Sunday, 14 February 2010
Original Sin by Andy Lane
Plot: Adjudicators Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester are assigned to a murder case in the Undercity and their chief suspects are a pair of interlopers called the Doctor and Bernice Summerfield. Little do any of them know what this meeting will mean to their futures. Little does the Doctor know that an old, old enemy is lurking in the shadows, waiting to spring his trap…
Master Manipulator: I think we are here at last. In the last three New Adventures the writers have established a seventh Doctor that I just love spending time with. Andy Lane has always had a firm grasp on the character (certainly his joint handling of him in Lucifer Rising was masterful). These days he is quirky, silly, powerful and eccentric…gone is the self pity and loathing that characterised some of the earlier books, replaced with a Time Lord with a new lease of life. I think his stint as a human had a much more profound effect than anybody realised.
Human emotions aren’t the Doctor’s strongpoint. He was notoriously devious (I’ll say!), he has a propensity for sudden escapes and amazing reversals of fortune. Galactic crises, near death experiences, hair raising risks, all of these things Bernice had seen him shrug off with a smile and a merry quip. But take the TARDIS away and he went t pieces. It was as if he couldn’t function properly without it (This has been brought up several times recently…the Doctor’s dependency on the TARDIS is becoming something of a defining characteristic). He doesn’t like robots, at least Daleks and Cybermen (heehee) have emotions you can play on. One of many marvellous comic moments with the Doctor comes when he tries to rescue Bernice wearing a robot costume…and fails miserably! Sometimes the Doctor doesn’t know if he is serious or not. Brilliantly one scene sees the Doctor poking around in the exposed brains of a soldier with Chris throwing up to one side. He disapproves of all Empires that have taken it into their heads to treat others as though their opinions aren’t important. Go and read pages 141-143…this is the seventh Doctor as played by Patrick Troughton: “I’m going to need a tin opener to get out of this!” He has endured agony time and again rather than lie down and give up. Sometimes, in his darkest moments, he suspected that more people died because of his interference than lived. But still he struggled, still he fought. He is afraid of dying he realises, surprising himself. The Doctor admits that killing can be justified. He balances the eventual outcomes and decides that the death of one person or a handful of people was worth it to keep more people alive. His scenes with Pryce are superb, he really sweats under the murderer’s moral scrutiny. He likes planets at peace with themselves. The Doctor abhors evil, he fights on behalf of the innocent. He admits: ‘I am times champion, and it is my responsibility to protect history.’ He is tortured so much at the conclusion he feels the shadow of the eighth Doctor looming over him. In a moment of madness (or possibly clarity) the Doctor beheads Vaughn. He was better than any gun, not quite as impressive at a casual glance, but far more effective, and didn’t need reloading. Just shutting up occasionally. You get a glimpse of his relationship with the TARDIS at the end of the novel, it soothing him with temporal energy and the Doctor admitting to the ship it will be ‘just like the good old days’ to have a full ship again.
Boozy Babe: The Doctor/Benny relationship continues to impress…whilst I don’t think the series lends itself to have a one Doctor/one companion for any great length of time it has worked a charm for the last three books. Unless the New Adventures can continue this level of quality their relationship may see the range at its peak.
If there was one thing Bernice had learnt about in her time with the Doctor, it was death. Living with the Doctor was like living in a huge restaurant full of the finest food and wine in the universe. For a while it was fun but after a while you crave bacon and eggs and a cup of tea. She ponders her age…33. Wasn’t it time she did something with her life more than rushing around after the Doctor? Wow, that’s some real development. She had spent the formative years of her adolescence in a clapped out trader. Like her or loathe her, and Benny had done both in her time, she had left an Ace shaped hole that would take a long time to fill. To calm herself down during a tense moment she thinks of chocolate mousse, gentle lapping waters and birdsong. She had a period of moping after Ace left where she read poetry in the TARDIS.
Stroppy Copper: I was never one to pre-judge how something was going to work so when Chris and Roz were introduced to the range I was that bothered that they were a pair of coppers. What’s more both characters have a fine beginning here, laying out their strengths and weaknesses and proving great fun to read about. Of the two of them Roz is easily my favourite, simply because she is such a stroppy bitch and because she clearly has such strong feelings about things but doesn’t let them out quite as much as the naïve and goofy Chris.
She is hot on fairness. When she realises Chris is to be a her new squire she admits he looks about as happy about this as she does. Roz’s hatred of aliens is interesting, first because this is subtly entered into the book as a sign of the times but then as you realise her memories have been changed to think that an alien killed her ex partner there is some hope that the Doctor can take her to exotic planets and bring her around. She feels a mild attraction to Chris (but we wont hold that against her). She was slightly claustrophobic from spending too many nights in shelters, her first taste of the real that her family’s riches had managed to shield her from for so many years. Proud of their pure bred African Xhosa heritage, they had refused to mix with ‘inferior’ humans. They had held themselves aloof, like Gods…until the Wars came along. Forced into the deep shelters, Roz had made friends with other children and suddenly realised how barren her life had been. She considering signing up with anyone…just to get away from home. In the end she had been put off by the calibre of people she had met. She signed up with the Adjudicators because they were intelligent people who cared about justice. She feels uncomfortable with effusive hospitality. We discover that Roz killed her ex partner when she followed him and realised he was a bent copper, he went to kill her first. A bounty is put on hers and Chris’ heads…so they agree to join the Doctor on his adventures.
