THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN JANUARY
A hideous misshapen
creature releases a
Sometime Never… marked the beginning of the end for the eighth Doctor in print. It brought BBC Books’ last long-running story arc to a resounding close, masterfully tying up many of the range’s long-standing threads (as well as few from its ‘past Doctor’ sister range besides), inflaming and inspiring as it went.
Justin Richards’ tightly-plotted tale finally explains who it was that drove the Wraiths out of
the Time Vortex in The Slow Empire; why the Doctor’s second heart became so diseased that it had to be cut out; and even why so many companions whose paths had crossed with the seventh or eighth Doctors met with such gloomy fates. Admittedly, at times it over-eggs the pudding a little – we don’t really need to have each and every one of Sabbath’s actions expounded upon, nor do we need a befuddling ‘Master in the TARDIS’ scene that, at best,
is an extraneous prelude to a story that probably never happened. The alternate Unearthly Child coda is arguably even worse. Still, such things are at least in keeping with the book’s Schrödinger spirit.
Moreover, the reveal concerning the haunting black eye sun first seen in The Adventuress
of Henrietta Street and what it represents is tremendously disappointing, though it’s unfair to lay the blame for this at the author’s door. The now-notorious legal battle between the Beeb and the Terry Nation estate prevented the Daleks from taking centre stage here as originally planned, and so Richards found himself in the unenviable position of having to create an all-new threat that could apparently match them for might. And, whilst the Council of Eight are a tad derivative and even more nebulous, they are a sufficiently intriguing and imposing brood. Their plan may be intangible but its effects are absolutely mind-boggling. I might not quite be able to fathom exactly how the energies secondary to the collapse of Earth’s history can turn a race of never-people into surrogate Lords of Time, but to its credit Sometimes Never… had me believing that it was possible, and on the edge of my seat to boot.
The sheer scope of the Council’s actions lends them a sense of menace that most one-off heel factions couldn’t hope to match. Even in the expanded universe of novels and audios, the death of a Doctor Who companion is a remarkably rare event, and so to have Octan and his cronies searching through the last couple of Doctors’ timelines and killing off those who they say have been “tainted” by contact with him really puts them on another level. Perhaps even more effective is the idea of the Schrödinger cell, and that a companion can be locked away from history’s reach. And of all the assistants to use to typify such a terror, who better than loveable old Jo Grant?
Indeed, where Sometime Never… seems to excel is not in its most sweeping moments, but in its deeply personal ones. The Doctor and Miranda’s final scene together is nothing short of agonising - the reader can almost feel something inside the Doctor break - and Richards’ handling of the Doctor / Sabbath relationship is even more stirring still. Each is revealed as being a reflection of the other – one “a rogue element” whose every existence obviates any sort of prognostication; the other a man of such obstinate predictability that he can be used as the ultimate counter-measure against him. Rather ironically, where this leads narratively
is entirely expected, but that doesn’t make it any less romantic or inspiring.
Fitz and Trix are each handled
well too, this novel giving them
their first real chance to shine
together. The whole ‘Horatio
Sponge / Crystal Devine’ skit
is beautifully farcical and, when
looked a number of years after
publication, also quite telling as
to what fate might have in store
for these two. That much said,
Richards does take the time to
explore Trix’s sensitive side by
giving her an aunt-like role with
the princes. Just like the folks in
Hustle, she may be a grifter, but
she’s one with a heart.
Yet for all its splendour and significance, Sometime Never… is an astonishingly effortless read, particularly hot on the heels of an opaque offering like Emotional Chemistry. Although the plot is ostensibly very abstract, the narrative is crammed with old-school corridor action and punctuated with cliffhanger-like set pieces. Each scene is relayed simply and effectively, to such an extent that had the author’s name been kept from me, I’d have probably put this one down to Terrance Dicks. Whether that’s a complement or slight is very much in the eye of the beholder, but it’s certainly intended to be the former.
Sometime Never… may be contentious in more ways than one, but on the whole I think that it does an outstanding job of drawing a line under the majority of the eighth Doctor’s book-bound adventures. Wrapping up so many storylines it really feels like the end of an era, yet enough is left open to have begged another sixty-seven releases, had the BBC so wished. Sadly though, they didn’t, and before too long the provocative titles of the Wilderness Years would be sacrificed in favour of polished, but generally less ambitious, tie-in titles...
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.
The restoration of the multiverse at the end of this story suggests that the Doctor’s ill-fated companions who the Council of Eight killed or cut out of history (namely Jo, Sarah Jane, Harry, Mel, Ace and Sam) had their original timelines restored, at least in some version(s) of history. We know from the revived series that Sarah Jane Smith survived the events of Bullet Time, and Ace is something of a case in point, as in Loving the Alien the seventh Doctor replaced his fallen Ace with a near-identical version of her from another quantum reality.
It is difficult to reconcile the events of this novel with the audio drama The Kingmaker, released a couple of years later, which would posit that Richard III’s “nephews” were in fact nieces! However, given the myriad of alternative timelines potentially at play here, we think there’s room in the universe for both interpretations...
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