Saturday, 30 October 2010
Plot: The Stormcore, a device that can control the weather and open the dimensions has let a creature through. A creature with no form, no understanding, just pure emotion caught in the heart of a storm. Soon it is lashing out, menacing the town of New Hampshire…
Teeth and Curls: The Doctor can usually find his way home through any storm, like a racing pigeon. He had an air of being totally at home with the lost. Leela observes he wears the costume of a madman. The Doctor was very like the hero in the elder’s tale, charging on and ignoring the protests of his most loyal warriors (hah!). Given that the air had to escape over such a wall of teeth the power of the Doctor’s voice was phenomenal (I love this!). There was gravity too in his face and eyes that could stare down an owl. He works for UNIT part time these days and is a freelance, a traveller. He was the strangest of strangers, like a father seen through the eyes of a child. He had a brooding presence and poured heavy thoughts in to every corner. The Doctor watched everything from under his silly hat but didn’t often seem very interested. When he was bored he likes to let people know that he’s bored. He never panics, he expresses urgency. Nobody had ever worked him out past the 7th decimal place. The Doctor likes laboratories to makeshift, a home from home. He wields criticism and encouragement like twin prongs on a pitchfork. His eyes are described as looming over as twin moons, and an ill omen. He wasn’t so old that he couldn’t see through the eyes of child. Taking chances was something hr did naturally. The Doctor has the nerve to suggest that if he drives the TARDIS drunk he will have no idea where they end up!
It astonishes me that people think that Simon A. Forward hasn’t captured the season fourteen/fifteen Doctor. Go and read the above paragraph again.
Noble Savage: Leela thought the snow was the land at the end of the world. She thinks the wind has teeth and that there is a predatory beauty to coyotes. She is an excellent scout – capable of finding a needle in a snowstorm. Beautifully she describes the snow as: the heavens shedding their cold ashes. She faces a snowstorm and remembers that on any world nature crafted foes that could not be fought. And faced with enemies of natures making, honour is not an issue. She moved with an animals instincts, her knife emerged like a pumas claw. She is no alien to danger. She is described by (guess who?) a ‘young lady with limited social graces.’ She is a tough chick, agile and vicious.
Twists: White Shadow burst in on a cultist shootout to find the house empty. White Shadow is a search and recovery team, seeking out alien artefacts. A plane went down over the mountain but the Stormcore was missing and they are attempting to recover it. The Curt/Amber/Mackenzie/Martha/Morgan relationships genuinely enrich the book. There is a lovely Blair Witch creepiness in the early scenes – Simon A. Forward scaring us with people’s reactions to an unknown enemy. When the ice creature manifests itself there is a truly horrific death – Bartelli rots away as he struggles, unravelling in a wire mesh vortex woven from ice. After escaping the house it is incinerated by a grenade launcher. The Stormcore was going to be used as a weapon against the enemy, directing storms to ground targets. Amber, trapped by coyotes in an abandoned house, is terrifying. The ice creature traps the town, causing Martha to swerve off the road onto an icy lake; mother and daughter cling to each other as the creature reaches out with talons of thorny ice… Amber can communicate with the creature. Theroux and Parker are revealed as aliens working for the government that imprisoned them by shooting their ship down, trying to find a way home using the Stormcore. The Doctor’s plan is typically insane…get blind drunk (the creatures are allergic alcohol) and drive into the heart of the storm! The creature had been pulled through a gap created by the Stormcore. It is raw emotion, crystallised and seeks out intelligent minds, craving intelligence to govern all the mixed emotions and make sense of the world around it. Its nucleus trapped in the Stormcore, the Doctor causing one hell of an avalanche that sends the device into the frozen lake and traps the creature. There is a beautiful coda, which leaves the reader on a cuddly note.
Result: Another PDA, another new writer and what is immediately obvious with the atmospheric Drift following on from Relative Dementias is how much the new boys are trying to impress. Not with continuity or shocking revelations but with a solid story, well told. It’s an underrated virtue, which is bleeding back into the range. Forward gets a lot of things right here, the chilly setting, the unspoken horror of the menace, characterisation which shines. His prose style occasionally tries too hard but for the majority it is breathtakingly good. I really liked his take on the fourth Doctor but Leela is underused, in favour of his carefully crafted guest cast whose relationships make what could be just another alien threat story count. Interestingly we enter the story about halfway through the plot but even that is handy because we only have to read the best bits. Those who say this is just a bunch of people wandering about in the snow are right, but they’ve missed the point completely: 8.5/10
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Plot: Sinister happenings when Rose and the Doctor visit 1920’s London. Clockwork killers roam the foggy streets seeking a genocidal maniac, deposed Russian leaders are seeking to take back the throne from the revolutionaries and the Painted Lady has secrets of her own. Faceless killers close in on the Doctor as he realises that not everybody is who they seem to be…
Northern Adventurer: The poor ninth Doctor. When taking his TV, novel and comic strip tenure into consideration he has easily had the least amount of attention. Christopher Eccleston’s desire to leave the show so quickly has made his period of the show go from being the triumphant first series of the reboot to an anomaly. But what a season it was and hoping to capitalise and expand the ninth Doctor’s life we have six books that feature this most streetwise and biting of incarnations. Prolific Doctor Who author Justin Richards kicks off the range, a wise choice given his penchant for capturing the regulars with some degree of accuracy in the past and his overall knowledge of Doctor Who in print. This is a responsible take on the ninth Doctor, what I really liked was the moments when he was quite vicious (like smacking Repple’s head into the glass) but on the whole this is probably the most Doctorish (those characteristics that accompany every incarnation) of the first three books. I think both Steve Cole and Jac Rayner did a better job at capturing Eccleston’s voice.
You’ve got to love it when the Doctor barely reacts to the notion that the TARDIS has gone missing. Described as being of noble birth and dispossessed by conflict. The Great War. There is a lovely image of the Doctor staring out over the Thames on a cold winter’s morning, suggesting he has been there all night. A quiet rebel? ‘You know Doctor you should try running an Empire. I’ve a feeling you’d be rather good at it.’ He has been in too many wars. He likes people to think that he is thick – it gives him and advantage and makes his enemies careless and arrogant. I loved the Doctor’s quiet admission when talking about the 1919 flu killing more people than the World War that whatever humanity inflicts on itself, nature can always go one better. When the Painted Lady accuses the Doctor of being a genocidal killer you have to wonder if, for a moment, she knows anything about the Time War.
Chavvy Chick: Poor Rose, her first novel and she doesn’t really make much of an impact.
The trouble with translating TV characters into characters in a novel means you have to be fairly unusual to stand out in print. Look back over the history of Doctor Who and see which characters have come to life well in print, the 6th, 3rd and 1st Doctors, Mel, Leela…the most theatrical and instantly recognisable characters. The 8th Doctor only really worked when they threw away his TV persona and reworked him as a nasty hippy. The trouble with the New Series companions, especially Rose and Martha, is that they are just so damn normal, that’s what Russell T Davies was going for, regular girls that the TV audience could relate to. Just not particularly gripping to read about in print. Interestingly it was the three books that featured melodramatic and bolshie Donna Noble that felt most right. There are books coming up that do some lovely things with both Rose and Martha but I feel they are not the most spellbinding characters outside of their TV roles.
Rose and the Doctor are inseparable. She develops a nice relationship with Freddie here and the twist that he is a haemophiliac gives her a meaty role at the climax where she cradles his bleeding body and screams for help. Cheekily she suggests she can spell Doctor with an ‘F’. She finds the London of 1920’s more unusual for what was missing than what was there. Rose wears period clothes more for novelty and authenticity than comfort. She really kicks the shit out of some clockwork cats.
Blaidd Drwg: ‘You do keep turning up like a Bad Wolf.’
Twists: The TARDIS is stolen in the opening chapters. The Painted Lady is a lovely character, who never reveals her face and changes her mask to express her mood.
Freddie is the rightful Tsar of Russia as Anna is a cousin of Tsar Nicholas II but the Russian Revolution forced them to flee the country into the arms of the British government. Things get very confusing in chapter three when the Doctor and Rose talk to both Repple and Aske, Repple trying to convince them that he is a deposed ruler and Aske is keeping him hostage and Aske trying to tell them that Repple is mad and he is his Doctor! Then the book asks us to believe that Aske is the deluded one and Repple is just playing along! Beth the maid has her throat crushed. The Doctor and Rose walking around the British Exhibition is great, piling on lots of education. Richard plunders his previous novels, Terrance Dicks style, when the clockwork knights come to life (Dreams of Empire). The Painted Lady is hunting down the criminal Shade Vassily, a genocidal cleanser who was exiled to Earth by the Imperial Court with another Katuran as both jailer and bodyguard. Repple is unveiled as Vassily and Aske is his jailer, who is stabbed in the throat. The truth behind the Painted Lady is that she was relying on false information about the appearance of the indigenous population of Earth to have herself altered and her face is a grotesque parody of human features. The plot continues to reveal new layers…Repple is in fact a decoy, a clockwork construct sent to Earth to draw the attention of potential assassins. The Doctor riding the awesome power of the Thames to smash his way into Melissa Hart’s house is fabulous. The real jailer and bodyguard is…the cat that has been wandering about the proceedings! Wyse is Shade Vassily and he is planning on reactivating his ship by using the hydrogen in the Thames which is hooked up to a mechanism in Big Ben. Freddie bleeding to death is quite tense and leads to a hilarious bluff at the end when Richards convinces you he has died. The Doctor smashes through the clock face of Big Ben and hangs from the bottom of the clock face. Repple sticks his arm in between the biting teeth of the mechanism and it is torn off.
