Doctor Who: The Ripple Effect review
The darkest Doctor Who 50th anniversary ebook so far comes from Malorie Blackman's 7th Doctor tale, The Ripple Effect...
The Ripple Effect has a brilliant idea at its core, but never quite develops it satisfyingly. Dialogue-heavy and (atypically for a Seventh Doctor story) set mainly aboard the TARDIS, the story takes place partly on Skaro, and the Daleks are back. This time, however, they're nice, have two sucker arms, and speak like wind chimes.
This being a Seventh Doctor and Ace story, the “Dark Doctor” is in the ascendency (Beige coat, Doctor 7.2). Here, he has no complex and Machiavellian plan to go wrong, but he does wing it somewhat when he discovers what's going on. Instead of being devious, he seems somewhat cowardly and aloof. Rest assured dreadful things will happen in the name of maintaining order, but it could be worse; Blackman gives the Doctor a pragmatic reason for his actions, when she could have gone for a much darker, more ambiguous route. Instead, he's merely an alien consequentialist, which is completely fitting for this Doctor's character. I would say that the Eighth Doctor – a deliberate contrast embracing an absolute morality – would have done things differently, but a very similar idea is explored in the Big Finish audio Dark Eyes, and Paul McGann's Doctor reacts in much the same way.
That reaction does tie in with the central idea of The Ripple Effect, namely: is the Doctor racist? In many ways it had to be the Seventh Doctor for this story, set in the aftermath of Remembrance of the Daleks with its reflection on the Daleks' racism in the form of English nationalism. The Daleks are presented here as such a force for good that the Time Lords themselves turn to them for help. Blackman sketches a whole new universal outlook based on this turn of events, and it's more idyllic than the familiar reality. The Doctor's insistence that it is wrong is eventually justified, but not by its contents, only its stability. You can't help but feel that it would have been more interesting to leave it vague as to whether or not the universe was at risk.
The Seventh Doctor – bar one or two Pertwee-isms – is well realised, it'd be interesting to see what McCoy would make of the role as a Big Finish production. Ace is occasionally jarring. It feels like Blackman doesn't quite have as firm a grasp on her character as she has with the Doctor, but there is some good build-up to their relationship in Season 26 as Ace challenges him over his beliefs. The execution here is somewhat blunt, though. Full marks for ideas (there are some nice plot-driving Science Fiction concepts in here), but through the characters' dialogue there is a lack of depth to their presentation. Characters simply flat-out state what the central theme is, and then barely reflect on it.
Overall, The Ripple Effect is the darkest of these eBooks so far, and is well worth reading for the ideas - which are unexplored so invite further cogitation – even if it isn't a fully successful evocation of the main characters.
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