THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVELS "CHRISTMAS ON
A RATIONAL PLANET"
AND "COLD FUSION."
OFFICIAL VIRGIN 'NEW
RELEASED IN AUGUST
was JUST seven years
old when her father
said he turned and
ran from the Daleks
in battle. They said
searched for her
father. Now a clue
snatches her from
her honeymoon, back
to the TARDIS, and
on to England in the
year 1983. There she
leading a crew of
aliens, psychics and
EVEN fanboys. Their
mission: to save
father doing five
hundred years in his
own past? And why
has he been waiting
for the Doctor to
arrive? Can Benny
really trust the
man THAT she's been
looking for all her
the Living Dad
Return of the Living Dad has been a long time coming. It surprises me that Virgin waited until after Benny had left the TARDIS crew to finally sew up the story of her lost father, but that makes this novel no less welcome. In fact, of all Kate Orman’s novels to date, I’ve probably enjoyed this one the most.
After a dark and action-packed start, the pace of the story seems to slow quite considerably. I say seems to because it actually doesn’t; it’s just that the emphasis is not on the action, it’s on the characters. The relationship between Benny and her estranged father – Isaac – quite naturally takes centre-stage, but Orman also uses this new relationship to re-evaluate Benny / Jason, and even Benny / the Doctor. There is even one potentially alarming scene that sees Benny and the Doctor cuddled up half-naked in a sleeping bag, apparently “trying to see off hypothermia”. For its heavy subject matter, Return of the Living Dad is certainly lighthearted at times.
But despite often having its tongue in its cheek, Return of the Living Dad delves deeper into Benny’s past than any previous novel. We learn a lot more about the time that Benny spent living in a forest, and discover that many of her insecurities and neurosis are traceable back to her very first lover betraying her in the most appalling fashion. And so when she meets her long-lost father and discovers that he’s not a coward after all, but a demonstrably brave and determined man doing the best that he can to look after the alien waifs and strays on Earth (“mopping up after UNIT and C19”, as he puts it), she’s overjoyed. Overjoyed, that is, until she learns that he’s conspiring to start a nuclear war.
Isaac is not an out-and-out baddie though - he falls more into the ‘misguided’ category. His plan to provoke a nuclear war on Earth in 1983 was conceived as a means to try and kick-start the various superpowers’ weapons research so that they might develop new weapons that are capable of fighting off the Daleks when they eventually invade in the 22nd century. After avoiding fifty plotlines, just like they did in GodEngine, the Daleks play a tangential role here. We never actually see a Dalek, but their presence is definitely felt through Albinex and even the Ogrons.
“Beyond that, the satellite didn’t know and didn’t care what the plan was.
In its own dim way it was aware that the Daleks didn’t care much either….
Earth would keep.”
And as ever, I have to admit to being impressed by Orman’s wonderfully astute prose. I love how she implies that no matter how much the Daleks rant and screech, they are detached from everything that they do. If their plans fail, then it’s “no skin off their implants.” They’ll just try again. It’s actually rather frightening – the Daleks might not care, but they will never, ever give up. They will just keep on coming.
Orman also takes the opportunity to resolve another dangling plot thread – the attraction between Chris and Roz. Now this could have been absolutely awful, but Orman handles it quite charmingly. There is no mushy stuff; their physical dealings are suitably business-like and adjudicatory. My only complaint here is that by the end of the novel, it isn’t clear what’s happening between them. Have they decided to be just good friends? Or can they not let it go? I suspect the latter. There’s also a distinctly tragic whiff to things… perhaps the Carnival Queen’s premonition at the end of the last book may obviate any future relationship between these two.
For me though, it’s the little mysterious
chap in the fedora with the Scots burr
that steals the show. Return of the
Living Dad is completely littered with
New Adventures continuity – how many
times can an author milk the old ‘UNIT dating’ in-joke in just one book? – but
Orman gets away with it because she
takes some concepts put forward in
earlier novels and pushes them forward,
breaking new ground. For example, it
has been implied in prior novels that
the seventh Doctor ‘killed’ the sixth so that he could seize life and become Time’s Champion. In Return of the Living Dad, Orman posits that the seventh Doctor has been staving off his eighth incarnation for a long time too, burning the candle at both ends, as it were. I particularly like this conceit as Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor is now a reality, and so at some point something will have to give. The seventh Doctor can’t go on forever; Virgin will soon have to put all the toys back in the box and leave Doctor number seven travelling alone in his jazzed-up TARDIS. Soon, but not yet...
Best of all though, we get the first-ever clue about the Doctor’s name. I’m not talking about John Smith or Theta Sigma or any of his other assumed names – I’m talking about his real name. This novel begins with a lovely little parable about an old hermit who “broke his name”, the implication being that this hermit was the Doctor. These passages shows Orman at her absolute best; no other Doctor Who novelist can match the sheer beauty of her writing.
“…before he left home, he broke his name. Broke it into thirty-eight tiny pieces…
He swept up all the pieces of who he was and tucked them away in an inside pocket.
And over the years, as he met people who ended up sharing the road with him,
travelling with him for a while, he would quietly give each of them a pieces of his name… with all the jigsaw pieces of his name scattered about,
they wouldn’t be able to get all of him when they came to take him away.”
It’s not much of a clue I’ll grant you, but if his name does indeed have thirty-eight syllables, it might explain why the Doctor has always said that it would be unpronounceable!
Ultimately Return of the Living Dad came as complete surprise to me. It’s almost as bright and breezy as Happy Endings, yet it has a quiet, underlying melancholy to it. Paul Cornell’s input can certainly be felt, and so if you can bear a tumult of continuity and fannish in-jokes, then you really can’t go far wrong with this one.
“…if you walk the same path as the hermit took, you can put yourself back together…
Putting your husband’s name in front of your father’s. And finally earning the right to put
‘Doctor’ in front of your own.
Doctor. Bernice. Kane. Summerfield.
Their names fit really well together, don’t you think?”
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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