Saturday, 30 July 2011
Mockney Wanderer: You have got to love the Doctor’s track record these days, only four hours after landing at Milky Pink City (love that name!) he has broken the robots programming, incited civil war and brokered a peace through the power of Mika. What a guy! Martha finds his wide grin and enthusiasm infectious. He is really disappointed that he solved the mystery of the Brilliant in five minutes, after all a good mystery should take at least an hour. Everything was brilliant with him. He’s something of a rogue vigilante for the missing Time Lords these days, he claims if they had access to the time vortex he would have to stop them. He loves fixing things. He’s always going on about being the last of the Time Lords but on this occasion he just about manages to stop himself in time. He normally needs other people to point out that he is rude. Upon learning that Martha had been killed his thoughts turn darkly to how he feels duty bound to find her body and take her home to Francine and face the family’s tide of grief and anger. Once it never would have occurred to him to brave something like that if he could avoid it. Authority types trusted the Doctor because he was so useful. The transmat was so painful the Doctor has to check to see if he has regenerated. Stepping over the TARDIS threshold always put him at ease.
Doctor in Training: Some really nice characterisation of Martha in this novel, even if at times her empathy with the underdog is turned up to extremes. However even that is subverted when she is stabbed in the gut by the very creature she was cooing over. That’ll learn yer. Martha can remember some miserable family holidays and Tish the Tart chatting up the creeps. This novel is set after Human Nature and Martha has come to accept that the Doctor does not feel the same way about her even if he does give her the odd look to suggest otherwise. Francine’s house smells of strong to and cleanliness. She remembers playing late poker with the porters at the hospital. She hates being pushed in front of other people, her mum used to do that at functions and declare her ‘the middle one.’ The Doctor likes it when she shows initiative. Martha is a real Doctor even if the Doctor isn’t and she feels the need to help people even if the precious laws of time say otherwise. She hates being the centre of attention, especially at parties, she prefers to be invisible. The Doctor thinks she is clever and able and has got lovely hair! Tish had taught Martha the art of torturing boys and making them wait. Thinking her dead the Doctor says she always made things better and was going to do brilliant things. Her Dad told her not to worry about things you can’t control, the other stuff would happy regardless. Now she has met the Doctor she cannot sit idle.
Foreboding: Martha ponders leaving the Doctor soon, for her own sake.
Twists: There is a lovely bit of nonsense at the beginning of the book before things get fatalistic where the Doctor and Martha liberate a colony of robots built to amuse. Its worthy of a Roger Langridge comic. The Starship Brilliant vanished on the cusp of a galactic war. There are mouthless slaves in the engine room who can take instructions and not answer back. The Brilliant travels impossibly, skimming like a stone across the time vortex, travelling huge areas and missing the distance! Time weed is the stuff that lives in the gaps between moments. The Badger Pirates are quite scary simply because they act like idiot kids that hang outside the co-op at night, children playing at murder. Martha stabbed in the gut is a shocking moment even when you are expecting it. I loved all the discussion about cheesy pineapple sticks because it manages to comment on the class system just as Mick Lewis’ Rags did but without the flaying and eviscerations. You know there is something wrong when Mrs Wingworth antagonises the terrorists until she is murdered and as though she has won the class war she looks down on them as they shoot her. I loved the image of the pirate ship being a huge spiky peach whose spikes were invading shuttles that shot away like arrows and pierced the belly of the ships they were looting. Brilliantly once the badgers realised that they couldn’t die and that their bodies would be discreetly returned they see this as a lucrative opportunity and murder each other endlessly to replicate their gold earrings! The Brilliant has a rough idea of how things are supposed to be and ensure it fixes all problems, even death. They are sand banked in time, the bridge crew in another time zone, only four minutes after the attack. If you take the transmat you would be torn between two separate time zones! The badgers were genetically created to be slaves under the name of nature preservation. Ironically whilst they are killing each other over and over they have discovered the perfect recipe for peace ‘If they can’t kill each other they might as well get on!’ In an exciting moment Martha is almost sucked into space and thinks that the badgers are going spare some lives, when they slip their ship from the gut of the ship and let them get ejected into space. The Doctor commits suicide hoping that the loop will start again and he will be brought back to life! He extends the loop around the pirate ship and the story ends beautifully with an agonising choice. Escape the loop and be free in a galaxy at war or stay, trapped and safe inside the loop where the party never ends.
Funny Bits: ‘Humans doing what you do, daring to be brown and blue and violet sky!’
You can have a drink inside an ‘immature Mim!’
When Martha goes to shake hands she is asked ‘Is there something wrong with your paw?’
‘I don’t mean to be rude but didn’t I see you die?’
‘Its good that we’re such a close family really, it makes it much easier to hand out the subpoenas.’
Result: A small chunk of loveliness, The Pirate Loop handles some pretty weighty science fiction ideas but manages to keep the story bubbly and manageable. Once you have finished the book you realise this book has about as much death as the average Jim Mortimore and two of the best moments feature both the Doctor and Martha meeting their end. The story stays in one location and you could see how this could be realised on screen with lots of timey wimey cleverness. I love how Guerrier comments on slavery, the class system and mortality whilst still managing to make you laugh at the ironic tragedy of the situation. The ending is especially good, leaving the reader with some quiet thoughts about what they would do in the same situation. A real winner, bursting with intelligence: 8/10
Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Revolution Man: A mature piece of work and Paul Leonard’s best novel yet. Basing a book on drug taking was always going to be risky but Leonard pulls it off with real style, mainly because his prose has always had that sort of trippy, hypnotic feel to it that makes the scenes here of people intoxicated so powerful. The regulars are divine and it is astonishing to think it has taken this long to get them this right, but all three of them are vivid and used to drive the story along. The heavily bashed conclusion where the Doctor shoots Ed Hill is anything but disappointing, it’s the sort of sting in the tail these books should all have. Only the relative shortness of the book works against it, this is a storyline that deserves more time to let it breathe. All told, fantastic: 9/10
Dominion: Sporadically brilliant and dull. If you can get past the first terminally dull 50 pages things improve radically with some lovely gruesome set pieces, marvellous characterisation (you have a pair of excellent wannabe companions in Kerstin and Nagle, both competing for the position of replacement for Sam) and a great exploration of the Doctor’s character. Unfortunately the scenes set in the Dominion are mostly boring, a little too weird for my tastes and not giving you enough to care about. The prose is faultless but not risky enough (plain English…emphasis on the PLAIN) but for a debut novel this shows a lot of imagination and fresh ideas and marks Nick Walters as one to watch out for in the future: 6/10
Full Review Here: http://docohosreviews.blogspot.com/2009/06/dominion-by-nick-walters.html
Unnatural History: There are lots of plot threads, some good (the Faction stuff), some not so good (Griffin and his technobabble hell) and it feels really disjointed because for once in a OrmanBlum book the plot rivals the character stuff for importance. The threats are not intertwined; rather they are like a check list that is ticked off one by one. There are the usual genuine character moments that typify this author’s work but considering they usually torture the Doctor and his companions in horrific ways the three of them get off pretty lightly here, the book unwilling to take the appropriate risks. Dark Sam is a huge let down after so much build up, I was expecting something horrible but instead she just a slightly rougher version of the Sam we usually hang with. I once called this book actively bad and whilst that might have been a bit ingenuous it certainly isn’t good by any means and it is by far the weakest novel to be churned out by the great OrmanBlum machine. Awkward: 4/10
