THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVELS "THE SLOW
CITY OF THE DEAD."
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN AUGUST
Ceres Alpha is being
developed. ITS surface
crawls with gigantic
ARE PREPARING IT FOR
THE colonisation THAT
WorldCorp is finding
things more difficult
than he would like.
The whole project
seems to be falling
apart under an ever-
increasing burden of
strange babies been
born with telekinetic
powers? Why won't
the terraforming go
according to plan?
AND Why are they
more problems with
the systems that run
answer. A mysterious
only as the Doctor.
Dark Progeny - the embodiment of the difficult second album. Few writers have impressed me more with a debut novel than Steve Emmerson did with Casualties of War, but such accomplishment gives rise to great expectations, and even fewer writers are able to live up to them when asked to deliver a second tome. Regrettably Emmerson can’t count himself amongst their number as, in his precipitous attempt to prove that he wasn’t a one-book wonder, he ended up strongly suggesting otherwise.
It’s hard to point to another Doctor Who novel that falls into as many familiar traps as Dark Progeny does. Whilst one could argue that a story capable of being shot in a grey-walled studio and a disused quarry helps to capture the spirit of the television series, it invariably feels like a waste when the printed word offers no budgetary boundaries. Similarly, unless
it serves the plot, there is no good reason to sideline companions for great swaths of the narrative. On television, a week’s holiday for Patrick Troughton often meant that the Doctor needed twenty-five minutes or so’s concussion, but in print I feel that the companions should not only be utilised but explored. Dark Progeny does neither with either.
Worst of all though is Emmerson’s
storyline – a calamitous string of
hackneyed conceits and derivative
set pieces. We have the Doctor
posing as medical Doctor whom
he’s been mistaken for; a villainous
corporation conducting illegal and
amoral experiments; another planet
that’s not only alive, but threatened
by the humans who are ransacking
its resources; hell, Emmerson even
wheels out the mind probe… and in
deadly earnestness too.
This is a real pity as, conceptually, Dark Progeny had massive potential. The fundamental idea, which is encapsulated superbly by Black Sheep’s harrowing cover illustration (above), is one so grim and grotesque that it should have been one of most disturbing Doctor Who stories ever told. Telekinetic mutant infants who’ve been whisked away from their parents
at birth, hidden away and then experimented upon? Children so powerful, deadly and full of rage that they won’t even stay dead, rising from the soil of the planet that ensouled them in order to seek retribution against their would-be killers? Quarry or no, they could never have pulled that off on the telly - not while Mary Whitehouse had a breath left in her battered old frame anyway.
However, the book’s moments of terror are all too ephemeral and are ultimately drowned by the carnival of conventions and clichés. Reading it again for the purposes of this review, the only cold moments that left an impression of me were those carried by Veta and Josef, who at the start of the novel are told that their baby has been stillborn, only to later find that he did not perish but was taken away and experimented upon. The author does a very effective job of getting us inside the mother’s head as she swings from anguish to anger and back again. Everything else here is generic and forgettable though, and if I didn’t know better I’d swear that it hadn’t been penned by the same man that put his name to Casualties of War.
It’s now been a little over nine years since Dark Progeny saw print, and a little over nine years since we last heard from its author. It’s tempting to infer the obvious from the lack of any further Doctor Who commissions, but to be honest I hope that this doesn’t prove to be Emmerson’s final offering. His first novel was so extraordinary that one can’t fault his zeal when it came to following it up, even if that follow-up proved to be as disappointing as Dark Progeny did. And now, having had the best part of a decade to ferment some new ideas, there’s probably a novel waiting to get out of this feller that would rival or even surpass his first. Here’s hoping that one day someone lets it.
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.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.