Set Piece

Title: Set Piece
Author: Kate Orman
Genre: SF, Tie-In
Series: Doctor Who New Adventures
Copyright: 1995
Ranking: ?Unranked
Binding: paperback
LibraryThing: Title:Set Piece WorkId 49044
Type: Owned
Read: 1995-06-05

The obvious book to compare "Set Piece" to would be the previous excursion of Kate Orman into the realms of the New Adventures - "The Left-Handed Hummingbird" (otherwise known in fannish shorthand as "Hummer"). Oddly enough, I think "Set Piece" was both better and not as good as Hummer. Better, because I can think of not a thing to point to that was a problem (on the other hand, maybe I just wasn't looking carefully enough?). Not as good simply because it wasn't the same kind of rollercoaster ride that Hummer was, not as much of the sheer angstiness that was in Hummer. Not the same psychological torture - here I was more worried about Ace than the Doctor. But maybe that's just that it's a different book. And it would be only half a point difference anyway. I did really like Set Piece. Action and characterisation in even amounts, a few surprises, and a few not-surprises. 8.5 or 9 out of 10.

This story is really Ace's story, not really surprising since this is the book in which she is written out of the series. The Doctor and Benny have their parts to play, but Ace is the emotional heart of the tale. The three time travellers are cast adrift through history when a rescue attempt goes awry, and the three have to survive in different eras while something living in a crack in space-time preys on people from the past, present and future.

Here, Ace is all alone, in the alien (to her) culture of Ancient Egypt, with only her own resources to fall back on, surviving and waiting, waiting, waiting for the Doctor to turn up and tell her the sneaky plan he had been preparing all this while. But the last time she saw the Doctor, "Benny was stooped over the Doctor, frantically trying to get a response out of him. Blood was trickling from his mouth and nose, sluggishly. His eyes had flicked shut. Ace wished she could tell Benny that the Doctor was dead." Isolated, despairing, Ace is in danger of losing her soul, of making the worst mistake in her life...

Again, Kate Orman has sprinkled the work with sharp pieces of prose: "Suddenly the Doctor did not walk up and say hello." (p50) about Ace's loneliness. "When you're short of everything except the enemy, you know you're in combat." (p138) was another good example. And touches of humour here and there. One might make a complaint, though, that the Whoniverse is becoming cluttered with metaphysical constructs; previous New Adventures have dream-encounters with Death and Time - here we meet Pain, with the Doctor as Time's butterfly. I guess that depends on how much one enjoys symbolism. There are some very good character moments - for Ace and the Doctor particularly. Ace faces herself, and the Doctor wins by losing.

The plot as a whole comes together piece by piece, jumping about from time and place (with a flashback and a red herring or two to stop it from being too straightforward), becoming clearer as it goes along, and tieing itself together very satisfactorily. No megalomaniacs, no 'fixed up in the last five minutes with the wave of a gizmo', and not even a 'I've been subtly planning this behind the scenes for months' which tends to happen with the 7th Doctor.

The way in which Ace departs the series had me cheering. I couldn't have asked for a better way for her to go. And I'd better not say any more about that for fear of letting slip hints about what happens.

If you are reading the New Adventures at all, there are no excuses for not reading this one, except perhaps putting it off until you've read all the previous ones by Paul Cornell, Ben Aaronovich and Kate Orman.

Sid & Nancy scale: chocolate cake with ice cream