THIS SPIN-OFF SERIES
TAKES PLACE AFTER THE
DOCTOR WHO NOVELLA
"THE CABINET OF LIGHT."
WHEN "THE CABINET OF
LIGHT" TAKES PLACE,
HOWEVER, IS NOT SO
EASY A QUESTION...
LANCE PARKIN (1),
STEPHEN PETRUCHA (2),
CLAIRE BOTT (3),
JOHN PAUL CATTON (4),
GEORGE MANN (5, 11),
IAIN McCLAUGHLIN (6),
CLAIRE BARTLETT (6),
JON DE BURGH MILLER (8),
DALE SMITH (9),
R.J. CARTER (10),
TROY RISER (10)
& DAVID J. HOWE (11)
TELOS NOVELLAS #1 -
#11 RELEASED BETWEEN
NOVEMBER 2003 AND
NOVEMBER 2003 - AUGUST 2007
In 2003, having lost the licence to continue with their unique range of Doctor Who novellas, Telos Publishing launched a spin-off range of short novels. Time Hunter is based on one of the strongest Doctor Who novellas, Daniel O’Mahony’s The Cabinet of Light. Any such series is going to be fighting something of an uphill battle - spin-offs of spin-offs abound in the broader “Whoniverse” of novels and audios, but every step taken farther away from the original appeals to a slimmer audience. In spite of this though, Time Hunter lasted for eleven books published over a four year period, and even thereafter was revived, with the range adapted into audio books.
Unfortunately, Telos haven’t done themselves any favours with the look of the series. I like the front cover design, with its generally good artwork and the use of the year of the setting as a central motif, but the design does look a little immature, and the slim size of the volumes, plus the huge typeface used on the back covers, does give the impression that these are aimed at kids, which they most certainly are not.
This is a shame, because, with its selection of fine authors and an excellent central concept, Time Hunter deserves to be read by a wider audience. The two central characters, Honoré Lechasseur and Emily Blandish, work beautifully together. Two people from different back-grounds, brought together by a shared experience, they have a powerful partnership and a strong, if determinedly platonic bond. Lechasseur sometimes comes across as a slightly weaker protagonist than in his Cabinet of Light debut; his character isn’t often explored as much as I might have liked, and often he seems simply to be there as someone for things to happen to, becoming a generic Doctor-stand-in, a fate he masterfully avoided in his original appearance. When at his best, however, he’s a strong and adventurous character more than capable of carrying a plot. Emily, however, being virtually a clean slate at the beginning of the series, is afforded a great deal of development, revealing herself to be a witty, forthright and resourceful woman. She rapidly becomes one of the best things in the series. We also learn very gradually about her origins; her occasional drops of impossible knowledge of modern era concepts may baffle her 1950s contemporaries, but elicit knowing nods in readers.
The two leading characters not only complement each other as opposite but appropriate companions, but their respective abilities work together give the series its unusual set-up. While Lechasseur is, as previously established, a time sensitive, Emily is revealed to be a time channeller. When in contact with Lechasseur, her own abilities allow the two of them to travel through time and space, in short hops. Although there was absolutely no hint of this in Cabinet, it does allow the series to escape from the fifties when it likes, and become a Who-ish series of adventures through time. It’s perhaps strongest when in the confines of the grim post-War years of its original setting, and sensibly this is retained as a solid base for the adventures; however, the time-hopping allows not only fun one-off adventure tales, but also a gradual drip-feed of information that builds up to form an intriguing new universe.
The first book in the series is The Winning Side by Lance Parkin, an author who can always be relied on to deliver a solidly enjoyable story. First, Emily turns up dead, murdered in the night by an unknown assailant. When she turns up to view her own body, it’s hard to tell who’s more baffled - she or Lechasseur. Shortly afterwards, Emily and Lechasseur discover their combined power when they are whisked forwards thirty-four years in the middle of a rather seedy bit of private detective work. The world that they arrive in is recognisable, but not as our own. Rather ingeniously, Parkin uses the fact that the post-War years were a time of flux, and that British society really could have developed in any number of ways. Our heroes arrive in what is clearly presented as a possible future – while Emily only sees one world, time sensitive Lechasseur catches glimpses of another. In effect, we are presented with two possible 1984s – the real 1984, and the novel 1984. Although this is never too overt, the Party-ruled Britain in which free-thinking is suppressed is clearly recognisable as the world of Orwell’s great work. The links to Emily’s murder become clear once we understand her time-travelling ability. Taken under the wing of Radford, a Party thug who just happens to be another time sensitive, Emily is drawn into a time loop which can only result in her death. Radford, a wonderfully drawn character, is used to doublethink that the concept of paradoxes and parallel realities is no problem for him – he’s used to the facts being contradictory, and for events being two things at once.
