Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible – Marc Platt (7/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLAIN: The Process)

Cat’s Cradle: Warhead – Andrew Cartmel (7/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLAIN: Butler Institute, Mathew O’Hara)

Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark – Andrew Hunt (2/10)
(TARDIS crew: 7th, Ace; VILLAIN: Some random Welsh gits)

The first four New Adventurers gave Whovians the epic Timewyrm, chasing all around the galaxy and even into the Doctor’s mind. The next three books all bear the “Cat’s Cradle” moniker and was poised to be another multi-book saga.

So what went wrong?

The three books have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Time’s Crucible is a base-under-siege pastiche mixed in with some startling revelations about ancient Gallifrey. Warhead is a near-future ecoterror story. Witch Mark is a parallel universe exercise in fairyland fuckwittery. The linking device is a silver cat that represents the TARDIS but only actually impacts the plot of Time’s Crucible. Events in Time’s Crucible have a negligible impact on the setup of Witch Mark, but Warhead could have occurred at anytime without causing any real continuity hiccups. As an overarching epic, these three books fail completely.

So why publish them with Cat’s Cradle in the titles? I can understand not wanting to do another “Doctor and Ace hunt down a threat” multipart story; variety is the spice of life, after all. However, there isn’t even a thematic link or a “the events of one story lead into another” setup going on; I have no idea what Peter Darvill-Evans was thinking when he tried to shoehorn these books together (beyond “HAHA STUPID FANBOYS I TAKE YOUR CASH AND FLEE LIKE WIND”).

Individually, two of the books work very well. Time’s Crucible sets a deeply claustrophobic mood by stranding Ace in a nightmarish, time-ravaged landscape with no Doctor, no TARDIS, a bunch of amnesiac explorers from Gallifrey’s history called Phazels and a gigantic, disgusting datavore that calls itself The Process. Platt does an excellent job of revealing twist after twist, springing revelations about where the action is taking place, why The Process is making the Phazels look for the Future, and where the Process’s creepy humanoid guard with the insect heads actually came from, all while meshing in the Ancient Gallifrey plot that explains the emergence of rationalism and time travel and gives some startling details about pre-Time Lord life. Warhead goes for a different type of harrowing, evoking an Earth not too far removed from our reality but full of neat little future ideas, like the holographic answering machine. Cartmel’s Doctor is firmly in chessmaster mode, maneuvering character after character in a grand scheme to stop the schemes of a severely disturbed businessman and his plan to cheat death by forcibly downloading humanity into a supercomputer. The most interesting part of the story revolves around Justine, a neo-Luddite teen obsessed with nature and witchcraft, and Vincent, the Whoniverse’s most fascinating psychokinetic who channels emotions into fearsome mental powers.

Then there’s good old Witch Mark. Poor, sad, horrifyingly bad Witch Mark. The book is packed with stereotype after stereotype, what with the stranger-hating Welsh farmers, the two American backpackers that seem to have actually come from 50s London, the Peter-Davison-in-“All Creatures Great And Small”-esque vet, the helpful old couple in the inn, the surly humans in the fairy realm, the wise, gentle unicorns, the staid trolls, etc etc etc. The vestiges of a great plot lurk in this mess (the fairy realm is collapsing and the inhabitants there, along with the Welshmen, are attempting to infiltrate Earth, creating conflict both on Earth between the UK and the transplants and between the fairyland humans and the fairy creatures, all exacerbated by witches using the situation for their own gain) but the book seem to be actively conspiring to hide this from you. Glaring plot holes fly all over the place, including one particular howler that isn’t resolved for another 49 books. This was the last book I needed to complete my New Adventures collection; I still have conflicting emotions about having spent money for this nonsense.

In the end, we have two very good books and one shockingly bad book, all more pessimistic in tone and setting than the previous four novels. Apparently, adults don’t like fun very much (and it only gets grimmer from here).