28 February 2014

BOOK: The Nameless City

Official Description: When Jamie McCrimmon brings the Second Doctor a mysterious book, little does he realise the danger contained within its pages. The book transports the TARDIS to a terrifying glass city on a distant world, where the Archons are intent on getting revenge on the Time Lord for an ancient grudge.

For me at least, The Nameless City is instantly much more enjoyable to read than A Big Hand for the Doctor. I think this is mostly due to Michael Scott's style of prose, which is a lot more akin to what I'm used to, and indeed how I write. It also feels like there's a stronger story to this book as well, rather than being simply a string of events - if that makes sense. It feels cohesive and linear, with most relevant events occurring within the story, impressive considering the limited word count.

The Nameless City opens with Jamie searching '60s London for some materials that the Doctor has told him they need: gold, mercury and Zeiton-7. The TARDIS' Time Rotor is broken, and these substances are required to mend it. It does seem rather unlikely that the Scot would be able to find them readily available, but nevertheless he tries. There follows a really nice piece of description about Jamie tuning his hearing to only isolate noise - something he was taught whilst hunting with his father. This bit really reminded me of Leela, no doubt partly due to the fact that I've been rewatching all her TV stories recently. What he hears is a man being assaulted, so abandoning his task, he races through the backstreets to find a thug assaulting an elderly man. He quickly dispatches of the assailant, and has a quick conversation with Professor Thascalos, who it transpires is the owner of a book shop in Charing Cross Road. As a thanks, he gives Jamie (who is continually referred to as 'the Scotsman') an old book - a very old book.

He and the Doctor then regroup and (via a distraction involving the Doctor's recorder and "when I say run, run" in a single sentence, to remove some American tourists) enter the TARDIS. The book that Jamie was given - called The Necronomicon - then transports the ship outside the Milky Way, on a vast journey, something that should be impossible due to the aforementioned malfunctioning Time Rotor. Whilst they're travelling (which takes over eight hours, we're told) the Doctor establishes - in all but name - that it was the Master who gave Jamie the book, specifically the Roger Delgado incarnation. Indeed, we see the thug receiving payment for playing his part in Jamie's receipt of The Necronomicon. It's really nice to have the Master in a Second Doctor story, it's just a pity that they don't meet. The Doctor mentions having met him before, in a time after they left Gallifrey. I'd love to see/hear/read these adventures - wouldn't they be good?!

And so the TARDIS arrives in the titular city of the Archons - creatures from before time that 'invented' time travel. They're all natural though, and they didn't do it by peering over endless banks of tiny monitors and rewiring things time and again, as would most likely be the case were this set within Colin Baker's tenure. Scott's evocation of the Troughton era is very authentic from start to end, and includes references both within and outside the story that long-term fans will enjoy and appreciate (particularly Jamie's thoughts on the physical appearance of the planet of the Archons ['the Great Devastation'], which had me laughing). It's clear Scott is fan of the show, from these references to his inclusion of elements such as The Necronomicon - a book that was back in the Master's possession by the time of The Quantum Archangel (Craig Hinton's sequel to The Time Monster featuring the Sixth Doctor, Mel and the Ainley Master. No, really).

The Doctor and Jamie are quickly separated, with the former being taken inside the city by the slaves of the Archons - black glass ape-like creatures with four arms instead of two - in the TARDIS. Here, he meets the beings from beyond time, and it's at this point that my affection for this story (I have a great love for the Troughton/Hines pairing, and so naturally any story featuring them) began to wane. Like A Big Hand for the Doctor, The Nameless City tries to do something with the origins of the series. The implications here are a little more major than in Eoin Colfer's story, however. It's stated that the Time Lords stole the secrets of their power - principally time travel, but also the seeds with which TARDIS' can be grown from (conjuring an imagine of them growing in a little tray in a greenhouse somewhere) - from the Archons before declaring war on them to ensure that they would be the dominant species. The Doctor isn't sure of the validity of these claims as the early days of his race are shrouded in mystery. This obviously conflicts the established continuity of the original three (or six if you believe one odd reference that no-one really counts) - Rassilon, Omega and the Other - somehow establishing Time Lord society. It's never clarified if this is the truth or not; no evidence is given either way. I personally choose to believe it's not true, but it's a great idea.

