Friday, February 21, 2020

Millennium Shock by: Justin Richards

When it comes to writing novels there is something incredibly reliable about seeing the name Justin Richards in the author slot.  Richards is not an author to push the boundaries of Doctor Who storytelling or to completely shift the world to a different viewpoint, but he is one that knows how to tell a good story.  He’s a storyteller, content to entertain for a book and give you a good time with some fun characters so if you’re in charge of BBC Books and you have a book fall through so you need a backup, Justin Richards is a good person to turn to get a book out in a pinch.  It is these circumstances in which Millennium Shock was written, and to be honest Richards uses the limited time frame he had to write to his advantage.  The novel is a sequel to his Virgin Missing Adventure System Shock, opening the prologue with the epilogue to the previous book to give any first-time readers information of the previous novel they may need to know.  With the prologue out of the way the book itself is allowed to tell its own story, one that is similar in style but almost superior to System Shock as it uses its limited page count usefully and wisely.

Much like System Shock, Millennium Shock is a techno thriller dealing with the Voracians attempting to regain their position and re-poison the fledgling internet at the turn of the millennium.  As this is dealing with the turn of the millennium, Richards brings in real world fears about the Y2K bug which was predicted to cause widespread outages as computer coding wouldn’t be able to turn the year for the new millennium, as in many cases the year was shortened to the final two digits.  While in reality, very little actually came of the Y2K bug, but fictionalizing it into a tense setting and front for an alien invasion is excellent.  It creates an easy touchstone for the reader to grasp onto and explore some really fun character moments.  Richards fills the book with plenty of suspense as the Voracians are slowly converting people, Invasion of the Body Snatchers style to their own plot giving portions of the book not only a sense of heightened suspense, but also a sense of body horror as people are altered and lose their agency.  Their reptilian nature are also reflected in their tactics as the Voracians have slithered their way into influencing the British government and several other big British businesses.  This makes it incredibly difficult for the Doctor to get an upper hand as the Voracian force is able to turn the rest of the country against him.

Much of the second half of the novel sees the Doctor on the run with Harry Sullivan.  Yes, Richards brings Harry into proceedings this time around, using the older version of the character and setting this for the Doctor after The Deadly Assassin.  Richards uses Harry here to show just how much respect the Doctor has for the character.  On television Harry is most famous for his blunder in Revenge of the Cybermen, but the character is much more than that.  He’s working for MI5 and has matured as a person into showing that he does have a set of skills which are an asset to the Doctor in nearly every situation.  He’s also gotten a comfortable life for himself, with a housekeeper who the audience becomes attached to and several characters who are mutilated around him.  Harry almost appears here like an older, less witty, James Bond.  The Doctor is also  characterized excellently by Richards, feeling quite comfortable dealing with his old friend and with an old enemy.  Richards perfectly captures the alien nature of Tom Baker’s performance in the role and his absolutely manic energy is a highlight.  As this is post The Deadly Assassin the Doctor is just kind of wandering the universe in search of danger and literally materializes the TARDIS directly into trouble.  This first scene with the Doctor really shows where the character is and fits well with what he’s done.  Overall, Millennium Shock is an excellent piece of pulp fiction that somehow manages to be a near perfect Past Doctor Adventure, even when written on a time crunch.  9/10.

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