THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVELS "THE CROOKED
WORLD" AND "HISTORY
OFFICIAL TELOS DELUXE
HARDBACK (ISBN 1-903
889-21-9) RELEASED IN
In ancient Akrotiri,
a girl is learning
mysteries from a
tutor who, quite
literally, fell from
the skies. With his
can fly and surf the
timestreams and see
something of the
future. But then the
Death and disaster
are meted out by the
gods of her land.
retribution for some
heinous crime? or
something far more
Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman are two of the most highly regarded authors in
the various Doctor Who books ranges, and have produced some fine books both separately and together. It’s hardly surprising that they were picked as authors for Telos Publishing’s novella line. What is surprising is that they have produced a work that pushes the envelope
of Doctor Who fiction in terms of style and theme far more than many of the writers entirely new to the series.
Fallen Gods has a relatively slight plot, yet one that is hard to sum up because the book is less about events than about the way in which its characters are affected by them. It’s there-fore best to look at the book in terms of its two principle antagonists, and their relationship, for this is what the story is all about. There’s Alcestis, and there’s the Doctor.
Alcestis is a native of Akrotiri, an ancient town in the powerful Empire of Minos in a state
of near continual war with neighbouring Athens, and is implied to be the true inspiration for Atlantis. It is a land in crisis, as flaming bulls descend from the heavens to terrorise the inhabitants. Alcestis is less disturbed by the bulls than by her fellow Akrotirians, who seem
to be using the state of crisis as an excuse to indulge in their feuds and prejudices. One
day, she witnesses a man fall from the sky. This is, of course, the Doctor. He’s in Akrotiri
to investigate strange temporal readings, so severe that he can’t even land his TARDIS
nearby. Alcestis is immediately intrigued by the Doctor, and when the two of them realise that they have a common interest – the demonic bulls are the way humans perceive the temporal shocks – they resolve to work together.
Alcestis is a unique individual. She possesses the ability to ride currents in time, allowing her to fly, and to fight the bulls. Driven by a passionate desire to do right, she is a worthy student for the Doctor, who teaches her to better control her abilities. She is also driven by
a continual need to question, and these two drives will take her further than she could ever have imagined. She and the Doctor are together for the majority of the novella’s opening third, before they succeed in penetrating the imperial court and gain the backing of King Rhadamanthys. In all their scenes together, they have a powerful, volatile, almost sexual chemistry that’s a thrill to read.
The Doctor is immediately recognisable as his eighth self, his mixture of informal banter, scientific jargon and philosophical insights an effective contrast with the more stylised ‘classical’ speech of the Akrotirians. Nevertheless, he seems to fit in perfectly. More than
any other Doctor, the eighth has developed a mythical feel in the novels, and fits well into
the classical world. In court he is teacher, putting on a show of trying to teach Alcestis’s unique gifts to others, while in fact using his time to learn more about the situation here, manoeuvre his way into a position more suited to solving the land’s problems, and taking
it upon himself to act as a mentor to Deucalion, the King’s troubled heir. His scenes with Rhadamanthys, baiting the King under a thin veneer of respect, are some of the book’s
most readable parts.
The relationship between Alcestis and the Doctor deteriorates with tragic inevitability, and it’s the Doctor’s discovery of the true nature of events that acts as the catalyst. It is revealed that beneath the waves lie the Fallen, the legendary Titans, whose true nature is as beings that have evolved perpendicular to time. They have the ability to shift time, but not to create or destroy it. The Doctor, as a Time Lord, sees only a fraction of what they can perceive. Rhadamanthys has access to them through a volcanic caldera, and has bargained with them. The Fallen have stolen time from the empire’s enemies in Athens, taking away their futures to prolong the lives of the Minoans. Thousands of Athenians who should have lived will never be born. It does not end there; while the Titans remove Akrotiri’s own future and graft it onto the present, poor harvests and destructive events are postponed, while the King extends Deucalion’s life by feeding the Titans’ his other sons. The Doctor knows that these actions will eventually result in this civilisation’s destruction, as their distorted history catches up with them. For Alcestis, the news is far worse. Unable to deal with her part in this, or with the Doctor’s ‘betrayal’ in continuing his efforts to save her fallen civilisation, she loses her-self to her destructive passion.
