This is a very strange book. So strange in fact that I didn't think I was going to enjoy it. I like Dodo but I know that a lot of fans are just as likely to throw a dart at any book with Dodo's picture on the front. But Daniel O'Mahony actually manages to make one of the most unpopular companions of all time, appealing to those who don't like her.
O'Mahony doesn't try to win you over by describing Dodo as anything other than how she appeared in the television series, it is his honest descriptions of her that will win you over. Where actress, Jackie Lane to read about dumpy Dodo or her crooked smile, then she would almost certainly weep. O'Mahony takes Dodo's character and successfully pushes her into a new direction, her innocence is lost in mindless sex. In fact, real Doctor Who purists would weep more over this text than Lane would. But for some, The Man in the Velvet Mask will be illicit fan service in the most compelling kind.
But the debauchery doesn't just stop with Dodo, oh no, we have the plot revolving around Marquis de Sade, the original sadist. And he really is perverted. One scene near the beginning of the book sees a blonde woman being sent to his bedchamber and it encapsulates the tone for the rest of the novel. The poor woman knows she is going to be raped, tortured and mutilated and it is this knowledge that makes this book all the more chilling. It really is heavy stuff.
The Man in the Velvet Mask also continues the sense of claustrophobia that O'Mahony managed to create with his first novel, Falls the Shadow and his dark and disturbing prose lends itself well to the barbarity in post-revolutionary France. But this isn't actually post-revolutionary France and this is where the book starts to go a little bit wonky in my view. The whole thing is just a virtual reality and this serves to debase most of its torments. It really should have just been a straight forward historical tale, free from all the science-fiction trappings that threaten to undermine is horrors.
And it is worth noting that this book portrays William Hartnell's Doctor in a unique perspective. Not only does O'Mahony propose that this Doctor has but one heart and that his second one will come with his second incarnation, he also writes the Doctor from a position we have never seen him done on television. He is near the end of a life, he is dying and he knows it. We get fleeting glimpses into his mindset and his fear at his impended renewal.
This really is an absorbing and macabre torture chamber of a novel. The Man in the Velvet Mask pushes the envelope as far is it is possible within the world of Doctor Who and it is certainly not for the faint of heart or for those who clear ideas about what should or shouldn't happen in the series. But for those of you who enjoyed Falls the Shadow and the other titles in the more adult Virgin New Adventures range, then this is the story for you. It is a book that is well worth a look - just if you are brave enough...