The Plot: “When the river is gone, ships shall sail in the sky, monsters bring fire from the heavens. All will fall into a grey and endless sea, and Doomsday has come.”
Florence, the sixteenth century. No one thought to pay much attention to the prophecies of the so-called seer Michel de Nostradame, otherwise known as Nostradamus. Until the canals of Venice dried. Until the soothsayer’s sayings started coming true … Because Master Nostradamus is right, in all respects. The end of the world is nigh. The ships are coming. The monsters are coming. The fire is coming. There’s only one thing he didn’t see coming, in fact: the sudden apparition of a certain strange Doctor, in his even stranger TARDIS. Today, the Earth dies screaming. And all the Doctor can do is watch.
“If the world really is ending it would be a pity to miss it by being trampled to death.”
The Seventh Doctor continues his solo adventures with this energetic pseudo historical which pits the most Machiavellian incarnation of the Time Lord with doomsday prophet Nostradamus, though disappointingly the two don’t really get to square their respective philosophies of time, space and relative dimensions against each other. The TARDIS is apparently being temperamental again and so the Doctor is, against his wishes, dropped off in Italy – more specifically, Florence in 1560. But something has gone wrong and this is not Italy as history has so far recorded it – the people in fact are disturbed by the sudden drying up of the canals in Venice and so turn to the noted seer and fortune-teller Michel de Nostradame for help. Lady Garilund is one of his most assiduous followers, particularly interested in how the prophecies come to the old man, especially one involving some very large and very hostile reptiles … It seems that he has in fact foreseen a forthcoming invasion from a crocodilian and bellicose race, which has intrigued Garilund, who is a Poldegon, a historian from a race known for their research abilities and not for their warlike activities or affiliations though she knows about the arrival of the fierce warrior race. Indeed she tries to stop the invasion from the reptilian Krow, which her superior seems to have sanctioned, but in vain …
“‘Can’t be done’ is a phrase I have issues with.”
It would be a pity to spoil the big twist in the story that comes at the midway mark – it is not that it is especially unguassable, but it completely alters the narrative and the Doctor’s role in it, so in fairness it is best to avoid discussing it in any detail. This is a highly enjoyable adventure though not an especially radical or original one, so to enjoy it is best to know as little as possible. Which is probably an admission that it does need a little bit of help, though there are plenty of funny lines and the six feet tall crocodiles who eat fresh brains when they get promoted to gain their predecessor’s knowledge are appropriately horrid and there are some truly disgusting sound effects to go with that.
“Memory inheritance ingested.”
I am a great fan of the Ace and Hex team and hope it continues for a good long time but I love the solo stories with McCoy – the recent trilogy in which he faced off against the Nazi scientist Klein was an excellent example where the Seventh Doctor was both at his most manipulative and his most alone and it produced particularly fine results. The present story however, despite a superb performance from McCoy, is only a middle ranking tale as it doesn’t really make the most of his solo status; and frankly I found his eventual solution to the plot, which owes more than a little to several works by a best-selling novelist who used to write techno-thrillers as ‘John Lange’ and ‘Jeffrey Hudson’, is rendered a trifle obscure as various strands drown in a variety of plots and counter-plots amid the activities of several warring factions. Plus it is left to others to do most of the heavy lifting, while a surfeit of noble sentiments that emerge towards the end seem to belong much more to an episode of Star Trek … But there are real compensations in the supporting cast. Normally in solo stories the Doctor gets paired off with someone to act as the companion proxy and here several have that function including Nostradamus, who is played by the marvellously gravelly voiced David Schofield who gives great depth to his performance. It’s a shame that he and the Doctor only share a few scenes but he impresses throughout the story and gives great pathos to a man who seems truly haunted by his apocalyptic visions and who finds a strange kind of peace when they seem to come true, even is this does truly mean the end of his existence.
So, a bit of a step down from Robophobia but an enjoyable tale of colliding worlds none the less – and it ends with an intriguing taste of what may be coming in the next release, The House of Blue Fire.