‘There’s no such thing as magic,’ the Doctor said.


But the land of Elbyon might just prove him to be wrong. It is a place, populated by creatures of fantasy, where myth and legend rule. Elves and dwarves live in harmony with mankind, wizards wield arcane powers and armoured knights battle monstrous dragons.


Whose sinister manipulations are threatening the stability of a once peaceful lanD?


To solve these puzzles, and save his companions, the Doctor must learn to use the sorcery whose very existence he doubts.









The Sorcerer's Apprentice

JULY 1995





The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the third Christopher Bulis novel that I have read. It is also the third Christopher Bulis novel that I have liked. And whilst none of the three have been anything to write home about, they have all been good Doctor Who stories based on fascinating premises.

Bulis’s central idea here again seems to boil down to a single image. Last time around it was electricity pylons and zeppelins in the skies above ancient Rome; this time it is the TARDIS materialising in the magical land of Avalon – a mystical world of dragons, wizards, dwarves, and elves. Sound familiar? At first, perhaps. But rest assured Bulis does not just bash out a Doctor Who homage to The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice does one of the things that the series does best of all – offer a scientific explanation for otherwise inexplicable phenomena.

© Virgin 1995. No copyright infringement is intended.My only real criticisms of Bulis’s previous works have been that I find his characterisation of the Doctor lacking. In Shadowmind, for example, the seventh Doctor came across as far too generic, and similarly the sixth Doctor that we saw in State of Change didn’t immediately put me in mind of Colin Baker’s portrayal. However, Bulis has got Hartnell’s first Doctor down to a tee here. Even when his companions are beginning to accept the strange things that they see around them as fact, the Doctor holds firm in his beliefs. The author captures the bluster and intransigence that Hartnell brought to the role perfectly. There are too many great scenes for the Doctor in this book to mention in a short review, but his confrontation with the wizard Gramling stands out particularly.

Moreover, Bulis handles the three original companions superbly. As the first chronological Doctor Who novel (at least thus far), it was vital that this book really evoked a strong sense of that first televised season - particularly in Ian and Barbara’s attitudes - and it succeeded splendidly. As I was reading, I could picture the events being played out in monochrome.

However, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is quite weak in some other areas. Dhal – the main protagonist – is a bit too over-the-top for the reader to be able to take him seriously. To be fair though, this does make a lot of sense following the big reveal at the end. I didn’t like a lot of the Empire / spaceship sections, either. I appreciated the nod to Andy Lane’s Original Sin, and I understand how the ship’s presence is vital to the plot, but nevertheless I didn’t enjoy that part of the story anywhere near as much as the parts set on Avalon.

The final chapter is either a work of genius or very bad writing – I still can’t make up my mind which. Surely great swathes of dialogue explaining what had just happened in the previous chapter are not the mark of a skilled wordsmith? Even so, I don’t think that anyone can deny the effectiveness of Bulis’s final paragraph. It simply encapsulates the whole essence of the novel, and more importantly, says a hell of a lot about the first Doctor’s character:

           “… I did hold one key fact firmly in mind which proved useful.”
           “Oh, what was that?”
           “That there is no such thing as magic,” said the Doctor.
           They entered the police box and the door closed.
            A moment later the deep thrumming pulse of dematerialisation sounded in the yard. And, almost magically, the TARDIS faded away.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006


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