Surely only an unfeeling robotic machine wouldn't be excited about the prospect of a sequel to the classic television story, Robots of Death? And coming from the same author, Chris Boucher, that is what we get.
One of the best things about Robots of Death is how well realised the world that those characters lived in was. There was some mysterious drama between Uvanov and Zilda, mentions of a mysterious twenty families, strange clothing choices that seemed to influenced by the robots and some paranoia borne from the knife-edge society they all seemed to herald from. It always felt like each of the storm-miner crew could be on a razors-edge, not only is each of them a suspect for a murder but one wrong move could lead to disaster. This was a super-strict society and the social classes were layed out in the form of Dums, Vocs and SuperVocs.
Corpse Marker was a chance for Boucher to explore that world a little more fully and it also gives him the chance to explore the lifes of Storm-Miner Four's survivors.
Of course, in this society, it hasn't effected them very much, it all got hushed up! The only people who know anything are the survivors. Uvanov and Toos continue to try and reach some level of power, while Poul has lost everything, including his mind and memory. His career has flatlined, though he is still held in high regard, even if no one, including Poul, understands why.
And of course, all three of them distrust the robots, Uvanov comes out of it best while Toos can't work with them around her. She can have them on her ships, just not in the same room as her. Meanwhile, Poul is still suffering from robophobia, though he can still walk home, as long as no robots come near him. Throughout the book though, his terror becomes even worse, particularly when a robot comes up to him and says he's there to kill him.
The events of Robots of Death could have changed everything. And while it did change the world of these characters, it didn't change the world they live in. Robotic killers don't make the headlines because it would flip Kaldor on its head. There are rumours going about, but that's it. People still trust robots. And why wouldn't they, they haven't been given a reason to believe otherwise.
Corpse Marker stays in the shadow of its forefather, so much so that anyone reading this book who hasn't seen the television story will probably be very confused. However, Boucher seems to have a lot of fun revisiting that story, in particular, the legacy of Taren Capel, the crazy scientist who originally turned the robots into killers. But that figure has been twisted and a cult has risen in his place. Those people think that Taren Capel is their savior. Yep, that's right, Taren Capel is supposidly their savior and is going to save them all from the killer robots.
It is a lovely bit of inversion, even if what happened in Robots of Death is classified, there is still plenty of people who don't trust the robots. It is only natural, I suppose, when you consider the so called, 'uncanny valley', we feel now. Just imagine that feeling exemplified by the sight of robots that really do look like us. Those people who are frightened of them are shipped off to the Sewerpits, an area of Kaldor City that doesn't teem with robots. While there is some sort of barrier that keeps the robots from getting in, the Sewerpits are a dangerous place with thieves and cannibals stalking the tight passageways. There is no police and it is where the class system of Kaldor City originated. If Kaldor is the carrot, then the Sewerpits is the stick.
It comes as no surprise then, that the Doctor and Leela find themselves in the Sewerpits, seperated and alone for much of the book.
Leela, who is more than capable of throwing off whatever the pits have to throw at her is slightly out of her depth and there is a papable sense of jeopardy. Robots of Death showed us we shouldn't rely on robots for everything, Corpse Marker shows us we shouldn't trust each other either. The story is very tense and there is an air of menace that hangs over the proceedings. Storm Miner-Four was the base under siege scenario and everything seemed threatening. Corpse Marker sensibly extends that terror to run over an entire city. There really is nowhere to run. You would think you were safe in a large city, but where robots are allowed to roam freely, your in serious trouble and your going to be supseptable to the criminal element.
Of course, the robots of the big baddie, it would be silly to include them if they weren't and a secret upgrade has made them even more troubling.
There is a lot to enjoy in these pages, not least Boucher's prose and considering that he is best know for his screenplays, it comes as no surprise to find that his descriptions of Kaldor City are just wonderful. However, I didn't find the Doctor very well realised. His excentricities were lacking, though he does have some good lines. But Leela, Uvanov, Toos and Poul are all well done and his secondary characters fare well but the real joy of this book is catching up with those known personalities.
It is hard to pick just one of these personalities as a favourite. Poul is really interesting in Robots of Death and his journey in that story is one of the best from that story. Here, he remains just as interesting and sympathetic, even if he does nearly kill the Doctor at one point! Toos is a lot more engaging than she was on television, we see her drive, selfishness and excesses but they are all oddly enjoyable. Uvanov doesn't really change, he still has an understandable ambtition and you really do root for him. Against all odds, he finally breaks into the higher levels of the class system.
And then there is Taren Capel, a brilliant creation but wait, isn't he dead...?
Sadly though, Corspe Marker lets itself down by the end thanks to a huge anti-climax and plot threads that didn't go anywhere. And even though Boucher makes sure it isn't more of the same, the ending is still disappointing.
Corpse Marker isn't as strong as Boucher's other entries into the Doctor Who world but it remains worth reading with the feeling of imersing yourself in the Kaldor culture, something that no Who fan should pass...