- Series: Coctor Who
- Paperback: 275 pages
- Publisher: Random House UK (November 24, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 056353866X
- ISBN-13: 978-0563538660
- Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 1 x 7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,191,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Time Zero (Doctor Who) Paperback – November 24, 2003
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I had to play catch up on his companions in this tale, Anji and Fitz. Both are likeable characters, especially Fitz, who spends most of this tale on an expedition in Siberia. Of course, his inclusion on the expedition ties in quite nicely with the actions of a scientific team years later who are trying to create blackholes. Throw into the fray a particular character very interested in time travel who is willing to do anything to find a time machine and his military goons, and you have quite a story in front of you. Of course the Doctor throws a wrench into the tale and manages to tie all of the said parties together to single out one villain with his own plans that may jeopardize humanity as we know it.
The story unfolds rather quickly, and even though I am somewhat unfamiliar with the Sabbath character, I picked up rather quickly that he has been a thorn in the Doctor's side for awhile. The only complaint that I have with the book is that Richards allows the Doctor and others to go rather deep in explanations of time travel, quantum theory and other techno-jargon that lost not only the characters in the book, but the reader as well.
Recommended, and I'll definitely be reading more of the Eighth Doctor's adventures.
The trick, I think sometimes, is adhering to a more "novel-like" structure instead of trying to mimic the television show. Richards does the novel as a countdown type of chapter structure, which does lend itself to a kind of tension as you're forced to wonder what exactly it is that we're counting down to. He also goes with the time tested notion of taking vastly different threads, letting them spin out and then drawing them all together so that you can see they were connected all along. And given that he's writing a series involving time travel, he doesn't make the mistake of having one section set in say, LA, while the other is set in Maine. It's probably still a contrast of sorts, but I expect a little more imagination.
Instead, quite a few signs point us toward this being one of the "big" pivotal novels, starting with the opening scene of Fitz leaving the TARDIS to go on an expedition to Siberia in the latter part of the 19th century. Anji also goes away, finally calling the Doctor out on being able to get her back home all this time and going back to her old life in finance, only minus her boyfriend and her fabulous room in a time traveling mystery box. With the Doctor left to his own devices, he's goes forth to solve mysteries on his own, although it doesn't take him long to realize things are amiss, starting with the present-day discovery of Fitz's journal from the expedition, one he never came back from. One that seems to end with him being attacked by dinosaurs. Meanwhile, Anji, in a "every time I think I'm out . . ." moment, gets sucked into events when a mysterious personage takes her away from her job and into a lab facility, where people seem to be trying to create black holes. Or so they say. And so it seems. But the people with guns don't believe them.
All the constant cutting back and forth wouldn't make a lick of difference if the individual parts weren't at least somewhat enticing, otherwise we'd be flipping pages waiting for the payoff. But Richards balances things nicely, spending time with each of our plot threads and in that fashion giving Fitz and Anji quite a bit to do for once. As we dash back and forth from Anji's new old life to Fitz's expedition gradually arguing its way to doom, the Doctor and his personality wind up being the glue that holds all these misadventures together, as it should be. And Richards writes a good Doctor, the serious until he's being silly until he's being deadly serious again persona that the writers have been honing is well-polished here and while the Doctor is never completely on the backfoot, he's a comforting stability in the center of the madness. We never get the sense that he's not totally in control (not until the very end) but sometimes just watching him in action can be fun.
As for the threats themselves, its a slight mixed bag. I give Richards a lot of credit for not delving once more into the well of generic alien threats, and while "black hole man" does contain that essential bit of strangeness I've come to expect, it seems to lack a bit of sparkle, or even a basic bit of explanation. We do get a lot of talk about quantum physics, not enough to scare any but the most allergic but on the plus side it seems to be as relevant as it can be to a show where the rules of science are sometimes gleefully rewritten. The presence of Colonel Hartford lacks the impact it should have, mostly because he goes around threatening and shooting people, which is shocking in how far he takes it but at the same time it makes him look absurd. It hardly works the first few times he tries it, yet he keeps going back to that method even as he runs out of bodies and it keeps yielding ever more diminishing results. More problematic is our old friend Sabbath, who spends most of the story in disguise and when he does reveal himself mostly spends the rest of his time getting snippy with the Doctor. While his previous appearances have been mysterious, he's never seemed as . . . ordinary as he does here, especially compared to his last encounter with the Doctor where he seemed almost larger than life. Somehow here commented that he seemed more like the Master and that's exactly the vibe I get, going through the motions for a weird rivalry instead of being truly dangerous. This is the man who took one of the Doctor's hearts?
