Reviewed By: newt5996
Review Date: 6/4/16 12:52 pm
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After reading Evolution, I have come to the conclusion that Goth Opera was not a genius fluke for the Virgin Missing Adventures. If the range of novels keeps up this level of quality then I shall be in eager anticipation to continue. This second novel is written by John Peel who had previously written numerous Dalek novelizations and the inaugural Virgin New Adventure Timewyrm: Genesys which was a good novel, but had a lot of wasted potential in its plot. John Peel had the writing style of an amateur and inserted quite a few things just to be edgy. In Evolution Peel writes much more like an experienced author which could be due to more experience or a better understanding of his characters.
The plot picks up right after The Brain of Morbius where Sarah Jane asks the Doctor to take her to see Rudyard Kipling, an author she admires greatly during his days in India. This is the Doctor of course so he gets the coordinates wrong and lands when Kipling is a teenager while being surrounded by mysterious murders and missing students. The two of them get broiled in a plot involving mutating young children into human/animal hybrids after meeting Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle. The novel plays out like a Sherlock Holmes short story as opposed to the Sherlock Holmes novel format of All-Consuming Fire with a simple mystery with clues leading the characters in the right direction to complete the mystery. Peel’s novel isn’t very short, clocking in at approximately 250 pages, but it doesn’t let itself get bogged down and keeps the pacing flowing. This is a double edged sword as most of the novel is really easy to read, but at a few points it feels like you are skipping what should be important details or chances for character development.
Speaking of character development that is another problem I have with the novel. Peel’s characterization of the Fourth Doctor is somewhat inconsistent. In the early scenes and the back half of the novel Peel captures a Tom Baker performance perfectly but in the middle it feels more like the story is geared towards the Third Doctor during his later life with some arrogance and some really oddly worded dialogue. This problem however is nowhere to be seen in the characterization of Sarah Jane Smith. Peel captures Liz Sladen’s mannerisms perfectly and all of her actions feel a lot like something Sarah Jane would do. She gets to have her eyes opened to the idea that all her idols were children once and acted just as asinine as any other child would. She despises what the young Kipling is, yet when it seems like her actions got him killed she is immediately remorseful and thinks that all history is now going to divert. Now of course it doesn’t but this story for Sarah Jane at least, has moments reminiscent of The Aztecs.
The supporting characters are all memorable especially Arthur Conan Doyle. The famed Sherlock Holmes scribe here is seen not as a genius, but a simple doctor who lapses into dim-witted ideas like everyone else. He is fascinated by the dead bodies turning up and knows that something not human has to be the culprit behind the murders. Moving on next we have Rudyard Kipling who I didn’t really enjoy, but I don’t think you’re supposed to as he is presented as a petulant child who wants to investigate. There are also the village nobility, mainly the Fulbright family who are all pretty standard Victorian families who don’t have too much to set them out from the other characters. There are also the merchildren who are results of the genetic experiments who are basically the fish people from The Underwater Menace with the villain being a rip off of Professor Zaroff. Though this villains gimmick is he’s a madman named Percival, which the Doctor is quick to point out how silly it sounds.
Now we get to the other major flaw of the story, mainly that by the end it becomes a rip off of The Underwater Menace with its own Fish People and a villain who is only committing mass murder so he can get scientific achievement. The horrible death of the villain is also reminiscent of Zaroff’s demise. That’s the problem as The Underwater Menace is not a good story and Peel is unable to elevate these aspects from their initial poor quality of that story. The little epilogue and where they are now bits at the end did bring the novel to a poignant close however and perhaps had some of the best moments of the book.