I know people who were really excited to read this book—Lance Parkin’s return to writing official BBC Doctor Who. It’s definitely different to any of the other BBC books—they occupy a different plane, and this one’s not only longer, it’s dark and complex. It doesn’t feel like an EDA, however—it feels almost like the Seventh Doctor should be at the center of it.
The Doctor doesn’t often travel alone. Even TV adventures that see him starting off alone seem to gather companions—like our last three Christmas Specials. The closest thing I can think of to The Eyeless is “The Deadly Assassin.” Even in that, the Doctor made people like Castellan Spandrell to explain to (or have things explained at)—The Eyeless is a novel and therefore it is not necessary for explanations to be verbalized in order to move the story along (though the Doctor does feel the absence of a companion—mostly in that fashion; Parkin doesn’t have him yearn for a friend!). Strangely, the whole set up of The Eyeless reminds me of Stephen Wyatt’s much-maligned story “Paradise Towers.” Its grotesqueness (a satire on the ‘80s) was too camped up to make quite the impact of the bleakness in The Eyeless, which includes a scene of the Doctor being attacked by pre-teens intent on killing him, in which—because he’s the Doctor—he can’t really fight back. The Fortress’ destructive capacity, once you forget the rather Mordor-like illustration on the cover, is chilling (reminiscent somehow of The Ancestor Cell or the Time War hinted at in The Gallifrey Chronicles).
Parkin seems to get Ten without a lot of fuss. There isn’t the flamboyant grasping for his hyperactive vocabulary (coughJustinRichardscough) nor tossing him off the edge of angst—the story itself does enough of that. The Doctor here is alien, cold, manipulative, a petty thief, and resembles nothing so much as when he tries (unsuccessfully) to get the passengers not to throw him out of the airlock in “Midnight.” The green-skied planet isn’t Earth, it’s far into the future, but the scenes of destruction and the eking out of a painful existence based on a society where women produce as many children as they can, people are vegetarians in scavenged clothes, and children aren’t taught to read feels a bit like Deep Space Nine meets 28 Days Later. The Doctor is allowed to get tired, beat up, outwitted by a teenage girl with few redeeming features, and lured into a trap unlike the one he, as Nine, falls into before Bad Wolf saves the day in “Parting of the Ways.” There’s a grim humor here, like when the narrator dryly tells us the sonic screwdriver isn’t “a magic wand.”
The Eyeless of the title are actually somewhat incidental to the wider story, a curious mercenary race perpetrating horror on the hapless Arcopolitans, and feel a bit Borg to me for some reason. The trip to the Fortress to get the Weapon may feel a little like the race to Rassillon’s Tower in “The Five Doctors,” but once inside, things get horrible. Surprisingly, Parkin manages to wring a happy ending out of the misery. Alsa, the Doctor’s teenage adversary, turns out to be a bit like Sister Carrie except given a second chance (with knowledge of obstetrics in the bargain!). Parkin’s intelligence and versatility certainly put the book intellectually above the rest, though I was really quite disappointed with the “ghosts.” If you’re prepared to accept the data ghosting in “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead,” the ghosts in The Eyeless may not bother you—the Doctor gets to communicate with them using psychic paper. But to be honest I thought they were a missed opportunity.