The Red Lines Page

April 10, 2016

Logopolis novelisation

Filed under: drwho,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 5:51 pm


Title sequenceTom Baker’s final series of Doctor Who episodes stories were first broadcast from August 1981. Much as I loved the traditional opening, I was greatly impressed with the novelty of the new “starfield” titles that new producer John Nathan-Turner introduced for Season 18. I got to watch it on my parents’ colour TV, and from the comfort of their  cosy sofa, in a warm living room in which all other family members had been ruthlessly drilled not to interrupt during first transmission.

This was so I could enjoy the show and also make an audio recording from the TV speaker. Yes, speaker, singular. None of your fancy stereo telly back them. I had it tough. Although, on reflection, my mute family probably had it tougher.

Listen up

Beach snoozeMy pal Tony, a fellow fanzine editor, somehow contrived to miss episode one of “The Leisure Hive,” and so the audio recording was my invaluable soundtrack for explaining to him what he’d missed. Tony hadn’t enjoyed Season 17 of Doctor Who much, and listened patiently to me extolling of the virtues of the opening episode. Those of you who remember “The Leisure Hive” story will recall that almost the first two thirds of episode one seem to be a tracking shot on Brighton Beach to the sound of Tom Baker snoring, so Tony’s patience was sorely tested.

My other fanzine pal, Peter, agreed with me that this series of Doctor Who stories was terrific. Peter was also a dedicated off-air audio recorder of the show. In the days before TV scripts were available to fans, he would painstaking transcribe the dialogue from audio recordings and type it up. This meant we had a written record of a story even before the Target novelisation was published. There is a generation of Doctor Who fans for whom the Target books were the primary way to relive stories post-transmission.

By October 1981, however, I was hundreds of miles away at university, where I lived on the eighth floor of a student hall of residence. Although in the 1980s student facilities had advanced  beyond the chalk slates and quill pens that younger readers of this blog may be imagining, it wasn’t anywhere near the always-connected multi-device environment that my own children take for granted these days. Eighth floor roomMy choices for television at university, for example, were: (a) watch a portable black and white device in the room or (b) get a seat in the hall’s communal TV lounge and hope the majority wanted to watch what I wanted to watch. I suppose there was also (c) the TV lounge in the Students’ Union, though that was an impossibly long distance to get to from my accommodation at short notice.

Because, needless to say, making sure I didn’t miss an episode of Doctor Who was a Saturday ritual. Sometimes there wasn’t a student consensus to watch BBC 1 that week; irrationally, there were people who preferred to watch Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, scheduled by ITV directly opposite Doctor Who.

In which case, I had to make a dash for the lift and go up eight floors back to my room in the hope I didn’t miss anything. Obviously, I would have left my black and white TV switched on in anticipation of such a calamity – no faffing around getting it tuned in and warmed up, plus I could have the audio recording happening in my room if and when I was in the communal lounge. Well, I could hardly do an audio recording in the student TV lounge and expect my fellow students to be as amenable as my family, could I? No, of course I didn’t ask them. And on mature reflection, this tells you volumes about my wonderfully tolerant family back at home.

Speaking of whom… in the middle of Season 18, my parents bought a VHS video recorder.

Get it taped

E180 tapeMy parents patiently agreed to record Doctor Who for me each week. Occasionally, this was delegated to my younger brother, so some element of risk was involved every Saturday. Crucially, they agreed to keep the episodes and not record Match of the Day over them, on condition that I furnished a sufficient number of E120 or E180 video cassette tapes. This was no minor concession, because in the early 1980s an E180 blank tape cost £9.99 (including VAT at 15%).

The availability of videos started to transform the experience for fans. Some other DW enthusiasts had been recording the show on tape since about 1977 (or Season 15, as DW fans know it). So it was possible to relive the stories in exactly the way they had been transmitted, rather than through the medium of a novelisation. Many of the books were published shortly after the TV transmission, and tended towards a perfunctory recollection of the programme – or even, a literal translation of the original scripts (rather than what was recorded and broadcast) because they were written so close to transmission.

