The Red Lines Page

December 21, 2013

Gauda Prime day

Filed under: Articles,Blake's 7 — Peter A @ 7:27 pm

Today is Gauda Prime Day 2013. It’s the anniversary of the first broadcast of “Blake,” the finale to season D of Blake’s 7 over three decades ago. I wrote in a previous blog post about how I got to see that episode being recorded at BBC Television Centre in 1981. This new post follows on from that — as my pals Peter, Tony and I left the studio floor and were shown by producer Vere Lorrimer up a flight of metal steps, not unlike a fire escape outside a building, and to the production gallery.

The production gallery

Title caption for BlakeEn route, we saw a small room where images from the studio cameras were monitored to check the quality of all the images being recorded, and where adjustments could be made if necessary. Beyond this was the main production gallery where the director, vision mixer, and director’s assistant behind a further row of TV monitors and control panels that would put the Scorpio to shame. A large glass window in front of that overlooked the studio, though the lighting rig and the backs of various sets made it impossible to see the whole of the studio. They relied on monitor images, from the TV cameras on the studio floor, to see what was happening. Once the recording started, it was disorienting to see the erratic, abrupt images on the smaller monochrome monitors relayed the feeds as the cameras moved into position between shots. The principal image, the one that would be recorded “as live,” was larger and in colour.

The final rooms we were shown through were the sound mixing area and a smaller space where the computer graphics were generated for the in-studio display screens.

For the recording, we were allowed to sit in the Producer’s both. This contained a TV screen that displayed the image being recorded, and also an audio feed that combined the sound from on-set and from the director in the production gallery. This meant we could chat to each other as things went on, while not disturbing the production team who were the other side of the glass window from us, only four feet away. Vere Lorrimer left us to watch the rest of the studio session, while he returned to the production gallery and his seat behind director Mary Ridge.

Occasionally, the production associate Frank Pendlebury would drop in to use the phone on the desk in front of us. He seemed to be quite concerned about some missing videos. Every time he came in, he was polite and apologetic about disturbing us. This was characteristic of the courtesy we were shown by everyone at the BBC during our visit.

As we watched the continuous output on our TV monitor, we saw the first scene of the session being recorded. This was the one in the forest hut, where Vila, Dayna and Soolin take refuge for the night.

Vere Lorrimer had warned us that the necessity to try scenes over and over again might seem boring. But with so much to see as the programme progressed, whether scenes actually being played or the director correcting and adjusting little items, there never seemed to be a dull moment. We could see and hear everything that director Mary Ridge could see and hear, even between scenes as lights were altered and cameras focused and refocused on the actors.

The forest hut

Soolin, Dayna, and Vila break into the abandoned forest hutAn effects shot explodes in the wall next to Avon (Paul Darrow)Vila, Dayna and Soolin burst into the hut, but something is not quite right with their entry, and Mary Ridge has the scene done twice again. each time, the planks have to be put back over the door, and then crashed down as the trio smash their way in. Before this, however, there is a slow circular look by one camera around the stove so that we can see the hut and appreciate the quietness of the scene before their arrival. Then, when finally in at the door, Glynis Barber (Soolin) is not visible because the “shafts” created by the lighting people to give the impression of a broken roof do not illuminate her face.  She is realigned, and the scene is done again.

Michael Keating (Vila) moves into the room as he complains, and the camera follows him around the stove. Josette Simon (Dayna) is picked up

he sounds of the flyer was added in post-production) there is a zoom to the doorway where the lights are dancing around. by another camera, and moves towards Vila and delivers her lines. The camera stops with Soolin as Dayna passes, then cuts to Vila. There’s a series of cuts between speakers as Dayna goes to the doorway, and back to Vila as he hears a noise. The women are seen at the dorway, and then as lights start to illuminate the broken hut (t

The women take one side of the door each, and Vila retreats to the back of the hut. When the lights have gone, the focus is on Dayna and Solin — who find that Vila is hidden beneath the covers.

Then it’s back to the less hurried direction of a conversation as Dayna and Vila argue, and Soolin speaks her penultimate line (“you have to assume everyone is out to get you). We cut to Vila grinning (“I always assume that, wherever I go”), then Soolin’s final line (“The difference is, on gauda Prime, you’ll be right”) and finally back to an unhappy Vila.

The advantage of being able to see the continuous output and all the other monitors is that we could see the various other shots being set up, in the knowledge that we’d be able to see the final version on TV and were thus “missing” nothing.

There was a subsequent scene in the hut. This was set up by “lighting” the prop stove with a red lamp inside it, and bringing Michael Keating a blanket for Vila to wrap himself in. All the while, production manager Henry Foster on the studio floor with the actors relayed the instructions from Mary Ridge. He was very recognisable in his navy blue jumper with HENRY in colourful capitals on the front.

Avon has rescued Vila... and Orac

In this scene, the bounty hunters surprise Vila, and Avon bounds in to the rescue. It was a chance for us to admire Mary Ridge’s direction, as the number of different shots and “follow-ons” were set in motion. In the gallery, to her left, sat the director’s assistant Winifred Hopkins, calling e shot numbers as the director said “cut” to cue each camera change for the vision mixer.

The guns used in most of the scenes we saw could only fire one shot without having to be reset by the special effects team. So when rehearsing a scene ahead of a recording, the actors said “bang” rather than use up the prop charge. And if a second shot was required from the same gun, the actor said “bang” for the second or subsequent one. The feeble fizz of a prop discharging was replaced in post production with an effects sound. Avon (Paul Darrow) needed to kill two bounty hunters in this scene, fore example. A further effects requirement was for a charge in the set itself, when one of the bounty hunters shots at Avon but only hits the wall.

In the scene, Vila is surprised by the hunters, who prepare (rather unconvincingly, we thought) to bash Soolin and Dayna who were still sleeping. Avon comes in and disposes of one hunter, who falls down quietly. The other is more belligerent, shoots back, and is then shot. At this point, the extras had to “die” again, as their death cries had been disappointingly muted. On cue, they groaned melodramatically and (although not being recorded in vision) clutched at their stomachs. “They do try hard,” observed Mary Ridge as an aside, before telling Henry Foster to ask one for another groan. The extra dutifully provided a expiring groan. “Tell him he died beautifully,” said Mary.

The rest of the scene was then recorded, into which Avon’s recovery of Orac (on film) would subsequently be inserted.

While they set up the next sequence, we were wondering (like Vila) whether Tarrant was dead. Tony Murray was never a great Tarrant fan — despite having being on a previous set visit to see “Death-Watch” recorded, and thus having twice the Tarrant for his troubles on that occasion. So Tony was not-so-secretly relishing the thought that Tarrant had already been killed.

Blake on film

Blake on filmAs the set for the s the tracking gallery was readied for use, we were able to glimpse some of the film work on a monitor. The images consisted of Blake (Gareth Thomas) chatting with a small, young woman. He held her at gunpoint, killed some men… It was an odd sequence to see, because it was edited together in a final form but we had to guess at what was happening because the film sequence was silent. And it slowly dawned on us that Blake had a remarkable scar across his left eye.

Not a good idea

At this point, Vere Lorrimer dropped in again to suggest that we grab something to eat. So we went down to a snack bar and bought coffee and biscuits (the student idea of a nourishing meal). I phoned the Marvel office, in the hope of reaching Stewart Wales (the editor of Blake’7 Monthly who we had failed to meet earlier in the day). This was in the days before mobile phones, so it meant feeding ten pence pieces into a pay phone half-concealed with a plastic sound-muffling cowl. Alas, Stewart was still in his conference meeting, and so we returned to the Producer’s booth.

Our whole trip had been set up by Vere Lorrimer as a courtesy to Blake’s 7 Monthly, for whom we were hoping to provide the same kind of writing services that our friend Jeremy Bentham had been doing so admirably for the longer-established Doctor Who Monthly. When he heard that we’d been unable to reach Stewart by phone, Vere Lorrimer thoughtfully arranged for us to meet Ken Armstrong, a photographer working for Marvel who was in the studio that day taking photographs of the episode.

We had a chat with Ken about the ideas we had prepared for Stewart Wales. We thought we might write detailed synopses of the episodes. “Not a good idea,” said Ken. We suggested we could review stories. “Not a good idea,” said Ken. Write comic strips? “Not a good idea,” said Ken. All our finely wrought creative ideas seemed to appeal to him as much as if we had presented him with a cup of cold vomit. Everything was “Not a good idea.” He may as well have had a card printed with those four words on it.

Nevertheless, Ken did have some ideas about what we might do. We could provide news on fan activities and fanzines. And we should try to make sure that the door didn’t whack us on the arse as we left. He didn’t say that last bit, but that was the impression we got. (I’m sure he’s a really lovely chap, and obviously to suggest otherwise is not a good idea.)

Writing for "Blake's 7 Monthly" - not a good idea, apparently.Thus we saw  before us, in Ken, an insurmountable obstacle to contributing anything interesting or meaningful to Blake’s 7 Monthly. It wasn’t at all the way we thought we had already been able to excite the editor’s attention — and earned a trip to the BBC Television Centre in preparation for that. I suppose, to be fair to Ken, he did write for the magazine, and may even have been deputy editor. So he probably saw before him, in us, three spotty oiks who wanted to pinch all his work on the publication.

Or maybe he’d already seen the writing on the wall, because of the events in this episode, “Blake.” Because while making our phone call and eating our biscuits in the coffee area, we had seen a group of extras dressed in Federation Trooper costumes. But not yet made the connection.

More about that in my next blog about this studio visit.

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December 20, 2013

The Ancestor Cell

Filed under: Ancestor Cell,drwho,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 12:55 am

My first (and so far only) co-authored novel was published by BBC Worldwide in July 2000 (delayed until April 2001 in US), ISBN: 0-563-53809-0

Cover: The Ancestor CellWhen BBC Books editor Steve Cole left BBC Worldwide, he had felt that there were a variety of “loose ends” in the continuing Eighth Doctor stories that could be tied up. Steve and I had both written novels as part of the recent story arc featuring Compassion (I wrote Frontier Worlds and Steve wrote Parallel 59 with Natalie Dallaire—and I did the structural edit on Steve’s novel).

We had both just started new full-time day jobs, and Steve was writing several Doctor Who audio stories for Big Finish Productions, so we agreed to work on a book proposal together – almost entirely by e-mail! New BBC Books range consultant Justin Richards also had clear ideas about how he wanted the series to develop in the second half of 2000, and briefed us on some things he wanted resolved in the book. We pitched our revised proposal to Justin and BBC Worldwide’s Ben Dunn, and it was accepted.

The book was published in July 2000 in the UK, though some US distribution was delayed until mid-2001. Nevertheless, The Ancestor Cell was one of the fastest-selling BBC Doctor Who books on amazon.co.uk, and to date is my biggest-selling Doctor Who novel by some margin.It features in the Top 20 sales ranking on Amazon, and in the SFX magazine readers’ poll it was in the top ten of the category “Best SF/Fantasy novelisation or TV tie-in novel 2000.”

You can read an article from the BBC’s Monthly Telepress. That newsletter also published “tasters” in the form of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. I’ve also provided an unpublished scene from the novel.

When the book was published, reviews ranged from wild enthusiasm to total outrage. You can also read my summary of several dozen original reviews from the time of publication.

Steve Cole and I took part in a unique Q&A about The Ancestor Cell at the GallifreyOne convention in Los Angeles, February 2001. If you couldn’t attend that, you can instead read the Top Ten questions that people ask me via e-mail, and a short interview I did with Doctor Who Magazine.

The Ancestor Cell: interview

Filed under: Ancestor Cell,drwho,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 12:55 am

Cover: The Ancestor CellThis page is one of several on this site about my novel The Ancestor Cell. They are all linked from this main blog post here.

Steve Cole and I answered a number of questions for Doctor Who Magazine. Vanessa Bishop then wrote these up into the “Talking Books” item that accompanied her review of The Ancestor Cell. Here are my answers to the original questions.

Talking Books

Vanessa Bishop: Was there always a plan for one final book that would ‘tidy up’ the loose ends of the story arc?

