REVIEW: "Divided Loyalties" Doctor Who Novel

by Zepo
23 November 1999

Russell, Gary, _Doctor Who: Divided Loyalties_, (London: BBC Worldwide,
1999).

[Image of Book]

RATING: 5 (of 10)


     There is nothing more enjoyable for a Doctor Who reader than a book
that captures the true feel of a Doctor Who story from a particular
televised era right from the first chapter.  Gary Russell's "Divided
Loyalties" starts off with such a strong feeling that I actually felt that I
was back in front of the telly watching the 19th Season.  
     The book starts with amazing prose and a situation that could have
found itself on the screen.  The Doctor and his extended crew of three find
themselves on a space station called "Little Boy II" in orbit around the
planet Dymok.  Dymok, being an isolated planet which does not accept any
visitors at all, is guarded by the crew of the space station to be sure that
no ships try to land on the planet, giving the people of Dymok their
demanded isolation.  As the Doctor and crew arrive, all transmissions and
communications from Dymok cease and it suddenly appears to be a dead world.
In true Doctor Who yarn, the Doctor and his faithful companions join members
of the "Little Man II"'s crew on a mission down to the planet to discover
the fate of the people of Dymok.
     The cover of the book reveals the main villain of the story and anyone
who accuses me of spoiling the secret must be having the book read to them.
Russell's offering features the return of the Celestial Toymaker, and strays
into unnecessary ground as he tries to explain the origins of this celestial
nemesis.  Unfortunately, after a solid 92 pages of captivating plot, Russell
flashes back to the Doctor's university days (when oddly even before he
graduated he was called 'Doctor").  It is here that the book returns us to
the Doctor's first meeting with the Celestial Toymaker when he was young and
a student.     
      Needless to say, we are introduced to a whole host of early characters
in the Doctor's university days, and Russell also expands the Gallifreyan
academy system well beyond, and in some cases in opposition to, what is ever
discovered about it on screen.  Apparently the Doctor was not only at the
University with the Master, the Rani, The Meddling Monk, the War Lord and so
on, but they were all very close friends in school.  Yeah right.  He also
ties in many elements of the Virgin New Adventures book "Lungbarrow" which
attempts to explain how Gallifreyans are born (through a Loom), and much
more of the Doctor's early background and the secrets of Gallifreyan
culture.  In essence, he ties the worst elements of the New Adventures
together with the new line of BBC books--almost single handedly ensuring
that the attempt to make all this drivel canonical will at least be
considered.  Those of you who have read my reviews before will know that I
believe this to be a disservice to the return of Doctor Who to the screen.
Why?  Because over zealous fans (to be fair I must include myself) demand a
certain amount of continuity and canonicity.  Most Doctor Who fans want to
avoid the word "canon" because of the almost ensured debate that will start,
but the fact is anyone producing a new show can't avoid it without angering
some of the fan base that is necessary for a cult show to return to the
screen.  Unfortunately the editors of the Virgin and BBC line of books
continue to encourage postulating about Gallifrey, the Doctor's past, and
other televised (thus truly canonical) elements of the program.  In the long
run, this is causing a rift between fans of the program who decide to accept
the books and those who do not accept their content.  What they like and
what they dislike creates in their minds their own belief of what is true
(canon) and what isn't and ends up splintering fandom.  
     Fans should be united in their vision of the show and their efforts to
return it to television.  The only way to keep a common vision of the Doctor
and his past is to follow the basic tenant of the program in its infant
days, which is to not reveal anything about the Doctor, his civilization or
his past.  My words have fallen on deaf ears so far, and as I read Russell's
story I could feel the damage to fandom's unity of accepted continuity tear
as I read on.
     What disappointed me more than anything is the fact that Russell is an
excellent author.  His depictions of Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, made me feel as
if I were actually with them in their thoughts and actions.  His prose is
solid, intriguing and of high quality.  But no sooner would I delve into
Tegan's mind, for example, than I would be given her middle name during a
dream sequence.  Something completely unnecessary and something I saw as
Russell simply trying to add his ideas into the Doctor Who universe in an
attempt to make them canon.  My only hope to this sort of read is that I,
and I hope most others, believe only the televised shows to be actual canon.
     Perhaps Doctor Who as a television program has seen the end of its
time, and rightfully so.  Now that fans of the program are trying to keep
its memory alive and have an opportunity to contribute to the universe of
the Doctor they simply seem unable to prevent being overly self-referential.
They try to complicate the histories and backgrounds of the primary
characters in a way that if a first time reader were to crack one of the
novels, they would surely be lost as to what is happening.  Or these first
time readers would accept all they have read, causing many hundreds of hours
of lost time in fan debates simply because they were presented with
information strongly contradicted by the original show or not accepted by
many of their fellow(?) fans.
     "Divided Loyalties" may be the perfect title for this book, as in the
long run it will probably continue to help split the Doctor Who fan base
between those who consider the books canon and those who do not.  


(c) Copyright Zepo, 1999.


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