THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
DRAMA "LEGEND OF
THE CYBERMEN" AND
THE NOVEL "MILLENNIAL
OFFICIAL BBC 'PAST
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
The Doctor arrives in
travelling alone. He
soon discovers his
old friend, the
Brigadier, has gone
SenéNet, whose new
console is soon to be
released at an
price. He was last
seen at their
headquarters - based
in the picturesque
the Doctor becomes
more and more
entangled in a deadly
web of intrigue.
Together with Mel, a
Pease Pottage, the
conspiracy of silence,
rescue the Brigadier
and save the world
once again -
something that would
be a lot easier if he
just knew where to
Whilst on the whole I have found Gary Russell’s Doctor Who novels to be a bit hit and miss, I liked his recent novelisation of the Fox TV Movie and I like “Business Unusual” even more.
Many fans have slated this book as being merely a sixth Doctor version of the old second Doctor serial “The Invasion”, a story with which, I concede, numerous parallels can quite easily be drawn. However, I happen to think that “Business Unusual” trumps the old Troughton tale in almost every regard.
For starters, 1989 Brighton makes for a much more evocative setting than contemporary London that was. Not only is it more visually diverse, but it also has a greater sense of romance about it. The setting allows us to see the Doctor relaxing on the beach and
catching up with old friends that until now, we didn’t even know existed. Friends like Bob Lines. Friends who have friends that the Doctor has been frantically trying to avoid ever since his trial…
“Oh, for goodness’ sake. I only wanted to say hello, Doctor. Excuse me for breathing.”
“Business Unusual” has two massive hooks, and if the first does not get you then the second will. The first is Melanie Bush. On television, we were never shown how she came to travel with the Doctor and, perhaps even more remarkably, Virgin’s Missing Adventures series never took the opportunity to suitably plug the gap. Craig Hinton’s 1995 novel “Millennial Rites” sought to canonise John Nathan Turner's old back story about how Mel had stowed away on board the TARDIS after helping the Doctor to stop the Master from taking over the stock market (a back story that, somewhat astoundingly, Russell manages to work into “Business Unusual”!) but beyond that we knew nothing. I think that Virgin’s failure to plug this gaping hole in continuity may well have stemmed from Mel’s gross unpopularity with fans. I mean, who would want to write for her? The answer, of course, is Russell. And he writes for her well. Against all the odds, in print Mel comes off as being not only less obnoxious but also… ugh... dare I say it… likeable. Russell gives her a family and a home – Christine and Alan. Pease Pottage – and suddenly, Mel comes into focus. She is real. And when she screams in this story, it is a big deal. Read the book and you will see what I mean.
“Business Unusual”’s second attention-grabbing device is the unprecedented pairing of the sixth Doctor and his old friend from UNIT, Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Unless you count “Dimensions In Time”, that is. Sadly though, Russell opts to keep the two apart save
for an all too fleeting meeting at the end of the book. Nevertheless, just as he did in “The Scales of Injustice”, Russell does wonders with the former Brigadier here. Incarcerated by SenéNet, the story’s villainous organisation, the maths teacher is forced to face an old UNIT private that he gave up for dead back in “The Claws of Axos”, but who lived on, disfigured and bitter. This encounter forces Lethbridge-Stewart to take stock of his life, particularly regarding his feelings for a certain Doris Wilson…
For me though, the most outstanding facet of “Business Unusual” is Russell’s characterisation of the sixth Doctor. In his trademark introduction, the author discusses how he wanted to write the Doctor in the manner that Colin Baker would have liked to have played him, and on that score I think he succeeds commendably. The sixth Doctor as depicted in this book could have gone on to have been the best Doctor full stop had the
BBC not so cruelly curtained Colin Baker’s tenure. The Doctor of “Business Unusual” has all the thunderous and grandiloquent qualities that define the sixth Doctor, yet he is generally quite affable. He shows another side to his persona here; a calmer side. A more tolerant side. I really hope that we see more of this sixth Doctor in print in the future.
As for the plot itself, “Business Unusual” is an enthralling and often quite gruesome tale that picks up very much where “The Scales of Injustice” left off. SenéNet is run by the Managing Director (or ‘the pale man’ as we better know him), an ailing cyborg who is desperate for a new body – a body that the Nestene Consciousness is willing to provide for him… at a
price. And the price just happens to be the Earth. Incidentally, I cannot believe that I did not
get the SenéNet / Nestene anagram before all was revealed. How thick am I?
Many of Russell’s unforgettable characters from “The Scales of Injustice”, such as Ciara and Cellian, ‘the Irish Twins’, and Mr Jones, ‘the blonde tanned man’, return in this novel,
together with some intriguing new arrivals such as Roberta – a young woman with one of the saddest and sickest back stories that I have ever read. Not only did Mr Jones take advantage of her after having picked her up in a bar, but he proceeded to drug her, let the Autons chop both her legs off, and then plant false memories in her head. What a bastard. And the gore does not stop there. At the end of this novel, thirty children wake up missing their left hands. “Business Unusual” certainly does not pull its punches.
All told, my only complaint about this quite breathtaking novel is about the utterly feeble
cover illustration. The Nestene ‘Stalker’ hound featured is of peripheral relevance at best, and the picture of the season twenty-two sixth Doctor is so badly chosen that Russell had to work a haircut for the Doctor into his plot.
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 novel’s blurb suggests that it takes place between the television stories The Trial of a Time Lord and Time and the Rani, but it does not suggest a more specific placement. As Mel was the sixth Doctor’s final travelling companion, and this novel documents the beginning of her association with the Doctor, we have placed it after the Big Finish audio drama The Four Doctors, allowing the sixth Doctor and Mel to enjoy an uninterrupted run of stories all the way up to the regeneration depicted in the opening moments of Time and Rani.
When is now? This story is explicitly set in 1989, at least a decade prior to the Big Finish audio drama The Spectre of Lanyon Moor and almost twelve years prior to the novel The Shadow in the Glass. Therefore, of all Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s documented encounters with the Doctor’s sixth incarnation, this one is the earliest, though it should be noted that the text alludes to at least one prior encounter.
Of course, from the Old Sixy’s perspective, the events of both The Spectre of Lanyon Moor and The Shadow in the Glass have already occurred, as from this 1989 onwards the Brigadier would encounter the Doctor out-of-sequence on several occasions, including the fifth Doctor in 1999 (The King of Terror); the seventh Doctor in circa 1995 (Battlefield), circa 2004 (The Algebra of Ice) and 2010 (Happy Endings); the eighth Doctor in 1997 (The Dying Days), circa 2003 (Minuet in Hell), and 2012 (The Shadows of Avalon); and the tenth Doctor in circa 2007 (The Warkeeper’s Crown).
Little wonder he struggles to keep it all straight when their paths cross...
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