Skip to content

Review of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by PalindromeRose

2 May 2024

Virgin Missing Adventures

#012. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice ~ 7/10

◆ An Introduction

Having recently finished a book about the infamous Salem witch trials – a book which was about as enjoyable as impacted wisdom tooth surgery – I was looking forward to reading something that had a lot more fun with the idea of magic. Doctor Who is once more plumbing the depths of science-fantasy, and I simply cannot wait to dive into this one.

◆ Publisher’s Summary

"There's no such thing as magic," the Doctor said.

But the land of Elbyon might just prove him to be wrong. It is a place, populated by creatures of fantasy, where myth and legend rule. Elves and dwarves live in harmony with mankind, wizards wield arcane powers and armoured knights battle monstrous dragons.

Yet it seems that Elbyon has secrets to hide. The TARDIS crew find a relic from the thirtieth century hidden in the woods. Whose sinister manipulations are threatening the stability of a once peaceful land? And what part does the planet play in a conflict that may save an Empire, yet doom a galaxy?

To solve these puzzles, and save his companions, the Doctor must learn to use the sorcery whose very existence he doubts.

◆ The First Doctor

Christopher Bulis does an excellent job of capturing the essence of Hartnell, allowing this book to slot easily into Season One. I absolutely love the idea of the First Doctor being dropped into a world where his rational thinking is challenged by a bunch of lunatics going on about enchantments and wizardry!

The Doctor’s introduction as a ‘learned man and explorer’, together with his distinguished appearance, seemed to impress Sir Bron. He has seen many strange creatures in his travels, but a giant, winged, fire-breathing dragon is a creation of pure fantasy. He has never denied that the dragon was a reality, Bron’s shield has special properties, or that the wizard has access to powers that he does not, as yet, understand. But he will never call on the supernatural to explain it away before exploring every other possibility first.

◆ Susan

Despite spending the majority of the book kidnapped by the main villain, Susan still gets some excellent material throughout.

Susan looked like any girl in her mid teens, with her close, urchin-cut hair and her half-shy, half-challenging manner. But Ian had seen depths in her eyes that suggested experiences far beyond those of most teenagers. Of all of us, he thought, she is still the most eager and enthusiastic traveller. She hasn’t developed the Doctor’s intense, but rather clinical curiosity yet, nor is her appreciation clouded by our desire to get home again. Susan claimed that it didn’t matter what she drank. Gallifreyans don’t get inebriated (which makes me wonder what on Earth happened to the Doctor in ‘Transit’). Susan tells the Princess that she would rather face life with hope.

◆ Ian

Taking up his usual role as the action hero, Ian gets the opportunity to shove a lance through a dragon’s retina!

Ian was wearing a striking black silk tunic, patterned and decorated in the Chinese style. It was absolutely authentic thirteenth-century workmanship, being an impromptu souvenir of the last place they had visited: the court of Kublai Khan himself. For a supposedly intelligent man, he sometimes asks the most obtuse questions. He had a sense of curiosity, but he also had a sense of self-preservation. Ian was either suicidally stupid or incredibly brave, because he thrust a lance straight through the red and bloody eye of a dragon!

◆ Barbara

Barbara is one of my favourite companions from the black and white era, and this book had me worried that she’d be consigned to the background. But not even being attacked by a dragon can keep our favourite history teacher down. She’s left in charge of the investigation into Avalon’s history and boosting morale amongst the people.

Barbara was wearing a simple loose jumper and slacks, with sensible flat shoes, having already learned the value of practical dress when travelling with the Doctor.

◆ Story Recap

Avalon is a genuine fantasy realm where magic is commonplace. The human population believe completely in the stories of Arthurian legend, while the rest of the planet is inhabited by dwarves, elves, goblins and fire-breathing dragons!

The Tardis crew quickly make friends with a local knight, who invites them to attend a banquet, ordered by the king and queen in celebration of their daughter’s marriage. Unfortunately, the event is interrupted by a fearsome sorcerer known as Marton Dhal.

He asks for Princess Mellisa to come forth so that he may marry her, but vanishes before her husband-to-be has a chance to beat the living daylights out of him. Dhal proceeded to attack Castle Fluxford during the night, distracting the guards with winged apes, allowing him to kidnap both Susan and the princess.

Whilst the Doctor and Ian join the quest to find a powerful artefact called Merlin’s Helm – hoping that it can help save Susan and the princess – Barbara finds herself getting acquainted with a local witch.

◆ The “Bulis” Problem

‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ was a pretty enjoyable read, but I’m hesitant to go any further than that. Christopher Bulis has been commissioned more than most authors for this franchise, despite the general consensus being that his books are the dictionary definition of the word generic. His characters often feel like they could be summed up in a single sentence, and his prose isn’t particularly adventurous either.

It must be around a month since I finished reading ‘The Eye of the Giant’, and my recollection of what actually happened in it is hazy at best. It probably didn’t help that said book severely outstayed its welcome – being about a hundred pages overlong – but c’est la vie. The point I’m attempting to make here is that Bulis is good value for money. He doesn’t write anything particularly groundbreaking, but you can still find yourself entertained by his stories.

◆ Voldemort With The Serial Number Scratched Off

Let’s discuss our main villain. Former apprentice to the court magician at Fluxford Castle, Marton Dhal was a keen and quick learner and all thought he would make a fine addition to the chapter of magical practitioners, someday following Gramling as Wizard Imprimis to the House of the Stewards of the South Share. But there was an ambitious and calculating streak that none had guessed at.

As young Dhal became more experienced in the craft he started practising its darker side. In secret, he experimented on the transmutation and metamorphosis of living things, a task normally only undertaken by the most skilled in the field, for fear of the consequences of such work. He also began to challenge Gramling more often in magical matters to test their respective strengths and abilities.

Soon he had proved, to his own satisfaction anyway, that he was the stronger. But he was no longer content to supplant Gramling alone. Dhal now wanted to be the first in all Elbyon, and so he petitioned to become apprentice to the King’s own court magician, Tregandor of Arndell, who had lost his own apprentice in an accident not long before. Strong evidence soon came to light that proved Dhal had been responsible for the death of Tregandor’s apprentice. So Tregandor challenged Dhal to a wizard’s duel, so that justice might be served. The King’s court magician never recovered from the battle, succumbing to his injuries a short time after. All the while, Dhal has been causing chaos ever since.

Marton Dhal is hardly a very deep villain. He’s your stereotypical Dark Wizard type – Lord Voldemort with the serial number scratched off, if you like – but he’s nonetheless wildly entertaining.

◆ Conclusion

There’s no such thing as magic.”

The planet Avalon has modelled itself on the tales of knights in shining armour, of sorcery and dragons. Tales one would expect to read about in Arthurian legends. Magic genuinely appears to have an impact here… a fact that extremely worries the Doctor, when he finds himself going head-to-head with an evil wizard who has kidnapped both Susan and a local princess!

‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ is absolutely fine. An adventure to a planet where magic actually works should’ve been more impactful, but the events are all blurring into a mix of white noise and static in my head. The book is alright, but it does still suffer from some glaringly obvious issues. The scenes featuring the Earth Empire squadron bored the life out of me, the leprechaun comes across as an offensive portrayal of Irish stereotypes and – much like ‘The Eye of the Giant’ – this book suffers from unnecessary padding. Honestly, the characterisation of the regulars is the main reason to read this one, because Bulis exhibits a really good understanding of all four of them.

‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ was a perfectly fine story… and I can confidently say that all memory of it will have evaporated from my mind by this time next week.

Review created on 2-05-24