Peter Anghelides: “Final” is a bit of a worrying word, isn’t it? We want people to see each book as a “stepping on” rather than a “getting off” point. Doctor Who is constantly developing, so I’m not sure I’d want to tidy everything up. Even shows like “Genesis of the Daleks”, which purport to provide answers and closure, actually open things up more because fans love to speculate—no doubt they’ll spot more dangly bits in The Ancestor Cell. At least we haven’t sunk Atlantis again.

What difficulties did you encounter in having so many unfinished plotlines to explain?

I didn’t think there were all that many. Each time Steve and I bounced e-mail at each other when working on the outline, we japingly added another thing we wanted to get out of the book. We quickly ran into essential items such as “kitchen sink”, “huge advance on royalties”, and “world peace”. Sadly, we only got the first of those, I think. In the end, it’s more important to tell a compelling story that will grip a casual reader than pedantically to dot every i and cross every t.

Did you feel at all intimidated by the baggage that Time Lords and Gallifrey always bring?

We adopted a pick’n’mix approach. Obviously we have a movie-scale location and effects budget, so why be restricted by TV Gallifrey two pastel corridors and a polystyrene fountain? Likewise, we weren’t obliged to reference every Gallifrey story ever told. We ended up removing far more dull, gratuitous continuity references than we left in. And we added some more of our own, because it was more fun to develop Gallifrey. (No doubt, some people will say we bulldozed it instead.)

Of which aspects of The Ancestor Cell are you most proud?

It’s the first thing I’ve co-authored, and it was great fun to do. I can exclusively reveal to you our approach for dividing the writing chores: I wrote all the odd pages. And Steve wrote all the very odd pages.

What drove you to such extreme measures at the end of the book?

Steve made me do it. He kidnapped my children, and threatened to make them watch “The Happiness Patrol”. Besides, as the book series is undergoing some exciting changes later this year, we wanted to do something memorable in this one.

As a story arc contributor, do you feel, in retrospect, that The Ancestor Cell’s explanations should have been given within the arc itself?

That would have baffled those readers who don’t collect the whole series. Most of the explanations are derived from clues in the other books, but we wanted there to be some surprises too.

What do you feel are the successes of the story arc?

People are talking about the book series again, not just individual books. Yet you can read most of the books as an independent novel. Regular readers get a bonus for their loyalty, more satisfying than “buy six get one free”. Highlights of the last year’s books for me are the regular cast: the Doctor coming back to centre stage; Fitz finding his voice; a dangerous new companion in Compassion; and the clockwork canary, of course, which makes a startling reappearance in The Ancestor Cell.

The Ancestor Cell: top ten

Filed under: Ancestor Cell,drwho,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 12:54 am

Cover: The Ancestor CellThis page is one of several on this site about my novel The Ancestor Cell. They are all linked from this main blog post here.

I wrote this short article for the Online Ratings Guide, where it was first published in November 2000. You may even find answers to some of the questions elsewhere on my web site.

Top Ten Questions about The Ancestor Cell that people sent me

I have received more e-mail correspondence about The Ancestor Cell than about all the other Doctor Who stuff I’ve written combined. Most of the e-mail is very positive, and most notes also contain questions about the contents of the book, its writing, and the reaction to it since publication

Because I feel that my books should stand or fall on the published version, I’ve been reluctant to provide a kind of Cole’s Notes (aha… do you see what I did there?) for the book by answering specific questions. However, for your delectation and delight, and allowing for some conflation of similar ones, here is my list of “Top Ten Questions about The Ancestor Cell that people send to Peter Anghelides”.

10. When are you going to update your web site to include the book?

9. Who was the Enemy/Grandfather Paradox/Romana/Father Kreiner originally?

8. What do you think of Lawrence Miles’s review/interview/Interference/Alien Bodies/writing, and what has he told you personally about the book?

7. Where was K-9/ Leela/ Andred/ Rassilon/ Engin/ Eye of Harmony/ BabyDoc/ Looms/ Master/ Dark Tower/ Rassilon/ …?

6. Is the book’s plot impossible because it’s based on a paradox?

5. Your book’s wonderful/terrible/mediocre—how did it get commissioned?

4. Why did/didn’t you use/ripoff/avoid/traduce/obliterate Miles’s/ Platt’s/ Cornell’s/ Russell’s/ Parkin’s/ MIB’s/ CE3K’s/ STNG’s/ B5’s ideas for closing/ opening/ resolving/ avoiding/ confusing/ ignoring the arc instead of devising your own?

3. Which parts did Steve Cole write and which did you write?

2. I’ve written a Doctor Who novel—will you read it and tell me how to get it published?

And the number one question that I am asked about The Ancestor Cell…

1.    Who survives?

The Ancestor Cell: reviews

Filed under: Ancestor Cell,drwho,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 12:53 am

Cover: The Ancestor CellThis page is one of several on this site about my novel The Ancestor Cell. They are all linked from this main blog post here.

I think The Ancestor Cell must be the most widely reviewed of my fiction. (The original reviews from which I quote here are equivalent in length to about a third of the novel itself. Even the summarised versions on this page come to well over 10,000 words.) The Ancestor Cell also provoked the widest range of opinions; if you read one person’s review comment about any aspect of the novel, you can almost always find someone who thinks the exact opposite.

So, are the characters “unrecognisable from their dialogue or actions” or “written perfectly”? Are Faction Paradox “sadly a let down” or “restored to their status”? Will you find “the story starts out slow” or is it “fast-paced and gripping”? Is the book “confusing and juddery” or “intelligent and engrossing”? In short, isThe Ancestor Cell “as low as the mythos can sink” or “disappointingly average” or even “the pinnacle of the BBC range”?

Obviously, I’d encourage you to read the book for yourself and decide. That’s what most (but not all) of those quoted below did. If you haven’t read The Ancestor Cell yet, beware: these reviews contain significant “spoilers” for the events in the novel.

The reviews are from newsstand publications, online bookstores, and the web — including various online fan sites.

Newsstand

Doctor Who Magazine

“Essential,” wrote Vanessa Bishop in Doctor Who Magazine. “A surprising success, achieving in one volume what the Interference arc failed to deliver in five.” In this, and previous reviews, Vanessa explained that she was not a fan of Gallifrey stories, and thought here that the authors “have worked hard to escape the sterility of other Time Lord plots, and The Ancestor Cell is full of incident.”

She did think the novel was “given to stopping and starting as the authors draw up a checklist of loose ends and methodically work their way through each”, and that “the first half is better than the second […] as the situation grows more serious, so do the authors.”

“If Doctor Who had taken flight as an American series, you could imagine something like The Ancestor Cell being scheduled for an end-of-season episode.” And she concluded prophetically: “Destined to be a novel both loved and loathed.”

Dreamwatch

“The lasting impression left by this book is that of a genuinely stunning instalment in Who fiction,” wrote Richard McGinlay in Dreamwatch, rating the book 8/10. He liked the way the book included necessary continuity references, including “the Eighth Doctor’s perfectly-captured penchant for breathless exposition and short interludes in which a future Gallifreyan reads up on past events.”

He also observed: “The writing style is complex, sometimes difficult to penetrate, and full of Bidmead-style technobabble,” and compared it with the writing of Bidmead, Lawrence Miles and Marc Platt. He also found the first half too repetitive. Nevertheless, he drew particular attention to some “blockbusting movie-style depictions of death and destruction […] you can almost see the CGI effects.” Richard drew comparison between the fleet of war TARDISes in the book and a 1983 Doctor Who Magazine comic strip called “The Stockbridge Horror”. And despite his reservations about some of the complex writing, Richard said: “the reader’s efforts are richly rewarded by some astonishing and spectacular revelations.”

TVZone

Neil Corry in TVZone was less impressed, rating it 6/10. “At the heart of it all is a threat to the universe regular readers will find sadly familiar,” he wrote. “It all starts brilliantly (great cover) but once it’s revealed that no new elements are to be added to the recipe, it all seems stale.” Neil concedes that the regulars are “written perfectly” and that the book “manages to twist the thumbscrews of readers’ anxiety very nicely.” But he thinks the whole thing falls apart in the final third “when the effort to neatly tie all the loose ends hinders any chance of something truly surprising.”

SFX

In SFX magazine’s 2000 Readers’ Poll The Ancestor Cell came ninth in the category “Best SF/Fantasy novelisation or TV tie-in novel”—one of three Doctor Who books to make the top ten. The full list was:

  1. Spike and Dru: Pretty Maids All In A Row (Christopher Golden)
  2. X-Men (Dean Wesley Smith)
  3. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: A Stitch In Time (Andrew Robinson)
  4. Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Immortal (Christopher Golden)
  5. Angel: City Of (Nancy Holder)
  6. Doctor Who: The Burning (Justin Richards)
  7. Doctor Who: Festival of Death (Jonathon Morris)
  8. New Frontier Excalibur trilogy (Peter David)
  9. Doctor Who: The Ancestor Cell (Peter Anghelides & Stephen Cole)
  10. Angel: Close To The Ground (Jeff Mariotte)

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Online bookstores

amazon.co.uk

The earliest online bookstore reviews of The Ancestor Cell were on amazon.co.uk, where it was one of their fastest-selling Doctor Who books ever—at one point reaching number 34 out of the tens of thousands of books that they offer online.

“Hang on tight!” wrote Philip Tibbetts from Halesowen, “This book is a true epic. I could not put the book down and finally finished it in bed at 4:00am one morning.” He rated it five stars out of five. “This book is a credit to the fans, the series, and not least to the authors. The future of Doctor Who has only rarely been as eagerly anticipated as it is now.”

An unnamed reader from the UK didn’t agree, rating only two stars out of five. “Thank goodness it’s over,” this reviewer said of the continuing story. “I enjoyed this storyline when it was first begun in Alien Bodies and Unnatural History but it was dragged out far too much with the apocryphal Interference. I am sad to say that the best thing about this book is that it finally closes a very bad chapter in Doctor Who history.” As for The Ancestor Cell in particular: “I was sorely disappointed with this book, the first half is unremittingly dull. In the second half, the action starts to pick up but storyline alone is not an excuse for poor characterisation. Only Fitz is really given any definition and he is still wasted for several chapters.”

This reviewer also thought “the other characters are unrecognisable from their dialogue or actions, their names are familiar but they are not.” The story-telling was “merely functional […] dialogue and events are simply written down with no sense of empathy or drama.” And to cap it all, “The Doctor’s decision to destroy so much rather than become what he fears is about the worst I have ever read.”

“Is that it?” asked someone with the user ID “steeled” from Glasgow, recommending: “only read the last thirty pages of this book. The first two hundred odd are very repetitive and dry. Compassion and Fitz are yet again wasted whilst Romana is totally unrecognisable, [she] appears to have turned into Daughter of Goth.”  The Grandfather Paradox revelation “has been signposted for ages and comes as no surprise, and has been done before and better.” Three stars out of five.

However, “dirk” from London thought the book worth 4/5 as a “satisfyingly epic conclusion to a patchy series.” He added: “Cole and Anghelides may not be the series’ best authors” but the novel “has a great plot, a ripping sense of pace, and An Awful Lot Happens. This is one of those books that is very consciously Epic. There are genuine twists, a few real surprises, and some great use of other people’s characters.” Dirk was disappointed in the lack of humour, and didn’t think Romana was as good as her previous appearance in Paul Cornell’s The Shadows of Avalon. Yet “The plot, the events, and the sheer, gobsmacking sense of style override the flat prose and stale characters. This is a completely gripping and deeply fascinating book, and, above all, a great idea.” He ranked the book alongside his other favourite BBC books: “read Alien BodiesUnnatural HistoryInterferenceShadows of Avalon, and this. They’ll make you proud to be aDoctor Who fan.”

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amazon.com

Reviews on amazon.co.uk started a bit later than other sites, because of distribution delays in North America. Some readers had already ordered copies from the UK or from amazon.co.uk, so some reviewers perhaps came with expectations already about the book.

One such person was djperry. This reviewer rated the novel 4/5, “much better than I was expecting”. He bought the book because “I didn’t believe that anything with Peter Anghelides’ hand in it could turn out all bad. It seems I was correct.”

