Doctor Who Reviews: Sometime Never

This is another old _Doctor Who_ tie-in review. If it seems oddly snarky, consider that I wrote it years ago, not long after the book came out, while I was still actively following a series that was determinedly running itself into the ground.

Sometime Never… is the culmination of over three years of eighth Doctor books. This is the ultimate fruition of the ongoing storylines introduced during Justin Richards’s tenure as editor. This is the climax that every EDA since The Burning has built towards.

Book cover

And it stinks.

It’s too damn long, for one thing. Sometime Never… only exists to tie up a number of dangling plot threads. That’s it. There is nothing else to it: no theme, no plot, no character development. The little that Sometime Never… accomplishes could be done in the space of a novella. But Richards has 280 pages to fill, and he fills them with padding. Lots of padding. The most superfluous padding since Robert Jordan published volume three hundred of The Wheel of Time. Over seventy per cent of the American sales of Sometime Never… have been traced to a single bulk purchase by the Wisconsin Federation of Mall Santas. They’re going to scotch tape copies to their beer guts this December.

If you haven’t yet read this book (and if not, go ahead. You’ll sleep easier. Especially if you try reading it in bed), you may wonder how padded it could be. Consider that the Doctor has discovered the Council of Eight’s secret headquarters by page 17—and it takes him until page 223 to get inside. Partly this is due to an admirable sense of caution. The eighth Doctor is too often an idiot, so it’s nice to see him do a little research for once. However, he gets all the information he needs in the two or three quick stops he makes to watch the time agents at work, plus the bit later on where Octan explains his plan. Everything else—everything having to do with the Tower of London, and the princes, and Fleetward, and the Anthropology Institute, and the end of the universe—is just Justin Richards shuffling his characters and plot tokens until enough pages have been filled to ensure that the book won’t under-run. The only vital events are the meetings with Sabbath, Miranda, boring guest character “Zezanne,” and boring guest villain Octan, and they could have turned up anywhere.

There’s a standard BBC books method for writing story arcs. First get a talented writer—frequently Lawrence Miles, but sometimes Kate Orman, Jonathan Blum, or Lance Parkin—to come up with cool ideas. Then make sure either that the other writers don’t pick up on them, or that they develop them so as to provide the least possible amount of drama. With this method, you can give the Doctor a humanoid TARDIS, or strand him on earth for a century, and still churn out the same old monsters-and-megalomaniacs effluvium you’ve been pushing for years now.

Sometime Never… boldly carries on this tradition. Justin Richards zeroes in on and deploys the dullest possible resolution to each plot thread. I’m sure no one was thinking, “Gee, I hope Sabbath’s employers turn out to be eight indistinguishable crystal guys who argue all the time,” but, somehow, that’s what we ended up with. I say “what we ended up with,” not “what Justin Richards created.” I can’t believe he would deliberately create something this lame. I can think of several cooler revelations off the top of my head, and I’m not even very bright. My theory is that the Council ended up in the book through some kind of accident, such as coffee spilling on the manuscript and spontaneously forming letters.

The Council of Eight are so dull that even their names are just synonyms for different numbers. They spend the entire book arguing. Not arguing about anything interesting, mind you—or even anything comprehensible. I can’t really remember what the hell they were talking about, except that it involved a lot of meaningless pseudoscience. I guess that’s one of the hazards inherent in taking months to write one damn review.

I’m not even sure why the council wants to ensure its own continued existance. These people don’t seem very happy in each other’s company. I suppose the plan might be to ditch each other as soon as possible and never see each other again. After reading about them for 280 pages I can sympathize.

The regulars aren’t so great, either. The Doctor is bland, as usual. Fitz is useless, as usual. The one who bothered me most was Trix. She was later fleshed out a bit, but as of Sometime Never… I still didn’t have the faintest idea who she was, or where she came from, or why she travelled with the Doctor, as opposed to heading home as soon as the TARDIS reached contemporary England. I still have no idea why she bothered to dress up as “Crystal Devine,” since it’s not like anyone at the party would have recognized her anyway.

Miranda and Sabbath are wasted. Literally. Both of them are interesting characters who could still have added a lot to the series. (Not that there were many EDAs left, but at the time this book was written no one knew a new TV series was coming.) Richards can’t think of anything to do with them besides kill them off.

I’m not sure which of the two this book handles worse. Miranda shows up pretty much just so that someone can shoot her. The only other reason she’s there is to deliver the news that Zezanne is her daughter, thus setting up a surprise ending so silly that O. Henry could not come up with it if he drank a gallon of absinthe and spent the next five hours banging his head against his typewriter keys, drooling and giggling. To add insult to injury, Richards suggests that the Doctor has never visited her in the few decades since the end of Father Time. Some parent he turned out to be.

Meanwhile, Sabbath, the man who ran rings around the Doctor in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, is revealed as an ignorant dupe, betrayed by his own space monkeys, and reduced to shooting himself in the head in a fit of petulance.

You’ll be pleased to know, though, that Richards’s own Lionel Correll (from Time Zero) survives the book unscathed. I’m sure everyone was waiting with bated breath for him to turn up again.

Sometime Never… not only lacks imagination of its own, it also sucks all the other imagination out of the room. I left it in a pile with some other novels and when I got back they had all turned into accounting textbooks. It says a lot about this book, and about the series in general, that when Trix visits the end of the universe, in the unimaginably distant future, when the sun is dead and everything we know has been gone for millions of years it turns out to look like a couple of elderly small-town bores hanging out in the local all-you-can-eat buffet on a slow Sunday afternoon.

Richards brought one idea of his own to Sometime Never…, and it stinks. Remember Zeno’s Paradox? It’s the story about the runner who covers half the distance to his goal, and then half the remaining distance, and then half of what’s left ad infinitum, and never reaches his goal. Richards literalizes Zeno’s paradox several times over the course of the book, subdividing not just distance but at other times mass and time. Of course, the reason that this is a paradox is that it only makes sense as a complete abstraction. It would work in a surrealist novel, but here it’s unconvincing. It doesn’t help that Richard stops the book dead several times for increasingly redundant explanations of the concept.

If you haven’t read the book, you might assume that Richards places so much stress on Zeno’s Paradox because it has some kind of thematic connection to the book. But it hasn’t. Unless you count the fact that Sometime Never… seems to get longer and slower the further you read.