Timewyrm: Revelation – Paul Cornell (8/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLAIN: The Timewyrm, Chad Boyle, Rupert Hemmings)

(Okay, I was slacking for a little bit in my writing; you all have my heartfelt apologies. The hiatus has given me a chance to get ahead in my reading, though. Expect a few more of these next week.)

Paul Cornell established himself early on as one of the darlings of the New Adventures by writing an immensely entertaining novel that was really the first one to hint at the promise stated by editor Peter Darvill-Evans in his forward for Timewyrm: Genesys. Timewyrm: Revelation veers in location from the English countryside to the moon to surreal landscapes directly out of a Timelord’s fever dream. Cornell uses continuity as bludgeon, battering Ace left and right through half-remembered scenarios populated with previous incarnations of the Doctor. It’s a low-budget director’s worst nightmare; you really can’t imagine this story on the small screen.

Cornell is also the first novelist of the line to trade on the darker side of the seventh Doctor. The previous three books put more emphasis on the season 24 “jolly bumbler” version of the Seventh Doctor; the scheming otherworldly manipulator who maneuvers his enemies into defeating themselves that emerged in seasons 25 and 26 was referenced (most explicitly by Uncle Terry in the Doctor’s interaction with the Hitlerwyrm) but not really showcased. Not so in this story; throughout the book, Ace is bounced from temporal gambit to preset situation by both the Doctor and the Timewyrm. All of the supporting players are there for a purpose, chosen by either the Timewyrm or the Doctor for maximum tactical advantage.

Cornell sets up the symmetries between the two manipulators beautifully. The Timewyrm is the consummate user; she uses Ace’s childhood fears in the form of tormenting bully Chad Boyle and her adolescent fears in the form of recent enemy Rupert Hemmings, the suave British Nazi from Timewrym: Exodus. She takes one of the Doctor’s home bases on Earth, a sleepy village called Cheldon Boniface, and converts it into an energy source for her ascendancy into godhood. She takes everything within sight and twists it, drains it and discards it. The Doctor, by contrast, leaves notes and clues to guide his helpers along. He enlists the aid of a latent psychic and a sentient church* but allows them to figure out what he needs them to do and, even more critically, allows them to decide whether they will do it or not. The Doctor is not above coercion but you always have an out with him. This crucial difference underscores their conflict nicely and, when the Doctor does finally triumph, he does so in such a Whoish way that the long-standing fan has to fight the urge to jump up and applaud.

Cornell gives fans of the manipulative Doctor a special treat in the form of a coda showing the Doctor and Ace setting up the tricks and tips that helped them carry the day. All of this was hand-waved in the television series; explicitly showing it here does more to redeem some of the gaping plots in seasons 25 and 26 than years of rec.arts.drwho fan theories.

Four books in and the Virgin line has produced its first stone cold classic. Where could the line go from here?

* Cornell’s major weakness is an unfortunate tendency towards teeth-grindingly twee bullshit. We will see more of this in later books.