Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Stephen Cole highlights...

Now I have reached the end of the Stephen Cole period of the EDAs lets take a look at some of the best he offered us...

Vampire Science by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman
What's it all about?
The Doctor returns to San Francisco with freshman adventurer Sam to discover a gang of Vampires have been sighted. Some want to co-exist with humans but others want to see their days out in a blaze of glory, provoking a war as devastating as the one between the Vampires and the Time Lords. The Doctor has to use all his wits to negotiate with the creatures and makes a deadly bargain with one of their number, a bargain that could see his new body come to a blood-curdling climax...
Why is it so great? This is a book that lives and breathes America and for a show that primarily focuses on Britain for its alien invasions it is a welcome breath of fresh air. Characterisation is strong throughout with the guest characters coming into a league of their own. Carolyn was so popular at the time there were some fans that wished she could travel with the Doctor instead of Sam and in truth she works brilliantly against him. Through her eyes we get to witness the magic and the horror that the Doctor can bring to people's lives. Her husband James comes across as genuine, wanting to scarper as soon as things get edgy. Kramer is the new face of UNIT and she makes an excellent hardened career woman but is gentle enough to warn Sam away from the dangers that travelling with the Doctor will expose her too. Orman and Blum effortlessly write the book between them, their prose style is so seamless it could be just the one of them behind the typewriter. I really enjoyed experiencing Sam's terrifying experiences, she is such a cocky character it was wise to introduce her to the real life nightmares she would be facing. Her experiences in the nightclub are haunting. The book doesn't take the easy way out either, despite flirting with a naive Doctor who thinks he can solve everybody's problems. People die. The Doctor wins the final battle but there are casualties. It is an important lesson he would learn again and again throughout his run, this isn't Time's Champion anymore...
Triumphant lines:
"That didn't change the effect he had on the world around him. He was magic" "It's stupid, that's what it is. He takes so many foolish risks with people like you. Just ordinary people who don't have the training to walk around war zones... " "I just want you to know you have a choice. You don't have to go with him... " - Adrienne Kramer
"Different Vampires. Different rules. Adrienne you must listen to me. Start a war now and it could expand to engulf the Earth - and beyond." - The Doctor
"The Doctor did something Sam had never seen before. He screamed. She stumbled back from him in shock. He threw his arms in front of his eyes, desperate. The sun came up."
"I'm just a boarder. I could leave any time" - Sam
"I can tear down everything you care for, leave you alone and hunted, and all the while make sure they never kill you." - The Doctor
"They're all killers. I don't see why they should live." - Sam
"They're not dead. Not while there is still hope for them." - The Doctor
"This one would be a live kill. Give him the full sensory experience. She rasped her tongue on the man's neck, tasting dirt and skin. He whimpered, bewildered. I can't make you feel what you just made me feel, Doctor. But this will hurt you."
"Vampire Crack Squirrels, James thought, and wished he hadn't."
"Without someone to scare, someone to hurt, someone to kill, someone to feel superior to... what are you? Nothing? You're nothing, Slake!" - the Doctor.
People who say it far better than me...
Bloody Marvellous by Peter Anghelides ("The whole opening chapter is so well-constructed, I think it could stand as a short story in its own right.")
A review by Finn Clark ("If all the BBC Books had been this good, we'd now have a new novel coming out each week and American distributors beating down the BBC's door for the right to carry Doctor Who books.")

Alien Bodies by Lawrence Miles
What’s it all about? There is a building that does not exist where an auction in progress that should not take place. A guest list of oddballs are bargaining for the ultimate prize, the body of a Time lord. The Doctor is shocked to discover the Daleks are on their way…before he learns the body for sale is his own!