Subsequent novelisations were a bit more imaginative, expanding on the original stories in a way that anticipated the brand new, original novels that Virgin Books would publish after the BBC put the original Doctor Who series on ice. And indeed that BBC Books would publish, and where I launched my own professional novel writing career.

Godel-Escher-BachDoctor Who fans are collectors and completists, and so obviously we kept buying the novelisations. Peter and I were very enthusiastic about the concluding story in Season 18 (and Tom Baker’s finale) “Logopolis.” This was also the time of Douglas Hofstadter’s 1979 “metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll” called Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which particularly captured Peter’s interest.

A novel idea

Peter and I thus concluded that “Logopolis” might not be well-served by the kind of Target novelisation then being written. Because we were publishing our fanzine Frontier Worlds around this time, we ambitiously decided that we’d do our own novelisation. Peter had written up a dialogue transcript from the TV. And I had my video recording. So I used those to write a novelisation under our Frontier Worlds imprint as a not-for-profit fanzine.

This was before we knew that Christopher H Bidmead was writing the Target novelisation. He is the author of “Logopolis,” and the Season 18 script editor to boot. He very graciously agreed we could publish our version. Through a contact in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, we also wangled to talk with John Nathan-Turner backstage at a London convention, and he said he was OK with us publishing our version as long as it did not appear before the official Target version.

So that’s what we did. Tony Clark drew the cover. In those days, desktop publishing and typesetting would have been ruinously expensive for students, so I typed up the text and did all the wonky letter transfers (the back cover features some especially wobbly Letraset).

I notice, now that I look at my copy of it, that we conspicuously didn’t thank either CHB or JNT in the published version – for which, 34 years later, I apologise, as they were both very accommodating with their permission at the time. And with the benefit of over three decades’ hindsight, my po-faced “Authors’ Note” (page 8) makes a somewhat implausible claim that the novel isn’t just a transcription of the TV show – an unsubtle comment that we thought it was better than the contemporary Target books.

Target novelisation of "Logopolis"As it is, the Target novelisation by Christopher H Bidmead is far superior to ours. We knew that, because we kept our promise to JNT, and had therefore read his excellent Target version shortly before we printed and published ours. Christopher’s book is a much better written expansion of his very enjoyable TV story.

Peter and I had also really liked “Castrovalva” (Christopher Bidmead’s script to follow “Logopolis” and the debut for the Fifth Doctor). On this occasion, we’d somehow got hold of the actual camera scripts for the episodes, and were laying plans for a novelisation of that, too. We got as far as having a cover drawn up by Andrew Martin. But we recognised, based on “Logopolis,”  that we couldn’t do as good a job as the Bidmead book for “Castrovalva” would be, so we shelved our plans.

Indeed, there was something of a renaissance for the Target novelisations – especially those adapted by the original script writers themselves, such as Andrew Smith (“Full Circle”) and Stephen Gallagher (“Warriors’ Gate” under the pseudonym John Lydecker). And I really enjoyed David Fisher’s adaptation of his script for “The Leisure Hive,” which did not cause any snoring.

Free novelisation 

I’ve seen a few copies of my Logopolis novelisation turning up on eBay, and even Amazon sold a few at some point. Back in the 1980s, the only money I took off readers was to cover printing, postage and packing, so I can’t really approve of people making money from it. You can download a completely free copy of the Logopolis novelisation here.

If you enjoy it, feel free to add a review at that Amazon site. And perhaps consider purchasing one of my officially licensed books.

Frontier Worlds

June 1, 2014

Hursley FM competition

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,drwho,Torchwood,Warship,writing — Peter A @ 8:41 pm

Script for WarshipAfter months of negotiation with my agent, I agreed terms with for a podcast interview. Oh, all right then, they e-mailed me at work last Wednesday, and I said yes straight away.

