Monday, 10 May 2010

Shakedown by Terrance Dicks

Plot: The Doctor, Chris and Roz and Bernice are all on different planets trying to follow the trial of a Rutan with a big secret. On the run from the Sontarans, the Rutan takes refuge on the solar yacht Tiger Moth. The ensuing bloodbath sees that one side might finally win in the never-ending war between these two species…

Master Manipulator: Zzzzzzzz…oh sorry I nodded off. Lets be honest this is Terrance’s standard Doctor model, heroic, sensitive, and mild and its boring as sin. He managed to give the Doctor real spice in Exodus and Blood Harvest but this is just a copy and paste job from many of his target novels. The Doctor does very little of consequence in this novel, stands up to the Sontarans and the Rutans, but then any of the others would behave in pretty much the way. There is none of the madness of Head Games or the chilled out behaviour of The Also People, it once again feels like we are reading about a completely different character. One who is bland and forgettable. He gets on better with riff raff than he does officials.

Boozy Babe: Bernice visits a university and disappears for 100 pages of a 233 page long book. Enough said.

Stroppy Copper: More surface characterisation. Roz spends most of the book rolling her eyes at Chris.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Once again we are drawn to Chris’ naiveté. Why do I get the impression he is heading for some serious hurt. He strokes a blokes arm and wonders why he thinks he is getting frisky. He is described as a slow thinker but a fast reactor. He is so dumb he believes everything the Doctor says (what, despite being tricked into committing genocide just two books earlier!). He is a seven foot toddler with in insatiable curiosity.

Twists: A sea of ice with mist floating over the top and a desert planet with gleaming spires and ornithopters sees Terrance at his visual best. As Roz and Chris corner the Rutan things get very bloody, eviscerations and decapitations! The Shakedown section is probably the best of the book, fast paced and brutal.

Embarrassing Bits: Page 21 – Uncle Terry is writing gay jokes!

Result (the book): Shakedown is an attempt to do something different in the range, an extended novelisation of the Dreamwatch production. Unfortunately this feels as though it was written in a terrible rush by an author who does not suit the rougher tone of the books these days. Terrance has already written two very good New Adventures but this slim thriller does not make the grade. His handling of the regulars is awful, especially in comparison to the sharp characterisation of them in the next novel and Bernice disappears for the length of a bible. Admittedly the Sontaran/Rutan conflict is brought into sharp focus (but lets face it is a joke in comparison to the revelations about their races in Lance Parkin’s The Infinity Doctors) and we are made to realise just why this is so important to the galaxy but the feather-light prose, modest dialogue and lack of any real surprises really makes this a tiresome effort: 3/10

Result (the video): Now this is more like it. Astonishing how in the hands of a decent director the same material that bored me rigid in the printed version can be so gripping. It doesn’t matter that the casting is made up of old Who and Blake’s 7 actors, the performances are great and the actors really do suit the roles they have been given. Carole Ann Ford is a real eye opener as super bitch Zorelle and Jan Chappel makes a surprisingly believable leader. The Sontarans have never looked better (and I include their return visit in New Who) and the script beautifully highlights their alien qualities and love of war, making them a formidable force. Some of the set pieces, the solar sail drill, the boarding of the Tiger Moth, the airlock bomb conclusion are superbly shot. For a low budget production this is quite lush and expensive looking with a fantastic musical score. My favourite spin off video: 9/10

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