The Face-Eater
by Simon Messingham


Publisher: BBC
ISBN: 0 563 55569 6

     

    BASIC PLOT
    Proxima 2. The first Earth colony outside the Solar System, abandoned and alone in the darkness. The buildings are going up and the workers are working hard. Things go wrong, of course. Industrial injuries, petty crime. Oh, and there's the fact that the colony leader's a nutcase and there's a serial killer on the loose that steals the identities, not to mention the faces, of its victims. And a small rodent called Cheeky Monkey may be the only one that has the answers.

    DOCTOR
    Eighth.

    COMPANIONS
    Sam Jones.

    MATERIALISATION CIRCUIT
    Pg 36 On Proxima 2, on the spaceport tarmac.

    PREPARATORY READING
    None.

    CONTINUITY REFERENCES
    Pg 5 It's not continuity as such, but Fuller talks to Marlowe after the worker, Phillipe, has been killed and you can't help but think that this is a subtle nod to Dennis Potter's Singing Detective character, Philip Marlowe.

    Pg 38 "It was as if that stuff with Saketh and that had never happened." Beltempest.

    Pg 46 "There was talk of Oceanic-Nippon Bloc space development, ma'am." Back in Warriors of the Deep, the world was divided into 'blocs'.

    Pg 49 Mention of Daleks.

    Pg 50 "Well, you know, the microorganisms and all that." Beltempest.

    "I promise not to put on a white robe and sit in the lotus position dispensing mystical sophistry." Funnily enough, this is Beltempest too, or, if it isn't, it might as well have been.

    Pg 52 "Oddly, despite the naked cell bulb, his face was dark and shadowed. Only his eyes were glinting, as if they had sucked in all the surrounding light." A moment of NA-ness, where the Doctor appears to be able to manipulate those around him by playing with the light-switches. Glorious. Thank you for reminding us of what we have lost.

    Pg 54 "'The Doctor' a.k.a. John Smith, seconded from the old UNIT peacekeeping force upon its disbandment." The Invasion et al, as you so clearly knew. See also Continuity Cock-Ups.

    Reference to Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith and Ace.

    Pg 91 "Comparative psychology and culture... Sea Devils!" It turns out to be a reference to Warriors of the Deep, but the Sea Devils come from The Sea Devils, another Malcolm Hulke triumph of imaginative titling.

    Pg 101 "Three years of poking around in that Sea Devil base, the one that had launched that attack in 2084." Warriors of the Deep.

    Pgs 111-112 "There was a picture in his mind: the cell on Ha'olam." Seeing I.

    Pg 113 "He visualized something neutral, a barrier to trap the Face-Eater." As he did way back in The Space Museum.

    Pg 114 "He saw Susan and Polly laughing, his old diary, a Prydonian headdress, Sam's mad, immortal, perfect face, a Cyberman tumbling through space. A partridge in a pear tree. A man is the sum of his memories. A Time Lord even more so." Susan and Polly, obviously, although the grammar suggests that they were both together, which we hardcore fans know has never happened (although there's scope for a Short Trip here, if ever I heard one). The Power of the Daleks. The Deadly Assassin (or somesuch). Beltempest. The Moonbase. Doctor Who in an exciting adventure with the Twelve Days of Christmas. The Five Doctors.

    Pg 117 "The red light next to the lens flickered once, then began replaying its last few minutes over and over again. The data-umph spray would last a quarter of an hour. Don't ask how it works, she thought, it just does." Data-umphs are from Seeing I, but see Continuity Cock-Ups.

    Pg 137 "It was beginning to become an obsession, the thought that even a trace of the nanites might still exist in her body made her sick." Beltempest again. Not that we ever get an explanation, in either this novel or the previous one, as to exactly how they went in the first place, oh no. That, surely, would be too much to ask.

    Pg 161 "Many species have developed the capability [of shape-shifting], either through genetic tampering like the Rutans, or..." Horror of Fang Rock.

    Pg 167 "His hands reached for his jacket lapels." It may be the faux-Doctor and not the real thing, but he's got the continuity spot-on!

    Pg 173 "It might be final proof that she was clear of those bloody microorganisms." Beltempest. Again.

    Pg 179 "You scumbag! You killed Ben, didn't you?" It would appear that the Doctor has had Sam watching Remembrance of the Daleks on his thought-transmitter device thingy that Zoe watched so many years ago.

    Pg 205 "Remember the cell. Remember those three years. I thought I would go mad, I really did. You saw me weak, weaker than anyone has ever seen me. My picture, you remember my pictures." The faux-Doctor has got the real Doctor's memories of his imprisonment in Seeing I.

