And I’m proud to announce my first stop on a book tour with a review of FEAR OF THE DARK by Trevor Baxendale!
FEAR OF THE DARK stars the 5th Doctor, portrayed in the BBC series by Peter Davison, and accompanied by three companions: Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric. In the book, only Nyssa and Tegan appear (and, of course, the Doctor himself), along with a host of other characters from various places around the universe. The book is set roughly two hundred years into the future, and is set on the planet of Akoshemon, where a small group of renegade miners is looking for a big score.
The miners end up getting more than they bargained for, though, as they come across an old laboratory filled with the desiccated corpses of several scientists from a few hundred years ago. As they investigate this eerie turn of events, they find themselves drawn into a battle with an age-old series of monsters – and they find that the light is slowly seeping from their world, replaced by “a mass of blackness, too much blackness, bulging out of the shadows like a tumour on reality” (256). Darkness, served by a grotesque monster, is following them, hunting them, and it will destroy everything that stands in its way.
As the Doctor and his companions fight to destroy the darkness, a series of ever-more complicated plot twists draw you deeper and deeper into this convoluted story. Baxendale can certainly write, and write well – his narrative is compelling and engaging, and drives you to power through the book with abandon. The story moves forward at a frenetic pace, and sometimes it feels like there was a plot twist of some sort on every other page. Without a doubt, this is a high-energy book written by a clearly talented author.
Where the book lacks, however, is in the character development. Every character, from the Doctor to the lowest officer on the ship, does something at some point that feels out of character or unreal given what we already know about them. A romance is introduced half-way through the book, even though the two ‘romantic’ characters claim to hate each other at first. One of the only characters we’re given to care about on a really emotional level is also killed about half-way through the book, making me wonder what all the emotional set-up was all about to begin with. Jyl Stoker, the head of the mining expedition, gave me particular trouble as a character – while her men are dying all around her, she insists on remaining and trying to cash in on the mining payload; finally when help arrives, she decides she’s given up and doesn’t see a point anymore. The contradictions in her character were hard to deal with, all the way up until the very end.
The Doctor, oddly, is rather useless in this book. Usually the Doctor is the hero of the show, the one who swoops in to save the day, to solve everything and save lives (if possible). But in this case, the Doctor doesn’t really do much of anything – except make bad decisions as a result of the Dark’s psionic mind control over him. The few good decisions he makes are often tempered by disasters outside of his control that happen immediately thereafter. Even at the end, when the Doctor springs back into life and starts to take over in the ultimate battle against the Dark, he and his companions are ultimately saved less by the Doctor’s own brilliance and more by the Dark’s weakness (who, for being such a cool concept at the beginning/middle of the book, ends up morphing into a fairly lame villain). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it’s kind of awesome to see the Doctor weakened and desperate, just like the surrounding characters – but it doesn’t quite fit with my vision of the Doctor based on the BBC TV series.
Finally, as mentioned above, the ending was a little lame. The Dark, which throughout the book maintains a sort of terrifying and delightful anonymity, terrifying because it is so inhuman, so cold and brutal, so unthinking (just like the Daleks and the Cybermen, mind you) ultimately materializes into something that, for me, was almost laughable. I wish the Dark had remained in its original terrifying form; the morph into something more tangible definitely killed some of the magic for me.
At the end of the day, though, I heartily enjoyed the ride and had a great time flying through this book. It’s a quick and easy read, and for fans of Doctor Who and, in particular, Peter Davison’s 5th doctor, this is sure not to disappoint. You can find this book on Amazon.
Please remember in my ratings that I do NOT grade on a curve. All books, whether indie, mainstream, or classic, authors celebrated or unknown, are graded and rated on the same scale.
FEAR OF THE DARK: 3/5 stars – definitely worth reading, fun, and enjoyable, with a few issues, including character development and a weak ending.