Please feel free to comment on my review.
Return to the Planet of Evil with the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan
The Doctor’s deals with the consequences of his actions from Zeta Minor!
This is ‘Zeta Major’, a ‘Doctor Who’ novel featuring the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan! ‘Zeta Major’ is actually a sequel to ‘Planet of Evil’, a ‘Doctor Who’ TV story starring Tom Baker as the Doctor with Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. The novel is by Simon Messingham and was published in 1998.
I first purchased this novel at the ‘Regenerations 2010’ convention in Swansea, September 2010. I eventually read the book whilst on a family weekend in London in November of that same year before Christmas. Like ‘Planet of Evil’, this book didn’t have a huge impact on me from the first read.
‘Zeta Major’ is about the Doctor experiencing some nightmarish hallucinations following his adventure in ‘Planet of Evil’. As Nyssa and Tegan help him, the Doctor discovers the consequences of his actions from that last adventure and has to save the universe again when he visits the Morestran Empire.
I’m afraid I found this book rather hard-going to read and a let-down. The story itself was interesting, but it was very difficult for me to engage with the characters and sometimes I couldn’t keep track of where I left off in the story. There seemed a lot going on and I wasn’t able to absorb it.
I had the impression Simon Messingham seemed to be a verbose writer and used a lot of descriptive detail to illustrate his story. Also, I felt that the action of the story was slow and I didn’t find the story exciting when I read it. This was as much the same experience for me from watching ‘Planet of Evil’.
From reading the story, it was interesting to discover more about the Morestrans and where they came from and what their society was like. In the book, the Morestran Empire is a divided theocracy, as there’s a Church; an Energy Tower and lots of squabbling between Church members.
The book is divided into sixteen chapters with a prologue at the beginning and an epilogue at the end. There are also three acts concerning the book’s plot. This included ‘The Tower’; ‘The Court’ and ‘Zeta Major’. These aspects of the book didn’t help with my being able to follow the story through.
It was also interesting how the consequences of ‘Planet of Evil’ are dealt with here in this book. More is revealed about Sorenson’s original exhibition to the planet of Zeta Minor. It was interesting how the Morestrans continued his work with building this Energy Tower to contain the anti-matter.
There’s also an element of sexism regarding the Morestran society when the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan visit. Nyssa and Tegan are clearly frustrated by many of the Church male members’ disapproval of women in places where they should not be, and it was sometimes hard-going to read those novel’s sections.
There are lots of transcript sections between characters in the book from meetings and subspace communications. There were also passages from what’s called the Morestran Church Bible in the book. Some of these were interesting, but there were times when I found it difficult to know who’s who and what was what.
The thing that I gained enjoyment from this book was reading the journeys of the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan in the story. I was able to home in on their dialogue and found their scenes easy to read, especially as I knew and loved the characters well and wanted to know what would happen to them.
The Doctor’s journey in this novel was interesting to read. At first, he undergoes hallucinations of seeing black water and is mostly unconscious for the first act of the story. Thankfully he comes out of it and holds the hallucinations back in order to find a way to persuade the Church to listen to him.
Tegan’s journey was equally enjoyable. I liked how she was discovered by some men in the Tower and they’re shocked by her bare legs. It was also a shock when Tegan got hypnotised by Kristyan Fall and was made to assassinate one of the Church brothers. Thankfully the Doctor helped her out of it.
In the story, the Doctor and Tegan get separated from Nyssa as they go off to deal with the Church brothers whilst Nyssa visits the Academy. For me, Nyssa was a joy to read in the book. I enjoyed her journey in this story most of all, as it was interesting how she coped on her own without her friends.
I liked it when Nyssa gets to have a whole chapter to herself in Chapter 9. She gets to solve a mystery at the Sorenson Academy and I liked it when she developed a relationship with Harwood and when she interacted with Maren. Sadly, she gets caught by the Dean and is taken to Zeta Major.
Also sadly in the book, Nyssa becomes a victim (again) and gets turned into a monster. This happens when Nyssa gets anti-matter crystals planted into her stomach. This was rather sickening and horrible to read. I was so anxious for Nyssa when she wasn’t herself and became a snarling creature.
The supporting characters in the story I found very difficult to engage with. Most of them were unlikeable and devious throughout the story. It paints an interesting picture on what the Morestrans are like, since their society is so male-dominated and there’s civil war between them with the Church.
There’s Ferdinand du Vindice, who becomes an alley to the Doctor and his friends in the story. Ferdinand is sometimes noble, but he has a bitter grudge against the Church and is determined to see the end of it. I liked his scenes with Tegan, as she tries to persuade him not to do the wrong thing.
There’s Kristyan Fall, who is also called the Zero Man. Fall is a rather devious character and he seems to be immune to the anti-matter crystals aboard the Energy Tower from Zeta Minor. He tries to use Tegan to assassinate one of the Church brothers and there’s a rivalry between him and the Doctor.
The two Church brothers are Hippolito and Antonio. Both are rather unlikeable, yet they’re meant to be rulers of the Church in the Morestran Empire. Both are glory-seeking in their own ways. When one brother gets killed, the other goes on a revenge plan in this civil war with the Church and the state.
The Energy Tower featured in the book is an interesting concept to provide the storage of anti-matter crystals from Zeta Minor. I’m not sure that I fully grasp the concept, but if I ever read the book again I would have to pay more attention to what’s going on with the events of this story.
Zeta Major itself is actually a small rogue asteroid compared to Zeta Minor which is an entire planet. I liked reading some of the links from ‘Planet of Evil’ in this story and how the Church and the state of Morestra is affected by those events. Many of the Morestrans consider the Doctor as a legend and there were also scenes where the jungle of Zeta Minor returned.
I don’t know if this book will be adapted into an audio drama by Big Finish. Possibly not, but I’m sure that they would make an improvement on this story if it were performed by actors reading the dialogue of the characters. Perhaps it would help to make the story less hard-going for me as I read it.
Most likely, ‘Zeta Major’ will get a BBC audiobook reading by one of the actors from the TV series. I’m not sure whether that will happen, should the book ever get a reprint at a future date. But I would like to hear the audiobook of this story read by Peter Davison, Janet Fielding or Sarah Sutton.
‘Zeta Major’ has been a hard-going book for me to read from ‘Doctor Who’. It has been interesting and enjoyable to read in certain areas with the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan. But I honestly found this one a disappointment and couldn’t really engage with the supporting characters and with the story.
‘Zeta Major’ rating – 4/10
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