Fearful Symmetries

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04 June, 2013

Revenge of the Smythe: Instruments of Darkness by Gary Russell



Instruments of Darkness is the final book of a trilogy that began with The Scales of Injustice, which I haven't read, and continued with Business Unusual, the story which introduced Mel. I found the latter to be fun but it was a pretty standard DW story. Thusly I was rather surprised by this one which veered into territory that the New Series treads.

Russell opens his tale with a series of vignettes introducing us to various characters. We begin with a rather mysteriously with an albino and a blue light appearing at various points in the past with women being abducted each time. Finally in 1972 a "shadow man" steals away with a woman named Lori who, he proclaims, is his Ini-Ma. We also meet the aging Vice-Marshal Dickinson whose son disappeared while working for UNIT. Plus there's Captain Therese Gavalle whose mind is taken over by an alien.

The story moves into the present. Over in the village of Halcham the reclusive Sebastian Malvern provides shelter for the infamous Irish twins, Cellian and Ciara as well as a trio of teens who survived the nightmare of SenéNet in Business Unusual. Meanwhile in Park Gavalle responds to an anonymous invitation and finds herself in the employ of the Network, a secret organization that is a front for another secret organization bent on perpetrating evil and harnesses the power of psychics to do so. Trey Korte also returns here. He's been using his psychic abilities on behalf of UNIT and its doppelgänger C19. DI Bob Lines also makes an appearance here. He uses a beacon to signal The Doctor after Trey is abducted from a hospital.

Whew! That's a lot of characters and plot strands.

Luckily Russell is up to the task of bringing them all together. But what surprised me was that he brought Evelyn Smythe into the fold. She was a companion from the Doctor Who audio dramas from Big Finish. The Doctor and Mel meet up with her and it is revealed that The Doctor dropped Evelyn off on Earth to keep an eye out for the Irish Twins but that he did so without giving her any material support and left her there several earlier than he intended to. Unsurprisingly, Evelyn is angry. This leads to some wonderful prose delving into the relationship between The Doctor and his companions. Of her The Doctor says:

"But Evelyn... Evelyn was different. For the first time in some years, I met someone who was, well, an equal. Evelyn didn’t need rescuing too often – I can remember one or two ferocious creatures that needed rescuing from her. She used her brains, her wit and experience to get out of any real trouble and we faced things together. She’d had a lot of life experience you see – she was divorced, she had spent most of her life dealing with younger people, her students. Nothing fazed her.’ He laughed. ‘She even held her own against an entire Dalek army once. We read the same books, laughed at the same jokes. There was an unspoken respect and equality between us, I suppose."

Upon hearing this Mel begins to see The Doctor in a new light, one in which his bluster covers over "a very basic sadness". Perhaps The Doctor not only cared for Evelyn but cared about her as well.

The new series episode "School Reunion" comes to mind and I suppose that basic sadness is really a general theme of the New Series – last of the Time Lords and all that. Russell worked on the New Series although I'm not sure how much of this was his doing. What I like here is that this look into The Doctor's psyche comes courtesy of Sixie with all his outrage instead of the younger, hipper David Tennant. Moral indignation was such a defining characteristic of Colin Baker's Doctor that a look underneath the bluster and the chance that he had done wrong by Evelyn has more impact for me than what the New Series did. (Of course, I say this despite Sixie admitting to having misjudged Lytton in "Attack of the Cybermen".) That the Irish Twins are seeking redemption here adds another layer to the emotional core of the story and perhaps parallels The Doctor's movitivations.

All in all Instruments of Darkness was a fine PDA. The highlight is surely The Doctor and Evelyn's relationship laid bare but it's a fine adventure tale as well.

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|| Palmer, 12:10 PM

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