THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVEL "THE GALLIFREY
BIG FINISH / BBC7 RADIO
DRAMA "BLOOD OF THE
PAPERBACK (ISBN 0-563
-40591-0) RELEASED IN
For twenty thousand
centuries the TIME
LORDS have been the
most powerful race
in the cosmos. They
are the Lords of Time,
and have used their
HAS BEEN unleashed;
one that is literally
capable of anything.
It is enough to give
even the Time Lords
to destroy them.
the end of TIME.
The Infinity Doctors
November 2008 marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of Lance Parkin’s tour de force The Infinity Doctors and so, in view of this, now seems like an apt juncture to look back on what is perhaps the greatest of all the “ROO Texts”. For the benefit of the uniformed, “ROO” is an acronym for “Rassilon, Omega, Other”, the triumvirate that ruled over ancient Gallifrey just prior to the ascent of the Time Lords. In the years leading up to the publication of The Infinity Doctors, the notion that the Doctor may be a reincarnation of this mysterious ‘Other’ had permeated the series’ mythology and led to some groundbreaking novels, such as Marc Platt’s seminal Lungbarrow and Parkin’s own Cold Fusion.
Whilst these days the idea that the Doctor is the Other is largely frowned upon, interest in Gallifrey and Time Lord society has probably never been higher. Particularly I have noted a lot of interest from newer fans who are only familiar with the Doctor’s homeworld by virtue of its short, scorching appearance in the recent episode The Sound of Drums, and as such The Infinity Doctors has never been more valuable, both in the literal sense (eBay!) and the artistic.
“What you face now, the universe will survive. But… there will come a day when all is lost.”
Reading this novel again, ten years on, I have been truly astonished by the surfeit of dazzling concepts and images that, in some shape or form, have materialised in the reborn television series. Of course Parkin can’t be credited with having come up with the ‘Time War’ concept – if memory serves, I think Dave Stone was the first, way back in 1995’s Sky Pirates! – but I don’t think that I have seen the Time Wars fleshed out quite as consummately by any other writer.
“…for thirty thousand years, on a thousand planets, we fought the Time Wars. The devastation would have destroyed the universe had it not been for the intervention of certain higher powers. Since that time, time has been stabilised. It is impossible to change Gallifrey’s past, or to know its future.”
To me, the above quotation suggests that the “time lock” that modern Gallifrey was forced to endure was placed upon it by these ‘higher powers’, be they Guardians; Eternals; or even the Gallifreyan Gods. If this is indeed the case, then the tragedy of the Last Great Time War becomes even more manifest as had the early Time Lords not behaved so militantly, then when the time came for their lineage to fight a necessary war, the outcome might not have been nearly as cataclysmic.
“…it was impossible for the Time Lords to travel into their own future and they couldn’t change their own past. That was the fealty paid for their title. But as they amassed information, as they prepared projections, they couldn’t help but glean something of their own destiny. They couldn’t see their future, but they could snatch a reflection of what was to come, extrapolate from the ripples and shadows of time.”
One of the facets that I admire the most about The Infinity Doctors is that Parkin doesn’t offer the reader any easy answers. The reader can digest a page, think they have it sussed, only to have their understanding turned completely on its head just a few pages later. It is one thing, for example, to state that the Time Lords cannot see the future of Gallifrey, but quite another to say that they are blind to the future as a whole. Rather than try to embarrassingly explain away this apparent contradiction, Parkin embraces it, positing that the Time Lords could indeed see “something of their own destiny” in the future of other worlds. Again, this only adds to their inherent tragedy. For all their great power and foresight, the Time Lords were ultimately impotent.
“The history of the universe was represented by a long, spiralling line running up the screen. The past was marked in blue the present and known future in green, the unknown in red. At this scale, the blue could hardly be seen, the green didn’t even register, and the red line accounted for over ninety-nine per cent of the total length.”