Funny Bits: ‘I like scrap yards. Never know what you might find.’
‘I don’t need to offer you a multiple choice of victims, do I?’
I laughed so hard at this exchange discussing the escape of Melissa Hart’s underground airlock:
‘And how do we do that?’ ‘Use your head’ and with that the Doctor rams Repple’s head into the glass and lets the Thames come crashing in.
Wyse hooked up the hydrogen extractor to Big Ben hoping that his escape from the Earth could be a grand moment at midnight…but the Doctor has found him early so he has to settle for 10 o’clock!
Result: ‘Being human isn’t only about flesh and blood’ Justin Richards writes a good debut novel for the New Series Adventures without ever stretching himself in the way his finest novels have. This is a book about identity and the theme shines all the way through the book, offering twists and turns about who these characters are and keeping the novel powered with a number of well timed and unexpected twists. I love Richards’ plots; they always tie up beautifully and leave you guessing most of the way. You can almost feel the gleeful irreverence of the New Series slowly leaking into the novels but we are not quite there yet, with very few modifications this could quite happily be an 8th Doctor book. Nice imagery and good characterisation makes this far superior to the debut novels of the NAs and the EDAs and the climax is fast paced action all the way. An entertaining hybrid of old and new, this layered introduction to the NSAs is far better than people will have you believe: 7/10
Monday, 25 October 2010
Can you tell us something about your formative years, what made you want to study and write fiction? What were your greatest influences when it came to writing your own novels? Is there a novel out there that you wish you had your name on?
When I was a kid I was surrounded by people who loved to read and who thought that being a writer would be the most fantastic job in the world. I was very encouraged both at home and school to read and write precisely what I wanted. It was a tough school I went to, and they preferred to teach boys things like football and metal work… but I got through okay. I had my first typewriter when I was about seven and wrote my first full-length stories not long after.
I loved Doctor Who books, and Roald Dahl – and then there were books I loved and it was only in recent years that I was reminded of their titles and authors – books like Humphrey Carpenter’s ‘The Captain Hook Affair’ about a silver pencil that brings fictional characters to life, and Mary Rodgers’ ‘A Billion for Boris’ – about a TV set that tells the future.
The Scarlet Empress certainly made some waves when it was published, a full bloodied fantasy novel that abandons structure for imagination and sensuality. Tell us something about the creation of Iris Wildthyme. What did you think about the response to the character? How did you go about tackling the (much maligned at the time) characters of the eighth Doctor and Sam? Do you have any favourite moments in this novel, and do you consider it the best of your Doctor Who books?
I just set about writing it as a proper novel. I loved the idea of original Doctor Who novels, but I found so many of the existing ones to be very gloomy and over-complicated affairs. There wasn’t much fun and they had the wrong kind of self-consciousness about them. I wanted to write something funny and adventurous and something that included hints of the Arabian Nights and Lewis Carroll – and that was also a quest story – a picaresque romp. It uses the ‘story-within-story’ structure in places that I’ve messed about with elsewhere. I think it caused a fuss – not just because of Iris arriving and cocking a snook at shibboleths – but because lots of Doctor Who fans like things to be ‘just as they were / are on the telly.’
The first thing I noticed about The Blue Angel (besides that striking cover) was its reduced word count, was that deliberate? This novel was part of a much larger arc story than your first Doctor Who novel, was it hard to work around that or did you find it added more impact to the novel? It’s your only collaborative Doctor Who book – how did you find sharing the writing responsibilities? Can you tell us how the provocative ending came about – tearing the Doctor from the conclusion and denying the reader a definitive climax? And which Iris do you prefer writing for?
The ending is there! It’s all there! The twenty questions at the end are merely a gesture towards what happens to the characters after the story has ended. What were all their sequels – all the bits we wouldn’t get to see? People got het up about breaking the formula, again, with this book. It’s a story told in different, plaited strands – that may connect and cohere, or they may not. It’s a book about levels of fictionality – again that obsession of mine with storytelling, I guess. Doctor Who – with its time travel, parallel universes and multiple lives – seems the perfect place to experiment with these themes. I can see it would be hard to read my stuff and try to imagine it all being ‘literally true’ inside one consistent universe. But I’m not very interested in things being literally true inside one consistent universe, really.
With Verdigris did you deliberately set out to bask in the nostalgic glow of the Pertwee era whilst giving it an affectionate poking?
Did you find it more of a challenge to write for the Past Doctor range, having to slot the events into established continuity? What is your opinion of the third Doctor’s era, easily one of the most divisive in the shows history?
I love that era – as I hope both Verdigris and Find and Replace both demonstrate. I do wish we’d had more stories with the third Doctor and Jo visiting moments in history, though. Maybe a bit more variety would have given those seasons a better reputation? There are a lot of invasions. Actually, I found it very comfortingly easy to slip into that continuity and that world. It’s like parachuting back into a moment in time – or landing a double decker bus on that moment. There might by a few shock waves – but it’s nice to park up and have a visit. I wish the PDAs had kept going, and that I’d had a chance to do some more, really. There was a lovely freedom to that books series.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen is a truly hilarious experience. Coming after the torturous and weighty Adventuress of Henrietta Street it was perhaps the perfect antidote. What did you think of the cover? Considering how well you captured their voices how did you find companions Fitz and Anji to write for? As a writer that uses continuity so effectively, how did you find writing a novel for the amnesiac eighth Doctor? Tell us a little bit about the conception of a novel that pulls in elements as far out as Lord of the Rings, George Lucas, Noel Coward and talking poodles! And more importantly…why wasn’t Flossie kept on?
I loved writing that book. It was during quite a difficult time – during a year when both a good friend and a close relative died.
My partner moved away to work in a different city. I felt overworked and rather unhappy in my day job at that point. So I poured myself into a luscious, ludicrous fantasy. It’s been an important book ever since – in the sense that elements and characters from it – the Smudgelings and the Blithe Pinking Shears and the poodles themselves – have recurred in some of the stories I have written since.
I loved writing for Fitz. Anji was a little harder to get a grasp on, maybe. It’s incredibly hard, fitting a novel into an ongoing series like this, with other books being written around you, simultaneously. You really have to trust your editor – which I could do, and it all turned out well, I think.
Oh, the cover! I remember the day the print-off turned up in the post. It was one of those moments when you realize that people you’ve never even met before really understand what you’re writing about. They just got it. I love the thought that the day-glo pink, screamingly camp cover gave some uptight people the willies.
You took a long break from Doctor Who fiction before returning to the New Series Adventures with the brilliantly titles Sick Building. Did you have to adapt your style to appeal to a younger audience? Did the reduced word count result in a tighter novel? What do you think of the new series in general and did this book come under more scrutiny than previous ones now the show is such a commercial hit?
It came under less scrutiny, really, in terms of its reader reception. By then, the books were no longer the driving force of the Doctor Who narrative. They were ‘missing adventures’ that had only just recently happened – and they could contain no plot beats whatsoever, because all that is on the telly, of course. So they are, in a sense, elaborations and reiterations of themes and tropes already familiar from the ongoing show.
And yes, there’s a fair amount of pressure to ‘get it right’ – and I was told quite explicitly not to get too outrageous or make it too much ‘like me.’ And that’s fine – it has to fit within a certain house style.
Which is your favourite Doctor Who novel and why? Do you have any particular favourites within the various ranges that you haven’t written?
So hard to answer! I really don’t know. I love Barry Letts’ The Daemons more than anything. And the Malcolm Hulke novelisations are marvelous. As for the originals by my peers – I love The Dying Days and Vampire Science. I loved Nightshade and Witchmark. Wolfsbane. Time and Relative. Vanishing Point. Salvation. Lots of them!
Can you tell us something about the adventures of Brenda and Effie? Whitby has cropped up a few times in several of your works; do you have a particular affinity with the town? Do you consider these novels short story anthologies or novels? How long do you think this increasingly popular series will last?
Of course they’re novels! Like many other novels – especially Gothic novels – they depart from the kind of linear novel structure you’re perhaps more used to.
They use episodic format, or framed and nested stories within stories, or elongated flashbacks… or all manner of story-telling devices that I’m interested in.
Whitby was a town we visited when I was a kid – a few times. Its curious atmosphere seemingly seeped into my subconscious and stayed there… until I revisited in the late nineties – and started writing spooky stories that were set there.
Was Diary of a Doctor Who Addict semi-autobiographic? Can you sum up the appeal of this novel and what encouraged you to write it?
Yes, it has elements in it that come quite close to my experience. I think its appeal is to anyone who ever grew up being a fan of something. Anything, not just The Show. It’s about the kind of obsessive fandom that makes you want to make things, draw things, write your own stories. And it’s about feeling a little bit out of place or out of synch because of those feelings…
Of your original novel novels do you have any particular favourites or ones, which were more popular than others? Do you ever think that you would like to go back and give a book another go or are you always hungry to write something new?
I think as I writer I’m always pushing ahead – with new ‘shapes’ of novels and story ideas and characters. But I love reviving characters, reinventing them – or introducing them to each other across books and series. I like the connections between books and the sense of an ongoing, sprawling, endlessly contradictory story.
