In 1856, a boy discovers that he can communicate with the
dead. He becomes a celebrated spiritualist. In 1863, Queen
Victoria is inconsolable following the death of her husband,
Prince Albert. When she learns about a supposed gateway to
the Other Side, she sees an opportunity for the British Empire
to expand into a new realm...
Victorian era has provided the setting for many a classic
tale, including the Doctor Who stories The Talons
of Weng-Chiang, Ghost Light and Imperial Moon.
David Bishop's previous novel, The Domino Effect was
also set in the days of the British Empire, but on an alternative
Earth of 2003, in which the Empire had never fallen.
return to the 19th century is no less welcome, though. As
ever, there is fun to had as prudish Victorians interact with
characters from other times and places. Nyssa, for example,
raises plenty of eyebrows by examining a corpse, wearing trousers
and (shock, horror!) receiving a gentleman caller in her sleeping
quarters. The literature of the period is even brought to
mind during scenes told from the Trakenite's point of view,
conveyed as they are in the format of diary entries.
presence of the grieving Queen brings to mind the movie Mrs
Brown, while also tying in with another fascinating subject:
spiritualism. As the Fifth Doctor explains to his companion,
this is a time of great philosophical upheaval. Science is
beginning to overturn fundamental ideas about the very creation
of humanity, so naturally great thinkers are also setting
out to seek a rational explanation for what lies beyond death.
Doctor and Nyssa also prove susceptible to the lure of the
spirit world, having recently faced the death of Adric. In
addition, Nyssa has still not come to terms with the death
of her father, Tremas, and the destruction of her entire world.
The author builds upon the character's relative lack of displayed
emotion following Adric's demise to explore the not unreasonable
hypothesis that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He also touches upon Nyssa's burgeoning psychic abilities,
which either ties in with, or steps on the toes of, Big Finish's
development of the companion, depending on how you care to
look at it.
pace of the story could have done with tightening up a little
- half the novel has elapsed before the time travellers finally
reach the underwater site of the alleged entrance to the Other
Side. However, the narrative remains irresistibly readable.
good, in fact.
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