The Coming of the Terraphiles

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, or Pirates of the Second Aethyr by Michael Moorcock.

Moorcock The Coming of the Terraphiles

Michael Moorcock’s Doctor Who novel has for its protagonists the eleventh Doctor (the one played by Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (but no Rory). The central characterizations are solid, but it doesn’t pick up much else from the Doctor Who narrative other than a couple of references to the Time War and the relatively amicable presence of some Judoon. On the other hand, as the subtitle Pirates of the Second Aethyr indicates, it does connect to Moorcock’s Eternal Champion hyperwork by means of Moorcock’s “Second Ether” trilogy–which I haven’t read. Jerry Cornelius puts in a guest appearance too. I’ve only read thirty or forty of Moorcock’s books, many of them several decades ago, and I felt sure I missed quite a few passing intertextual references.

The “Terraphiles” are fans of and competitors in the “Renaissance Tournaments” of the fifty-second millennium, which purport to revive the sports of Old Old Earth, albeit in a quite muddled and relatively unrecognizable form. There is talk about whether a “broadsword” should be more or less than three feet wide. One of the principal games involves cracking nuts with hammers. And there is a lot of archery, with arrows routinely caught by hand. Moorcock supplies just enough description of these events that I was completely stumped at attempting to visualize them. He did manage to communicate the pacing and drama of the competitions, however. The whole scenario of a far-future affection for a dimly perceived human past also put me a bit in mind of some of my favorite Moorcock books, the “End of Time” series, as well as a number of Doctor Who episodes in which interstellar humanity have distorted understandings of their history.

In The Coming of the Terraphiles, the multiverse is imperiled by the “black tides” unleashed by a defect of the Cosmic Balance. It needs a component restored to it, and the Doctor is sure that it is connected with the Silver Arrow of Artemis that serves as the trophy for the recurrent galactic Terraphile championships. The Doctor joins the Gentlemen, a Terraphile sporting team, in order to travel with them to the grand tournament. . . . . . . . . . . . . (spoilers – hover over to reveal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This book wasn’t entirely silly, but it was certainly silly enough. Moorcock didn’t let down Doctor Who, nor did he mess up his own sprawling metatext. Still, I wouldn’t suggest it as an introduction to either. It’s the sort of indulgence that a veteran author should be permitted, but one that really needs an experienced fan to appreciate.