Without a doubt, The Infinity Doctors defines Time Lord society far more effectively than any other Doctor Who story. Platt’s Lungbarrow was resplendent with breathtaking and vibrant ideas and imagery about Gallifrey and its people, many of which Parkin expands upon here, but what The Infinity Doctors does that Lungbarrow didn’t is make it all relative. The sheer scale of The Infinity Doctors is mind-boggling. For the first time, it shows how just how small the self-professed ‘Lords of Time’ – the most powerful race in the universe - really were.
But there is far more to be enjoyed here than just some wonderful insights into Gallifreyan society - The Infinity Doctors also just happens to be one hell of a story. The first half of the novel focuses on the Doctor - who is, at the time of this novel, serving as on the Gallifreyan High Council – and his struggle to end the Sontaran / Rutan war that has been waging for millennia. Parkin paints the Sontarans almost as vividly as he does the Gallifreyans; Sontar, particularly, is a truly splendid piece of characterisation, despite the fact that his apparent immortality was obtained in the same manner as Emperor Palpatine’s in the Star Wars novels. Even little touches, like Sontar being referred to as the Sontaran ‘throneworld’ as opposed to the homeworld really help to suck the reader in; at times it’s like reading Tolkien.
It’s the second half of the book though where Parkin’s story really comes into its own. Whilst the Doctor is playing peacemaker in the first half, all the while Parkin is sowing seeds for the ambitious second act. An anomaly from just before Event Two (the end of the universe) threatens to destroy the entire universe, and so the Time Lords despatch an entire space station (the same one that we saw in The Trial of a Time Lord on television, by all accounts) as well as several TARDISes to just before Event Two to investigate. There they find Omega, and once again he is looking for retribution. Summarised so pithily, this all probably sounds terrible, but trust me – it makes for possibly the most epic Doctor Who novel ever (and that is one hell of a statement, considering just how many there are out there these days).
Much of this epic feel is thanks to Parkin’s extraordinarily grandiose prose; the imagery that the man is able to create is staggering. Take the Needle, for example – a TARDIS that has been stretched out by a black hole until it is a light year in length. It’s stunning, frankly. And that’s just one example; The Infinity Doctors is replete with images of black stars cracking open Dyson spheres; Hands of Omega (plural!); places where time literally runs backwards. I could go on. Perhaps the most enduring image to be found in The Infinity Doctors though is that of the ‘grey universe’ – i.e. our universe, well past its expansion phase and on its way to ultimate collapse. Parkin’s pallid, hopeless world is horrifyingly haunting – it certainly puts the Futurekind of Utopia to shame (although that episode was set, in fairness, at the end of life in the universe, not at the de facto end of the universe).
The plot is also full of surprises – there is one especially shocking moment where the Doctor does something that I never thought him capable of. Edge of the seat stuff, literally.
“I was killed… a bullet in the back of my head. Not enough of my brain survived to initiate or control the regenerative process.”
More surprising still though is the return of Patience, the wife of the Doctor / Other. Although it is not unequivocally established in the text that this character is the same woman that was shot at the end of Cold Fusion, I think that the evidence is pretty compelling. This nameless character bore the Doctor’s thirteen children, just as Patience was said to have done, and somehow I can’t see the Doctor fathering two sets of thirteen children. This woman was his wife.
And now we learn that she was also the wife of Omega.
It is utterly engrossing stuff and, somewhat incredibly, at no point does the narrative feel ‘soapy’ or contrived – quite the contrary. At times it feels like one is reading about ancient Gods; myths and legends as opposed to forty-year old characters from a children’s television series. And, I suppose, myths and legends is just what they have become.
The Doctor’s wife is not the only woman in the novel, though. The Lady Larna, a student of the Doctor’s who serves as a sort of pseudo-companion for the first half of the novel, is an equally mesmerising albeit far less mystifying character. What Patience shrouds in mystery and intrigue, Larna wears on her sleeve. For the first time, and with the greatest respect to Romana, we really get to see things from a female Gallifreyan’s point of view – and yes, there are clear genders – and I found this utterly absorbing. It is through Larna that Parkin introduces us to the class struggles on Gallifrey and the pretension of the Time Lord elite, and it is through Larna that Parkin gently begins to explore Gallifreyan sexuality. It seems that sterility and sexuality are not mutually exclusive.
