Doctor Who: No Future

Doctor Who: No FutureOrder this bookStory: The Doctor, Benny and Ace, having survived a series of narrow escapes in incidents where time and history have changed around them, go under deep cover in 1976 London. The burgeoning punk rock movement, just as in the history that the Doctor and his companions remember, is spawning a movement toward anarchy. But unlike the time travelers’ memories, this time the push toward anarchy is all too real – a terrorist organization known as Black Star firebombs Big Ben, and Queen Elizabeth II narrowly escapes assassiantion. In the midst of all this, Benny has become the lead singer of a punk band called Plasticine, the Doctor broods over his inability to understand the changes in the timeline, let alone restore things to normal, and Ace seems to take anarchy to heart, routinely interfering in both the Doctor’s and Benny’s activities. Even U.N.I.T. has been somehow changed, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has the Doctor locked up in a cell. And in the background, another time traveler waits and schemes, planning to use a horrifyingly dangerous creature to further corrupt time and conquer Earth. He is a fellow Time Lord who is beating the Doctor at his own manipulative game.

Review: Though author Paul Cornell has decried “No Future” as his least favorite of his Doctor Who New Adventures, I have always found it very enjoyable, and for the record, I’d certainly place it at least a notch above “Oh No It Isn’t!” and possibly even “Happy Endings”, two of Cornell’s other books.

Though the use of so many past elements of the series – the Doctor’s Time Lord opponent (I’m not going to spoil this surprise for you, and I’m sure it’s not who you expect), the Chronovore (from season 9’s The Time Monster), U.N.I.T., the Vardans – is often a sign of a wildly out-of-control fan fic, Cornell manages to weave them all into the same story skillfully, along with numerous in-jokes, numerous meaningful references to other past stories (such as Planet Of The Spiders, Terror Of The Zygons and Mawdryn Undead) and past books (strong ties to Cornell’s own “Love And War”), and a good, menacing story. Though the book’s dialogue is rife with in-jokes and positively surreal humorous scenes, it’s all in deadly earnest.

At the center of it all is Ace, and we’re never quite sure whose side she’s on anymore. This, by the way, is the embittered, post-“Deceit”, grown-up, and near-homicial Ace we’re talking about. I never cared much for Ace’s return as a stone cold killer after “Love And War”, but it’s a testament to Cornell’s skill that he turned the character around and managed to evoke an emotional connection with the reader. Until I read “No Future”, I had been silently damning whoever thought of bringing back Ace’s character in this form. Paul Cornell made it work.

There are some gaps in the plotting – namely, a more-obvious-than-usual deus ex machina which allows the Doctor to escape from certain death – and Cornell’s own biggest peeve with the book does have merit: virtually the entire next-to-last chapter is an expository scene where all the surviving heroes gather round so the Doctor can explain how he won, what he knew and when, and so on. This is an irritating enough practice on television, but it becomes quite silly in print.

Cornell’s characterizations of the Doctor, Benny, Ace and the Brigadier are sharp, and expand on the character’s TV personalities without explicitly contradicting any established information. Perhaps the greatest triumph of “No Future” is the evolution of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The Brigadier we see in this book has evolved and matured from the Brigadier as seen in Jon Pertwee’s era and early on in Tom Baker’s era. Having taken a cue from the Doctor, Lethbridge-Stewart has embarked on a self-discovering journey of Buddhism – and his meditations are all that save him from the evil which has infiltrated U.N.I.T. And though the Brigadier stoically assists the Doctor throughout the book, this adventure exhausts him…to the point of the nervous breakdown which drove him to retire from active duty and take up teaching in the 1983 story Mawdryn Undead. Cornell not only fills in major blanks in Doctor Who continuity, but does it quite credibly.

Despite what the author says, this is a ripping good read, even if only for the cheap chuckle as U.N.I.T. takes down Paul McCartney and his band with tranquilizer darts. Naturally the Brigadier says, “Chap with Wings! Five rounds rapid!”

Year: 1993
Author: Paul Cornell
Publisher: Virgin
Pages: 272
Original Title: “Anarchy In The U.K.”