up when all the stabs at science become too much. The TARDIS returns in a scene that should be magical but just feels perfunctory and that maybe might bring the Doctor's memory back. Maybe. Meanwhile the ending starts to pile into a mess as characters start making questionable choices (I'm looking at you, aliens) or other characters reveal motivations that exist purely to get them off the board before the book ends. By the end of the book we should feel like we're in a new era but instead it feels like nothing has changed.
It's not bad and maybe it's just the heady weight of expectations that makes me come down so hard on this. But after all the churning through the century, we don't get any new insights, we don't even know if his memory is back (I suspect that they're going to have it come back when convenient, which is pretty much what happens here). I'd prefer his memory to be gone, so we get a Doctor without the weight of his vast years of experience, who walks into every event having to actually explore and discover and deduce (much like the early years before he became a walking encyclopedia of the universe) and frees him of the weight of the backstory and so on. That would be a new era, forcing the team to use new approaches and forge new relationships. Instead, stuff blows up. If this is a marker for what we're going to get going forward, well at least we'll be in comfortable and familiar territory. But I was hoping for a little more than that.
There are a lot of major problems with this book. The motivations of the main villains are not stated until near the end, and even then they are so ill-defined, that it's difficult to grasp what they are doing and why they are doing it. Unfortunately, this fault extends to a lot of the other characters as well. The book spends far far too much time telling us about people rather than showing their actions to us. There are places where it feels as though it is still in outline form, waiting for the author to come over and flesh out these sequences. The prose doesn't do any favours in this department either, as it's workman at best, but occasionally slumps down into incoherence.
The poor pacing is probably one of the main aspects holding this book back. Every time it starts to do things well, the action will start skipping ahead randomly, utterly killing any positive momentum that it had gained. It's not so much a case that the book takes two steps backwards for every one step forward -- rather it takes one step backwards, three steps sideways, a step and a half in a diagonal direction, and spins around on its tiptoes before being gang-tackled at about the 40-yard-line for a minimal gain (and if you like that NFL analogy, wait until you read the ones in the book). This was really a shame, as the bad parts really started to outshine the places that had potential. About half-way through the story I found myself mentally cheering the book on, hoping against hope that it would succeed despite itself. I felt like a soccer mom, bravely shouting encouragement to her skinny, smaller-than-the-other-kids child to defy the odds and not let the team down. And fortunately, despite some moments where it gets really rough, ESCAPE VELOCITY did not score an own goal.
On the plus side, the introduction of the new companion, Anji, is done fairly well. It's obvious that a lot of thought has gone into what makes this character tick. Alas, not as much thought has gone into what makes this character tick inside the context of this story. What everyone has said about her character outline being randomly cut'n'pasted into the text here is completely, one hundred percent correct. It would have been nice to see Anji's thoughts and reactions better integrated into the story.
I also liked the method in which the Doctor arranges to meet Fitz "at St. Louis"; this was quite clever. The reaction to the restored TARDIS was done very well, and the characters of Anji and her boyfriend had a nice chemistry going. The problem is, however, that for everything that I liked, there was something lurking around the next page to annoy me. The aforementioned lack of proper motivations, the pointless inclusion of the UNIT competitors and, worst of all, the sheer silliness of the ending.
ESCAPE VELOCITY was a hard book to dislike. Although it made several major mistakes, it managed to somehow tell an entertaining story that held my interest throughout. It goes from good points to bad in a seemingly random, unpredictable manner, but for all its flaws, it seems to have its heart in the right place. Recommended as a fun romp, as long as you aren't looking for something to take completely seriously.