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Of the City of the Damned

By:Richard, England
Date:Sunday 16 October 2005
Rating:   10

One of the more intriguing concepts that came out of Doctor Who's confinement to novels was Faction Paradox, a time travelling cult that sought to unravel and rewrite history. In the novels it was the Faction, not the Daleks, that led to Gallifrey's destruction. Since then, the Faction has spawned a small but flourishing genre of its own, the latest example of which being Warring States by Mags Halliday.

It's interesting to see how Halliday has reshaped the Faction';s mythology. One facet of this is that the Faction as originally envisaged by Lawrence Miles, was a rather English conceit, its iconography being that of Big Ben, Trafalgar Square and the Hell Fire caves (its base was built inside eleven day's taken from London's history when the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar. Having previously set Doctor Who novels in Barcelona at the time of the Spanish civil war, Halliday chooses Peking at the time of the Boxer Rebellion over eighteenth century England (it's always somewhat surprising to me how few authors have chosen China as a setting for Doctor Who stories). For much of this, the narrative tries to draw out the fantastic from the mundane; the structure of the city is defined by ritual, with telegraph lines and railways seen as disrupting the chi of the city. Where the Boxer cultists simply imagined themselves invulnerable to bullets and foreign weapons here this proves to be the case. Ritual acquires a significance lost to the Western inhabitants of the city, with the idea of prayers to ward off or invoke the spirits mapping previsely onto the existing Faction rituals and mythology.

While much of the narrative contains rather familiar ideas (archaeologists opening a tomb within a pyramid, a murder taking place within a locked room) much of it is also based around the slightly less familiar (to me, at any rate) Chinese wuxia narrative, a form of martials arts romance (typically where the hero was an outcast and criminal, just as the Faction are).

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