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“This is the Gyre, the most hostile environment in the galaxy.” The Gyre: 250,000 years’ worth of junk floating in deep space, home to the shipwrecked Sittuun, the slug-like carnivorous Sollogs and, worst of all, the Humans. The Doctor and Amy arrive on this terrifying world in the middle of an all-out frontier war between the Sittuun and the regressed humans, and the countdown has already started. There’s a comet in the sky, and it’s on a collision course with the Gyre. When the Doctor is kidnapped, it’s up to Amy and the “galaxy-famous swashbuckler” Dirk Slipstream to save the day. But who is Slipstream exactly, and what is he really doing here...?
Worlds formed out of fused space junk have been done before in science fiction - for example, Bernice Summerfield recently encountered such a structure in the audio drama Absence. Retrograde humans who have misinterpreted the remnants of their culture and technology are even more familiar - in the Planet of the Apes saga, Star Trek’s The Omega Glory and Doctor Who’s The Face of Evil, to name but three. In the case of the humans on the Gyre, they worship their spaceship’s clown mascot, regard ancient Westerns (which lack their soundtracks) as sacred texts, and have come to believe that their present location is the Earth.
However, David Llewellyn’s other ideas (including the character of Dirk Slipstream, who strikes me as a cross between Errol Flynn and Captain Cook from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) and his handling of them keeps the story interesting and feeling fresh. Though certain plot points regarding characters’ interactions with the humans are rather cursory (the Doctor’s argument with their leader is so short that you feel the Time Lord could have done better, whereas Slipstream wins them over easily), overall the narrative makes compelling and surprising reading.
In terms of series mythology, the author deftly charts a course between the episodes Victory of the Daleks and The Time of Angels, between which this novel appears to be set. Though his book takes place in an alien environment, Llewellyn is careful to ensure that it isn’t actually a planet (because Amy’s first alien planet is Alfava Metraxis, in The Time of Angels). His inclusion of a crack in the universe (in keeping with other Eleventh Doctor novels and episodes) is one of the most subtle to date, appearing “like a vast, malevolent grin” in the depths of a bottomless canyon.
I hadn’t got far into the book before I thought I had working out how the Doctor was going to save the day, based upon ways in which he’s saved the day in previous adventures. However, I was wrong. Without giving too much away, the ending is certainly not what I had expected.
An evening with Night of the Humans is a night well spent.