On Friday, I made my way to their studio (spoilers: an office in Hursley D Block) and had a lovely chat with Dr Adrian, Jonny Mac, and Mr Jezzalinko. We discussed technology, my work at IBM, and my various bits of genre writing over the years. And, yes, they really are called that.

Hursley FM microphoneHursley FM is a podcast and community about technology, inspired by the people at the biggest software development laboratory in Europe. By a happy coincidence, it’s somewhere I’ve worked for nearly twenty years.

As you can see from my photo, the studio looks exactly like the podcast illustration.

It’s rare that my various worlds coincide like this. So to acknowledge that, and also encourage people to tune in to the Hursley FM podcasts, here’s a competition. With a modest prize.

The prize is: a copy of the studio script for my audio drama Blake’s 7: Warship, signed by me. And maybe also signed by Dr Adrian, Jonny Mac, and Mr Jezzalinko, too.

The question is: in the podcast, we talk about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, about how Tom Baker is one of my favourite Doctors, and also about the future of technical writing. What word (that I use in the podcast) connects those three things?

How to enter: e-mail me at the contact address on this website. At the end of this month, I’ll pick a winner from all correct entries. Tie-breaker, in the event I decide one’s needed, is that you complete the following sentence: Mr Jezzalinko could be a Doctor Who villain because…”

March 9, 2014

I feel like a Newman

Filed under: Audios,drwho,Torchwood,writing — Peter A @ 2:02 pm

Big Finish has a customer survey running at the moment. It solicits opinions about all sorts of things, including which other spinoff series they could make. Participants get the chance to win a prize worth £250.

I like the idea of Torchwood audios, obviously. As I have prior history with that franchise, I would hope to be early in the queue for writing those – alphabetically speaking. Unless Dan Abnett isn’t busy at the time.

Mind you, it’s an outrage that Big Finish aren’t considering a spinoff series for An Adventure in Space and Time. I demand to hear further thrilling stories featuring Verity and Sydney (pictured here from their recent personal appearance at GallifreyOne). Steve Cole even photographed me discussing things with Sydney by the hotel pool.

Everyone should write in to Big Finish! Pop pop pop over to their website immediately.

February 3, 2014

GallifreyOne 2014

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,drwho,Novels,Sarah Jane Smith,Short fiction,writing — Peter A @ 12:42 am

GallifreyOne 2014I am delighted to have been invited once again to the fantastic GallifreyOne, the world’s largest and longest-running Doctor Who convention. There’s a sparkling array of major guests attending:

  • Doctors Colin Baker and Paul McGann
  • Companions Arthur Darvill, Billie Piper, Katy Manning, Nicola Bryant, Jean Marsh, Matthew Waterhouse, Deborah Watling, Velile Tshabalala and Frazer Hines
  • Writers Terrance Dicks, Paul Cornell, Jane Espenson, Phil Ford and Rob Shearman.
  • Guest stars  Tom Price, Gareth Thomas, Annette Badland, Tracey Childs and Stuart Milligan.
  • Production team members Derek Ritchie, Gary Russell and Dominic Glynn.
  • And loads more – check out the full list on the convention website

Quarter century

This is the silver nemesis anniversary of the convention. It with be my seventh visit to the event, so compared with many regular attendees I’m a bit of a dilettante.

I first went to The Eleventh Hour of GallifreyOne – which feels so long ago that it must predate the Time Lords mastering transmat technology, the universe was half its present size, and the GallifreyOne attendee count was only in the hundreds rather than the thousands who will turn up this year. Back then, the convention took place in a much smaller airport hotel, in Van Nuys. The BBC was unthinkably not making any new episodes of Doctor Who.


Nevertheless, there was still much to discuss about the 27 years of already-broadcast TV stories. It was a rare year that one of the Doctors did not turn up as a headline guest at the convention. But the only new Doctor Who being produced in those days was for the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, the Big Finish audio plays, and the Virgin (subsequently BBC Books) novels.

