THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
OFFICIAL BBC 'PAST
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
As the millennium
draws to a close, the
future of humankind
hinges on the
activities of one
that old mistakes are
being repeated, the
Brigadier asks the
Doctor and his
their infiltration is
disrupted by the
murderous games of
terrorists seeking the
fulfilment of age-old
UNIT encounter aliens
in the boardroom,
Tegan meets a pop
star, Turlough finds
himself a victim of
his own desires and
Los Angeles becomes a
war zone in which
humanity is merely a
The King of Terror
I cannot believe that it has taken this long for somebody to come up with a story that integrates sixteenth century seer Michel de Nostredame’s notorious prophecies. I have always thought that the prophecies contained in Centuries were satiated with material that was just begging to be put through the Doctor Who mill, more so than ever at the moment as we are living in the approximate era that, many infer from Nostradamus’ prognostications, the world should end.
Yet “The King of Terror” is as much about Hollywood decadence and UNIT / CIA stratagems than it is about ancient prophecies. Indeed, after a relatively promising start, Newton and his terrorist ‘Sons of Nostradamus’ really take a back seat to the much more interesting UNIT / CIA / double alien invasion plot, and by the end of the book they have descended into little more than author Keith Topping’s glib metaphor for online geeks. And so in this respect
“The King of Terror” has to be regarded as something of a wasted opportunity - why was Nostradamus not revealed to be an evil alien or a Time Lord or something? Why were his prophecies not delved into more deeply and better linked to the plot? The storytelling possibilities were endless. Surprisingly though, this does not affect the novel too adversely. In fact, “The King of Terror” could have got by quite happily without the Nostradamus constituent.
From reading BBC Books’ very first past Doctor adventure, “The Devil Goblins From Neptune” (which Topping co-wrote with Martin Day), it was evident that Topping shared my fondness for both UNIT and Lethbridge-Stewart, and I am pleased to say this affection really shines through in this book too. I know that some do not approve of the aging Brigadier being dragged out of retirement on a regular basis (though he does run the British version of The X-Files now, apparently), but when he is written as well as he is here and when he is as integral to the plot as he is here, I do not think that bringing him back again can be faulted in any way. Topping even gives due reverence to the Brigadier’s personal continuity - I enjoyed the book’s 2050 prologue especially. It is nice to know that the ‘regenerated’ Brigadier-General of the future exists in the Whoniverse outside the works of Paul Cornell.
“Oh it’s you. I was wondering which one of you would turn up. Random factors, I expect?”
It is also interesting to read about the Brigadier paired up with the fifth Doctor again, as from his 1999 perspective the Brigadier has meet “nine or ten” Doctors to date (a lovely conceit in itself, which makes perfect sense when you think about it), and the fifth does not appear to rank amongst his favourites. In fact, the Brigadier is perceptibly disappointed when number five arrives. This may be Topping’s own view on the Peter Davison incarnation bleeding through, as “The King of Terror” is encumbered with a glut of barely-veiled digs at “the vulnerable one” and his “introverted” nature, but then again this could be Topping cleverly highlighting the fifth Doctor’s greatest strength – his knack for lulling his opponents into a false sense of security. If nothing else, this is certainly one of the most thought-provoking depictions of the Doctor’s fifth incarnation that I have ever come across in print.
“They were all antiwar. Anybody with any sense is.
But sometimes you’ve got to fight for your right not to fight…
You’ll find that any soldier who’s ever been into combat is, at heart, pacifist.
It’s a paradox, isn’t it?”
In fairness though, it is the lower ranks of UNIT that steal this one; the ‘next generation’ if you will. The duet of Barrington and Paynter are especially captivating; these two are so well drawn that they could have quite easily carried a whole book on their own. Paynter is a fountain of hidden depths, his musings on pacifism and his reaction to Barrington’s death both beautifully explored by Topping. The character’s love/hate romance with Tegan is a little less inspiring, given how formulaic the evolution of their relationship is, but even so I still found it suitably engaging simply because Topping had the balls to paint the spirited Ozzie Air Hostess in an altogether new light.
“He cried out in agony when a hot, snake-like anal probe entered him
and a thin river of blood seeped down his leg…”
In contrast, Turlough’s sections of the book are unpredictable and bizarre. All the same, I have to reluctantly admit that they were amongst my favourites. The scenes of torture and degradation, shown from Turlough’s subjective perspective, really stand out as being both disturbing and rather enlightening – in my view, this book does more for Turlough’s
character than even the recent “Imperial Moon” did. Unfortunately though, at one point Topping all but destroyed the devastating image that he had so meticulously built up in my mind when he had Turlough anally probed. It is such a derisory and gratuitous science-fiction cliché that I found it hard to take Turlough’s suffering seriously after that.
And although I enjoyed the ending of the story very much, I did think that it felt a little too big for the book, not to mention a little too remote in that the principal characters are essentially in the hands of the orbiting Jex and Canavitchi. Had the Canavitchi decided to stick around at the end of the story, then it really might have been the end of the world (or the Doctor might have actually had to get his finger out!)
Stemming from this point, the whole human acceptance of aliens in a pretty much contemporary setting did not really sit right with me. Lance Parkin managed to pull it off in “The Dying Days”, but I found that the way this delicate notion is broached in “The King of Terror” is far less convincing. I just do not think that the people of the world would react so meekly to their imminent (apparent) annihilation. Still, that is Hollywood for you, and that is exactly what “The King of Terror” is – a Hollywood blockbuster in print.
A blockbuster that, despite its flaws, I enjoyed tremendously.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This novel’s blurb offers no guidance as to its placement. However, as the Doctor mentions that he’s been trying to take a chap from 1693 (presumably Will from The Awakening) back home for the past month, it appears that these events take place between the television serials The Awakening and Frontios, as well
as after a few unseen adventures featuring Will!
This novel is also notable in that it confirms that following the Doctor’s period of exile on Earth, he and the Brigadier regularly encounter each other completely out of sequence. Here, the Brigadier mentions meeting
a later incarnation of the Doctor just a few weeks earlier (possibly his seventh in The Algebra of Ice) and the Doctor says that he’s also recently met an older version of the Brigadier.
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