This is a good piece, and if all Doctor Who fiction were of this quality
the world would be a better place.
The Sixth Doctor and his companion Peri Brown arrive on a deserted
warship on an unspecified planet which might be Earth. They get separated
when the ship sinks, and the Doctor finds himself playing the role
of mentor to a small group of cyborg crabs and their human friend
Ranger, survivors of a vaguely (but sufficiently) described horrible
war, now marooned on a beach where the mysterious monster Meathook
is picking them off one by one. Peri meantime spends most of the book
disembodied and trying to regain contact with the Doctor.
The plot jumps between viewpoints and back and forth along its own
timeline, and for Scrounger the crab, one of the viewpoint characters,
we switch to the present tense. This mimicks the effects of Ranger's
shell shock, as a result of which he looks "at the world as through
a splintered lens". It's a difficult trick to pull off but it's
done effectively. The insane Ranger and non-human Scrounger make effective
We gradually build up a picture of Ranger's motivations and his real
relationship with the crabs, Meathook, and the disembodied intelligence
which takes Peri under its wing. Scrounger is an engaging cyborg whose
story ends on a note of triumph. Peri's character also is given some
added depth (controversial in fan circles, I understand) which makes
her relationship with the Doctor more convincing. I half-recognised
elements from China Miéville, Iain M. Banks, and Brian Aldiss, but
the combination here is original.
There are a couple of weak points. Because this is Doctor Who fiction,
it is a given that for continuity's sake the Doctor and Peri will
have survived in more or less one piece at the end, so rather than
sympathise with their plight at any stage we tend to wonder how the
author will extract them from it. Of course the author can and does
compensate by introducing interesting and sympathetic secondary characters
such as Ranger and Scrounger who we know are much more expendable.
Also the Doctor of Shell Shock is not very reminiscent
of the character played by Colin Baker, forced as he is to be mentor,
counsellor and comforter to Ranger and the crabs rather than an unstable
zany extrovert. If the point of Doctor Who fiction is to develop the
relations between established characters, and explore the nature of
the Doctor, then this story cannot be rated a success. On the other
hand, if the idea of Doctor Who fiction is to write good sf which
has the Doctor and companions as the main characters, then Simon A.
Forward can congratulate himself on a job well done.
As with all Telos productions, the book is nicely packaged. There
is an introduction by Guy N. Smith, author of horror novels about
crabs (which is a bit misleading because the story turns out to be
more sf than horror) and the deluxe edition includes a frontispiece
by Bob Covington and the autographs of Messrs Covington, Smith and
Forward. I still think £10 for a hardback novella (let alone £25 for
the deluxe edition) is a bit steep, but these days Telos are far from
the only offenders on that point and presumably it's what the market
will bear; I guess that waiting for the paperback is not an option
in this case.