He thought the Doctor was “wonderful” in the book. “Seeing the Doctor slowly turn into an enemy agent against his will is fascinating. Also, the insidious nature of the plot Faction Paradox is running against the Time Lords is breath-taking. There are some truly marvellous scenes where bits of Time Lord history are whittled away piece by piece with no one but Fitz noticing. It’s creepy stuff.”

The “controversial” parts of the novel didn’t bother him. “Change is part of an ongoing serial. Fans who can’t accept that would be better off going over their favorite serials/novels rather than railing against the new direction in the books.”

His principal disappointment was that “Compassion seems like an afterthought, which is odd considering how badly most of the other characters try to capture her. I also have to admit that I guessed the nature of the artifact about ten pages into the book, so that was somewhat predictable. Fitz veers from nightmarishly gauche to fantastic, so no change there.” However, “it’s a good read.”

An anonymous reader from Woodbridge, Va. Disagreed, rating it 1/5 as “a great disappointment […] I don’t like what happened in the story at all […]  This book is not for fans, especially me.” The conclusion made this reviewer “heartbroken […] this isn’t right at all […] it might as well end the entire Doctor Who series.”

Bret Herholz was more phlegmatic: “Not brilliant, but not bad,” he said, scoring it 3/5. He had disliked Interference, and thought that “almost everything is set right in this book. I thought the writers found a great way of tying up all the loose ends rather nicely in this book while causing a few more problems.” He wasn’t concerned by the explosive conclusion to the book.

Canadian reader David Roy also rated the novel 3/5, though he thought it “an unsatisfying end” to the run of stories. “I’ve been waiting to read The Ancestor Cell for a long time. It has never shown up at the usual place I buy Doctor Who books, so I finally broke down and bought it when I was in the States.” Because of what he’d heard from other people, he had “really low expectations going in. Given those expectations, I actually enjoyed it quite a lot.”

For David, the saving grace was the characterisation of Fitz: “extremely well done”. Although he started out in the novel as “extremely annoying […] it got on my nerves”, as the book progressed it seemed that “this was Fitz’s coping mechanism because he’s scared spitless throughout the book” which “sets him up for a horrific revelation later on in the book.” David also liked Fitz’s longstanding counterpart: “I really ended up caring what happened to him, and his sense of betrayal. I thought he was going to be a stock character, but he turned out not to be.”

And “the Doctor is also well-characterized […] he has to make a momentous decision that can have drastic consequences. He’s able to make that decision because of the direction the Eighth Doctor books was going to be changing, so at least it’s not a reset-button issue.”

A disappointment for David was Faction Paradox who “come across as run of the mill villains in this book. I swear I could almost see one of them twirling a moustache at times.” He’d have preferred Lawrence Miles to have written the book: “I’m not a big fan of his, and it may have been just as bland, but it would have been nice to see what Miles would have done with his creations. Instead, we get a stock story that really doesn’t go anywhere.” In summary: “Don’t go in expecting a masterpiece.”

An unnamed scottish_lawyer from Glasgow also thought the book a disappointment, and rated the novel 2/5, and seemed to regret his (or her) purchase: “In some ways it is better left unread. But saying that, this is one of the most important of the new eighth Doctor adventures in the series of Doctor Who novels. It is important for the very reasons that make it inaccessible to the casual reader.

The reviewer speculates at some length about the rationale for writing the novel, and provides a short description of the book which he says demonstyrates that “so many different plot and continuity strands do not make for a happy story, and this novel is confused and convoluted.”

Although he doesn’t offer examples, he believes that “the conflation of two different writing styles does not help,” suggesting that was it was constructed in the episodic challenges of the co-written 1960s TV serial “The daleks’ Master Plan”. [It wasn’t.]

He concludes that it may have been “too ambitious”, with “too many subsidiary characters.” The only highlights for him are “some wonderful cameos”, and Greyjan (“a wonderful memorable character). Whereas the principals (“especially the ill-used Compassion” were not. If only, he lamented, the novel had been written by “a thoughtful, and careful writer” like Lawrence Miles.

Conversely, an unnamed reader from Mount Vernon, NY rated the book 4/5. “It’s another really strange story, in the tradition of the books by Marc Platt and Paul Cornell. A lot of really interesting things happen,” says the reviewer, but concludes: “The end result is ultimately unsatisfying, but at least we have closure, and a fairly interesting read along the way.”

Noteworthy items that the reviewer picks out include “the truly nasty practices of some young and naive Faction Paradox initiates” and “the whole involvement of Faction Paradox.”

alphabetstreet

“In a word, wow,” wrote Richard Bressey on the alphabetstreet site (now defunct). “Quite a few momentous events have been seen or hinted at in recent novels, and they all come to a head in this one […] I’m hooked. This novel in particular is essential reading […] this one is a link in the chain that you can’t afford to miss.” He rated it 8/10.

Richard Chagouri liked it even better: “The style of writing is faced-paced and gripping, and the plot unfolds in an intelligent and engrossing manner, linking back to Lawrence Miles’s earlier entries in the series Interference Books One and Two.” He liked the ending: “a very clever twist, resurrecting an old friend we had thought gone for good.” Richard is one of the few reviewers also to note “a wonderfully throw-away line linking into [Steve Cole’s] Big Finish audio play featuring the Dalek invasion of Gallifrey.” In summary, 9/10 from Richard: “this is an excellent science-fiction novel, and a fine entry in the Doctor’s adventures. I for one an avidly waiting for the next book in the series.”

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GallifreyOne

GallifreyOne scooped all the other online sites by publishing the first review of The Ancestor Cell before it was officially published. I think they wangled a review copy from BBC Worldwide. I was as surprised as everyone else (not to mention delighted with the review).

GallifreyOne: Chad Knueppe

For Chad Knueppe, the book was “the magnificent culmination of all the BBC Books, brilliantly tying up the loose ends of the Faction Paradox story lines.” He thought “this well crafted adventure” would appeal to casual fans as well as those who had followed the story arc. He likened its role in the book line to Paul Cornell’s Happy Endings, Kate Orman and Ben Aaronovitch’s So Vile a Sin, and Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow. “This is the one you’ve waited for.”

The style appealed to him: “one of the most solid complete adventures stories of most of the range […] exciting […] almost every page had me on the edge of my seat.” Chad enjoyed the way the Faction had evolved over the course of the books, and the way that The Ancestor Cell played with readers’ preconceptions of them. The Edifice reminded him of the Needle from Lance Parkin’s The Infinity Doctors, the stealth ship from Lawrence Miles’s Interference, and the alien threat in the movie Star Trek IV. He also liked the treatment of the Doctor’s home planet, which gave it “a boldness equal in measure to thePhantom Menace’s Coruscant [in the Star Wars film]. Anghelides and Cole craft a new vision of the planet.”

Chad is one of the few reviewers to pick up on the theme of companionship and loyalty in the book, particularly between the Doctor and his many companions over the years. He thought this worked particularly well in Compassion’s development throughout the book culminating in her final decision. And he also spots the Doctor’s oldest companion: “We don’t often ever think of the Doctor having a relationship or a love to share his life with. The TARDIS represents the best parts of him and they bonded and grew together”. And thus the TARDIS redeemed the Doctor, and was revealed to have been doing so ever since Interference. [I have to credit my co-author, Stephen Cole, with planning this all along.]

For Chad, “The Ancestor Cell is the pinnacle of the BBC range, bringing closure to the entire series of BBC Books, leaving the future fresh for a bold new direction. This book is fabulous, celebrating all that is great about Doctor Who, reminding us how much the series has accomplished.”

GallifreyOne: Edward Funnell

Edward Funnell’s later review on GallifreyOne was as much a review of the story arcs and the development of Compassion as it was specifically about The Ancestor Cell. The review also contained some misinformed speculation about why the book was commissioned and written. [For example, he suggested that there was an unspoken desire to “wield a deathblow to an author’s effort and reputation”, and that the book was based on an unpublished idea from Lawrence Miles, both of which are incorrect.]

He did make some interesting observations about the basis of the book in what was previously published: “That The Ancestor Cell almost entirely owes its existence to Miles should be compliment enough […] Apart from the difference in style, pace and humour most of the elements of The Ancestor Cell are conclusions drawn from Interference meddling.” And “as much as many derided Interference for its cavalier attitude to the timeline, so the efforts of Cole and Anghelides have been criticised for not taking enough care to be consistent with the aforesaid timeline. Which makes the importance of continuity rather self-defeating.”

Ultimately, Edward acknowledged that the book could not reconcile two opposed groups of readers: those who wanted the story arcs resolved, and those who wanted them to develop further. “It is really only Miles who could have given a satisfactory answer.” Thus “the novel carries too much baggage” which left the authors “pulling adventure and humour from hastily tied-up continuity strands”.

He enjoyed “the wonderful characterization of Romana”, and “the tongue-in-cheek expose of Gallifreyan society takes this type of story to its natural limit and shows up the high seriousness of other visits to be ethos rather than reality based.” But Compassion was “discarded without sufficient development […] The writers have failed to deliver on the promise of this character across the arc of novels.” That said, however: “as an adventure story set on Gallifrey, The Ancestor Cell is an invigorating humorous read. Try and judge it on that level and you will have fun.”

GallifreyOne: Marcus Salisbury

Marcus Salisbury read the novel three years after it was first published. “Although this book was greeted with a great wailing and gnashing of teeth in some quarters, The Ancestor Cell is a surprisingly straightforward, albeit rudely forced, conclusion to a story arc.”

Marcus’s judgement was “what the late W.H. Auden might have referred to as a Good Bad Book. […] The plotting’s well done, in the sense that things unravel at an inexorable pace and don’t seem wholly contrived in retrospect, there are some well-drawn characters (and a fair amount of faceless names), some mind-blowing set pieces, and the action moves inexorably into deeper and deeper horrors and tragedies, until the inevitable shocking conclusion.”

He enjoyed quite a lot of the novel: “Purely on terms of plot, The Ancestor Cell is a decent piece of work. It is written coherently, has a beginning, middle and end and a few well-drawn characters, a few excellent set-pieces […] and ends with, quite literally, the most spectacular hitting of the “reset” button in the franchise’s history.”  He seemed to enjoy most of the characterisation, especially Fitz (“fantastic […] the strongest male companion figure since Jamie in the Troughton era”) and Greyjan (“the character himself is the ultimate version of all the elderly, muttering, scatterbrained-to-half-insane Time Lords we have seen since 1976’s ‘Deadly Assassin’. Brilliant, brilliant, apart from a slight resemblance to the character Mad-Eye Moody in another series of successful novels.”) [A reference to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, also published in 2000.]

A “high point” for Marcus was the depiction of Gallifrey, and he drew interesting parallels between the book’s characters and a number of British and US academics and politicians. “Just as Robert Holmes used ‘The Deadly Assassin’ as a vehicle for some pointed social observations, The Ancestor Cell slavishly does the same. It’s a very traditional Who story in that regard, albeit a terribly dark one.”

However, he thought that Faction Paradox were “cartoon bogeymen, disappointingly enough […] light years away from the voodoo cult of Alien Bodies”, though he recognised some of the elements developed in this novel from suggestions in Interference, “which is maybe where the rot set in.”  In particular, he disliked Grandfather Paradox, who wasn’t the “psycho-Pertwee” that he had always expected, and the Pertwee appearance he did get instead was “blathering on in the Edifice and being no help at all.” Though at least “Cole and Anghelides are more successful than Miles in capturing the character’s fluent Pertwee-ese”.

Marcus also added: “The Eighth Doctor himself is a bit of a wet blanket here, but that’s the nature of the story—we’re meant to see him at his lowest ebb, hunted into a corner, caught in a no-win situation that causes him to do the unthinkable. He’s shot at, used, abused, beaten up, kicked, and eventually caught up in the Edifice’s own regeneration [..] It’s almost as if Ancestor Cell ends with a regeneration.”

