THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
STORIES "THE RIBOS
OPERATION" AND "THE
PAPERBACK (ISBN 0-
IN FEBRUARY 2000.
The Doctor faces an
should he continue
with his quest to
gather the segments
of the Key to Time, or
prevent the rebirth of
a being so powerful
that its release will
alter the entire
fabric of the
Tomb of Valdemar
Simon Messingham’s reputation seems to be mounting with each and every book that he writes, and “Tomb of Valdemar” has by and large received the most encouraging response thus far. And certainly when compared to his unpardonable first effort for Virgin, “Strange England”, the evident improvement is simply staggering.
“Tomb of Valdemar” opens magnificently, really evoking that instantly recognisable gothic horror feel that the author was doubtless looking to establish, yet also managing to instil a real sense of absurdity that sits well with the two “Key to Time” stories that this novel is sandwiched in between. Further, the refreshing - and surprisingly seldom used in the range
– device of having a person tell a story within the story also lends the tale a distinctive flavour, really setting the opening few chapters in particular apart from most other Doctor Who novels. More than that though, having Miranda Pelham initially relay the narrative is a great way of keeping the reader guessing about why the story is being told in such a manner. Why is she telling it? Why not the Doctor and Romana? Has something happened to them? And when something very surprising indeed happens to the aforementioned Ms Pelham around half way through, the reader really does start to wonder!
“How dare you! Don’t you think I know the dangers of splitting up a narrative,
the loss of tension it entails, the dislocation? Young people today;
they want it all on a plate. Do you think I’m doing this just to be pretentious?”
- It's enough to make a reviewer feel guilty...
What is more, Messingham writes for Tom Baker’s Doctor and the original Romana very well indeed; particularly the latter. Often neglected in the series’ expanded universe due to the popularity of her successor, Mary Tamm’s Romana is delightfully portrayed here. It is a real pleasure to be able to see behind that haughty veneer; the veneer that, in this story, begins to slip when things start to look bleak…
However, for me the luxuriant style and murky fantasy of “Tomb of Valdemar” was let down
by what I found to be a pedestrian and largely derivative plot. I have never been a fan of these ‘Old Ones’ that seem to have insidiously permeated the Whoniverse over the last decade or so, and so having a character by the name of Paul Neville – which in my mind’s eye I just kept seeing as Manchester United’s Phil Neville, utterly killing the drama - frantically trying to release one of them from those vague and indefinable higher dimensions in which they reside never really had much of a chance with me. Fair dues, the legend of Valdemar does afford this particular Dark God a little bit more weight than most of the generic Lovecraftian Old Ones that we have come across to date, but nowhere near enough to make Messingham’s plot even moderately compelling.
“...I mean, where was the big climactic fight?...
This ending didn’t make sense; there were loads of holes in the plot...”
Ultimately though, the style and especially the self-referential humour of “Tomb of Valdemar” managed to make it at least palatable for me; I really had to chuckle, for instance, right at the end of the book where the author launches into a metafictional review! Brave, but brilliant. All the same though, I doubt very much that “Tomb of Valdemar” is one that I will ever revisit. An acquired taste, I reckon...
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 The Ribos Operation and The Pirate Planet.
The Tomb of Valdemaar features an appearance by a future Romana, who has apparently survived the cataclysmic events of The Ancestor Cell. Her identity is never made explicit, however.
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