Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Loving the Alien by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry

Plot: Take Ace's death, giant ants, missing pilots, cybernetic apes, an old enemy, a parallel universe and some New Adventures style angst and whip it all up with an explanation for Ace's shifting name and serve out in four brilliant, twisted, flawed and terrible episodes in print...

Master Manipulator: The seventh Doctor has the potential to be the deepest print Doctor. He was the first to feature in full length novels and thus was the first to be explored in such a rigorous fashion. Robert Perry and Mike Tucker clearly adore him (although their treatment of Ace is another matter entirely) and whilst I don't entirely agree with how he is portrayed here he is at least given a clear mission, a friend to protect and lives to save. For once the master manipulator is making things up as they go along and somebody equally cunning has a plan of audaciousness that even the seventh Doctor wouldn't dream of...

When the Doctor is concerned, the TARDIS can sense it. He had landed on Heritage with too much knowledge as usual and even he was shocked at what they found - Mel dead. His concern for his friend has led him to exhume Ace's corpse and perform an autopsy on her. The Doctor thinks it is selfish of him that he never gives the full story and thus puts his friends in danger. His expertise with mazes are an example of his misspent youth. The Doctor seems smaller after Ace's death, shrunken by his loss. For once the Doctor is too tired, too angry with himself to avenge his friend - it takes Cody to remind him he has a duty to his friends - sod the timelines. Staring at death, the Doctor admits, "I've destroyed planets."

Oh Wicked: This is the book that deals with Ace's death, long after it was revealed to us back in Prime Time. Its typical of the PDA/EDA(s) to leave such important plot points far too long (the Doctor's amnesia/Fitz's amnesia were both left for far too long too) but points for not just forgetting it as an embarrassing shock twists. Even more points for using a companions death (along with Harry in Wolfsbane, Mel in Heritage and Sarah in Bullet Time) in such an imaginative way (the Council of Eight snipping the Doctor's companions in the innovative EDA Sometime Never...). PDAs being used not only as books in their own right but entire books being utilised as plot points in a much larger scheme in another Doctor Who range. Who ever knew the death of Ace could be so damn audacious?

Ace actually feels independent of the Doctor - usually she was either running alongside him or searching for him. Here she gets to have some fun, romance, sex and the possibility of a life after the Doctor suddenly becomes less frightening. Safety wasn't in great supply with the Doctor and Ace loved that but running on pure adrenalin for years - sometimes she didn't notice how tiring that was. It was inevitable that she would fall in love one day. Ace's death, a bullet in the head during a mundane moment, is so casual it makes it more of a shock.

Twists: A rocket crashes to Earth but with the wrong pilot at the helm...or rather a very different pilot to who went up. The TARDIS is described as a dull blue brick, spinning as if thrown into the vortex. Giant ants start attacking members of the public. Although you would have to think back a fair while to remember Cody McBride and Mullen, as the Doctor says it is nice to catch up with old friends. There is a typically bust McCoy cliffhanger at the end of 'part' one: a race against time to save Ace from death, an unexploded German bomb AND giant ants...they sure pack it in! Mullen, terrified of cybernetic legs after his experience with the Cybermen is a lovely touch. Kneale's rocket was sucked into a trans-dimensional rift and vaporised and O'Brien's rocket came through the other side. After Illegal Alien the Cybermen were discovered and the Augmentation project began. Drakefell sneaked an important Cyber device into the rocket Wavefinder which is why he sabotaged it to blow up. Tatoo's, toffee apples, sex...Ace's death is beautifully set up. A dimensional stabiliser was used to bore a hole in the fabric of reality so the rocket from another dimension could come to ours. Now there are holes in the fabric of space/time, universes bleeding into each other and giant ants crawling through. The Augmentation Project was based at London Zoo for a while and discovering their secret McBride is locked away with their experiments, apes altered with machinery replacing limbs and organs and hooked to the electric ceiling like dodgems. Supersoldiers attack the downed Wavefinder rocket meaning to destroy it and the Doctor is ejected in an escape pod as it explodes, lighting up the English countryside. The cottage is the bridge, the dimensional walls are thin there and at the spot that corresponds to this in the other reality is an ants nest. Ace's death is revealed as nothing more than George Limb's way of smoking out the Doctor. Limb has done terrible things to time and then gone back and undone them - he even saw his own death. In a truly audacious twist (that I adore) cybertised British troops from another dimension are the ones that were smashing down the walls of reality so they can invade our dimension. Basically because of the augmentation process people are born but nobody dies so they are invading other dimensions to create more of their own kind. George Limb is the prime minister of this dimension. (And if you read this carefully there is much here that is very similar to the NSA The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords with the Master (Limb) opening a tear in reality and allowing the Toclafane through (the Cybertised Welsh Guard) to rain down over London and cause devastation! Ironically both invasions are via impossible means (paradox machine/dimensional rift) and the aggressors are alternative versions of the people they are attacking (future/other dimension). Bizarre isn't it? The Doctor convincing Crawhammer to put his gun down on page 219 is a wonderful moment. Rita at the augmentation clinic in the other dimension is frightening. The gorrilla ripping off the Prime Ministers head is gruesome! In a fantastic moment Limb attempts to take control of the other reality and discovers, upon shooting himself, his doppelganger is mechanical. Ace was pregnant with Jimmy's child when she was killed. The Doctor gives Limb a revolver to kill himself, the only way he can escape his eventual augmentation. The Cyber-British retreat but Crawhammer has sent his nuclear missiles through the rift. The fate of this other dimension is left unknown...

