This book may be the most significant milestone in the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures novels. You should probably have the 8th Doctor’s soundtrack playing in the background while you read the book, at least while you read this post.
From the back cover (and the relevant TARDIS Wiki page):
The Doctor‘s not the man he was. But what has he become? An old enemy — Faction Paradox, a cult of time-travelling voodooterrorists — is finally making him one of its own. These rebels have a mission for him, one that will deliver him into the hands of his own people, who have decreed that he must die. Except now, it seems, the Time Lords have a mission for him too…
A gargantuan structure, hewn from solid bone, has appeared in the skies over Gallifrey. Its origin and purpose are unknown, but its powers threaten to tear apart the web of time and the universe with it. Only the Doctor can get inside… but soon he will learn that nothing is safe and nothing sacred.
Shot by both sides, confronted by past sins and future crimes, the Doctor finds himself a prisoner of his own actions. With options finally running out, he must face his most crushing defeat or take one last, desperate chance for salvation…
I’m going to start this review in an unusual fashion, giving snapshots of some of my thoughts I jotted down while reading the book. This way the heaviest spoilers will be reserved toward the end of the post.
Snapshots en route…
I’m over 100 pages in so far. I still have no idea of the big picture yet. The remembrance-flower-shaped* Edifice seems like a faction artifact but they have no record of it, so they’re assuming it’s from an overwritten past.
The Enemy in the Time War has been presumed to be from Earth but a key book discovered by a researcher suggests that’s a lie.
Fitz is holding his own pretty well with some Faction-friendly cultists on Gallifrey, though it seems they’re about to summon his alternate/original future self, Father Kreiner,** from the distant future, which could be interesting. The Faction seem to have the bottle universe that the Doctor got from I. M. Foreman on Dust,** and are (trying to) travel back and forth from its universe and ours.
The Interludes are the most revealing, so far, featuring a Time Lord from the distant future trying to uncover the truth of the “Event” that started the war – presumably this very story. This man had sent a ship to attack Earth – probably the black Seal of Rassilon we saw in Interference.** We also get a cool snippet of Time War battle on page 27:
chance has been eliminated. Each battle is fought and refought until time is so worn down it can no longer support the conflict, and collapses. The hole is sealed, the battle moves on, never won or lost, merely re-enacted by both sides again and again.
Also there are 9 Gallifreys now: 8 clones of the original.
And Romana III is cold.
Oh, and the Klein Bottle concept was fun to look up.
On pages 129-130 = the Doctor’s butterflies are found, long dead, on the Edifice. Theory: the Edifice is his original TARDIS! [It was presumed destroyed in The Shadows of Avalon.]
Ah, by page 140 it’s confirmed! And the dusty ghost of the 3rd Doctor, having chosen spiders as his “lookouts” for help on board, starts linking it all together. Still not quite half way through the book, though…
Page 146 is the half-way point cliffhanger. “And then all the Time Lords will join the Faction.” (It occurs to me to wonder if there’s a parallel between the Faction and the Free Time Movement in Big Finish’s Gallifrey series?)
Page 154 = the TARDIS (now the Edifice) effectively turned itself into a Paradox Machine, keeping the Doctor’s timeline on track despite the edit causing his 3rd incarnation to regenerate on Dust! Chapter 26 as a whole is a big revealing scene about the Faction’s probably failure, the TARDIS’ heroism, and the future War.
Page 195 – Greyjan is described as the “Master of the Three Gallifreys” – it was 9 near the beginning and been steadily decreasing. Alarming!
Page 197 – Only one other Gallifrey exists now, though Greyjan remembers ideas to create 8 or 9 as described early in this book.
(Fitz notices the changes too: the Panopticon has fallen from 6 to 5 to 4 sides/colleges. It’s folding in on itself until nothing will be left!)
Page 200-1 postulate the nature of the Enemy: utterly alien beings from a different ‘Ancestor Cell’ as our universe’s life forms. The Klein Bottle universe, in the vortex, is leaking energy, empowering the TARDIS/Edifice and attracting the Enemy after super-evolving them. Crazy times.
Page 237 – Mother Tarra quotes the 2nd Doctor at him (“nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing”). Grandfather Paradox takes the form of the Doctor, but bald.
Page 240 – The Grandfather accuses the Doctor with a familiar line (not quoting exactly): “You flit about from one to another, never daring to stay in one place too long.” This is almost exactly what Blon Fel-fotch Slitheen said in Boom Town!
Putting the Pieces Together
I originally thought Interference was the big climax in the middle of the novel series. Although it does serve as a point of closure for some stories, like that of Sam Jones, it’s also a set-up for the next group of books that culminate here in The Ancestor Cell.
Piece #1: The Enemy
The title of this book is taken from a Time Lord theory developed by past President Greyjan the Sane who mysteriously took his own life shortly after taking office, and was resurrected by the Faction in this book. He postulated (rather controversially) that all life in our universe derived from a single cell in the primordial era, an “ancestor cell”. That explains why the cellular processes of virtually every known organism is so similar. But there were other bio-cells back then which simply didn’t survive or evolve much, and it is finally explained that the Enemy in the coming Time War are a race that have been super-evolved by accident from a different ancestor cell. They are therefore more utterly alien than anything imaginable, impossible to relate to, impossible to communicate with or understand. It’s a neat theory, and only stands up to scrutiny by the fact that the Enemy is never seen or observed; only detected in approach toward Gallifrey and the effect of their first strike felt.
