Carsus: the largest repository of knowledge in the universe
- in any universe, for there are an infinite number of potential
universes. The Sixth Doctor and Mel visit Carsus to see the
Doctor's old friend Professor Rummas, but he has been murdered.
Or rather, a potential version of Rummas has been murdered.
Only the Doctor can stop the descent into temporal chaos,
but he is lost on Janus 8. And Schyllus. And a 20th-century
Earth where Rome never fell. And...
Gary Russell has penned what is potentially a very confusing
novel. It opens with a segment concerning a couple of strange
green children, the relevance of whom does not become apparent
for some time. The narrative then dips in and out of the lives
of two families in the 1950s, the outcast Romanian Tungards
and the upper-class English Lampreys - who turn out to have
a mysterious connection - in between scenes of the Sixth Doctor
and Mel visiting Carsus.
one point, I thought Mel seemed somewhat out of character,
exhibiting intense annoyance at social class divisions in
a manner that is more akin to the hot-headed Ace. However,
in retrospect I believe this to be an early warning sign of
the universal divergence, which also has Mel imagining a sister
she never had, and gives rise to alternate versions of the
TARDIS travellers, including a black-clad, gruesomely scarred
all these disparate plot elements, Russell's narrative remains
remarkably readable (only losing it a bit towards the end),
thanks to an easy-going writing style, memorable characters
and surprising plot twists, including a couple of particularly
dramatic developments concerning the Lamprey family and an
while the author made his complex plot comprehensible to me,
it appears that whoever wrote the back-cover blurb was somewhat
less clear about the situation. The copy erroneously refers
to there being only 117,863 potential universes, when in fact
this figure relates to the number of universes that are known
to contain a Melanie Jane Bush. Perhaps the cover blurb is
from an alternate universe...
plot development that does not come as a surprise, however,
is the fact that this book proves to be the Sixth Doctor's
final journey, leading straight into the Rani's attack upon
the TARDIS at the beginning of Time and the Rani. I'm
not spoiling anything by the way, because the author lays
his cards on the table at an early stage, stating, for example,
that Carsus is close to the planet Lakertya, the setting of
Time and the Rani, and describing Mel wearing the same
outfit as she wore in that serial. The time travellers refer
to recent events on the planet Caliban, a world that Russell's
fellow author Craig Hinton had intended to be the site for
this incarnation's swansong. I wonder whether Hinton is annoyed
with Russell for "stealing his thunder"?
in all, Spiral Scratch gives the Sixth Doctor as honourable
a send-off as is possible without contradicting events in
Time and the Rani. It does invalidate the first page
of Pip and Jane Baker's novelisation of the television serial,
but that's no great loss. It could also be argued that the
dying Doctor's inner peace is at odds with the resentful ex-incarnation
depicted in New Adventures novels such as Timewyrm:
Revelation and Head Games. However, it is also
possible that the Doctor's upbeat final words are those of
his emerging seventh self.
the other hand, if you don't believe that this narrative fits
in with other continuities, there's the handy get-out clause
of all those alternate Doctors, who also include briefly seen
versions that are clearly based upon other spin-off media.
One of them is accompanied by a giant penguin - obviously
Frobisher from the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips
- while another wears the blue outfit seen in the Real
I wouldn't want to ruin it by disclosing any more plot details,
so take my word for it that there's plenty more to enjoy in
this book than I have mentioned above. In fact, I've barely
scratched the surface.
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