Funny Bits: The Doctor and Ace were hidden on the moon as Neil Armstrong took his first steps, the Doctor whistling like a clanger. Given what Martha says about watching the moon landing in the New series I have this rather wonderful of image of all of the Doctor’s watching Armstrong from differing strategic positions on the moon. You can decide which companions travelled with each incarnation.
As they take a tour of London Ace spots loads of police boxes, as though lots of Doctor's have all arrived to gang up on an alien menace.
"There's a perfectly simple explanation. We were searching for a friend, then a breach opened in the walls of reality and swarm of giant ants came through."
When George Limb discovers the invaders are led by none other than himself: "At least I was outwitted by someone whose intellect I respect!"

Embarrassing Bits: Colonel Kneale...are we still doing Quatermass jokes?
Crawhammer is an embarrassing stereotype for the most part - were Generals really that bullish?
Jimmy is the actor James Dean? Why? Why? Why?
Ace's death is given such importance in the first half and then practically forgotten in the second half.
The Doctor uses the Cyber-primates as weapons! To buy them some time he hooks them up to car batteries and sends them out to slaughter people!
Is it a co-incidence that this book takes place at the same time as the EDA alternative universe arc (or The Lingering Death of a Series as it is known to some people who aren't me) and Limb is accompanied by enhanced apes just as Sabbath was? Or was this hasty re-writes from a book that was originally in the EDA arc?
The biggest problem with Loving the Alien is there is simply too much going on - too much plot, too many ideas, too much angst, too much drama. The quieter moments are kept to an absolute minimum so we can get to the next shock moment. It never lets up and for a while becomes almost unbearably (or should I say Quantum Archangelly) complicated.

Result: A bit of a dog's dinner but with so much here that is very good it is frustrating that should all get so confusing. Lets look at the good stuff: Ace's forewarned but still shocking death, the chilling CyberApes, the return of McBride, Mullen and Limb (all three working better here than they did in their debut), the shockingly good twist of who is invading our dimension and another excellent cover. What goes wrong is how the authors try and pull all this together. They can't. Its such a disparate set of ideas (especially when you add giant ants, missing rockets, James Dean and augmentation clinics to the mix) that they have to go through so many hoops (and worse, rely on the most implausible of co-incidences) to fit it all in one book. I always admire ambition and so many of these ideas are clever and worth exploring but not all at once. For once there is even a clear demonstration of Tucker and Perry's different writing styles, one being text heavy and the other focussing on dialogue. Loving the Alien is brilliant, twisted, imaginative but its also overstuffed, embarrassing and amateurish...I enjoyed reading it because it opened my mind to some great concepts but I can't say it wasn't a chore in places. Uneven: 5/10

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