Autumn Mist: Bland, clichéd characterisation and sluggish, awkward prose combine with a woefully inadequate plot to make this one of the weakest EDAs yet. It tries to mix the militaristic and the magical but the writer doesn’t have the skill to pull it off (weird because he does so wonderfully in The Eleventh Tiger) and the result is deathly shallow and worse, boring. This was coming out when McIntee was churning out book after book and his natural storytelling capability was bleeding dry, he doesn’t even get the regulars right here which is usually a given in his books. I cannot remember being excited once during this read: 2/10
Interference Book I: A book that feels really important, that is adult, intelligent and covers a lot of ground. Lawrence Miles is an ideas genius but once again he forgets to write plot around his massive concepts. It’s all set up and no pay off, 300 pages of character/ideas introductions with little happening but finding out more about them. It does get a little dry in places but the prose is mostly excellent with some excellent narrative devices there to make the journey easier (you’ve got lip reading binoculars, scripting, Sarah’s notes, an omnipresent narrator, one scene told from six POVs). Sam is dealt with very maturely, Sarah is amazingly written and it is worth reading just to find out what happens to poor Fitz. It’s a book that cleverly demands that you read the second half and really feels as if it is entering dangerous territory. It isn’t perfect but after a small lull in the EDAs it feels like a massive step in the right direction: 8/10
Interference Book Two: A very satisfying wrapping up of the zillion clever ideas already set up in book one. The developments for the characters and the EDAs are astonishing, going beyond anything Virgin ever gave us in the ‘Oh my God I cannot believe that just happened to…’ stakes. Fitz’s story is horrible but brilliantly compelling and all the other characters get sparkling moments. The way the third and eighth Doctor’s life melts together is jaw dropping and the amount of surprises is unbeaten by any Doctor Who book to this point. I still have some reservations about the books length (it could have been a 400 page book with some of its flabbiness cut away) but for the sheer breadth of ideas (Miles is confirmed as the ultimate risk taker) this is one of the best Doctor Who novels ever written. A twisted, dangerous masterwork, which was severely underrated at the time and makes for impulsive reading in the twilight of the EDAs: 9/10
The Blue Angel: Sheer genius from the first page to last, I adored every second of this complex, challenging slice of whimsy. Half of it refuses to make sense, it denies you a satisfying ending and in places it seems to be going off on tangents just for the hell of it but these are reasons to celebrate the book, as it takes risks with its narration and wins through with superb style. All the (brilliant) threads converge in the packed climax and then the whole thing stops, leaving the reader as gobsmacked as the Doctor at how the writers could be so cruel. I have rarely been as eager to find out what happened next or been as happy to be refused that knowledge, I pieced together my own ending with the wickedly playful twenty questions at the end. It is so nice to see the EDAs having some fun; this book is gorgeously written with some stunning set pieces and an infectious sense of adventure. Delightful: 10/10
Full Review Here: http://docohosreviews.blogspot.com/2009/08/blue-angel-by-paul-magrs-and-jeremy.html
The Taking of Planet Five: Great set pieces, terrible narrative, this is a book of a thousand wonderful ideas bound up in near-impenetrable prose. It took me two weeks to read this because it required so much concentration (my average time to read a book is two days) and in places I really struggled to go on. Saying that the best parts of this book are extremely brave, clever and rewarding. I’m sure with some tighter editing this would have been a lot more accessible but it wouldn’t feel half as risky or as unique as it does. This is a bold experiment in a time when the books were finally exploring exciting new ground; it reminds me of the best and the worst of Virgin’s output, challenging work but not recognisably Doctor Who. Maybe that’s a good thing though, I certainly don’t regret polishing this off and I may return to it again one day to see just how daring the books could be: 7/10
Frontier Worlds: A huge step up from Kursaal, this is an entirely character driven book and on that level it is brilliant, with the regulars being fleshed out with some considerable skill. It is long past time the EDAs had a line up of regulars as good as this, kicking the ass of the Virgin ones because they are not lumbered with soppy Chris Cwej and hard bitch Ace. The plot is made up of lots of gripping and entertaining set pieces which ensure the piece roars by in fine style. It is a fun piece with loads of cool bits (if you get bored just read a few more pages and something enjoyable will happen) and the prose itself is pretty wholesome. Compassion and the axe is so cool it deserves mentioning again: 8/10
Parallel 59: A massively undervalued book. For once an EDA bothers to have an equal amount of solid characterisation AND plot and both prove to be quite surprising in places (Anya’s heartbreaking attempts to get Fitz’s attention, the sudden appearance of the ship from Haltiel). The book is a little flabby in the middle, having set up an intriguing mystery it runs on the spot for a little while offering hints and scraps at what is to come. I never felt this was the work of two separate writers and the prose is very readable, made even simpler by those friendly short chapters (48 in a 282 page book!). The regulars are handled very well and the last 80 pages rocket by effortlessly, full of excitement and great twists. Even the ending is perfect, tragic (the loss of life) and yet strangely uplifting (the loss of the militaristic regime and the suggestions of humility, rebuilding and reunion). I devoured this in a day, aware of a few problems but pretty impressed by the end result: 7/10
The Shadows of Avalon: It might be a bit awkward in spots but that doesn’t matter at all as this is one of the few EDAs to this point to be touched by a sense of magnificence. For a start the prose is beautiful, rich with magical sights and dripping with emotion and the characterisation is the best we have seen in this series (outside of a Kate Orman novel) with the reader going through every stage of the Brigadier’s tragic road to recovery. The EDAs get a wonderful kick up the ass and it is so joyous to reach the last page (that is meant as a compliment) because I was desperate to know what happened next. It is the novel where the eighth Doctor is finally nailed, as a people person who saves the day by getting close to people and the dawning realisation that this fascinating character can actually work in print is the icing on the cake. Very encouraging: 9/10
The Fall of Yquatine: Another winner in what is turning out to be a great little run of EDAs. Fitz and Compassion take centre stage again and rarely have book companions been this fascinating, powering their separate plotlines with real style. The set up of having to experience the attack on Yquatine twice is exploited for all the drama its worth and the book never wastes a page in getting into its characters heads and revealing new colours. You can feel how much Nick Walters has improved since Dominion, his plot and characterisation much sharper and clutches of prose that whip the mat from under your feet. It is only the odd cartoonish moment that lets this book down and some moments of overplayed drama. I gobbled this down in a day, it is a remarkably easy book to read and will definitely surprise you at least once. Another confident, well plotted entry and a book that not only exploits the treasures unearthed in The Shadows of Avalon but actually improves them: 8/10
Coldheart: Predictable and safe and yet somehow strangely likable, despite the feeling of laziness in the plotting and content it ticks all the right boxes for a ‘classic’ Doctor Who TV adventure (and lets face it, that’s what got us into this lark in the first place!). It is barely endowed with innovation and you can guess pretty much every single twist that’s coming, characterisation is pretty sketchy and the prose is nothing to shout home about but Trevor Baxendale clearly LOVES Doctor Who and his enthusiasm for his material is quite infectious. From no-where the last fifty pages are genuinely excellent, the book kicks into high gear, the deaths are extremely memorable and the plot is tied up very nicely. It is the weakest book for an age, which goes to show how good they have been lately because regardless of its unimaginativeness it is still enjoyable and passes the time: 6/10
The Space Age: Oh. My. God. This rubbed me up the wrong from the first scene and coming from the usually reliable pen of Steve Lyons it is a double shock. The premise is ridiculous and the book is full of stupid, illogical twists, the characterisation is poor (The Sandra/Alec thing could really have been exploited but it felt really unnatural) and the regulars barely register. There were a few moments where I perked up, mostly when Compassion turned up, even muted as she is here she pisses over all the other characters. This should have thrown in the slag heap the second it hit Steve Lyons desk, the prose is basic, storyline prosaic and considering its placing (in a pretty decent run of books) it sticks out like a sore thumb. Something could have been made of the Makers but not attached to this plot. One of the weakest EDAs I have read yet: 1/10
