to track a temporal anomaly, the Fourth Doctor encounters Nyssa
of Traken, a travelling companion he is not yet supposed to
have met. Nyssa had been studying the works of 13th-century
scholar Roger Bacon when she was affected by the same anomaly.
The TARDIS heads back to Oxford of 1278, by which time Bacon
has retired to a Franciscan friary - a friary that has just
suffered the mysterious loss of one of its friars...
sci-fi elements of this story are as book-ends to what is
primarily a historically-based novel, which takes its inspiration
from Umberto Eco's monastic murder mystery, The Name of
the Rose. Just as Eco provided exhaustively intricate
descriptions of architecture in his novel, so Darvill-Evans
devotes many a long paragraph to depicting the 13th-century
town's key buildings, overall layout and natural surroundings.
The result is a sense of authenticity, but somewhat at the
expense of the pace of the plot.
Eco's Sherlockian detective, the Doctor shares his investigative
role with one of the friars, brother Alfric. In fact, both
the Doctor and his asynchronous travelling companion have
less prominent roles than usual. Each is absent for sizeable
chunks of the narrative, especially in the case of Nyssa,
although they are seldom far from the thoughts and actions
of the supporting characters. Having gone to some considerable
effort setting up a situation in which a post-Terminus
Nyssa could travel alongside a pre-Keeper of Traken
Doctor, Darvill-Evans then gives the Trakenite a particularly
inactive role. However, Nyssa's search for a quieter life
does provide some charming scenes, as a besotted knight clumsily
attempts to express his feelings for her, as well as some
nail-bitingly tense moments towards the novel's conclusion.
dialect of certain characters strikes one as odd at first,
littered as it is with such modern colloquialisms as "cushy"
and "tosser". However, it soon becomes clear that the various
social ranks of medieval England would actually have spoken
in French, Latin or Middle English, and so the author astutely
avoids any pretence at emulating these languages. Instead,
he conveys each character's social standing by their use or
otherwise of slang terms and their construction of sentences.
is a rather short novel, at just 220 pages, but it is complimented
by an intriguing essay that discusses the ultimately impossible
quest for historical accuracy. An unusual book, then, but
Asylum is definitely worth seeking.