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Audio Book Review
For centuries the Maintainers have worked. With no help from other worlds, they subsist on what little food they can grow. Their purpose, their whole life is to maintain the machines that will one day make their world as habitable as old Earth. Life used to be hard. Now as crops fail, livestock sicken, and the temperature drops, it’s becoming impossible. This year’s Winter Season Feast won’t be the usual celebration. It’s no time for optimism or hope - or to welcome unexpected guests. The Doctor, Amy and Rory find a society breaking apart... and then the Time Lord’s old enemies the Ice Warriors make their move. With the cold-hearted threat of invasion, the real battle for survival begins. Or does it? The Doctor begins to suspect that behind everything lies a deadlier, and even more chilling danger...
Following the idiosyncratic approach of Michael Moorcock in The Coming of the Terraphiles, it’s very much back to basics for this, the second “grown-up” novel based on the new television series.
Dan Abnett is no stranger to licensed Who fiction, having written several audio books and dramas, including The Harvest, the linking material for the book The Story of Martha, and numerous comic strips for Doctor Who Magazine. However, you don’t need to be an expert on the show or its increasingly complex continuity in order to enjoy this novel. Knowledge of the Ice Warriors is a distinct advantage, but not essential, as the author explains everything you need to know.
This unabridged talking book is similarly “no frills” in its approach. Unlike recent releases in the “Classic Novels” and “Audio Exclusive” Doctor Who ranges, there are no sound effects, no original incidental music - just the main theme, which dramatically punctuates the beginning and end of each of the six CDs, and the rich tones of reader Michael Maloney.
The performer, who has played several roles in previous Who audios, including the sinister Viyrans in Patient Zero and Blue Forgotten Planet, provides compelling narration. He does a mean Ice Warrior, and his Amy is better than some. However, his Doctor is somewhat disconcerting, sounding more like Tom Baker than Matt Smith, perhaps with a dash of Basil Rathbone thrown in. It’s easier to imagine the vocal mannerisms of Smith’s Doctor from reading Abnett’s words than by listening to Maloney’s reading of them, though it would be interesting to hear a Doctor Who Unbound with Maloney playing the Time Lord.
With the presence of the Ice Warriors and an old-school voice for the Doctor, the overall effect is more old Who than new. Significantly, perhaps in a bid to attract potential customers who are more familiar with the old show than the new, the current TARDIS crew are not depicted on the cover, whereas the Ice Warriors are.
I wonder whether these monsters will ever actually appear in the new series, or whether their presence in this book means that the show’s production team has no plans to use them. Perhaps the producers are superstitiously wary of bringing them back, in case the programme gets cancelled - which is what happened the last three times the Ice Warriors were scheduled to return to the screen (in Mission to Magnus, Thin Ice and The Dark Dimension).
The author is at pains to explain the circuitous route by which the Ice Warriors came by their name... but to little real effect, because in fact it was the character Walters who first used the term in The Ice Warriors, rather than the Doctor’s companion Victoria. Abnett states that the creatures are herbivorous, which tallies with the New Adventures novel GodEngine but not the more recent audio drama Thin Ice (in which an Ice Warrior eats frozen fish fingers). He convincingly explores the paradoxes evident in their honour-based martial culture, without ever getting too heavy-handed or Star Trek-y.
His examination of the Maintainers’ society is perhaps more fascinating. These human descendents have been away from Earth for so long that the language of this terraforming colony has evolved away from the technological towards more nature-based terms such as plantnation, shipskin and autumnatically (my spellchecker is very unhappy right now!).
On audio, the story does drag a bit at times. One problem with talking books is that what can make for leisurely reading on the page doesn’t always work so well when read aloud. Nevertheless, with a total running time of six hours, you get plenty of Who for your money - ideal for passing long, but not silent, winter evenings by.