Algebra of Ice

Lloyd Rose

BBC Books Past Doctors series, 2004

"Algebra of Ice" is perhaps similar to "Blue Box" or "Scream of the Shalka". They've all got blue covers. And they're all books where you feel a great author has squeezed herself or himself into a more limiting format.

I have seen criticism of the maths in "Algebra of Ice" and having come straight off reading Marcus du Santoy's recent popularisation about the Riemann Hypothesis, I was (if you can forgive the pun) primed to be demanding, but I didn't feel there was anything in "Algebra of Ice" that was wrong. It was just silly and silly science is nothing knew in Who and won't put me off a book.

No, I think the problems of "Algebra of Ice" are more fundamental. "Algebra of Ice" is a series of character studies, of Ethan, Molecross, the Doctor and Ace, within a twisting plot, but the plot doesn't hold together and the characterisation is unsympathetic.

Let's start with plot. I may have missed something, but how do the time hiccups fit into everything? All that stuff at the beginning with the Antarctic and Edgar Allan Poe, what was that all about?

As for the characters... Take Molecross. Rose brings Molecross to life beautifully, but his character is too wretched, so his journey over the course of the novel falls rather flat. What is Rose trying to say with Molecross? (Is he a stereotype of a Who fan?)

It is extraordinarily difficult to say anything new about the 7th Doctor and Ace, but Rose's depiction comes close. However, while hints at the future and nods to a back story have worked well for Rose in the 8th Doctor Adventures, they come across as fanwank here. My big problem is that the big character moments for the Doctor are meant to be [SPOILERS—highlight to read] leaving Unwin to die and then contemplating killing Ethan. I see the thematic connection and I see the character elements that Rose is trying to explore, but neither makes sense. Unwin's predicament is contrived and the Doctor surprisingly powerless to help. The same is true for Ethan. The Doctor never was that ruthless, that cold-blooded, to give up so easily. I don't mean to be overly critical. Rose's basic abilities as a writer ensure "Algebra of Ice" is readable, exciting and full of good dialogue. It's an entirely competent book and a pleasure to read, like "Scream of the Shalka". That puts it ahead of some Who product. If I hold Rose to a higher standard, it is a reflection of how good her previous work has been. But where Rose has danced around the characters of the 8th Doctor and his companions, ruthlessly getting to the heart of the story, she stumbles in trying to dissect the 7th Doctor's character likewise. A good book, but not a great book.

Henry Potts, 2004; revised 19 Nov 05

Originally posted to rec.arts.drwho.

Return to Main Page.