Full Review Here: http://docohosreviews.blogspot.com/2009/12/space-age-by-steve-lyons.html
The Banquo Legacy: I’m so glad this came along when it did, a complex and compelling read, the penultimate book of the Stephen Cole edited era and helping to round it off with some real style. It reminds me of one of those rare TV Doctor Who stories where everything comes together… and not a foot is placed wrong here from the mix of authors, the choice of narrative device, the pace, the setting, the plot, the gorgeous descriptive prose…it is a pleasure to read from the very first page. The amount of detail is extraordinary and the 18th Century is brewed up with atmospheric ease, I loved every single one of the characters and the horror content lives up to its name beautifully. The first two thirds are like the best Agatha Christie story ever written and the last third is pure Doctor Who madness done with real verve and nastiness. And the fact that it segues into the ongoing EDA arc unobtrusively but pushing along the plot and leaving you desperate to read the next book is the icing on the cake: 10/10
Full Review Here: http://docohosreviews.blogspot.com/2009/12/banquo-legacy-by-andy-lane-and-justin.html
The Ancestor Cell: A chaotic book, needlessly complex but full of fabulous ideas and ridiculously entertaining throughout. Considering what it has to achieve, it dovetails loads of stray plotlines together really well and nothing seems to have been forgotten and for a long term reader there is much here that is rewarding. I loved the pace of the book and found many scenes to be exhilarating and dramatic. Saying that it threatens to lose the reader under too much continuity in spots and the ending does feel like things have gotten out of control for the writers and they wanted to sweep the whole lot under the rug. The writing itself is pretty basic but the dialogue is scorching and many long awaited character confrontations are as electrifying as they should be. It needs one more draft to make it truly excellent (there are some bizarre plotting choices, hopping from one location to another, from one plotline to another) but I have to admit I raced through it in less than a day and found my excitement mounting exponentially towards the climax. A fascinating end to an uneven era, which encapsulates the best and the worst of its period: 8/10
The Burning: Glorious, a book that looks to the future (offering us a fantastic new take on the eighth Doctor) and looks back to the past (giving us a traditional Doctor Who story with ALL the trimmings) in all the best ways. This is Justin Richards’ most surprising book, predictable as hell (which he rarely is) but containing some truly atmospheric prose (which he rarely is either!). The characterisation is fantastic and the book is packed full of memorable moments, the enemy is vivid and terrifying and there are a number of deaths that really shock you. This is exactly how the eighth Doctor books should have originally started, with a genuinely unsettling Doctor, some delicious scares and lots of intelligent detail. I really couldn’t put this down. A re-format that works on every level, and leaves you hungry for the next instalment: 9/10
Casualties of War: A debut novel to be proud of and a book which continues the Doctor’s 100 year exile with something very special. The story has a quartet of characters (Mary, Cromby, Briggs and Banham) who feel so real they bring the story alive with their thoughts and feelings. It’s a horror story with some real scares, potent moments that will leave you terrified to turn the light out and it isn’t afraid to examine the war with some psychological depth. The prose is gorgeous throughout and the setting comes alive in vivid detail. The real heart behind the book is the Doctor/Mary relationship which is in turns playful, awkward and heart-warming. It is a little light on plot but after some of the complex plotting of the Faction Paradox arc that comes as a most refreshing change. This is a novel about people and on that lever it is a total success: 9/10
Wolfsbane: One of the sparkling diamonds in the rough of an extremely inconsistent year for Doctor Who fiction (2003), this is one of those stories, which reminds you perfectly of why you fell in love with this silly show in the first place. It is blisteringly entertaining with lots well observed comedy moments but that never gets in the way of what is essentially a touching horror story about a lone werewolf. Some moments are astonishingly dark (especially when Sarah gets buried alive…) and Jacqueline Rayner’s descriptive prose is at its peak, immersed in nature and magic. The potentially catastrophic idea of pairing up the eighth Doctor with Harry is pulled off like a dream and they read like they were made for each other. The dual plotlines add suspense to the tale, Sarah discovering more and more horrors just ahead of us experiencing them! Top it all of with fantastic dialogue all around and you have a little gem which rightfully belongs in this (so far) astonishing Earth arc: 9/10
The Turing Test: Easily the best eighth Doctor book to this point and perhaps (in terms of literary achievement) the best Doctor Who novel of all time. It comes as a shock that something this good comes from the pen of Paul Leonard, not because he is a bad author (far from it) but because he is usually such a strong plot writer rather than a character man and the reason this book works so fantastically is because it examines its characters in such complex and probing ways. Leonard captures three distinct voices beautifully and the dialogue and observations they make take this book into a world of its own. The Doctor has never been more prominent or fascinating and his comeuppance at the climax is both poignant and rewarding. The plot starts off slow but builds to an incredibly memorable finish and the atmosphere of the second world war is captured more atmospherically than any other Doctor Who book I can remember. The eighth Doctor adventures have struck a pot of gold with the Caught on Earth Arc and this is the pinnacle of a five-book stretch of wonderful stories. Stark, brutal and unexpectedly emotional, I love this novel to pieces and ask myself what you are doing reading this silly thread when you could be immersed in its pages. In a way I’m very pleased Uncle Terry is up next because I’m running out of superlatives: 10/10
Endgame: And it was going so well…but I suppose we had to be brought back to Earth sooner or later and be reminded that this is a Doctor Who book series where childish, patronising storytelling runs free. This is a quick read if you are after nothing more than fluff but the Earth Arc to this point have been so much more than that. Terrance barely injects any effort into this; it feels as though he reeled it off in a day or two with his standard descriptions and plot mechanics. There is some fun to be had seeing the Doctor meeting up with so many historical figures but much of their characterisation is piss poor, especially compared to the depth of the previous book. The Players are hardly the most fascinating villains to begin with and their worldwide struggle could have been far more interesting than this cartoonish game they play here. A huge misstep for the range, shallow and uninvolving for the most part and wasting time when there is clearly so much more to the Doctor’s exile to explore: 3/10
Father Time: Powerful, deep, beautifully written and populated with characters so real you feel as if you know them, this is something very special indeed. It is full of elements that feel traditionally Doctor Who (the alien dictator/rebels conflict, robots, lasers, spaceships…) and yet there is so much here that is fresh and interesting (the heartfelt relationships, Miranda’s coming of age, setting the book over a decade of history) and the mix is quite intoxicating. Peppered with beautiful moments (the rose petal tower, the hover discs rising over the snowy village), genuine emotion (I defy you not to feel something when Debbie is killed!) and cracking dialogue throughout (“The gun works…but it is useless”), this is how good every Doctor Who book should be. This is the EDA equivalent of Human Nature, it feels absolutely right in every respect. I adore it: 10/10
Escape Velocity: Oh. My. God. Who on Earth thought closing one of the best arcs in any novel range with this ****e? Lance Parkin showed us how traditional Doctor could be done in the novel series with his beautiful Father Time and now Colin Brake demonstrates perfectly why the books shouldn’t mimic the TV series too much. This is bland muck; written so a six year old would feel insulted, with some seriously shallow characterisation, a yawnathon plot, some tedious aliens and a climax that is awful it has to be read to be believed. As an introduction to Anji it sucks (and probably has much to do with her reputation) because it is so poor and she reads as nothing more than a character profile. I cringed with embarrassment throughout most of this book, wanting for it to be over so I could move on to something more interesting. A serious error of judgement, ending the arc on this one, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth after all that sweetness: 2/10