As we race towards the conclusion, Radford sets out to ensure that it is his version of history that prevails, hopping back to 1949 to make sure events go to plan, regardless of the fact that he has been seen to kill Emily. Thankfully for Emily, forewarned is forearmed, and things run differently. It’s a standard time-travel plot, but it works nicely, drawing the reader along to the inevitable conclusion with some style. The main problem with the book is the length. At only eighty-two pages, it’s over almost as soon as it’s begun. There’s a lot more to explore in Radford’s world, and a longer story would have allowed the threat to our world time to sink in and become more dramatically powerful. As it is, there’s scarcely time to worry about fate of history before it’s all put right.
The Tunnel at the End of the Light offers readers a more routine adventure, with our heroes remaining rooted in 1950 throughout. Petrucha’s rich prose enhances the evocative setting of a London plagued by subhuman killers. An unexploded bomb left over from World War II is discovered in a disused tube station, only to go off, blasting a way into the murky subterr-anean world beneath London’s streets. Vicious little humanoids scurry and scuttle down there, ready to take a bite out of anyone who comes too near. Things only become serious, though, after Emily and Lechasseur are contacted by the bizarre Randolph Crest, a troll-like man well-known for his maudlin poetry. The Subterraneans have begun to move into the city to kill, and a pattern is emerging in their choice of victims. Before long, Emily and Lechass-eur have deduced that the killings are part of a ritual, and head into the sewers to discover who is using the creatures: Mestizer, the cold-hearted villainess from The Cabinet of Light. Here we discover that, just like Lechasseur and Radford, she is a time sensitive. Her plan involves the creation of a Subterranean king, a being that will act as a time channeller for her in the same way that Emily does for Lechasseur. Needless to say, her plans are thwarted in thrilling and satisfying style.
The Tunnel offers an enjoyable adventure, with enough of a mystery at its heart to retain the reader’s interest until the end. Only Crest’s true nature is too obvious, and his eventual fate a little predictable. The Subterraneans, although not an entirely original creation, nevertheless fascinate as a race of beings that have evolved a hive mind, one that allows them to view time as a human would space. Their origins are left agreeably obscure. The peculiar nature of the creatures and the pervading unsettling atmosphere are sold by the author’s colourful prose, although it does occasionally become a little too rich – sometimes the word ‘big’ will do just as well as ‘Brobdingnagian.’
Time Hunter’s third instalment sends the dynamic duo back to 1805, a year during which western culture was still living on the border between superstition and rationalism. Perhaps author Claire Bott’s short summary of the novella sums it up best – “An SF retelling of the Pinocchio story; a gender-reversed Frankenstein; a coming-of-age parable; Pygmalion and Galatea with a twist?” All of these descriptions describes part of this work, surprisingly complex for such a short novelette.
The storyline centres on, and is mostly told from the point of view of, the eponymous clock-work woman, Dove. When we first meet her, when Lechasseur and Emily are thrown back in time, she is presented as a perfect recreation of a young woman, but little more than that – a mere automaton who doesn’t even have a name. Created by disturbed genius Sir Edward to function as nothing more than a sexual plaything, she has little in the way of desires, feelings or identity. The arrival of the time travellers throws her world off kilter, and forces her to start making her own decisions.
