When I first read this in 1995, I was underwhelmed. The weirdness in the second half bored me and I never really found anything of particular interest to be happening. After this reread, I think that was harsh. Millennial Rites could do with losing a good fifty pages, but it's probably Craig Hinton's most solid Doctor Who novel to date.
The best thing about the book is its TARDIS crew. This was the first 6th Doctor and Mel novel and it meets the challenge head-on. Craig has a taste for tackling the less-esteemed corners of the canon (his second, third and fourth novels were based in Season 23, Transit
and The Time Monster
respectively) and let's not forget that Millennial Rites pre-dated the big Mel rehabilitation. Back then, received wisdom held that Mel was a failure. Craig took the bull by the horns and it's in large part thanks to him that a companion has been rescued from the wastes and re-evaluated. That said, though, let's not forget Steve Lyons, the author of Head Games
(the Mel NA which came out alongside Millennial Rites) and Fires of Vulcan (Bonnie Langford's revelatory Big Finish debut).
After reading a string of 8th Doctor novels, the 6th Doctor and Mel seemed so alive. Whatever you might think of their TV stories, in print they're fabulous... and I say that with no irony whatsoever. Their foibles and eccentricities give far more for a novelist to work with than more popular characters like Sarah or Jamie, whose appeal was largely down to the performer's personal charisma. Unlike the 6th Doctor and Peri, they also like each other! Here Colin's Doctor is compared with the Valeyard (as is shown on the cover), with throwaway lines like the Doctor comparing his patchwork coat with the Valeyard's all-black outfit. Let's not forget that Colin Baker initially wanted his Doctor dressed in black...
TARDIS crew aside, this novel has huge concepts. Reference is made to three completely incompatible laws of physics, reality-bending "quantum mnemonics" and what lies beyond our universe's birth and destruction. What's more, the fantastical nature of much of the book means we're spared Craig Hinton's trademark technobabble! It may be genuine high-level physics, but much of Crystal Bucephalus, GodEngine and The Quantum Archangel is still meaningless to 99.9% of the population.
The characters are okay. Barry's soap-opera backstory made me tremble in fear, but to my surprise his subplot turned out quite well. He and Louise get one good scene, at least. Ashley Chapel is pretty thick (check out his bizarre notion of how to shut up Louise and Barry) but let's face it: he's a loony who wants to transform the world. He may have a high IQ, but how much common sense can he have?
Random observations: I liked Craig's nods to other books; as I'd been rereading everything set around this time, it helped give a sense of a coherent world. There's even a sly Original Sin
reference (p4). Craig's Millennium Hall foreshadows the real-life Millennium Dome (see p46), which probably did more damage to Tony Blair's image than any other single misjudgement. However the Lovecraft pantheon namechecks on p26 met with a rousing Finn chorus of "OH, FUCK OFF!!!"
Continuity notes: the Leader of the Opposition is female. Alas, there's also a goof. Demeter Glauss won't be born for another 26 years (p86) but her book is copyright 2023 (p106). Is she a time-traveller, then?
There's a lot of good stuff here, but somehow it felt slightly less than the sum of its parts. It feels runaroundy; having reread all of Craig's Virgin Who novels during the past year or so, I'm starting to think they don't reread well. Though having said that, my opinion of this one slightly improved. Its TARDIS crew hold it together, especially in the second half when it was mainly the Doctor's identity stuff that kept me going. I probably like it less than do most people, but you can't fault its enthusiasm.