COLDHEART by Trevor Baxendale
Slime. Slime, slime, slime. Dripping bucketloads of gushing, gooey, gelatinous, slippery slime. Love it? You'd better, because Trevor Baxendale does, and it's comin' at ya.
We quite liked The Janus Conjunction in spite of ourselves (and in spite of the slime), so we weren't feeling too apprehensive as we picked Coldheart up. Unfortunately, though, it's yer bog-standard EDA yawner. Granted, we're rad fans anyway, but this is so trad that it doesn't contain a single spark of originality. And if you know the plot and the characters and the monsters and the moral dilemmas in advance, why bother to read it at all?
Coldheart's set on a scientifically unlikely planet with an icy interior and a desert surface. Baxendale evokes the environment nicely, although the inevitable presence of caves with bat things in them (being mined, what's more) made us want to hurl the book across the room. He does a nice job with the city carved out of rock, though, although as with the rest of the book a nagging sense of deja vu hangs around it. As for the inhabitants, they couldn't be more standard. The inflexible leader with a dark secret, the innocent-souled slave girl, and on and on. And let's not forget the outcasts, set about, of course, with humungous quantities of slime.
As for the plot, it's a seen-it-all-before snoozer. Bombs, earthquakes, nasty carnivorous squiggly things and a slime-dripping monster: it's all there, and all of it's utterly predictable. It's also got a few irritating loose ends. Why is the Doctor so worried about the slimers yet utterly unconcerned about the slave population? Why do people who think nothing of taking slaves hesitate about killing off the slimers? (In fact, what was the point of the totally undeveloped slave girl thread at all?) Given the blast of heat on the planet's surface, how do the mini-monsters manage to detect the body heat of the people? And given that both Fitz and the Doctor drank the water, does this mean they're going to start Squirming sometime soon?
The TARDIS regulars are adequate, but Baxendale throws away the opportunity to deepen any of them. By this stage Fitz is a hard character to get wrong, and he's engaging enough here if a tad earnest, but we don't know any more about him at the end than we did at the beginning. The Doctor and Compassion are themselves, but Baxendale's attempts to show the ambiguous nature of their relationship are hamfisted and shallow.
Cover description as an "original adventure" aside, we can't deny that Coldheart does exactly what it says on the tin. It sets out to be a traditional adventure, and in this it undoubtedly succeeds. It's a shame that this makes it so predictable as to be virtually unreadable.