    Pg 209 "Funny place, Mars. Two indigenous forms of life, totally different. Ice Warriors and..." the beings who would be generically referred to as The Ambassadors... OF DEATH! Also The Ice Warriors, of course. Apparently (Pg210) "Certain people have spent years trying to tie them together. Never do it, of course..." Those certain people will be us, the fans, then.

    Pg 210 "I've seen it all over the galaxy. Werewolves, manitous, shape-shifters, Rutans, robots. Even the Master has been known to give it a whirl. And did I tell you about that time at Crook Marsham? Most memorable." He's talking about shape-shifting and tapping into your greatest fears, so he means: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and Wolfsbane, unknown, could be anything, Horror of Fang Rock, Kamelion in The King's Demons and Planet of Fire, The Mind of Evil and, finally, Nightshade.

    Pg 214 "About two hours ago. When I was telling you about that time I ran into the Hoothi." Because telling Leary about the possession abilities of the Hoothi in Love and War was clearly a really good idea.

    Pg 218 "Leary held out his hand. 'Goodbye, Doctor.' The Doctor made the appropriate cultural response. 'This is normally reserved for the end of the adventure.'" As a handshake so clearly was in Logopolis, for example. Arrant nonsense!

    Pg 225 "Someone must have been telling lies about Jake Leary, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning... Only he wasn't. He gave himself up." The second sentence here immediately renders the first one meaningless, making it even clearer that the first is only there because it's a rehash of the opening line of Franz Kafka's The Trial, appearing here with gratuitous abandon.

    Pg 229 "Her brain felt numb, drained, concerned that she wasn't free of those things that had found life inside her." Beltempest. Yet again. And still no explanation as to how.

    Pg 231 The neutronic bomb will "destroy the threat, whatever it was, but leave the city intact for a later date." This is consistent with neutronic devices right back to The Daleks.

    Pgs 247-248 "A memory of another mountain. It felt like centuries ago [...] The blue crystal of Metebelis III [...] Not human. More like... eight-legs [...] The Queen was mad, she would do anything to get the crystal back. He would have to face her, though he knew it would destroy him." The Doctor is having a bad case of the flashbacks to Planet of the Spiders.

    Pg 248 "Back in the lab. The UNIT lab. Where Jo had sent the crystal back to him." Planet of the Spiders again.

    "Something was wrong. Something wasn't right." And the award for tautology of the decade goes to (drum roll) Simon Messingham.

    Mention of Sarah Jane Smith.

    Pg 252 Mention of UNIT and the Bug-Eyed Monster concept.

    Pg 255 "You think you're the only gestalt life form I've ever encountered?" The obvious contender is in Image of the Fendahl, but I'm sure you can think of others.

    OLD FRIENDS AND OLD ENEMIES
    None.

    NEW FRIENDS AND NEW ENEMIES
    Jake Leary. A number of faceless bureaucrats. Most of the interesting characters were killed, although Casey Burns (nearly interesting), and Sims and Nishi (not at all interesting) survive.

    Cheeky Monkey, a Proximan native.

    The F'Seeta.