Why is it so great? Whoever said less is more? The books have always prided themselves as having a bigger canvas than the TV series, being able to produce the spectacle and realise the imagination in a way that a BBC designer could only dream of (head forward to Miles’ Interference for a good example of this). Where a TV production can shut a few good actors into one set with a good script and produce magic Miles works that trick into a novel, locking together the most impressive cast of characters we have yet seen in the novels. And yet in limiting the cast to one location transcends this and we get glimpses into the past, the future, other realities as we glimpses at these people’s lives. There is an incredibly exciting feeling of the Doctor Who universe being expanded with the introduction of the creepy and unnerving Faction Paradox, the glimpses of a Time War, the humanoid TARDISes, Sam’s dual timeline, the diabolical Celestis, the existential Mr Shift and more importantly the Doctor’s death. The possibilities feel endless. What’s more Miles has an excellent grasp of character and dialogue and makes this a ridiculously entertaining book whilst he is scaring us all to death with some very macabre ideas. This is the book that turned the EDAs from a tidy book series to risk taking engine of storytelling. Alien Bodies is about as good as Doctor Who literature comes; it is shocking, daring and imaginative, Lawrence Miles produces such an accomplished piece you don’t bat an eyelid that he has forgotten to include a narrative.
Triumphant lines:
‘Who Qixotl? Whose body is it?’ ‘Look I know you’re upset…’ ‘Whose body?’ ‘Yours,’ he squeaked. ‘Sorry.’
‘If you’re so determined to put the whole universe in jeopardy why didn’t you just go the whole hog? Why didn’t you just invite the Daleks?’ Pause. ‘You didn’t?’ At least Qixotl tried to look apologetic.
‘It means the Daleks you may have invited are a no show. The Krotons have come to take their place.’
‘Yup. Listen if it helps you’re not going to snuff it until…’
‘Who am I?’ Sam asked, ‘Who am I meant to be?’
People who say it better than me:
Universe in a Bottle by Mike Morris:
(“What is the premise of Alien Bodies then? Simple. A bunch of people meet up in a mysterious building in a forest, we find out their individual stories, and by so doing the tapestry of their universe unfolds before our eyes. And so, while one might think Alien Bodies is revolutionary, it's actually reminiscent of a very traditional type of story. Forget The Deadly Assassin; it's actually a SF descendant of The Canterbury Tales, or even more so The Castle Of Crossed Destinies. This is something which hasn't been done in Doctor Who before or since, largely because this type of book requires an amazing level of invention. Its purpose is to squeeze an entire universe into a single building and the stories of a few people, which is a hell of a trick to pull off, and Lawrence Miles does it so well that we don't even notice.”)
Wow by Robert Smith? (“In summary, this is a book that is simply a must read for DW fans everywhere. It reconfigures the Whoniverse, provides lots and lots of hints about what is to come in many of the important elements of the DW universe and is basically a fascinating read. It feels like everything that made DW good is back after an enforced absence. I certainly wouldn't want a book like this every month and I hope there are a number of completely separate story arcs waiting to be developed for the eighth Doctor line, but this is a first step in the right direction and it's a very good first step. This book isn't simply recommended, it's firmly placed on the 'required reading' list for any students of the DW universe.”)

Seeing I by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman
What is it all about?
Sam is homeless on the colony world of Ha'olam and trying to come to terms with the recent drama between her and the Doctor. The Doctor is trying to find her and for his efforts is soon confined to a hellish prison where everybody is nice. INC has acquired mysterious eye implants from an unknown alien source, a presence that is waiting in the shadows watching their progress. Can the Doctor and Sam rebuild their life together? Will they live to find each other and defeat the I... ?
