THIS STORY TAKES
place BETWEEN THE
NOVEL "TIME OF YOUR
LIFE" AND THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO DRAMA
RELEASED IN JUNE 1996.
The Doctor takes
Grant back TO HIS
home of Agora – only
to find a world in the
thrall of some of his
oldest and deadliest
foes. The Cybermen
have taken control
and set up a breeding
colony to propagate
their own race...
“Killing Ground” is right up there beside David Banks’ work as one of the most interesting and thought-provoking pieces every written about the Cybermen. This dark, gruesome and mesmerising novel chills throughout as Steve Lyons explores exactly what it means to become a Cyberman.
The best compliment that I can pay to the author is that on paper “Killing Ground” should not work, but yet it does. Take the Doctor, for example. He spends half of this book locked up in a cell feeling sorry for himself. What kind of novel can have its main character sidelined for such a length of time and still be worth its salt? This one. Take the Doctor’s companion, Grant Markham. By the Doctor’s own admission, he is rubbish. What kind of novel can take a pitiable companion and make him compelling? This one.
The Doctor may be locked up for a hundred or so pages, but in those chapters we learn more about him that we usually do when he is off saving worlds. And of course, inevitably, he escapes and saves the day. He almost commits suicide in the process, but that only fuels the intrigue surrounding this post-Trial Doctor.
And as for Grant, sure he is not very good. But that’s the whole point. The Doctor is desperately trying to fight the future, and on some level he thinks that if he avoids his usual choice of companion-material, he avoids becoming the Valeyard. Furthermore, it is Grant’s weaknesses that make him so remarkable. Returning to his home world of Agora, Grant learns the secrets of his past and even watches his father be converted into a Cyberman. Lyons’ masterfully shows us the wheels turning in Grant’s head as we see how, point by point, Grant Markham makes the decision to become a ‘Bronze Knight’ – the Agoran equivalent of a Cyberman.
“Imagine that you can live forever and life is totally free from pain.
You can see all things with clarity, unblinkered by irrelevant details.
You will never fear, never sicken, never lose control.
That is what the Cybermen are offering.”
This brings me to the central theme of “Killing Ground” – cyberconversion and its commensurate horrors. Naturally, the most key chapter in the novel – ‘How Does It Feel?’ – describes in cold and clinical terms the physical maiming of the human body and its subsequent fusion with plastic and steel, but I found that the gore was as nothing when compared to the psychological horror. Hegelia – an obsessive cyber historian from the
future – puts herself forward for conversion. She wants to be a Cyberman. And as the humanity is stripped away from her, she records her observations. Anaesthetised, she does not feel pain as such; the terror comes from her final epiphany as the cyber-helmet is lowered over her head – she will soon be gone. The voice in her head is not her own, and it is getting louder. The Doctor was right. The question ‘how does it feel?’ cannot be answered because like the dead, those who find out cannot communicate the information as nothing of the person converted survives.
Finally, Lyons’ has to be congratulated as he has managed to take the most maligned of Cybermen – the “Revenge of the Cybermen”-era Cybermen – and use them to devastating effect. Yes, they still stand with their hands on their hips, but at least the helmet / gun debate is finally settled. The guns are for range, you see…
Put simply, this is a Doctor Who novel that must be read. Were this ever televised, “Killing Ground” would have both children and adults alike behind the sofa. It is cold and it is dark and it is absolutely brilliant.
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 adventure takes place between the television stories The Trial of a Time Lord and Time and the Rani, and follows on from Time of Your Life. This would be the last official release to feature Grant Markham, the story of the character’s departure being reserved for the charity anthology Perfect Timing.
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