(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide, December 22, 2003.)
The one-sentence review: I think someone left the middle word out of the title.
Actually, "dull" doesn't quite describe this reunion of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. Awkward, confused, lumpy and top-heavy, generic, and loopy all work as better substitutes... but if you could boil it all down, "dull" works better than some other words.
Part of the problem -- in fact, most of the problem -- is that the novel begins with a huge mutant prologue that takes up a full third of the novel. It's like there's a novella about the Brigadier's adventures just after World War II, and then there's a second, somewhat larger novella about the Doctor, the Master and evil Greek gods. (I'm aware that I probably just gave away a huge spoiler about the Master... to the approximately six people who heard about a Barry Letts/Terrance Dicks Third Doctor/UNIT novel and didn't immediately expect the Master to be in it.)
The prologue is a vast mistake. First, it's got these bloody Greek gods in it, and they all have the charisma and interest of particle board. The account of their origins is ludicrously bland -- just a "Oh, yes, we're ancient and powerful beings and we've all posed as Greek gods, and by the way, Hades is really evil and wants to take over the world, and we should probably stop him, and by the way for those of you who've wondered, that's who the Players are too. Tea?"
Second, it's way too long, and features a silly caricature of the Brigadier engaging in a silly "what-ho old top" adventure to defeat Hades... only to have the whole thing end in a literal deus ex machina. This should have been broken up into smaller chunks, and interspersed throughout the book to keep it from sticking in the reader's craw.
Third and fatally, it gives away most of the plot; when you reveal that Hades is an evil Greek god, and that Demeter, Persephone, and Hermes are good Greek gods who oppose him, and that Zeus is out there as well but is off contemplating his navel and isn't getting involved... well, when the Doctor shows up in a quiet English village and finds a three-person family with near-identical names to the Greek gods muttering about how they daren't try to stop "Him", the plot from here on is going to be an exercise in the characters finding out things the readers already know.
And the plot is a masterpiece of "generic Third Doctor", almost like they were working from a checklist. Brigadier being militaristic? Check. Doctor arguing with him? Check. Quiet little English village with something sinister going on? Check. Evil cult? Check. Master shows up? Check. Jo into "pop culture" in a way that seems oh-so-dated? Check. They've added an attempt to be socially conscious by lecturing on the evils of drug abuse, in an afterschool special sort of way, but otherwise this could come out of a Markov chainer fed with the scripts of the Pertwee era. And it ends with another bloody literal deus ex machina, to boot!
I'm probably being too hard on the book, truth to be told; after years and years of doing Target novelisations, we've probably been genetically conditioned to like Terrance's style of prose, and he always has a certain minimum standard of readability. So it's not totally bad. You'll be able to get through it. But Lord, it ain't good.