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Review of The Highest Science by PalindromeRose

3 May 2024

Virgin New Adventures

#011. The Highest Science ~ 8/10

◆ An Introduction

The last book attempted to pull off a gritty and compelling cyberpunk narrative, but the result was an experience almost as painful as getting a hair-cut from someone whose hands have been replaced with medieval battle-axes. Aaronovitch wasn’t the first writer in the ‘New Adventures’ to attempt a more mature narrative, but his attempt was apocalyptically awful! Maybes the writers should stop trying so hard to be edgy and just focus on writing an entertaining novel.

An army of warmongering hermaphroditic turtles, three stoned space hippies, and a handful of British commuters from 1993 have all been transported to one of the most boring areas of the universe… but for what purpose? More importantly though, just what is the Highest Science?

◆ Publisher’s Summary


Many legends speak of this world, home of an ancient empire destroyed by its own greatest achievement: the Highest Science, the pinnacle of technological discovery.

When the TARDIS alerts the Doctor and Bernice to the presence of an enormous temporal fluctuation on a large, green, unremarkable planet, they are not to know of any connection with the legend.

But the connection is there, and it will lead them into conflict with the monstrous Chelonians, with their contempt for human parasites; into adventure with a group of youngsters whose musical taste has suddenly become dangerously significant; and will force them to face Sheldukher, the most wanted criminal in the galaxy.


It’s unfortunate that Gareth Roberts continues to dig an even deeper hole for himself, but that will happen when you spout transphobic rhetoric all over social media. There is absolutely no excuse for bigotry. Please remember not to take any of my comments about his writing here, positive or negative, as condoning his frankly backward political beliefs.

◆ The Seventh Doctor

Gareth Roberts has always been a vocal supporter of the Williams/Adams era, using the Tardis team from Season Seventeen more than any other writer for the ‘Missing Adventures’ range. The flavour of his favourite era seems to have rubbed off on ‘The Highest Science’, because the Doctor feels like an amalgamation of his fourth and seventh incarnations. A totally bizarre mixture of personalities, but one that is incredibly fun nonetheless.

The Doctor tends to reason with things and then knock them on the head. In a roundabout sort of way, according to Benny. He claims that you can’t build a tracking device that doesn’t bleep. Benny wished that he didn’t treat the universe like it was his own personal responsibility. The Doctor appreciated the dawn. It was, he decided, probably his favourite time of day on any planet. A time of optimism before things got under way and everyone realised it was going to be just the same as yesterday. Knowing too much was an occupational hazard of his travels. On occasions when he knew too little he preferred to keep quiet. Unless, as now, his survival was dependent on the provision of the information available to him. The Doctor thought that it was easy to forget sometimes that the rest of the universe, particularly the human part of it, did not operate on the basis of his own clear-cut standards. His past is so complicated that even he gets confused occasionally. I find it incredibly amusing that the Doctor managed to convince a pair of genetic constructs to read through a phone book from cover to cover… twice!

◆ Bernice Summerfield

‘The Highest Science’ is a fantastic story for Prof. Summerfield. Gareth Roberts would initially have written this adventure with Ace in mind, but with the rebellious teenager off slaughtering Daleks, he had to retool his outing to feature the alcoholic archaeologist instead. Bernice simply excels in this book.

Confronted with a particularly dull colonist at a bar, Benny’s social face switched to automatic, giving the occasional nod of encouragement or frown of interest. This freed her active mind to compile a top ten of places she wanted the Doctor to take her to. Anybody that had ever known Bernice at all well would have recognised the expression that crept over her face at this point. They would have prepared themselves for her to have some fun at the expense of some inexcusably boring associate. Because Bernice had decided to fight back against the tide of tedium unleashed by this colonist by telling him, as the Doctor had often warned her not to, the exact truth. Benny ends up punching said colonist clean in the jaw, after his hands begin wandering, and the bloke went sprawling across the table (a moment which reminded me of when Erimem broke a man’s arm in ‘The Kingmaker’ for similar reasons). As alcohol was one of the three luxury items she had been unable to find a supply of in the Tardis (the others being weaponry and duvets), it would be a good idea to stock up for future journeys. A quarter of an hour later, she returned to the Tardis carrying two plastic bags filled with booze!

◆ Story Recap

Sakkrat. A legendary civilisation lost to the winds of time. Its inhabitants supposedly made great technological advancements, one of which lead to their eventual extinction: the Highest Science.

In 2389, Sheldukher – a psychopath who enjoyed inflicting pain on others, and the galaxy’s most wanted – raided a genetic laboratory on Checkley’s World and stole Project FXX Q84, believing that it was key to locating Sakkrat and the Highest Science. The search took nearly three centuries. The planet Hogsumm appeared to match all descriptions of the legendary world, but a massive temporal phenomenon – known as a Fortean Flicker – was about to complicate matters.

Arriving on Hogsumm to investigate the enormous temporal fluctuation, the Doctor and Benny soon find themselves lead into conflict with an army of warmongering hermaphroditic turtles; into adventure with three stoned space hippies; into trouble with a handful of British commuters from 1993; and will force them to face the aforementioned psychopathic criminal.

