THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE DURING THE
BETWEEN THE NOVELS
OFFICIAL VIRGIN 'NEW
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
the world iS about to
be overwhelmed by a
disaster that might
of Earth’s magnetic
Deep in an Antartic
base, the FLIPback
team is frantically
devising a system to
reverse the change
Above them, the SS
Elysium carries its
jet-set passengers on
the ultimate cruise.
On board iS Ruby, a
journalist sent to
record the FLIPback
moment. Instead she
finds a man called
the Doctor, who is
locked out of the
strange green box
he says is merely
a part of his time
machine. And she
finds old enemies of
the Doctor: silver
giants at work
beneath the ice.
Iceberg is a novel that history has recently caught up with. It is also the first original Doctor Who story to be written by an actor who had appeared in the television series. And, most importantly of all, Iceberg has the distinction of being the first original Doctor Who novel that I ever read.
I vividly remember first learning about the Doctor’s New Adventures back in 1994 through Jean-Marc Lofficier’s Doctor Who Programme Guide (Third Edition), my bible at the time. Leaping to the rather immature conclusion that as the Cybermen were in Iceberg, then that must be the most exciting one, I rushed out to the Sheffield Space Centre to try and put my hands on a copy. Had there been a Dalek novel on the market at that time, no doubt I would have gone for that instead, but as it turned out, I parted with my £4.50 pocket money and went home with a shiny-white copy of Iceberg, expecting something very, very different to that which I would soon find myself reading.
“Fuck you, mate! Just fuck you, you fucking wanker!”
Somehow I doubt my parents would’ve sanctioned my reading of this book had they known of the author’s penchant for colourful language and ‘sexual politics’. At the time, of course, I thought it was fantastic - a Doctor Who book furnished with swearing and shagging! It made it all seem that much more real to me; that much more relatable. With hindsight though, this book’s adult content does feel a tad wanton on occasion – particularly all the sexual tension inside the Snowcap Tracking Station that is wholly incidental to the story.
That said, I strongly feel that what makes Iceberg unique is the manner in which it is written. Fair dues, the plot is a little threadbare – neither the Doctor nor the Cybermen even arrive until we are well over halfway through. Yet somehow, from its very first page, this adventure
is utterly engrossing. To think that David Banks, the towering actor who portrayed the mono-syllabic Cyberleader on television for so many years, could be capable of writing such a detailed and evocative novel is incredible; I would never have put the two together. Banks creates the world of 2006 with such clarity and imbues his principal character, the journalist Ruby Duvall, with such allure that back in 1994, I couldn’t stop reading. And having re-read Iceberg again just this last week, the same holds true today.
In fact, I probably enjoyed Iceberg more this time around. As a teen, the tackling of two hundred and fifty-off pages took a gargantuan effort; today though, Iceberg feels relatively succinct. Banks’ novel, whilst slowly paced, never feels dull or padded. Every character introduced, every bizarre situation that Ruby finds herself in on board the SS Elysium,
every Chinese proverb explored – they all serve their purpose.
Furthermore, with 2006 now upon
us, I relished the opportunity to see
what Banks had got wrong about
the future at the time of writing.
Remarkably, the answer is very
little. His holocams and primitive
virtual reality tanks may have been
a little on the optimistic side, but
predominantly Banks’ predictions
were right on the money. He may
have called euros ‘ECUS’ and
dictation software a ‘nanocom’, but he’s there or thereabouts. He even managed to perfectly predict the stringent security measures and the climate of fear stemming from the threat of terrorism, though I suppose terrorism is hardly anything new. It’s just more pronounced these days.
What’s more, considering their surprisingly sparse use, the Cybermen are magnificent. Banks knows their history better than anyone – he literally wrote the book on it – and with shameless zeal he weaves together the aftermath of both The Invasion and The Tenth Planet into a story about how Co-ordinator38 became the first Cybercontroller and about
how the Cybermen leftover from the 1970s invasion tried to convert an entire cruise liner
full of passengers into their next generation of foot soldiers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far
from being innovative or even remotely groundbreaking; the magic lies in how the story is told. Not only does the author have an inimitable understanding of the history of the race
that he once led on television, but he also has an immaculate understanding of what it is
that makes them so utterly terrifying. He sees the Cybermen in us and, more potently, he sees us in them, literally. Iceberg was the first adventure to show us the true horrors of Cyberconversion in all its grisly splendour; there is stuff in here that made my younger self want to puke and, you have to remember, when this was first published in 1993 the likes
of Killing Ground and Real Time were still years away. Back in the day this was all new.
And there’s so much more to like. Ruby’s tragic back story is told with such passion and flair that one is forced to question why she never became a series regular. I suppose in many ways she’s too similar to Benny, particularly in her predilection for first-person narration and wry, almost depressive, cynicism. Moreover, the SS Elysium is populated with a whole host of similarly diverse and absorbing characters. At one point, Banks’ even shares his insight into what its like to be trapped in a Cyberman costume courtesy of one his characters that has to dress up as the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Even the FLIPback team have their charm – General Pam Cutler is every bit her father’s daughter. Say what you will about his plot, Banks’ characterisation is second to none. The iceberg metaphor could extend to so many of these wonderful characters - they are all façades; their true selves lurking beneath the surface. And of course, this is truer of the Doctor than anyone else.
Sadly, it is only the Doctor, travelling in a “TARDIS echo” in the form a jade pagoda, that disappoints in this book. Not only is not around for most of the story, but when he does eventually show up he is written a little too broadly for my liking – he doesn’t immediately scream out Sylvester McCoy at you. It makes me wonder, in fact, whether this novel would have benefited from his exclusion altogether – perhaps Iceberg would’ve been better were
it written as a story like Downtime or even the video version of Shakedown; a variation on
a theme rather than a bona fide Doctor Who story.
As you have probably gathered by now, Iceberg left a profound impression on me when I
first read it twelve years ago, and I was delighted to discover that my love for it remains as strong today as it always has. With the amount of books that I have sat on my shelves just begging to be read, it may well be another twelve years before I have the time to visit the
SS Elysium again, but when I do, I have no doubt that I shall enjoy the trip.
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.
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