Earthworld: Jac Rayner is clearly finding her feet as an author but there is so much here that is good it is clear she will go on to great things. Her treatment of the regulars is exemplary and she manages to update the new readers about the Doctor and Fitz and re-introduces (as a real person) Anji with effortless ease. She does this without resorting to cheap tricks, getting us close to these people and their insecurities and allowing us to see how much they have lost but how much they gained by finding each other. The book is blissfully funny in places and the main plot regarding the trips is well worth sticking with for the heartbreaking conclusion. The only criticism I have is the prose, which is far too chatty for its own good and the plot, which is thin but made up for by the top-notch characterisation. The end result is an extremely entertaining book, one that clears up a lot of backstory for the regulars and sets them forward for some fab adventures. I found it pretty addictive, especially in the excellent second half and fell in love with Anji all over again: 8/10
Fear Itself: One of the best Doctor Who books. A rock superbly plotted thriller, which is loaded with twist after twist that will leave you reeling at its conclusion. There are loads of exciting set pieces, a cast of guest characters that come alive like you wouldn’t believe, a host of fantastic, imaginative ideas, suspense and drama. All this and there is still room to take three fascinating regulars, put them through hell, get up close and personal, and see them emerge stronger and more interesting than they were. The amount of detail that has gone into writing this is rare for a Doctor Who book, the three time zones come alive with astonishing clarity and the prose itself is full of great observations, strong descriptions and a terrifying pace. It really is one of the best Doctor Who books you are likely to read and the one I would personally recommend to non fans who love science fiction. A blistering read: 10/10
Vanishing Point: Reading much fan opinion (stupid me) I expected this to be terrible so imagine my delight at discovering how good it was! My only real complaints surface at the end when you think through some of the answers that were given and realise how underdeveloped they were but considering all the other treats on offer that is hardly the greatest sin. It is surprisingly sensitive in places with some lovely character work that really draws you close to these people and starts to exploit the great potential in the engaging Doctor/Fitz/Anji team. The Doctor has rarely been this fascinating in print. There is much intelligent dialogue too, religious debate that really gets you thinking and some world building that proves quite detailed when seen through the eyes of Etty and Dark, two thoroughly convincing, flawed (in a good way!) characters. The pace of the book is great and there are some wonderfully fun set pieces. Stephen Cole might not be the most sophisticated writer on the planet but by God he can spin a good yarn and ensure that there is never a dull moment and some gob smackingly good ones allow the way: 8/10
Eater of Wasps: A thoroughly engaging read and packed full of grisly moments that make you go “eugh!” Probably the most traditional Doctor Who story the EDAs have offered up yet but it doesn’t suffer in the way others in this vain have because Trevor Baxendale has latched onto the two elements that make it work, a terrifying possession and an unpredictable Doctor. Lets face it the (guest) characterisation is pretty basic and the location is straight out of the Barry Letts book of Who but those things just don’t matter because the wasps are the star of this book and they are just plain terrifying. There is an abundance of sickly moments that made me squirm and the action never lets up, not for one moment, piling problem after problem. Trevor’s prose is much improved and Rigby’s horrific transformation is described in disgusting detail. The time travellers add another dimension to the book and offer tantalising glimpse into the future. Its so nice to have a book this unpretentious, one that isn’t trying to prove a point or make you go ‘ooh isn’t that clever’ symptomatic of so many EDAs, this is just a bloody good read from cover to cover. Enough said: 9/10
The Year of Intelligent Tigers: What an amazing book this is. Kate Orman effortlessly breathes music into her story and creates a world that comes alive in so many ways, more than making up for the fact that we have stuck on Earth for so long. The book is peppered with beautiful descriptions, evocative locations and startling emotion. The regulars are defined magnificently, especially the Doctor who is such a far cry from his earlier persona (for the better) it is impossible to reconcile the two. His negotiations between two explosive camps and his despair at their violent reactions is riveting to read. The Tigers, an idea that could have been so naff, turn out to be one of the best ‘alien’ races we have ever met and the mystery surrounding their origins is well worth sticking around for. I read this in half a day, unable to put it down, captivated by the striking narration and vivid characterisation. It’s a unique piece, nuanced and sensitive, slow and sensual. My favourite Kate Orman book by miles: 10/10
The Slow Empire: I just don’t know what to say. It is not good. There are flashes of imagination and the some cracking jokes but this doesn’t make up for 240 odd pages of nonsense we have to endure. There are some great ideas in here but they are wasted on a slooooow plot and writer who is so far up his own arse he thinks he can get away with prevaricating with pointless asides over and over and over and treat characters as a bunch of random observations. I was waiting for a revelation that would tie this altogether and make it all make sense (in that it isn’t just a bunch of random observations shoved in between two covers…the front one of which is utterly hideous too!) but it never happened and the answers we do get are pretty lame considering the everlasting wait for them. Saying all that, Dave Stone has a mastery over language which verges on the genius with lots of horrifically complicated words cropping up…its just a shame he didn’t bother to use them to write a plot with characters and a point. A huge let down for the range, Stone’s unique view of Doctor Who can be a breathless, invigorating experience but this isn’t going to please either camp, it is neither brilliantly camp and insane or purely traditional and functional…its just sort of there. Achieving nothing: 2/10
Dark Progeny: The two problems with Dark Progeny are that after the arresting opening chapter nothing happens until the climax AND it writes out its regulars for 2/3rds of the action, two huge errors that leave the middle sections of this book a real slog. A shame because the plot concerning the alien children is genuinely involving and the characterisation of the Doctor is once again fabulous. Emmerson’s guest characters hold up most of the book, especially Josef and Veta who get a sub plot that deserved much more attention. Some scenes are gorgeously written (such as the telepathic Anji hearing Fitz and the Doctor’s thoughts) which annoys because there is so little plot to get your teeth into but with some major tightening up this could have been superb. There are some wonderful concepts introduced at the end that could have done with exploring further too (the Gaia planet). All in all, a bit of struggle to enjoy because you can see clearly how it could be done so much better: 5/10
The City of the Dead: Easily one of the best eighth Doctor book to this point and strong contender for the best original Doctor Who book, this is everything you could want from a novel and more. Lloyd Rose’s prose is a revelation, intelligent, sensual, evocative and risky…she brings New Orleans to life with a real sense of beauty and detail, the city of the dead opens up around you within this books pages. She plants the Doctor at the centre of the novel and allows us closer to him than ever before, his characterisation is absolutely phenomenal throughout and it is clear that although he leaps over this particular hurdle there are still more horrors to come. The plotting is airtight; the characters (even the smaller ones like Flood, Thales and Pierre Bal) come alive in unexpected ways and the levels of emotion the book expresses is extremely potent. Half the time it doesn’t read like Doctor Who at all and that can only be a good thing, this is a stunning novel that restores absolute faith in the range after a couple of clunkers: 10/10
Grimm Reality: Imaginative, with a real sense of dark whimsy, I’m glad I gave this book another chance because I have been far too hard on it in the past. It takes a while to figure out Albert but when you do there is a lot of fun to be had here, especially being able to see these dirty fairytales, kids stories seen from the POV of adults is fascinating. The regulars are captured beautifully and get loads to do and the plot is full of memorable sights, challenges and riddles. Against that the book keeps reverting to an interminably boring sub plot on a merchants ship that takes you away from all the fun on the planet and the separate voices of two authors can be easily discerned as the book pulls you in far too many directions to be entirely coherent. Packed with laughs and creativity though, I would still give it a thumbs up and I adored the sections of the plot that lapsed into fairytale style prose: 8/10