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Ratings Guide

As with Kursaal and Frontier Worlds, the reviews of The Ancestor Cell on the Online Ratings Guide were much less complimentary than elsewhere. The novel obviously excited a great deal of attention there: at the time of my writing this introduction (February 2001), there were more assessments of The Ancestor Cellon the Ratings Guide than any other single book, and only “the Sixth Doctor” and “The TV Movie” had more reviews.

The Guide’s most negative reviews included several that were anonymous, and at least one where the writer hadn’t read the last 50 pages. Elsewhere on the same site, Tammy Potash voted The Ancestor Cell as the eighth-worst Doctor Who book ever, without having actually obtained a copy of the book, let alone read it. Nevertheless, not having seen something has never prevented some Doctor Who fans from having a firm opinion about it; so here are my summaries of the reviews (which, just to be controversial, I have actually read all the way through).

Ratings Guide:”Thomas Jefferson”

“For a show-stopper there’s a remarkable dearth of new ideas,” wrote the pseudonymous “Thomas Jefferson”. He conjured an image of the whole book as a dark revenge plot for some imagined slight on Stephen Cole from three years previously, and “all I could imagine was Lawrence reading it and blowing his top.” He also guesses [wrongly] which bits Steve devised and wrote, and was clearly miffed that Lawrence had neither written the book himself nor defined what was in it—except the bits that “Thomas” alleged we stole from Lawrence.

As for the book itself: “The prose isn’t that fantastic,” there is “bad copy editing” and “Cole and Anghelides’ differing (damn near well opposing) writing styles don’t mesh at all well” [though the example he quotes doesn’t demonstrate this]. “There is also a surfeit of technobabble that is almost overwhelming […] the stuff Star Trek actors are required to say with straight faces to explain all those plot contrivances.” And “worst of all for a book that is hoping to tie together so many loose ends, the plot simply doesn’t make sense.”

He doesn’t like the treatment of Faction Paradox: “a shady (dis)organisation of dissemblers are now suddenly a formulaic army of blood-thirsty mutants.” He doesn’t like the Enemy: “more technobabble, basically […] a most unimaginative sci-fi cliché.” The bottom line for “Thomas” is that the book is “un-Milesean”. His hero “has not only been cast out, his Carthage has been destroyed and its fields sowed with salt.”  [Don’t you hate it whenever that happens?]

Ratings Guide: Finn Clark

“Never knowingly underhyped,” observed Finn Clark of the novel. “But is it any good? Broadly speaking, yes. It bored me at the beginning, then picked up for an intriguing middle before falling apart at the end.” Which is a pity, because otherwise he thought the book’s “ideas are excellent and its plot twists startling.” Interestingly, he saw the book completing “a Gallifrey trilogy which was begun by [Marc Platt’s] Lungbarrow and [Lance Parkin’s] The Infinity Doctors. All those books had big agendas and reinvented the Doctor’s home planet for their own purposes,” with Lungbarrow as “Past”, The Infinity Doctors as “Sideways”, and The Ancestor Cell as “Future”—just like the original brief for Doctor Who in 1963.

Finn liked the book’s “ambition”, and the fact that rather than trying to be “Lawrence Miles wannabes [the writers] are doing their own stuff. I like that.” He also enjoyed the idea of a time-sensitive Gallifrey of ghosts and voodoo, “a realm where past and future bleed into the increasingly unstable realities of an uncertain present. For me, this really worked. This is where the Time Lords should have come from on TV […] for once Gallifrey feels like the home of time travellers.”

On the downside, he thought the book was “sterile”, “clunky”, “stiff and dry”, with only the plot carrying him through the occasional “particularly leaden chunk of prose slow”. And the ending was “pretty poor. It’s as if the authors couldn’t be bothered doing a proper resolution.” Finn didn’t engage with the incidental characters, he thought the regulars were slow to develop until the end, and said that the Doctor only came to life by “evoking the glories of previous incarnations and concentrating on the fundamental character at the expense of the shortcomings of this latest version.”

Finn’s overview: “I was impressed by its ideas and I enjoyed my reading experience, but I can also see its flaws. It’s a frustrating book, but also one I’d recommend to almost any Doctor Who fan.”

Ratings Guide: Finn Clark (take two)

Finn also wrote a supplementary review, after re-reading a large number of the BBC Doctor Who books some 18 months after The Ancestor Cell was published. His views weren’t substantially different from his first review: it was “only okay”, “not a thrilling adventure”, and “it should be a grand tragedy, but it’s not tragic.” Specifically, the Doctor’s resolution was only because “he’s in a panic and out of options”. The book opening was “dreadful, with clunky exposition and worse dialogue.”

Indeed, for Finn, highlights were few and far between: “dwindling Gallifreys and temporal matters in general” and “the fact that plot threads from Interference are picked up and given consequences”. But there was also “way too much that’s bad”. And after that it was back to the awfulness of Fitz (“poor”), Gallifrey (“sordid” and “wrong”), the Time Lords (a narrow, pinched view”), Greyjan (“falls flat”), Romana (“evil”), the explanation of the Enemy (“stopping the plot for a massive info-dump”), Faction Paradox (“stupid and motiveless”)

In summary, “this is a confused, rambling book that spends too much time running up and down. The big ideas are great, but the story around them isn’t.” [On mature reflection, whatever must have possessed him to decide to suffer it all over again?]

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Ratings Guide: Sean Gaffney

Writing for the Ratings Guide instead of his own review page this time, Sean Gaffney gave The Ancestor Cell 7/10. “Two of the three regulars are marvellous. There are moments throughout the book that are wonderfully written and enchanting. And yet in the end I’m still feeling ambiguous.”

He thought there was way too much plot, which made the book move too fast and become “confusing and juddery”. In particular, the writing left “major gouts of plot hanging all flibbety-flop”, and the conclusion amounted to “a big wrestling match. Hmm.” Though on the whole the book was “pretty decently written”, and perhaps redeemed by “some truly beautiful moments […] the Doctor seeing the butterflies, Fitz meeting Kreiner, Romana’s realization of the Panopticon’s side problems, the last five pages.”

Sean memorably described the novel’s Faction Paradox as the unsubtle “Anthony Ainley” version, rather than their suave “Roger Delgado” appearances of Lawrence Miles’s books. He was happier with Fitz, who “comes out of it with flying colours. We now see what all the incredible tortures and horrors Fitz has been through have prepared him for: living through this book.” [I think this is a compliment.] And, despite her delayed appearance in the book, Compassion is “equally wonderful”, and the book seems to have done nothing to diminish he view that she was “a marvellous character, a cunning foil, and one of the most intriguing companions we’ve ever had.”

He was less impressed with Romana: “For most of the book she’s simply incredibly unlikeable”. And he thought the Doctor was even worse: “I had intense difficulty imagining this snappy, petulant person as Paul McGann’s Doctor at all. In fact, it seemed far more like the New Adventures 7th.” The sole moment when he could see McGann in the role was in a sequence with Kreiner, a character who Sean thought “intriguing, if only because he raised the question about whether Fitz’s unshakeable belief in the Doctor was truly his, or something grafted on by the TARDIS ‘remembering’. I do feel that having the answer be ‘not truly his’ would be more intriguing, but can’t deny that Kreiner’s answer, and his fate, is still touching.”

“It’s not a fun read,” concludes Sean, “it’s a necessary read.”

Ratings Guide: “Dave”

“Dave” had got excited by the way the arc had been building up to a conclusion, even when Faction Paradox were only implied in the background of some of the books. So he was severely disappointed that “what The Ancestor Cell […] manages to do is once more render everything mundane” by clearing the slate and thus “fail in quite a staggeringly incompetent fashion to respond to any of it creatively.” Not only did the authors “not have their own story into which anything that had previously happened naturally progressed, they took everything that had happened and sort of structured it again” but they also ensured “the whole thing is utterly predictable. You can see what they’re going to do with everything 250 pages off” [i.e. by page 35]. In particular the twist at the end was “something you can await with apprehension rather than disbelieving frustration and boredom,” it was done too late to be effective, it was “shallow”, and “it isn’t even done properly.” [I wonder what this twist was? Dave doesn’t say.]

“The closure in itself was a bad thing,” he concluded. “That that closure was The Ancestor Cell just rubbed Linseed oil into the wound. And, even more depressingly, someone’s going to have to do a War of the Daleks [John Peel’s novel which explained away the destruction of the Dalek’s home world in the TV series] if we want to seize back the new-found exhilaration The Ancestor Cell has stolen from us.”

The last time I looked at this site, I saw that this review is now credited to Dave Odgers.

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Ratings Guide: Mike Morris

Mike Morris is another person who was disappointed that the book was by Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole rather than any of his preferred choices: Paul Cornell, Lawrence Miles, or Lance Parkin. This was not on the basis of reading our previous two books, but on (a) what someone told him about one of those two books and (b) his memory of Kursaal as “The Book Where POV Changed In Mid-Paragraph.” So I suppose I should be relieved that he decided that we “dealt with the million-and-one continuity issues competently. The plot hung together. The storytelling structure was nice. I kept turning the pages.” On the other hand, when he’d finished the book he was “thoroughly exhausted” and “faintly bored”.

For Mike, the novel committed the sin of being merely competent. “No joy of telling the story, no loving description of the protagonists or concepts.” He disagreed specifically with Sean Gaffney’s earlier review: “The Ancestor Cell adds nothing new to Gallifrey […] And while ideas are flying all over the place, they’re all from the head of dear old Lawrence Miles.”

He particularly wanted more description of the Panopticon, the chambers, the Edifice, the participants. “The regulars, Romana, and a bunch of stock characters  [are] just used as vehicles for plot exposition.” In fact, Mike thought the plot was what prevented this:  “it’s all plausible and—at times—ingenious. It’s also not too badly written, and there [are] a few nice little jokes”. The authors “flounder” with Lawrence Miles’s “magic-realist concepts”, and “there’s an awful lot of technobabble”.

Cleverly referencing a pivotal line in the book, Mike summarized: “I was going to say that this book was a necessary evil, but that it was still essential reading. But you might be better off to just ask someone who’s read it what happens, and save yourself six quid.”

Ratings Guide: Koschei Sabato

“The worst Doctor Who book I have ever read”, roars Koschei Sabato, writing a review of bubbling rage that contains no substantiating examples from the book (see also Koschei’s review of Kursaal). “Brace yourselves,” it begins, “cause I’m really gonna rip this piece of shit apart.”

On second thoughts, unbrace yourselves, because I shan’t quote any more. Go to the site and read it for yourself and try, as I did, to imagine a vein in Koschei’s forehead pulsing as though it’s about to burst.

Ratings Guide: “Tom Splunge”

Tom Splunge [“not his real name”, we’re told solemnly] wrote a review which was 25% about The Ancestor Cell and 75% about his university degree course. “I don’t mind saying I haven’t actually finished reading this book, but what with spoilers and the [online discussion group] Jade Pagoda I see no reason why this fact should stop me from producing a few hundred words of vitriolic hackwork.” And this he proceeds to do, without reading the final seven chapters.

“A couple of friends of mine enjoyed this book,” but for Tom “The Ancestor Cell is fear and loathing.” He thought “there is new Gallifreyan continuity by the bucketload, none of it original,” which is an interesting paradox I suppose. Although he didn’t like “the generification of Faction Paradox […] arguably something Peter and Stephen had no right to do.” And apparently “many of us know people who know who the Enemy were supposed to be,” a statement that would probably be as much a surprise to Lawrence Miles as it was to me.

In summary, said Tom: “Best thing to do about this whole fiasco is to forget it ever happened.” Which is what I had done with this review, until a perfectly charming fellow introduced himself to me at GallifreyOne in February 2001 and said he was “Tom Splunge”. We proceeded to have a very cordial conversation, and he seemed quite apologetic. I wish now that I’d asked him whether he’d read the rest of the book (and how his graduation ceremony went).

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Ratings Guide: Robert Thomas

“This Book Begs To Be Kicked In The Nuts,” was the title of Robert Thomas’s review on the Ratings Guide site, but after Tom Splunge at least things were looking up. “The start is excellent, but the ending is poor. In-between the book fluctuates wildly […] Some scenes make the book curl up and die.”

