Ready for a ride on The Beautiful Death? You’ll certainly remember it if you do- its a trip into the afterlife! Participants are frozen into a state of clinical death in order to experience it, & when the Fourth Doctor, Romana & K9 arrive within the G-Lock which houses it, the place is reeling from the aftermath of a disaster.
Somewhat surprisingly so soon after turning up, the Doctor is branded a hero for saving everyone from something much worse! Only he hasn't actually done it yet. Perhaps inevitably he must go into his own future, which to everyone bar himself & his companions is the past! After all, Pyramids Of Mars showed him & indeed us that sometimes you just have to- if he hadn't gone back to 1911 & thwarted Sutekh, 1980 as Sarah-Jane Smith knew it would no longer have existed.......
Plus as he observes "Every point in time has its alternative." Enter a blue police box that flies sideways through that aforementioned time! A dangerous business, surely? But even more startling are the motivations of the villain of the piece- one Doctor Koel Paddox. As a boy he witnesses a shuttle disaster, having refused to board alongside his parents after sensing that something doesn't feel quite right. In a bid to avert his mistake he devotes his adult life to finding a way to go back & avert their deaths, conceiving the aforementioned ride as part of what might be termed a Festival Of Death ( and indeed is, given the title of the book).
With enough people submitting themselves to the process, he hopes to achieve enough power to return to a point in time at which he can change the past. Only he doesn't know that he can't- the first law of time travel forbids anyone to change their own past. As explained by the grandfather paradox, in a sense- though philosopher Bradley Dowden argues against it in Logical Reasoning.
"Nobody has ever built a time machine that could take a person back to an earlier time. Nobody should be seriously trying to build one, either, because a good argument exists for why the machine can never be built. The argument goes like this: suppose you did have a time machine right now, and you could step into it and travel back to some earlier time. Your actions in that time might then prevent your grandparents from ever having met one another. This would make you not born, and thus not step into the time machine. So, the claim that there could be a time machine is self-contradictory."The Doctor & Romana are of course impervious to such talk- but of course they'll have to risk the paradox if they are to discover just how the G-Lock was saved! To assist in his aims Paddox has enslaved two Arboretans, tree-like creatures similar in a sense to the Forest of Cheem the Doctor will encounter in the early days of his Ninth incarnation in The End Of The World, with the literal ability to be born again after death, a real-time reincarnation- & wishes to learn their secret in order to use it for his own ends.
Life & death are the dominant themes here, namely the quest to be able to manipulate a date with the Grim Reaper for your own ends! In a sense we know he's doomed before he starts thanks to writer Jonathan Morris' timey-wimey plot......not bad for a first effort, written according to the author himself while working for Erasure's fan club! He deserves a little respect for that!
But death itself is given form thanks to the Repulsion, an entity which is able to pass into ' our' universe from its own domain in a pocket dimension "between death and life", turning all who pass through the Beautiful Death into zombies! Rendering them trapped in a sort of limbo, which is theologically defined as ''the temporary place or state of the souls of the just who, although purified from sin, were excluded from the beatific vision until Christ's triumphant ascension into Heaven '' though here it seems both Paddox & the Repulsion both have designs on playing God. The conditions the souls voyaging into the Beautiful Death seem to fit with most contemporary descriptions of this transitional state, too- particularly '' Their condition is one of happiness ''.
But what's it like? As described by Biscit, a hippie lizard who's travelled with his friends Hoopy & Xab to experience it- '' Its the ultimate trip!!''. With a state of euphoria into the bargain, evidently!
"Your whole life recapping before your peepers. The answers to life, the universe and everything! You see the afterlife! Shangri-la! And when you come down? You are the resurrection, man!"As well as containing that reference to the title of Douglas Adams's third Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy book, it would appear Morris liked Marvin the Paranoid Android so much he decided to recycle him in the form of ERIC ( Environmental Regulation and Information Computer), a similarly glum machine which has been conditioned to think that it caused an earlier linked catastrophe aboard the starship Cerberus, causing its personality to swing from hope to despair. The Doctor promises to put it out of its misery in return for its help, at least.....
At least ERIC dies a hero, allowing the Repulsion to be downloaded into it & authorising its own short-circuiting!
In the wake of Festival Of Death, Morris went on to write the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels Anachrophobia & The Tomorrow Windows, as well as Touched By An Angel for the Eleventh & several Short Trips/audio stories. Indeed, the only medium for which he hasn't written for Doctor Who is on television!
Speaking to Starburst magazine, when talk turned to Festival Of Death ahead of its selection/reissue as the Fourth Doctor entry in a series of eleven novel reprints, Morris said:
"Festival of Death is so long ago now it feels like it was written by a different person, somebody younger but not quite as handsome as me, so I feel kind of fraudulent when people say nice things about it, as though I’m taking credit for somebody else’s work. That must be how actors feel when they are complimented about a part they played decades ago. But I re-read Festival of Death in preparation for writing the all-new introduction, and although I cringed a lot during the opening chapters I think it starts getting good around Chapter Five, and as soon as Hoopy appeared I started laughing at my own jokes very loudly indeed."