The use of artificial intelligence as a mirror for the human condition is nothing new, but here Bott uses the concept as a feminist parable, pr-edicated on noted politicist writer Mary Wollstonecraft’s seminal work. Extracts from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman appear through-out – indeed, Dove spends a night reading from the book, something which helps shape her new world view. However, none of this is out of place or forceful, instead feeling entirely correct within the body of the story. Interestingly, the collision her between feminist writing and the concepts of artificial life that began with Frankenstein link Wollstonecraft with her daughter, Mary Shelley, née Godwin. There’s some uncomfortable reading here – for a significant portion of the book, Dove has to prostitute herself in order to earn money and lodging to allow first Lechasseur then Emily to survive. At first, she sees this as nothing more than a logical extension of her functions and duties to Sir Edward, but later understands the sacrifice she has been making for her new friends. Indeed, it is her first truly independent act, however sordid, that spurs her into finally choosing a name for herself and establishing her identity.
The regulars are well portrayed here. Bott excellently shows their platonic closeness while putting them at odds over Dove’s nature. While Emily is appalled at Sir Edward’s treatment of his creation, Lechasseur is less concerned – it’s unpleasant and seedy, yes, but she is just a robot. How much of Emily’s greater empathy is due to her being a fellow young woman who has lived through harsh conditions, and how much is perhaps due to her coming from a future era – perhaps further than first thought – where artificial intelligence isn’t mere science fiction, is open to interpretation. Naturally Lechasseur grows to recognise Dove’s nascent personhood, even risking his life for her, but his attitude at the beginning casts an unpleasant light on men – he’s very far from a misogynist, but even he can be guilty of lazy chauvinism without thinking. The pair are both outsiders in this era, too; as a ‘Blackamoor’, Lechasseur is treated with suspicion and aggression, but that is nothing as compared to the fate which almost befalls Emily, as a young woman in a time of enforced prostitution and sexual slavery - a time which, appallingly, has still not come to an end in the 21st century.
The Clockwork Woman isn’t purely concerned with social philosophy, however. There are plenty of thrilling escapes, fist-fights, witch-burnings and robotic unicorn rides to enjoy as well. In this case, the story’s brief duration works in its favour, keeping the pace up while the social commentary is woven through. The final confrontation between Dove and Sir Edward, with its disturbing undercurrents of incestuous abuse (he is, in a sense, her father), during which her new found strength is cast against his own psychological collapse, is counter-pointed with a thrilling attack on our heroes by mechanical dogs. An excellent story.
A more fantasy-tinged affair follows in Kitsune, set mostly in Japan in 2020. A setting in the near future of the reader, and the more distant future for Lechasseur, allows some excellent characterisation, with the streetwise man of the 1950s initially lost in both a time and culture that are peculiar and alien to him. Emily fares better in this environment – although she is overwhelmed at first, she is more comfortable here than her partner, most certainly due to her later origins, whatever they may be. She takes to this world quickly – there’s a lovely moment where she experiences a child’s thrill at a camera phone. She also has the helpful ability to understand any language she’s presented with – something that goes unexplained, but is no doubt due to her past in the TARDIS, as hinted at in her original appearance. Beyond the hints at her background, the placing of the two characters in this strange and foreign environment makes them a stronger seeming partnership than ever, relying on each other for their cultural support, more alike than different when compared to the Japanese around them.
This is another brief volume, but one that wastes no time getting started, throwing us pretty much straight into the plot with only the barest set-up given via some sharply written prologues. The pair are involved in an investigation into strange goings on in Tokyo-Kyoto linked to a new fashion line, Hide and Chic. Focussing on this allows the first half to explore the superficiality of modern culture and particularly fashion, filtered through Lechasseur’s fifties’ perspective. At almost exactly the half-way mark, the book shifts into a higher gear, with the eponymous kitsune – legendary Japanese fox spirits – taking centre stage. While Emily undergoes another time shift, arriving several centuries in the past to learn the roots of the spirits’ conflict with humanity, Lechasseur must deal with it in the modern city. Again, the brevity of the book is an issue – Emily’s historical adventure with noble samurai could have done with more exploration. Nonetheless, the conflict with the kitsune is well-portrayed, with the villain’s background and grievance well explored. Author John Catton’s years in Tokyo have clearly given him an excellent insight into Japan’s mythology – everything is explained to just the right degree, the mystery never lost at the expense of clarity. The finale is exciting yet unhurried, and although the nature of Lechasseur’s final gambit is clearly illustrated on the front cover, it remains grippingly told.