As a result of this alleged crime against them, the Archons plan to travel to the beginning of the war, and destroy the Time Lords in order that they take their place as rulers of all. The Master isn't simply helping them out of goodwill, though, and he will be rewarded with command of several galaxies. Whilst the Doctor is keeping the Archons talking, the TARDIS is repairing herself (there's an amusing moment early on when she has a male voice, startling the Time Lord) in a pool containing gold, mercury and Zeiton-7, presumably among other things. As soon as this is done, and the TARDIS is gleaming again, the Doctor seeks to leave. Jamie has made his way into the citadel, desperately searching for the Doctor. The ape-slaves are motionless, observing their seven masters - all that remains of the Archons. He gets relatively close to the Doctor, and waits for his cue to dive into the TARDIS - another distractory blast on the recorder.

All through this short story, the Archons are said to be tuned to the Music of the Spheres - another nice retrospective embellishment of continuity by Scott. To prevent them being followed whilst escaping, the Doctor amplifies Jamie playing the bagpipes, rather amusingly. The beings lived in undersea realms before the Great Devastation, where they communicated via sonar. This is why they are so attuned to sonic vibrations, such as a light breeze or the Music of the Spheres. So when the distorted sound of bagpipes and a recorder is blasted from the TARDIS' "hidden exterior speakers" (nice variation on "I'll explain later"), it works twofold. First, the Archons are too disorientated by the harsh sound to act, and second it causes the glass their city is constructed from to shatter, and shatters their settlement to shards. The TARDIS begins to fly back towards the Milky Way, and here endeth the tale.

I would personally love to hear this tale dramatised as a full-cast audio by Big Finish. I believe there's a lot of potential to be exploited in this partnership, and it could quite easily be adapted into two twenty-five minute episodes. Perhaps it could spearhead a new recurring series for The Early Adventures (launching at the end of this year)? There's even an interesting article I read that suggests it should be made for television, to start a new series of adventures starring Reece Shearsmith and possibly featuring the Master. Perhaps it would be more effective as a web series? Either way, I think this would be fantastic.

This is a highly interesting and often innovative tale, more so than its predecessor. I like Scott's style of storytelling. A full-length adventure from him wouldn't be unwelcome in my opinion, so long as he can maintain the standard and voices of the Doctor and Jamie. I found this particular aspect much more authentic than in The Wheel of Ice. The descriptive language used to help the reader envisage scenarios is another enjoyable element, with perhaps my favourite instance being Jamie remembering how Polly described the Doctor as looking like an "unmade bed". I also liked how both the Doctor and Jamie were key to resolution of the story, too, utilising rarely-seen talents to defeat the monsters, given the small role Susan played in A Big Hand.

I think this was probably the perfect way to tell an anniversary story. It's got the nostalgia element of the Master - but remains unnamed to avoid alienating any newer fans - and the threat to all of time and space of the Archons, also ticking the monster box, although their slaves achieve this as well. It also slots into established continuity well (the setting of 1968 implies it's between Fury from the Deep and The Wheel in Space) whilst - possibly - adding to it. If I had one complaint it would be that it ends too quickly after quite a bit of setup. The journey to the Great Devastation takes eight hours, yet they're only there for no more than half an hour. I understand the length of time was supposed to tell us just how far beyond anything else it is, but couldn't that have been achieved with a slightly more balanced amount? Plus, it would've been nice to have a little scene with the Doctor and Jamie relaxing somewhere together at some point, but that's a very small point. The Time Henge is a phenomenal idea, and just the sort of concept I love.

Overall, a really enjoyable read, and a much higher standard than the first. Despite being a little longer, it sustains the interest much more successfully, which is saying something. Michael Scott is to be commended for this, and The Nameless City really deserves more attention that it has received. The rating below seems quite high, but there's not enough grounds to score it any lower (not that you'll seek to).

In a Nutshell: Quite possibly the perfect anniversary story, in just 48 pages.

You can buy The Nameless City as an eBook here, or as part of the 11 Doctors, 11 Stories collection here.

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