What’s in the pipeline at the moment?
I’m working on two novels just now. Both will come out in 2011. The first is ‘Enter Wildthyme’, which Snowbooks are publishing. It’s the first full-length Iris Wildthyme and Panda novel. It begins in Darlington with a curious old bookshop and a secret base under the indoor market – and then it sets off into space and time. The other book is called, ‘666 Charing Cross Road.’ It’s a spooky mystery to be published by Headline. Just as funny and mysterious as Brenda and Effie… but set mostly in New York, with brand new characters that I hope people are going to love just as much.
Paul, thank you very much for your time.
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Plot: Things are afoot with time. Revolts on alien worlds, camp classics with pinking shears and special FX which come alive…and an emotional songstress who travels about in a big red bus! The Doctor, Fitz and Anji are about to discover that there are some sick puppies out there…
Top Doc: It is a great relief to see the Doctor back on his feet again, still sporting his beard but rarely for some fun and adventures. He feels as though he sent out of the TARDIS first like a sheep down a treacle well! An expert in funny business, he feels his name implies that he meddles and stitches things up. He has taken on a careless, determinedly airy attitude of late. He states that anomalies in time are his business, the 20th Century his backyard. Travelling with him is described like locking yourself up with a madman! Monsters are his specialty. He is so used to people being rude and thinking he is odd that he barely notices anymore. He doesn’t recognise Iris at all but is delighted when her ship takes off, amazed that he isn’t alone in the universe. He is a charming character here, earning peoples trust easily, enjoying his time with his companions and generally living his life to the full. Delightful.
Scruffy Git: He thinks he always says the wrong thing and is described as a bit of a mongrel! He considers himself a citizen of the universe and far beyond the sixties he originally came from and admits he spends most of his time dosing around and falling for the wrong women. He thinks he is a loser and always ends up with the roughest assignments. He recognises Iris as soon as he sees the bus and finds himself extremely attracted to her. He promises to look after the Doctor and assures Iris the Doctor is still the same man underneath.
Career Nazi: Sometimes Anji can strike exactly the right note with the people they meet and get along with them so easily. She has seen enough now to take talking dogs in her stride. Hilariously she cannot help but have a quick eyeful when the Doctor is naked. Amazingly she gets to feel ‘normal’ for a spell, relaxing in a bar, the sort place she might actually choose to visit! She hasn’t thought about Dave or home for a while. She hates that she feels flattered by the Doctor’s confidence in her, but she does. She feels annoyed that he can pilot the TARDIS to pinpoint accuracy when it is required but still hasn’t managed to take her home, although she is still unsure as to whether she really wants to go home or not. She wishes she wasn’t so prim sometimes. Anji really can’t decide whether the Doctor is brilliant or a two faced b*stard (a toughie…). Touchingly, she reaches for his hand when the Doctor realises he is not alone in the universe, wanting to share in his fantastic news.
Foreboding: Time is still being manipulated with effortless ease…
Twists: Professor Alid Jag the aphid-sized alien is squished when the Doctor lands the TARDIS right on top of him! Hilariously, the Doctor is annoyed at how easy it is to recover the TARDIS! In brilliant moment of how did they get away with that the Doctor, Fitz and Anji are stripped naked, thrown into a kennel with some squeaking toys! We realise that time is out whack when Von Armin tells Anji Lord of the Rings was performed in drag and James Bond came up against living skeletons in Voodoo Something to Me. Fritter breaks his cover as a well behaved pet to tell Anji he is bloody starving. Cleavis writes a book remarkably similar to the adventures of Iris Wildthyme to which the Doctor comments, “She sounds like a proper old harridan!” In a succession of twists, Tyler’s face melts off, Alid Jag is revealed to have faked his death and to be a member of MIAOW (that’s the Ministry for Incursions and Ontological Wonders) and Brenda Soobie is revealed to be Iris! Noel Coward transpires as the (sort of) villain of the piece, manipulating time with his marvellous pinking shears. The evil plot goes thusly, the nasty Princess (although we think she is good at first) wants to reclaim power from the Emperor so arranges for Freer to manipulate Tyler to re-write his History of Planets book so it mirrors the revolution of the dog world and thus when it is released the people will realise just how the Emperor came to power. Noel Coward writes a song which Brenda Soobie sings and it becomes the theme tune for the film, which becomes the anthem for the rebellion, thus changing time! It might be nuts but at least it’s a Paul Magrs book with an honest to God plot! Unfortunately the evil Princess doesn’t want to share her power with Freer so she rips his throat out. Everybody is shocked when they realise the Princess (a poodle!) and Freer (a human!) have been at it for years!
Embarrassing bits: Well the whole novel if you are a dull sourpuss. The cover seems to be a huge hurdle for some people who act as though they’ve never seen a luminous pink poodle smoking on a leopard skin couch before. Geez…
Funny bits: Forget anything written by Gareth Roberts, this is the funniest Doctor Who book at this point. The book is packed full of jokes and very, very few of them don’t hit the spot. At points my face was streaming with tears.
1) The Doctor is concerned, perhaps he has been squashing intellects all over the universe!
2) The bitchy TARDIS library system tells Fitz, “He lends them out all over the place. He never gets them back!”3) Flossie’s fall from grace, serving up a lobster during a peace treaty on a planet of Lobster People has to be heard to be believed!
4) Fitz figures the guy behind him has a big gun poked in his back or else he is extremely pleased to see him!
5) Fitz considers it to be the most civilised arrest he has ever had, being take out for a meal before being banged up!
6) The Doctor warns Coward of meddling in time, saying it could unravel “like a load of old knitting!”
7) The idea of there being pirate videos of the likes of Lassie and Digby the Biggest Dog in the World being circulated on the Dog world is hilarious!
8) The final joke of the book, a poor blind girl showing up on Noel Coward’s doorstep with tales of the blighted Pussyworld only have him slam the door in her face, is a corker.
And many, many more but I would be here all day!
Result: Delightfully funny and extremely comfortable with its own campness, this is a marvellously brisk read after the fairly torturous Adventuress. You can’t really take any of it seriously but that’s not what we’re here for, Paul Magrs knows how to show you a good time better than any other Doctor Who writer and I haven’t giggled this much in a long time. The regulars are at their all time loosest and we really get to see enjoying themselves and the guest characters (especially the marvellous Flossie and the Noel Coward) all contribute much entertainment. There is quite a complex little plot rattling along here when you dig beneath the candyfloss surface, which ties up beautifully at the end. It isn’t as richly written as The Scarlet Empress or as experimental and risky as The Blue Angel but it is far funnier and easier to read than either of them, making it Magrs’ most accessible book. As long as you can accept the poodles… Another corker in what is turning out to be another very good little run of books: 9/10
Saturday, 16 October 2010
Plot: For years Benny has been searching for her father and now she has finally found him. England, 1983, saving ETs stranded on Earth. Moping up the Doctor’s mess. But somebody is trying to obtain nuclear codes from the Doctor’s mind…can you guess who?
Master Manipulator: Because everyone else is getting a bit mushy the Doctor joins in and gets himself a girlfriend. Well actually no he doesn’t but that is the implication with Woodworth until she turns out to be the woman who has spent decades capturing, torturing and murdering aliens. Don’t you just hate it when that happens. The Doctor is explored in considerable depth here but it is to the detriment of the book. What Orman forgets is that it is far more interesting to experience a character and his feelings than have characters standing around talking and thinking how mythic and evil and gorgeous and morally ambiguous he is. Seriously you could not read ten pages without one character spending an age thinking about how scary and lovely the Doctor is, trying to figure him out. We should be left to draw our own conclusions about the Doctor, not told at every step of the book exactly how glorious he is. Without going into all of the specifics, because this review would have to recount half of the book, the Doctor is Bernice’s surrogate father, he adores and misses her and she misses him. He’s a bastard but they all love him anyway. That about sums it up. He just wants to busk – drop all his responsibilities and make people happy. He considers the middle of the 19th Century to the end of the 20th Century his home from home. After everything he has done to protect the Earth they saw him as the enemy and that stung. Did the Doctor fight for lust, love and parenthood because he can’t have those things (why not?).
Stroppy Copper: The worst idea in a book full of really awful ideas is the thought that for even one second Roz Forrester would ever consider going to bed with Chris Cwej. She knows him better than anyone. Has the author or the editor read the last ten or so books? Chris drives her insane even if she does have the incessant need to protect him. It says that she is just a shallow Ace clone after all, sleeping with him because he is quite cute. Any respect I might have had for her deserted me when she grabs him in the middle of an action scene and starts snogging him. Kate Orman has presented some of the strongest Doctor Who ladies in their best light (Bernice, Ace, Sam Jones, Anji, Peri) but this is the nadir of her lovey dovey approach to the books. The scenes where they talk about their shagging are really painful, they read as though they have been written by a teenage boy who was feeling very horny. And guess how the book ends their affair…with Roz telling Chris that he is too good for her. Shoot me now. The only line that reads like the old Roz was when she wanted to take the rosiness out of everyone’s cheeks.
Puppy Dog Eyes: I hate him. Can you believe that he snaps the Ace clones neck and then he and Roz start romping about on the blood stained floor? At one point Chris admits he is worried about his brain. Smart.