Things come together in this time-hopping tale, as the greater universe of the Time Hunter series begins to take shape. Both the lead characters and the world mechanics have their background explored here, but not at the expense of a well-told story. Lechasseur and Emily are drawn into a chase across time zones when they embark on the trail of two mysterious individuals – Barnaby, the severed man of the title, and a nameless young boy. Both have, to Lechasseur’s sensitive eyes, anomalous timelines – Barnaby’s is broken and twisted, while the boy seems to have too much history altogether. Following the pair leads our heroes back to both 1892 and 1921, each year holding a separate, but linked, encounter with otherworldly danger.
The 1892 sequences are particularly well-told, with George Mann displaying a good knack for creepy Victorian-era exploits. Stumbling across a man whose throat has been torn out, the pair are incarcerated by the local constabulary. There are some excellent moments here, as Lechasseur must deal with the everyday racism of the era. Nowadays, we tend to think of the 1950s as a rather naïve, backward time, with terrible discrimination. For Lechasseur, this is the era he’s used to, but the nature of Britain sixty years earlier shocks him. Thankfully, a rather more enlightened inspector from the Yard is on hand to let them off the hook, but they must still tread carefully in their investigations. Lechasseur gets the more in depth character exploration – there’s another fine moment when he encounters the perpetrator of the crimes, a pathetically mutilated monster who was taken from the same kind of field hospital in which he himself recovered during the war, dredging up strong memories and sympathies in him. However, Emily’s past, necessarily much more oblique, is explored too. The group behind the monster’s killing spree, a sinister devil cult, provokes a terrified response in her. She has some link to these people, but she doesn’t know what.
This leads into the second segment, by way of an encounter with one aspect of the deranged Barnaby. The encounter pulls them back to 1921, into a village caught in a silent time loop. There are some creepy moments here, although they are understandably low on incident, since nothing can actually happen here. Still, this moves on quickly to a meeting with a saner, more coherent and far more entertaining Barnaby. It’s a bit of an info dump, but this scene does provide plenty of both questions and answers. The Victorian cult is merely a front for an organisation from the future, who are committed to removing all time sensitives from history, to end their pollution of the timestream. To this end, they have enslaved various beings to act out their dirty work – the mechanised monster of the first half, and a powerful, transcendent being in the second. Barnaby has fallen victim to them, and joins forces with out heroes in a final desperate strike that provides for an action-packed sequence. At the end of the book, we’re left with more questions unanswered. How many people like Emily and Lechasseur are there? Just where and when do these sinister travellers come from (and are they, in fact, the Time Hunters?) How is Emily’s predicament linked to them? And just where have she and Lechasseur arrived at the story’s end?
“Echoes of the past… echoes of the future,” goes the blurb, promising something intriguing, an exploration of time in this strange universe. Sadly though, Echoes is a letdown, easily the weakest book in the series, slamming the breaks on the momentum the range had gathered. There are some interesting concepts, as Emily and Lechasseur explore a house existing across time zones, while a group of young women seem to be trapped in some other realm. However, the writing lets it down. This other realm consists of nothingness, the inhabitants bodiless yet “somehow” aware of each other, leading to long passages of dialogue only material that fails to maintain interest. If the dialogue had been stronger, it might have worked, but it becomes quite painful to read in some places, and urges the reader to skip ahead to more approachable prose sections.
On the plus side, among the many female characters is Tess, a very engaging 19th century teenager. Once we meet her in a physical form back in her own time, she shines, and has a remarkable rapport with Lechasseur (there’s obviously something about the guy that puts vulnerable young women at ease). The book’s not shy about confronting the horrors facing a young person driven onto the streets either. There’s precious little to make the other women memorable, in spite of some colourful back stories. Also a misstep is the power behind their predicament. Although it’s commendable that the transcendent being, taking the form of a little boy, is not a villain as such but rather another damaged victim, for a higher entity he is astonishingly easily tricked. The finale ends up feeling somewhat hurried and unsatisfying.
Olaf Stapledon is one of the least remembered, yet most influential science fiction writers of the 20th century. A man of prodigious imagination, he authored novels which included some of the earliest explorations of genetic augmentation, future human evolution, Dyson spheres, collective intelligence and more. Perhaps his most acclaimed work, Last and First Men, takes in billions of years of humanity’s future over successive mutations and refinements; its follow-up, Star Maker, is even broader in scope and manages to reduce the events of the earlier work to little more than a footnote. Odd John, on the other hand, dealt with the next stage of human life living among us, while Sirius crossed the species barrier and asked us what it means to be human.