The accident that caused them to evolve millions of years overnight comes back to the bottle universe introduced in Interference. It was presumably made by I. M. Foreman essentially for fun and eventually given to the Doctor, but the Time Lords stole it from the Doctor in the hopes of using it as an escape route if the coming War didn’t go well. They hid it in the 4-dimensional Time Vortex for safe keeping. Unfortunately, it’s a Klein Bottle, which means that the inside and outside connect to each other in 4-dimensional space, and therefore its contents were leaking all over the vortex. Its strange energies enlived the ancient foreign cells and evolved them extremely rapidly. Thus the Time Lords are actually responsible for the creation of their own Enemy.
Piece #2: Will the real Fitz Kreiner please stand up?
The Fitz who has been traveling with the Doctor since Interference is a “remembered” version of the original. Faction Paradox’s pawn group, The Remote, reproduced by inserting raw biomass into a ‘remembrance tank’ and sharing their memories of the deceased until the tank has enough information to generate a new version of the deceased. Of course, memories are fickle things, so people end up more and more stereotyped versions of themselves. The Doctor had used the TARDIS to restore the Nth-generation Fitz back to his original self, which seems to have worked as far as we can tell, but caused Fitz periodic insecurity about his identity.
This comes to a final resolution in this book as is brought face to face with his original self, who had gone on to become a powerful member of the Faction, “Father Kreiner.” Who gets the “real” claim to being the “original” Fitz Kreiner, and what does that even mean at this point? It’s a great character moment for Fitz as he wrangles with his ancient original self and finally asserts himself as “real enough” based on personality and self-consciousness, rather than merely physical concerns.
Father Kreiner, too, finds himself wrestling with his hatred for the Doctor, and reconciling with their former friendship. His true motives and loyalties don’t settle down until the end.
Piece #3: the Doctor’s TARDIS
It was pretty certain that the Doctor’s TARDIS really was destroyed in the beginning of The Shadows of Avalon. The reader could hold out hope, but we were thrown no hints to justify that hope. So it is a pleasant surprise that, as the Doctor and others explore the Edifice looming over Gallifrey, it turns out to be the dying remains of his original TARDIS. Like in The Day of the Doctor, a dying TARDIS expands its external dimensions to match the size of the internal, though in this case it takes the appearance of a remembrance flower.
As I noted in the “snapshots” above, the TARDIS had taken on the function of a sort of paradox machine, protecting the Doctor’s timeline from the Faction’s infection when they caused his 3rd incarnation to regenerate in the wrong time and place. This staved off the infection of Paradox, allowing the 8th Doctor to resist longer throughout this book despite being face to face with increasingly powerful Faction members. The longer the TARDIS maintained the paradox though, the more energy it took, which is why it finally burst a few novels ago. Nevertheless, it clung on to life, drifting back to Gallifrey, and a sort of dust-ghost of the 3rd Doctor ran the place until the Doctor returned in person.
By this point, though, the TARDIS is practically dead. Its caretaker spiders are out of control, viciously killing everyone who comes aboard (except for the Doctor), and it threatens to collapse, potentially destroying several star systems worth of space around it. Its effects are felt throughout the book, which is why there’s a great deal of speculation early on regarding its origin – if it’s a Faction weapon or sent by the Enemy or what.
Piece #3: The Faction’s Conquest of Gallifrey
With the threat of a Time War looming ever heavier on the minds of the Time Lords, more and more ancient cults and superstitions started reappearing. Early in this book we are introduced to a group of students dabbling in Faction Paradox-like rituals which summon Fitz, then later reconstitute President Greyjan, and finally summon Father Kreiner. It turns out that one of the students is actually a Faction agent, Mother Tarra, using the body of a now-dead young Time Lady.
Things escalate from silly to serious, as more Faction characters emerge. They believe they’re in the final phase of recruiting the Doctor to their cause. They plan to use the Enemy’s first strike as an opportunity to seize control of Gallifrey and fight the War their own way. They plan to use the resurrected Greyjan to hand control of the Matrix over to them so they can move their Eleven Day Empire and shadow parliament to Gallifrey and transform the entire world into a Faction bastion. They anticipate using the Edifice as a weapon too, though the Doctor keeps the truth about that from them as long as possible, as it would reveal his last source of freedom from their influence.
Towards the end, when the technically-non-existent Grandfather Paradox begins to manifest himself physically, he does so as the 8th Doctor’s future self: bald, angry, hardened. Like the 5th Doctor and Nyssa in Plague of the Daleks he is prepared to fight to make sure his ‘past self’ will become himself.
Like the Last Great Time War with the Daleks, the Doctor is faced with a choice: watch Gallifrey fall to its enemies who will go on to infect and destroy the entire universe, or destroy Gallifrey and its enemies in one blow. All he has to do is cut the last strands of life in his dying TARDIS and it will destroy everything.
Below, on Gallifrey, the Faction are using the Matrix to overlay their reality upon the Time Lords’. The Enemy has begun its first strike of the Time War, slaughtering countless Time Lords across the city. His 3rd Doctor ghost says there are three solutions but only has time to list two before Grandfather Paradox silences him: either give in to Paradox or destroy everything. The third solution, presumably, would have been the magic bullet to defeat the bad guys and rescue Gallifrey, but it is never stated nor figured out. And so, with the Grandfather desperately trying to stop him, the Doctor finally chooses option #2.
In the aftermath, Compassion manages to rescue a Time Lord technician, the Doctor, Fitz, and a piece of the destroyed TARDIS. She drops the Doctor off on Earth with the TARDIS remnant, which will regrow itself in about a century if kept near him. His memory is addled, but he’s alive. She drops Fitz off on Earth in 2001 to meet up with the Doctor when he should be recovered. She then runs off with Nivet the technician to explore the universe, a welcome end for her character after going through so much suffering, especially in this book where both the Time Lords and the Faction nearly killed her in the process of trying to capture and subjugate her.
So now we’ve got a memory-less Earthbound Doctor for a while, and we’ll just have to see how he recovers.