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BOOK
Doctor Who
The Gallifrey Chronicles

Author: Lance Parkin
BBC Books
RRP: 5.99
ISBN 0 563 48624 4
Available 06 June 2005


An elderly writer called Marnal is reborn on his deathbed, transformed into a different, younger man. The new Marnal's first utterance is just one word: "Gallifrey". This is the planet he has been writing about for more than a century. But no sooner has he remembered its name than he discovers the planet no longer exists. Marnal sets out to find and punish the man responsible for Gallifrey's destruction...

It's difficult to discuss The Gallifrey Chronicles without blowing one of its major plot revelations, but I will try. Suffice to say that my rather nave expectation, that the planet previously destroyed in the novel The Ancestor Cell would somehow be summoned back into existence, ready to be destroyed again in the Time War mentioned in the new television series, was overly simplistic. Given the unenviable task of reconciling these two demises, Lance Parkin's narrative is refreshingly free of predictable or improbable contrivances. Instead, he offers hope for the planet's eventual restoration while still allowing breathing room for future television episodes and novels, as well as fans' imaginations.

The narrative structure is peculiar, and some readers may be disappointed to find that it doesn't have a proper ending. It begins and ends mid-adventure, rather like a first-season episode of Alias. The monsters of the piece, though extremely effective, are not introduced until the second half of the story. We are teased with the possibility that the events that follow the "cliffhanger" ending might be the ones that culminate in the Doctor's eighth regeneration, but the author is not so foolish as to set this in stone.

The beginning of the book cuts between scenes with Marnal and humorous snippets of several of the Doctor, Fitz and Trix's ongoing travels. Some time has evidently passed for the TARDIS crew since the previous novel, To the Slaughter, because Fitz and Trix have grown rather close to one another and they seem to have met the Daleks a few times, which allows some scope for "missing adventures" to inhabit this gap. There's also a welcome flashback to the Doctor's "parenthood" of Miranda, though its connection with the main plot is tenuous and it could have functioned as a short story in its own right.

The novel is littered with textual references to Doctor Who's past, in various media. However, the witty - sometimes downright cheeky - ways in which Parkin sneaks in these references prevent the narrative from becoming too pretentious. For instance, when Marnal scans time and space in search of the Doctor, he sees patterns similar to the television show's various title sequences. He comments that the Doctor seems to have three alternative ninth incarnations, one of several nods to The Curse of Fatal Death and Scream of the Shalka.

The works of Marnal, by inference the Gallifrey chronicles of the title, are analogous to the Doctor's own adventures. Some of them are named after the working titles of real stories, such as The Giants (Planet of Giants) and The Hand of Time (The Hand of Fear). As with the development of the original television series, Marnal's creative mind is perceived as having once been colourful but is now overgrown, tangled, senile and impenetrable. Marnal's descriptions of Gallifrey are said to be dry and boring, implying that Parkin, like Russell T Davies, feels much the same way about the mythology that was built up around the planet - that the franchise is better off without it.

Quotations from pivotal tales in the series' long history are worked in, including An Unearthly Child, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Tomb of the Cybermen, Death Comes to Time, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street and, um, Time and the Rani(!). Appropriately enough, Timewrym: Genesys, the first original full-length Doctor Who novel, and the 1996 TV movie, the Eighth Doctor's debut adventure, are referenced more than most. The newly regenerated Marnal gabbles exposition about his Time Lord physiology and his home planet just as McGann's Doctor did in the TV movie.

Though Gallifrey is not restored in the way we might have expected it to be, several lingering plot arcs and unanswered questions are resolved, such as... Why was the Doctor instinctively afraid of regaining his lost memories? Why was Fitz sometimes able to remember Gallifrey's destruction but on other occasions was not? What was the Seventh Doctor protecting so vigorously within the Eighth Doctor's mind in City of the Dead? What was scratching away behind the wall in Trading Futures? Why did Trix phone Anji in The Deadstone Memorial? And why did the Doctor redecorate the TARDIS's interior prior to Rose?

I would not describe this book as a good starting point for readers whose only exposure to Doctor Who to date has been the Chris Eccleston series. However, it is essential reading for anyone who has picked up an Eighth Doctor book since The Ancestor Cell.

In spite of its structural oddities, I found I made more notes about The Gallifrey Chronicles than about any other Who novel in the last year or so, which is some indication of how much it fired my imagination. I could go on at greater length about how I believe events might unfold between the final chapter of this book and the episode Rose but that, I think, is a discussion for another time and place...

Richard McGinlay

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