Why is it so great? A plethora of reasons. It is a compliment to the skill of Orman and Blum's writing that I have skipped from their last novel to this and here they overcame the hurdle of co-writing a novel together but cutting the plot in two and each having a bloody good stab. After a string of novels that feels as though the Doctor and Sam are trapped in a childish soap OrmanBlum decide to deal with their rocky relationship with maturity and intelligence. Within the confines of Seeing I Sam is the BEST companion for the Eighth Doctor, accept no imitations because their separation proves (once and for all) how much they yearn to be a part of each other's lives and how much they love each other. The essential wrongness of their separation screams from every page and the trials they go through (Sam having to build up a new life on an alien planet, the Doctor experiencing psychological hell in prison) to reunite are convincing enough to make their relationship at the end of the novel far more interesting and balanced than it was before. It should be mentioned that the book takes a detour into SF land in the last third which completely shifts the story away from the regulars' personal lives but for the most part this is an outstanding straight drama unlike anything we have ever seen before or since. The Doctor has never come up against a greater adversary than his own isolation. In some memorably disturbing scenes his three years in prison almost drive him mad.
Triumphant lines...
"She can't be the first one who's had to build a life after being with the Doctor - hell, she'd already met a bunch of his ex-friends who had gone on fighting for what they'd believed in. If she had to damn well change everything about herself, she'd do it, and by the end of it she'd have a nice real job and a real place to live and a real her."
"Of course you realise this means war" - the Doctor.
"She realised she didn't really like the way he snored, and he got irritated when he had to tell her for the third time what his favourite colour was, and they both found themselves noticing the pauses in their conversations more and more" - in an incredible chapter of Sam's life she falls in and out of love, written in such a beautiful fashion it could only come from a writer who has experienced such pain.
"After a while the hunger stopped bothering me. I just switched it off. But the boredom... you can't switch that off. All the memories and meditations and word games simply dry up after a while. And you're left aware of every moment that passes. Every second. One after the other." - the Doctor sums up his imprisonment.
"Finally" - the Doctor's quiet admission when he is finally attacked in prison, at last he has something to fight.
"Three years of nothing" - the Doctor admits his horror in prison to Sam.
"And she planted an almighty smooch on his lips. When she broke away, she noted with some satisfaction that she felt absolutely no compunction to do it again." - to the relief of everyone, Sam is finally over the Doctor.
People who say it far better than me...
A review by Andrew McCaffrey ("There was one moment while in Seeing I where I cheered out loud. It was the passage in which Sam Jones (having run out on the Doctor in an earlier book) gets fed up with her boring, routine, desk-bound, nine-to-five job and quits to try to make a life for herself that means something. And this portion demonstrates the strength of this book. No longer is Sam merely Generic Companion #1, but a thinking, living, human character who's forced to deal with life after her first series of travels in the TARDIS.")
"Doctor, I love you" by Joe Ford ("This book comes close to being the perfect Doctor Who story without ever being a Doctor Who story at all. It is so far removed from anything I would recognise as Doctor Who and yet embodies so much of what I love about the show, and the book series in particular.")

The Scarlet Empress by Paul Magrs
What's it all about? The Doctor and Sam team up with the unforgettable Iris Wildthyme on Hyspero, a planet of impossible magic. They embark on a quest across deserts, mountains, forests and oceans to reunite the Four and overthrow the tyrant Scarlet Empress...
Why is it so great? The ultimate Doctor Who fantasy written by an author who wants to take the novel line away from human angst and remind you of the glorious enchantment of Doctor Who. It is Paul Magrs' best book for the BBC because of the density of the prose. Pick any page at random and you will find a glorious description or a priceless line of dialogue. He takes the reader on journey through a very alien world and involves his three central characters in some hilarious and dangerous situations. It is impossible to skip over the influence of the mighty Iris Wildthyme; the anti-Doctor in many ways (female, reckless and selfish) but so like him in others (an adventuress, heroic and fun to be around). Her debut is stunning, allowing the normally bland eighth Doctor to lock horns with this emotional Time Lady. If the Doctor were to fall in love with anybody, it would have to be Iris. Enjoy the spirits, djinns, alligator men and golden bears... this is a wild magic trip.
Triumphant lines...