Although Robert thought the plot “strong”, he thought that it didn’t advance for at least half the book. The explanation of the Enemy was “poor but does relate to the member of the enemy we met earlier in the arc.” And the ending “was great but spotted a mile off.” The problem seemed to be pacing: “The questions posed from other books are answered so quickly you may miss them.”

More positively, “Compassion is great in all aspects of this book. Indeed it is here and only here that some depth is given to the character.” Fitz, however, “starts well but goes down hill rapidly. What happens to him at the end is utterly ridiculous.” And although Robert enjoyed her verbal sparring with Fitz, Romana “has officially lost it”, becoming “a tyrant who can’t see the errors of her own ways.” He didn’t like the Gallifrey (“no feel that this is the home of a time travelling species at all”), the Time Lords (except Nivet), and he thought Faction Paradox had been turned into “goons” (except Kristeva).

There were two highlights for Robert. One was the Doctor, “mainly because he is the centre point […] taking part in action actively which hasn’t been seen for ages. He excels throughout the book except the last few pages.”  And the other: “At times for maybe a page this feels like the best Doctor Who book. There is a scene which is harrowing but amazing which ends on page 269. This is without doubt the high point of the book, maybe the arc and maybe the EDA range so far. […] This book is to be recommended for those brief good moments.”

Ratings Guide: Jamas Enright

Jamas Enright awarded the novel 2/5, and summed it up as “one of the worst anti-climaxes since ‘Trial of a Time Lord’ episode 14.” [The finale of the epic all-season story that concluded Colin Baker’s era as the Doctor.] All the loose threads of previous stories were “forced into place” with little regard for what anyone could have expected, and in particular “the true enemy is an amazing let down” and Faction Paradox were the main focus “belying their otherwise background role in all other events (with the exception of the Third Doctor story in Interference)”.

He disliked all the characters. Compassion “fizzled out”, Fitz was “sidelined with a subplot”, the other characters were “so bland and stereotypical it was tricky to separate one from the other” and “even Romana came across as one-dimensional.” Meanwhile, “the Doctor swung from one characterisation to another so much it was hard to get any real sense of him. He was the fool, the hero, the manic, the guru, sometimes even in the space of one chapter. It’s hard to tell if he was the centrepiece of the book, or just some way for everything to get done.”

In fact, the only things Jamas seemed to find amusing were (a) the way Fitz could see changes happening when everyone else could not and (b) Greyjan.

Ratings Guide: Robert Smith

Unlike some of the earlier reviews, editor-in-chief Robert Smith does adhere to the writing guidelines for his own site for his review (and his summary of the arc). Unfortunately, he isn’t much more impressed than his fellow reviewers, as his droll panning of the book demonstrates. “The Ancestor Cell has little to recommend it,” he wrote, because it’s “yawn-worthy and trite”, a “confusing” book of “tired ideas” and “crappy gags” which is “making it up as it goes along”, plus it’s “boring as hell” and “impossibly dull”. In fact “it only demonstrates how much more talent [Lawrence Miles] had.”

Robert thought Romana was no longer the subtle character of The Shadows of Avalon but “a cackling supervillain” whose motivation is never clear: “she’s boring, quite frankly.” He also disliked the way that Compassion was “left out of a large part of the action”, suggesting that “Compassion is Lawrence Miles: far too interesting for this range and the only real inspiration in the line, yet sidelined at every opportunity because she’s more interesting than anything the authors can come up with on their own.” [Personally, I saw Compassion as a somewhat detached character, unable to resist the baleful influence of random transmissions, hugely overconfident in her superiority over her peers, and oblivious or indifferent to the offence she sometimes caused people. But I can forgive Robert, because he charitably described me as “the author of her most vivid pre-TARDIS appearance”.]

“Fitz doesn’t fare too badly,” he continued, “although the same can’t be said for the situations he ends up in.”  The other characters are “pretty faceless” and Robert noted the number of them whose names confusingly all began with “K”. One of these was the new character Kristeva, who Robert seemed to remember from a previous book [but he couldn’t remember what Kristeva did in this book anyway]. Even more bafflingly, Robert observed of the “bunch of lame Faction Paradox wannabes” that “a clearer case of unintentional Mary-Sueing I’ve never seen.” [”Mary-Sue” characters represent the author—the caricature being a woman author writing in a Mary-Sue who falls in love with the novel’s hero.]

He did “give the authors credit for the Doctor [who] gets a lot to do and does it well, which is very welcome. He’s heroic and the most important person in the novel. It’s been a long time coming, but at last the Doctor feels like the sort of character you actually believe might be able to save the day.” Unfortunately, the Doctor’s “pretty powerful” actions at the end were then undercut by “dialogue […] like the sort of line written for Captain Janeway specifically to be included in that week’s [Star TrekVoyager promos.”

Robert enjoyed the changing number of Gallifreys (though he disliked “Gallifrey in all its petty glory” and thought the Time Lords had “suddenly become capitalists”). He thought “Fitz’s grappling with his identity and the Doctor’s role in it was marvellous… because we’ve seen this sort of thing before, but for once the companion actually decides for himself that the Doctor is still worth his time”. And “the way the novel ties in with The Infinity Doctors is also welcome”.

But on the whole, the book was a disaster for Robert, who had “suspected all along [that] even the editor had no clue what was going on in the arc”, so that while “the revelations are mostly satisfying answers to questions that could never be answered well” those answers were “as boring as hell.”

He compared the novel with Lawrence Miles’s Interference and Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham’s The Taking of Planet 5 only in the sense that those books also occasionally had “big ideas with no enjoyable story wrapped around them”, and that The Ancestor Cell is therefore “Interference: Book 3, but without any of the cleverness […] Sadly, this is the third team of co-authors to have tried to play in [Lawrence Miles’s] sandbox and each has gotten progressively worse than the last (despite the obvious difficulties that poses).” As another example of “ideas substituting for story”, the book proved that “you didn’t have to try particularly hard to churn out a substandard book, so long as you could deliver the word count on time.”  It’s “an ancient, senile, overweight beast of burden” lumbering its way to “a concluson that no one cares about and which makes very little sense.”

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Ratings Guide: Matt Michael

These days, Matt Michael reviews the Eighth Doctor novels for Doctor Who Magazine. But before that, he wrote reviews on the Ratings Guide, including this interesting assessment of both Interference and The Ancestor Cell that saw “the future in the past, and vice versa”. He explained that the problems with The Ancestor Cell arise from the way it has to deal with the complex continuity introduced in Lawrence Miles’s earlier books, “a monster that threatened to overwhelm the [eighth Doctor books] line”.

He pondered whether Lawrence Miles really had a masterplan: “if there ever was such a thing [it] was so firmly rooted in continuity as to be indistinguishable from it. The Ancestor Cell can be seen as the natural outgrowth of that […] a book so comprehensive in its cleanup that it can’t be considered a novel in its own right.”

Matt continued: “I don’t contest for a moment that it would have been a better book had Lawrence written it (which he wouldn’t have done, as he stated very decisively online).” Matt also suggested that The Ancestor Cell would have been better as two books. “Nevertheless, the fact that it works even as a half-satisfactory conclusion is remarkable. Wisely, Cole and Anghelides opt for their own idea of the Enemy’s identity, which is far more surprising than any other I’ve read. And the conclusion of the novel is its saving grace.”

Ratings Guide: John Seavey

“There are certainly some clever bits to it all, and some bits I’m not happy with, but in the end, I think it almost defies judgement,” wrote John Seavey. “I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad, but it’s definitely important.”

Much of John’s review is a review of Lawrence Miles’s review of the book. However, he does volunteer his own thoughts about the novel, too. The revelation about Grandfather Paradox was “inevitable”, and the development of Faction Paradox was something that “Cole and Anghelides take great pains to point out is something that has actually happened, not simply an error in their plotting.”

John wasn’t impressed with the identity of the Enemy (“just a bunch of weird alien life-forms whose motivations are never fully explained”). And although he appreciated the “Aramageddon” ending of the novel, he thought it too rushed and should have been foreshadowed in Chapter 1. [We thought we’d foreshadowed it in Chapter 3, but if that wasn’t clear then we didn’t succeed there either.]

He did identify the alleged conversion of Gallifrey into “a capitalist economy” as an effect of the Edifice “altering the structure of Gallifreyan history retroactively […] It’s the unpicking of Gallifreyan history that provides one of the book’s most clever scenes–Romana’s Reaffirmation Ceremony, wherein she muses on her role as Queen of the Six Gallifreys, and walks across the pentagonal Panopticon. It’s such an elegant moment of wrongness that I found myself drawn back to it over and over.” Romana was one of the highlights for John: “I also find myself hoping that Romana survived; I liked her despite her role as secondary villain here, and am hoping that she escaped.”

Ratings Guide: Terrence Keenan

Asserting it to be “the 900-pound Gorilla” of the Eigth Doctor novels, Terrence Keenan awarded the novel 6/10. “This story is not lacking for plot. In fact there’s so much plot happening that it might have been a good thing if this had come out as a two part effort […] But, because it’s the standard BBC novel length, ideas are piled on top of each other and then abandoned, which makes the overall book suffer a bit.”

Terrence thought that the Doctor’s characterisation was “very strong, unlike the ineffectual version that has shown up in previous 8DA efforts”, and “Fitz is, as usual quite good fun, providing the events here with a human POV and a few doses of needed humour.” He also thought “Nivet and Mali are well done, although they both get shunted aside.”

However, he thought that the Faction were “one-dimensional baddies” with “no subtlety or context,” while the Time Lords were no better, even Romana

The Ancestor Cell could have been so much worse,” concludes Terrence. “It is hugely flawed, and desperately cries out to be a much bigger effort.”

Ratings Guide: Terrence Keenan (take 2)

Fifteen months later, Terrence did another review, and decided things were worse than he’d first thought: “The Ancestor Cell has slipped on the scale […] Bad characterization. A near impossible plot line resolution. An up front and involved Doctor. And the end of a whole boatload of ideas that date back to a four-episode serial shown in 1977.”

Although we’d done some “interesting” stuff with Romana manipulating the Time Lords, Terrence decided “she’s just another supervillain who gets her comeuppance.” Father Kreiner was a “drooling psycho”, the Faction “one-dimensional villainy”, Grandfather Paradox was “a Valeyard ripoff” that “screams of […] bad fan fiction”, the explanation about the Enemy baffled him, and he didn’t find the conclusion credible.

On the plus side, the short chapters made it a “page turner”, he couldn’t spot the join between the writing styles, and the authors “deserve credit for managing to wrap up all the dangling plot lines in a competent fashion.” He also enjoyed the five interludes, plus “the last chapter, with Compassion’s farewell, and its tie in to the prologue, is astounding. It’s written at such a high, and enjoyable, level, it begs to question why the rest of the novel is [not] up to this chapter’s standard.”

Ratings Guide: Rob Matthews

Rob Matthews said he wasn’t put off reading the book by previous negative reviews: “it just seemed too important to just miss”. And besides, the reviews had set him up to believe that the book was “abrupt and synopsis-like” with a badly-portrayed Gallifrey and a Romana unrecognisable from her TV version.

So although “it’s a worthwhile read, and there are a fair few interesting developments to be teased out”, Rob didn’t seem surprised to discover that “I wish it could have been written with more finesse. He’d have expected Lawrence Miles to have written it, as the concluding part of a trilogy encompassing Alien Bodies and Interference. Instead, he got “a Doctor Who equivalent of Return of the Jedi.” [I thought George Lucas wrote or co-wrote the scripts for all the Star Wars movies. But perhaps Rob was doing a gag about Lawrence Kasdan.]

Rob didn’t dislike Romana: “Her presidency and preparations for the war have changed her values completely, but we can see finally that her ideals are still there. She’s adapted her entire personality out of sheer necessity, and her tunnel vision has blinded her to injustices in the here and now.” He counterpoints Romana with the Doctor, who “in the end even more guilty than her of focusing on the big picture at any expense.” He blamed Romana for the reason Gallifrey became “crass”, and could rationalise “the Time Lords’ newfound lechery. The Ancestor Cell leaves us in no doubt that female Time Lords have cherry lips, bouncy breasts, shapely legs and nice arses. The voodoo cultists are randy students out for a shag, and” he adds (in one of my favourite review comments about The Ancestor Cell), “Romana manipulates her High Council of dirty old men by being too bootylicious for them.”

