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Review of Timewyrm: Genesys by PalindromeRose

3 May 2024

Virgin New Adventures: Timewyrm Arc

#001. Genesys ~ 3/10

◆ An Introduction

I’d fully intended on writing my review of ‘Purgatory 12’ today, but when the weather is this uncomfortably humid, I want to be anywhere but sat at my desk, which is why I’ve decided to revisit a range that I gave up on about five years ago.

I’ve always been more accustomed to the audio adventures of Doctor Who because my reading speed is frankly slower than corpse decomposition, but I gave the ‘Virgin New Adventures’ a good go during my last year of secondary school, managing to get through fifteen whole novels before I threw in the towel. This time round, I am determined to get through all sixty-one adventures… cause I definitely wont regret making that commitment!

You only get once chance to make a first impression, which Virgin Books really should have considered before asking John Peel to write their first full-length Doctor Who novel.

◆ Publisher’s Summary

Mesopotamia — the cradle of civilisation. In the fertile crescent of land on the banks of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, mankind is turning from hunter gatherer into farmer, and from farmer into city-dweller.

Gilgamesh, the first hero-king, rules the city of Uruk. An equally legendary figure arrives, in a police telephone box: the TARDIS has brought the Doctor and his companion Ace to witness the first steps of mankind's long progress to the stars.

And from somewhere amid those distant points of light an evil sentience has tumbled. To her followers in the city of Kish she is known as Ishtar the goddess; to the Doctor's forebears on ancient Gallifrey she was a mythical terror — the Timewyrm.

◆ The Seventh Doctor

John Peel does not understand the Seventh Doctor in the slightest, writing him as a pompous oaf who is incredibly mean-spirited to his companion. I’m so glad ‘Timewyrm: Genesys’ was the only time he penned a story for this incarnation.

The Doctor is said to be wearing questionable clothing; including shoes that hadn’t seen polish for at least a decade; baggy trousers; a floppy coat of some unsavoury brown hue; a paisley tie, badly knotted; and a sweater adorned with question marks. He had a broad face, with plenty of laughter-lines. Sort of ageless, really. The Doctor had been editing a few of his useless memories, but appears to have set the field too high… thus wiping his companion’s mind (isn’t this incarnation meant to be fiercely intelligent?) leaving her only able to remember generic things. He informs Gilgamesh that he isn’t a warrior of any kind, but he is a student, a scholar, and a man of learning. He happens to be a bit of an expert in the realm of strange happenings. When you have been after pure evil as long as he has, it starts to feel like a bad stench in the air. The Doctor describes himself as a cosmic environmentalist – he likes things to be tidied up and smelling pretty. He apparently never makes any stupid mistakes… only very, very clever ones. He takes everything seriously, except himself. Whilst imprisoned in the dungeons of Kish, the Doctor informs Enkidu that he talks to himself because he likes intelligent conversations.

◆ Ace

‘Timewyrm: Genesys’ manages to completely ignore all of the development Ace was given in her final televised season. What we get here is an incredibly boring-if-functional depiction of the character, and proof positive that Peel should not be let within a mile of this Tardis team ever again!

Ace starts this adventure with total amnesia of who and where she is, and also happens to be in a state of undress (just one example of the gross “Tumblr fan-fiction” style writing that is commonplace throughout this dreadful novel). She is described as being medium height and gawky, not exactly elegant. Her face was friendly, young and interested. Her body was muscular, but still obviously feminine. Ace thinks that Enkidu is alright, just a regular guy, but can barely hide her dislike for the “right royal pain in the ar*e” that is Gilgamesh. She assures her new Neanderthal mate that her and the Doctor are just travelling companions, sometimes even friends. Chemistry was one of Ace’s specialities. In an attempt to stop a drunken Gilgamesh causing a full on pub-brawl, she claims to be a singer and ends up performing an Irish folk-song to a bunch of Kishites!

◆ Story Recap

The Doctor and Ace have arrived in ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation, searching for an apocalyptic horror that supposedly threatens all of creation. Making friends with the warrior king Gilgamesh, and his companion Enkidu, they discover that all is not well in the nearby city of Kish.

The local goddess of love and war, Ishtar, is now residing among the mortal followers in her temple… feeding on the brains and mental power of the sacrifices brought before her. Ishtar is also using her slaves to put copper plating around the walls of Kish. She plans on turning the city into one giant radio transmitter, allowing her to take control of every mind in the region, before moving onto the whole planet!

The Doctor must stop this from happening, because this cybernetic queen masquerading as a deity is the apocalyptic horror he has been searching for.

◆ Ow the Edge!

‘Genesys’ has gained a fair amount of notoriety from the fanbase ever since it got released, and it’s easy to see why.

John Peel was absolutely marvellous when it came to novelising the old Dalek adventures, but his original fiction reads like something you would find on the dark side of Tumblr – you’ve got gratuitous amounts of violence, half the characters in a state of undress for absolutely no reason except to make you feel sick whilst reading the novel, and Gilgamesh has all the personality of football thug at a Sunderland match!

I’m reminded of the Shadow the Hedgehog game, where SEGA thought it would be a great idea to give said character a sub-machine gun and make him say “Damn!” every five seconds. It doesn’t make the story feel more adult or mature. It just comes across as incredibly amateurish, and that’s exactly what this novel is, a cheap and amateurish slice of fan-fiction.

◆ The Epic of Gilgamesh

I’d like to move onto the topic of setting, because ‘Genesys’ actually had some potential setting a story so far back into the past. With a society like ancient Mesopotamia, it’s very difficult to distinguish what is concrete fact and what is mythology carried across the ages in stories. There are very few historical records that can be considered accurate from the period, which means the writer can weave fact and myth together to help bring their setting to life.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the few tales we have from this era, with only a few clay tablets surviving over the years. It tells the story of the warrior king and his friend Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to stop him oppressing the people of Uruk. Part of this mythical tale even talks about the goddess Ishtar sending the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances – an element of the tale which carries over to this novel (except that Ishtar here is an amoral cyborg rather than an actual deity).

There was a great deal of potential to basically create a science fiction version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, but a lot of the characters come across as one-dimensional, and there isn’t much flair to the prose that could’ve made the cities of Kish and Uruk really come alive. What an incredible shame.

◆ Conclusion

I heard the Chronovores whispering in the time-winds. They gave me a new name. Timewyrm.”

An immensely powerful and amoral cyborg plans on bringing the entire planet under her mental control, by turning the city of Kish into one giant transmitter. If the Doctor and Ace don’t stop her, then history will likely unravel around them.

‘Genesys’ is the beginning of the Timewyrm story arc, and I would recommend avoiding it at all costs. John Peel spends more time disgustedly talking about how all the female characters are in a state of undress, when he could be focusing on giving the characters some actual depth!

Gilgamesh is an arrogant oaf with a nasty case of wandering hands, Enkidu comes across as flat and boring, and Ishtar (the one character who had genuine potential here) just comes across as another cackling villain. The characterisation of our regulars isn’t much better, with the Doctor spending most of the story bullying his companion, and Ace seems to have been written by someone whose only knowledge of her is from watching ‘Dragonfire’.

‘Genesys’ is an utterly abysmal read from start to finish, and the only saving grace is that it’s one of the shorter novels in this range.

Review created on 3-05-24