Reviewed By: newt5996
Review Date: 2/15/19 8:34 pm
1 out of 1 found this review helpful.
Steve Lyons is a writer whom throughout the Virgin run of Doctor Who books, was responsible from some of their best work. Conundrum and Head Games are an amazing pair of books for reflecting on the character of the Seventh Doctor and the Virgin books on the whole while Time of Your Life and Killing Ground are really what began the redemption of the Sixth Doctor in the eyes of the fans. Sure that really wouldn’t be completed until Big Finish allowed Colin Baker to return to the role, but Lyons laid the groundwork for what Big Finish would pick up on immediately. So when the second Past Doctor Adventure released from BBC Books is a book by Steve Lyons and exploring an area which up until that point had only been explored by Gary Russell’s Invasion of the Cat-People, I will admit I got quite a bit excited. Yet, The Murder Game is a novel that perplexes me quite a bit. Sure the cover is lackluster, but that’s really the trend of the Doctor Who book covers at this point and honestly they never really improve in my opinion. The color scheme is nice, but it’s the Selachian which grabs my eye. The Selachians are an amazing villain Lyons introduces here: they evolved on a marine world and are one of the few species coming from a marine world which has risen outside of a Level 2 civilization. They alter themselves to look closer to sharks as a form of psychological warfare and are an addition to another warrior race. They have been stockpiling weapons bought from Earth, through corporations who are content to look the other way while essentially giving the race the power to destroy the Earth. They even refer to humanity as plankton scum. As a race of villains, they work incredibly well setting the tone of the novel back to those 1966/1967 serials with hints of a base under siege story structure. There’s also some of the Virgin ‘adult’ material with some pretty vivid descriptions of how the Selachians mutilate themselves to fit in their suits.
Lyons also continues a streak of writing excellent characterizations of the regular cast: the Second Doctor feels like we have just left “The Power of the Daleks”. There’s a real sense that you cannot trust this version of the Doctor, he’s still getting used to the fact that he’s regenerated, and not really comfortable in his own skin. The Doctor is perfect about obfuscating any questions once arriving at the Hotel Galaxion and indulges in the random penchant for drag as seen in “The Highlanders”. Lyons also gives the audience some real insight into the minds of Ben and Polly. Ben is still incredibly untrustworthy of the new Doctor, even if he will not show it, and has difficulty coping in a surrounding with several new aliens and relies on going to the bar to almost drown his sorrows. Polly on the other hand, while not as fleshed out on television and often put into making the coffee, even if it can be justified in the story, doesn’t really make a character. Lyons gives Polly this uncertain nature: she doesn’t actually want to be going on adventures, sure they’re fun, but life with the Doctor is dangerous and again not having any consistency doesn’t actually make her easy. She has to crawl through ducts in the hotel and is all for helping out, but she still has this extreme fear in her life. The plot of The Murder Game has the Selachians finding plans for a doomsday weapon from two traitors on this space hotel masquerading as authors while a murder mystery weekend party is going on. It’s here where the novel has its biggest problem: the Selachians only really show up on page 155 and from then on the book is great, but before that the murder game plot just isn’t engaging. The plot goes through every cliché where people are suspected of murder, actual murders occur, and there’s this attempt to have the story follow an And Then There Were None type plot, but that just doesn’t work. The characters may be great but having over half of your book drag just doesn’t justify calling this one a slow burn.