The Adventuress of Henrietta Street: 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
Mad Dogs and Englishmen: 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
Hope: 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
Full Review Here: http://docohosreviews.blogspot.com/2010/11/hope-by-mark-clapham.html
Anachrophobia: The most ingenious use of time travel yet, this is a hugely imaginative and terrifying tale which recaptures all the shadowy horror of those Troughton base under siege stories with an extra dash of gore that makes all the more scary. The book is brilliantly written with a well thought out plot, some marvellously spine tingling moments and spot characterisation of the regulars. The shift of location at the climax is well placed and the Doctor’s final solution is excellent. It is a little hard going in places because the tone is unremittingly grim but I refuse to criticise a book on the grounds that it sticks to its guns (to frighten) and doesn’t try to add any superfluous ‘entertaining’ moments. The last two pages provide a final, electrifying shock and top a nourishing read, full of graphic imagery and a terrorizing atmosphere. It says something about Jonathan Morris' writing that this is the weakest of his three Doctor Who books and its still bloody excellent: 9/10
Trading Futures: About as deep as a very tiny puddle, this is the perfect holiday Who novel. There is a fast paced, easily digestible plot, marvellous switches of location, witty lines and some damn good world building. I skipped through it in less than a day, at a loss at how wonderful the team of the Doctor, Fitz and Anji are these days. One thing niggled me, I’m not the greatest Bond fan (which this book is heavily based on) but that is a matter of personal preference rather than a comment on the books quality. Lots of action for those who enjoy it, some cool hardware on display and a great world encompassing war being brewed…its pleasing to note this is one Bond story with a bit of brains, with Anji dissecting the conflict and the players motivations. Enjoyable and funny, although the space Rhino’s were perhaps one joke too many: 7/10
The Book of the Still: How can a book imbued with this much energy have such a mundane first half? The drug-induced prose guides you through effortlessly but it contains nothing but a number of protracted chase sequences! Once the Unnoticed arrives, so does the plot and the second half is excellent, filled with amazing scenes that will make you laugh, cry and tear your head out with the sheer madness of it! This feels like Dave Stone for a more accessible audience and has all the humour, imagination and mind boggling moments that made the former author so popular but connects to its audience with a real sense of heart too, which makes all the difference. Forget the confusing climax and get high on the wealth of memorable moments and hair raising writing style: 8/10
The Crooked World: The last time I reviewed a Steve Lyons book in the mighty eighth Doctor marathon I considered the worst Doctor Who book I had ever read so how odd that his next entry should be such an amazing piece of writing. Its one of the all time classic Doctor Who books, such a fantastic idea and pulled off with such incredible style. The writing is extremely adult without ever being patronising but still manages to thrill the child in you, with loads of laugh out loud hilarious scenes. The regulars are vital to the plot and each contribute much to the story and characterised (once again) with supreme confidence and the secondary characters all transcend their stereotypes to become living, breathing people who it is impossible not to fall in love with (even the villains). It shares some themes with the film Pleasantville and is just as touching and magical, coming of age never seemed so frightening and delightful. I am extremely pleased with the imagination and humour the range is displaying at the moment, this is another little masterpiece in a consistently excellent run of books: 10/10
History 101: A book which is not afraid of flaunting its intelligence and will leave those behind who wont put the right amount of effort. Saying that, the rewards a manifold; a complex and fascinating plot, some startling ideas, a brilliantly original way of going about exploring a historical event, another excellent use of the regulars… Following hot on the heels of a book that couldn’t be more different, this is an equally thoughtful book which prefers to contemplate rather than thrill and succeeds in intimately exploring the many viewpoints of the Spanish Civil War and continue the eighth Doctor arc plot with Sabbath proving as elusive and dangerous as ever. People say the book has a dry edge to it with documental rather than sensual prose but isn’t that rather the point? By allowing us to see history from so many viewpoints the plot does veer off in far too many directions but I doubt it would be as interesting without this unusual technique. It is a striking debut, layered with meaning and educational, I took my time with it and found it revealing experience: 8/10
Camera Obscura: A magnificent novel, one of the best Doctor Who books published and a really tasty historical with so many memorable passages I would be recounting much of the book to list them all. After you have finished it you realise that the plot is actually quite thin, nothing more than a protracted chase after a time machine but how the book works its way into the running arc of the EDAs turns it into so much more. This book succeeds on the astonishing strength of characterisation and brutally thoughtful moments. The Doctor and Sabbath are explored in considerable depth and any scene featuring the pair is instantly classic, bouncing off each other beautifully. The prose is stimulating, the sheer beauty of the writing results in an effortless read. It the pinnacle of a great run of books, matching Rose’s debut step for step and being the all round best achiever of the ranger since Adventuress. Powerful and involving, read this now: 10/10
Time Zero: Shockingly brutal and gripping, this novel has three equally good action plots wrapping around each other beautifully. Written by the range editor, the regulars are every bit as fulfilling as you would expect and given a healthy dose of development. The tone is certainly dramatic, helped enormously by the reverse numbered chapters, which give the constant impression the book is building up to something. Some people complain about the heavy science in the last third but to be honest that was my favourite part, with some mind-expanding concepts being used to strengthen the character drama. The plotting is flawless and the content very adult and the whole thing is enhanced by that superb, almost photographic, cover. Easily the best thing Justin Richards has written to date; I love this book just for the stuff with Anji on the plane: 9/10
The Infinity Race: The Infinity Race has the unfortunate feeling of being made up as it goes along, the author has sections where he is full of ideas and others where he is bored tit-less and can’t wait to finish the thing off. Consequently the resulting novel is hilarious, boring, imaginative and slow. The switching narrative is distinctive but annoying and it feels like Messingham is trying to be too clever for his own good. Compared to the drama of the last four books this is distinctly substandard with huge stretches of nothing happening to prolong the (admittedly) dramatic climax. I cannot bring myself to loathe the book as individual scenes are pretty good (such as the nasty rich folk riot and the native hunt) but as a whole they just don’t gel as well as they should. Sabbath has lots of great descriptions but this is the first time he has really come across as a pantomime villain. In true season eight fashion, you know he will be back in the next story: 4/10
The Domino Effect: Illogical, unsubtle and so stupid in places it defies logic; this has to be one of the sloppiest Doctor Who books ever written. A fascist state, altered reality, history re-written; clichés all and yet the setting is the strongest thing about the book and its unflinching brutality is quite engrossing in places. The characterisation is weaker than my boyfriend’s tea (yuck) and the prose hardly deserves the term, it is practically the transcript of an untransmitted script! Marvel at the banal dialogue, gasp at the inexplicable climax (how the hell does killing one man destroy an entire reality?) and remind yourself that Doctor Who books are just for really stupid kids after all. Almost so bad its good in places, this continues the shocking decline started in The Infinity Race and proves that this whole altered universe idea was really misconceived: 3/10