◆ The Funniest ‘New Adventure’ So Far

‘The Highest Science’ is definitely the most amusing book I’ve read in this range. Gareth Roberts writing hearkens back to an era where Douglas Adams was script editor, and every adventure was laced with a fair amount of wit and humour. It makes all two hundred and fifty-eight pages of this adventure positively fly by!

◆ Giant, Warmongering, Hermaphroditic Turtles

This book contains a fair few opposing factions, so let’s kick things off by discussing the Chelonians. A warmongering race of giant hermaphroditic turtles, enhanced with cybernetics and a cocktail of chemicals used to heighten focus and rage. Their goal as an empire was one of galactic conquest, wiping out anyone who opposed them. They were also rather jingoistic, often bragging about their military rank and the previous exploits of their empire’s war machine.

The Chelonians harboured a xenophobic view of all other races, regarding them as parasites sucking up the resources they needed to spread their feeding and breeding grounds across the cosmos… but it can be a little difficult to take their threats seriously when they look like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

It’s incredibly easy to draw parallels between the cybernetic turtles and the Sontarans – both having a culture that values jingoism and conquest above anything else – but the Chelonians have a great deal more depth as a species. I previously mentioned that these bulky cybernetic turtles were a hermaphroditic race, something which does actually have an impact on them in this book. There’s a point where the Chelonian leader – General Fakrid – enters an event simply known as “The Time of Blood”, which is in fact their name for the menstruation cycle. The book isn’t making fun of the fact that these masculine presenting aliens menstruate. Instead, it showcases that they are so caught up with their genocidal crusade that even something as normal as menstruation is seen as a catastrophic event.

Despite being only their first appearance, the Chelonians feels like a fully fleshed out species with their own society and culture. It shouldn’t surprise you then that they would make several future appearances in both this range and the ‘Missing Adventures’. They’re easily Roberts’ greatest contribution to canon… which isn’t saying much when you remember that we have him to blame for James Corden becoming part of Doctor Who!

◆ Sadistic Criminal

Time to move onto the other antagonist present in ‘The Highest Science’, who just so happens to be a sadistic criminal! A psychopath who enjoyed inflicting pain, and fought off boredom by cutting his own chest, Sheldukher was the most wanted criminal in the galaxy during the 24th century.

Following three centuries spent in suspended animation, he used a stolen genetic experiment from Checkley’s World to locate the planet Sakkrat, which according to legends was home of the Highest Science. This lead to Sheldukher and his crew landing on Hogsumm, which seemed to match all the descriptions of Sakkrat. Unfortunately for him, Hogsumm had been modified by the owners of Checkley’s World in order to lure him there and recover their genetic project.

The slow time chamber they had installed on the planet had malfunctioned, creating the Fortean Flicker which had ironically caused the legend of Sakkrat to be spread through the past and across the cosmos. Sheldukher had worked his whole life to locate the Highest Science, only to discover that it had never existed to begin with. Realising his quest had been utterly meaningless, he ended up committing suicide to avoid life-long imprisonment.

Sheldukher is far from being the most original or interesting character in the world, but that doesn’t stop him from being a really fun villain.

◆ Everything But The Kitchen Sink

I’ve only spoken about two factions present in ‘The Highest Science’ so far, which is barely scratching the surface. I’m yet to discuss the three stoned space hippies who got transported to Hogsumm whilst on their way to Glastonbury in space.

I haven’t even properly discussed the handful of British commuters that got caught up in the Fortean Flicker and dragged towards Hogsumm.

This leads me neatly onto my biggest issue with ‘The Highest Science’. There is far too much content for a single book, meaning that the less interesting elements are going to be left by the wayside and forgotten about, such as the aforementioned space hippies. By the time he completed his final draft, Gareth Roberts must have packed in everything but the kitchen sink! You could easily get two very plump and juicy adventures out of all the plot threads here.

◆ Conclusion

There are some very big and very angry tortoises after me.”

An enormous temporal fluctuation has transported a menagerie of unlikely factions across time and space, to an unremarkable planet, in an even more unremarkable sector of the galaxy. Arriving on Hogsumm to investigate said fluctuation, the Doctor and Benny soon find themselves lead into conflict with an army of warmongering hermaphroditic turtles; into adventure with three stoned space hippies; into trouble with a handful of British commuters from 1993; and will force them to face Sheldukher, the most wanted criminal in the galaxy. If that wasn’t enough for our dynamic duo to be dealing with, the former inhabitants of this planet supposedly created a super-weapon, one which lead to their eventual extinction: the Highest Science.

‘The Highest Science’ is a book populated with some incredibly colourful characters, but is most notable for being the first appearance of the Chelonians. A cybernetically enhanced race that are utterly obsessed with jingoism and conquest… that just so happen to resemble the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s easy to see why they were the breakout stars of this book.

Gareth Roberts cemented himself as someone that Virgin Publishing could rely on to create some really enjoyable adventures here, which explains why he would become one of the most prolific writers for the ‘Missing Adventures’. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Highest Science’.

Review created on 3-05-24