    CONTINUITY COCK-UPS

    1. Pg 13 "Proxima 2 wasn't Earth 2; the same laws didn't apply. The mountains out through his bay windows were alien. No human had ever seen them before. They represented more than a new Himalayas, a new Alps." It's very unclear from this what, exactly, Earth 2 is. If I didn't know better, I'd suggest it sounded like a redesign of the old one, but, unless Slartibartfast is somehow involved, I don't see how this can be. If it is in the Solar System, where is it exactly?
    2. "Yes, Fuller knew about aliens. Earth hadn't exactly been quiet over the last two hundred years." That dates the earliest invasion that Fuller knows about to 1921, which flies in the face of Spearhead from Space's contention that the bulk of the invasions only began when Earth made itself noticed.
    3. Pg 49 "Another reassurance by default: twenty-one didn't make you old and wise. Not when you travelled with someone who was in his eighth or ninth century." Oops. Sam knows that he's much older than that.
    4. Pg 54 "'The Doctor' a.k.a. John Smith, seconded from the old UNIT peacekeeping force upon its disbandment." Except that Alien Bodies makes it clear that UNIT was disbanded some considerable time before 2069, so, having met the Doctor now in 2131, and assuming, as they do, that he's human, exactly how old do they think he is?
    5. Pg 83 "He remembered the time he had been cornered by the Talons down in old Frisco." Except that, according to The Janus Conjunction, San Fransisco dropped into the sea in the early twenty-first century.
    6. Pg 93 "I've never seen them eat. As far as I can tell there is no food chain on this planet." This only makes sense until you learn that the Face-Eater started life as the Proximan equivalent of a cow, and you realize that there was a food chain until the Face-Eater ate up all the other life. It's clearly forgotten about by the author later as no explanation is ever given.
    7. Pg 113 "The green gathered itself and darted at him, to quick to avoid." This should read 'too'.
    8. Pg 117 "The red light next to the lens flickered once, then began replaying its last few minutes over and over again. The data-umph spray would last a quarter of an hour. Don't ask how it works, she thought, it just does." Annoyingly, it would have been nice to have known, since these data-umphs seem to work in a totally different way from the ones in Seeing I. Those ones had a very simple programme - find Sam - and worked by virtue of the sheer numbers that were uploaded into the system at once. By contrast, these ones seem to be rather more complex. Sadly, it's an excuse for a continuity reference without giving too much thought to the meaning of it.
    9. Pg 146 "Anyway, this wasn't some cocktail party. He wasn't fourteen: he was forty." Not on page 11, he wasn't; he was thirty-nine.
    10. "Fuller wondered what would be left of it all in a hundred years." Compare with Pg 11 "Fuller imagined what Proxima would be like in a hundred years." OK, it's not an error as such, but it does seem careless to have the same character musing almost exactly the same subject matter twice. It's enough to make you suspect that he's actually only a couple of lines of character description ('Fuller, Ben: 39/40ish, ex-cop, wife murdered by terrorists, fancies Sam, quite brave, earthy, thinks about what Proxima will be like in the future a lot.') but surely it was more complex than this?
    11. Pg 217 "The Doctor realized he was still a long from recovering from his trauma. He still doubted himself. He probably needed pepping up." Two errors for the price of one! Firstly, there's the obvious missing 'way' in this sentence, but then there's also the fact that it's only from context that you can work out that Leary is supposed to be the subject of the sentence, but it's written as if the Doctor is.

    PLUGGING THE HOLES [Fan-wank theorizing of how to fix continuity cock-ups]

    1. He's not actually referring to a place, but a television programme involving the creation of a new Earth just like the old one; Earth 2, in fact.
    2. Either Fuller's very well-informed, or he's approximating.
    3. Sam's so confused by now about whether it was a one-year gap or a three-year gap before Vampire Science, that she's just guessing numbers for everything and hoping.
    4. UNIT was reformed after the UNISYC debacle.
    5. They rebuilt it somewhere else.
    6. When all the food vanished from the planet, the rats genetically modified themselves so that they wouldn't need food. It's a real case of thinking of one thing at a time on the part of the author, though. Rotten.
    7. The Doctor's in a blind panic now. Grammar is the least of his worries.
    8. The Doctor's been advancing the data-umphs hugely since their first invention, and now the little creatures can do practically anything up to and including choreographing and performing a tango.
    9. During the three days that Sam was unconscious, Fuller celebrated his fortieth birthday but, reticent chap that he is, didn't mention it to anyone. Happy Birthday, Ben Fuller. You'll be dead soon.
    10. He really does spend a lot of his time musing on the future.
    11. By coincidence, the Doctor is also a long [sic] from recovering from his trauma, and his grammar is suffering as a result.

    FEATURED ALIEN RACES
    The Proximan natives are rodent creatures who mimic others. They possess telepathy and were once intelligent.

    The F'Seeta is a combined being which started small but gradually absorbed all the life on the planet, thus getting rather bigger. Now it can do just about anything Messingham needs it to.

    The shapeshifters are agents of the F'Seeta. They are able to take on forms based on their victims' deep fears, but are vulnerable to bright light and are at their weakest when changing form.

    FEATURED LOCATIONS
    Proxima City and the local mountains, Proxima 2, 2131AD.

    IN SUMMARY - Anthony Wilson
    It's an isolated Earth colony under attack, with a Colony Executive Officer who's utterly off her rocker, and all I can think is that The Wheel in Space wasn't the cleverest thing to base your story on. Couple this with a monster so unclear in its abilities even it seems uncertain exactly what it's capable of; an ending which gives new meaning to the term 'suspended'; lots of deaths of the only almost non-cardboard characters; and Sam at her most irritating; and this sounds like a complete and utter disaster. Surprisingly, though, it's not. It's not brilliant, but it's more than bearable and, if you squint past the Sam moments, the Doctor's pretty much on form, a rarity at this point in his life. Don't expect to be massively moved or hugely scared, but it keeps going well. I know it's damning the book with faint praise, but we've had far worse.