On other elements in the book, he thought “the explanation of the origin of the Enemy is cool and seething with irony”; “the sullying of the Time Lords image, which started way back in the TV series, is given its final twist here”; and the change in the Third Doctor’s timeline is “put back on track […] I might well have regarded this as a cop-out or a timid retraction of Miles’ big stunt in Interference were it not so clearly central to the plot, and were its fallout not so big.”

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Ratings Guide: Graham Pilato

On the occasion of Doctor Who’s 38th Anniversary , Graham Pilato listed The Ancestor Cell at number 36 in his “Top 38 Most Important Doctor Who Stories/Milestones”. “A nice little adventure here that’s more important to the EDAs [Eighth Doctor Adventures] than can reasonably be expected based on their tone in the novel.”

Ratings Guide: Eva Palmerton

“I just finished reading The Ancestor Cell, and I enjoyed it immensely,” explained Eva Palmerton. Unlike other reviewers, Eva hadn’t read anything written by Lawrence Miles: “This may mean that I missed a number of little details (or even big details) in this book that would have otherwise made it less enjoyable […] my brain was able to fill in any gaps that I actually cared about.” So she rated it 8/10.

Without identifying which bits were which, Eva said she enjoyed the writing style of “both authors”, though in the first half “it was far too easy to tell the difference between the two styles”, which (because I know which bits I wrote) I found an interesting observation.

Eva liked “introspective Fitz” and thought of that Doctor that “his internal struggles were fascinating… and I had no trouble discerning just how hard it was supposed to be for him to face the pressures he was under from both the Faction and the Time Lords.” And although Compassion was “largely absent” Eva “greatly enjoyed her brief appearances […] I particularly liked her final scene.”

On Romana: “I think the authors did a good job making me love to hate her.” Mali was “a great example of a wonderful secondary character. So much of what she’s seeing and doing goes against everything she’s ever been trained for, but she copes. Her character’s indecision and/or hasty actions served a great role in adding suspense to quite a number of scenes, and her motivations were so well explained each time.”

Eva wished that Mali had survived instead of Nivet (“I’d have thought he should have at least been made even remotely interesting and likeable”). Other characters she disliked included Ressadriand and Eton (“throwaway characters”).

In summary, Eva said “The story was incredibly interesting to me. […] I had no trouble staying interested, and thankfully was quite surprised by several twists.” And “the Faction completely creeped me out […] I found them to be a great enemy.”

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Other web review sites

Jagaroth

“Greatness mixed in with turgid waste,” wrote Matt Marshall on his Jagaroth web site (no need to keep an eye out for it, the site is now defunct). “A disappointingly average book, full of plot inconsistencies [and] prose that only lifts itself sometimes.” He was in the group that didn’t want all the arc elements resolved, and worried now that “in the event of a new series on television, this book will have to be retconned”. [Ironic since, at the time, the possibility of new Doctor Who on TV was one of the motivations for the elements being resolved.]

There are lots of things that Matt listed as being wrong in the novel. For example, Gallifrey: “the writers seem fixated on stating that Gallifrey is full of families.” Faction Paradox were “relegated to evil, cackling madmen”, and he disliked the way the book adapted their biomechanical abilities, suggesting that the authors “have forgotten that the Faction members wear masks of bone, leading to the absurd scene when a Gallifreyan who is actually a member of Paradox peeling off their face mask to reveal their bare skull.” Not to mention Father Kreiner, who was “obviously not the one we all know and love, since he’s more energetic than the one seen in Interference [and] and he no longer wants to hack off the Doctor’s head, instead joining with him.” [Perhaps Matt skipped pages 160-255.]

Matt was also very unimpressed with the Doctor’s breathless exposition, identifying a moment on page 14 where he “spews off the most obvious info-dump I have ever seen […] no amount of post-modern statement can disguise the fact that this is a desperate ploy by the authors.” The only praise he had for the book was “the ingenious resolution” to the Dust paradox and “the ending […] but only just.” So he awarded it 3/5.

Cosmic Café

Dominick Cericola seemed happier at his Cosmic Café site (now defunct). His expectations were set by early reviews he’d seen: “most of the reviewers seemed to agree (myself now included!) that the ending was worthy of the pay-off! The ending did pack a powerful punch, one solid enough to restore my faith in the Eighth Doctor Adventures.” And although he thought “the story starts out slow” he decided it was like being on a roller coaster, “seemingly lulled in a sense of false security […] you are for one hell of a ride!” And that “once the book kicks into gear, it doesn’t stop, not for an instant!”

Dominick was enthusiastic about the characterisations. “Despite all that was thrown his way, I felt Fitz was handled well.” And after reading this book, despite reservations from the earlier books, he also thought Compassion was “a worthy addition to the legion of Companions past and present”. He was excited at the prospects now for the Doctor’s character: “Wow! What a head trip he’s been through […] There’s a lot of potential here.” He also disagreed with reviews he’d read that said Romana was too much changed from her previous appearance: “Here’s a character we really haven’t seen since Marc Platt’s Virgin NA,Lungbarrow […] A lot has happened to her […] Plus, look at the political and social nightmare Gallifrey has become—if you spent your time there, in the midst of it, who’s to say you wouldn’t begin to exhibit similar symptoms?”

He continued:“Most notable of this adventure is the Faction Paradox.” They had been “restored to their status as Dark and Terrifying—more akin to Lawrence Miles’ original depiction of them.” He could see how they had built from their earliest appearances in the book range until “eventually setting their sights on that which others have tried and failed: Gallifrey!” He liked the way that the Enemy was handled “without ruining the imagery”, as well as the view of “what Gallifrey has truly become since the Doctor has been gone all these years.” He asked himself: “Was it worth the wait, after all we have had to endure? I feel secure in saying Yes.”

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Jade Pagoda

BBC Books author Lawrence Miles had announced after Interference that he was definitely not going to write any more Doctor Who novels. So Steve Cole and I were naturally interested to see what his thoughts were about our conclusion to a story arc that he had initiated—so I sent Lawrence a complimentary copy of the published book.Lawrence wrote a review, which he asked Simon Bucher-Jones (one of the authors of The Taking of Planet 5) to post to the Jade Pagoda  online discussion group.

The review was full of the usual amusing Lawrence Miles hyperbole, but it did make me wonder whether Lawrence could remember anything about the final chapters of his own opus Interference.

In an interview ahead of the book’s publication, Lawrence had already explained (based on a close reading of the back cover blurb) that he thought some of his own ideas had been adopted without his permission, and that he didn’t think he’d enjoy reading The Ancestor Cell. The good news was that, once he’d read the copy I sent to him, at least he was now complaining that the book contradicted his own, unstated plans for the arc’s conclusion. The bad news was (shock) he still didn’t like the novel.

It’s worth reading the full review on Jade Pagoda, where Simon posted it. (Simon was 65% in agreement with the review.) But this Reviews page wouldn’t be complete without my summary.

Things that Lawrence didn’t like

[I’ve abbreviated these here, because I only have 3GB of available space.]

“It’s dull, it’s stupid, it’s badly-written, and it’s got a plot that makes virtually no sense at all, a bunch of loose ends roughly tied into the shape of a book with a couple of crowd-pleasing set-pieces so randomly thrown into the mix that, in retrospect, there’s almost a kind of shame in having read it […] laughable attempts at tying up every loose end in sight […] the book’s tragically, crashingly banal […] exposition scenes massively over-inflated […] can’t tell the difference between “epic” and “just happens to be set on Gallifrey” […] goes to astonishing new lengths in ripping the guts out of the mythos […] crushingwrongness […] one of the biggest clichés in modern fantasy fiction […] hideously mundane and inappropriate […] authors who don’t even have the slightest imaginative thing to add to the mythology […] The Ancestor Cell is to the EDAs what Divided Loyalties is to the PDAs—this is as low as the mythos can sink […] breathtakingly pointless […] the Time Lords are being menaced by three pages of meaningless technobabble […] the crushing, devastating disappointment of this ludicrous, farcical, embarrassing cop-out would have made me give up on the series in a second […] the sheer banality of it all […] an awkward mish-mash of pseudo-science […] messy, confused affair […] the mediocrity of it all […] crass and predictable […] peddling fifth-rate ideas […] not a shred of creativity has gone into any of this mess […] if The Ancestor Cell were fan-fiction then nobody would ever be able to take it seriously […] I could continue in this vein […] it doesn’t make sense. None of it makes sense. From the laughable opening … to the ridiculous ending […] truly dire use of Faction Paradox—which loses every aspect of its culture that ever made it interesting […] It’s predictable. It’s moronic. It’s pointless.”

Things that Lawrence did like

[I have space to quote these in their entirety.]

“There are good moments, it’s true, but pitifully few of them, and even these suffer in the context of a hopelessly muddled and fundamentally trite storyline.”

Other highlights from the review

  • On other reviews: “Interesting, then, how all the positive feedback to the book has revolved around the apocalyptic ending.”
  • On the reuse of his material: “I knew, right from the start, that The Ancestor Cell would thoroughly ignore any of my own ideas about who the Enemy are and what they’re trying to do.”
  • On his own conclusion:  “If the authors had claimed that the Enemy were a bunch of intelligent monkeys, it would have made more sense than this.”
  • On Faction Paradox: “In Alien Bodies and Interference the Faction never once kills anybody, the closest it ever comes being the ritual suicide of one of its own members.”
  • On paradoxical events: “By the book’s own logic a timeline in which Gallifrey is destroyed can’t possibly have produced the Grandfather.”
  • On publishing his review on a Doctor Who internet discussion group: “Peter Anghelides gave me a free copy. And I sincerely hope he doesn’t read this.”

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Overseas sales

The Ancestor Cell has sold all over the world, and generated great interest in the unlikeliest places. For example, here’s what they say about it in Sweden:

“De tidsresande voodooterroristerna Faction Paradox håller på att förvandla doktorn till en av de sina. De ämnar ge honom ett uppdrag som försätter honom i tidsfurstarnas våld. Dessutom har en gigantisk struktur av solitt ben uppenbarat sig i himlen över Gallifrey. Dess ursprung och syfte är okänt, men den kan slita sönder tidsväven och själva universum om doktorn inte kan åtgärda det hela. Doktorn är kringränd från alla håll och fången av sitt eget handlande. Tiden rinner ut om han inte tar en sista, desperat chans.”

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The Ancestor Cell: Chapter 1

Filed under: Ancestor Cell,drwho,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 12:53 am

ancestor.This page is one of several on this site about my novel The Ancestor Cell. They are all linked from this main blog post here.

As part of the BBC’s Monthly Telepress (Issue 4, June 2000, which appeared in the month before the book was first published in the UK), I wrote an article called Selling the Ancestor. It was accompanied by Chapter 1 (“Travelling companions”, below) and Chapter 2 of The Ancestor Cell as “taster” for the book ahead of publication.The style of Chapter 1 is different from the rest of the novel, for reasons that become apparent as you read the rest of it.

Travelling companions

Lady Withycombe had remained for some twenty minutes on the carriage seat, lounging in that warm and comfortable state in which, half asleep, half awake, consciousness begins to return after a sound slumber. In her reverie, she had recalled with pleasure her latest visit to Lord Ostler’s charming town house; the satisfaction that had blossomed in her breast as she cast a shiny new threepenny bit with ostentatious abandon to her porter at St Pancras; and the ragged urchin who had waved so impudently at her from atop the station wall.

Thus she sat, unsure for a moment of exactly where in the universe she found herself, gradually growing aware of a crumpled figure’s presence on the opposite seat – a seat that, prior to her recent nap, had been unoccupied.

‘I thought, sir,’ she ventured after a modest pause, ‘to have this carriage for my exclusive use. This aspiration notwithstanding, you are, I am sure, welcome to join me for the duration of your journey. What, sir, is your destination?’

