First published in March of 1995
My colleague at Earth Station Who, Nathan Laws, pointed out to me something about this story that hadn't dawned on me before. This is the only book that explores the direct aftermath of the Doctor's trial and battle with the Valeyard. Yes, there are novels and Big Finish stories that deal with Peri's potential fate, the Doctor's continual angst over Peri's fate, the Doctor putting off his meeting with Mel and his inner struggle with the knowledge that he will one day potentially become the Valeyard. The events were so vague on television you'd think that more would be done to flesh out and explore this chapter of the Doctor's life because the possibilities are endless. Here, Steve Lyons spins a decent yarn about the events immediately proceeding the Doctor's trial.
The TARDIS takes the Doctor to Torrok, a dystopian planet in the 22nd century where everyone stays inside their homes and watch endless amounts of trash television provided by the Meson Broadcasting System. Similar to his plan in The Twin Dilemma
, the Doctor decides to become a hermit and spend his days hiding from the Time Lords and trying to prevent himself from ever meeting Mel. He also struggles internally with his hazy memories of the trial, wondering if his actions led to Peri's death or not.
During his self-imposed exile on Torrok, the Doctor meets a young woman named Angela Jennings. Angela works up the courage to venture outdoors under penalty of execution by the patrolling "peacekeeper" robots and sees the Doctor wandering the streets without fear. Her fascination is peaked and she follows him around for several weeks before working up the courage to initiate a meeting and conversation, before asking the Doctor to take her away with him as his traveling companion. Unfortunately, that arrangement ends abruptly just as the story is about to really take off.
Lyons infuses heavy-handed satire into this novel, taking on the state of British television of the mid-90s, the overzealous Doctor Who fans who complained loudly in the wake of its cancellation, the perceived rising violence of 1980s Doctor Who and the anti television violence fanaticism of Mary Whitehouse (Miriam Walker in this story). Sometimes the satire works, sometimes it doesn't.
There are times when the story gets confusing because Lyons creates a cast of many many many characters that are hard to keep track of on first reading. Characters that are, at first glance two dimensional characters, grow into better people by the end of the story. That is, if they're lucky enough to survive.
In that same vein, Grant Markham is introduced the same as the fifty other characters in the novel, with no real significance and no discernible personality traits other than he is a computer programmer...uh oh. He meets the Doctor very near the end and is the one that ultimately leaves with the Doctor to become his companion. Grant only appears in Lyons's other Missing Adventures novel Killing Ground
(stay tuned), is abandoned by the Doctor under tense circumstances in a short story written for the charity fanzine anthology Perfect Timing
and is later deleted from time altogether in a Gary Russell Short Trips
story, along with the Eighth Doctor's companion Sam Jones and other companions created for the novels.Grant's likeness for the cover
of Killing Ground
The one thing I do really appreciate about Lyons's writing is his writing of the Sixth Doctor. At a time when the Sixth Doctor was largely out of favor with Doctor Who fans, when there were no Big Finish audios to redeem and re-evaluate the character, Lyons writes the Doctor as Colin Baker played the character and would've continued to play on television had his time not been cut short. The Doctor fears his future and feels immense guilt over leaving Peri to her fate, and later expresses immense regret over the fate of Angela. In a moment of contemplation, while all hell breaks loose, he thinks of both his friends and calls them "precious sparks of existence." Conversely, he is also cheerfully confident and even coldly tells Grant how useless he is when Grant confides his fear of robots. The character of Miriam Walker is also given emotional depth after being written as a 2D parody of the hated Mary Whitehouse.
The story ends on the theme of survival and hope, for the people of Torrok and for the Doctor himself.
Overall, the book is a mixed bag but I would recommend it if you're a fan of the Sixth Doctor but be warned, if you think the show got too violent in the 1980s, this book aims to top that violence and succeeds. Lyons may have taken potshots at Whovian fans of the early to mid 90s but he writes Colin Baker's Doctor with great care and incredible accuracy.
The Doctor Who Book Club Podcast featured this book for April 2014, the links of which can be found below.http://amzn.com/0426204387 (Time of Your Life new and used paperbacks for sale)http://dwbcp.libsyn.com/ (Doctor Who Book Club Podcast)http://traffic.libsyn.com/dwbcp/Episode_40_Time_of_Your_Life.mp3 (Episode #40-Time of Your Life)