Boozy Babe: How odd to bring back Bernice so soon. While it is nice to be able to call on the secondary cast the New Adventures have built up for a bit of variety but Bernice only left two books ago! Like Happy Endings this book exploits Benny for her emotion, pushing her into situations where she will emote like a firework. I have forgotten how clever and witty this woman can be because all she seems to do these days is cry and shag and well…menstruate. And that is in the hands of Cornell and Orman. What has happened? One of the reasons she became an archaeologist was because she might one day find her father. She associates the cologne he wore with her childhood. She has loved the last couple of months, staying in one place and working on one thing. However she would not give up her time with the Doctor, not even the horror or the brushes with death.
Foreboding: The Doctor is wearing a burgundy waistcoat and tweed jacket – his clothes from the TV Movie.
Soap Opera: When did the New Adventures turn into an ghastly soap opera? So many characters spout ridiculously goofy emotive dialogue in this book that had me shivering at the sheer hideousness of it all. I’m all for character development but this isn’t development, its Doctor Who pretending to be a Buffy the Vampire Slayer with everybody talking about relationships but not actually experiencing them. I wanted everyone to stop talking about their feelings and get on with the damn plot. Look at some of these choice examples…
Jason to Benny: ‘At least I could do stuff with you the Doctor couldn’t do.’
The Doctor: ‘My adopted daughter has just met her biological father for the first time.’
Jacqui to the Doctor: ‘Do you remember killing my baby?’
Chris to Roz: ‘It didn’t mean anything, right? We could kiss again right now and it wouldn’t matter.’
Joel: ‘I want to be him when I grow up. It’s like he’s my Dad now.’
Benny: ‘You didn’t shag her, did you?’
Benny: ‘I’d hate it if we couldn’t have kids at all.’
The Doctor: ‘I’m getting human in my old age.’
Roz to Chris: ‘I guess we’re just good friends who fancy each other.’
Benny: ‘I expect the men I love to betray me.’
And these are only a few examples…pick a page, the book is littered with indulgent introspection.
Embarrassing Bits: Basically the whole book but lets look at specifics. Taking Benny back to the point of her fathers death is insanely dangerous. He should have said no. I genuinely thought Bernice finding her father would be a truly gripping read, a life and death struggle with their reunion at the climax. Imagine my surprise then when they are sipping coffee together in an oddly muted fashion on page 30. To show how fluffy this has all become it takes Roz to insist that they have a situation after Chris and Jason and the TARDIS have all gone missing. What, nobody realised? Benny is constantly hugging and kissing the Doctor which had it been toned down could have been kind of cute but instead makes you wonder if they have been at it like everyone else. He kisses her at the climax, just to drive home the point. The idea of Chris and Roz making love is so wrong on every conceivable level all copies of this book should be gathered up and shot into the nearest supernova. The scene that depicts their future together with him surfing and saving the world is just made me want to puke. Benny asks her Dad if he has shagged Ace. How wrong is that? Albinex’s cover story is that he wants to steal the nuclear codes so he can return home to Navarro and end their everlasting party with one big bang and force them to be his own personal army. The Doctor bought that? That is the least convincing cover story until…well read on. When Ace turned up as a hostage I threw the book across the room. Okay she turned out to be a clone but that was an even lazier explanation, especially after it was done with the Doctor and Jason just two books earlier. Just when you thought this book could not become more irredeemably twee Bernice and Jason’s baby from the future is spat out of a time rift. As if that wasn’t bad enough the Doctor is forced into giving Albinex the codes by making him have an everlasting orgasm over a cup of tea. Which is only trumped by the unbelievable concept that Isaac Summerfield wanted to steal the nuclear weapons so he could start a nuclear war. You see to protect the planet Earth he was going to start a nuclear war and thus keep our weapons development going so we are ready for the Daleks when they invade over a century later. Congratulations, that manages to ruin a character’s credibility, crap all over continuity and turn a farcical book into a complete turd in one swoop. Aside from all this nonsense what about all the hideous in jokes that are scattered throughout. Jack Beven gets a mention. Tom the graveyard caretaker. Leapers and Sliders. The title. Darmok and Back to the Future.
Woodworth being killed by an Ogri headstone. The Doctor actually flicks through fanzines and says ‘I see what you mean about UNIT dating.’ Oh and the sixth Doctor is still raving at him inside his head which means he is still absolutely batty or they are continuing with the god awful pretence that the seventh Doctor killed the sixth so he could exist. Someone get me a scotch.
Result: The Time Monster of the New Adventures! A collection of obscenely bad ideas, nails down the blackboard dialogue, a stupid plot buried under a wealth of indulgent syrup, appallingly executed. I refused to believe this was written by the same woman who gave us The Year of Intelligent Tigers. Every part of this novel is horribly smug, it’s all trying so hard to mean something it ends up saying absolutely nothing except we have seen all the innovation bleed out of this series. The last book was a joyous celebration of fresh ideas but I am scared this is what can expect from the last handful of books, taking the characters we know and love and examining them to death until they become parodies of themselves. When did Bernice become so predictable and wet? Why does every character spend time psychoanalysing the Doctor? Who was ever going to buy into Chris and Roz making love? More to the point it shows a contempt for your readership to expect them to buy something as ridiculously overblown and thin as this plot. Tea orgasms? Nuclear war to save the Earth? Benny’s Dad the evil mastermind? Quite possibly the worst New Adventure. Thank God Roz is about to die because this series needs a kick up the ass: 1/10
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Master Manipulator: Another superb rendition of the seventh Doctor. It always pleases me to see my least favourite Doctors being well treated in print (that’s mostly docs 5 and 7) because it suggest other avenues that they might have been successful in and frankly it is one of the strengths of Doctor Who in the novel media that it can right wrongs from the TV show. In this case though Michalowski has managed to walk that fine line between the seventh Doctor on the telly (you know kinda fun and goofy but a bit scary too) and the seventh Doctor from the New Adventures (who was rarely fun and often dabbling in peoples lives and under the impression he is responsible for the entire universe running smoothly) and manages to hand pick the best of both worlds. He’s quirky and light here but is also seen in a much darker and interesting light. What’s more his chemistry with Ace is just as it should be, bouncy, mildly paternal and they work superbly together as a team. After what the New Adventures did to Ace its hard to remember that once she was the perfect foil for the seventh Doctor.
Ace imagined if the Doctor wasn’t a time traveller, a righter of wrongs and universal man of mystery, he could quite easily be that little odd man who ran the antiques shop on the corner – the shop no one ever seemed to go in and kids were scared stiff of. It would be a lot easier for her to accept time travel if the Doctor looked alien! He is not infallible, ten centuries of time travel gives you a nose for things but the Doctor doesn’t completely trust himself. He needs to keep the bigger picture in sight. He has had a lot of experience mucking about with time. Night is his favourite time, dark and predatory, full of anticipation, full of menace. The relationship between him and Joyce is very sweet – she thinks he is sharp and incisive, puckish ad poignant. The Doctor wouldn’t make a promise he couldn’t keep; he’d done that once before but never again. When Megan calls the Doctor a ‘dotty old duffer’ he declares her a nasty piece of work and compliments himself on his acting abilities! In one scene the Doctor is reminded that not everything in the universe is running up and down corridors and being chased by zombies and robots, people are capable of doing very kind acts. In the same scene he discovers Doris dead, having been smothered by a pillow and declares one of the most disturbing and pitiful deaths he has seen. There was something frighteningly intense in the Doctor’s eyes and at the same time something vague. Micheal calls him Doctor Death, the man responsible for hundreds of lives whilst he swans about saving the world with the top brass. There is a deep sadness wired into his very being. Its very poignant when (playing Ace’s Grandfather) he remembers what it was like to have a Granddaughter again.
Oh Wicked: Well, well, well…who would have thought that there was still some mileage left in Ace? Usually I want to put down every book that contains her name within so sick am I of this obsession with her character, which has been explored to death, inside and out in every way imaginable. So a big sloppy kiss to Michalowski who manages to make Ace sound plausible and in character (I know we all thought that was in impossibility) and great, great fun to be around. The Ace of Relative Dementias knocks spots of much of what we have seen in print of her before simply because she’s so approachable. Bravo.
The future, Ace decided, wasn’t what it used to be. She is scared if there are aliens in 2012 that she wont be able to tell them apart from the humans. She isn’t a country girl at heart. The scene in the pub where Ace bests the Doctor is hilarious, convincing Claire that he is mentally deranged and known for wandering about at night in his knickers. Ace cannot remember the smells of her home in Perivale but she knew if she ever smelled them again they would bring back a whole jumble of memories and none of them would be entirely comfortable. She is described as being sarcastic, crude and bossy! She didn’t seen enough of her dad but saw too much of her mum. She shivers of the thought of getting close enough to her mum for Alzheimer’s to affect her. At the story’s close the Doctor is both proud of Ace’s ingenuity and annoyed at her duplicity.
