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The Face Eater

I'll give you three guesses as to what this one's about, but I doubt you'll need them. TFE is a strange concoction of ideas that almost work, but don't quite hang together. The reason being that the person in charge of Earth's first colony is so rigid in her belief that she cannot accept anything outside her experience. She's on an alien planet for goodness sake!

Proxima II is humanity's first non solar system colony. By the time the Doctor and Sam get there, its condition is described as 'Benidorm in space', with half constructed buildings everywhere. Tensions are rising between the workers and the admin personnel as Jake Leary, a colonist who supposedly went off the deep end, is killing people in a most unusual manner (those three guesses again.) The workers are not allowed, by law, to form a union, yet they have unofficial representatives in Clark and Marlowe. As the unrest snowballs, administrator Helen Percival imprisons the Doctor and Sam, initially believing them responsible for the increasing death toll.

When the workers riot, all hell breaks loose and Percival despatches her commandos to quell the uprising, which naturally results in more deaths. While humanity pulls itself apart, the real enemy strikes - taking out main characters left, right and centre.

This brings us to the nature of the enemy. They're essentially shapeshifters, and when they feed, they somehow transport the essence of their prey back to the big bad thing lurking in the mountains (which is where Leary's expedition was ambushed.) Not only that, but after making telepathic contact, the shifters can take the form of a colonist. This puts us in John Carpenter's The Thing territory, as we're not completely sure everyone's who they say they are.

However, The Thing worked because there was a small cast of characters that we were got to know quite well before everything went Thing shaped. TFE's problem is that there are 5000 colonists, and we simply don't give a monkeys if several hundred unknowns are picked off. To combat this, Simon Messingham kills off many of the second tier of characters (under the Doc and Sam), which then feels forced and somewhat laboured.

There's a nice bit of continuity in that Sam is still worried about the invasion of her body by Saketh's nanites in Beltempest and this crops up from time to time when she gets hurt or injured - she's quite paranoid about the matter. Another thing that bothers her is the colony's construction and the administration's blatant disregard for the natural world and its only species, a race of semi-intelligent monkey-rat things. This feeling is somewhat quashed when people start getting killed by the shape shifters, as Sam believes them to be a previously hidden second species.

Once again, the Doctor apparently can't see in the dark, which causes him to break his ankle when under attack from a shifter. The subsequent Doctor-related events are brilliantly suspenseful, but I won't spoil those. Suffice to say they're the best bit of the book.

When the final battle begins to rage, we discover the idea behind the big thing in the mountains, and as ideas for monsters go, it's a good one. Without giving too much away, it's basically a conjoined mass of all the planet's organic matter, which is now operating beyond its original design. Physically, it resembles some of H.P. Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, with flailing tentacles extending from a mountain of flesh.

As has been the case with many of my reviews, I like to comment on a corny joke. This time it's Sam's exclamation 'I got it out of my ecosystem.'

In the end, The Face-Eater is entertaining enough fare, if a little too story rather than character focused in places. The monsters present an admirable stab at an enemy that can throw a reader off the scent, but their insistence on wiping out most of the named characters grates towards the end. Oh, and Helen Percival will piss you off - I suspect this was the intention, but not so much as to make you wish she'd had a different personality.


Review by Tom Hey

You visited the Whoniverse at 6:08 pm BST on Saturday 9th September 2006