THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO DRAMA
"LURKERS AT SUNLIGHT'S
EDGE" AND THE NOVEL
"CAT'S CRADLE: WITCH
OFFICIAL VIRGIN 'NEW
RELEASED IN APRIL
The place is Earth.
The time is the future
– all too near.
As destruction of the
the point of no return,
and rich individuals
unite in a desperate
effort – not to save
humankind, but to buy
If Earth is to survive,
somebody has to stop
From London to New
York to Turkey, Ace
follows the Doctor
as he prepares to
Andrew Cartmel seems to have a very bleak vision of the near future. The world painted by Cat’s Cradle: Warhead seems to be a summation of all our worst fears about where the planet is headed. Yet, for all its grime, it is relentlessly compelling. It pushes the envelope much further than, say, The Green Death did on the environmental issue; it vividly describes a future that is terrifyingly real; it features some memorable characters; it truly
lives up to the mantle of being “too broad and too deep for the small screen”; and, most importantly of all, I just couldn’t put it down.
Behind Cartmel’s beautiful and evocative prose lies a very simple plot. O’Hara, amoral owner of the multinational Butler Institute, fears death and seeks immortality. The Earth is dying, and so he reasons that to survive the human race needs to transplant its collective consciousness into machines. It’s up to the Doctor and Ace to stop him, and to do so, the Doctor plans to use a child with strange powers - Vincent - as a “warhead”, and Justine - a young ‘witch,’ for want of a better word - as his emotional “detonator”…
As in the previous novel, Marc Platt’s Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, the Doctor is absent
for most of the narrative. However, his absence works far better in this book than it did in the last for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Cartmel doesn’t write from the Doctor’s perspective; he is always the stranger encountered by another character. This serves to enhance his mystery in a way that I didn’t expect. In television adventures like Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis, which were of course overseen by Cartmel, the mystery of the Doctor was derived from hints concerning the secrets of his apparently dark past. Here, however, it is
not the Doctor’s past that is a mystery; it is the Doctor himself. Moreover, his actions often engender doubt in the reader, his inscrutable motives on occasion causing as much alarm as the deeds of the antagonists.
In the absence of the Doctor,
Cartmel focuses largely on
brand new characters. This doesn’t do anything for the novel’s accessibility in the earlygoing, but looking back
with hindsight, my favourite
parts of the story were all carried by new characters.
Justine is very alluring – a believer in black magic and the occult, drawn into the Doctor’s trap through an article that he wrote to help “detonate” his warhead. Her influence on Ace
is particularly fascinating to read about; how she challenges her preconceptions. In all her travels through time and space, Ace had always believed that the Doctor’s powers came from science, and suddenly she is facing the possibility that the Doctor merely says he’s
an alien because he thinks that’s what she‘ll most easily accept, when in reality he may be something else altogether.
And although Cartmel never explains where his inner power comes from, or even the nature of that power, the teenage boy Vincent works spectacularly well. We follow his life from an “incident” with his father at a very young age, through his obsessive collecting of computer games and limited edition magazines (sound familiar, Who fans?) to his eventual kidnap. The way in which Cartmel conveys the small concerns of the character is wonderful; he is thrust into the middle of all these massive global events, yet his chief anxieties are those of any teenage boy. His computer games. His magazines. Women. Why he’s in a bath naked with Ace…
Stephanie also stuck in my mind as a particularly memorable character. An employee of the Butler Institute, she is not evil per se, but she’s still ambitious, superficial, and utterly devoid of any morals – more than anything else, a victim of her time. She thinks nothing of breathing with another woman’s lungs – a woman who was killed and harvested to save Stephanie just because she wasn’t as subjectively important.
Ace also fares well, although she appears to have matured by about a decade overnight.
In the last novel, she was still the rebellious teenager of the television series, just starting to come out of her shell. Here, however, she’s portrayed as being a seasoned, ass-kicking, trans-temporal warrior. Ace spends a good chunk of this novel on her own having fights to the death with Kurdish terrorists and the like, which feels like a huge jump from the Ace that we know. Presumably her experience with the Phazels in the previous novel forced her to grow up a little bit, and fast.
If I had to pick fault with this wonderful novel, I’d have point out that aside from a very forced reference to a silver cat, I really don’t see anything that links this novel to the previous one. Whilst this doesn’t detract from the book in any way, it does beg the question: why persist with the Cat’s Cradle tagline? Maybe my take on this will change after reading the final book in the trilogy, though so far this second run of stories certainly seem to lack the cohesion of the preceding Timewyrm saga.
Altogether then, Warhead is another triumph for the New Adventures. Spiky and brutal, this novel exceeds even the superlative standards of the author’s last two seasons as the series’ script editor, and comes highly recommend.
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.
Although it might seem strange to place what is most probably several subjective years’ worth of adventures in the middle of a trilogy of books – albeit an absurdly nebulous one - we feel that Andrew Cartmel’s portrayal of Ace in this novel demonstrates a marked change in the character – a change that could be accounted for by the spate of adventures that we believe have taken place since the preceding novel, Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible.
In any event, the Big Finish audio dramas featuring Hex have to take place prior to Ace’s departure in Love and War, and after Cat’s Cradle: Witchmark the TARDIS becomes infected with Tir na n-Óg protoplasm and remains infected until long after Ace has left the TARDIS crew (in fact, until after she’s left and returned!) The ‘Hex’ adventures must therefore take place before Cat’s Cradle: Witchmark at the very latest, but we still feel that they fit into things better between Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible and Cat’s Cradle: Warhead as explained above.
Once could speculate that the Big Finish audio dramas featuring Hex take place later in the New Adventures, whilst Bernice is off on side-trip somewhere, but this seems unlikely as she is not even mentioned in passing. Likewise, one could argue that the Hex adventures take place between Survival and Timewyrm: Genysys, and that the Doctor - for whatever reason - failed to restore Ace’s memories of them at the beginning of Timewyrm: Genysys, but this wouldn’t account for Ace’s apparent aging over the course of those adventures.
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