Puppy Dog Eyes: Oh Chris, Chris Chris…whereas I fell for Roz straight away it took me a lot longer to fall for Chris’ charms. Or lack of. He’s just so wet…or should that be wet behind the ears? You can see what Andy lane was working towards…a naïve, eager to please, nice as pie muscle boy. Perfect for storytelling purposes because he is so appalled at the evils of the universe. In print I am with Roz, grudging acceptance. If I met him in real life I would probably be trying to get in his pants five days of the week.
He is described as blond, muscular and extremely naïve. For some bizarre reason he has a body bepple which gives him blond fur that makes him look like a teddy bear but fortunately a near death experience with severe burns pretty much fries it all away. Hurrah. He doesn’t drink on duty. Roz felt he played the wild eyed and innocent card too often. Described as a tall teddy bear. Once we meet his parents, very mothering and lovely…everything starts to make sense. His bedroom is full of model spaceships, bless him. He was an idealist.
Continuity: By the end of this book I couldn’t decide if the continuity overload was a good thing or a bad thing so I thought I would put in a section of its own! I usually hate it when writers crowbar continuity references into stories (McIntee, Russell and Hinton are the worst offenders, sorry guys) but in the case of Original Sin it almost works. Andy Lane has created a really vivid future Earth here and dragging in so many Doctor Who stories so it feels rooted in the series works rather well. I just wish there weren’t quite so many of them. Here goes:
Spearhead from Space (creepy), Colony in Space (well meaning), Revenge of the Cybermen (illogical), The Gunfighters (cuddlesome), Curse of Peladon (naïve), The Leisure Hive (clinical), The Sensorites (uneven), The Krotons (refreshingly short), The Power of Kroll (underrated), Keeper of Traken (poetic), Destiny of the Daleks (tired old tat), The Two Doctors (masterful scripting), The War Games (epic), The Three Doctors (underwhelming), Planet of the Spiders (moving), Brain of Morbius (atmospheric), Terror of the Zygons (chilling), Genesis of the Daleks (classic), Galaxy 4 (tedious), The Ribos Operation (charming), Frontier in Space (entertaining), The Sun Makers (darkly satirical), Death to the Daleks (fun), The Invasion (classy), The Ice Warriors (solid), The Android Invasion (trite), The Green Death (heart-warming), Robot (cartoonish), The Tenth Planet (creaky), The Moonbase (sterile), The Wheel in Space (characterful), The Chase (a laugh), Attack of the Cybermen (vicious), Invasion of the Dinosaurs (endearing).
I’m sure there are more and I know spotted lots of book references but they can slip by unnoticed. Andy Lane has turned continuity into a fine art, using it to define and shape his world. Bravo.
Twists: Hold on to your hats…Earth in the 30th Century is a planet divided: the population of the Earth live in the Overcities which has become the equivalent of the surface of the Earth. The Undercity (what you and I would call the surface of the planet now) is neglected by all except the underdwellers. Glebe has his head sliced off at a processing point. Purgatory is a planet split up into hexagonal environments. There is a lovely sequence where Michael van Looft destroys his ex boyfriends apartment block from orbit. The scene from the POV of a murderous and very horny Private Fazakerli where he cannot decide whether to rape Benny with a gun or simply murder her is certainly an eye opener. The Doctor compares the Earth Empire with the Daleks. The story of Zebulon Pryce lurking in the ventilation shaft and his roomful of skeletons is deliciously scary. A planet orbiting inside the photosphere of a sun…the Doctor is never surprised at mans singular ability in finding uncomfortable places to imprison other men. As soon as you realise the villain is somebody from the Doctor’s past my mind went reeling. The Landskneche found the Hith ship and wanted Pryce to discover its secrets but working with real Icaron technology drove him mad. This ship is now on Earth being dismantled which is why people are being driven insane. Body beppled human beings are especially vulnerable to icaron radiation. TARDISes live in the vortex and only emerge into reality under protest and with much encouragement. The radiation from the ship only escapes when the hyperspace portal is open which is why the attacks are intermittent. Pryce destroys the Nexus before they can turn off the radiation and is hot to death. When the towers of the Overcity start sinking below the atmosphere the shit has really hit the pan! The villain is revealed as…Tobias Vaughn…and his entrance is superbly handled. He has waited 1000 years to catch up with the Doctor, he has tried intercepting him on his various trips to Earth and failed. Vaughn had other bodies when he was shot by the Cybermen and he was transmitted to another shell in New York. ‘How thinly have you spread yourself Vaughn?’ his mind is in every single INITEC robot. He built BOSS and funded Professor Kettlewell’s robotic experiments. He considers himself the protector of the Earth. He wants the Doctor to take him back so he can obtain his old body and feel again. He is beheaded in spectacular fashion.
Funny: The Doctor thinks about the TARDIS: ‘If Tegan can do it, anyone can!’
Result: Another powerhouse, albeit not quite as good as the last two. Any book that I can write over four pages about must be packed with detail and much interest and the world building that Andy Lane achieves in this book is breathtaking. Earth in the 30th Century lives and breathes in this book. New companions Chris and Roz make an instant impression and the Doctor and Bernice continue their excellent chemistry established in the last two books. The book uses continuity abusively but somehow manages to work it into the story that enhances the setting rather than annoying the reader. The are some marvellous characters here and the dialogue is top notch throughout. In practically every way Lane has written a flawless SF novel. Except one. The Hithis. What a boring, underwhelming species. There are far too many long scenes with one of them moping about, bringing the fast pace of the book to a screaming halt. Frankly the ship could have belonged to any other, far more interesting, species and I could have given another book top marks. Still, with its epic narrative that explores several planets and its nail biting conclusion that sees the memorable return and dispatch of a Doctor Who villain, this is a book to savour. Especially for its little details: 9/10