Peculiar Lives creates a substitute character, Erik Clevedon, but is not shy in making it clear that this he is a mirror for Stapledon. The writer’s interest in eugenics, uncomfortable reading today, is the backdrop here, as we explore the next evolution of the human species. Homo peculiar has begun to arrive, consisting of human mutants with various unusual abilities and physical attributes; the Peculiars’ spokesman, the childlike Percival, believes the time will come when homo sapiens will need to be removed to make way for their future counter-parts. Although mostly set in the home era of 1950, the chance encounter of Lechasseur and Percival, who happens to be a time channeller like Emily, propels them both into the far, far distant future, to a time when man’s myriad advanced descendents rule the Solar System.
It’s an effective pastiche of Stapledon’s works, and an enjoyable thriller in its own right, as long as you can stomach the somewhat grandiose prose style. The book seems to drag on occasion, in spite of its short length, although this is all part of the evocation of the 1930s genre it is aping. In spite of his outmoded and controversial views, Clevedon makes for an entertaining narrator. The story evokes not only the works of Stapledon, but also HG Wells and Theodore Sturgeon, plus George Bernard Shaw, who gains his own avatar in the form of Gideon Beech, creating a thought-provoking work of science fiction.
One of the shorter volumes in the series, Deus Le Volt shows its Doctor Who roots more than most, since we get a guest appearance by an honest-to-goodness classic monster, the Fendahl. The legendary horror from the lost Planet Five takes on a diabolic role here; while Image of the Fendahl was a Quatermass-styled take on mankind’s origins, this story sees the Fendahl worshipped as a demonic figure by a fallen Christian mystic.
The setting, the height of the First Crusade in 1098, is a clever choice for the team of Emily and Lechasseur; the sight of a young white English girl travelling with an exotically-accented black man immediately invoking suspicion and confusion in the forces based outside Antioch. Yet this is a time of uncomfortable alliances, as races from throughout Europe attempt to put aside their differences and work together under the Pope’s war cry. Although at first he’s locked up as a Saracen villain, Lechasseur later becomes an instrumental part of the siege of Antioch, although not by choice. Emily, on the other hand, is treated like any other woman of the period, with little respect or right to speak. While she gets her own Sarah Jane moment, rallying the women of the camp to stop working like slaves for their men, she gets a rejoinder; many of these women are happy to be doing their part for their country and faith.
Deus Le Volt runs along nicely, crammed with plenty of incident, although the writing seems quite workmanlike much of the time. It’s hard to credit that, with all that they’ve learned and experienced, Emily and Lechasseur would simply follow an anachronistic 11th century man back in time without any thought to protection or a plan of action. They immediately end up in serious trouble, and it’s only because of Simon, a more intelligent knight who takes a shine to Emily, that they are reunited. In fact, Simon has big secrets of his own, and the revelation of his identity as someone seemingly from far further ahead that Emily and Lechasseur seems to come out of the blue. Nice though it is to have a classic monster come back, there seems to be little reason to make the demonic figure the Fendahl; its follower, the sinister Reynald, seems underdeveloped too. Perhaps with more breathing space, more could be made of these three figures and the book would have been more satisfying.
Emily is dead! Haven’t we been here before? Once again, Lechasseur is presented with evidence that Emily is destined to die in the past, during an adventure gone awry. One Catherine Hawkins, someone he has yet to encounter, gives him this information. Naturally, he tries to avoid this outcome and prevent Emily from accompanying him into the inevitable experiences that will lead to her death. Naturally, Emily is having none of it; by this stage, the adventuring in time has become her life.
The Albino’s Dancer is a clever tale, with a plot and a cast of characters that jump between two days in 1951. Lechasseur and Emily become mixed up in the machinations of a scarred, mute gangster - the eponymous Albino - whose dealings in otherworldly contraband are thre-atening to get out of hand. He makes a living dealing in lost alien technology, not to mention lost alien girls. This unsavoury character is backed up by a hunk of cybernetically-enhanced muscle for hire, Leiter - one time lover of Catherine, before his conversion into a gaspunk cyborg, not dissimilar to Abraxas from The Cabinet of Light. Now the Albino has got his hands on time technology (bearing the horned sigil of the cabal from The Severed Man), components of which can be used as stand-ins for a time sensitive or a time channeller. As such, Emily and Lechasseur are separated, yet are still able to travel, albeit clumsily and uncomfortably, through time.
