The Shadows of Avalon
Having previously ventured into the Doctor's psyche in the hard going Timewyrm: Revelation; Paul Cornell chooses to have the Doctor visit someone else's psyche in the Shadows of Avalon. The 'someone' in question is King Constantine, sleeping 'ruler' of the land of dreams. The story goes that during the Roman invasion of Britain, Constantine took some of the Celts to Avalon (his psyche), where they could be free of invasion. Living more or less harmoniously with the Fair Folk (dreamland's version of the Earth reptiles), a degree of suspicion built up between the two races, setting us up for the events of this novel.
From the beginning, it's clear this is going to be no ordinary Who novel, since the TARDIS is destroyed to great effect, trapping the Doctor in Avalon. A portal to Earth opens up of course, although given the Doctor's well travelled persona, it still doesn't bode well for him if it means he has to stay there. Not knowing if Fitz or Compassion are alive or dead doesn't help him either. He feels somewhat at a loss, not really knowing if he's doing the right thing.
One thing he is sure of - the Brigadier is doing the wrong thing. Wracked by guilt, he blames himself for the death of Doris, his wife. He can't bring himself to deal with it, nor set it aside. When the Queen Regent of the Catuvelauni (Celt) makes a pass at him, he becomes angry, because he feels that he'd be betraying Doris' memory.
The Brigadier's transformation over the course of the novel from emotionally wounded to emotionally healed is expertly handled by Cornell, periodic exposition explaining the situation, why the Brig feels as he does at particular moments.
The final ingredient is a Gallifreyan one. Two Interventionists named Cavis and Gandar are in Avalon on Romana's (the third?) orders, to perform a task that will help Gallifrey win the war against 'The Enemy'. Any feeling that perhaps the Doctor should be on their side is banished by their sadistic approach to their task, their disregard for lifeforms other than their own, and the fact that their revelling in death appears to hold some sexual attraction for them. The twist in the tail is that they're in love with each other, which fleshes out their characters still further.
If the Brig's character is treated well by Cornell, then Compassion's is simply brilliant. It's something that's been building since Interference, although it reached its point of critical mass in The Taking of Planet 5, when Compassion communed with the chained up TARDISes. Having not read the EDAs before, I can say I had my suspicions given that a bipedal TARDIS appeared in Alien Bodies and given the subtle hints since then, but it was still a joy to have my expectations confirmed. Compassion becomes a TARDIS, which is what the Gallifreyan interventionists wanted all along.
Fitz gets a few good scenes, especially with Compassion, and Queen Regent Mab becomes a well portrayed character during her scenes with the Brigadier, but I did feel a little let down by the Doctor. I suppose it's only to be expected that in a novel that holds so much drama for the other main characters, the Doctor is somewhat neglected. Don't get me wrong, he's still an active part of the story, we're just not told what he's thinking particularly often.
The conclusion of the novel was a strong one, with the Doctor confronting Romana about her decisions and the actions of those in her employ. In fact it seems that since her regeneration she's become decidedly... bitchy. When the Doctor makes his exit, you almost feel that they've become enemies.
So, nothing spectacular Doctor-wise but a solid, enjoyable read that continues the current story arc and has a few twists and turns along the way.
Review by Tom Hey