But the other remained silent in his place, so that Lady Withycombe would have thought herself still dreaming and her unexpected companion a carved wooden statue, were it not for the cooling breeze from the half-opened window beside her.

The dishevelled figure stared, and his eyes blinked occasionally, and his lips moved in a constant quiver of mumbling. He wore the collar raised on a light-brown coat, which was in urgent need of brushing, and his tumbling brown locks seemed more suited to a young woman. A soiled hat perched indecorously on the back of his lank head of hair.

Lady Withycombe essayed her enquiry one more time, with the same lack of response. When, after some consideration as to the wisdom of her action, she chose to lean closer to listen to the man’s mumblings, she thought she could make out a handful of the words. The stranger was asking the oddest of questions: ‘Phase malfunction?’ was the first, followed shortly by, ‘That’s just jargon, isn’t it? Isn’t it?’

‘I confess,’ she said, coming to a decision at this, and now looking about herself for her small suitcase, ‘I am unable to assist you.’

Under any other circumstances, Lady Withycombe would have called for the guard and made an immediate request for the unkempt stranger to be removed forthwith to third class. Yet there was an ineluctable suspicion in her own mind that it was she who was in some way transgressing, and not this unexpected and odd new arrival.

When the train stopped at the next station, she lifted her suitcase through the door and went in search of a different carriage. On leaving, she could once again make out the stranger’s mutterings: ‘Must find… Must find… Doctor?’

Chapter 2: Ultimatum

© Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole 2000, 2013

The Ancestor Cell: Chapter 2

Filed under: Ancestor Cell,drwho,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 12:53 am

Cover: The Ancestor CellThis page is one of several on this site about my novel The Ancestor Cell. They are all linked from this main blog post here.

As part of the BBC’s Monthly Telepress (Issue 4, June 2000, which appeared in the month before the book was first published in the UK), I wrote an article called Selling the Ancestor. It was accompanied by Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 (“Ultimatum”, below) of The Ancestor Cell as “taster” for the book ahead of publication.  

Ultimatum

Odd that he hadn’t noticed that before, thought Fitz. The cloth ribbon that edged the console was frayed, and several studs were missing. He reached up from where he lay and ran his middle finger tentatively over the ribbon, and the thin material parted under the slight pressure. A new ship, he thought, and already it was wearing out.

Not like the Doctor’s previous TARDIS, he thought. There, everything had seemed old because everything seemed to be covered with a precisely measured layer of dust, designed with a meticulous eye for intricate detail to look ancient, as though someone had disguised it as a slightly seedy old college library so that you wouldn’t see it for what it was – a fantastically complex space vessel that knocked Emperor Ming’s sparking rocket ships into a cocked hat.

Fitz missed the old TARDIS. He missed the dappled light on its grand wooden staircase, the deep heartbeat rhythm of the Chamberland grandfather clock, the pervasive scent of dust and sandalwood and safety. He missed the marquetry inset on the occasional tables where the Doctor poured rose pouchong into bone china cups. Gold-rimmed cups with rose motifs like the ones at his Auntie Norah’s. Her tea always tasted special because she used only sterilised milk in long, tall, thin bottles with gold metal tops…

Who am I kidding? thought Fitz. The Doctor’s previous TARDIS wasn’t more secure: it was just more familiar than this one. Compassion had never liked mixing with others, even before she’d been magically transmogrified from a stuffy bint into their present time ship. As if to prove her lack of regard, she gave yet another wild lurch and rolled him violently away from the console. His shoulder smacked against a stout oak chair.

He opened his eyes, which he had screwed up as he’d pitched headlong across the floor. Below him Fitz could see blackness – no, he could make out pinprick stars, real images and not just specks dancing in his terrified eyes. Frozen shards of ice scattered in a cold explosion all around him until they melted into the distance.

Behind him, he could feel the reassuring bulk of the oak chair, but when he swivelled round he discovered that it was no longer visible. Instead, far in the distance behind him, he could make out the orange-brown disc of a planet. Three points of yellow light speared through space towards him. It took him a moment to work out that the TARDIS scanner had extended to fill the entire room, enveloping them in a 360-degree view of their immediate surroundings in space.

In space? Hadn’t they just been hiding deep in the labyrinthine depths and convolutions of the time vortex? Yet now they were in plain view in normal space-time.

‘Doctor?’ His voice was a croak, barely audible over the hum that surged all around him. ‘Doctor, I thought we’d escaped them.’

A dozen yards from him now, Fitz saw that the tiny six-sided TARDIS console was drifting in the middle of nowhere, like a tired grey mushroom floating in soup. Unfazed by the fact that he was walking in midair, or maybe just unaware of it, the Doctor scampered and danced in space around the console.

Even before he noticed the unfamiliar scowl on the Doctor’s long face, Fitz knew something had gone badly wrong, inadmissibly wrong. The Doctor’s random movements over the controls betrayed a hopelessness, a fear, and not the capricious indifference that marked his usual confident control of the ship. He was muttering to himself, ‘How can they have traced us? Could they have cracked the Randomiser’s seed? Maybe I should have relied less on vectors derived from strange-attractor charts. Chaos-aware control techniques are childishly simple if you know what you’re doing.’

‘Doctor?’ persisted Fitz. ‘We’re under attack, and you’re babbling about… strangely attractive charts?’

The Doctor stared at him, looking as though he might burst into tears at any moment. ‘They’re beautiful. They’re butterfly-shaped fractal point sets…’

‘Spare me the jargon, Doctor, and get with the beat. I don’t want to hear about pictures of insects. I hate insects, wasps especially. Holiday snaps of red admirals are not going to impress whoever is on our tails, and if they catch us they’ll beat the crap out of us.’

‘Yes yes yes,’ snapped the Doctor testily, his mood swinging suddenly in the opposite direction. He lunged at the next panel along, but he snatched his hand away almost immediately as though the controls might be hot. Fitz saw his expression pucker into doubt as his elegant fingers waggled over a different control. Maybe he was trying to cast a spell over it – things seemed to have reached that level of desperation.

Before the Doctor touched the control, it moved of its own accord. The Doctor slammed his fist against the console, and threw his head back so that he was staring up into the midnight darkness and the stars above them. ‘Compassion!’ he bellowed at the TARDIS. ‘Leave the driving to me, if you’d be so kind.’

Compassion’s voice sounded out all around them. ‘A right mess you’re making of it.’ Fitz noted that she sounded as infuriatingly calm as ever, despite the howl of noise that was building in the background, and despite the Doctor’s evident fury. Or possibly because of that. ‘Hold on tight,’ Compassion added.

Fitz felt the movement in his stomach first, and then he felt like retching. Their surroundings swirled savagely about them, distant stars smearing in stretched arcs as the perspective shifted. It was as though they were in a glass cage that was twisting on two axes, yet the unseen floor remained solid beneath Fitz’s body. He considered standing up, sensed his stomach lurch again, and decided to stay where he was. The wailing sound of Compassion’s TARDIS engines started to reach a crescendo.

The Doctor clutched at the two nearest console panels as the universe spun around them. The incongruous landmark of the console was the centre point of the giddying movement.

Their pursuers loomed larger now behind the Doctor. Spinning balls of fire outlined him against their oncoming glow and turned him into the silhouette of a frantic marionette, a shadow puppet against their jaundiced yellow light. His voice thundered from the centre of his dark shape. ‘Compassion! Return control to the console! Do it now!’

A racing movement from above made Fitz stare upwards. As the TARDIS started to move, the flat line of frozen ice rings slowly stretched until they were concentric circles. Fitz could see where the TARDIS had broken through the nearest ring. There was a vertiginous movement in the perspective, and suddenly it was as though he were staring at the same view the wrong way down a telescope. Then the view rotated swiftly around one axis and, in an unnerving change, became completely steady, so that the circles looked like a distant target in space. At the same moment, the shriek of the engines dissipated into the usual calm hum of the console room.

Fitz took this chance to scramble unsteadily to his feet. He staggered over to join the Doctor at the console, hardly believing he could traverse the invisible floor, half fearing, half hoping he might tumble away into the inky depths of space and away from this nightmare.

The Doctor didn’t acknowledge he was there. He seemed fixated on a spot far off in the distance over Fitz’s left shoulder. Fitz followed his burning gaze. ‘Are they still there?’

In answer, a flaring blue fireball barrelled towards them at a colossal, impossible speed. At the last moment it veered away, scorching off into the vacuum.

Fitz ducked. He peered out from the unlikely shelter of the console. In the distance a tiny point of light suddenly smeared wide across the darkness, growing with incredible speed until it loomed like a huge, planet-sized red shape blocking their escape route.

Fitz re-emerged from his hiding place, ashamed at his instinctive reaction to duck and run.

A woman’s voice filled the space around them, clipped tones that brooked no disagreement. The voice of someone used to being obeyed without question or prevarication. ‘I am commander of Presidential Quadrun 19, and Chancellor of Time Present on the High Council. You cannot outrun this war TARDIS. Further vessels from the fleet are already at intercept positions in real-space and tangential time routes on all statistical possibilities. Your vessel is forfeit, Doctor. Surrender or we’ll fire on you directly.’

© Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole 2000, 2013

The Ancestor Cell: Monthly Telepress

Filed under: Ancestor Cell,drwho,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 12:52 am

Cover: The Ancestor CellThis page is one of several on this site about my novel The Ancestor Cell. They are all linked from this main blog post here.

This article was first published as part of the BBC’s Monthly Telepress online newsletter (Issue 4, June 2000, which appeared in the month before The Ancestor Cell was first published in the UK). The article accompanied Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of the book.

SELLING THE ANCESTOR

Peter Anghelides talks about writing this eagerly-awaited novel.

“Would you like to write an Eighth Doctor book with me?” Steve Cole asked me. I studied him warily. “There’s a pint in it for you,” he added quickly. I replied: “How can I say no?”

Steve was previously the range consultant for the Doctor Who books. Before The Ancestor Cell was commissioned, Steve had already left the BBC and published another co-authored Who novel, Parallel 59. I had provided comments on Parallel 59 at outline stage, and also done the structural edit for the BBC.

I therefore knew Steve was someone I enjoyed working with. And Steve chose me because I was alphabetically first in his contacts book, David Agnew being suddenly unavailable. The “Eighth Doctor Authors” internet mailing list had avidly discussed where the stories and characters should go. And being the range consultant, Steve had been thinking for some time about the future of the books, of course.

Meanwhile, new Who consultant Justin Richards had his own clear ideas about how he saw the Eighth Doctor and the Past Doctor books developing. He wrote a discussion document, establishing what could be central the series. From that, he identified what he actually wanted to concentrate on, what was in and what was out. And, unlike some BBC producers when they came in to the TV series, he didn’t want to simply move on immediately and ignore the past, so he had a number of things he thought should be resolved.

As to the way the books would develop after The Ancestor Cell… Well, the risk of doing just the “BBC producer” thing is that you end up sinking Atlantis on a regular basis. The risk of doing just the “fan continuity” thing is that you can’t pick up your pen and write because your arms are weighed down by heavy bags filled with decades of continuity. The new direction of the books avoids the pitfalls of either approach, and Justin’s discussed it with lots of the writers–and posted some of it here in Telepress, of course.

So Steve and I brainstormed the contents of a novel via e-mail, then pitched it to Justin and BBC Worldwide’s Ben Dunn. They had some further suggestions, which we haggled over, and we were then commissioned to write the book. It started off life, unimaginatively, as “July 2000 Novel”, became “Enemy Mine!” in mock tribute to the TV movie, and was briefly lumbered with “The Horrid Obsession of Greyjan the Sane” until Steve came to the rescue with “The Ancestor Cell”.

The novel has not end up as a collection of in-references and dense continuity, because Steve and I agreed right at the beginning to write a compelling story which would grip even the most casual readers, and not to pedantically tie every supposed loose end. We both feel that distracting and irrelevant continuity cross-references are just “fanky-panky” .

Some people have speculated that the book will “reset” the DW universe, stepping back to the past; others than it will “resolve” all the open questions, stepping forward into the future. Sometimes it does one or other of these. Occasionally, though, we decided it should step sideways–lateral thinking, if you like, a classic Doctor routine.