The narrative is ingeniously structured, with the continual time-hopping never becoming confusing or overly complex (nonetheless, Dale Smith provides a helpful guide to the plot as an appendix, should it get too much for some readers). It’s hard to pull a plot like this off; for once, the brevity of the format actually helps, since the story has little chance to become too convoluted. The guest characters are all cleverly portrayed, their younger selves from the February segment of the story far less damaged than the individuals that they become; Catherine, Leiter and the Albino, when first met in November, ten months later, are crippled, be it emotionally or physically, by the events that take place here. Emily survives, of course, but not without cost. As well as being a cracking adventure in its own right, The Albino’s Dancer further expands the Time Hunter universe, hinting at further mysteries and showing that if they mean to, Lechasseur and Emily can alter the path of history, something that will come back to haunt them in the following instalment.
As the series draws to a close, we are finally treated to some good, meaty background characterisation for Honoré Lechasseur. We learn of his mother, horribly murdered when he was just twelve years old. We explore a little more of his gangland life as a London fixer. We revisit the painful period he suffered recovering from his injuries in the War. This last element is reflected in the character of Jonah Rankin, a man whose own unusual abilities manifested during a horrific mustard gas attack. Unlike Lechasseur and Emily, who must be together in order to travel, Rankin can shift from reality on his own. However, rather than jump from time to time, Rankin shifts into a parallel timestream; an alternative reality. At first, this old cliché plays out just how we’d expect; there’s an intriguing look at a world in which the war hasn’t been fought, and in which airships are common because the Hindenburg disaster never occurred. As anticipated, there are alternative versions of our two heroes, altogether less moral reflections of Emily and Lechasseur. They’re also lovers, something which shocks our heroes, who have been denying any kind of attraction between themselves since the very beginning. What’s more interesting though is that the nature of this reality isn’t simply due to the natural variations of probability and cause-and-effect, but due to these darker alter egos travelling in time and making adjustments here and there. Both Emily and Lechasseur are shocked and appalled by their cavalier attitude to the continuity if history, particularly when it becomes clear that they remove difficult individuals by happily bumping them off.
Once again, if there’s a problem with the story, it’s the length; seventy-eight pages is simple not sufficient to explore these concepts fully. We need more time to learn why Emily and Lechasseur have become so immoral in this timeline; not only why they have decided to start their mission to tidy up history, but why they’re so bloodthirsty - it would have been a more interesting dilemma if they hadn’t become murderers as well as manipulators. The one mission we see, to remove the man who prevented Hitler’s entrance to art school, could have been solved with a bribe or a fiddling of paperwork, rather than a lethal injection. There are a number of interesting concepts that are little explored: the nature of time, which seems to fight against interference; the nature of Rankin’s dimension-jumping; further exploration of whether this altered timeline really is preferable to the original. While the pace is kept up to make this a brisk, enjoyable read, there’s a real need for more development, and a less rushed climax. However, the one element that is really explored sufficiently, Lechasseur’s childhood and his temptation, and eventual refusal, to change it, is fascinating. Satisfyingly, events aren’t reset at the end, leaving Emily and Lechasseur disillusioned both with their mission and each other, their partnership in jeopardy.
The final novella draws together all manner of disparate plot points as the mysteries of Time Hunter are finally explained. Thankfully, this volume is given a little more breathing space than most of its predecessors, and it certainly needs it, given the wealth of elements it needs to incorporate.
As it begins, Emily and Lechasseur have been avoiding each other for several weeks, following the difficult events of the previous story. However, they are brought back into the world of time-travelling investigation when Lechasseur reads of the discovery of the bones of a woman in a bombed-out building. The bones are carved with mysterious runic symbols; investigating, he discovers that they are dressed in a material that hasn’t yet been invented. Observing the corpse, Lechasseur senses the woman’s timeline; the marks were carved into her while still alive, and her timeline is twisted through both the past and future. Resolving to investigate once again, our heroes travel along this path, arriving in the devastated London of the future. Animate stone gargoyles roam the streets, survivors exist in shantytowns, and a mysterious organisation known as the Sodality rules.
