Skip to content

Review of Millennial Rites by PalindromeRose

2 May 2024

Virgin Missing Adventures

#015. Millennial Rites ~ 9/10

◆ An Introduction

I have an inordinate amount of happy memories watching old episodes of Classic Who on VHS tape. Even then, long before I had dipped my toes into the expanded universe, I absolutely adored the Sixth Doctor stories. Some moments from his adventures are practically tattooed onto my mind, like his attempts to free Lytton from cyber-conversion, and the moment of quiet reflection he has following the mercenary’s death.

Unfortunately, I never found myself wanting to revisit anything from ‘Trial of a Time Lord’. There were only two aspects of Season 23 that really stuck out to me – the first was Melanie Bush, a highly intelligent computer programmer who was sadly mistreated by every writer for the television series until she got given the boot. The second was the Valeyard, an amalgamation of the darker sides of the Doctor. This corrupted and immoral version of our favourite time-travelling madman is still shrouded in mystery to this very day, though it has been implied that he could be a Watcher.

We never actually discovered how the Doctor would become the Valeyard… but that’s where Craig Hinton comes in. It’s the dawn of a new millennia, and all hell is about to break loose in Canary Wharf!

◆ Publisher’s Summary

"The Millennium, Mel: the last New Year's Eve of the Twentieth century. But it's definitely not party time."

England, 1999: the Sixth Doctor and Mel have come to London to celebrate the new year with old friends — and to heal old wounds. But others are making more sinister preparations to usher in the new millennium. A software house is about to run a program that will change the fabric of reality. And an entity older than the universe is soon to be reborn.

When Anne Travers' fear of the Great Intelligence and millionaire philanthropist Ashley Chapel's secret researches combine, London is transformed into a dark and twisted mirror image populated by demons and sorcerers. Only the Doctor can put things right, but his friends have also been shockingly changed and he cannot trust anybody — least of all himself.

◆ The Sixth Doctor

‘Millennial Rites’ is my first time reading a novel from Craig Hinton, and his characterisation of the Sixth Doctor is absolutely amazing. Eccentric and arrogant, but with traces of a softer side that BigFinish would further cultivate (all thanks to a certain history professor from Sheffield Hallam University).

The Doctor is described as being an imposing figure who brimmed with arrogance and bravado (definitely accurate for this incarnation). After his kangaroo court trial on board the Celestial Intervention Agency’s space station – a trial arranged by the most corrupt members of his own race where the learned court prosecutor had been a dark and twisted version of himself – the Doctor had decided to give up his jackdaw meanderings and settle down. At least, that’s what he had deluded himself into thinking. In truth, he had been trying to avoid the predestined future that the Valeyard – his darker side – had predicted. If he could avoid ever meeting the Melanie Bush that the Matrix predictions had foretold he would meet, he could shift time onto a different track, a track in which the Valeyard never came into being. In which he never succumbed to his dark side. For a time, he thought he had succeeded. His first attempt at a companion had been Angela, but that had ended quite tragically with that business with the Network. But then he had met Grant, and they had shared many adventures together before eventually parting company. Others followed, and he had felt certain that he had bucked destiny – until a random – and companionless – landing on Earth had once again brought him into conflict with his arch-nemesis, the Master. It was during this adventure that he was assisted by a spirited, flame-haired computer programmer. The computer programmer was Melanie Bush, the companion that the Matrix had prophesied. And she was the first step on the road to the Doctor’s transformation into the corrupt, immoral Valeyard. The Doctor considered his inestimable intelligence as a proven fact, and everything and everyone simply had to operate around it.

◆ Melanie Bush

‘Millennial Rites’ has proven to me something that I already knew – nobody on the television series had a clue what they were doing with Melanie Bush! She’s still obnoxiously cheerful in this adventure, but Hinton remembers that she’s also meant to be exceptionally intelligent too. The writing for her character here is simply magnificent.

Morals were morals, whatever the century, and Mel’s old university friend’s brazen revelation that she was having an affair with a married man deserved only one response (“What about this man’s poor wife?”) She has spent the last couple of years in the company of an eccentric time traveller. She had persuaded – although bullied might have been a better description – that same time traveller into nipping forward to 1999, so that she could attend the long-arranged university reunion. The sorts of technical journals the Doctor had lying around the Tardis were a little esoteric for her tastes, with titles such as Abstract Meanderings in Theoretical Physics and Wormhole Monthly. She’s the soul of discretion. Julia acknowledges that Mel was always the best computer programmer out of their entire year, always streets ahead of the rest of them. The Doctor admits that Mel is the sweetest person imaginable – and the most human. Unfortunately, she also has the most annoying idea that she always knows best. She had an IQ of one hundred and sixty-two.