The final section of the book is a desperate fight
between the Doctor and Alcestis, as their dispute
moves from words to unimaginable violence. To
begin with, their similarity to each other leads to
some incredible moments in argument, for instance:
“ – A hundred thousand people, she cries. – How would you know?
His eyes open just a hair, and all she can see in them is the dead white.
- - Believe me, he says, in the raw tone she knows from her own mouth…
… Time is fire, and when I stop burning in one place it spreads to another. A
decision I make tonight could affect whole civilisations thousands of years hence. It
happens everywhere I act. Empires live and cities die in the spaces between my
thoughts, all unseen. I’ve killed far more people than I could ever know about.
- - How can you deal with it?
- - I can’t.”
about Gallifrey, and his role in its (first) destruction. The parallels
between him and Alcestis are clear, as she loses herself to rage
and vows to destroy her own civilisation. As he tries to stop her,
the two of them fall into the fires of the Fallen’s realm, moving
beyond time, both becoming truer to their potential. In these
climactic moments, we see the Doctor as the mythical figure he
has become; he is Prometheus, bringing fire to the world in his
actions and his interference, while she, as the eagle, tortures
him, over and over, in an enactment of the tale. When he finally overcomes her, the Doctor must fight with himself to not mete
the same punishment out on her, and he succeeds in controlling
himself – just.
Inevitably, the day is saved, but the Doctor knows that both Alcestis’s and the empire’s days are numbered. There will be no more tributes to the Gods, and time will come back to burn them, until they are nothing more than half-remembered tales.
Written in a flowing, poetic style, illustrated with evocative descriptive prose, Fallen Gods reads like no other Doctor Who story. It keeps you questioning until its end. Even the title could refer to the Titans, the Minoan Empire, or the Doctor himself. Not at all bad for some-thing that hints at being a prequel to The Time Monster.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2009
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Fallen Gods is one of the most highly regarded of all the Telos novellas, and deservedly so. A rich tapestry of sumptuous language and scorching ideas underlined by a sizzling, explosive relationship, Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman’s contribution the range is perhaps as worthy a literary venture in its own right as Daniel O’Mahony’s Cabinet of Light which preceded it.
Much like The Cabinet of Light, this novella’s plot is fairly basic as the authors devote their (surprisingly generous) word count to their two characters, Alcestis and the Doctor. As you’d expect, Fallen Gods does feature more than just two characters, but for me it didn’t. All the rest were just dressing.
Alcestis is a wonderfully conceived and executed piece of characterisation; a fiery romantic from classical times who (thanks to a race of extra-dimensional higher beings) can fly. Her world changes forever when the Doctor – literally - falls from the sky in a crimson blaze and enlists her aid.
“Time is fire, and when I stop burning in one place it spreads to another.
A decision I make tonight could affect whole civilisations thousands of years hence.
It happens everywhere I act. Empires live and cities die in the spaces between my thoughts, all unseen. I’ve killed far more people than I could ever know about.”
The single-hearted Doctor is portrayed just as superbly by the authors. Conscious of his destruction of Gallifrey in The Ancestor Cell, here the Time Lord is sodden with angst and dangerously unpredictable. Indeed, some of the brutal turns that his turbulent relationship with Alcestis took genuinely shocked me.
However, for all its merits I found this
Aurealis award-winning tome to be a
real slog at times. The authors’ prose
is delicious, but boy is it dense. I had
to re-read several passages many
times to fully comprehend the events depicted, and so when coupled with the abnormally protracted page count, I probably spent longer reading this novella than I would most full-length novels.
Further, some of the authors’ stylistic choices – the abandoning of speech marks, and the use of the present tense – I didn’t find particularly effective. Typically, I’m a keen proponent
of both devices – Scots storyteller Irvine Welsh often employs both to brutal, devastating effect in his works, for instance – but here they only seemed to make the mountain bigger, ‘overfacing’ me, as it were.
Ultimately then Fallen Gods is a reflection of The Cabinet of Light - it’s all blazing images of fallen angels fighting in the skies and souls torn asunder, as opposed to cynical gumshoes, shady backstreets and sepia sensations. But it is, nevertheless, its equal. The real tragedy of this one is that I couldn’t quite stomach it.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
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 story has been placed after the novel The Crooked World as this one-hearted Doctor refers to more than one companion waiting for him in the TARDIS, and also intimates that Gallifrey is no more.
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