REVIEW: "The Wages of Sin" Doctor Who Novel

by Zepo
04 July 1999

David A. McIntee, _Doctor Who: The Wages of Sin_, (London: BBC, 1999).

[Image of Book]

RATING: 10 (of 10)


     David A. McIntee has been able to return us to the old glory days
of Doctor Who's historical adventures.  With his latest offering,
"The Wages of Sin," McIntee has us travel backwards in time to
Russia in 1916.  The court of Czar Nicholas and its many players
in the political spectrum highlight this novel. 
     As the story starts, we find the Doctor at the destination he 
was brought to on a test flight of the TARDIS sometime after 
"The Three Doctors." He now "controls" his time ship fully once 
again and his exile is ended.  While testing the craft he brings 
along his assistant Jo Grant, and also former assistant Liz Shaw 
who never actually had the opportunity to travel in the TARDIS.  
They shoot for the Tunguska Blast of 1908, but rather accidentally
materialize in 1916 St. Petersburg.  As the book starts the
Doctor and his two friends return to where the TARDIS had
materialized only to find it missing.  In turn, they become
involved in the waning days of Czarist Russia mere weeks before
the Russian Revolution begins.  The characters we are introduced
to make this quite an interesting read.  Most of the characters
are historically accurate and this book features the Doctor and
company's involvement in the fate of Russia's infamous Rasputin. 
     What made this book such a wonderful read was that even
as I read I expected to come face to face with extra-terrestrial
influences, bug eyed monsters, or even the Doctor's arch-nemesis
the Master.  As I read, I imagined that Rasputin's powerful
influence on people was to be explained in a fantastical way
featuring all the elements of a strong late-series Doctor Who
adventure.  Instead I was treated to perhaps the most interesting
of all things worldly--the human element.  Quite often as fans of
science fiction we long for the unexplainable to be explained in
a fantastical way, thus expanding our own knowledge of the
previously unknown.  But McIntee reminds us that we as human
beings can be as interesting or unexplainable as anything from
beyond the stars. 
     The adventure that we follow here puts some of the complex 
politics of pre-revolution Russia into perspective. We are given a 
face to various historical players in the bizarre weaving of events.  
Even a character like Rasputin, whom one might expect to be portrayed 
as someone with endless charisma, is humanized to a person with 
ordinary shortcomings in more than one place in this book.  Smartly, 
McIntee steers us away from any preconceived ideas we may have of the 
various characters.  Tom Baker's portrayal of Rasputin from the film 
"Nicholas and Alexandra" never once popped into my mind as I read the
characterization put forward by McIntee.  While others may find
this the case, there was nothing in the text that led me to that
association. 
     As the book closes towards Rasputin meeting his fate we see that 
the TARDIS crew becomes involved in the turn of events that the 
history books try so hard to record.  They do not completely 
influence the events that unfold but are in fact involved enough to 
observe what transpires.  Jo Grant even contributed to part of the 
myth regarding Rasutin's endless ability to avoid his assassination. 
     This book's strength is that it transports our heroes (and the 
reader) to another time and place but one that they might be familiar 
with.  Instead of being self-referential (other than the appearance 
of Liz, which under the circumstances doesn't seem out of place), the 
book treds strong new ground and takes us into an adventure that 
unfolds right here on our planet.  The novel never leaves us 
wondering what happened, never leaves us confused, and always has us
wondering how the future events are going to unfold.  The
suspense factor is wonderful especially for the setting to which we
are transported.  
     In McIntee's Author's Note he points out which historical 
sources he used to construct this telling of the tale and adds, "I've 
tried to use the different sources to construct the most feasible 
version possible, and squeezed our heroes into the gaps where the 
different versions don't chime." He is able to present this well and 
without complicating existing history--likewise with the Tunguska 
Blast which he actually leaves open.  This is a wonderful change as 
something as interesting as the blast could easily be explained in 
some fantastical way.  To say that McIntee's telling is interesting 
and brilliant would be an understatement.  To say that it fits together 
well as a piece of science fiction and as an adventure for the Doctor 
would be quite true.  McIntee should be commended for this effort. 
Hopefully we will see more of this kind of adventure in the
future.

(c) copyright Zepo, 1999.


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