As a result, guests from the writing and production teams of those tie-in productions were invited to attend the convention. I was very pleased to go along to my first GallifreyOne convention in 2000. There were two Doctors in attendance (Peter Davison and Colin Baker) and along with me the tie-in guests included Justin Richards, Gary Russell, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Steve Cole, Paul Cornell, Dave Stone, Kate Orman, Jonathan Blum, Mike Tucker, Keith Topping, Bill Baggs and Gary Gillatt.

In subsequent years, I was at events at the Van Nuys hotel with David Howe, Stephen James Walker, Clayton Hickman, Lance Parkin, Lisa BowermanNev Fountain, Caroline Symcox, Lloyd Rose, David McIntee, Dale Smith, Paul Ebbs, Mark Wright, Jon de Burgh MillerNigel Fairs, Simon Bucher-Jones, Craig Hinton, Steve Lyons, Dave Owen and Nick Walters.

This first photo (above) from the 2000 event is from Alden Bates’s website, and shows Gary Gillatt, Steve Cole, Terrance Dicks, Gary Russell, Justin Richards, me, Mike Tucker and Paul Cornell.

Edit: Remote linking denied from for that photo, so I’ve replaced it with an alternative from the GallifreyOne website that shows the 2001 convention  (L-R, back:) Craig Hinton, unknown, unknown, Keith Topping, Paul Cornell, Shaun Lyon (Program Director), Nick Walters, Andrew Beech, and me; (L-R, front): Peter Lovelady and Justin Richards.

Past present

From gallifreyone.comThe turn-out at my first GallifreyOne fourteen years ago was just under 750 people. Whereas last year, just over 3,500 attended – and I suspect even more will be there this year. Like Doctor Who, the convention has grown hugely until it’s become something of a global phenomenon – I sometimes think I meet my UK friends at GallifreyOne more often than I do back home. And just like the TV series that it celebrates, the convention has not lost the charm and affection of its origins.

Of course, there’s a big focus on the current TV series. But the event still celebrates the whole fifty years of the series, and much more besides. So it’s especially nice in this celebratory year that some of the convention’s program of events remembers those tie-in productions that provided “new Who” in the years that the TV series was off-air, and when the GallifreyOne convention first welcomed us as guests. And indeed, once again welcomes some of us to be guests.

The second picture (right) from the 2001 event, The Twelfth Regeneration of GallifreyOne, shows Justin Richards, Steve Cole, Dave Owen, Keith Topping and me. This year is the first GallifreyOne for well over a decade that I have attended at the same time as Steve and Keith. I may still have that shirt. (I may even wear it.)

My schedule

I’m involved in a range of panels and signings this year. Here’s what I am signed up for at the moment:


  • 1:30 p.m. Kaffeeklatch. A discussion group, accompanied by Steve Cole. They may be taking a risk with this, because Steve and I aren’t particularly well-known for taking care of Gallifrey.
  • 2:30 p.m. Autograph alley, with Steve Cole, Paul Cornell and Keith Topping.


  • 11 a.m.The Ancestor Cell Writing for characters you didn’t create. A panel with Deric Hughes, Christine Boylan, Tony Lee, Barbara Hambly and Jordan Rosenberg. A mix of TV writers, novelists, comics writers, and me.
  • 1 p.m. Autograph alley, with Steve Cole, Dominic Glynn, Rob Shearman, Tobe Hadoke and Keith Topping.
  • 3 p.m. Doctor Who – The Wilderness Years. Panel with Steve Cole, Terrance Dicks, Paul Cornell, Gary Russell, Keith Topping and Rob Shearman. Moderator Felicity Kusinitz will try to ensure we are well-behaved and say something interesting about the books and audios that made up the “new Who” between 1990 and 2004. Penalty points for anyone who uses the word “hiatus.”


  • 11 a.m. Autograph alley, with Steve Cole, Richard Dinnick, Phil Ford, Gary Russell and Keith Topping.

All weekend

If you’re going to the convention, do drop by and say hello. I’m happy to talk about the Doctor Who things I’ve done, or Torchwood, Blake’s 7, Sarah Jane Adventures, Bernice Summerfield… audios, novels, short stories, talking books… or anything else.

