THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "TIME
EVENTS OF THIS STORY
ARE PRECEDED BY THE
SEVENTH DOCTOR NOVEL
OFFICIAL VIRGIN 'MISSING
RELEASED IN JULY 1994.
Manchester, 1993. The
vampires of Great
Britain have received
a message: the long-
awaited arrival of
their evil messiah is
imminent. It's time for
a recruitment drive.
Tasmania with Tegan
and the Doctor, Nyssa
is attacked by a
demonic child. She
escapes unharmed -
except for two small
in her neck.
descendants of the
Great Vampire so
desperate to obtain
the blood of a Time
Lord? And what is
their connection to a
“Goth Opera” is a masterstroke of marketing. It is also one hell of a good read. The gimmick of a seventh Doctor New Adventure splendidly dovetailing into a fifth Doctor Missing Adventure – the first Missing Adventure, no less – is one sure-fire way of sucking fans into this sibling range of novels. Another even better way is to have Paul Cornell write the first one…
One of the greatest strengths of the Virgin range has been the fresh blood that it has used. Of this ‘new generation’ of writers, Cornell has been both one of the most prolific and one of the the most impressive - “Timewyrm: Revelation”, “Love and War”, and “No Future” are without doubt some of the best New Adventures to date. However, as Peter Darvill-Evans makes clear in his Preface to this novel, these Missing Adventures are “…new stories with old Doctors,” but are not as modern or experimental in nature as the New Adventures.
“Each Missing Adventures will slot seamlessly into a gap between television stories, and… will… have the flavour of the television stories in which they are embedded.”
Even so, I found “Goth Opera” to be a beautifully modern story written very much in the same style as Cornell’s New Adventures. The adult themes are all still here, though “Goth Opera” does somehow possess a more traditional feel. Maybe it is reading about the 1980s regulars; maybe it is the lighter page count. Maybe it is because Cornell is working within a net – at the end of the story, the toys all have to go back in the box. Nyssa cannot become a Vampire, Tegan cannot die and the Doctor cannot regenerate. Considering the restrictions these Missing Adventures appear to have, “Goth Opera” does a superb job at having the reader the proverbial edge of the seat…
A key theme that runs throughout “Goth Opera” is that of uncertainty. The society of the Time Lords has always been a difficult one to imagine; how could a race of people live their lives knowing everything that is to come? Well, the answer is that they could not and they do not. The idea that Time Lords cannot travel back to Gallifrey’s past seems like old hat now, but it is still a wonderful idea that allows them to maintain their relative omnipotence without the danger of rubbing themselves out. Cornell takes the notion a step further here, painting a great big giant question mark over the future of Gallifrey. “Goth Opera” postulates that Gallifrey’s present exists in Earth’s distant past, and that after a certain date TARDISes cannot enter Gallifreyan space. Not only is the history of the Time Lords set in stone, their future is as uncertain as anybody else’s. I love this concept; I think it is absolutely ingenious, not to mention fascinating. Best of all though, this conceit gives the villain of the piece a good, solid motive for what she does – a motive solid enough, one might think, that the Doctor might even be swayed by it…
Early on in his novel Cornell introduces us to Ruath, the Time Lady that Romana bumps
into on Gallifrey at the end of “Blood Harvest”. She is a contemporary of the Doctor’s – a member of that infamous ‘year’ that spawned the Master, the Rani, Mortimus et al. There are hints of a previous relationship between Ruath and the Doctor - not a sexual one, of course, just a sort of innocent, teenage romance. They used to break into TARDISes together, that sort of thing. They even planned to run away together. In the years since the Doctor left Gallifrey, Ruath has studied a great deal and learned about the Vampires, and discovered some troubling home truths. Ruath believes that Rassilon was bitten by the Great Vampire, and that due to this his legacy of Time Lords share an astonishing 98% of their genetic material with their ancient enemies. Twisted by her fears about Gallifrey’s unknown future, Ruath plans seek out Yarven - the ‘Vampire Messiah’ - on Earth (whom Bernice released at the end of “Blood Harvest”… or do I mean will release?) and help him raise a hybrid army to conquer Gallifrey and make it a power for all time. To do this, Ruath breaks all the laws of time, allowing herself to meet the Doctor ‘out of sequence’ as it were, going after him when she perceives him to be in his ‘weakest’ incarnation – his fifth. Because Ruath comes from the seventh Doctor’s era, the whole notion of 'toys back in the box' goes right out of the window because she is meddling with the established timeline. Nyssa could become a Vampire. Tegan could die. The Doctor could regenerate…
From reading this review, you could be forgiven for thinking that “Goth Opera” is a hideously complicated continuity-fest, steeped in more Gallifreyan lore than a Marc Platt paperback.