◆ Story Recap

International Electromatics was once the world's leading electronics manufacturer. But the company’s managing director decided to forge an alliance with the Cybermen, masterminding an invasion of Earth in return for a share of the power. Realising that he couldn’t trust these tyrants of logic, he defected, intending to help the Second Doctor and UNIT repel the invasion. The Cybermen were successfully vanquished, but Tobias Vaughn was killed in the ensuing battle, and the patents to all his technology were handed down to his right-hand man.

Ashley Chapel has worked tirelessly for twenty years, using his former employers leftover cyber-technology to create an all-powerful computer virus known as the Millennium Codex. Once activated, the program would warp reality as if by magic in an attempt to harness the power of Saraquazel, an ethereal sentient power from another universe, which was fated to exist after the destruction of the current one.

Dame Anne Travers fears that the Codex could in fact be used to summon the Great Intelligence back to Earth, the being that was responsible for her father’s demise. She decides to act… but her interference does more harm than good.

The Doctor and Mel, along with most of Canary Wharf, soon find themselves trapped in a realm where the physics of this universe, the pre-universe and the after-universe have merged. A realm where everyone seems to have forgotten themselves and taken on a new identity. There is the Technomancer Melaphyre (Mel), the Hierophant Anastasia (Anne Travers) and the Archimage Magnus Ashmael (Chapel). The Doctor has also succumbed to a new identity, one he fears immensely, known simply as the Valeyard!

◆ Craig Hinton: Master of Continuity

As previously mentioned, ‘Millennial Rites’ is my first time reading a Hinton novel. I’d heard a lot about this particular author before diving in, mainly that his adventures were fit to bursting with references to or explanations of elements of past continuity… and, oh boy, that is the understatement of the year! Shall we list all the different bits of fan-service present in this novel? OK, then here we go:

- Our main antagonist, Ashley Chapel, was once the right-hand man to Tobias Vaughan. He also happened to be the designer of the micro-monolithic chip (‘The Invasion’).

- The Library of St John the Beheaded previously played a crucial part in the Seventh Doctor novel ‘All-Consuming Fire’.

- Dame Anne Travers makes mention of the Great Intelligence several times, alluding to their attempted invasions of London in 1966 (‘The Web of Fear’) and in 1995 (‘Downtime’).

I’m not usually a fan of writers plugging up their adventures with fan-service because it often feels self-congratulatory, like they’re trying to pat themselves on the back for being the franchise’s biggest fanboy, but the elements of fan-service in Hinton’s novel actually serve a purpose. It’s a jumble of references that seems more complicated to navigate than Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction, but all of it is neatly tied together to create a really interesting narrative.

◆ The Valeyard

I’d like to move onto the topic of the Valeyard, who plays a surprisingly large role in the plot of ‘Millennial Rites’. When London is transformed by the Millennium Codex, a combination of magic and the unstable laws of physics in the alternate city allowed the Doctor to temporarily become the Valeyard.

Throughout this adventure we get to see just how frightened he is at the prospect of devolving into his darker persona, to the point where he had tried to completely avoid ever meeting Mel (convinced that the events of ‘Terror of the Vervoids’ would be where he started spiralling). Craig Hinton was one of the first authors to really explore some of the burning questions us fans had about the character. As the previous reviewer has rightfully pointed out though, none of the answers given to us are set in stone. The novel doesn’t completely ruin the mystery surrounding the Valeyard, something I am incredibly grateful for.

I honestly think that the character will never be fully explored by any writer, and that is how it should honestly stay. Keep us on our toes, keep the entire fandom guessing.

◆ Conclusion

Every instinct in me is crying out that Ashley Chapel is tampering with forces that even the Time Lords fear.”

A millionaire philanthropist has been in communion with a powerful entity from the after-universe, creating a nefarious computer virus that could warp reality and harness the power of this entity, essentially turning Ashley Chapel into a God! Unfortunately for him, Anne Travers decided to interfere… which leads to a whole section of London being temporarily turned into a realm where the laws of physics have well and truly went out the window. A realm where everyone has forgotten themselves, taking up new identities that wouldn’t look out of place in the Futurama parody of Dungeons and Dragons!

‘Millennial Rites’ was an absolutely incredible novel that I managed to power through in less than a week, which is shocking for someone whose reading speed is slower than death by drowning! Craig Hinton pipes a great deal of fan-service into this adventure, but it all serves the greater plot at hand – Chapel’s technological edge comes from spending years as the right-hand man to Tobias Vaughan. Anne Travers interferes because she is terrified of the Great Intelligence. Everything just clicks together seamlessly.

The characterisation of the Sixth Doctor and Mel is something I was really looking forward to, having fell in love with this pairing thanks to their numerous audio adventures, and I was not disappointed. ‘Millennial Rites’ was an amazing novel. I’m honestly quite eager to read more of Hinton’s work, even if he does have an obsession with cheap fan-service!

Review created on 2-05-24