Matthew Kresal takes the dark path...
Missing Adventures. A simple two word phrase with so much meaning, particularity in the context of the Virgin Doctor Who novel range. The term implies that there are gaps to be filled and that the novel sitting in one's hands is the doorway to take to such an adventure. 1997's The Dark Parth by David A. McIntee, the penultimate release in that range, is one such example. It is the tale of the Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria on Darkheart, the lost colony world of the fallen Earth empire. More then that though, it is the tale of their encounter with the Doctor's old friend, a Time Lord named Koschei and the encounter that changed him forever.
From the few Second Doctor novels I've read and the reviews I've read online, Patrick Troughton's particular characterization has proven very difficult to replicate in prose. Maybe that's because Troughton was known for what Barry Letts termed “semi-improvisation”, meaning that he didn't stick to a script. I'm not certain if that is the case, but what I am certain of is that McIntee manages to capture the Second Doctor perfectly in The Dark Path. It's perhaps most evident in the dialogue spoken that one can hear Troughton saying the words on the page as, somehow, the novel captures that semi-improvisational spirit that Troughton brought to his Doctor. It is particularly evident in the final chapter, as the story reaches it's climax when the Doctor flips back and forth from whimsical to serious, that McIntee's knows this Doctor and knows him well. This isn't a recreation of the Second Doctor, it's almost like a lost performance being discovered.
That also goes for the other Time Lord featured in the novel, Koschei.
Koschei is, of course, someone that we know and love (and I don't think I'm spoiling anything as a look at the novel's cover will reveal who it is): The Roger Delgado Master. Except this is before he became the Master. All the trademarks of the Delgado Master are apparent and beautifully done: the suave and assured nature, even the choice of words in the dialogue that, like the Second Doctor, one can almost hear Roger Delgado delivering. All that makes what happens all the more incredible if not shocking.
That's not forgetting the companions though. Jamie and Victoria come across just as well as the Doctor and Koschei. In fact, Victoria is almost the third star and even becomes a potential companion to Koschei for a good chunk of the story. McIntee reveals that there's more to Victoria then just the “screamer” often remembered by fans. Here is a troubled young woman, her family dead, wandering the universe seeking peace but finding herself in one incredibly dangerous situation after the other. In fact, the setting between the TV stories The Web Of Fear and Fury From The Deep is perfect because The Dark Path, in its very last pages, sets up Victoria's exit in the latter story. It explains why she seemed to make that decision to leave when she did. It's retconing at its best, or perhaps at its second best.
Because there's something else that the Dark Path does. It shows the reader that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The friendship between Koschei and the Doctor is apparent from the first time they meet, about midway through the book. From there though, things begin to go wrong for their friendship as events overtake Koschei and he finds himself walking a fine line between good and evil. The worst thing is, it's not that he is evil. What Koschei does throughout the back half of the novel is for a cause I think anyone can identify with (and as much as I want to, I won't spoil). Even that good reason can't stop what we know is coming: the moment when Koschei will cease to be and the Master is born. McIntee pulls out the stops for this transformation, including a jaw dropping final chapter where a friendship ends and a rivalry begins. No sound of drums required: just a man in the wrong place, at the wrong time, trying to set things right and becoming something far worse.
The Dark Path is many things. It brings two brand new performances from two of the best actors to appear in the series and does so, amazingly, in prose form. It's an excellent addition to the Missing Adventures range, living up to what it's supposed to be and much more. It is perhaps, above all else, a tragedy. It is like watching a train wreck: there's something horrific about it but one just can't turn away. For two good men came to Darkheart and neither man left the same.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.