"It happened to me. Seven of me were taken to the Death Zone on Gallifrey. Someone had reactivated the Games, they used to play there. Each of my selves, present, past and future, was given a relevant companion and playmate, and we were forced to battle our separate, and then collective ways, past Ice Warriors, Ogrons, Sea Devils, Zarbi, Mechanoids and Quarks, to get to the Dark Tower. Good job we only got the rubbishy monsters to battle, eh? It was that rogue Morbius behind it all. The rogue was after Rassilon's gift of immortality!" - one of several of Iris' story stealing from the Doctor. Paul Magrs pokes fun at the TV series and an army of anal fans brew up a storm.
"You've never been put on trial, exiled, summoned to carry out ridiculous tasks, dragged back to your ancestral home to atone for sins that weren't even yours... I think I rather envy you Iris. You've had, in many ways, the life I wanted for myself." - the Doctor.
"The storm chose this moment to break, and unleash a great, dark torrent upon Fortalice. Rain crashed on to the shabby rooftops and cascaded in the streets, creating instant floods which, gathering speed, seemed to be sluicing the townspeople away. The lightning cracked open the dense sky and was followed by the inevitable, bronchial mutter of thunder." - Magrs' formidable skill of description at work.
"You sound a mite like that last incarnation of yours. A portentous little feller, swaggering around, thinking he's got all the world's darkest secrets under his hat. Defending the secrets of time, indeed. Guardian of Forever. Time's Champion, my arse. You were a pretentious old thing then, Doctor, and you got on my nerves, frankly." - Iris sums up the seventh Doctor, rather brilliantly.
"A spider, a little larger than the original spider, fashioned entirely from silver and glass. Its brittle legs hissed and snapped and sparkled as it tested them out, as if it was a newborn creature. The ten eyes of the Duchess surmounted the original faceted eyes of the spider like a cluster of bright jewels studding the pommel of a sword. Those vastly improved eyes drank in the light" - wow.
People who say it better than me...
A review by Finn Clark ("A TARDIS journey for the first time is truly magical. This book is wonderful, in the strictest sense of the word. It's full of wonders.")
A review by Terrence Keenan ("Magrs is out to mess with readers' minds, fanboys' minds and give everyone and everything a V-sign/middle finger and boot in the rear. He does all this to get reactions, which is what challenging writers do... So, in The Scarlet Empress, Magrs is on a mission to play games with continuity, storytelling and anything else he can get away with. And this time, he succeeds.")

Interference (Books one and two) by Lawrence Miles
What's it all about? The Doctor investigates the Cold, a new weapon which makes people disappear instantly. Sam is kidnapped and taken to Anathema, home of the Remote, an offshoot of Faction Paradox. Fitz is frozen and woken up in the 26th century where the Faction kidnaps him. The third Doctor visits Dust after a conference with his eighth self, warning him that there could be possible interference in their time stream. What is the truth behind the deadly Cold? Who is the mysterious IM Foreman and what relevance does he have on the Doctor's life? And what is the fate of Fitz, trapped in the future and in the Factions grasp? And is this the end of Sam?
Why is it so good? It has scope like no other Doctor Who story, before or since. It takes a handful of characters and takes them down unpredictable, fascinating paths. The joy of the eighth Doctor line is its continuing story, which allows for terrific evolution for the characters. Interference goes one further by daring to mess around with previously written continuity, paradoxically killing the third Doctor and thus spreading an infection through his timeline until it reaches the eighth and he becomes a fully fledged member of the Faction. And what shocks! Sam leaves, befriending Sarah Jane (who makes a welcome return, written to perfection). The real Fitz is twisted into Father Kreiner, a Faction agent who hates the Doctor for his fate and the Fitz we leave the book with is merely a remembered version of the real thing. After two years of yawn-inducing adventures somebody has decided to shake up the regulars in a spectacularly dramatic fashion and it works a treat. Lawrence Miles writes like no other, his book full of twisted observations, hilarious dialogue, intelligent discussions and imaginative ways of telling a scene (scripting scenes, telling a chapter from each of the character's POVs). This is an incredibly brave book for the eighth Doctor range to put out, with consequences that change the series for the better. Packed full of clever, imaginative ideas and stunning characterisation, you can almost forget this is two hundred pages too long but nothing can take away from the power of the finished result.
