The Doctor and Ace are under attack from an unseen force, the TARDIS explodes and Ace finds herself in a strange city, cut off from the Doctor. Is he really dead? Why does the city seem so familiar? Just what, exactly, is going on? Mark explores the weird world of Marc Platt’s Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible.
One of the biggest misconceptions in all of Doctor Who is that the Timelords and their history are interesting. For every Deadly Assassin there’s an Invasion of Time, an Arc of Infinity or the whole of Trial of a Timelord. And yet there are many thrilling moments; the 10th Doctor’s beautiful description of his home planet in Gridlock, the cliffhanger to The End of Time Part 1, their first appearance in the closing moments of The War Games or any of the Gallifrey set scenes during The Day of the Doctor.
It seems a hard balance to maintain; enough little nods and references and you can add grand scale and excitement, too much and it can often become dreary and stuffy to the point where you, much like the Doctor, want to bugger off as quickly as possible.
So I admit my heart sank a little as chapter 1 opens on Ancient Gallifrey before the age of Rassilon. It sank a little further to realise everyone has needlessly complex sci-fi names like Vael Voryunsti Sheverell or Haclav Agusti Prydonius. It needed cardiopulmonary resuscitation by the time Platt starts spouting screeds and screeds of convoluted exposition.
That’s not to say that the novel’s central conceit of the Doctor coming into contact with the crew of an early Gallifreyan time ship isn’t interesting. It absolutely is; we’ve seen him try and avert his companions from changing the course of their own history time and time again so it’s refreshing here to see the Doctor faced with a similar temptation. Though he’s less keen to change the future and more keen to know the truth behind Rassilon’s “white wash” version of Gallifreyan history. Sadly though this is never really dealt with in sufficient enough depth, tacked on to a rather unengaging runaround through a derelict city which just so happens to be the TARDIS turned inside out.
Times Crucible is full of similarly interesting ideas that never quite get a proper look in; the Doctor knows that only he or the gruseome Process (A disgusting giant leech described in gut wrenching detail by Platt) can survive this confrontation. This creature has destroyed his home and, purely and simply, the Process has to be killed for the TARDIS to be saved. It’s a refreshingly simple, black and white battle in this age of moral ambiguity.
As we’ll later discover, sometimes there are only bad choices but here it’s simply kill or be killed. It’s just a shame that would could be a pacy tale about the Doctor coming face to face with the past, defending his home from invasion and forced to do whatever he can to survive is bogged down with prolonging the inevitable reveal of what the city actually is.
Nor is it helped by the bland, uninspiring mysticism, politicking and intrigue back on Gallifrey. As with Timewyrm: Genesys this is the first in a series of inter-connected stories, linked by, this time, a cat made out of mercury. I honestly haven’t a clue what’s next.
NEXT TIME: Former script-editor Andrew Cartmel makes his New Adventures debut! Is it Cartmel Masterplan or Cartmel Disaster Panned?