A scattered adaptation of the 1996 TV Movie, lacking most of what made the TV movie good (namely…Paul McGann).
A lot of what made the TV movie work was that uniquely sort of American B-movie shlock to it (distinct from the British camp of the classic series), coming through in the performances, writing, and general tone of the movie. Here, Gary Russell smothers things back into Britishness, giving way to some odd cases of American characters thinking in British mannerisms.
When you take away McGann, Roberts, the visuals, and the shlocky tone of the movie, you’re left mostly with the story, and that was never its strong point. The Master’s ridiculous dialogue is fun when Eric Roberts is delivering it in a hilariously overwrought style, but when it’s just on the page it comes across as more flat and awkward. Russell writes in a very literal style, apparently working off an earlier version of the film’s script, so not off the actual film’s visuals either (explains a lot). He attempts to tweak some continuity hiccups to slide more comfortably into the series (the Master’s snake form, the “singular” Eye of Harmony) and tries to justify a few continuity changes a bit more (the Doctor regenerating as another white man likened to architectural preference, the controversial “half-human” remark being contextualised a bit more), but of course as time marched on the continuity warped around and so things now don’t line up so neatly (the “newness” of the console room, some of the Seventh Doctor’s characterisation at the end of his life).
The expository style of writing plays into the strangest thing about the book, its lack of an identifiable audience. There are many, many “as you know” style expository sentences, on and on throughout the book, but also plenty of continuity that goes unmentioned like it’s self-evident, and of course the story itself is infamously reliant on past continuity (there’s a reason the 2005 revival of the show, being such a clean break from continuity, was more successful than the 1996 TV movie). Apparently Russell wanted to write the book darker and slot it more neatly into the show’s continuity, but the BBC wanted it to appeal to people new to the show…like the TV movie itself, it feels very confused as to who it is for, and ultimately fits better into being a relic of the wilderness era of the show rather than any successful starting point for stories on its own. Even in the sense of the books released while the show was cancelled, this isn’t truly considered the beginning of the Eighth Doctor Adventures the way “The Eighth Doctors” (or arguably “Vampire Science”) is. Apparently Russell had mere weeks to write it, and it’s off a script that only worked on film when it worked at all, but it’s still a pretty meagre effort. I give it one jelly baby, and a berrlyium clock.