(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide on April 16, 2002.)
Instruments of Darkness is certainly head and shoulders above Russell's last output for the line, but it's still not that good. IoD is readable in spots -- very readable, in fact. When Russell is doing a James-Bondian thriller with mysterious Magnates, sinister albinos, deranged Networks, and all that, it's very interesting indeed. Then the Doctor shows up, and the whole thing seems to come to a screeching halt.
Part of the problem is Evelyn Smythe. She's not a Mary-Sue, technically, but it's certainly grating to have her show up and have the Doctor go on for pages and pages about what a great companion she was, and how he misses her terribly, and how she can single-handedly take on Dalek armies, and how her touch can cure scrofula, and... wittering on about characters he's created is Russell's primary sin in this book. The Irish twins, Trey Korte, Bob Lines... everyone makes an "old home week" reappearance in this book, despite the fact that nobody's been clamoring for their return to begin with.
The eventual revelation of the villains is right out of an old Star Trek episode, and their defeat is right out of a ST:TNG one (ie, lumps of technobabble in place of a plot resolution). All in all, the book degenerates fast after a promising start. But it did have a promising start, at least...