Reckless Engineering: A massive improvement on the last two books, this is a deftly written piece that takes the alternative reality idea by the horns and shakes so hard lots of interesting ideas and dilemmas pop out. The setting is amazing, a cruel and stark post apocalyptic Bristol lovingly described by Nick Walters in some atmospheric passages. The first half is a strong character piece with some terrifying set pieces and the second, whilst not quite as gripping, is a fascinating trip into temporal madness. The regulars really get put through the wringer here and it is nice to see Fitz given some healthy development, although the dangerous Doctor is a great improvement on the last two books too. The only really annoying aspect is the ending, which is inexplicable and insultingly easy. Despite this, I will still champion this book for its strong prose, excellent dialogue and cleverly crafted plot. This is the book which should have come directly after Time Zero: 8/10
The Last Resort: The trouble with The Last Resort is that it refuses to conform to standard narrative…you don’t follow characters along a linear storyline. What you have to acccept is that from one scene to the next you might not just be reading about the same character, but a different version of the same character. A fascinating device, confusing as hell, but brilliantly exploiting the alternative universe concept. What makes this book so special is what makes it so impenetrable, if you don’t dissect this hardcore puzzle book completely you’ll miss out on all the rewards. A wealth of brain bursting ideas, a satisfying fractured plot (of which the threads link together beautifully) and a genuine adrenaline rush of tragedy, sacrifice and hopelessness. The stakes have never been this high before and it is pleasing to see some real pay off from this misguided arc. The last third is my favourite, packed with imagination and shocking images. Breathtakingly experimental: 9/10
Timeless: Just as the NAs worked when they concentrated on building their own version of the future, the EDAs do their best work on Earth in domestic settings (Vampire Science, Revolution Man The Banquo Legacy, The Burning, Casualties of War, The Turing Test, Father Time, City of the Dead, Advenuress, Camera Obscura, The Sleep of Reason, The Deadstone Memorial and The Gallifrey Chronicles are some the best this range has produced). The Doctor has a cast of wonderfully trendy twenty-somethings here backing him up (Anji, Fitz, Trix, Stacey and Guy work astonishingly well together) and the urban surroundings add a touch of reality to a range, which was slowly going SF crazy (or possibly just crazy). It is another richly plotted story, Timeless has lovely clues planted everywhere and plot threads dovetail together effortlessly. Finally this mighty eighth Doctor arc is building up to its conclusion and the second half of the book is one energetic twist after another (The Time Lords! Sabbath’s plan!). Add to this mix some sizzling dialogue, interesting characterisation (for her last story Anji gets to shine) and lots of moments that remind you how marvellous the central character can be (the Doctor on the boat), this is a confident and stylish piece of storytelling and about as far from the tired hackneyed range as is reputed: 9/10
Full Review Here: http://docohosreviews.blogspot.com/2011/06/timeless-by-stephen-cole.html
Emotional Chemistry: It pains me to punish an author for effort but there is far too much going on in Emotional Chemistry, with a flourish of characters, settings and events that command the readers attention and Forward (agonisingly) injects sumptuous detail into each of them. I just could not concentrate so hard on everything with equal vigour and lost myself in a few places. This is a fascinating experiment with many great, great moments and another excellent plot, which weaves brilliantly through (and justifies) its three time zones. The prose is extremely imaginative and thoughtful, so noticeably colourful that it adds an extra layer of polish to the book. The characterisation rocks and there isn’t one person who rings false (if only there weren’t so bloody many of them!) and the regulars all shine apart from each other, especially Trix who has the ability to convince in all three time periods. Thick with incident, this is a flawed but worthwhile attempt at capturing the feel of Russian literature, unfairly placed between two arc novels and well worth taking your time with: 7/10
Sometime Never…: Just because its written by Justin Richards that doesn’t make it a bad thing and whilst the grand baddies who have been plaguing the universe these few years or so are revealed to be a bunch of old crystal men who are hardly thrill a minute, that is perhaps the only major disappointment in this otherwise brilliantly climatic novel. It is perhaps the best-plotted Doctor Who book I have ever read, re-reading it proves how not a scene is wasted, every moment is vital to the overall story. The settings here might be small scale but the amount of Doctor Who fiction this encompasses is extraordinary, dragging in plot points from years back (and PDAs too) and turning the entire range into a cohesive whole. The ideas are mind blowing and the revelations in the last third reward the reader for being so patient with this arc and the range(s) in general. Sabbath gets the exit he fully deserves, the Doctor doesn’t escape scott free and there is a real surprise waiting in the last scene (which could potentially annoy but I found it charming). The prose and characterisation is not the best the EDAs can offer (both were better in Emotional Chemistry) but I am willing skip over them because this book got me so damn excited and involved. As a lover of deconstructing narrative, the way everything falls into place is quite, quite stunning: 9/10
Monday, 25 July 2011
Top Doc: Now this is what I’m talking about! There are some very interesting things being done with the Doctor, all of which work a charm (especially coming after the dangerous, doom and gloom Doctor of the alternative universe arc). Firstly his memory loss allows the series to finally dismiss all those folks who whinge on about when he’s going to get his memory back. He isn’t, and this would have been the perfect opportunity. What is explored is why he doesn’t want his memories back, even when they are offered to him on plate. He is happy with who he is and where his life is and he doesn’t want to get his old life back only to discover he is not a very nice person. He knows he’s done something bad, something big so it does make him seem like something of a coward but the way he explains himself, he makes his amnesia sound like blessing (something of a spring clean). He doesn’t want to be who he was, he wants to be who he is. Another fascinating experiment taken here is his mind swap with Fitz which allows the Doctor an intimate look at how uncertain and scared Fitz is in their adventures and he realises just how lucky he is to have loyal friends who stick by him no matter what he drags them into. This is all excellent, healthy development and long overdue. His status in this book as an offworlder endows him with all the charisma of a sewage worker coming off his shift. He and Fitz are boyishly enthusiastic together. Losing his memory here is a pleasure because it is the most relaxed and happy we have seen the Doctor in a long time. His Fitz like qualities, dying for a ciggie, eyeing up Camalee and swearing a lot (Too bloody right you’re not!”) are all hilarious. He is just a big child and he LOVES weird. After speaking to Madame Xing he starts to remember Miranda’s death and grips the table, desperate to escape the memory. We discover that after he death he brooded in the TARDIS for days. He waves a spell around his companions that makes them inconspicuous. There is a wonderful scene where he is all energy, stealing a pavement artists chalks and sketches away part of the plot. He has a lightness, a casual disregard for proprietary and formality. One minute he was the laid back bon viver, the next all dashing scientist and man of mystery…and the next he is just a nutter! The Doctor likes humans because of their hunger for what they don’t have, their potential. He gets to experience real fear and indecision and he doesn’t like it one bit. He acknowledges that he, Fitz and Trix are hardly a model family.
Scruffy Git: If they were to rely on his wits they were doomed. This book has been a long time coming, the one which reminds us just why Fitz has lasted so damn long and why he is such a special friend to the Doctor. There has been some animosity between Fitz and the Doctor of late and it was high time it was addressed; finally they start having fun together again! He is not a coward and can stand his ground. For various reasons (Interference, Earthworld), Fitz’s memory has become a bit vague about the huge details in his past but thanks to gaining some of the Doctor’s personality it here it pushes them to surface. He remembers the Doctor destroying Gallifrey and his own personal history where he was ‘remembered’. Such a revelation is this last one, he manages to use it to help create an ingenious scheme and save the day and although being remembered might have made him throw up in the past he is surprisingly comfortable with it now. At the end Fitz asks Tain to not give the Doctor the memory of back of him destroying Gallifrey, he decides it is his turn to carry around the heavy stuff and he wants to protect the Doctor from the truth. Fitz hopes Trix will warm to them soon.
