The Ripple Effect Review

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Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on the 7th 50th Doctor anniversary short story.

The-Ripple-Effect-Malorie-BlackmanAt one point, in the pell-mell of Remembrance of the Daleks, the Seventh Doctor takes a breather in some greasy spoon where Sylvester McCoy recites one of my favorite quotes in Doctor Who ever. He says, “See? Every great decision creates ripples, like a huge boulder dropped in a lake. The ripples merge, rebound off the banks in unforeseeable ways. The heavier the decision, the larger the waves, the more uncertain the consequences.” It’s a perfectly overlooked and understated piece of dialogue and one of the best quotations in the classic series. Malorie Blackman’s new Doctor Who novella’s title is a little bit more than a homage to it.

From the opening scene in the TARDIS console room; Ace and the Doctor are flung into action before you’ve even finished the first page. The pair are in a temporal plexus (that’s just one snippet of the technobabble Blackman inserts into her story) and I can’t explain it in a way that would satisfy the author but I’ll give it a stab. Basically the plexus is a giant spacey web that the TARDIS is ensnared in, and the duo are effectively stuck. But luckily after pressing lots of buttons, because that always works (“I’ve spent enough time with the Doctor to know whenever you enter somewhere new, press buttons.”) the TARDIS escapes the plexus and Ace and the Doctor land to only come face-to-face with a group of delightful peacemaking Daleks. Sounds a bit like Victory of the Daleks, doesn’t it? Blackman actually does a really good job at portraying the pacifistic killers, something Mark Gatiss failed in doing so; The Ripple Effect Daleks aren’t exaggerated (“Would you care for some tea?”), they are exactly how you would think a peace-loving Dalek would act. So conjure up a mental image of a philosophical Dalek that assists humans and tries to teach them the ways of the universe. Whatever you’re thinking of, it’s probably in the book.

One of the things I’ve always been conscience in looking at in these reviews is the characterization. The individual writers have to nail the characterization otherwise the story isn’t unique to that Doctor. Richelle Mead perfectly encapsulated the Sixth Doctor and  Peri and I read everything in the pair’s voices, but then you look at Eoin Colfer who crafted a story that could have had the Eleventh Doctor as the lead and not the elderly First. Blackman does a serviceable enough job with the Seventh Doctor but doesn’t put emphasis on his mannerisms and eccentricities. Philip Reeve included lots of things that the Fourth Doctor would say, and did say in the TV series (“Would you like a jelly-baby?”) but Blackman misses out on a lot of McCoy’s catchphrases. I believe it’s the Seventh Doctor but only just. Ace is pitch perfect, although she doesn’t get to mutter the immortal phrase bilgebag, which displeases me hugely but her characterization is exact to a tee.

Throughout the history of Doctor Who the Daleks have always been the recurring nemeses of the Doctor; whiny pepperpots that wish death on everything that isn’t a Dalek. You’d think Malorie Blackman would take great pleasure in writing a Dalek story where they get to shriek exterminate and try and kill the Doctor but apparently not. The Ripple Effect’s Daleks are pacifistic polymaths that reside in a wonderful learned paradise called Skaro (for some reason when I read the description of it I instantly thought of a blinding white American shopping mall). The Seventh Doctor (like his future self in Victory of the Daleks) reacts very badly and starts trying to get them to admit their deceit (but luckily never attacks them with a wrench). Ace is baffled, she knows the Daleks are evil (the story is supposedly set post-Remembrance) but why the Doctor is reacting badly she doesn’t know. The universe is populated by peaceful Daleks, what could be better? The Doctor is then thrown into a god complex that’s fairly sophisticated for a forty-page e-book.

Verdict: 8.5/10

The Ripple Effect is the most groundbreaking out of all the stories in this series. It’s enjoyable, has some okay characterization and the peacekeeping Daleks are a stroke of genius (yes, it’s been done before but not in this way). Blackman clearly enjoyed writing it and so I enjoyed reading it.

Over the past month I revisited some of the stories and I’ve found some that I marked down much better than I remembered so the new list will probably be very different from what it looked like last month.

  1. Richelle Mead – the Sixth Doctor – Something Borrowed.
  2. Marcus Sedgwick – the Third Doctor – The Spear of Destiny.
  3. Malorie Blackman – the Seventh Doctor – The Ripple Effect.
  4. Philip Reeve – the Fourth Doctor – The Roots of Evil.
  5. Michael Scott – the Second Doctor – The Nameless City.
  6. Eoin Colfer – the First Doctor – A Big Hand For The Doctor.
  7. Patrick Ness – the Fifth Doctor – Tip of the Tongue.

Catch-up on past reviews:

The Ripple Effect is released on Tuesday 23rd July 2013.