THE ANCESTOR CELL by Peter Anghelides & Stephen Cole
Call us old-fashioned, but isn't all this just a little bit...weird?
Somebody starts an arc. Presumably, they know how it's supposed to come out. But do they finish it? No, they do not. Instead, it goes to someone else - in fact, two someone elses - who ponder the evidence and give their best guess as to what was supposed to happen. Very, very strange.
Now, we have no problem with different people writing arc stories. That's inevitable in an ongoing line, and it's fine as long as everyone's with the programme. Here's the story, guys, now fill in the blanks. But for the hapless finishees to have to make it up as they go along, well, to us that's not a book. It's a fanfic round robin.
So you can take it as read that we'd rather have seen Lawrence Miles write this book. However, since we're stuck in this universe, we have to review what there is, not what might have been.
Needless to say, Ancestor Cell has a lot of expectations riding on it. There's been stuff of vast and sweeping proportions going on, and all that had to be tied up to reset for the new editor. And on top of that, there's a fundamental change made in the Who universe. Unless you've been living under a silicon-based life form, you'll already know what this is, so loud has been the fuss in fandom. But just in case you've managed to miss it, we won't give it away. (And we hope you and the silicon-based life form will be very happy.)
We can't say we're happy about any of this. We don't want to judge him in advance, but a new editor who clears out the most interesting stuff about the Eighth Doctor, not to mention his most fascinating companion ever, is making us very nervous about the future. As for the Change, shrug. That kind of thing is always the easy way to make an impact, but it's a lot harder to build something than it is to tear it down. So the supposedly spectacular ending left us pretty cold.
So how did they do? Well, first, it has to be said that these two are not Lawrence Miles. Where Alien Bodies kicked everything off with breathtaking panache, the conclusions Anghelides & Cole drag out of Miles's concepts are disappointingly pedestrian. The real nature of the Edifice is obviously supposed to come as a surprise, but we thought it was clear right from the beginning despite the attempts at misdirection. Faction Paradox have never been our favourite concept, just because they lack a convincing whyness, but at least under Miles they're well-realised and intriguing: here, they're just cardboard cut-out villains. Anghelides & Cole do manage a why for them, but as it's Because We Want To Take Over The Universe we weren't very impressed. The identity of the Grandfather couldn't be more cornily obvious. And the mysterious Enemy? They're just plain dull.
As for the characters, they're a mixed bag. The seance teenagers are too boringly Earthy, but on the other hand we loved the very real Nivet. Romana's vividly realised, and the authors convincingly sold us her take on the Presidency. And her scenes with Fitz are a hoot. Mali's all right, but was obviously supposed to be more engaging than she actually is. And we're having difficulty recalling anyone else, which probably isn't a very good thing.
Part of the problem, of course, is that there's just too much going on. There are some interesting themes here: we particularly like the thread about the Doctor and his relationship with his companions, and Compassion's story here is also good. But there just isn't enough room: with so much stuff to cover, no one story really gets the space it deserves.
So, a pretty rubbish book, then? Actually, no. Despite all the abovegoing, the book's highly readable, and to us that's a pearl beyond price. Even with all the toing and froing and running up and down corridors, we were never less than entertained. In the EDAs, that's one hell of an achievement.
Miles would have done it differently. Hell, we would have done it differently. But even with its many flaws, its sheer enjoyability makes it a winner.
Oh, yeah, and the cover's a knockout.