- Vancouver, British Columbia -
“The Doctor turned his gaze on Kikker. ‘I’ve met many murderous alien species in my time but you Valethske take my breath away. Is there nothing you care about other than satisfying your own grotesque appetites?’
Kikker stared up at the plasma strand. ‘No, Doctor, there is not. We are Valethske.’ "
If there’s a science fiction series out there, odds are that there’s a collection of spin off novels. They range from the Star Wars series, which at times are far better than the movies, through Star Trek to even Halo and StarCraft. Doctor Who is no exception, but the real kicker is that the novels form part of a collection that is housed in the Guinness Book of World Records – most spin-off material centered on a single fictional character.
Unlike other books of this kind though, you can have an astounding range of stories for the same reason that you have such astounding range within the series – there’s a lot of Doctors and eras to choose from. As such, you don’t get a novel with “a Doctor” but rather a specific one with a specific companion. Many of the books also state explicitly which stories they take place between.
Not so for Superior Beings, but since it features the Fifth Doctor and his last companion (and primary Sixth Doctor companion) Peri Brown, it would have to take place between the stories “Planet of Fire” and “Caves of Androzani.” The synopsis on the back cover even states that Peri is just getting used to the TARDIS and the Doctor, which actually makes this an excellent introductory novel for anyone wanting to start reading some of them. It’s always easier to get immersed in a new fictional world if the narrative includes a person who’s experiencing fantastic situations for the first time.
The Fifth Doctor and Peri accidentally gate crash on a party held in the distant future on a leisure world, where a race of super evolved humans called the Eknuri, who care about nothing except self-gratification. Also present is Dr. Aline Vehlmann, a xenologist who was once the best in the field, but is now timid and full of anxiety from a first contact encounter gone wrong. Peri immediately falls for a local hunk, and runs off with him, while the Doctor satisfies his curiousity about the people. However, within a few hours the planet is attacked by a ravenous wolf-like people called the Valethske, who were thought to be mythical. The Valethske harvest everyone on the world, save the Doctor and Aline who managed to elude them, hunting and eating some on the spot while rounding up the rest (including Peri) for cryogenic storage. The Doctor tracks them down and discovers the Valethske are on a Great Mission to find their gods, who once abandoned them, and to destroy them in an act of vengeance.
I’ve read quite a few of the BBC Doctor Who novels, and this is easily the goriest one. The Valethske mindset is one of a hunter, and they get an intense thrill from hunting and disemboweling anything or anyone they deem as prey. The sheer amount of death depicted in this book is astounding, and I will admit that sometimes characters seemed to just die for the heck of it. Characters like Athon and Lt. Meharg are callously tossed out by the author, and I felt there could have been more of a contribution to the story from them. I understand that it raises the stakes to have characters heartlessly killed off, as you’re left wondering whose next, but a balance can be found and at times I don’t think this book quite had it.
The strongest aspect of this book through and through is the theme, and that runs parallel to the title. Who are the superior beings? First, we are introduced to a new sub-race of humanity, the Eknuri, who have genetically augmented themselves to be faster, smarter, stronger, better looking, etc, and as such view themselves as vastly superior to humanity. The Valethske show up, and prove themselves to be far stronger, smarter, and more ruthless, defeating the Eknuri quickly and using them as food. The Valethske themselves are looking for their gods, a race of beings called the Khorlthochloi who had created them, but then tried to destroy them, right before abandoning them. The Khorlthochloi then ascended and became energy beings, but found another race there who were more powerful and threatened their existence, going so far as to wipe them out. Several of the Valethske begin to question the unusual tendencies of the Doctor, notably his intelligence and lack of fear of them, and recognize him as being of a superior race. And then you could argue further that Peri’s and Aline’s abilities to sacrifice themselves set them apart from both the Eknuri and the Valethske in a superior way. And both Peri and Aline undergo character developments, maturing them from who they were at the beginning of the novel.
By the end of it, I was pretty much convinced there was no such thing as a superior being, at least within this novel. And in that way, this book successfully captures one of the themes of the Fifth Doctor’s run in the series. This would have made a fairly good story, but the BBC would never have aired something this graphic. Personally, I might have preferred something a little more optimistic / less depressing, but it works.
Rating: 3/5 Sour Grapes