My previous experience of the wireless connections at the convention hotel is that it was either (a) sporadic when free or (b) ruinously expensive otherwise. I’ll try to tweet occasionally, and maybe post some photos. The convention hashtag is #gally1 if you’re following along.

If you haven’t yet signed up to attend the convention, alas, it sold out long ago. But do try to get tickets for next year’s event. It is such a wonderful, warm, welcoming convention that you will have a fabulous time, no matter who the guests are that year. (PS: they’re always great.)

January 17, 2014

Talking to Big Finish

Big Finish Day 4Big Finish kindly invited me to participate in their event this weekend, Saturday 18th January, at the Copthorne Hotel Slough-Windsor. Guests include Paul McGann, Tom Chadbon, Simon Fisher-Becker, Pamela Salem, Andrew Smith, Michael Troughton, Peter Wyngarde, Julian Glover… ooh, there are lots of others, so check out the information about the event via this link.

The range discussions are about Counter Measures, The Avengers, and Sherlock Holmes, with other main discussions about acting for audio, sound design, and a main interview with Paul McGann and his son Jake.

I will be around with some of the other Big Finish writers to sign things, and talk to anyone who wants to ask questions or have a chat. So if you’re attending, I’ll be glad to say hello — and discuss any of the audios, short stories, or novels I’ve written for Big Finish. I’m not sure what, if anything, we’ll be saying on the day about the new full-cast Blake’s 7 audios.

All this reminds me that a while ago I did an interview with Kenny Smith as a contribution to his book The Big Finish Companion Volume 2. That was published in time for last year’s Big Finish Day, so now seems like a nice time to publish my version of the interview here — and encourage you to buy the book. Kenny was asking me about my audio The Four Doctors.

What was your original brief for The Four Doctors?

Big Finish originally asked me about doing a Doctor Who version of A Christmas Carol. The CD was coming out as a festive special for subscribers, and that was therefore quite a good proposal.

They were also quite keen that I kept the Doctors apart, and do something less obviously like previous multi-Doctor stories.

The other part of the brief was about a limit to the number of guest characters, and the amount of air time that we could afford for each of the four Doctors.

I enjoy a challenging brief, and sometimes what appear to be constraints actually turn out to inspire good ideas as you try to solve them.

Did the story have any working titles?

I liked the title “Reverse Engineering”. Looking back, I must have been bonkers to want to call it anything other than The Four Doctors, because that’s unambiguously what it’s about! Plus, it’s what will best advertise the audio. Plus, no-one had used the title before. So, what was I thinking?

Until quite late on, it was in four separate episodes. In fact, it was originally edited as four episodes, with each Doctor taking more of a lead in each. They combined it into one continuous narrative pretty much at the last minute. The episode titles were “Analysis, “Disassembly”, “Decompilation”, and “Reverse Engineering”.

What’s your first reaction when you’re given more than one Doctor to write about – delight, then horror?!

Definitely delight. I’d written an audio for Peter Davison (Key 2 Time 2: The Chaos Pool), but not for any of the other three Doctors. I’d done three novels for the Eighth Doctor, and short fiction featuring the Seventh. But this was my first chance to write anything for the Sixth.

How difficult was it to come up with a new spin on an old idea, by having a story with more than one Doctor, and also have to add in the Daleks?

Part of the brief was to keep them apart, for two reasons. One reason was the availability of the principal actors – you can record stuff separately and combine them later, but that’s a post-production complexity you may prefer to avoid. Another more important reason was to avoid retreading some of the sorts of “dandy/ clown/ fancypants/ scarecrow” dialogue. That’s quite amusing stuff, but it’s much more interesting to explore other things.The Four Doctors

My take on that was: don’t treat them as four separate people (who are really the same person) who interact with each other. Instead, treat them as the same person who interacts with another man, who has to work out that these four people are the same person. And then the fun for the audience is: we already know these four characters as the same person, and we can listen to the newcomer as he works that out.