Still, the ending sets up what could be an interesting arc for Our Heroes and it does the story some credit that we do get an actual story and not a two hundred seventy page setup for the cliffhanger. The resulting tale goes down extremely easily and even if its not as mad or epic as it seems to want to be, it shows the gears still operating smoothly for this team and gives us somewhere interesting to go. I may quibble about some aspects of the journey, but I'll go along for the ride.
After the events of Camera Obscura, Fitz has decided to join an expedition to frozen Siberia in the 1890s and Anji just wants to go home. The Doctor is alone again, but things are already set in motion to link him with his companions yet again. Fitz's expedition was attacked by dinosaurs from a history that never happened, and the Doctor has Fitz's journal to prove it. The journal also indicates that Fitz never returned. Anji's back working the financial markets, but gets co-opted into joining an American expedition to Siberia that has unknown purposes, though it involves the Naryshkin Institute. The Institute ostensibly is trying to create a black hole, but why? And what do the Americans want with it? Are all these events linked? The Doctor seems to think so. He's the only one who does, and his arrival on the scene could be the catalyst that destroys the world, or at least the past. Repercussions could stretch back to the beginning of the universe. Or even farther.
Richards manages to tie all of these events together expertly, leaving each plot line to move on to the next one just when it's getting good. The suspense was killing me at a few points, when Fitz was endangered by the dinosaurs or it looked like Anji might get killed. This had the classic feeling of a "companion leaving" story, and I wouldn't have put it past Richards to kill one of the companions in their final book, so the sense of danger was palpable. Only the Doctor seemed safe, as it's obviously his series. Richards also keeps the reader guessing on how everything ties together, with only Siberia visibly linking everything at first. It's definitely a high-concept book, with alternate realities, time experiments, black holes, and an examination of the universe and how it functions. But Richards also grounds this in some believable characters and modern-day action, including two Special Forces units.
The characters are what make the book great. The Doctor, Anji, and Fitz are simply wonderful, with the Doctor being at his frenetic best. He's on top of things, he's a force of nature at times, almost child-like at others, but always the moral center that everything revolves around. He's calm when everything around him is hysterical and he's intelligent as well. Gone are the days when he would do something truly stupid and naïve, the "congenital idiot" that some fans labeled him. Anji and Fitz are just as good, each leading their own scenes, taking charge (figuratively, if not literally) and displaying the attributes that we've always loved about them. While this is the Doctor's book, they aren't sidelined like they are in Camera Obscura. They are an integral part of the plot. While Anji doesn't get to actually do a whole lot, she gives us a viewpoint into Hartford's team and what they're doing, and she shows quick flashes of brilliance even as she's horrified by what Hartford is doing.
Most of the other characters are quite good as well, though I thought Hartford was a little too over the top in his ruthlessness and I didn't quite buy his transformation at the end. It does give a new look at his previous actions, but I don't think it actually worked. Hartford and his group are chilling and work wonderfully, but Fitz's expedition members are given just enough characterization to make them mildly interesting, but the bits before the expedition reaches the castle dragged a bit because I just didn't care that much about them. Things picked up once the dinosaurs got involved, though.
So the book is moving along very nicely, I'm contemplating taking a longer lunch at work because I want to finish this fascinating novel. The Institute is rigged to explode and there's a countdown and everything. Then Richards steps on a technobabble landmine, all of a sudden trying to explain all the concepts that he's been examining. Revelations of who's who and who's been pretending to be who come fast and furious, and the book comes to a screeching halt. I put the book down and went back to work, eager to finish it but not driven to like I had been. The tension burst out of the book like a balloon. Don't get me wrong, Richards quickly recovers from it and the climax is just as exciting and thought-provoking as the rest of the book, but there's a brick wall right in the middle there that just brought everything rudely to a halt. It's the only real problem in an otherwise wonderful book.
Don't let that stop you, though. Time Zero is yet another hit in the Eighth Doctor line of books