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Nyssa reunites with the Fourth Doctor
This was an interesting but disappointing ‘Doctor Who’ book to read!
‘Asylum’ is a BBC Past Doctor Adventures novel that features an unusual TARDIS combination. It features Nyssa of Traken, once companion of the Fifth Doctor, who reunites with the Fourth Doctor. In the story, Nyssa and the Fourth Doctor visit Oxford in 1278 to solve a mystery about Roger Bacon.
I was intrigued about this ‘Doctor Who’ book for some time. It’s a story set after Nyssa finished her travels with the Doctor in the TARDIS in ‘Terminus’. It’s also set before Nyssa reunites with the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough in ‘Cobwebs’. I was looking to finding out what happens to Nyssa in this.
In this book; Nyssa after ‘Terminus’ finds herself reuniting with the Tom Baker Doctor. Nyssa knew the Fourth Doctor briefly from her debut appearance in ‘Doctor Who’ called ‘The Keeper of Traken’ and in his regeneration story ‘Logopolis’. Even now, I’m finding this difficult to explain in my review!
This is Nyssa meeting the Fourth Doctor before he meets her in ‘The Keeper of Traken’ and after she finished her TARDIS travels in ‘Terminus’. Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. Not sure why this pairing was made with Nyssa and the Fourth Doctor in the ‘Doctor Who’ book, but it’s an interesting pairing.
‘Asylum’ is by Peter Darvill-Evans, who was the editor of the Virgin range of ‘Doctor Who’ novels including ‘The New Adventures’ and ‘The Missing Adventures’. For the Fourth Doctor, the story is set between ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and ‘The Face of Evil’, as he’s travelling alone in this novel adventure.
It seems that the Fourth Doctor knew who Nyssa was already in ‘The Keeper of Traken’ as he’d already met her in this book ‘Asylum’. It’s interesting how Peter Darvill-Evans manages to overcome the complications of the Fourth Doctor meeting Nyssa rather early before ‘The Keeper of Traken’.
The book itself is divided into seven chapters with two prologues and an epilogue. How can you have two prologues in a ‘Doctor Who’ novel?! There’s also an essay by Peter Darvill-Evans about the historical context of this ‘Doctor Who’ novel. I’ll share what my thoughts are about that essay later.
I enjoyed the second prologue of this book very much, especially as it has Nyssa reuniting with the Fourth Doctor who visits her at her home in the future. I don’t know why that couldn’t have been a chapter instead of a prologue. Certainly it’s pretty lengthy with detailing Nyssa’s life after ‘Terminus’.
Just to establish what stage of her life Nyssa’s at in the story. It seems that Nyssa hasn’t married yet and it’s eight years after the events of ‘Terminus’. Also, Nyssa seems to have given up her career in being a biochemist on Terminus and she’s now taken up a career in being a historical technographer.
I’m not sure what to make of this change of career by Nyssa in ‘Asylum’, especially as it contradicts what’s been told already in ‘Cobwebs’ with the older Nyssa as she’s still a biochemist working on Terminus from that. I suppose Nyssa does become a technographer for a short while in her timeline.
In the story, Nyssa is trying to uncover some information after making a thesis about Roger Bacon in the 13th century and his Elixir of Life. The Fourth Doctor visits her at her Home and she eventually joins him to go to Oxford 1278 in order to discover the truth about Roger’s Bacon’s experiments on Earth.
I enjoyed reading ‘Asylum’ as a book. The story and the setting was interesting regarding the deep historical material of the church. Peter Darvill-Evans clearly did his historical research when writing this book, as he explores a lot about Roger Bacon and how those church members react to his work.
Saying that however, I don’t think the story went anywhere as I was reading the book. I didn’t feel inspired or excited as I read ‘Asylum’. It’s clearly a pure historical adventure and there is a murder mystery going on. But these aspects don’t help with making this a classic ‘Doctor Who’ novel to read.
Also, and it pains me to say this, I found Nyssa to be underused as a character in this ‘Doctor Who’ story. Nyssa doesn’t seem to do anything in the book, apart from sitting about in the gardens of Lady Matilda’s place. She could have had an adventure with the Fourth Doctor in this ‘Doctor Who’ novel.
I also feel that Nyssa is rather out-of-character in this ‘Doctor Who’ book, but not like when she was out-of-character in ‘Winter For The Adept’. Nyssa seems resigned to having a quiet and peaceful life in the gardens of Lady Matilda’s place and she doesn’t want to get involved with any danger that occurs.
After all I’ve heard from the Big Finish audios of ‘Doctor Who’, I would have expected Nyssa wanting to be a part of the action in this ‘Doctor Who’ story. I did however enjoy reading her sections in the book, especially when she receives the attentions of the clumsy knight Richard and how she reacts to it.
An interesting aspect about Nyssa in the book was that her aristocratic nature makes her sound French to the people of Oxford at the time of 1278. I’m not sure why that should be the case, but it never occurred to me Nyssa could sound French with those TARDIS translation circuits switched off.
With the Fourth Doctor, I also found him rather uninspiring and he didn’t stand out well as a character in the book. It was interesting when he was getting involved with the murder mystery at the church in Oxford, but I couldn’t identify anything familiar with this as a Fourth Doctor adventure.
I tried my best with hearing Tom Baker’s voice inside my head when reading his dialogue, but even that didn’t help much. There are some nice moments when the Doctor uses his scarf at certain points in the adventure and I did enjoy it when he’d challenged those being suspected with murder.
The Fourth Doctor’s interaction with Nyssa was interesting to read in the story. The book has them separated for most of the time, but I did enjoy it when reading Chapter Seven how the Fourth Doctor tries to comfort Nyssa at the end. It sets things up with when the Fourth Doctor meets Nyssa again.
The historical aspects of the book were interesting to read. I’ve been to Oxford before on holiday in 2015, so I’m familiar with what the place is like from visiting it. Reading Oxford in ‘Asylum’ was different, as this was an Oxford from before I was born and a lot was very different from those days.
This leads me onto talking about the essay ‘A history of errors and falsifications’ by Peter Darvill-Evans at the end of the book. Peter Darvill-Evans went to the trouble of writing an essay about how he researched Oxford in the 13th century and Roger Bacon when he wrote this ‘Doctor Who’ novel.
I must admit, I wish Peter Darvill-Evans hadn’t included this essay at the end of the book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an interesting essay. But it takes up much of the book and wasn’t necessary to have at the end of the story. It also doesn’t have any ‘Doctor Who’ references that I could enjoy from this.
‘Asylum’ was published in 2001, although I don’t know whether it will get an audiobook reading. Possibly not. I doubt it’ll get an audio adaptation by Big Finish. But if the BBC were to give ‘Asylum’ an audiobook reading, I wouldn’t mind either Tom Baker or Sarah Sutton reading it so that I can enjoy it.
I’m afraid ‘Asylum’ isn’t one of the best ‘Doctor Who’ books I’ve read. It was interesting to read with Nyssa reuniting with the Fourth Doctor again. But I don’t think the story went anywhere. I was unhappy with how Nyssa lacked in character development and wasn’t involved in the story’s action.
‘Asylum’ rating – 5/10
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