Saturday, 24 October 2009

Heart of TARDIS by Dave Stone

Plot: The universe is about to ripped apart by an unstable dimensional rift but that sort of thing happens every week so the Doctor is far more interested in answering a call to his old pal Lethbridge Stewart. Another Doctor entirely has landed the TARDIS in an American town which wont let him out or even back into his ship. How on Earth can these two events be related?

Oh my Giddy Aunt and Teeth and Curls: I am so glad that the second and fourth Doctor’s don’t meet up in this story (although they nearly do, skip down to the Funny Bits section and see how the fourth Doctor hilariously manages to stop from meeting himself!) not only because they are both such terrible scene stealers and the dramatic structure of the universe cannot hold with the pair of them attempting to steal the limelight…and also it means there is a reasonable explanation as to why the fourth Doctor does not remember the events of this story because the second Doctor is caught up in an entirely different part of it. The 2nd Doctor is captured rather well, his manic energy and contemplative nature both used to good effect. He only has a passing acquaintance with the technicalities of the TARDIS and insists on divining them himself usually with tragic results. An otherworldly genius the Doctor might be but it was a genius and otherworldliness, on occasion, of an idiot savant or a child. A fumbling, if fundamentally good intentioned intelligence with no real sense of it’s actions. If the Doctor ever met God he would pull on his beard to see if it came off! He carries a vague and innate sense of shabbiness. When emerging from some violent danger, he acts as if he fully expects himself to be some other form at times and is surprised when he is not. He never seemed to get along with America. He possesses senses of remarkable acuity. He switches personas, a silly little hobo (he was most comfortable with this one and took pains to preserve it), a man of action, a scientific genius and a stern patrician. His attitude is if you simply lived in and enjoyed the moment it left you confident and relaxed to deal with whatever it was that moment might bring.

The 4th Doctor is better, I feel because he is more at home with his surroundings (spatial and temporal madness) than the 2nd (psychotic America). His eyes said, continue to impede me any further and anything could happen. He owns the place, getting others to do his bidding by simply asking with the air that refusal was unthinkable. He brisks through the story with absolute confidence and smugness, tapping off one witty statement after another, thinking up ingenious schemes to escape from situations and refusing to be intimidated, even by higher beings who could turn his mind to raspberry jam. You’ve gotta love him!

Victorian Orphan: Astonishingly, the best piece of characterisation in this entire book comes with a little package I like to call Victoria Waterfield. Despite being largely peripheral to the overall story I was amazed at how good her scenes were. I expect Dave Stone’s books to be crazy, brimming with unutterable madness and over the top characterisation. I do not expect a portrayal of a televised character so far in advance of anything anyone has done with her before, written with clarity, honesty, a touch of sauciness and radical alienation. Colour me damn well impressed! Victoria is recording certain events appendant to her latest adventures in the style of a Jules Verne romance, just in case anyone every finds it, reads it and thinks she is certifiable. Pages 163-166 are amazingly good, seen through Victoria’s eyes an American mall is as disconcerting and weird as an alien city. She keeps experiencing culture shocks such as toothbrushes and electric stairs! Much of the magic of the 2nd Doctor is seen here through the eyes of Victoria. She is portrayed as being slightly haughty, extremely intelligent and surprisingly versatile. Very impressive.

Who’s the Yahoo’s: There was something reassuring about Jamie’s solid, kilted form. Every period after his own is magical in Jamie’s eyes, no matter how much the Doctor tries to convince him otherwise. He kills the last ever Gallifreyan wolrat because Victoria screamed at it, leading the Doctor to set him an assignment at the books close to repeatedly write out: I MUST NOT STICK BIG KNIFES IN EXTINCT ANIMALS JUST BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE THE LOOK OF THEM. Except he makes lots of spelling mistakes.

Universe Virgin: Romana is Stone’s other surprise hit. It is unfortunate the because of the Key to Time’s linking season that Romana I is given little room to breathe in the novels, of all the characters that could do with some character and livening up, it is her. However Stone pitches practically perfect here, miles away from the innocent intelligence from Tomb of Valdemar (as good as that was!) and more of a super intelligent, hyper arrogant and utterly unimpressed space baroness. Basically this is Mary Tamm’s performance in The Ribos Operation times 100, 000, 000. And a million times funnier. And hugely perceptive. Here Romana rivals her predecessor for sardonic wit and omni-intelligence (a feat I would have thought impossible). She’s also a bit of a babe. Romana decides to regenerate herself a smaller, more compact body when she can find the time. She broadcasts a sense of flat disdain as though she had seen everything your world has to offer and was, frankly, unimpressed. She finds idyllic countryside unconsciously sloppy and wasteful and can divert poisons straight into her waster producing organs. She is quintessentially English, oh so superior in a way that sets your teeth on edge. Foreboding: The fourth Doctor gets to experience the other half of this adventure and realise his part in the interior of the singularity. The second Doctor, for now, remains blissfully unaware that his other self is involved but to his credit the fourth Doctor slaps his own hand when he realises he was tinkering with his earlier selves TARDIS. Oh my god ive gone boss eyed.

