The Deviant Strain by Justin Richards
Review by DJ Forrest
Published by BBC Books
A Doctor Who novel featuring Captain Jack Harkness, Rose Tyler and 9th Doctor
Release date September 8, 2005
‘I used to think I was scared by death. Or by facing death – by combat and action and the uncertainty of the battlefield. Not any more. No, now what scares me is the possibility I might live to grow old. I might wake up one day tired and wasted and unable to even open a beer. I might need crutches and a hearing aid and help getting dressed. When and if I get to that point, it’ll be my memories that’ll keep me going. The fact I’ve lived through so much, survived so much to get there. Do you want to get old?” he asked prodding Sergeyev in the chest. ‘Do you want to end up with only your memories to make up for the loss of your faculties?” He pointed across the room. ‘Look at her. Look! She’s there already. Nineteen, and she can barely walk on her own. She should be looking forward to her whole life, not staring at the end of it and wondering what happened. If she can wonder at all.’
Quote from Captain Jack Harkness, The Deviant Strain
The Deviant Strain brings the 9th Doctor, Rose Tyler and Captain Jack Harkness to the Novrosk Peninsula, Russia, where 15 nuclear reactors in 15 rusting nuclear submarines pose a real threat to the small inlet, where a ramshackle bunch of civilians live and work and drink. Where the testing facility run by a skeleton crew who hate Alex Minin, hides a dark secret, and where something is stealing the very essence of the human population seen by Georgi, a blind sailor with second sight. Something is coming in the darkness, shuffling and sliding and it’s growing in strength, but is it what the villagers fear, is it really Vourdulak?
This story is after the Doctor Dances and before Boom Town, and is by far, one of the best Captain Jack stories in Doctor Who novels that I have read so far. Jack has answered a distress signal while onboard the TARDIS and much to the Doctor’s dismay, they have to respond to it. The Doctor shows some dislike to Jack for this, but when they work together to solve the mystery, they become stronger than ever before. Jack is far darker in this story than I’ve seen him in any other story, even those of Torchwood that I have read so far.
A young boy Pavel Vahlen has been found dead in the circle of stones on a cliff side and a young girl Valeria Momentova has been aged by unknown forces much older than her 19 years. She has no reaction when she is found by Jack and the cluster of Russian soldiers that have joined him in the search of the woods. Although she breathes and her heart beats, there is no other reaction, no movement, it is as if something has taken her very essence, her memories. Jack is angered by this, and the fact not only does nobody offer to help, but that her father also turns his back on her. Something is keeping the villagers in fear, something of the Old Russian folklore, something very sinister.
I’ve read this book before, and then recently, I read it again and found it still as interesting as the first time. It’s full of detail, so full you can picture yourself freezing on the dock, in the snow and ice and cold, despite reading this book in the midst of a heatwave.
You can picture the 9th Doctor and his companions very easily and although we all know them, there’s no over description of them in the book, which is something I like about Doctor Who and of course Torchwood novels, there’s no need to reintroduce the characters. Justin’s depiction of the 9th is just as you expect him to be, just as you see him on the tv screen, grinning and acting typical of the 9th, his sarcasm and wit, knows no bounds. Rose again is no different to how we see her portrayed on the screen by Billie Piper, she’s just as inquisitive and comes out with just the level of commentary you would expect from her, and Jack, although at this time, he was a new character, from what we’ve seen of him already, in Torchwood, right up to Miracle Day, this depiction of Jack holds nothing back and you can almost feel where the darkness comes from.
From the first page the book had me hooked, and this afternoon while I pondered on where to start with the review, I’d already ploughed through 96 pages. With this amount of knowledge about submarines, especially nuclear submarines, the writer had to know something about this, he must surely live on the coast and have a view of the sea. Yet if you take a look at page 253 you’ll discover just how far from submarines Justin actually lives!