And at times, Cornell does over-egg his pudding a bit – for example Glitz and Dibber show up, Mel is mentioned (she has left Glitz and gone back to Earth, apparently) and Romana is made a mysterious offer by President Flavia… President Romana, anyone? I mean, personally I love all this stuff, but I am sure there are those out there who will not; especially
all the talk of Rassilon, Omega and the Other. In truth though, these elements are important
to the story but they are not the whole story.
About ninety-five per cent of “Goth Opera” is about Nyssa and the rise of the Vampires, and is a wonderfully written story about her inner struggle that showcases her strength, her resilience, and best of all actually deals with her grief over the death of her father, Tremas – something that the television series never adequately explored in my opinion. I am also incredibly impressed with a Doctor Who novel being set on Earth and in England and outside the Home Counties! Cornell depicts Manchester as being the fashionable city that it is - nightclubs, shops, and students; but he also takes time to show the other side of the spectrum - the residents of Manchester that live on the streets, those who are not so fortunate. As a result, “Goth Opera” has a wonderful freshness to it.
Cornell’s story also contains some truly haunting imagery. The thing that I think will always stick in my head about “Goth Opera” are the scenes of apocalyptic chaos. Ruath uses some sort of ‘Time Freeze’ to plunge the world into darkness, causing unimaginable panic and mayhem. The importance of this is underlined by the presence of the evangelist Lang who ends up becoming a Vampire, his very existence at odds with his faith. It is superbly written.
I also found Cornell’s Vampire Baby – ‘the Child’ as they call it – to be exquisitely gruesome, and truly disturbing. It would have killed off Mary Whitehouse were this a 1983 television serial!
Moreover, the two young Vampires – Jake and Madeleine – enjoy some particularly visual scenes (especially at the very beginning of the novel where Jake converts Madeleine) and pan out to be two of the most compelling characters in the book overall. Ruath’s suicidal regeneration is also a powerful image that sticks in the mind, although it does beg the question as to why Ruath actually needed the Doctor around if she was always willing to
take one of her lives for the cause. She would have gotten away with it too if he had not have been there! Nevertheless, one very minor niggle cannot spoil an otherwise phenomenal story.
But despite its overall bleakness, there is a lot of hope within the pages of “Goth Opera.” Jake and Madeleine’s fate is a wonderfully executed idea and quite romantic in a strange, gothic way, and Nyssa’s triumph over the Vampiric nature that is consuming her is also very satisfying to read.
And so in all, I think it is fair to say that Cornell is rapidly becoming one of my favourite Doctor Who novelists, and if “Goth Opera” is anything to go by it looks like I am going to be as hooked on these Missing Adventures as I am on their sister series!
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Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This novel’s blurb places it between the television serials Snakedance and Mawdryn Undead. However, the events of the story follow on directly from those depicted in the seventh Doctor novel Blood Harvest, which was released at the same time but (from the Doctor’s point of view) occurs much later.
This novel is also notable in that it sews the seeds of Roman’s ascent to the Time Lord presidency. When
we next hear from Romana in The Chaos Pool, she is not yet President, but is already contemplating one
of the most radical reforms that she’d make when in power – opening the doors of Gallifrey’s Academy to
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