THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVEL "THE SANDS
OF TIME" AND THE TV
OFFICIAL BBC 'PAST
RELEASED IN JULY 1998.
A glib remark from
the Doctor to a
has had far-reaching
effects on the empire
Can The DOCTOR NOW
stop something he
started two thousand years ago?
I was never all that struck on Louis Marks’ 1976 television serial “Planet of Evil”, and Simon Messingham’s first Doctor Who novel, “Strange England”, was the subject of perhaps the shortest and most brutal review that I have ever given a story. As such, you can imagine the diffidence with which I approached Messingham’s sequel to “Planet of Evil”.
To be fair though, “Zeta Major” is not too bad at all. It is certainly a much deeper and far
more absorbing tale than “Planet of Evil” ever was, and to say that it is a huge improvement on “Strange England” would be understating things tremendously.
Messingham approaches this sequel from a really quite remarkable tangent. Rather than go for an all-out nostalgic rehash, he instead shows us the Morestran people 2,000 years after the events of “Planet of Evil”, at a time when war is threatening to divide the fanatical technology-suppressing Morestran Church and the relatively progressive Morestran Empire. On one level, this works marvellously as it allows the author to build up a very detailed
picture of a civilisation that is very much of his own making, and an interesting civilisation it
is too. The old chestnut of blending advanced technology with oldy-worldyness may not be very original, but it is invariably effective.
“You’ve decided to concentrate on deriving energy from
the kinetic force of planetary movement…”
What I like best of all though is that everything that has happened to the Morestran Empire since “Planet of Evil” has come about as the direct result of one, off the cuff remark that the fourth Doctor made to Professor Sorenson back on Zeta Minor. Keen to stop Sorenson’s people meddling with anti-matter, the Doctor urged them to learn how to harness the kinetic power of planetary movement to fuel their Empire, which unfortunately turned into something of a dangerous obsession for the Morestrans…
There were some other nice little flourishes too, such as Nyssa becoming an anti-matter monster, and Zeta Minor being referred to reverently by the Morestrans as “the Planet of Evil”, both of which I loved, though admittedly in a very guilty sort of way.
More negatively, as was the case with “Strange England”, most of the story’s supporting characters were lost on me; more so here, in fact, given that there are so many similar characters who only seem to be set apart by rank or status. Only Kristyan Fall left a lasting impression on me, and that was because between them she and Tegan annoyed the hell
out of me throughout!
Furthermore, Messingham’s mishmash of storytelling devices did not really do it for me here. In principle, the idea of telling a story through a multitude of different source materials is a truly splendid one, but given my difficulty relating to many of the less important characters in this story (from whose perspective many of the accounts are told) I found that these devices only heightened my detachment from the events of the story. That said, I have to give credit where it is due for the fantastic metatextual video gag.
On balance then, despite being a sequel to a story that I did not much like and being written by an author whose only previous Doctor Who novel I had found insufferable, the fact that I enjoyed “Zeta Major” as much as I did is nothing short of a marvel. Do not get me wrong, this book is certainly no classic and I doubt very much that I will ever decide to read it again, but even so it is still nice to be surprised sometimes; even if it is only moderately so.
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 places it between the television serials Arc of Infinity and Snakedance. We have placed it within this gap, after the novels Fear of the Dark (which is set directly after Arc of Infinity) and The Sands of Time (which was released earlier) but prior to the television episode Time Crash (which followed much later).
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