The Novrosk Peninsula: the Soviet naval base has been abandoned, the nuclear submarines are rusting and rotting. Cold, isolated, forgotten. Until the Russian Special Forces arrive and discover that the Doctor and his companions are here too.


But there is something else in Novrosk. Something that predates even the stone circle on the cliff top. Something that is at last waking, hunting, killing. Can the Doctor and his friends stay alive long enough to learn the truth?


With time running out, they must discover who is really responsible for the Deviant Strain...













Justin Richards has done some wonderful work as the creative director overseeing this new series of Doctor Who tie-in novels, however his second contribution as an author to the range is markedly lacking in creativity.


Whilst there is nothing flagrantly dull about The Deviant Strain, many of its more interesting elements are very similar in nature to those found in Richards’ preceding novel, The Clockwise Man. The Russian card, for example, is played yet again by the author, as is the device of beginning with a brief action sequence before slowing the pace right down and creating a veil of intrigue around each of his supporting characters.


However, as was the case with The Clockwise Man, the characters are a diverting - if a little derivative - and no-one is what they seem. Minin (the man with the Bad Wolf tattoo) is a real surprise, and the early twist involving policewoman Sofia Barinska truly leaves the reader guessing as to where all the characters stand.


Sadly though, The Deviant Strain lacks a lot of the emotional resonance that The Clockwise Man possessed. In setting the story in roughly contemporary times (again, somewhat unimaginative considering the freedom offered by the written word) all of the awe felt by Rose when experiencing a different time (or even a different world) is lost. Moreover, none of the supporting characters were as well rounded as The Painted Lady, Freddie Romanov, or even Shade Vassily. Whilst characters like Minin have their crosses to bear, they do not compare to Freddie’s haemophilia or the Painted Lady’s deformed face and the limitations that their respective handicaps place on them. Instead, Richards uses the character of Valeria (a young girl aged and withered, her mind ‘emptied’ by the blue blobs) as an emotional anchor for the novel, the reaction of people (especially her father) to her condition creating some of the most affecting drama.


“Anyone home in that skull of yours? This is volcano day all over again.”


One thing that does make The Deviant Strain stand out though is Richards’ use of Captain Jack Harkness. Bearing in mind that this could well be one of the first (if not the first) trip on board the TARDIS for Jack, Richards effectively conveys Jack’s transformation from the reckless mercenary who nearly destroyed the world in The Doctor Dances to the selfless warrior who was willing to lay down his life in The Parting of the Ways. At the start of the book he is meddling with the TARDIS controls and still very much the subject of the Doctor’s suspicion, but as matters progress and we see his devotion to Valeria, Jack proves himself worthy of being a member of the crew.


All things considered though, The Deviant Strain is perhaps the least enthralling ninth Doctor story out there at the moment, but there is still enough good stuff in there to make it well worth the read, particularly if you are a fan of Captain Jack.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006


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