Triumphant lines...
"The roundels were all turning pink as if the blood had been building up behind the walls, trying to burst through the access panels." - the third Doctor and Sarah face the console room filling with blood, a sure sign that they are moving from the innocent adventuring of old to the grimmer nightmares of the eighth Doctor's life.
"I feel as if I've walked into the middle of someone else's adventure." The third Doctor confirms our suspicions.
"I love you," said Sam. The Doctor looked up at the ceiling again. "Do you know, I know exactly what you mean by that" - the Doctor and Sam say goodbye.
"You're going to say I can't kill him. If I kill him now then his future selves will never have existed. But I don't care. I was with the Faction. I'm not going to let a Paradox get in my way." - Fitz wants to kill the Doctor, whatever body he is wearing, for abandoning him to the Faction.
"This is wrong" - the third Doctor's last line before he dies on Dust.
People who say it better than me...
Deconstructing the Doctor by Marcus Salisbury ("Interference renewed my fascination with a series I've watched, on and off, since the mid-1970s. This is Doctor Who truly holding its own with the greats of science fiction, and there really is no higher praise.")
It's so bloody big by Mike Morris ("It's impossible for me to go into specifics without giving the game away. But this book is wonderful, completely fucks around with continuity and leaves you re-evaluating the series, and completely fucks up your head while you're at it. You can get annoyed about this if you like, but why bother? Why not just enjoy what you're reading, and dump as many preconceptions about Doctor Who as you can?")

The Shadows of Avalon by Paul Cornell
What's it all about? The Brigadier's wife, Doris, is dead and he joins the TARDIS crew in Avalon, an other-dimensional kingdom. The TARDIS has been destroyed and the Doctor is marooned and caught in the crossfire as the British Army arrives in force to explore the Land of Dreams. Gallifreyan agents wreck havoc during the negotiations and before anybody realises it war breaks out. Can the Doctor save the world, his best friend and himself?
Why is it so great? Paul Cornell said he hated this book in a recent DWM, which I find hard to swallow because it has always been one of my favourites. He is the angst king, he puts his characters through real emotional turmoil and he has a fine target here in the Brigadier. Grieving for his wife, it is possibly the best exploration of this character in print to date with some scenes (carrying the wounded soldier to safety) enough to bring tears to your eyes. The central plot is fascinating and explores humanity in a very negative light as we bring our guns and bombs to the Land of Dreams. The eighth Doctor gets one of his best interpretations to date, an engaging mix of boyish charm and hidden aggression as he is stripped of everything he holds dear. Some of the scenes between him and the Brigadier bristle with emotion. It is a real treat to return to Gallifrey and the regenerated Romana, the black haired bitch, is now the enemy. Shocking developments with Compassion as she unexpectedly becomes a TARDIS and bringing the series full circle as the Doctor is once again on the run from his own people. A beautiful story of loss and life, written in Cornell's trademark style.
Triumphant lines...
"The TARDIS exploded into a ball of flame and matter" - gasp!
"So you dare to do this in the Land of Dreams?" the Doctor whispered. "Such arrogance. Such interference. There's bound to be a war you know?" - the Doctor condemns the invasion of Avalon.
"You never used to be a hypocrite Alistair. Whatever's happened to you, this regeneration doesn't suit you."
"Finally he nodded to himself. He was finished here. 'Sorry to keep you waiting dear.' He started to squeeze the trigger." - the Brigadier on the brink of suicide.