Loyal readers who have read all the books will get the bonus of recognising more than the casual reader, of course. You don’t need to know everything about Compassion and Fitz’s background, about Faction Paradox’s tangling with the Doctor’s timeline, about Gallifrey’s impending and terrible war with an unknown Enemy. We want all readers to appreciate the characters, events, and motivations beyond the continuity references–to see the wood for the trees (though continuity buffs should recognise the forest).

When Lawrence Miles introduced Compassion to the series, with the idea that she develop into a TARDIS, the “Eighth Doctor Authors” mailing list discussed a proposed series of books which eventually ran from Interference to Shadows of Avalon. My novel, Frontier Worlds, eventually sat somewhere in the middle.

At the time, I didn’t think I would be able to write one of the books, because (before reading Interference) I thought that the character outline revealed Compassion to be an emotionless, amoral robot whose selfish pursuit of continued existence along the path of least resistance suggested a total abnegation of herself – in short, not very dramatic. Obviously.

Then I “got” her, thanks in no small part to the discussion on the mailing list, and Steve’s polite (if slightly pained) defence of Lawrence’s creation. Compassion seemed rude because she just didn’t care enough about other people to be polite. She was self-interested out of a sense of practicality that verged on the amoral. She was superior, because… well… most of the time, she was superior to most of the people around her. I recognised some character traits that sparked conflict and drama, putting her both alongside and at odds with Fitz and the Doctor.

So I enjoyed making her a central part of Frontier Worlds, and it’s been a delight to work with Steve on The Ancestor Cell where Compassion faces the most difficult challenge of her surprisingly long life.

More important for me and Steve, The Ancestor Cell is a turning point in the BBC Books. As such, it’s rooted in the book series, more than the TV series. My Dark Secret, by the way, is that haven’t read all the published DW books, and so I used I, Who, Lars Pearson’s excellent unauthorized guide, to get up to speed on bits I thought should be useful. Like any background research for writing, it’s more important to understand what’s happened than to explain everything in detailed references in the finished book.

I’m sure readers looking hard enough will find allusions to Alien BodiesUnnatural History, Frontier Worlds, The Taking of Planet 5Parallel 59… and, of course, Interference. But the book doesn’t exclude The Infinity Doctors or some of the Virgin New Adventures like Damaged Goods and The Pit from its thinking.

Before you keel over in horror at this apparent excess of “fanky-panky”, be reassured that the story always comes first. Besides which, we wanted to add our own original spin to the book series, and to Gallifrey.

Early on in our brainstorming, Steve memorably described the way the TV Gallifrey had descended into “two corridors of corrugated cardboard meeting at a one-tap fountain”. So we got the builders in, obviously. Did a bit of redevelopment, architecturally and conceptually. Doubtless some readers will feel we brought in the bulldozers, but that’s too bad–one guy’s art deco is another guy’s flock wallpaper.

What’s more, we know from The Taking of Planet 5 and Shadows of Avalon that Gallifrey is girding itself for the coming War (capital W), and have some dreadful plans for Compassion. So when an ominous death-white monstrosity manifests itself over Gallifrey, things are looking grim.

Since we know from Interference that Faction Paradox fashion huge ships from bone, I imagined this edifice to be a skeletal combination of the Needle from “The Infinity Doctors” and the huge alien ships from Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Independence Day. Is it there for good or evil? Steve mentioned the giant-shape-in-the-sky story that Philip Hinchcliffe mooted in the Graham Williams fourth Doctor era. And there’s that huge Faction artefact that houses Anathema on its three billion year stealth mission in Interference, of course.

In the end, I think we came up with another spin on these familiar concepts–introducing completely new elements, as well as looking askance at some of the received images of the series. It’s like when you spot new things in a familiar old photo because you’re holding it up to a mirror and seeing it from a different perspective.

For fresh insights on the finished book, we deliberately confined our read-through team to people who were not on the “Eighth Doctor Authors” list. The one exception was Lance Parkin, who perused the submission draft. Lance has the ability to offer constructive insights on plot and continuity, because he long ago sated his strange passion for pedantic DW continuity with his exhaustive (and exhausting) History of the Universe book. He provided us with a rounded view of the final draft’s strengths and weaknesses.

I think the best ideas are informed by a broader spectrum of reference, anyway–witting or unwitting. For example, Faction fans will recall the Third Doctor denouement of Interference on a distant planet. But how many remember the Editor in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine asking himself:

“What was this time travelling? A man couldn’t cover himself with dust by rolling in a paradox, could he?”

And the “grandfather paradox” is a classic time travel concept going back to C. South’s “The Time Mirror” in 1942.

As to knotting all those loose ends…? Well, I would prefer people to see each book as a “stepping on” rather than a “getting off” point. Doctor Who is constantly developing, so I’m not sure I’d want to tidy everything up. Even shows like “Genesis of the Daleks”, which purport to provide answers and closure, actually open things up more because fans love to speculate.

No doubt people will spot more frayed bits hanging out of The Ancestor Cell. At least we haven’t sunk Atlantis again. Obviously.

© Peter Anghelides 2000, 2013

The Ancestor Cell: unpublished scene

Filed under: Ancestor Cell,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 12:52 am

Cover: The Ancestor CellThis page is one of several on this site about my novel The Ancestor Cell. They are all linked from this main blog post here.

This blog post contains the original opening for Chapter 10 of The Ancestor Cell. It was one of the scenes we chopped late on in the writing of the book, to bring the book in below its agreed (and already-extended) word-count.

Stephen Cole and I both liked this nightmare sequence, but were content with losing it at that late stage. We had made our monsters-on-the-Edifice into spiders as an allusion to the Third Doctor’s original regeneration, which would be reinstated at the end of the book, so the subtext of Fitz’s fear of wasps was no longer integral to the book. The scene also seeded the idea of “moving the glass”, but that wasn’t enough to ensure its survival.

The one place where Fitz’s wasp phobia does survive in the published book is in Chapter 2, where the Doctor calms him down and devises an escape plan from Fitz’s recollection of a different, childhood trauma.

Chapter 10: Taken for a ride

The seance had begun mid-afternoon, but little natural light penetrated the attic. The hatch was closed so that no-one would know they were up there, hiding in the gloom. The flickering candles guttered as the wind blew under the eaves.

Fitz had pulled a glass-topped table from one of the dank corners, and propped it so that it sat securely on two firm crossbeams. Eleanor, the girl from the coffee shop with the poky flat in Archway and the wry smile and the tight sweater, sat opposite him. Her spooky flatmate squatted beside her on a rolled-up offcut of alarmingly-pattered nylon carpet. Fitz hoped that the flatmate would get a nasty shock of static electricity before they’d finished.

Eleanor hadn’t bothered introducing her flatmate, but Fitz had heard her call him Bob at the Feathers the previous night. Bob was sitting too close to Eleanor, which was supposed to be what Fitz was doing this afternoon. Perhaps he could arrange for Bob to get a different kind of shock.

Eleanor scattered the Scrabble tiles over the glass sheet while Fitz lit the fat wax candles at either end of the table. Bob toyed with the drinking glass, finally upending it and placing it in the middle of the circle of letters.

Once they started, Fitz discovered it was too easy to steer the glass. He’d decided to be Indian Joe, a spirit from the other side, and was able to push the glass to each letter in turn to spell out a message from the Beyond. The edge of the glass drinking cup scraped on the surface of the table, making Fitz grit his teeth.

But Eleanor lapped it all up, as he’d known she would. One quick glance at her hippy shirt and the aspirational posters in her bedroom had been enough to tell him that.

Bob was less easily convinced. ‘How come he can spell in English if he’s an Indian?’

‘I suppose the spirits are translating,’ Fitz suggested in a soft voice, keeping his eyes on Eleanor’s pretty eyes.

‘He sounds like Tonto,’ observed Bob, his voice a squeak as he took a drag on his spliff. He offered it to Eleanor, who accepted it wordlessly.

After eight more letters, Eleanor said: ‘Oh my God.’

Fitz had made the glass spell ‘Kimo Sabe’.

‘Knock it off,’ said Bob. ‘You’re pushing it. In fact, you’re pushing your luck.’

Fitz steered the glass some more.

N-O-T-L-U-C-K-B-O-B

Bob’s mouth was wide open.

Fitz smirked. ‘I don’t believe I’ve been told your name. But Tonto seems to know it.’

Eleanor stared at Fitz. ‘Bob, he’s heard your name at my place. Oh Fitz, you rotten little monkey, how could you? I thought you were for real.’ She stood up, grasping the drinking cup tightly in her right hand. ‘Do you get a buzz out of playing the fool?’

Fitz wasn’t fast enough with his denial.

‘I’ll give you a buzz, love.’ She flung the glass down. The glass table top crazed right across, and Scrabble tiles bounced off in all directions. Eleanor scrabbled across to the loft hatch, Bob trailing behind her awkwardly.

Fitz was about to protest, to calm her down, but the glass table surface suddenly dropped into pieces between the table frame. At once, there was a fierce, rising hum. And then the wasps started to pour from the ragged glass gap.

The humming, buzzing cloud surged over him. Fitz flung himself aside as the wasps enveloped him.

They batted against him like a handful of thrown sand, bouncing off the skin of his forehead, his cheeks, the backs of his hands where he threw them up to protect his face. He gasped involuntarily as he waited for the feel of the first sting, and one of the wasps fell into his mouth. He scrabbled with two fingers, scraping the tiny, fizzing creature from his tongue, spitting repeatedly and praying that no more got between his lips.

They were crawling in his hair, over his earlobes, into his ears. He wanted to scream out for help, but all he could do was howl with his mouth clamped shut, snorting air in short desperate bursts down his nose to stop them crawling up his nostrils.

Now they were under his collar, crawling into his shirt. He flung himself across the attic, knowing he could never reach the loft hatch in time. He buried himself between the torn boxes of mouldering paperbacks, and buried his face in the rolled-up carpet offcut, and screamed and screamed. As he breathed in, the dust from the carpet filled his lungs. He could feel the wasps tickling his neck, ruffling his long hair where it curled over his collar.

‘Hey, hey, what is it?’

He stared about himself wildly. The bright, new light scalded his eyeballs, frightening him almost as much as the nightmare.

Tarra was clutching him firmly in her arms now, stroking the back of neck again and talking in the same soothing tone. ‘Hey, come on, it’s just a dream, Fitz.’

He gave himself to the hug, slumping against her in relief rather than any other motive. Besides which, he felt limp all over. His breathing slowly returned to a ragged kind of normal, though his heart continued to wallop his ribcage.

‘What was all that about?’ Tarra asked him.

Fitz reluctantly allowed her to stop hugging him. He kept hold of her hand. ‘Just a weird dream. I dunno.’ He stared about them.

Of course. The musty smell came from the undusted upholstery on the seat, the buzzing sound was the noise of the underground carriage – no, what had Tarra called it? Oh yeah, the Transtube. The travel system that would take them to the centre of the capital, or was it the Capitol, wherever that was. Their section of the Transtube was empty, unless his screams had scared the other passengers away. Just like the Northern Line late on Friday night, he thought. No matter how closely he looked, though, he couldn’t see any adverts for Beecham’s Powders.

© Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole 2000, 2013

Confessions of a planet killer

Filed under: Ancestor Cell,drwho,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 12:51 am

I blew up Gallifrey once. I freely confess it. Is there a statute of limitations? It was a long time ago – at the end of the last century, and Steve Cole was my accomplice. We were young. Well, younger. We got the Doctor to pull a lever that wiped out his own people to put an end to a terrible Time War. And then we documented our actions in a novel called The Ancestor Cell.

It’s a different story to the recent and wonderful TV episode The Day of the Doctor. But a recent Facebook discussion about the 50th Anniversary special reminded me that I hadn’t yet reblogged all the material about The Ancestor Cell that I published on my old website. So I’ve done that now. Thank you Jason Miller and Jon Blum for providing the nudge I needed.

There’s a main blog post, and then sundry other bits and pieces:

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