Weeding Womb

A Device of Death

A Device of Death by Christopher Bulis. GASP! Doctor Who fiction? Well, if you don't like the Missing Adventures series (or Doctor Who for that matter) you won't like this. Otherwise, a good read. It's a bit archetypical (as in, it re-treads the same grounds Doctor Who has tread many times before), but it's saved by the characterization. Tom Baker's Doctor is excellently written (the author even had certain aspects of Baker's own personality show, as happened on the show), Harry Sullivan finally gets to be a character* and not a caricature, and Sarah Jane Smith is Sarah Jane Smith. If anything, Sarah gets the shortest shrift characterization-wise, perhaps because of a certain thinness most female travelling companions of the Doctor had, though she does have a few good conversations about morality and human nature with the 'synthoid' killing-machine turned contemplative, Max.

(*Long story short: Tom Baker was something of a surprise when he was cast as the fourth Doctor. Most of the candidates were older men, and the character of medical doctor and military officer Harry Sullivan had already been scripted and cast to be the man-of-action for the expected older and less physical Doctor. So, when the Doctor turned out to be Baker, a fairly young and healthy man in his own right, the man-of-action Sullivan was no longer needed. So his character devolved into a buffoon as the writers had nothing to do with him and treated him like the albatross he had become to them.)

The most common alien races seen 'feel' like real races, and Max's final revelations take the emotionless-robot-turned-humanitarian archetype and turn it a bit sideways, going into Colossus: The Forbin Project territory for a few worrying seconds. (Seeing him beat the Doctor at his own game is also rather amusing.)

Not much else to say, though there's some amusing moments that lampoon the SF TV genre. Aliens who use their own date and time words but otherwise speak English perfectly (I was going to rant on this until the plot revealed that it didn't 'really' happen). The Doctor being surprised and somewhat thrown off when the villain refuses to gloat and reveal his Evil Plan.

A good yarn. Half a dozen levels of lies and duplicity for the characters and the reader to unravel, though the end is a bit confused if you haven't arrived at the right confusion... er, conclusion... around the time the Doctor materializes the TARDIS inside the unnamed hollow metal shell just before the last act.

Only other problems include a bit of confusion from the typesetters or proofreaders near the end (this is the second time I've hit a book where typos increase as we near the end), and the valid complaint that this story is still pretty generic if you ignore the characterizations. (But at least it's not the mess that the non-archetype New Adventure So Vile a Sin was to me....)

Oh, BTW, the story has the best use of technobabble I've seen in a while, when someone with little scientific grounding asks the Doctor to explain some wondrous device he's building:

'Putting it simply, it's a random oscillatory inversion resonator of a Canard design based on traditional Machiavellistic principles, but also employing retro-spoofism and significant lunar radiance, together with triple Bunk-Um circuitry,' he explained.

I count five phrases in there that mean the same thing. Lunar radiance, indeed!:)

The Archon

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