Twists: Is it me or are the covers getting better? Who wouldn’t want to read this? Never underestimate asterisks. The Pit of Utter and Excruciating Torture is mentioned but we never get to visit. In a moment of brilliant self-awareness, Norman realises that movies never touch on the things that are real and important. The Collectors are a brilliant invention, the way they talk is hilarious and the Big Huge and Educational Collection of Galactic Old Stuff might just be a diversion, but it’s a damn clever one. It is revealed that in Russell T Davies’ Queer as Folk, when Vince is given a K.9 for his birthday it is in fact the real thing! Because the Doctor keeps leaving him behind and turning the universe upside down trying to retrieve him, K.9 might very well be the single oldest lump of matter in the universe. Thatcher thinks UNIT is: a disruptive, internationalist holdover from the bad old days of labour government, using its unearned status time and again to block and countermand the processes of the nations central government. Apparently Rassilon came across the glorious secrets of Time Travel by way of pinching one of the translation belts of that species who attacked us in the Time Wars in retaliation for things we did to them before we’d ever heard of them in the first place. Lychburg bears a remarkable similarity to Springfield. The Brigadier is kidnapped and Provisional want to take over from UNIT, using this subversion as an excuse to move in. The 2nd Doctor and friends are trapped in Lychburg; they can never enter the TARDIS or leave the town and to make matters worse the citizens are brutally murdering each other, casually. It is revealed that the 4th Doctor is the man the entire raid on UNIT was set up to snare. High Councillor Wblk and the Time Lords allowed the Doctor and Romana to escape because they were heading exactly where they wanted them! [The answers are long awaited in Heart of TARDIS and for a while you might think that Dave Stone has just been making this all up as he goes along (hehehehe, no seriously). After World War II the military captured the town of Lychburg and brainwashed its citizens into believing whatever the military wanted. They made them believe hell was arriving and in doing so opened a dimensional rift. The rift turned unstable when a prototype Gallifreyan TARDIS, one of the many experiments they sent off into the universe until they perfected the devices, collided with it with a lone Gallifreyan woprat on board. The States dropped a warhead on Lychburg to tidy their mess under the carpet and shunted it into another dimension and the woprat became the focal intelligence for the thousands of minds still trapped in Lychburg. Unfortunately the 2nd Doctor’s collision with the singularity destabilised Lychburg again. There I hope that’s perfectly clear now!]. Romana materialises the TARDIS in a space containing itself to create a nexus point. Crowley summoned a Jarakabeth demon who has been using his body ever since his death. He wants to break down the curtains between dimensions and engulf the universe in primal chaos. The image of 1000’s of people screaming making a giant humanoid shape, also screaming, attempting to crack the TARDIS open like a coconut is absolutely boggling. When Jamie kills the woprat, Lychburg collapses in on itself but fortunately the 2nd Doctor fiendishly saves everybody by rushing them all into the TARDIS. The fight between the two Jarakabethan’s is astonishing and the Brigadier gets to save the day just by being human.

Funny Bits: Its not a matter that the Doctor cannot steer the TARDIS, more a case of the Time Lords have set up a failsafe should anyone steal such a device that you should never end up where you want to be.
It is suggested that the Daleks faked the destruction of their own planet just to hide from the Collectors (hahaha…in your face War of the Daleks!).
The Doctor is taken out of time because the universe is on the brink of being torn apart: “Once again. That’s all the only reason you people in the High Council ever seem to want to talk to us these days and I really wish a subjective fortnight would go by where you don’t!”
When the Doctor cannot enter the TARDIS he tries the cat flap and then climbs on to the roof and attempts to prise off the central beacon (I would love to see Troughton try this!).
“Yon lads had it in their right minds to try a bit of monkey business but they thought better of it when I showed ‘em me dirk.” “You did say dirk, didn’t you?”
Victoria thinks she might die on the spot from a apoplectic seizure when the Doctor books the three of them one room in a sex hotel and worse tells the attendant he’ll let him know if they need an extra hand!
There is a brilliant Stone-ism on page 98, the sort of thing only this writer could come up with (The Doctor turned to look out of the page at the reader with no amount of small concern. “I only hope we can get there in time without doing something completely stupid.”)
The 2nd Doctor is so shocked that he hasn’t informed Jamie and Victoria about the murders the only way to actually tell them is to pretend he has already done so, that they have forgotten and that (tiresome though it is) he has to tell them all over again.
Thatcher is described as a ‘rabid old trout’ and the UK government: “do you really think this tin pot little island has any say in anything?”
The 2nd Doctor gets bored with watching the grace of the ice skaters so half inches a pair himself and reduces the ice rink to complete and utter chaos!
The Doctor realises that things are going horribly wrong when the TARDIS swimming pool fills with marmosets and blue custard and the walls decorate with tartan.
Brilliantly the transit between this dimension and Lychburg means the Doctor and Romana have 15 years worth of adventures before they get there, and unfortunately 15 years of adventures on the way back (hey, there’s a lovely excuse for more 4th Doctor and Romana stories!). Hilariously, the 4th Doctor and Romana are hiding under the console and the 2nd Doctor, Jamie and Victoria bustle around.
Romana realises with some disdain that hers and the Doctor’s only contribution to this entire endeavour is to get the 2nd Doctor’s TARDIS doors open so they can save the day. The Doctor reminds her that it is the little things in life that count.
Result: Potty in a way we never knew existed; his time away from writing Doctor Who novels has clearly done Dave Stone the world of good. Whilst his posterity for asides in favour a fast moving plot still seems very much apparent this novel is far too innovative and imaginative to be criticised. If you are a patient reader you will eventually be led to a stunning conclusion with the rest packed like sardines with insane but clever ideas, armpit tickling gags, crisp writing and some pretty marvellous imagery. You would have thought Stone would be made for the unpredictability of Doctor(s) two and four but whilst they are good the real wealth of this book lies with Victoria and Romana, both of which are written with astonishing honesty. If you like to be spoon fed read on because Prime Time is coming, those of you who like a challenge (and a laugh) will adore this: 9/10

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