Twists: The whole sequence of the Doctor collecting his mail is lovely, imaginative and warmly written (and Countess Gallowglass was wonderful). Why did the TARDIS land and take off? Why is Ace locked from the console room? Who is the Doctor talking to in secret? John discovers a domed object on the seabed. In a moment of unexpected poignancy Harry’s treatment starts to work and he starts to remember the past. Ace discovers Joyce, Jessie and Connie plugged into a spaceship after she transmits from the Graystairs cellar on board. Ace escapes the insane Sooal by jumping into the airlock and being expelled into the sea. Pages 170-173 are shocking, emotional Who at its best as Joyce’s mother explodes in a fit of emotion and Joyce tells her she wished she had died. When Michael finally meets the Doctor he punches him full on in the face, his best friend was killed during one of the Doctor’s schemes to save the Earth. Sooal is revealed as a war criminal; four years ago the Tulkan Empire was on the point of making a decisive strike against the Protectorate. The Tulkan War Council were captured and sentenced to have their memories wiped and incarcerated on a penal world. Sooal hijacked the ship and hid them on Earth. He is attempting to restore their memories and when he succeeds he shoots them all dead! The Annarene are wearing bodies made from the flesh of local animals, seeking out Sooal so they can steal the weapons for themselves. At first the Doctor believes they are there to arrest Sooal but they are soon exposed as a renegade faction. Sooal has progenia; premature ageing…he never wanted the weapons as much as he wanted the codes so he could use the machinery to increase his lifespan. Turns out there are two Ace’s running around! The person the Doctor was hiding in the console room was Ace herself, an older Ace from later in the story…she sends the Doctor some post to rescue her from her desertion on the island. The Doctor plans to send her back to Muirbridge at the same time he picked her up but she plays with the console and returns to just before they originally (or are about to) arrive. Ive gone boss eyed. Basically it means whilst Ace is doing her investigating, two days older Ace manages to be at the right place at the right time to rescue people.
Result: Both the cover and the title are great, a good sign. Here is a first time author showing up all of the old timers around him. It is a poignant exploration of Alzheimer’s in the Doctor Who formula; portraying both the frustration of having the past beyond your grasp and dizzy joy of regaining your memories. It’s a book with a very satisfying plot with several unexpected and clever twists and a shockingly good use of the Doctor and Ace throughout. If the pace is a little slack in places it is made up for with the entertaining prose and profound moments that strike you right in the heart. The ideas are rather traditional but the author uses them expertly, displaying none of the usual embarrassing mistakes of a first time author. Great location too, thumbs up Mr Michalowski: 8.5/10
Sunday, 10 October 2010
Plot: The Doctor has set up shop in a whorehouse. He is getting married. He is extremely sick and he is without Fitz, Anji or the TARDIS. Has the world gone entirely mad? Apparently so, as disgusting apes break through into the world and start tearing up people, it would appear that the Doctor’s actions destroying his home planet has had far more catastrophic consequences than anybody ever feared…
Top Doc: Another superb definition of everything that is the eighth Doctor, wrapped up in that wonderful Milesian desperation to make the Doctor a mythic figure. He has set himself up as the master of a house of prostitutes, writing thirteen letters to the great powers of the world to invite him to his wedding. He misunderstands human feelings. He is a byronesque, aristocratic, poetic type, who will probably end his days an outcast for unnatural acts. He has grown a goatee, a sign of how much he has changed. He judges people by their own standards and is described beautifully as an adventurer, escapologist, athlete, pugilist and amateur inventor. The Doctor’s intention to marry Juliette and thus bond himself to the Earth is hugely representational of the revisionist eighth Doctor adventures (the idea that her virginity could almost be used as a weapon, to give birth to an alien as humanity’s protector). The eighth Doctor began his adventures with the shock announcement that he is half human (on his mothers side) so this symbolic link to the Earth enhances the direction of the books, turning their back on Gallifrey (hurrah). ‘He wanted to give himself roots in a universe where he no longer truly belonged’ screams the narrative, the Doctor attempting to bring security to our troubled world in a universe without the Time Lords. He is a tragic figure, an elemental cast out from his own world and there is an uncomfortable sense that he is interfering in affairs that are no longer his concern. If there is one thing he cannot ignore, it is a monster. As the book continues he grows stroppy, prone to mood swings as his body starts to wither away. We realise, with some horror, that his second heart, which links him to Gallifrey, has become poison to him. Once it is removed and he is married to Scarlette, it is wonderful to see him step from the flames (as depicted on the glorious cover) and claim his place as the King of Earth’s Time.
Scruffy Git: Fitz is unsure about the decorum around a bordello at first and cast shy looks about at the ladies. Described as being likeable enough, but that you would expect more alertness from an elemental. He can still pull his 007 routine of with style and his starting to see just how fragile the world is. For all his faults, described as having a mind ahead of its time, Fitz proves surprisingly adept at investigating for the Doctor, and taking charge when he is very ill. His concern for his friend, as ever, is palpable and they enjoy a quiet, intimate stag do sharing champagne overlooking the sea.
Career Nazi: Clearly Miles despises Anji, and not just from what he has said in interviews. He sidetracks her as much as possible and when he does include her makes her snappy, rude and overbearing. Described as sarcastic, snappish, overbearing and impatient, more telling he describes her as a force of nature, a prophet and an Indian Oracle. Her and Lisa Beth are partners in aloof cynicism. An angry, exotic elemental.
Foreboding: Being a Lawrence Miles book this sets up loads of stuff that will be returned to in later books. Primarily there is Sabbath, who will be back for subsequent revisits. But also worthy of mention are the fact that time is no longer stable, leading to a flurry of upcoming time travel stories, the fact that Juliette leaves the Earth with Sabbath (followed up in Sometime Never…), the black eye sun (explained in The Gallifrey Chronicles but seen a few more times after this), the disappearance of the Doctor’s second heart (and the fact there are mentions of surgery and Sabbath in regards to this organ) and of course the fact that the Time Lords no longer exist (which will come back to haunt the Doctor in his final novel…). The Master reveals there are only four of us left in the universe, but what he is talking about is maddeningly vague.
Twists: The book grabs you from the first page and never lets go, a hypnotic, tantric sex encounter leading to the summoning of a bestial, bloody ape. It is revealed that now the Time Lords have gone there is nothing holding time together and that other people are trying to do the work they used to do. There are some teething problems when Fitz and Anji are summoned and they turn up stark bollock naked! Sabbath’s story of being pushed into the Thames, bound by thirteen chains, is great. The exploration of the Jonah is a gothic delight, a throbbing black machine manned by slavering apes shrieking their lust for carnage. The appearance of the Master in the book is a shock of delight, especially his glorious comments on the state of the Doctor’s adventures these days. We realise that the Doctor, through his destruction of Gallifrey, is responsible for the apes coming. Their appearance is due to the unstable nature of Time and the ability of others to explore its realms, the apes are the limits of human ignorance set upon those who would try and expand their knowledge in areas they should never have been allowed to approach. Sabbath has to watch, horrified, as Tula Lui is torn to pieces by the apes. Juliette’s traitorous act, turning against the Doctor and aiding Sabbath, is a complete surprise. Brilliantly, when tensions start to fray between the thirteen great powers, Scarlette hatches an ingenious scheme of hunting the apes, uniting the factions with a common sport. The Doctor’s wedding ceremony, surrounded by monster masks, held by a drunken priest, Scarlette the surrogate bride and the Doctor close to death is one of the most memorable scenes in Doctor Who fiction. The fact that apes storm the church and transport the guests to the Kingdom of Beasts rounds off a classy service. In the Kingdom of the Beasts there is a land which resembles Gallifrey, which the Doctor declares as “home.” In one of the most shocking scenes in Doctor Who fiction Sabbath plunges his hand into the Doctor’s chest and rips out his cancerous heart. There is a memorable climax, with the apes pouring into the house on Henrietta Street and the Doctor ruthlessly decapiting the King of the Apes, thus breaking the chains of human ignorance and proving that knowledge has no bounds. Sweetly, Scarlette fakes her own death so the Doctor feels no obligation to stay on Earth with his new wife.
Result: Terrifying (in terms of its content and in terms of its content) and unforgettable, this is the ultimate eighth Doctor experience. Defining the exciting, unpredictable new universe the Doctor has found himself in (delightful because Miles has clearly put some real thought into what horrors might lie in a universe without the Time Lords) like no other; this is the sort of book that has been crafted, not written. Packed with sickening images, detailed historical atmosphere, adult relationships and amazing developments, this is my favourite Doctor Who book. Bar none. This is Lawrence Miles’ true masterpiece and the highest level of sophistication the EDAs have ever reached. Challenging and intelligent, it doesn’t get much better than this: 10/10
And my review from DWRG...
An astonishing book, powered by symbolism and striking imagery and wrapped up in bold, experimental narration. Looking back over the eighth Doctor range as a whole there are few books that have this much impact or that break the rules with such verve and distinction. The best eighth Doctor book ever? Quite possibly...
One of the delights of this book is the amount of fascinating historical detail packed in, blurred into the fiction with invisible ease. The story of the Gordon Riots is really nasty and only one of the vivid mentions of eighteenth century horror. The sweeping events of the eighteenth century heavily influence this shocking chapter in the Doctor's life and their bonding stresses a feeling of transition. This is reflected politically (with the madness of the King and his dealings with America), culturally ("In the years to come there'd be blood and fire, war and renewal, the burning of coal and the burning of peace treaties, human workers redefined as machine parts while free thinkers made the most glorious of discoveries") and spiritually (with Scarlette, the last of the Hellfire mistresses). The gears of history are shifting and this story is but a cog in its wheel ("The old order, some might have argued, had ended with the siege of Henrietta Street").
