I love Dave Stone's novels, but I can see why not everyone does. At times his plots are little more than threadbare (or at worst non-existent) excuses for Stone to be Stone. He recycles himself. His prose is very loud. Most of all he's so self-indulgent that it passes through an anti-matter universe and stops being self-indulgence any more. One almost needs a new word. He's just an author being true to himself, in which the whole point of the novel is to be a 250-page discussion of the meaning of perception, while the plot lags behind as that thing which sort of happens by itself if you don't pay it too much attention.
Fortunately I love Dave Stone's authorial voice. It's appropriate that perception is one of his running themes, since clearly he doesn't see the world like normal people. Stone's Whoniverse is an unsettling, funny place and much weirder than usual - and in 1997 when Burning Heart was published his ideas were still relatively fresh.
The characterisation is great. It's mostly concentrated on the regulars, if we broaden the term to include the heroes of Stone's other writing (Judge Dredd and a "20th generation but mysteriously unchanged" Jason Kane) but I didn't mind that. The TARDIS crew are also strong. Peri gets plenty to do and the 6th Doctor is so good that it takes a second reading for you to realise that he's been sidelined from the plot. Dave Stone's 7th Doctor in Sky Pirates!
and Death and Diplomacy
was so memorable that at the time I wondered if his portrayal of other incarnations could possibly live up, but this 6th Doctor certainly does. Stone's not afraid to make him an overbearing bastard who pisses off everyone, while at the same time: (a) completely Doctorish and (b) another take on Stone's "more alien than mortals can comprehend" view of the character. I loved the scene of him beating up Adjudicators, while the climax involves the best "Doctor talking the bad guys to death" scene of all time. After reading this book for the first time in 1997, I went from "can he write other incarnations?" to "I want him to write every incarnation!"
Kane is the (great-great-...)-great-grandson of Jason Kane, cut-and-pasted into the year 3174 without the slightest deviation from the original. In no respect do they differ. This is hardly plausible (it's more than half a millennium!) but on the other hand it produces a character Dave Stone clearly loves writing about. This book would be a lot flatter and less human without Kane.
Then there's Judge Dredd, thankfully called Joseph Craator instead of anything dumb like D'derd. On one level, this book plays completely straight by treating its cut-and-pasted Mega-City One as a logical Whoniverse continuation of Adjudicators into the year 3174. He's a strong enough character that I found myself rereading this as a Judge Dredd novel with Whoish guest-stars, but he's not exactly deep. In fact he's a completely one-dimensional bastard. Arguably Craator is the real protagonist of this novel, if only because he can investigate the plot instead of getting locked up (the Doctor) or recruited by criminals (Peri, Kane), but if you're not already a Dredd fan you might find him underwhelming. Any Burning Heart readers patiently waiting for the Doctor to get into the action are in for a shock.
I guess I should mention the plot. It's straightforward. Bad people do bad things in Mega-City One, then at the end everyone ends up together and there's a showdown. Did I miss anything? Nope, guess not. There's a kind of Signal From Fred on p199 as the Doctor analyses the plot, but I think "Dave Stone book" sums it up pretty well. According to I Who, this book was proposed as an actual Dredd/Who crossover and the subsequent removal of all the Dredd material left the story "a bit thin".
In a sense this feels unlike most Dave Stone books. It's a Dredd novel as much as Doctor Who, which somewhat restricts his authorial voice. When in Mega-City One, you play by Mega-City One's rules. This book is less whimsical than one might expect, always keeping a strong focus on its overpoliced urban hell. As a novel it's almost bleak. There are jokes, asides and "we've changed the names but ahahaha" versions of Walt Disney and Adolf Hitler, but it's damn lucky the TARDIS crew are so fantastic since less diverting portrayals would have left this book a real downer.
When I read this in 1997, it didn't leave much impression on me. I took away good memories of its 6th Doctor and maybe Kane, but little more. This time I enjoyed it much more, perhaps because of reading it as a Judge Dredd novel instead of Who. Dramos is more gritty and grounded than similar "look, aren't I weird!" settings in Death and Diplomacy
or The Infernal Nexus
. This isn't your usual Dave Stone book. Whether or not that's a good thing I leave to the individual reader.