turbot: Perfect Tree, Armidale (Default)
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In “Dominion”, Nick Walters has thrown three genres in one book. The first third of the book is a straight horror tale set in a Swedish forest. The rest of the book is split equally between following Sam in a voyage through the fantastic while the Doctor and Fitz encountering scientists and secret agents (aka UNIT) meddling with forces that they don’t understand. And it works. By keeping the actual linear plot relatively simple, Walter has written an enjoyable tale that kept me interested until the end.

The book opens up with Sam being sucked out of the TARDIS reminiscent of Nyssa in “Terminus”, which is the last we see of her for a while. “Yay!” many might say, but to be honest she returns in style later in the book. Instead, we focus on the Doctor and Fitz arriving in Sweden in the late nineties at a time when other people are disappearing, along with chunks of houses and anything in the vicinity. Meanwhile alien creatures are turning up dead, and not so dead, in the forest, and thus the mystery is set. The fact that the alien menace cannot survive for long on Earth is a wonderful idea, and makes the threat all the more chaotic. That one species can infect humans Alien-style seems all the more horrific for the idea that the baby aliens are doomed from birth.

One of Walters’s strong points is perspective. We meet young student Kerstin prior to her boyfriend and a chunk of the house simply disappearing. Her doubts about the relationship are effectively portrayed, as is her despair and numbness at his disappearance. Much of the first third of the book is seen by Kerstin and Fitz. Kerstin sees the horror of someone for whom it is outside her experience; Fitz seems destined to play the hero against his will. When the police disappear from the plot completely for no apparent reason, it is up to Fitz to try and find out what is going on under the forest. His relationship with the Doctor is still in its relative infancy and we can see the tension, but the Doctor also has other things on his mind.

Narrative tradition always seems to require the writer to separate the Doctor from the TARDIS, though often the Doctor’s sheer enthusiasm to take up a cause is enough. We’ve seen it all, the TARDIS fall down a mountain, taken away by robots, dragged off by ants. Here Walter’s really nobbles the TARDIS to such an extent that it has revealed back to its original shape of a white box and has shutdown the telepathic circuits so out heroes cannot understand Swedish anymore. (Obviously the Doctor can speak English or Walters might have had to invent a whole lot of High Gallifreyan). The TARDIS is no longer a safe place nor has it been for a while – how many psychic attacks have gotten in over the years. In this case the whirlpool that sucked Sam to another dimension has damaged the TARDIS that much it spends the entire book regenerating – and remember that this is pre-Ancestor Cell and the Earth History arc (where, for the sake of those who haven’t got that far yet, the TARDIS spent many books similarly unusable). As with a lot of books, the Doctor doesn’t actually do much, largely because he spends a lot of the book prevented from doing anything by others. Walters is by now means the only author who has fakken inti this track, but it does allow him to concentrate on the relatively new Fitz.

Meanwhile Sam turns up is the Dominion, and utterly enclosed dimension that is slowly being eaten by an encroaching blackness the inhabitants simply cannot comprehend. Sam is perhaps his most important perspective, translating the Day-Glo world of the Dominion into something the reader can understand. Here the T’hiili float through chambers in pod-grown dirigibles, fighting the predatory Ruin in the ever contracting Dominion. Sam has to try and deal with the sheer alien-ness of the aliens, as they have no concept of anything outside their Dominion. Walters is to be congratulated on inventing a race that is more instinctive than intellectual, and when faced with such an unknown threat can only fall back on rudimentary responses, and cannot comprehend Sam’s talk of escape to outside. Sam works extremely effectively as a foil for the rest of us in this world.

Back on Earth, the appearance of another tale of secret agencies had my eyes rolling for a second, with the C19, the department that funds UNIT playing around with recovered alien technology in an old bunker under the forest. That UNIT themselves are providing security also seemed rather obvious. But I was soon won over by the power struggle going on underground. Wolstencroft come across as a sympathetic character, given that UNIT must have been operational unit of British troops to suffer casualties with any frequency. He blames the Doctor for his continual loss of troops, thus agreeing with the long held idea of various characters that whenever the Doctor appears then people die (though Wolstencroft seems to ignore the Brigadier’s gung-ho nature as seen in many stories). That Wolstencroft comes up against (in my opinion) the least aggressive and most innocent incarnation of the Doctor is a well worked irony.

This is a small theme of the book, in how preconceived ideas of the Doctor translate when the characters actually meets him. Professor Nagle is delighted when she hears the Doctor has been found, and sees him as the answers to her problems. She is a physicist who is playing around with the alien technology that is responsible for Sam’s disappearance, the appearance of the creatures in the forest and the possible end of the world. She needs the Doctor to tame the device for her for the sake of the world, but is rather shocked when the Doctor asks her to stop the project. Despite mounting evidence, she cannot see past her own belief that her technology is good for the world.

Unlike other books I have reviewed thus far, I am not going to spoil the ending. The fate of the doomed Dominion is a twist that transcends technobabble and makes perfect narrative (and maybe scientific) sense. The scale is huge and horrific. Will the inhabitants of the Dominion survive? Will the Doctor save the day? Will he get a new companion?

As a debut novel, Nick Walters took some huge risks, but succeeded through clear prose and good plotting. I’ll have to visit the W section of the local library to see if they have any more!

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turbot: Perfect Tree, Armidale (Default)
turbot

May 2011

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