Conjugal strength is a proven commodity in Adventuress and one used by the Doctor to fight his enemies. The Doctor's intention to marry Juliette and thus bond himself to the Earth is hugely representational of the revisionist eighth Doctor adventures (the idea that her virginity could almost be used as a weapon, to give birth to an alien as humanity's protector). The eighth Doctor began his adventures with the shock announcement that he is half-human (on his mother's side) so this symbolic link to the Earth enhances the direction of the books, turning their back on Gallifrey (hurrah). "He wanted to give himself roots in a universe where he no longer truly belonged" screams the narrative, the Doctor attempting to bring security to our troubled world in a universe without the Time Lords.
But he also pulls together a number of "lost knowledge" holders to combat the evil that the apes represent. The hallucinogenic opening sequence of tantric intercourse raising a murderous, bestial ape almost seems to be a shock reminder of our baser, animal instincts. The book takes a far more disturbing route however, revealing that it was the knowledge Lisa-Beth possessed that brought forth the babewyn ("They (the apes) are our own ignorance given flesh. Should we reach the horizon we will find our own ignorance staring back at us in the shape of these bloody, murderous animals"). It is interesting to note how much more interesting the Time Lords are by their absence, their protection of humanity and other knowledge seekers gone ("Humanity's punishment on itself - whenever man or woman explored the darkness, the apes would be waiting there") they are now vulnerable to the possibility of time travel. It is almost as if unlicensed time travel is disturbing some force and they are sending the apes to slaughter whoever would dare to stamp their own mark on history (setting up events in Sometime Never... perfectly). The evil these beasts represent is disturbingly portrayed in graphic metaphors, a scene of the apes fondling the books in an "improper" manner (going as far as to wipe their backsides with it) suggests the rape of knowledge, a truly frightening concept.
This book would not exist in the pre-Ancestor Cell universe, that much has been made explicitly clear and even the Doctor makes his awareness of a lack of a power that keep the timelines in check known in his book, The Ruminations of a Foreign Traveller in his Element. The Mayaki (who have a special relationship with time) and Mother Dutt's teachings of Shaktyanda are a direct result of the Doctor's destruction of his homeworld, proving he has changed the shape of the universe in more ways than we ever knew.
Another strong theme is the use of blood in the book, dealing with time as a living, breathing, evolving thing. Striking reds are splashed about the book, Scarlette's clothes and furnishings, orchids and roses decorating the Doctor's wedding ceremony. The book goes even further with its blood theme; the synchronising women in the seraglios ("the house bleeding"), the bloody historical facts ("the skies of London turned to blood"), Juliette being marked by an ape's beastly blood and wearing red to be primed with the world around her. The narrative uses its theme of blood to maintain its existence, to keep the story alive.
It is worth commenting on Lawrence Miles' skill in narrative construction considering the method he chooses to write his book. Considering the device of recalling events that have already happened, (itself a sticky point with some readers, frustrated at the distance the book takes from its material. I found the writing style fascinating; the imaginative way Miles constructs the book out of written accounts. Would we be so easily able to accept scenes of tantric sex, torture and bestial terror so easily if the book had been written in the third person?), Miles manages to successfully disguise a great number of twists. Lisa Beth's hoax betrayal and Juliette's defection are triumphant moments in the book, especially when you consider the narrator knew about these events before he even started re-accounting the facts. Indeed the book does some very clever things with this omnipotent narration, slipping in information about future events (such as Scarlette's death and the Doctor's retrieval of the TARDIS) and then letting the ideas brew in our heads for a while before dealing with them several scenes later. Talk about whetting your audience's appetites.
Adventuress goes to extreme lengths to make the Doctor an extremely potent character again. To achieve this he gets married to a prostitute and has one of his hearts torn out... sounds a bit much doesn't it? No, these revisions work because they are tied to exactly what we perceive the Doctor to be. He has always been the protector of Earth so it's nice to see him married into the role (and anyone upset by the thought of the asexual Doctor marrying a woman... gasp! Scarlette's speech on page 207 should soothe your worries) and his rejection of Time Lord society and everything it represents is captured in the scene where his body heals thanks to the removal of his second heart (which ties him to Gallifrey) and he walks through the flames (the stunning cover image being one of the most powerful set pieces in the book) to confront the King of the Beasts. These changes in his lifestyle are foretold, a terrific early scene where he examines his beard in a mirror, not quite believing his reflection and emphasising his self-doubt at approaching events. Interesting to hear that the Doctor's sickness has been apparent for one hundred years (and twinges occurring in earlier books). And with his new status as an elemental is it really a coincidence that Scarlette is described as loving the Doctor like a God just pages before his act of saving a man from crucifixion?
Sabbath is given such an impressive build up that his entrance cannot help but be a memorable occasion ("A huge, all pervading shadow - who lurked in dark places, as if hiding in the belly of some monstrous leviathan which moved unseen below the surface of human affairs"). The exploration of his ship, the Jonah, is superbly menacing (with focus on strong words like darkness, canon teeth, corpses, classical, throbbing, idols and Gods to create a vivid, oppressive atmosphere) and leads to an equally wonderful confrontation between hero and villain. Once the pair are face to face, two charlatans ready to play the game, it is clear a new regular has arrived and one who will possibly rival the Doctor's importance.
More is revealed about Sabbath than any of us realised at the time. He is confirmed as the protector of time ("I think we can safely say that history is our profession now"), an agent of whoever is watching over events (who he refers to as the true enemy) and a humorous (defying authority by dressing his apes up in naval uniforms) and very human character (his reaction to the death of Tula Lui is quite poignant, especially after the book has gone to such lengths to portray him as a monster). "Time is too precious an artefact to be pawned off by prostitutes", one of several suggestions that Sabbath is protecting the timeline for a purpose. Put all these together and the answers in Sometime Never... make perfect sense.
On hand, almost Benny-style, is the Master to comment on how different the universe is these days. He poignantly refers to the old days where his rivalry with the Doctor was all-important to the fate of the universe but now it is utterly insignificant and even worse, embarrassingly tame. "He went on to speculate that he might just go back to sleep, and only wake up when the universe was once more in a fit state for somebody of his calibre" ...far more important than his comment that there are only four Time Lords left in existence is his assessment at the state of current Doctor Who, frighteningly adult compared to its televised parent. Some would agree with his words, others (like me) would much rather read Adventuress than watch Terror of the Autons, but nevertheless Miles makes some thoughtful comments about the evolution of the programme.
The title of the book makes the suggestion that Scarlette will be the most important character in the book but I found she only became a powerful character during the last third, stepping from the Doctor's shadow and leading the Accidental Conclave on the great hunt. You can't help but cheer as she summons a babewyn, spears it through the heart and reveals that the apes (ie human ignorance) can be fought. Her drunken self-destructive streak and touching sacrifice (pretending to have died in the final battle to allow the Doctor to leave the Earth) in the latter passages of the book reveal what a great character she was, but during the first half of the book she remains quiet and somewhat faceless. Her mock funeral is the last magic trick of a theatrical manipulator.
Miles barely disguises his disgust for Anji (and listening to the terrible tortures he wanted to inflict on her during this book I think we got off lightly), making her rude, presumptuous and confrontational. These are aspects of her character that have turned up in other books but they are usually softened by her warmth and humanity. One character calls her an angry, exotic elemental.
When Miles wrote Adventuress he was under the impression that the Daleks would be revealed to be the villains at the climax of the arc, however difficulties ensued and things had to be changed. This is why the "black eye sun" that gazes over the Kingdom of the Beasts is never explained. Could it be Octan, as I suggested in my summing up review of the Council of Eight arc, watching over events? Re-reading this it is doubtful when descriptions like "the blazing black ball of the sun swung in his direction, an eye made out of pupils" are used to describe it. However Sometime Never... ends with a menacing black eye watching over events - perhaps they are still waiting to pounce - a PDA possibly, now the Daleks CAN be used by the BBC again? The equally compelling idea that these scenes were actually set on dead Gallifrey (which would tie into the book's themes perfectly), or a representation of what the lack of Gallifrey has done to the universe and the sun is the dead Eye of Harmony watching over the story is one to ponder on too.
The climax to the book is given suitable levity. The Doctor's wedding ceremony, surrounded by monster masks, held by a drunken priest, Scarlette the surrogate bride and the Doctor close to death is one of the most memorable scenes in Doctor Who fiction. The fact that apes storm the church and transport the guests to the Kingdom of Beasts rounds off a classy service.
Setting up the future with style, the book takes a turn for the macabre as Sabbath realises what is causing the Doctor's sickness and rips out his poisoned heart. Camera Obscura here we come as the Doctor discovered just what happened to his diseased organ.
The final set piece of the book, the siege, is appropriately given considerable coverage - all of the main contributors (Lisa-Beth, Scarlette, Rebecca) to the essay are present and the action is assembled in vivid detail. The image of the Doctor decapitating the King of the Beasts is intoxicating; our hero is breaking the chains of human ignorance and ensuring that knowledge has no bounds.
This is a book about detail and will frustrate readers who prefer traditional, adventure stories. Those in the know about the history of Doctor Who will realise that this book pushes the boundaries of the show considerably, taking the series in a mature new direction. People still say that the New Adventures took the most risks but Adventuress leaves their legacy in the nursery. It is bold and brilliant and reveals that there are still many areas the show has yet to explore.
I love it.
Friday, 8 October 2010
Plot: Reality falls apart. It’s all the Time Lords’ fault. The Doctor is the ultimate agent of Reason. Roz is clearing up sick. Chris has to make the ultimate decision in the history of everything. The TARDIS rocks.