Identity Tricks: Oh my God! It was quite surprising just how much why find out about Trix and this easily the best adventure with her yet, one which using her desire for changing identities to create some top drama. When he is not finding a use for her or telling her at the next stop she would have to leave, the Doctor pretty much ignores her. Fitz has taken to her in a puppyish way. She is not good with bodily injuries. She bathes and takes care of Fitz when he is found lying half dead out side the TARDIS. She hates feeling conspicuous and is just starting to feel at home in the TARDIS, although she is still awkward around the Doctor. She had never felt so coward, so ashamed and so shit than when they leave the night beast to be ripped apart by the xenophobic Esperons. She doesn’t ‘do’ kids, a parental role is not one she would like to take on permanently. She feels frustrated that on Espero she has no choice but to be herself, she knows she gets obsessed with role-playing but as long as she has got to Caucasian she might as well be Trix. The thought of Reo’s shape changing toy excites her. She has never been happy with her body feeling it is too mousey, too flat, too dull. Trix feels a longing for Fitz in this story. Taking (stealing) interesting things was somewhere between a hobby and an obsession with her. Trix was so desperate to be anyone other than herself, she realises that she will never be herself again as Reo starts to delete her personality. The thought of never having the option to be herself again terrifies her. There is a lovely dilemma at the climax which means if the bioship gets his wish to commit suicide, Trix will die as well and it is good to see the Doctor agonise over her potential death, we finally get to see the depth of feeling he has for Trix. She refuses to mourn the death of Joshua, she learnt a long time ago that that didn’t bring the dead back to life. She hopes that she has become a hard-nosed bitch. Shit happens, especially around the Doctor and she accepts that she is going to have to get used to the death if she was to keep travelling with him. If you did bad stuff you spend your whole life looking over your shoulder. Never, she thought, the past is never going to catch up with me.
Foreboding: You have Fitz re-discovering about Gallifrey and himself, which sets him up for his confrontation with the Doctor in The Gallifrey Chronicles. Trix’s identity crisis continues to be explored in The Tomorrow Windows. Madame Xing’s offer would be brought up again in The Gallifrey Chronicles.
Twists: There is an intriguing first chapter where an alien is discovered, shot and his spaceship burnt. The Doctor’s explanation of what happened at the palace, “ There was something about the way they said ‘question me later’ that sounded like ‘beat me with sticks’ so I decided to leg it.” The Doctor has lost his memory…again! And Fitz! The set up on Espero is beautiful, with God giving them a second chance at Eden, the Ecumenical Council moving to the planet and taking their faith but not their history. The climate was too hot, the minerals too deep and the neighbouring planets shunned them and as such Espero withdrew into something racist and deeply religious. There is a lovely discussion between the Doctor and Father Roberto which is about the Esperons and their situation but is really discussing the current status of the Doctor in the range (“How can we get where we are going if we don’t know where we’ve been?” “We can’t live in the past forever.” “It would be nice if we could start living in the present.”). The ground starts to get covered in seething bubbling goo…the Gaian wave is well foreshadowed, breaking down everything and building it up again. When the Doctor meets with Madame Xing it is clear that she is Compassion (her voice was female but there was a mechanical edge to it) and she offers him all his memories back (which she would have…see The Gallifrey Chronicles). A night beast is casually ripped to pieces. Trix is cornered in an alley by three drunken Esperons who get off on beating up alien shit like her. The scenes where Trix is trapped within her own mind by Reo are genuinely suffocating. Sensimi has been training a night beast to associate food with the smell of her mother and brother. The Imperator has been offered immortality by Mr Trove. The scene with the maggots eating through the forest and the forest eating the maggots is very memorable. There are some lovely concepts here, none especially original but presented in a fresh way. Tain is a bioship that landed on Espero a year ago, fleeing a war between the Oon and the Makers. The Oon implanted a Trojan device in Tain to subvert his systems and turn him to their side and make soldiers for them and he has been fighting it ever since. He has fought 412 battles and created 95,000 soldiers. He has activated his Gain phase, which will turn the entire planet into a massive gestalt entity, the Oon and the Makers will either have to leave him or kill him, either way he won’t be their killing device anymore. The Doctor has to decide whether to let Tain die (thus killing Trix) or letting him become a slave of war again but Fitz comes up with the scheme to download Tain’s memory into Camalee’s mokey thus allowing them to mind rub the Trojan out of existence before downloading him back. The drawback is that Tain loses most of his memories, which in itself is a good thing because it allows him to have fresh start, unencumbered with the memories of the pain he has caused in the past.
Funny bits: This is a book full of sunshine and hard not to like. The guest cast are highly amusing, especially the Imperator, Tannalis. He gets all the best lines (“It was a beautiful day until you dragged your raddled out carcass in here!” and “I’m too old for all that jiggy jiggy business! Ask my wife, the shrivelled up old mare!”). The Doctor shouting, “Sod off!” is much funnier than it should be! There is a dream sequence where the Doctor and Fitz are standing naked in the TARDIS rubbing butt cheeks together which is so totally disturbing and yet hilarious at the same time I cannot find it in me to put it in the embarrassing bits column. The Doctor’s explanation for the TARDIS is, “Transcendental thingamajig. Pocket Universes. Plasmic Shells. Bibbybobblyboo.”
Embarrassing bits: Mark Michalowski goes to all the trouble of presenting us with a gorgeous planet and a great guest cast and oddly they all seem superfluous to the plot…the only reason the book is set here in the end is because Tain happened to land on this planet! The pacing is way off, with a nice relaxed pace throughout the first two thirds and than a mad rush to tie the plot up at the end. Oh and the line “Ya boo! to you Mr Trove!” which is by far the most cringe worthy thing I have ever read.
Result: A popular book and with good reason. It is great to see the EDAs letting their hair down again and the relaxed pace and character development are most welcome after the doom and gloom of the alternative universe arc. Michalowski’s command over the regulars is breathtaking, the Doctor and Fitz are captured perfectly and learn much from each other but it is Trix who is the standout here, it’s the first time I can see real potential in her character being explored and she is far more interesting than we have seen before. The prose is lovely, creating one of those planets that you would just love to visit. It’s a breezy read, thoroughly engaging and hints at great things for the future. Full of sunshine: 8/10
Sunday, 17 July 2011
Master Manipulator: A fascinating portrayal of the seventh Doctor, particularly in a book that is trying to emulate the best of the New Adventures. As has been pointed out before it doesn’t entirely succeed at this, it’s actually better. Whilst the New Adventures spent so much time building up a mythology around the Doctor he was a cold and impenetrable beast but Rose never lets us forget that he s a person. That makes all the difference because all the New Adventures traits are here, the angst, the manipulation, the possibility of murder but it is tempered by a sense of guilt that truly makes you feel for the guy. Not only that but we actually get to see what the Doctor gets up to behind the scenes, a rare treat. I honestly cannot imagine a more emotional or comprehensive novel focussing on the seventh Doctor than this. Top marks.
