And now we come to Timewyrm: Apocalypse: The little book everybody forgot. At least, I did. I hadn’t read it since it came out, and I can’t remember what I thought about it at the time. Nigel Robinson was another Target author, albeit one of the better ones–his The Edge of Destruction was an intelligent and readable expansion of a script that would have become a short story in the hands of Terrance Dicks. In 1991, this might have looked pretty good.
Today, though… not so much. It doesn’t even rise to the level of a lot of BBC books, to be honest. Apocalypse slides through your brain and leaves few memories. You might recall a sea monster. And wasn’t there some blue lady? Come to think of it, aren’t you just remembering the cover?
Which is odd. A book set at the end of the universe should be memorable. But not in this case, because the first really noticeable thing about Apocalypse is that the distant, distant future is oddly like the present. On her first morning in Kirith Town, Ace wakes up in a four-poster bed, puts on a silk dressing gown, and sits down to a complimentary hotel breakfast. This is not the last time we’d see this lack of imagination, although it wasn’t until the BBC books that it got pathological. Then again, given the big plot twist, it makes sense that Kirithon society seems artificial; Justin Richards didn’t have the same excuse in Sometime Never.
The second thing you notice about Apocalypse is that it has pretty much the same plot as “The Krotons”–a peaceful village’s best and brightest youngsters are recruited for mysterious purposed by their technocratic overlords, and never seen again. The Krotons, being crap, went to all that trouble merely to fix their spaceship, but the Panjistri are more ambitious: they want to force- grow the Omega Point, a phenomenon famously hypothesized by Frank Tipler (and less famously hypothesized by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin). For anyone unfamiliar with this theory–because, hey, it’s not that famous–I’ll take the lazy route and quote Wikipedia:
The implication of this theory for present-day humans is that this ultimate cosmic computer will essentially be able to resurrect (“simulate” might be a more modest verb) everyone who has ever lived, by recreating all possible quantum brain states within the master simulation. This will be manifested as a simulated reality, except without the necessity for physical bodies. From the perspective of the simulated “inhabitant,” the Omega Point represents an infinite-duration afterlife, which could take any imaginable form due to its virtual nature.
Whoa. Dude. (Despite this, Timewyrm: Apocalypse is still boring, which is in a sense an accomplishment.)
To accomplish this, the Panjistri wad up the local gifted and talented kids into a big amorphous ball of group-mind-ness. They also make a couple of angry blobby monsters, because… actually, I can’t remember what the hell that was supposed to be about. Possibly because they’re Mad Scientists, and that’s What Mad Scientists Do. Apocalypse seems a bit leery of science. You get the impression that, to Robinson, biologists are a lot like the Panjistri– mysterious beings who spend their time in activities both incomprehensible and a little scary.
The most noticeable thing about Timewyrm: Apocalypse in the post-EDA age is that it exactly fits the expressed goals of the current BBC book line. It’s a young adult novel, for ages twelve to fourteen. It focuses on, and sympathizes with, Ace and Raphael, a local teenager. Parents are mostly absent. Instead we have the Doctor and Raphael’s tutor Miril, non-threatening and more or less with-it mentor figures–perfect for kids who might be embarrassed to have Mom and Dad around during an adventure, but who aren’t ready to throw off adult protection altogether. The story is driven by the concerns of youth: the feeling that they’re living in a world shaped arbitrarily and incomprehensibly by powerful grown-ups. The fear that joining adult society might involve conformity and the subsumption of their identities. Their psychological need for rebellion. And, of course, the ever-popular melodramatic adolescent romance, complete with an ex-girlfriend who betrays Raphael to the Panjistri merely because she’s jealous of Ace.
What’s weird about this is that Timewyrm: Apocalypse keeps flashing back to scenes with the Second Doctor, Ben and Polly–the TARDIS crew that would have been least familiar to young fans. (None of the “orphaned” episodes were available on video then, although I think the BBC had experimented with putting a few audio tracks out on cassette.) It’s hard to imagine what a young audience would have made of these bits, since there’s no background to bring them up to speed. It’s like the target audience for Apocalypse is twelve to fourteen year olds somewhere around 1972. If anyone ever invents a time machine, we can send copies of Apocalypse back to the Pertwee era and totally blow those kids’ minds.