The exploration of the ruined London is effectively creepy, raising intriguing questions about what has happened in this version of the future. While we experience much of this through the eyes of Emily and Lechasseur, our encounters with the Sodality itself are mainly to do with the High Executioner, an immoral young woman of great importance in the organisation. The Sodality have captured a rogue element, Doctor Smith - from the outset, blatantly the Doctor, going by a slightly different alias no doubt due to licensing reasons. In any case, this is the version of the Doctor previously encountered in The Cabinet of Light; with his air of arrogance, habit of smoking and tendency to go “Hmmm,” there’s the possibility that this may even be a young version of the first Doctor, although a future version seems far more likely. In any case, his presence indicates that something important is going to happen very soon.
While Dr Smith and the Executioner spar, Emily and Lechasseur encounter Maria, the young woman destined to leave her bones under some rubble in the late 1940s. Apart from the fact that all three are far too immediately trusting of one another, she’s a successful character, a powerful, if unpractised, time traveller who can jump from her native time and place - Venice, 1586 - to this point, a thousand years later. Although seemingly limited to these two points, she doesn’t need a second element to allow her travel; she is time sensitive and time channeller in one. We learn a great deal more about the Sodality from her; they are the ones who carved the runes on her body, as part of a series of experiments.
Hopping back and forth between the 16th and 26th centuries, we learn a great deal more. The Sodality is none other than the cabal, the devil cult from The Severed Man. They are responsible for creating the temporally-powered beings encountered throughout history, Emily and Lechasseur included. They have manipulated history and human evolution to their own ends. The sequence of events is hard to follow - inevitable, probably, when dealing with a group who have altered their own history on more than one occasion - but it seems that at first they intended to create an all-powerful ‘Child of Time,’ as an offering to Mastho, their idol. In Venice, they succeed in summoning Mastho - none other than one of the Daemons, not quite as extinct as we may have thought. Mastho casts the Sodality down, ordering them to destroy the time sensitives and channellers.
For the most part, Child of Time is a thrilling sequence of captures, escapes, near-death experiences and monstrous occult rituals. All manner of elements from previous instalments are brought in, from hints at the origin of the cyborg technology from Cabinet and The Albino’s Dancer, to the reappearance of the gifted children from Peculiar Lives, to the set-up for the DVD spin-off Dæmos Rising, the unofficial sequel to The Dæmons. The ongoing mysteries are haphazardly managed, however. Emily’s search for the truth about herself goes off on a tangent, as she believes that she is the Child of Time, even though it’s blatantly Maria. Mastho reappears to the Sodality in London, revealing that actually, he does want the Child of Time to exist, and his order to murder all the time sensitives was just a clever ploy. And the Dæmons are going to take over the universe with it, or something. Finally, Emily’s discovery of her identity is neither much of a surprise, well-signposted as it is, nor handled effectively, almost lost amongst more significant plot developments.
The real weakness of the instalment is in the writing. The action sequences are more than competent, but there are some terribly awkward chunks of exposition and some dreadful dialogue. Characters frequently “somehow know” things or “instinctively” come to knowledge that they can’t possibly have. They spell out their emotional reactions to events, rather than allowing the reader to follow them through their actions or moods. As a culmination to the series, it works reasonably well, tying up most, if not all, the loose ends, but as a story in its own right, it feels rushed and unpolished.
Undoubtedly, there are highs and lows to the Time Hunter series. It never tries to be more than a Doctor Who spin-off, something that works both to its favour, granting it a place in an expansive existing universe, and its hindrance, since it sometimes struggles to feel new and distinct. The best books are those that work from a strong central conceit, such as The Clockwork Woman and The Albino’s Dancer, and those that take on a more literary focus, exploring the science fiction genre, such as The Winning Side and Peculiar Lives. The ongoing mystery never overreaches itself, nor does it eclipse the individual stories; a triumph considering how many elements are seeded through the run. In the end, however, perhaps a longer, more structured conclusion would have been more effective.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2011
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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