The Brigadier squatted beside him. 'Don't be ridiculous, Private. If I got killed...' And the thought suddenly struck him that what he was about to say was true. That, incredibly it must have been true when he started this walk. He found himself smiling at how ridiculous it was that he had come all this way to discover that. 'If I got killed then I couldn't get you home'" - a life-affirming message as the Brigadier realises there are still reasons to live.
"'You can't fight history,' she said, quite calmly 'We'll catch up with you. We'll take back the type 102 and have our new race of time capsules. There's nowhere in the universe you can hide from us'" - Romana issues her threat as the Doctor escapes in his spanking new Compassion TARDIS.
People who say it better than me...
A review by Mike Morris ("On this point, something else became clear to me as I read the book. The Eighth Doctor is no longer McGann. When reading, say, a PDA, the ultimate test of whether the Doctor is well written or not is whether you can visualise the actor saying the words. Not here, not any more. The Eighth Doctor has fully evolved into a print-Doctor, free from the tyranny of our TV-sodden minds. And the writers recently seem to be revelling in this.")
When did the EDAs become good? by Robert Smith? ("For the first time in a very long time, the EDAs are interesting. I'm left desperately wondering where things are going from here and that's a very nice feeling indeed. A feeling I haven't felt since the NAs.")

The Banquo Legacy by Andy Lane and Justin Richards
What's it all about? Scientist Richard Harries is preparing to push the boundaries of science further, this time the science of the mind. He is attempting an experiment to share thoughts with his sister. The equipment overloads and Richard is tragically killed. But foul play is apparent when his corpse staggers to his feet and starts attacking the gathered guests at Banquo Manor... The Doctor is concerned, Compassion is under attack, a Time Lord agent has tracked them down and it is perfectly obvious that their time on the run is coming to an end...
Why is it do great? One of the most atmospheric Doctor Who books written, thanks to the perfectly captured period details and the spine-chilling horror of the situation. It is a welcome return of Andy Lane to the novel line, easily one of the most accomplished novelists and teaming up with one of the current greats. Together they create a fabulous murder mystery, told from the first person of two very different characters. Suspicion is rife in the house and with a killer on the loose and a Time Lord agent to uncover, the sense of paranoia is palpable. The last third takes a lurch into zombie territory but does so with such aplomb it is hard not to applaud the authors for their From Dusk Till Dawn -style genre twist. Some of the scenes with the blackened, bloody Richard Harries terrorising the Doctor and his friends are memorably scary and the uncovering of his sister as the culprit is a stroke of genius. The climax is also superbly judged with time running out for the Doctor, the Time Lords finally know where he is...
Triumphant lines...
"'The control is not subconscious. We know exactly what we are doing. We have always known.' Baker's mouth dropped open, and with the immaculate timing of melodrama and the precision of the commedia dell'arte, Richard Harries' bloodied form stepped into the doorway beside his sister..." - my favourite moment of the book. A real "oh shit" scene.
"The light gleamed greasily from the exposed of the skull, and the line of his teeth was a malicious smile matched in his one remaining eye." - ewww. "The broken, blackened face of Richard Harries stared down at us from the window, his own single remaining eye catching the moonlight and blazing as if it were again burning, melting, dripping like its twin from its socket." - double ewww.
"As we plunged back into the woodland I saw Harries' dead face watching us from the shattered window of the shed, framed by splintered glass." - I could keep quoting these nightmarish images all day!
People who say it better than me...
Superb stuff by Robert Smith? ("The murder mystery style of the book works far, far better than Yet Another Horror Novel, as I thought we'd be getting. The clues are very nicely presented and the plot twists and turns sublimely. The search through the house, with chapters lasting less than a page, is astonishingly gripping stuff.")
Totally brilliant by Richard Radcliffe ("From its macabre cover, to the personal reminisces of Stratford and Hopkinson - this is gothic Dr Who at its very best. Lane and Richards have taken all the aspects of gothic Who and grafted it into a story rich in interest and excitement.")

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