Fallen Gods

by Jon Blum & Kate Orman

Telos, 2003

Yet another stunning title from Telos. "Fallen Gods" accomplishes so many things: it manages to tell a clear science fiction story through viewpoint characters for whom it remains all about the Gods. It offers a political allegory, the clearest response to 9/11 of any Who work to date, while remaining a tale set in history. And it offers an insight and response to the 8th Doctor's character since "The Ancestor Cell" without the need for a resolution or continuity references.

There is a fairly straightforward Dr Who story in here: the Doctor arrives in Earth's past and combats an alien influence. The science fiction elements are handled deftly, they are beneath the imagery without being distracting or requiring info dumps. And what imagery! The prose shines, it enthrals, it drags the reader along, as does spot-on pacing as the novel's twists unfold. These basics to the storytelling are all dealt with so adeptly that the story flows easily and can also be about the moral choices set before the characters. This is not a book with simple villains and heroes, but one that forces you to feel sympathy for characters who make terrible choices.

I could offer minor quibbles. The character of the Doctor is just a mite too perfect (he's flawed, but with such Heroic flaws) and I found Alcestis' sexual attraction for him ever so slightly distracting. The book could be, perhaps, slightly shorter, with one twist less. But these are trivial matters. "Fallen Gods" is a gorgeous work and a very sophisticated one. The different levels at which it can be read complement each other; they don't interfere with each other. The threads about the Doctor's destruction of Gallifrey or about US foreign policy are apparent, but not obtrusive.

At heart, the book compares and contrasts the choices made by the lead character of Alcestis with the Doctor's choices in this and past stories (by implication, notably "The Ancestor Cell"). More than that, the book raises questions about how we should respond to 9/11, while I read how the empire has stolen time from the citizens of Athens as a sharp allegory for how we in the developed world derive some of our wealth and comfort from the labour and suffering of those in the developing world. "Fallen Gods" manages to address both what the Christians would call corporate sin, the responsibility we all have for society at large, and the personal responsibility we have for our own actions and, crucially, their sequelae.

"Fallen Gods" is so far beyond what the BBC Who books offer that it is like we have been carried aloft by Alcestis and gaze down upon the simple farmers of Akrotiri. It is a complex work that flows effortlessly, that uses the familiar character of the Doctor to confront us about our own choices, which uses science fiction, history and myth to discuss the reality of the present. Every Telos novella in 2003 was great, but this and "The Cabinet of Light" before it are among the best Who books, the best Who stories, ever.

Henry Potts, 2003; revised 19 Nov 2005

Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.

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