Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Hope by Mark Clapham

Plot: The desolate, lawless town of Hope is home to a spree of monstrous beheadings, unconnected murders which the Doctor is called in to investigate. Meeting the real power behind the planet, Silver, the TARDIS crew is in danger of being torn apart forever as a dangerous bargain is made…

Top Doc: Much is made of the Doctor’s missing second heart and the effects it is starting to have on him. With it gone, he is starting to feel like just another man. He cannot metabolise tranquillisers or activate his respiratory bypass system any more which leads to some complicated situations. He prefers to think of the TARDIS as a friend rather than a machine. He has a passion for dangerous, unpredictable situations, which he seeks out the second he steps from the TARDIS in this book. He proves he doesn’t need a gun; his offensive capabilities are his physical and mental attributes. He tells Silver he is not for hire, by any one. He has a crack at some hammy tramp acting which is damn near hilarious! Described as being happy standing taller than worlds, growing acidic and imperious when he learns of Anji’s betrayal. A fallen angel with his wings clipped? He tells Silver that his missing heart isn’t what helped him defeat monsters like him, it was his character.

Scruffy Git: This is another highly enjoyable portrayal of Fitz who is fast becoming the easiest companion to write for with very, very few writers getting his voice wrong. He is a 20th Century everyman who embraces the extraordinary who is really down to Earth and recognisable, no matter how hard he tries to play the man of mystery (I think that sums him up beautifully!). Anji finds she can rely on his good nature and humanity. Although he never learns his lessons with the ladies, which is a part of his general Fitz-ness. He considers himself not cruel, cowardly or mean and a man of few beliefs. Sometimes Fitz wished the Doctor had a little less faith in him, so he wouldn’t always be chosen to go on all the dangerous missions. Hilariously he spends five minutes with a techno cult and in that time turns their entire belief system on its head! He is extremely proud of his ability to loaf around. His reaction to Anji’s betrayal of the Doctor is one of utter horror, attempting to shrink into the shadows.

Career Nazi: The finest Anji book yet and one of the defining moments in her tenure, Clapham captures her voice beautifully, managing to take her down a path that many would consider scandalous (betraying the Doctor) but without it seeming false or turning her into some arch (New Ace) villain. She feels as though the TARDIS is her home, it’s now become a place of familiarity and comfort for her. She feels guilt because she is used to waking up alone now. She is very soft with Fitz these days and calls him ‘tiger’. To Anji, the universe is young and fresh and old and dying colonies like Hope are not the sort places she wants to visit. Her decision to ask Silver to resurrect Dave is not because she wants her boyfriend back but because after dying in such a pointless way she wants to give him a second chance at life. Both the Doctor and Silver win her trust in separate ways, the Doctor she likes and respects and she is awe of Silver and looks up to him. But Dave is the main man in her life, the only one she chose to be with, a man who she shared affection, trust, warmth, hope and lust with. Ultimately, for Anji, that bond is more important to her than a haphazard adventuring spirit. She chokes with tears at not being able to tell ‘her’ Dave about the wonders of the universe she has seen.
When the Doctor discovers she has handed over the secrets of the TARDIS to bring her old love back to life he is furious but brilliantly Anji refused to be silenced and hits him with her motivation for doing it with all the passion she can muster. Appropriately her final scene with the new Dave is awkward but there is a wonderful sense of release for her, like she has closed the door on that particular part of her life.

Foreboding: The Doctor’s missing heart is causing all sorts of problems for him…

Twists: The exciting opening sees the TARDIS plonk down on a frozen sea of acid, which starts to break up as soon as the travellers emerge. Hope is an ingenious idea, vividly depicted in the story, a desolate town built of rubbish, raised on stilts to protect it from an acid sea. During a tense hostage situation Silver makes his first show stopping appearance, smashing one of cultist’s skull all over the room with his giant metal fist. Chapter seven is excellent, skilfully recounting Silver’s past, especially the marvellously disorienting moment when we experience Silver waking up for the first time from his POV. The price for resurrecting Dave is to hand over the secrets of the TARDIS, a delicious dilemma for Anji. The beheading monsters turns out to be just a man after all, one of a team of scientists living under the sea, protecting the last survivors of humanity. Silver is revealed to have set up the cult that loathes him all along, just to prove there is opposition to his rule. The Doctor boasts of humanities creativity and craving for knowledge before Stephen admits he cannot wait to cut him open. The scene where Silver lavishes a fresh storm over Hope is one of unexpected joy. Anji’s sneaking around the TARDIS behind the Doctor’s back is really uncomfortable. Silver’s plan, to convert the remaining dregs of humanity into an army of Silveratti and take over the universe would be embarrassing if all the elements hadn’t been so well set up in the book. The confrontation between the Doctor and Anji is electric and the high point of the book. Touchingly, proving he still has faith in her, the Doctor gives Anji the TARDIS key. Anji saves the Doctor for once, shooting Silver in his good eye and helping transport him to another, primitive world.

Embarrassing bits: The front cover is striking but when looked at from a certain angle resembles a very purple gay disco. Annoyingly the depiction of Hope on it doesn’t match anything described in the book either, except for the stilts. Anji says it has only been a few months since Dave died but at least a year passed in Adventuress! My own reaction to this book is a source of embarrassment for me, the first time I read it I enjoyed it, but about six months ago I re-read it and tore it to pieces in a particularly nasty review on DWRG, and now reading the books is order I can now see how so much of this works really well in context. What was I on in that second read?

Result: Clearly the work of an author trying to impress on his debut solo novel, there are loads of great ideas in here and the plot never stops developing. Hope itself is a beautifully well thought out Doctor Who location full of danger and atmosphere, a deadly setting for this tale of betrayal and conquest. It’s almost a shame that Silver has to become such a predictable villain in the end because he is such a memorable character and for once there is a character that matches the charisma and intelligence of the Doctor. The prose is a little choppy in places and the plot does hop about a bit but none of these matters because the character work is brilliant. Anji is finally treated to a novel that pushes her centre stage and she is every bit as compelling and thoughtful as I new she would be, Mark Clapham should be extremely proud of taking this much loathed character and making her seem more real and complex than any other writer. Her plot brought tears to my eyes at the end. All in all, a compelling read, not an absolute classic (there’s a bit too much going on and with an extended page count it could be explored more thoroughly) but a confident, intelligent read with plenty to admire and enjoy: 8/10

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