(ISBN 0-563-53866-X)







 With Fitz gone to his

 certain death and

 Anji back at work in

 the City, the Doctor

 is once more alone.

 But he has a lot to

 keep him occupied.

 in Siberia, scientists

 are busily at work

 in a haunted castle.

 JUST OVER a century

 earlier, creatures

 from a prehistory

 that never happened

 attack a geological

 expedition. CERTAIN

 Pages from the lost

 expedition's journal

 are put on display at

 the British Museum,

 and a US spy plane

 suffers a mysterious

 fate. Deep under the

 snowy landscape of

 Siberia the key to it

 all remains trapped

 in the ice.

 Only the Doctor can

 see that these events

 are all related. But

 he isn't the only ONE


 is Colonel Hartford

 so interested in the

 Institute? Who is the

 millionaire who is

 after the journal?

 How is the Grand

 Duchess involved?

 Soon the Doctor is

 caught up in a plot

 that reaches back

 to the creation of

 the Universe. And


   Time Zero.



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Time Zero







With the BBC, Big Finish and Telos all publishing new and apparently divergent adventures for the eighth Doctor, it’s actually quite surprising that it took until 2002 for BBC Books to take alternative timelines and forge a gripping story out of them. Time Zero sees Justin Richards takes a cold, hard look at whether the Doctor’s erratic existence could ever be confined to just one continuous but chaotic timeline, or whether his every action splits the universe, giving rise to a finite (but incomprehensibly huge) number of alternatives realities. Time Zero is also an important novel within BBC Books’ eighth Doctor range as it catapults the Sabbath arc forwards, introduces a new and alluring companion (albeit rather furtively), and, most importantly of all, does breathtaking things with both Anji and Fitz.


In what, at the time, was threatening to become a modest trend, Richards’ novel opens with an ending. Anji and Fitz say a startlingly emotive goodbye, and then she returns to her life in the big city; he signs up for a palaeontological expedition to Sibera; and the Doctor takes off to travel alone while he finishes growing a new second heart (to replace the one stolen and eventually destroyed by Sabbath). Particularly at the time of release, this narrative had a real buzz to it, as the rampant rumours about the break-up of this TARDIS crew appeared to be proving themselves terrifyingly true.


From there, the story marches forward towards the titular Time Zero, the tension mounting as the chapters count down, rather than up. This is a novel that certainly benefits from a second reading as, abounding as it is with dense temporal mechanics, restrained reveals and even a touch of amateur calligraphy, the reader cannot afford to miss a thing or he’s lost. Even the second time around, reading Time Zero feels more like study than it does entertainment; or at least it would do, were it not for the author’s dazzling characterisation.


Anji enjoys one of her strongest stories here. Whilst we all know now that Time Zero didn’t prove to be her swansong, had it done so it would have been one of the most prosaic, and thus one of the most innovative, companion departures of all time. Having exorcised Dave’s ghost on Endpoint, it makes perfect sense that Anji would jump ship at the first opportunity – one only need look at her discussion with Baskerville in Trading Futures to see how much she loved her job in the city. Whilst it’s not saving the world, running an orphanage, raising billions for charity or whatever else The Sarah Jane Adventures opine former companions should do, it’s true to her. Sadly her unexpected induction into US military black ops spoiled her plans…


Fitz, meanwhile, is afforded more development by Richards here than he had been since EarthWorld. Much like Anji, what’s interesting here is not so much what the character does, but why. Time Zero sees Fitz determine to make his own mark on history, and not as some vacuous celebrity crooner with a silly stage name, but as an explorer and adventurer. How tragic would it be then, if having finally discovered who he wanted to be, Fitz were to die?

He doesn’t, of course, but this book makes you think that he did, and when it does it damn near breaks your heart. I might hate cop-outs, generally speaking, but this novels was one that I embraced wholeheartedly.



The Doctor, for his part, finds

himself going toe to toe with

Sabbath once again, and in

very different circumstances

to last time. Their confrontation

in Camera Obscura was about

heart and soul, whereas Time

Zero is solid science. Sabbath

champions the notion that every

time the TARDIS lands and the

Doctor acts, history is diverted and a new timeline is created. The Doctor scoffs at such at

notion, as it would effectively render everything that he ever does completely hollow. Again,

for just a moment, Richards tortures his readers with a conceit that would fundamentally alter

the shape of the series and break many a heart in the process, including the two pounding

inside the Doctor’s chest. And then he rebuts it. And then resiles from that rebuttal in a last-minute twist. ‘Thrilling’ isn’t even the half of it.


The trouble is, Time Zero is bloody hard work. It has its rewards, I’ll grant you, and rich and frightening rewards they are, but the reader has to really graft for them. I’d be very surprised if anyone made it through this novel’s 275 pages without having read at least a quarter of them more than once. The question is, is it worth it, now that we have glossy brain-friendly feasts such as Turn Left that do a similar job in a quarter of the time? The answer is yes, particularly if you’re following the arc through, but that yes is followed by a crucial caveat – just.


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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