THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVELS "SEEING I"
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN JULY 1998.
It is 3999. Micawber's
World is hosting the
Olympic Games, and
athletes from all the
are coming to take
part. But when the
Doctor arriveS, THE
murders soon begin...
himself drafted in to
examine some bizarre
new drugs that are
said to enhance the
of the athletes. But
what is their real
purpose? Why are
members of Security
randomly? And why
is Chase Carrington,
manufacturer of the
drug, so protective
of his company's
Micawber's World, is
a race of parasites
the Doctor has fought
The Wirrrn have come
to the Milky Way from
Andromeda, AND THEY
ARE determined to
spread their seed
throughout a whole
After the extraordinarily heavyweight Seeing I from Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman, Gary Russell’s monster romp Placebo Effect offers readers a something of a reprieve.
Black Sheep’s striking cover illustration sums up exactly what to expect from this one – the Intergalactic Olympics in the year 3999, dodgy drugs, and the return of an adversary that at the time of release hadn’t been seen in Doctor Who since the 1975 television serial The
Ark in Space – the Wirrn. Indeed, even the shadow of the Wirrn on the cover is rather telling as, despite the author selling this one as a prequel to the original Wirrn story, their presence is not felt in earnest until very late in the day, yet their boding evil hangs over the entire story.
In my view, Russell uses the Wirrn far more productively here than Robert Holmes did back in 1975. The author’s introduction to the novel betrays the level of thought that he has put into the nature and mechanism of the Wirrn hive mind; he even draws a rather grisly parallel with the Borg of the Star Trek universe, who ‘assimilate’ being into their collective consciousness by implanting them with cybernetic implants, whilst the Wirrn ‘assimilate’ in a fashion that is far less clean, and arguably much more distressing. I think it also speaks volumes that the author chose to continue the literary trend started by Ian Marter when he novelised The Ark in Space in May 1977, spelling Wirrn as ‘Wirrrn’, subtly setting these creatures apart in the minds of the reader from the woefully-realised Wirrn that Tom Baker’s Doctor previously encountered on the Ark.
Furthermore, the plot that Russell’s Wirrrn (sic) inhabit is rather inspired, albeit a tad cynical. The Wirrrn of this novel – which is set many years prior to The Ark in Space, chronologically speaking – have travelled from Andromeda with the intention of using the Olympic Games being held on Micawber’s World to spread their seed throughout the Milky Way. How? By playing on the weakness and greed of the participating athletes. By inserting their DNA into performance enhancing drugs…
“Some of us might be heartless to point out that if they hadn’t taken the drugs,
or wanted to cheat in the Games, they wouldn’t be in the predicament.”
However, Placebo Effect is as much of a sequel to The Leisure Hive as it is a prequel to The Ark in Space. Here Russell spends at least as many words fleshing out the mafia-like culture of the Foamasi as he does re-establishing the Wirrrn, and to be frank I probably enjoyed the Foamasi’s thread of the plot every bit as much as I did the Wirrrn’s, if not more so.
I also enjoyed reading about the
Doctor and Sam back together
again, particularly now that Sam
is a more seasoned adventurer.
Placebo Effect dwells heavily on
Sam’s own awareness about how much she has changed over the last few years, as well as
how far askew her perceptions really are. Her dealings with the Church of the Way Forward, and particularly with her pseudo-love interest Kyle Dale, illustrate quite succinctly just how far she has come, and just how far she has to go.
For the Doctor’s part, I have to say that Russell really captures Paul
McGann’s Doctor very well on the page. I read Russell’s novelisation
of the TV Movie before I ever saw it (on the day of broadcast, believe
it or not – I was that excited!) and so Russell’s interpretation of the
invigorating and unsettlingly cool eighth Doctor was my first taste of
the character. As such it’s nice to see that initial zest revived here,
particularly as it would be utterly despoiled over the course of the
And, as always, continuity is Russell’s watchword and so here he
weaves a few carefully constructed sentences into the text to give
voice to some of his pet theories on the subject. For example, here
Russell addresses the eighth Doctor’s unique ability to see patterns
in time and forecast the future, as well as his half-human lineage.
“Remember not long after we first met,
and I dropped you off at that Greenpeace rally in Canada?
Well, you know that while only a few hours passed for you…”
More manifestly though, this novel also posits that the Radio
Times comic strips took place in the three-year gap between
The Eight Doctors and Vampire Science, resurrecting both
Stacy Townsend and Ssard from those adventures to give
them one hell of a send-off here as their dream wedding goes
And so whilst it may not be Russell’s best original novel by
any means (it isn’t even in the same league as the likes of
The Scales of Injustice and Business Unusual), I still rate
Placebo Effect very highly. Those after a gritty and thoroughly
terrifying tale from someone who can spell Wirrn would be
better directed towards Nicholas Briggs’ thrilling audio drama
Wirrn Dawn, but those looking for some good old-fashioned
fun with two classic series’ monsters need look no further. A
big thumbs up.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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