(Before I go on I would like to say thank goodness for this novel. To say the New Adventures have been cruising for a while would be an understatement. Let’s look at the past ten books. Zamper was dull. Toy Soldiers was underwhelming. Head Games was schizophrenic, interesting but offering some really scary observations. The Also People was delicious but low key. Shakedown was irrelevant. Just War was astonishing but again felt like the series was cruising. Warchild was tidying up loose ends. Sleepy was a yawn fest. Death and Diplomacy was worse than Sky Pirates. Happy Endings was more fluff. GodEngine was atrocious on every conceivable level. The Also People and Just War come up trumps but they are both self contained adventures. The rest of these books see the New Adventures cruising along, telling okay but not especially good stories (and some seriously bad ones). I was starting to wonder if we had seen everything this series had to offer when along came Christmas on a Rational Planet…)
Master Manipulator: Miles starts from the ground up. It’s the Doctor’s series so it seems only fair that he should offer us some startling insight into the Time Lord’s mind. The Doctor is trying to wean himself off his umbrella and is using a walking cane. He hates the feeling that things are going on behind his back. He still has his PRIME computer (‘Clever PRIME’). He admits he is the man who is usually responsible except when he is the man who is irresponsible. Smith is becoming dangerously close to becoming the Doctor’s name. The Memory Store in the TARDIS is the records of the version of history the way the Doctor thought it should have happened. He once spent 26 years putting his books in order and it was the best meditation of his life. There is a fantastic description of how the Doctor allows himself to think like a human on page 158, slipping into ‘ephemeral mode’ and perceiving time as linear. He is described as an anomaly in a crowd and a ‘devil with two hearts’. Perhaps he had spent so long playing in dark places he always knew where to find the chaos and brought his own kind of order to it. Without humans the Doctor might as well not exist, he’d be a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. ‘You pretend to be a spanner in the works, Doctor, but you’re as much part of the machine as the dictators and the bureaucrats.’ Page 248 sums up the Doctor up as well as I have ever read: ‘I’ve done so much. Saved entire races whose names I can’t even remember. And why? Because of reasons. Because of principles. Truth, love and harmony. Peace and goodwill. The best of intentions.’ Brilliantly the Doctor comes to realise that the TARDISes manipulative behaviour is modelled on his own: ‘If you’re and interfering old stout it’s not surprising that your ship is as well!’ In a moment of rare affection the Doctor pats his ship, realising that part of him has saved the day.
Stroppy Copper: Christmas on a Rational Planet plays wonderful games with Roz. Thank God. I was starting to wonder if her excellent treatment in Just War was just a fluke! This book finally proves that Roz is a million times more interesting than Chris simply because it spends about the equal amount of time in each of their heads and we learn lots of great stuff about Forrester but practically nothing about Chris. But more on him later…
Roz is posing as a Negress witch woman: ‘Abracadabra, shalom, shalom, I see into the mists of time and stuff, blah blah blah…’ Roz’s insane (and slightly brilliant) method of summoning the Doctor is to shoot Abraham Lincoln’s father! When the Doctor scolds Roz for such an irresponsible action she bites back admitting she cannot live in a world without rules. She doesn’t know if the next person she meets will feel sorry for her or kill her and she’s not sure which is worse. The Doctor has stated talking to her the way he used to with Bernice and she doesn’t want to fill her shoes because facetiousness doesn’t come easy to her. She believed in the Empire, until it tried to kill her. One day she will have to go back. Roz feels her life is wiping the sick off the furniture on a cosmic scale. She wonders what is left of her instinct for law enforcement. A long time ago she swore an oath to stop people getting hurt. Unless she was doing the hurting. In a naked moment she wonders why she bothers staying in the TARDIS, pushed around, throttled, shot at, insulted and stranded. No job satisfaction. Seriously. No roots. When she comes face to face with her old self: ‘I’d forgotten what a complete and utter bitch I was!’ When she finally makes her way back to the TARDIS she is so glad to be home. She pauses. Home?
Puppy Dog Eyes: Oh Chris. Even Miles, who could grab hold of Adric and find lots of interesting things to say (actually I think anybody could do that…except Gary Russell if Divided Loyalties is anything to go by) cannot find anything interesting for Chris to do! The trouble with Chris is you were told everything you were ever going to find out about him in Original Sin. He’s a cuddly mummy’s boy of a copper who plays with spaceships in his room and likes having lots of meaningless sex. I can’t tell you how much I laughed myself silly when he was forced to give birth to Gynoids in this book, finally revenge for all the spawn he has littered about the space/time continuum. I hope it hurt. There really isn’t much to learn about him, the last ten books have shown that so the best you can hope to do is get him involved in the story in some vaguely interesting way. Miles almost achieves that at the climax but then it is revealed he was just a puppet after all. That kind of sums him up well, a puppet. It’s hard to work up any enthusiasm for anyone who is that nice. There was a scene in Rational Planet that I thought summed up his contributions to these novels well, Duquesne is having a seriously deep conversation with Cacophony and in the background Chris is being chased back and forth by robots and Quarks and revolutionaries. Comic relief, but its about as good as he gets.
Chris has the morbid curiosity of a 14 year old. He feels uncomfortable at the thought of aliens in the TARDIS. The idiot starts typing away casually when he plugs in the interface of the TARDIS and removes the outer shell! I wanted to strangle him when he irritatingly filters through all the ‘psy’ words in the dictionary to see if Duquesne has the abilities. Described as the first born child of the world of disorder. ‘Law and Order are in our blood’ – his Dad supposedly told him and he believes it.
Foreboding: Roz’s feelings of home soon come to haunt her in So Vile a Sin. The last scene is a doozy, Cacophony whispering Chris’ ear that he has made the wrong choice, talking of victims and how it is all going to end… Upon looking into the Universe in a Bottle Chris exclaims ‘I wonder what he’s doing in San Francisco.’ Is the Doctor the Eighth Man Bound?
Twists: How many good ideas can be stuffed into one book…lets find out. Gynoids, female androids, not constructed, not man made…they just are. The Catholics, hiding bones of a T-Rex and Sea Devils as they date back before the Earth was created. Roz killing Abraham Lincoln’s father – thick black marker pen over the pages of history saying Roz Forrester was here. An interface that connected Kamelion to the TARDIS. Chris uses it to play about with the architectural configuration, de-rationalising the TARDIS! Cacophony is the force that seeks to plunge the human race into a dark age of superstition. The huge sentience in the heart of the TARDIS is just a small sliver of the Matrix. Catcher is tearing holes in the rational universe, he has been touched by something powerful and irrational. The Directory is an organisation who seek out and control – or exterminate – alien life. The Professor from the Directory talks of the cailliou that pushes people and objects into convenient places, remarkable co-incidences saving him from a deadly fate (hmm who does that sound like?). Raphael – a hunter for the Directory, described as a cloaked smiling man with a scalpel hiding in the shadows. Issac Penley explodes and Catcher, desperately trying to bring Reason to the universe literally puts his body parts back together, replacing missing bits for whatever he has to hand. Sickeningly the completed work comes alive. Marielle Duquesne is the interface between Cacophony and the rational universe. The Carnival Queen is the living embodiment of chaos unleashed into the rational universe. The Watchmakers are one of the first Great Races. They wanted existence to be precise, timetabled, tying creation down to rules. They tore out their imagination, their wonders and their superstitions and chained them in a corner of creation cut off from the rest of the universe (sound like anybody you know?). The curse of the Watchmakers was that they sucked all the glamour and strangeness from the universes bones. Cacophony wants to make an irrational universe, take apart the Watchmakers clockwork. Killing lessons were woven into the Doctor’s DNA, instructions to kill Cacophony. In the scariest moment of all of creation Chris Cwej has to decide whether history existed (the fact that he has to think about proves what a numb-nuts this guy is!). I love the idea of a villain who is bested metaphorically shaking his hand and congratulating him on his win. The TARDIS planted the memory in Chris’ mind, the memory that would convince him to side with the Doctor and save history. It had the most to lose, the Watchmaker’s creation…the Watch.
Funny Bits: Erskine’s reaction to the Masonic ceremony: ‘Hellfire and shite!’
The Doctor explains to Roz that Abraham Lincoln’s father was called Thomas, not Samuel.
‘The Great Beast of Tara is scarier than you are!’
Gallifrey is described as ‘Stagnant. Born into a society were change comes once in every heliotrope moon, each new generation finds itself forced to devise increasingly elaborate rites and ceremonies, in order to disguise the crushing banality of life on a planet cut off from the rest of history.’
All Daleks are made from male genetic material. That explains a lot.
