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Also reviewed in this issue: Season Premiere #7 for The X-Files, three new episodes each of Buffy and Angel (all getting their UK premiere this month), three more episodes of Voyager and Stargate SG-1 each, our Pick of the Month Doctor Who book below , plus more Who in audio, video and printed formats, the latest Trek and Buffy books, and a CD theme collection As Seen On TV...


Who is Compassion?
Dragon, fighter: Paul Cornell's Shadows of Avalon

During Virgin’s New Adventures Paul Cornell established a reputation for strong writing, resting largely on his seminal Human Nature. Nearly four years away have done nothing to harm that cachet and The Shadows of Avalon is therefore much anticipated. It can only live up to such expectations with two caveats in mind: first, that Cornell sometimes dilutes his strong writing with self-indulgent whimsy; and second, that the new novel is set firmly in, and inherits the problems of, the Eighth Doctor story arc.

Set in 2012, the story starts with a dimensional rift opening between our world and the land of dreams, transplanting a nuclear warhead into the middle of a dispute between the Fair Folk of the North and the Catuvelauni of Avalon. While I remain sceptical about the use of Faeries in Doctor Who (particularly so soon after the elves of Autumn Mist) and there is some overt silliness from some villainous interfering Time Lords, the tone of the book is far from whimsical. Its lead character is an embittered and self-loathing Brigadier, consumed with grief over the loss of Doris, while both Compassion and the Doctor have issues of their own.

Without ever letting his characters get in the way of a solid story, Cornell creates a story with far more emotional depth than we’re used to in this range. The Brigadier is especially well handled, though the fact that Cornell himself rejuvenated him in Happy Endings doesn’t help: psychologically an old man, it’s difficult to visualize this version of Lethbridge-Stewart as physically young. It does allow him to take part in the action and to become an object of desire for the Catuvelauni’s Queen Regent, but it detracts from the otherwise potent sense of a man reaching the end of his life. The portentous air hangs over the Doctor too, as we reach a pivotal point in ‘the arc’. Unfortunately this range has often ‘cried wolf’ by presenting apparently momentous events that turn out to be neither true nor momentous.

Written by Paul Cornell
BBC Books
UK Price: £5.99 • Put 7 February 2000
Reviewed by John Binns
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In any case, its constantly shifting history and ground rules make the impact of such events arguably meaningless. Nevertheless, during the course of the book, a momentous event actually does happen that should kick-start ‘the arc’ into a genuinely exciting series. (Or does it?)


Excited? Someone is…

Slayer is both blessed and cursed with its inheritance of the Virgin Episode Guide™ format (The Doctor Who Discontinuity Guide onwards). This division of episodes into sections is a great idea, working well in this book; it even deems itself to give an opinion of each episode, something annoyingly lacking in the official guides, so bonus points there.

Slayer, Keith Topping's 'totally cool unofficial guide'

Making up these ardent subheadings are: Valley-Speak (a list of mall-rat sayings that pepper the show's scripts), which is the most pointless; Soundtrack (a listing of all songs in the episode) is the most indispensable, while References (a detailing of homages and referrals) is the most jaw-droppingly researched area – and it is this segment alone that justifies the book to me. But the Notes section – a jumbled section of points and opinions – is very poorly formatted. I have never seen anything else that would have benefited so much from a bulleted list.

The mutable subheadings don’t pose the problems they could, but things often get ‘mis-filed’. For example, the episode Some Assembly Required (parts of deceased cheerleaders are being assembled together as a ‘bride’ for a formally dead college kid) doesn’t even reference The Bride of Frankenstein in the References section, instead waiting for the Notes section to point it out.

The book also falls foul of the most common error of these sorts of fan publications: trying to mimic the style of the show, highlighted sublimely in the fact that Topping takes time out to list some of the best and worst outfits of the show, taking the term ‘get with the program’ to a pointless new level. Unfortunately, Topping comes across like a puppy with a new toy. Even the book’s subtitle ‘The Totally Cool Unofficial Guide’ makes you wince at its enthusiasm.

Written by Keith Topping
Virgin Books
UK Price: £6.99 – out now
Reviewed by Dan Ranger
ISBN: 0 7535 0475 8
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So, we’ve discovered the book is not infallible. But all said and done, these are merely some of the book’s lowest points, and conversely, it does amaze with the level of research that has gone into it. The mutable nature of the book ultimately works in its favour, and it is stuffed to the binding with facts, trivia and quotes.

More readable than previous Virgin guides, it provides an aide-memoire, a squire to the Buffyverse and an exciting resource of bitchy lines rolled into one. Fans will adore it – roll on Volume Two..

© Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction
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