Thursday, 5 May 2011

Blue Box by Kate Orman

Plot: The internet revolution is about to begin and threatening its explosion of innovation is a piece of technology from an alien world. The Doctor, Peri, a journalist Chick Peters and computer hacker Bob team up to take on the sinister Sarah Swan who will stop at nothing to harness this alien device…

Theatrical Traveller: I’m starting to sound like a broken record but this has actually been an excellent run of adventures when concerning its Doctors. Kate Orman is not the first person you would think of when it comes to writing for the sixth Doctor, primarily because she is so in love with the seventh and eighth incarnations but she brings sixie to life with real affection here. I remember the interviews that were published at the time, Kate confessed her liking for this Doctor and it shines through in the writing. Colin Baker would be proud.

The Doctor never showed a flicker of interest in Peri, he didn’t act like a father, more like an older brother with a serious case of sibling rivalry. Usually the Doctor dressed like a cross between a flower child and a character out of Dickens. It wasn’t unusual for him to talk about the end of the world. He likes charging in and making a bunch of noise, not caring what anybody thinks. He says of himself: “Anybody can do incredible things if they’ve got incredible resources. It takes an artist to make poetry out of bits of string and paper clips.” The Doctor takes up a lot of space and not just because he’s a big man. He moves around a lot. He fills the air with words and gestures. He’s the focal point of any room he’s in. While his people sit back and let the universe go by, the Doctor likes to roll up his sleeves and plunge right in. The Doctor hasn’t been killed because it never occurs that he is in danger. He wants to save the Earth because it’s Peri’s home. He’s a pain in the ass but fun to be around. He can pack Peri’s name with a world of irritation. The Doctor is the smartest person Peri knows. Unfortunately he is also the smartest person he knows. He thinks he is invulnerable and can shout his way out of any trouble. He needs somebody to look after him, he doesn’t have anybody. The Doctor is utterly unselfconscious in his coat – people still take him seriously in it and only he could get away with that. The Doctor speaks in a crisp English accent with relish, as though just pronouncing words was a pleasure in itself.

Busty Babe: Peri’s parents gave her the wanderlust, a mating pair of archaeologists who took her with them from one continent to another through her teenage years. She was looking for a way out and when she met the Doctor she knew she had found it. Peri and the Doctor spend a lot of time in half hearted bickering, usually when one of them made a stupid mistake. He burnt dinner, she got lost, he couldn’t steer, she got attacked by some animal. It felt weird for Peri being surrounded by familiar language, money and food. Peri has been wearing more garish clothes lately, not to compete with the Doctor, but to try and make him realise how outlandish his own outfit was. It isn’t an adventure for Peri anymore, it’s a nightmare like a screwed up version of real life. She can’t do it much longer. This wa sher big chance to go back to living a normal life. You’ve gotta love the scene where Peri goes insane with the flamethrower. Are they best friends because they are thrown into one crisis after another? Peri realises at this story’s close that she likes the Doctor and wants to be with him. When the Doctor regenerated Peri panicked rather than helped. She’s still trying to make that up to him.

Twists: Both the cover and blurb brilliant, an enticing introduction to the book. Compare Blue Box and The King of Terror for their very different perspectives on America…which do you think is more realistic? Bob Salmon is such a charming character you long for him to have been a companion. Peri and Bob’s high tech crime is hilarious…cross-dressing and thieving! You know the Doctor is in trouble when he kicks Swan out of her own system, the first defiant act that builds into a dramatic series of confrontations. The component is one of five parts that assemble into an Eridani super computer. It was travelling to a colony when a flood of radio signals from Earth misled it into thinking it had already reached the colony. The Eridani are trying to reassemble the computer with the Doctor’s help. The Eridani are so desperate to get their parts back they killed a collector who refused to let it go. I love the scene inside the MUD; it’s a visually interesting way to explore the computer world in a novel. The missing component is sentient and alive, its purpose to adapt and analyse technology. It is able to reproduce countless times and forms a close bond with its user that makes you instinctively care for the creature. Breaking the bond can be harmful for the user and the creature. It has the potential to wreck civilisation in a very short amount of time. The Doctor chasing Swan through the Net is gripping. There is something very scary about a device that can turn you psychotically protective of it and when Swan beats Chick with a baseball bat you realise just how insidious the creature is. The twists about Chick’s mixed gender is surprising, not in itself, but because it is a wholly character twist. When attacked, the savant downloads into Luis’ mind, he effectively becomes a blue box for the human mind, he can turn anybody compliant. The Eridani were intending the slow packet to be a gift to be a gift to a rebellious colony to subdue them. The fact that it crashed on Earth is still a welcome test of its abilities.

Funny Bits: The eavesdropping gag on page 46 is great.
“Oh and its Doc. TOR. The second syllable is as precious as the first.”

Result: Set in America, written in the first person and sitting on the cusp of the computer revolution, Blue Box is one of the most innovative PDAs. The book lives and breathes the US, you actually feel as though you are there and Chick’s investigative narration gives the story some edge. There is an examination of the Doctor and Peri that outshines any other and Orman writes a superb sixth Doctor, powerful and emotional, irritating and huggable. There are a number of fascinating concepts (especially the alien computer that hatches) but the book is slightly too relaxed in dealing with them. The pace of the book is leisurely, but this does give the author time to unveil her setting and characters with some clarity. Sarah Swan is the star of the book, a thoroughly human villain but cold and terrifying in all the best ways: 8/10

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