FATHER TIME by Lance Parkin

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We were looking forward to this one. While we didn't find The Infinity Doctors completely spellbinding, we loved its breadth of imagination, and we were curious to see what else Parkin had up his sleeve. And the cover blurb, mentioning as it does the Doctor's daughter, would grab any Who fan by the throat.

So does Father Time live up to the anticipation? Well, yes and no. Bits of it are superb, others more disappointing. Overall, though, it's definitely one of the better offerings in the EDA line.

Parkin divides the book into three chunks, each roughly separated in time by five years or so. The first part is nothing short of spectacular. From the vividly evoked wintry Derbyshire village to the believably scary aliens to the wham-bang factor of discovering a girl with two hearts, it's all absolute magic. Parkin sets the tone for the first few chapters by using an obtrusive, fairytale-like narration, which could have ended up being fantastically annoying but instead adds to the atmosphere.

The characters, too, are terrific, especially Deborah Castle, one of the most interesting and sympathetic companions we've seen for quite some time. And because she's so well drawn, our view of the Doctor through her eyes makes him even more intriguing. Miranda's also a fascinating character, and the scene where the Doctor talks to her in the playground is absolutely stunning.

As for the aliens, they're just plain cool: Parkin portrays them so nicely that the hokiness of the Quest for the Last One seems perfectly believable. (We still can't forgive him, though, for (groan) Rum and Thélash. Either he thought we wouldn't notice, in which case he underestimated the readers, or he thought he could get away with it, in which case he overestimated himself.)

All in all, we were gripped, we were glued, and for once we really cared about what was going on. This is some of the best writing in all of the EDA novels.

Sadly, though, the standard slips in Father Time's second part. It's still good, just a little bit more pedestrian. One of its great strengths is the detail, so woefully missing thus far in this arc, of just what the Doctor's been getting up to. We look around his house, we find out about his work, and we watch him in his lab, all of which adds a tremendous depth to his situation. If we'd seen a bit more of this stuff in the earlier books in this arc, it would have made them a lot more involving.

The chief draw of this part, though, is the Doctor's relationship with Miranda: it's real, it's believable, and gives us an insight into him without bending him out of shape. Were we disappointed by the fact that Miranda's not the Doctor's biological daughter? Not even slightly: it was obvious that Parkin wouldn't have been allowed to mess with the Doctor to quite that extent. But his relationship with Miranda is as near, First Doctor aside, as we're ever going to get.

Despite all this, however, things don't really live up to the potential of the first part. We were hoping that the Trials of a Teenage Time Lord would be more interesting than the standard boyf woes they pretty much turned out to be, for a start. And Parkin makes it easy on himself, but cheats the reader, by never explaining Miranda's background. This allows him to get away with stuff like having her age in a human-normal way, which suits the story's purposes but is annoyingly unsatisfying. The derring-do with the aliens in this part is also pretty much by the numbers, although we did like the transformation wave.

It's in the third section that things really fall apart. The plot lurches into sheer stupidity: we're expected to believe that the Doctor sneaks aboard the space shuttle (!) and that when they discover him the crew practically get out the party hats (!!!). There's a whole lotta tosh about Miranda becoming a tyrant so no-one else has to and some irritatingly silly UFO stuff. Also, a major character is killed off abruptly and with no emotional follow-through, when the character's survival would have led to a conclusion that complemented the emotional complexity of the beginning. The whole thing washes up into a wave of simple-minded feel-good free-the-slaves plot tying up which is altogether far too neat and undoes much of the good work done before.

So, starts off stunning, but can't really sustain its early promise. That's disappointing, but nevertheless, when it's good, it's very good indeed.

Assorted spoo:

Are we really expected to believe that a parent would happily accept the offer of tuition from a strange man who starts talking to their daughter in the playground? It's far more likely he would've been locked up.

Debbie's attraction to the Doctor is very sweet and is sensitively handled. But why so many people insist that the Doctor is asexual is totally beyond us. Even apart from the First Doctor actually falling in love in The Aztecs, you only have to look at the rest of 'em to see how thunderingly not true that is.

"Oh, he's so overrated." Brilliant!

We love the marvellously inventive Transformer alien. Why hasn't anyone thought of it before?

There's far too much Get Out Of Jail Free stuff where the Doctor is concerned. From his beating the mindeater to the whole shuttle episode, things are just too easy for him, and often with no explanation either.

There's a huge bunch of continuity references in here: some fans probably like this kind of stuff, but it's a bit too much at the fanwanky end of the scale for us. Similarly, some fans are probably delighted at the appearance here of things like the sonic suitcase, but it just makes us wince.

Capping off the disappointing ending, the soundtrack listing at the end is just plain horrible.

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