The Dying Days
This book came third in the best Doctor Who book of all time poll I ran on another website, so I began reading with high hopes. The opening seems very homely, giving a description of Bernice's life at the Doctor's house on Allen Road before the Doctor shows up to get the plot going. It's a testament to Lance Parkin's writing ability that I didn't get bored during these initial pages - in fact I was hooked from the start, which is a rare thing indeed as far as I'm concerned. It normally takes me at least five pages to get into the swing of a novel.
When the Doctor does turn up, Benny's reaction to his radical change in appearance is dealt with very well and kept in character. She accepts him more or less straight away and doesn't cause a fuss, although later she does appear to have misgivings about his Doctoring style - 'leap before you look' instead of the previous Doctor's 'nip round the other side first and place a crash mat' approach.
As the plot began to begins to unfold and new characters are introduced, a number of questions arise - Is the British landing on Mars in the 70s part of the problem or the solution? How come the Doctor doesn't realise that the 70s Mars landing is a disruption in our timeline?, Has the Doctor's previous meddling and assistance somehow altered Britain's technological progress, enabling us to go to Mars in the 70s?
I'm not sure any of these questions were ever answered, and since a certain canon keeper's guide puts The Dying Days between The Eight Doctors and Vampire Science, I'm unsure where the hell Sam Jones (introduced in TED) is supposed to be during The Dying Days. Maybe she got lost in the TARDIS? (you'll find out in Vampire Science - ed)
The other characters, then; Alex Christian is a likeable ex-astronaut with a pretty good reason for vengeance (being wrongfully locked up for 20 years might just do that to you); The Brig is as forthright and reactionary as always, although due to his experiences over the years he is apparently more comfortable with concepts such as meeting the 8th Doctor in his past but the 8th Doctor's future; Eve Waugh provides a nice little subplot by fraternising with the enemy and then realising her mistake, and Bernice does a grand job of setting an Ice Warrior on fire.
The Ice Warriors, then. I believe we only 'see' or 'hear' five of them in the entire story, despite the fact a bloomin' great ship of theirs hangs over London. Nevertheless, the ones we do get to see offer a decent cross-section of the Martian race's caste system, and more importantly, they're used effectively within the context of plot situations.
They're on Earth because they've made a deal with Lord Greyhaven, a rich bloke with plenty of visionary enthusiasm and a history of being involved with the British Space Effort. Greyhaven believes he can restore the country to its former glory by trading various common bits and bats for advanced technology. To this end Greyhaven does away with the Prime Minister and forms his own Provisional Government. Of course, both Greyhaven and the Martian Lord are planning to double cross each other.
There are some excellent set pieces along the way, featuring a battle with two Martian warriors at the house on Allen Road, Bernice sneaking aboard a Martian shuttle, the Doctor saving a cat and then having to face an intelligent Martian virus in single combat (the result of which ends up making the last fifty pages or so extremely tense) and the Doctor's final descent from the warship to the Tower of London. I was also particularly pleased to see Bradford get a mention. Twice.
The prose is consistently entertaining and on occasion it reaches heights previously only scaled by Daniel O'Mahony in Falls the Shadow. My personal favourite was a long passage detailing the moment you become aware of your own breathing and your organs working, a passage that ends (if you'll excuse the pun) with 'the food being turned into shit in your stomach.' Cheers for that mental image Lance, I'd never followed it that far before, I usually stop at the breathing bit.
Ultimately, I think Lungbarrow did a better job of bookending the New Adventures series in terms of the 'adventures too broad and too deep for the small screen' slogan. However, The Dying Days is a much better introduction to the Eighth Doctor than The Eight Doctors, and a glimpse at what might have been had the BBC not snatched back the license.
It's not the third best Doctor Who book of all time, but it is an exciting read that grabs you and doesn't let go until the very last page.
Review by Tom Hey