Doctor Who: System Wipe by Oli Smith
My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes
Date Published: November 19th, 2015
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Pages: 160 pages
Synopsis: The Doctor finds himself trapped in the virtual world of Parallife. As he tries to save the inhabitants from being destroyed by a deadly virus, Amy and Rory must fight to keep the Doctor’s body in the real world safe from the mysterious entity known as Legacy . . .
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
In this story, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory find themselves in 2222 A.D.—the end of the world, or one ending at least. When investigating a sole source of power in a completely empty and decimated Chicago, the Doctor enters and becomes trapped in the virtual world of Parallife. Here, the characters, who have been left behind by their players, have developed minds of their own and created a society. However, their way of life is threatened as a darkness approaches, wiping out everything in its path. Meanwhile, Amy and Rory have to escape destruction themselves, as a horde of robots move in to demolish what is left of the city.
I am rather conflicted in my feelings about this book. The concept for it was so interesting and would have easily made a fantastic episode of the television series. The idea of a virtual world controlled by abandoned characters who have each developed a consciousness holds an incredible amount of potential. Throw in a force that is systematically destroying that world and you have what should be a unique and intense ride.
This was a story that I desperately wanted to love, but I was very dissatisfied with a lot of it. I found this novel was lacking the suspense and intrigue that is characteristic of the Doctor’s adventures. I expected far more excitement than I got, and I ended up disconnecting from the story frequently. There were so many missed opportunities to create apprehension for the reader in both the real and virtual settings, and this caused me to have trouble becoming invested in any of it. I believe that part of it was due to the fact that this is not a full length novel. The concept of this plot is far too massive for the size of the story it was squeezed into.
Another of the main aspects of this novel that I had very mixed feelings about was the character depiction. Due to the length of the story, Smith is not given very much time to get the reader familiar with new characters. Despite this, he manages to create an intriguing and likeable cast that complement the story well. I thought that Blondie was a very good imagining of a video game character come to life. She was relatable because she acted in ways that any gamer would immediately recognize. Daryl was definitely my favorite addition. He was adorable and hilarious and very reminiscent of the type of side character typically seen in episodes of the show.
On the other hand, the depiction of the main trio left me a bit disappointed. I personally did not feel that Smith accurately portrayed these three characters that we all know so well. Something was off about them all the way through. Their actions and dialogue clashed with the personalities of the original television show versions, and that ended up breaking my immersion in the story. The characterization of the Doctor, Amy, and Rory is arguably the most important part of a novel like this, but unfortunately, I thought this was an area that Smith did not succeed in.
The writing itself was another aspect of the story that has caused me to have some mixed feelings. A lot of the writing is strong—Smith’s descriptions are fairly vivid and detailed, at least in the first half. At the start, I had a clear image of both the real and virtual worlds in my mind as I read. I enjoyed a lot of what Smith created, particularly in the world of Parallife.
However, I started to have some difficulty later on in the story. About halfway in, the imagery became a bit muddled for me, and I frequently struggled to make sense of it. This was frustrating, as I found that I could not sufficiently picture anything that was occurring. I also felt as though Smith did not take full advantage of the whole concept of the virtual world—it lacked the intrigue that I expected from it. While he described Parallife well, he did not utilize it to create a solid amount of suspense and tension in the plot.
Despite the negative reaction I had to a number of things in this novel, every once in a while, there was something thrown in that would make me love it. There were moments of great humor that made me laugh out loud. There were references that gamers like myself, especially fans of open world RPGs, could easily connect with and that made my nerdy self very happy. These things really pulled me back in and kept me going to the last pages.
In the end, though the concept for the plot was intriguing, the story as a whole ended up falling a bit flat for me. There were some ideas that I really loved, but the actual execution of those ideas left a lot to be desired. A story as short as this is always going to provide obstacles for the author in terms of building a world and carrying out a storyline, and I definitely think the length is the cause of a number of the issues I had with it. Overall, this was not a terrible book by any means. It could have been better, but even with the problems I had with it, I still found it to be a relatively entertaining read at times.