Monday, March 21, 2016

State of Change by: Christopher Bulis: Rome but with Zeppelins

The Sixth Doctor’s redemption may have begun with his appearance in the Big Finish audio dramas, but I would argue the seeds to this redemption were sowed in this novel.  State of Change is Christopher Bulis’ second novel and is leaps and bounds ahead of his first in terms of writing quality.  He paints a realistic portrayal of Roman society that drags you into the narrative and intrigues you to know exactly where the plot is going to go.  The plot involves the Doctor and Peri arrive in Rome on what appears to be an alternate Earth where technology has developed, but all is not well.  Stepping out of the TARDIS in Cleopatra’s tomb, the Doctor reverts back to his fifth incarnation and Peri begins to sprout feathers a la Vengeance on Varos.  The plot goes exactly where you would expect with the Doctor trying to figure out what’s causing this with an eventual twist on who the villain is, which I won’t spoil, but I will say their returning caught me off guard and Bulis works better with this character than anyone did on TV.  The plot is a breath of fresh air as it really feels like it came out of the missing Season 23 which allowed me to quickly get through the novel.


The Doctor is perfectly characterized here as the softer Six as he cares immensely for Peri and finds the villain’s plan full of horrifying implications.  His actions towards Peri are so good that he is worrying for her safety as he leaves her in the TARDIS slowly turning into a bird woman.  At one point the TARDIS is confronted with tomb robbers and the first thing he asks Peri is “are you alright?”  Bulis is able to get him out of his coat and into period dress.  His eventual defeat of the villain is very satisfying for the novel.  Peri also gets better characterization here as she has her own little character arc.  The experiments of Vengeance on Varos have taken a toll on her psyche and makes her kept in fear.  She turns into a bird and embraces it as a way to tell herself she can get through it.  It makes her an immediately stronger character and I’d argue explains her better relationship with the Doctor seen in The Mysterious Planet.  It’s down to these two characters alone and the villain that this should be a contender to be adapted for audio.


The supporting characters are varied with a few of them sticking out but many of them being forgettable.  Peri gets some great stuff with Ptolemy Caesar which I really like and the gladiator sections are cool, but the characters are pretty one note for the most part.  Bulis however is good at describing the characters’ appearances and the setting that they feel like they can be real people.  I feel like I’m in Rome while reading this book and the added technology actually feels pretty natural for the most part.  The biggest problem with this novel is its pacing.  It begins with a prologue that really isn’t very necessary except to introduce some of the characters and is followed by fifty pages of world building.  This world building helps with keeping the setting well defined, but makes the plot drag slightly and makes the eventual pacing increase come across as slightly rushed.  The conclusion of the novel also has quite a few problems in that it all starts to happen.  Bulis has a great twist in that it isn’t an alternate Earth but a sort of time bubble which is a great idea.  Sadly the idea doesn’t translate well into an actual story and it feels a bit cheap as a twist.


To summarize, State of Change is the best Virgin New Adventure since Goth Opera.  It isn’t perfect, but with some great characters and plot ideas mixing in with a great villain and a twist leads to a novel that really anyone can enjoy with very few problems.  The supporting characters are weak and the first third of the novel becomes a real slog to get through, but if you get past it you will see a novel showing exactly how Colin Baker should have been done on television.  78/100

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