Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Clockwise Man by Justin Richards

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

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