“The Doctor knew exactly who he was, who he’d always been. He was a Time Lord, from the Noble House of Lungbarrow on the planet Gallifrey. He had been born of the Loom, son of the greatest explorer of his age and a human woman, Annalise… no… his mother’s name had been Penelope. He knew his father’s name, at least: his father’s name wasn’t Ulysses…”
And of course, Parkin could not write a “ROO Text” without quietly rummaging around in the Doctor’s past. Much like Lungbarrow, The Infinity Doctors raises far more questions than it answers and, by the end of the book, things are far less clear than they previously were!
Some of the inferences that I drew from the text were downright bizarre – I could swear that at one point, Parkin implies that Hedin (Arc of Infinity’s Hedin!) was the Doctor’s father! I’m still not hot on the human mother idea, either – it is all a bit Spock for my liking. The fact that the Doctor has parents at all is very tricky to explain, given that Gallifreyans of his generation were grown in looms. I can only assume that some sort of genetic ‘contribution’ was required from ‘parents’; either that, or Parkin is referring to the Other’s parents. Still, everything is left delightfully vague, so that the reader can accept what they like as gospel and disregard the rest as speculation.
That said, the deliberately open manner in which this novel is written does beg one fundamental question - ‘which Doctor is it in this story?’ - and even now, ten years post-publication, I have yet to hear a completely convincing answer.
The first time that I read the book, I pictured the Doctor as being an old eighth Doctor who had returned home; an explanation that I felt was later given some credence by the ending to Parkin’s subsequent and final eighth Doctor novel, The Gallifrey Chronicles. It does not seem unreasonable to imagine that the eighth Doctor, cropped hair and all, ‘restored’ his planet and his people and then decided to stay there for a while.
“Time runs a set course, to a pattern. Or… like a song.
We can hear the tune, and we notice if any of the notes are wrong.”
Other little hints littered throughout the book would also seem to support such conjecture – the Doctor’s TARDIS is stuck in one form; he used to wear a velvet coat; he can navigate his TARDIS (which effectively rules out the first Doctor, quashing one popular theory); he even has a ‘special insight’ into Omega. Even so, it does not necessarily follow that the Doctor in this novel is the eighth Doctor – it could be an eleventh, twelfth, or even thirteenth Doctor that has somehow cheated his way back into his planet’s past. It may not even be a Doctor from ‘our’ universe at all; it could be a Doctor from another quantum reality such as Richard E Grant’s Scream of the Shalka Doctor or even Peter Cushing’s ‘Doctor Who’. It could even – get this – not be the Doctor at all. Perhaps the “greatest explorer of his age” line refers to the Doctor, and the Doctor of The Infinity Doctors is the original Doctor’s son.
There is also a suspicious similarity that warrants mention between the Magistrate in this novel and the Doctor’s oldest foe, the Master. The way Parkin describes the Doctor and the Magistrate as having been friends for years and fallen out etc certainly puts the reader in mind of the Doctor and the Master, and the line “The Magistrate saw himself with six faces, wearing a black tunic, head back, mouth in a cruel rictus” positively reeks of the finale to the TV Movie. But it couldn’t be him. Surely. Could it..?
Needless to say that The Infinity Doctors inflames, challenges and confounds the reader’s expectations throughout. On both occasions that I have read this book I have been utterly blown away, and doubtless my copy will be getting read again at some point in the green, spiralling line running up the screen. The Infinity Doctors is unquestionably a magnificent novel; a true gem. Even its plain, bold cover illustration is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, the only thing wrong with the whole package is the ridiculously small font size!
Early on in his story, Parkin describes the Time Lords’ infinity chamber - a device that not only monitors and observes the known universe, but encapsulates it. And I think that the highest compliment that I can pay to this novel is that, although it doesn’t fit easily into the Doctor Who canon of stories, it encapsulates them.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
though I’d watched a bit of Doctor Who during my childhood, and even have some vague recollections of Sylvester McCoy’s stories in the late 1980s, my enthusiasm began after seeing the repeat of the TV Movie in 1999. After that, I borrowed a certain Doctor Who novel from my local library and reading that book made my mind up – Doctor Who was for me. From then on, I devoured any and all books, episodes and comics that I could get my hands on. That novel was The Infinity Doctors.