Result: Hugely enjoyable, Lawrence Miles bursts onto the scene with so many fantastic ideas. As a fan of Doctor Who there is so much to enjoy here, it is another reminder of how epic and unlike the TV series the New Adventures can be, continuity is used sharply and with much humour with lots of clever kisses to the past and the regulars all come out of this book more polished than they were before. The seeds are sown for Miles’ future innovations; here he opens our minds to Time Lord History, sentient TARDISes, the universe in a bottle but also includes a number of astonishing ideas that make this novel unique. I would have grown tired of the surreal nature of the narrative but he even managed to make me smile there as the nature of threat is revealed to explain all the oddness at just the right point. His prose is the key, it keeps you hooked even when you haven’t got a clue what is going on and it whips you in the face with its acidic wit and brutally thoughtful observations. I can’t think of a single book in this series that has made me so excited with its potential which bodes extremely well for the Benny NAs and EDAs. This is the book where the TARDIS manages to save the day, trumping the Doctor: 10/10
Plot: The Doctor, Mel and Evelyn take on a sinister shadow government. But not until they reach page 200. Lots of characters from Gary Russell’s earlier books return to say their goodbyes, including the sweet gay couple Trey and Joe, torn apart by alien involvement. And a sinister man wants revenge on the Doctor for stealing his memories…
Theatrical Traveller: This is really the sixth Doctor from the audios rather than the sixth Doctor from the telly but never mind. And never mind that he spends an inordinate amount of time doing sod all but talking about his feelings. Frankly, the sixth Doctor is one of the few that can actually make this kind of material work. Rather than wearing his heart on his sleeve, he hides his real feelings away behind bluster and bravado so when somebody he means this much to him resurfaces in his life, its quite fascinating to watch him open up…
His relationship with Mel is fun and cheeky. He said he was a vegetarian (when it suited him). Although his wit, sharp incisive mind and heroic drive stay the same, when the Doctor regenerates each new body takes on a distinctive approach to haute couture. He will not acknowledge that his outfit draws attention and he genuinely believed he looked good. He is genuinely tactile around Evelyn. Their friendship was very deep and cut off abruptly. He’s not as sweet or elegant as some of his earlier incarnations; he cannot wear his heart on his sleeve anymore. He left Evelyn on Earth to watch over Joe Haimbridge, to watch the consequences to the people whilst he got on with the bigger picture. The Doctor might be approaching the big ten double-oh but he’s got an eternity until old age hits him. He was terribly, terribly lonely and Evelyn provided a companionship that went beyond just being someone in the TARDIS to talk to, laugh and joke with. When Evelyn said she wanted to leave, it really hurt the Doctor. The Doctor can be seen as a roguish charmer, a hero, someone who defies Time Lord nature, romantic, dashing, passionate but he’s still an alien, his feelings and emotions are alien too, and he’s far too big and complicated to be weighed down with human characteristics. The Earth is very special to him. He had wisdom, charm and darkness etched into his face.
Loony Lecturer: How nice to introduce Evelyn to the books! She is one of my all time favourite companions from any medium and rightly deserves to have more adventures penned wit her involved. Whilst it is a shame that this contradicts both Thicker Than Water and Spiral Scratch her inclusion is still much appreciated. Her relationship with the Doctor always felt special to me and to see it explored in as much depth as it is here cannot be a bad thing, even if it does hold up the plot.
Evelyn was dumped in 1988 by the Doctor who was hurt that she wanted to leave. She feels frustrated at being forced to live her life trapped out of time and desperately wants to see her mother (before she dies) and husband (after their divorce) and tell them how much she loves them. She wants to tell her younger self who at this point (before she met the Doctor) is going through a crisis, that things will get better. She gets terribly lonely; she misses her books, her photo albums, her cardies and her students. She wants to go home to a life of familiar things. She goes by the name of Eve Richmond, her married name. Evelyn swore if the Doctor ever returned for her she would have nothing to do with him unless he was going to take her home. She only criticises the Doctor to keep him on his toes. Evelyn admires the Doctor, likes him enormously. She was happy to travel with him – her divorce had come through, she needed to escape and the Doctor gave her a wonderful gift of being strong again. The Doctor says: “Over the years, as you say, the TARDIS has been home to a large number of people other than myself. For the most part I liked them, they liked me, we faced danger, we had fun but eventually one or the other of us realised it was time to move on. And when they went I was sad. We were friends but I knew it was the best thing for them. I suppose as time went on, I got slightly hardened to it – one day they would tell me they had met someone, or found something worthwhile to do, or been given an opportunity to go home by a more direct route than me and the TARDIS. And I’d say goodbye and move on. But Evelyn…Evelyn was different. For the first time in years I had met someone who was, well, an equal. Evelyn didn’t need rescuing too often; I can remember one or two ferocious creatures that needed rescuing from her. She used her brains, her wit and experience to get out of any real trouble and we faced things together. She’d had a lot of life experience you see – she was divorced; she had spent most of her life dealing with younger people, her students. Nothing fazed her. She even held her own against an entire Dalek army once. We read the same books, laughed at the same jokes. There was an unspoken respect and equality between us, I suppose. She could make analogous deductions no matter what planet we were on, who we were running from, or sharing dinner with, or shaping the political structure of.”
Aieeeee: Finishing off this finely fleshed out trio is Mel. Do you what I think is hilarious? You think of Mel, one of the least popular companions of all time…personally in retrospect with her audios and books taken into consideration she was one of the best. Here me out, here me out! People are always moaning that the Doctor and his companions never got on…the sixth Doctor and Mel did! Colin and Bonnie have an excellent rapport (go listen to The One Doctor) and the Doctor’s verbose bravado and Mel’s obscene common sense makes them a frighteningly successful pair. It is such a shame that Colin was sacked when he was…I feel they would have made an excellent pair.
Mel is pleasant enough company, intelligent and quick and her enthusiasm cannot be faulted. She is a petit vegetarian health fanatic! She’s sweet, inoffensive and despite having a vocal range that would put Wagner’s Valkeries out of business, fun to be around. Life with the Doctor had taught Mel to expect the unexpected – it was more fun that way. And safer. She doesn’t fancy seeing her parents in this story – what if something has happened to them or if she had already returned home? Mel knew she wasn’t the first person to travel with the Doctor but stupidly thought she would be the last and that he would settle down after their adventures. Mel refuses to be cynical and belligerent about the universe. She thinks the Doctor is in love with Evelyn but Evelyn firmly refutes that.
Twists: Chapter One features cot death, throat slashing, attempted rape and murder. What’s this? A return to the New Adventures? Ciara and Cellian are back, mending their ways with Joe Haimbridge in tow. Underneath Paris, the mysterious John Doe is running a secret organisation that controls the world’s governments. John Doe is an amnesiac UNIT operative who wants revenge on the Doctor who stole away his memories. The opening of chapter eight is nasty – Tim slaps his girlfriend about and forces bags of coke and cider down her throat until they explode and she dies of an overdose, drowning in her own vomit. Trey has been prostituting his mind to C19 and after falling into a coma is kidnapped by Magnate. In an eerie sequence Dickinson discovers Woody’s life erased and notes that say he was going to die in 5 days time. Magnate is revealed as a powerful psionic being known as Tko-Ma. Him and his brother Lai-Ma spent several millennia destroying worlds – they were exiled to a pocket realm – reducing their strength. They want to see which of them could destroy the Earth first; Tko-Ma founded the Network (Magnate) so he could track down his brother. The Cylox are like naughty thirteen year olds only with the ability to destroy galaxies. The SPnets destroy his secret plane of existence and the Doctor traps him. Ciara is shot by John Doe and she and her brother both die, finally getting some peace. In turn John Doe is shot when he threatens Evelyn. We realises with some sadness that he was Jeremy Fitzoliver, the useless **** who used to bungle the third Doctor’s adventures. Turns out a piece of equipment the Doctor order destroyed Jeremy started playing about with and thus he lost his memory and was sent away to recuperate. The Ini-Ma was the Cylox’s jailer and she sacrificed her bloodline to see them imprisoned again. The nine-strong SPnets led by Trey and Dudley want to be free – they the power to help or destroy the Earth and will only help on their terms, not as lab rats. The last two pages are probably the best things Gary Russell has ever written.
Funny Bits: “And you remember that lovely car we hired? The one you’d told me you’d taken back to The Golden Coast? The Volkswagen. Green, convertible, big headlights, dent in the offside wing?” “What of it?” asks the Doctor innocently. “I’ not sure what is worse actually? The fact that it is parked in a huge oil covered TARDIS bedroom. Or the fact that it now has a collapsible roof the same colour as your trousers. Or indeed the green sun strip across the windscreen saying ‘The Doc’ on the driver’s side and ‘Companion of the moment’ on the passenger side!” Tonka Travers fell in love with Evelyn! That’s why he was so moody in Terror of the Vervoids! Intrigue and mayhem indeed! Mel has bat phobia! Which kinda of explains a lot about Time and the Rani. Evelyn refuses to let the Doctor borrow her car so he has to run after the train. Feeling guilty, she gets Mel to run after him with the keys. Cheekily before she can catch up with him he drives past in her car anyway…and she realises she has the keys to his VW!
“Doctor! Doctor thank you for getting back to me. Er…which one am I talking to by the way?”
“Which one? Which one? Which one d’you want? This one. The right one.”
Oh. That one.
Result: How on Earth is this written by the same man who wrote Divided Loyalties? Instruments of Darkness is less of a story in its own right and more of a tying up of loose ends from his previous and would probably read ever better if The Scales of Injustice and Business Unusual were read directly before. Whilst it is a case of throwing in loads of ideas in one pot, most of the ideas here are great (John Doe, Magnate, the SPnets) and the although the plotting is all over the place (you have a really slow first 200 pages followed by a frantic rush at the climax) it reads like a dream thanks to Gary’s expressive, emotive prose. It’s the characterisation where this story scores though, with the Doctor, Evelyn and Mel removed from much of the action to have their own private drama and guest characters such as Trey, Dickinson and Jeremy who all feel very real because of their feelings of loss. It’s a book that needs serious tightening up but I found it charming for the most part and far more interesting than many of the surrounding PDAs: 7.5/10