THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVEL "THE QUANTUM
OFFICIAL BBC 'PAST
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
The Doctor and Mel
arrive on Earth just
days before New
Year. An old friend
Has been kidnapped
and taken to France,
And two murderous
enemies are setting up
a new life in the Peak
District. Which of
these threats should
the Doctor deal with
first? And why is his
Smythe using her
knowledge of the
future to make a
fortune selling the
I found that the first book in Gary Russell’s ‘C19 trilogy’, “The Scales of Injustice” was as modern, as captivating and as deep a Doctor Who adventure as you would ever be likely to find and what’s more, its sequel, “Business Unusual”, was every bit as hard-hitting and engrossing. Accordingly, I was very excited indeed when, after a considerable delay, the third instalment of Russell’s trilogy, “Instruments of Darkness”, finally hit the shelves.
Unhappily though, “Instruments of Darkness” is not in the same league as its distinguished forbearers. The story, whilst brutal at times, is simply not as alluring. In particular, I found that the book was very slow to start and, even once it had got going, that it dwelled far too much on characters at the expense of action. This could have been forgivable had the cast of characters been as enticing as those featured in “The Scales of Injustice” and “Business Unusual”, but regrettably – save for a few exceptions that I shall come to in a moment – they did not really work for me. Even those such as Vice-Marshal Charles Dickinson (rtd) that were pretty well drawn fell somewhat flat thanks to their lack of exposure. Too many characters spoil the broth, as a young seventh Doctor might say.
That much said, Russell does do wonders with some of the characters here. I was especially impressed with how he portrayed the redemption of Ciara and Cellian, the notorious part-Auton ‘Irish Twins’, but like so many other characters in this novel, the pair suffer from under-exposure. An old character from the third Doctor’s radio adventures, Sarah Jane Smith’s bumbling assistant Jeremy Fitzoliver, also features (in one of the oddest and darkest twists that I can recall in Doctor Who!) but again, this aspect of the story is not adequately
Now perhaps more than anything else, “The Scales of Injustice” and “Business Unusual” were famous for plugging gaping holes in the continuity of the television series. The former depicted how Liz Shaw came to leave UNIT, whilst the latter introduced the Doctor to Melanie Bush for the first time… well, sort of. “Instruments of Darkness”, conversely, really clutches at the continuity straws. Rather than seeking to fill a continuity black spot, it creates something of a continuity black hole, having the Doctor and Mel team up with the Doctor’s Big Finish audio companion, Evelyn Smythe, whom at some point during their travels the Doctor apparently abandoned in the early 1990s so that she could “keep on an eye on” the Irish Twins for him.
Given that Colin Baker and Maggie Stables gel so well together on audio, I found their characters’ constant bickering in this novel to be irksome in the extreme – Evelyn is supposed to be the woman that ‘tamed’ the sixth Doctor, and so to see the two of them at each other’s throats for two hundred and odd pages is not a pleasant experience. Worst of all though, Evelyn’s sourness makes her come across on the page as being rather disagreeable. Of course, her bitterness may be quite natural given what the Doctor has put her through, but even so it really does not do her any favours and I really feel sorry for someone who picks up this novel without any prior knowledge of her character. Nonetheless, it is at least interesting to view this relationship gone sour from Mel’s perspective - after all, she may be seeing what ultimately lies in store for her. In fact, loathe as I am to say it, Mel works tremendously well here.
“He’s too big, too complex a person to be weighed down with human characteristics.
The moment we drag the Doctor down to our level he ceases to be who he really is
and we blind ourselves to that, we want more.”
However, even given the substantial bellyaches that come with “Instruments of Darkness”, I still enjoyed reading it. Russell’s portrayal of the Doctor and Mel – if not Evelyn – is still without equal, and though the plot suffers with an overabundance of characters and a deficiency of action, when it does work, it is easily on a par with both its predecessors. It is certainly well worth reading if you are feeling a bit adventurous.
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.
The text makes it explicit that this novel takes place after both the Terror of the Vervoids section of The Trial of a Time Lord (begging the question as to how events still panned out in the same way, given the Doctor’s memory of watching them during his trial, and thus his ability to avoid the same mistakes) and the novel The Quantum Archangel.
However, it is difficult to reconcile the events of this novel with those surrounding it. Despite their meeting
for the first time here, Mel and Evelyn would apparently meet for the first time again in the Big Finish audio drama Thicker than Water, only for Mel to not recognise Evelyn in the sixth Doctor’s swansong, Spiral Scratch. One explanation – and presumably the one championed by the author, given the subject matter of Spiral Scratch – is that the three aforementioned adventures take place in three different quantum realities. Another is that time is in flux (or the Doctor’s companions’ memories, at least!) during this turbulent period
in the Doctor’s life, and events are constantly re-writing themselves. That said, if one were to take the view that the Time Lords lifted Mel out of time (to give evidence at the Doctor’s trial) shortly after Instruments
of Darkness, then her resultant memory loss (precedent for which was set in Trial) might explain why she isn’t able to recall Evelyn in Thicker than Water. Evelyn’s memory is trickier to explain, but it could feasibly be ascribed to aging. Spiral Scratch is a different kettle of fish, but given its quanta-sweeping subject matter
it isn’t difficult to forgive Mel’s failure to recognise Evelyn. Again.
Finally, the “John Doe” referred to in the text is intended to be Sarah Jane Smith’s annoying assistant Jeremy Oliver, who we met in the mid-1990s radio dramas The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space.
Thanks to Jason Robbins
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