07 March 2014

BOOK: The Spear of Destiny

The Spear of Destiny is Marcus Sedgwick's contribution to the BBC's 11-month long eBook series celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who (they kept that one quiet!). Released last March, it sees the Third Doctor and Jo lovingly reunited for a tale taking them from UNIT to a private museum, second-century Sweden and back again.

Sedgwick clearly has great affection for the two leads (plus the Master who crops up in a particularly impressive disguise, especially by his standards) as well as a vast knowledge of the show, particularly this period. The Doctor especially is extremely faithful to Pertwee's portrayal, blustering authoritatively about the place, and using his aikido to escape his prison. Although this is longer again than the previous two in the series, it uses most of its space well, only falling down at its conclusion.

The tale begins with Jo and the Doctor visiting a London museum, where there is a newly-opened Viking exhibition. The Brigadier, who attends a gentlemen's club across the road, has noticed several temporal distortions in the area, and the Doctor has narrowed down the source of these anomalies to this museum, specifically to PTN (Physical Temporal Nexus, keep up at the back) in the form of the Spear of Odin. The Spear of Destiny is a real thing, which gives Sedgwick's premise credibility. 

The Spear forms a psychic bond with the wielder, and allows them to hit any target with pin-point accuracy. The Doctor says he doesn't know where it came from, or who created it, but the TIme Lords have asked him to collect this PTN (of which there are only six in existence) and return it to them. In the wrong hands, it could be a very dangerous weapon. The Doctor mentions to Jo that it was in Hitler's possession during World War II, in a museum in Berlin. He said it lost him the war because he did not establish a psychic link with it. Sedgwick dwells briefly on the horrifying consequences had he done so. I'm always a bit cautious of such explicit references and explorations of this idea, and I think perhaps just a brief mention would have sufficed here.

Once the Doctor has got a good look at the Spear, they quickly return to UNIT headquarters. It transpires that he intends to steal the Spear and swap it for a duplicate that the "boffins" have made him. This is one piece of terminology that feels out of place coming from the Third Doctor here. However, they didn't know what inscription the Spear had, so the Doctor needed to see it first. Once the dummy is completed, the Time Lord returns to the museum with Jo - only they land on the roof instead of inside. As they are about to make the switch, they're discovered by armed guards and rapidly chased back to the TARDIS. 

Abandoning this idea, the Doctor sets the co-ordinates for the only other place that they apparently know the Spear was - and it's not the night before, which is a little perplexing. Rather than going for this presumably much more straightforward option, he elects to take himself and Jo to northern Sweden. Here, they are quickly captured by a bunch of savage Vikings (following a defensive description of them as peaceful farmers by the Doctor), a nice moment of irony. Jo's taken to their camp, and the Doctor is plunged into the icy river next to which they've landed. A theory of the Doctor's is dismissed almost as quickly as it is relayed to us - the Vikings can see the TARDIS after all.

Following a quick perusal of an electric waterwheel, the Doctor heads to the camp, where he is tied up with Jo. They discuss the situation and conclude that the Master is behind it all - at which point he enters, naturally. It's another Frontier in Space-style setup. He's playing two tribes of Vikings off against each other for his own gain - which seems to be the Spear. He evidently hasn't heard about the new exhibition. There follows a relatively predictable chain of events where there is planned to be a grand sacrifice to the Gods before the war commences, as Halley's Comet passes over. You don't need me to tell you who is to be offered.

In the great temple of Odin, the Master gets his comeuppance. He has been using the waterwheels to store energy in a capacitor located beneath the temple. When he gives the command, it will explode instantly, blowing the temple and the village away, whilst also tearing a hole in the time-stream to prevent anyone visiting the time or leaving it. This last section is particularly notable as it turns out that in return for the Spear, he has promised Odin the Doctor's TARDIS. He was clearly relying on him turning up here at some point. Imagine if he hadn't. It seems a rather convoluted scheme just to get the Spear. He could no doubt just steal it, or failing that, visit some other time and do the same. I know the Delgado Master gets a lot of flack for his overly-complex plans, but this is a stretching it a bit, isn't it? A design like that in The Nameless City is more his style. Sure, once he has the PTN, he'll be very powerful, but it still seems that he's lowered his ambitions a bit, possibly wisely. 

And so, Odin tries to destroy the Doctor but the Time Lord just nips into the TARDIS, where luckily it's one of the days where the 'state of temporal grace' a) is switched on and b) isn't just a clever line. He swaps the real Spear for the dupe he intended to leave in the museum, and bluffs about threatening to attack Odin with it. The Swede naturally gives in to him, and the Doctor hands it over. They proceed to leave, whereupon they discover that Jo has actually taken the dimensional stabiliser from the Master's TARDIS - he's trapped there. Sedgwick comes up with the great idea of tying the craft into Norse mythology by making it the ship of infinite dimensions that the Master goes to collect soldiers in. It's disguised as a boat at the moment, and Jo snaps the tiller off whilst in one of her (many) prisons.

In terms of characterisation, Marcus Sedgwick hits the nail on the head here. Both the Doctor and Jo are completely authentic to the time they're from (explicitly 1973, but I'll come to that) - mid Series 10. I personally think that the author intended this to come after Frontier in Space (tragically Delgado's final appearance), to explain partly the Master's reduced figure in The Deadly Assassin. I also like to think that having failed to convince the Draconians that the Humans must be planning a massive cake sale as they're stealing all their flour, he scaled back his ambitions a bit and tried to turn two Nordic tribes against each other. Like the Doctor and Jo, the renegade is served well in terms of dialogue and interaction in The Spear of Destiny, but he suffers the common fate of this short story.

Even though I'm not particularly keen on this period of history, I was willing to give it a go. I'm afraid to say that the setting didn't grab me (although I did like the additions to the legends, such as 'Old One' evolving into Odin through the generations), and I also think the plot was a bit lacking. I think Sedgwick may have tried to cram too many elements together, and it's less than the sum of its parts to be honest. That's not to say it's bad by any stretch. I think I probably would have enjoyed this story more had it been set entirely in London. It's generally the 'modern day' stories that I enjoy more from the Pertwee era.

This brings me on to the dating issue. It is explicitly stated several times during this book that the Doctor and Jo come from 1973. This is of course when Series 10 aired, but messes up a lot of UNIT dating, and generally goes against the 'accepted' timeline, which places this series somewhere around 1978-80. Sarah states in Pyramids of Mars that she's from 1980, and while she could be rounding, it's unlikely. The Invasion is largely believed to have taken place between 1974-6 and Spearhead from Space onwards relatively soon after. This interruption by Sedgwick messes with all this. I don't know if it was a deliberate poke of fun, or if Sedgwick is unaware of these 'issues' (and why shouldn't he be?). If the latter, you would've thought an editor may've picked up on it.

All in all, an enjoyable tale, but mostly for the leading triumvirate of the Doctor, Jo and the Master. The plot is overly-complex and relies on characters doing a number of illogical things. While it's far from bad, it does feel a bit like the author has to make excuses to go back to Viking times, when several plausible solutions could've been rattled off in a line (for example, that's the earliest point that it has its power recorded, and so they need to see what happened and prevent the human race having that power). Sedgwick clearly loves this period of the show's history, and he should be commended for his efforts. Unfortunately it just wasn't engaging enough for me. Worth your time, but you may feel a little indifferent after.

In a Nutshell: Frontier in Sweden.

You can get The Spear of Destiny as an eBook here, or as part of the 11 Doctors, 11 Stories physical anthology here.

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