THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
MARKER" AND "MATCH
OF THE DAY."
PAPERBACK (ISBN 0-
IN SEPTEMBER 2001.
It's Reading Week at
the University of East
Wessex, but not
everything comes to a
in telepathy, remote
phenomena continue in
still think the
Fellow is out for
publicity rather than
psychic results. A
remains unsolved by
local police. The
students are still
holding seances in the
arrives in Norswood,
the Doctor and Leela
are caught up in
events that are
spiralling out of
control. Leela is
chased by a phantom,
and the Doctor take
the waters. But soon
it isn't the
that's in question -
it's the whole of
It’s astounding just how far a witty title and an intriguing cover goes when it comes to luring a punter into buying a book. After not really getting on with either of Chris Boucher’s preceding Doctor Who novels, which were as unremarkable in title as they were in content, I was surprised to find my interest piqued by the cleverly titled Psi-ence Fiction; and rightly so, as it turns out. Though Boucher’s third novel for BBC Books’ past Doctor range is far from being a stunning success, it is still by far and away his most impressive Doctor Who book to date and, unlike its predecessors, it is nothing if not remarkable…
For me, the most outstanding aspect of this novel is that it positively reeks of the under-graduate. It’s widely acknowledged that the most effective Doctor Who stories see aliens and monsters encroaching upon our everyday lives, and so as someone at university, Psi-ence Fiction is as close to ‘monsters under the bed’ as I could possibly get.
What’s more, as Boucher initially presents it, the novel’s plot is really quite gripping. A uni-versity fellowship conducting research into areas of parapsychology (psychology that deals with the investigation of psychic phenomena such as clairvoyance, extrasensory perception, telepathy, and the like) provides a suitably rich backdrop for Boucher to tell his story against. Indeed, Psi-ence Fiction contains some truly distressing scenes, such as the experiment in the sensory depravation tank which goes well and truly awry, or even the numerous Ouija board scenes. I appreciate that the latter may sound a little stale to some, but having played with the odd Ouija board in my youth I know full well just how disquieting they can be (to say the least), and that’s when there aren’t malign forces at work (at least, I hope not).
However, Boucher’s execution of this thread leaves a lot to be desired. Whilst many of the scenes are undoubtedly disturbing in the wider sense (think Final Destination in terms of style and tone), the student characters themselves don’t really ring true. Their dialogue in particular is wholly unconvincing.
The Doctor is better drawn, although he does read as being slightly off-kilter here. He is far crueller to Leela than I ever recall him being on television, for one thing. Some parts of the book read as if he neither likes nor cares about her; it’s almost as if she’s an annoyance to him.
The savage herself is a real success here though. Psi-ence Fiction marks her first visit to near-contemporary Earth, and Boucher really milks the situation for all it is worth. Her ‘off-camera’ bursts of defiant “Xena” barbarism are both apt and hilarious, and the scene where she finds herself trying to get across a motorway (which she calls “a track”) is an absolute triumph. The only complaint I have about how Leela is used here is that the author really labours the point about how intelligent she is; it reads almost patronisingly at times. We’ve got it by now – she’s bright, but uneducated.
“What you appear to be missing is a transdimensional containment and a semisentient control system.
Without them your machine will go collapsing the multiverse for ever. It will feed on it, in it, and through it.”
Sadly though, after a promising start Psi-ence Fiction gets progressively worse. I couldn’t even pretend to get my head around the breakdown of the multiverse and how this is linked to the students’ latent psychic powers, and therein lies the rub - Boucher just lost me. Fair dues, I gathered that whatever was going on was bad (“If you took every bomb and every explosive device of every kind ever made and set them all off in the same place at the same time, the destructive capacity would be miniscule compared to what you have there”) but beyond that the exposition was just readable print to me.
The above was confounded by one of my pet hates – a deus ex machina cop-out ending. After the author had completely erased the events of Psi-ence Fiction from both the Doctor and Leela’s memories, not to mention from the whole of history in general, I was past caring that it had fallen to the TARDIS to save the multiverse without any intervention from the Doctor (which would otherwise have had me in uproar).
All things considered though, there is still a lot within the pages of Psi-ence Fiction that entertains, and those with honours degrees in both quantum physics and parapsychology may even be able to decipher the plot. If I was Boucher’s publisher though, I’d certainly be having a quiet word with him about his narrowing the market a little too much (how many quantum parapsychologists are there out there?), as well as regarding the wisdom of
writing a novel, the events of which are excised from even the regulars’ memories. After
all, if it doesn’t count, we don’t need to buy it, do we…?
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 offers no clues as to its placement, however the presence of Leela but absence of K-9 suggests that these events must take place at some point between The Face of Evil and The Invisible Enemy. We have arbitrarily placed them between those depicted in the novels Corpse Marker and Match
of the Day, both written by the same author, which we suspect Psi-ence Fiction was intended to follow.
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