In my script, the four Doctors work together over an extended period of time (from their perspective) because they are the same person, not because they happen to be in the same place at the same time. I had a variety of excuses about why the Doctor couldn’t meet himself in the story, with the crux being that distanced Fifth/Eighth conversation.

Having the Daleks is great. You can have lots of additional speaking parts for no extra cost, because the director is doing all the voices! I wanted the Daleks at the battle of Bajorika to have “old” voices, and my script suggested something closer to the voices from “Day of the Daleks”, albeit this ran the risk of giving Nick Briggs (a bit of a Dalek expert and purist) having an embolism.

Did you have any abortive ideas before settling on the final one?

After the Christmas Carol suggestion, I’d pondered doing something with the Doctor as Past, Present, and Future. And then I wondered about having the Doctor witness (but not interact with) the actions of his own past, present, and future – having a third party make the Doctor (as “Scrooge”) learning the error of his ways by witnessing his own actions. I also thought that was a bit Trial of a Time Lord.

But all that seemed a rather better fit for three rather than four Doctors. And so I chose the much better idea of having someone else travel through the Doctor’s time line… but in the reverse order to the way that he experienced it, because it’s a story about a Time Lord after all.

All of which turned out to be just as well because, subsequently, we learned that Steven Moffat’s first Christmas special for Matt Smith was inspired by A Christmas Carol. If we’d gone anywhere near that, the BBC would (quite understandably) have rejected the proposal.

I had a number of other ideas, especially for elements of the third section. But I’m going to keep those to myself, in case I can find a use for them in some other audio or novel!

How much fun did you have writing for each incarnation, and was it difficult to write the distinctive nuances for each incarnation?

I had the best time ever. Though it wasn’t straightforward.

I’d written for the Eighth Doctor before in three novels, and even provided a script for an audio story (Earth & Beyond: Bounty) that was Paul McGann’s first new performance as the Doctor after the TV Movie. So I thought I’d find his character would be easier to write for than he was.

Earth & BeyondThe novelists were able augment the TV Movie character through the BBC Books – at that stage, there was only that one story to go on. We had to think our way into how the character would have developed, without losing what made him recognisable from the TV Movie. And while the TV series was off the air, we could “steer” him a little ourselves. One of my favourite, albeit trivial, editorial notes when I wrote the novel Kursaal was from a copy editor asking whether the BBC was prepared to “commit to the idea” that the Doctor lost a tooth in the previous story and that it was slowly growing back.

Over a decade later, by the time I was writing The Four Doctors, the authentic voice of the Eighth Doctor was unambiguously the Big Finish version – honed through all of those other audios they’d done for him, plus Paul McGann’s performance of course.

As it was my first chance to write for Colin Baker, I think he was the most fun to do in The Four Doctors. Colin is a lovely chap – I’ve met him at a couple of conventions as a guest. He’s finally been done justice by the Big Finish audios, so I was especially pleased to be the latest contributor to that.

Fan geek question time. The Dalek Prime appeared in the John Peel novelisations and novels – is that the Black Dalek’s official designation in your mind?

I should hand in my Geek Card, I’m afraid. I had forgotten that Dalek Prime was in John’s books. I’d read them, of course, so perhaps it stuck in my mind. I’d intended it as a new designation, because the story is about the developmental stages of both the Daleks and the Jariden – and I’d incorporated the Special Weapons Dalek as an example of how the classic series had already done that. I couldn’t use something like the Supreme Dalek from the post-2005 series, because Big Finish doesn’t have a license for stuff from the post-2005 TV show. We even had a slightly surreal debate about whether we were allowed to have a Dalek saying “Elevate!” as it went up the stairs after the Doctor and Faraday, because that phrase was first used in Rob Shearman’s new series Dalek story.

And I admit that when Victory of the Daleks was broadcast, and featured the new Dalek Paradigm, I was a bit nervous that my story would be seen as too close to some of the elements of that.