I’ve read The Infinity Doctors a few times since then. It was released as the official thirty-fifth anniversary celebration; a fact lost on me at the time. Yes, it’s full of references and plot points that I missed upon my first read, only to understand them years later. That wasn’t a problem though – this is perhaps the best novel to present to a new fan as it is entirely accessible.
Part of this is no doubt down to its unique place in the canon – it hasn’t got one! Parkin wrote this book to deliberately not fit into established continuity, or rather, to fit in several possible places. I’ve asked him where he intended for it to be set, but he’s keeping schtum. As he’s said, it really could be a pre-series first Doctor; a late eighth Doctor who has gone home; a Doctor in a parallel universe; or something else entirely, and there’s evidence to support all these theoeries. To me, it reads as Paul McGann’s Doctor, which is apparently how it was written, but I wonder if that’s simply because he was the Doctor in my mind after watching the TV Movie. In any case, it doesn’t matter – this story is designed to stand alone. All the same,it feels absolutely one hundred per cent part of Doctor Who, and Doctor Who at its very best.
The plot here is almost incidental, but the important points are: the Doctor is a scholar on Gallifrey. He is chairing a peace talk between the Sontarans and Rutans. Meanwhile, the High Council of the Time Lords discover the Effect, a reality warping anomaly that forgoes the Uncertainty Principle and analyses every quantum in the Universe of space and time. The Universe is set to be utterly annihilated. The Doctor, and his colleagues, investigate. It turns out that Omega is behind it, desperate to find a way back into reality. He succeeds, but the Doctor turns the tables. The Doctor wins, the Universe is saved.
What always sticks in my mind after each reading, and the long stretches in between, are the details. The evocative picture of Gallifrey, taking disparate elements from the series, and bringing them together as a contradictory, yet believable whole; for the first, and probably only time, Gallifrey feels like a real place, albeit one inhabited by the most shockingly powerful beings ever. Then there’s the desolate habitat of the Needle, the light-year long structure at the end of the Universe, home to the desperate survivor’s of humanoid life. Omega’s anguish at his omnipotent prison. The Doctor’s heart-rending decision to abandon his wife to imminent death, having spent his life in mourning for her already. The bombastic General Sontar up against the Rutan host, the Doctor caught in the middle, the tension in the room tangible. The Time Lord’s worried mutterings of higher powers who may have caused the effect – evocative names such as Centro; the Klade; the Ongoing. The way the Doctor, having saved the Universe, suddenly remembers that he left Sontar and the Rutan alone together in the TARDIS – and their truly believable resolution to peace. The moment when Larna, the beautiful, intelligent love interest and foil for the Doctor, decides to make his incapacitating blow a terminal one, just to spite him. The scenes with the Magistrate, the Doctor’s oldest friend and trusted confidante, and almost certainly the Master. The horrific ordeal of Savar, and his haunting madness beyond that. The view of the grey empty future that the Effect will bring. The Doctor’s study. The exploration of Gallifrey’s lower classes. The Doctor saving the Universe with a handshake. The Doctor’s final, triumphant decision to explore the Universe is just as effective if this were the beginning, or if the Doctor is just a few steps away from the Time War.
This is the novel that should be adapted when Doctor Who finally makes it back to the big screen. It’s the novel that you should give to your friend who wants to know what all this nonsense you like so much is all about. It’s not only the best Who novel by a country mile, it’s a damned fine work of science fiction in its own right. If you haven’t read it, read it now.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
For the reasons set out in the above reviews, we speculate that the Doctor of this novel is the eighth Doctor who has ‘restored’ Gallifrey and the Time Lords – an event which must occur for the planet to be destroyed again in the Last Great Time War. Following the climax of this story, we posit that the Doctor travels alone
for a lengthy period (growing his hair back, presumably) before meeting Lucie Miller in Blood of the Daleks.
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