Which one was the Black Dalek again? No here, look, I’ve torn my Geek Card in two. Take it.

The scene at the end is a nice touch – just when I thought we weren’t going to get them meeting up. Was this always planned, or did you ever consider not doing it, just to be different?

Vortex 57Thank you very much. I agree, it’s a nice touch, but it’s also a scene that I didn’t write. Either Nick Briggs or Alan Barnes inserted that  because they decided they wanted to have a “meet and greet” with the four Doctors after all. My version had some “across-the-timelines” parallel dialogue instead. I especially like the gag about the TARDIS decor, so perhaps I should pretend I wrote it after all. Yeah, I planned it all along! 

[Subsequently, Big Finish revealed in issue 57 of BF magazine “Vortex” that it was Nick. I think they lost confidence at the eleventh hour in their original idea that the Doctors should never meet.]

Any thoughts on the final play itself?

It sounds a bit immodest when you say how much you like stuff you’ve written. With an audio, the script is just the starting point – the foundations of the production. No matter how good an actor’s performance is, or how fine the music and sound effects, or how well it’s edited together by the director, a bad script will sink an audio. Yet without all those additional things, even a great script just remains text on a page – so I was really pleased with the end result.

I was a bit sorry that the final version wasn’t in four 15-minute episodes, as we’d originally planned. I’d quite like to have had the different theme tunes crashing in. And as a subscriber-only audio with short episodes it wouldn’t have needed cliffhanger reprises – instead, I had some cunning “Part One” reprises in “Part Four”. Nevertheless, you get well over an hour of adventure. Even those short episodes would have been about twenty minutes long, which is longer than some episodes of The Mind Robber.

There were sundry other changes that Big Finish made for the final version. For example, the Jariden were renamed – I’d called them the Jai-Gerbar, which I thought was a bit more unusual without being too hard to say. And Ulrik was originally called Vaterlaus, a name I thought would sound brutally good when the Daleks were shouting at him. But the Big Finish team are smart folk who know what will and won’t work on audio, so I am entirely phlegmatic about the changes, which were all in the service of a better audio play.

And that’s the nature of a collaborative project like this. For example, in the third section it was originally a Dalek that escorted Ulrik to his cell, and who was subsequently overpowered by him and escorted to the roof to meet the Doctor. Script editor Alan Barnes didn’t like that, because he thought it implausible that Daleks would set up a base where they had to go up-and-down stairs and open cellar doors. He thought I should set those scenes in a Dalek ship near the battle of Bajorika. I said I preferred the different “soundscape” of a mansion, and liked the literal encroachment of the Daleks onto Jariden property. Plus it meant I could place the Doctor up on the mansion roof observing the battle, which would be less plausible if he was sitting atop a Dalek saucer. So Alan said “why not change the Dalek into a Roboman escort”, and then developed that into “why not say the Roboman is Ulrik’s grandfather” (whose mansion I had already decided it was, and whose relationship I’d already established in “Part One”).

That was great, because then I could make the Roboman part of the Jariden’s reverse engineering of the Special Weapons Dalek technology – so that back on the Vault of Stellar Curios in “Part Four”, Ulrik realises that what he was pursuing back in “Part One” is actually the grandfather he was also disparaging in “Part One” but who he set free from the Daleks in “Part Three”. Plus, in “Part Four” after the Roboman says “Awaiting Orders, Colonel Ulrik”, there’s a very straightforward line of dialogue that David Bamber delivers beautifully as he sets the creature on his enemies: “Kill the Daleks, Grandfather. Kill them all.” And that all started from a discussion about whether Daleks could plausibly unbolt a cellar door.

When it comes down to it, how many people get a chance to write a Big Finish audio, let alone one with the Daleks in it, let alone one with four Doctors? It was a wonderful experience, and I’m very proud of the final version.

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, 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.


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.”


“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.”


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.”


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

The earliest online bookstore reviews of The Ancestor Cell were on, 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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Reviews on 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, 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.”


“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 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


“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

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