Lately the Doctor has been distant, indulging in nostalgia. Firelight bronzed the Doctor’s eyes and made his eyes glitter. He has a surprising, crooked smile. He was too mysterious by half. The Doctor had his own way of doing things and the Brigadier couldn’t get used to this stern, tense, troubled incarnation. He doesn’t like to be contactable. When the 4th Doctor had chosen not to murder the Daleks how many had died for his virtue? When the 7th Doctor had made the choice years later how many had died for his sins? He had started out as an explorer anxious for new experiences. When had he started playing on a larger board, descending on a planet and ‘fixing’ things? He guarded the universe. He destroyed worlds. He felt he understood sin now and prayed he would never again exterminate an entire race. He wonders if he has a death wish, the creatures had reached out to him and something inside him had responded. Ace loves him so much she can’t see the bad things he has done. The Doctor was slippery, he embodied the unexpected. He wore that stupid hate to encourage you into thinking he was an idiot. He never looked back if he could help it. The Doctor, like the white rabbit, crawls down a hole into a world of magic and fear. The 7th Doctor is the responsible one; he is the only one who replaces the tea at Allen Road. ‘It was time for them to go’ he says of the Daleks. He hates it when the universe comes within a hair of blinking out, it gives him a ‘So glad I cancelled my trip on the Titanic’ shiver. The Doctor’s silent jealousy of Ethan is astonishing. The scene where Ethan realises the Doctor is going to kill him (‘You little monster!’) made me hair stand on end and the dialogue is fantastic (‘You’re trying to take it off you. Murder without murdering. You think I’m going to make it easy?’). He decides to sacrifice himself instead, becoming an energy bullet and murdering the creatures. Without Ace the Doctor doesn’t know what he would be. What he would become.
Oh Wicked: Just as marvellous is the characterisation of Ace who, had she been written for this strongly throughout the New Adventures I would have been a very happy bunny. As this is the bridge between the TV series, BBC Books and the Virgin New Adventures it is perfectly apt that she retains the air of an embarrassing teen she was on screen whilst indulging in sex and a more thoughtful mindfuck relationship with the Doctor so pursued by the books. It is a surprisingly interesting mix, at some moments Ace is painfully childish and explosive and at others she is shockingly mature and humane.
She always trusted the Doctor to be right but was frustrated when he stopped her from helping people. After being around the Doctor other people seemed flat and dull. Ace enjoyed breaking and entering and the Doctor always gave her good reasons to do it. Where the book gets really interesting is Ace’s involvement with Ethan. Initially distrustful and insulting to each other, things reach a crescendo where they end up in bed together. Freely admitting they have nothing in common but the sex, it is interesting to see Ace shift her love for the Doctor onto somebody else for the first time. Watching her pussy foot around him, embarrassed by his embarrassment is surprisingly affecting. Also Ace’s attempts to reach out to Ethan, to learn from him, shows her at her best. Protection insults Ace but the Doctor shields her from the worst of the life she has chosen with him. She tells Ethan while he sleeps: ‘This isn’t life. Life can be wonderful.’ Perceptively Ethan sums up Ace in a few sentences: all she wants to do is smash something and sometimes she acts as though she is 13. Fighting Ace is like fighting an animal. Ace, a stupid little girl that the Doctor has made a fool of. If she knew about the Doctor it would hurt her for the rest of her life. The Doctor on Ace: ‘She loves me. She trusts me. Perhaps she shouldn’t.’ She manages to save the Doctor by being alive, hugging onto him and crying until her feels something. Brilliantly Ace visits Ethan many times throughout the last four years of his life and is holding his hand in hospital when he dies.
Foreboding: In a way this book is the ultimate foreboding experience. A precursor to the New Adventures it features Ace’s burgeoning sexuality, her desire for a female friend to confide in (Bernice), the first glimpses of how much the Doctor shields her from (with hints of what will happen in Love and War when she finds out how far he will go) and the book sets its conclusion just after Timewyrm: Revelation. The Doctor admits he would like to be handsome one day and thinks how nice it would be to wipe the slate clean and forget all his responsibilities. Hmm…
Twists: There is a worrying, fulsome first chapter that effortlessly fits in the death of Edgar Allen Poe, the destruction of Vesuvius and the sacrifice of Captain Oates…several times except they keep being rewritten and settling on a different version than what we know. The TARDIS had never looked so dramatic, its dark blue exterior the only colour in the bleakness of snow. Molecross’ withered, black frostbitten hand is quite disgusting. A shining, intense darkness tries to carry the Doctor away. There is some thinness between universes, crop shapes are like a keyhole into our universe that the Doctor can spoil by adding random shapes to it. Ethan can see the aliens that exist in the spaces between seconds. Ace and Ethan’s soap opera clinch – who would have guessed? There is a fabulous description of ideas on page 112: ‘An alphabet is static until it forms words, and the words refer to concepts, and the concepts move in the mind and become speech, and speech forms the world.’ Brett’s sadistic unprovoked abuse of Ethan is uncomfortable. The membrane is not as thin in the Swiss Alps but passable. Brett hitting the Doctor again and again until his face is just blood is really horrible. Brett’s nihilistic speech on page 188 is revolting. Unwin’s second set of equations was for hacking into the TARDIS. The creatures want to harvest existence slowly, thread by thread, they want all of time and space. The entity segueing in and out of Brett, a whirlwind of triangles and rhombuses, would look wonderful on screen. Molecross, absurdly happy to have meet the Doctor and experience the wonder he knew was out there, sacrifices himself as an energy bullet. The Doctor realises that his first instinct, to kill Ethan, would have murdered him and defeated his purpose. The last chapter might be the finest chunk of Doctor Who prose as the Doctor quietly visits a dying mans mind to make amends for threatening his life and touchingly gives him a gift of proof of the Riemann theorem, what he has always sought.
Funny Bits: Or that naff marmot planet. Of course The Doctor had defended the marmots. Said they were “humble”.
If this story had been televised Ethan would so have been played by Daniel Radcliffe!
Lethbridge-Stewart: responsible, intelligent and almost certainly without imagination.
The Doctor cross legged on the piano is such a perfect image it made me chuckle.
Ace trying to convince Molecross that the Doctor is not a government spy: ‘Oh bollocks! What are you on about? This is my Uncle John. He’s not a Doctor. He sells cheese.’
‘I think his lot reproduce by being woven by DNA or something naff like that.’
Page 196, Molecross’ reaction when the Doctor walks into the TARDIS: ‘It’s you!’
‘Ace I’ve told you that this borrowing of American slang must stop. Your speech is indecipherable enough as it is!’
I love the idea of the Doctor keeping all of his previous incarnations clothes in a wardrobe in Allen Road.
The UNIT file on the Doctor, personal statistics: variable!
Result: A rite of passage between BBC Books and Virgin which has been coming on for some time, The Algebra of Ice combines the most successful elements of both to create a very satisfying read. Like snow falling and covering a scene Lloyd’s prose is simple, elegant and beautiful. A book about mathematics and the cold, hard logic of the universe had the danger of being clinical and flat but this novel is laced with moments of warmth and beauty and some starkly emotional beats. It is a fantastic book for the 7th Doctor who is explored in some depth, amazing when you think of the word count this guy has had lavished on him but with hindsight it picks up on many elements of the NAs and elaborates and fleshes them out. His scenes with Ethan, Molecross, Brett and Unwin all shine, he orbits them and they reveal new shades of his character, be it jealousy, pity, revulsion or sorrow. It’s a book that mixes existentialism, sex, philosophy, torture and emotional development to grand effect. Quietly masterful and compelling: 9/10
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Top Doc: What is fascinating about this book is how the enemies view the Doctor as the villain of the piece and they are just struggling to survive. He is the Rogue Element, he infects everything and everyone he touches making them unpredictable…he needs to be removed from Time like the cancer that he is. It is captivating to see him from the point of view of a desperate race trying to survive.
The truth of the matter is, of course, quite different. The Doctor is tired and fed of living his life on the run (and the last half dozen adventures I can’t say I blame him!) and he wishes there was time to sit and talk and make friends and be happy. He uses wit to cover his deeper emotions and anger. He admits there are such things as happy co-incidences, although he doesn’t trust them. Turns out when the Doctor’s heart withered and blackened it was because the Council of Eight had tried to control him but his heart rejected their control. He is reunited with his daughter here and is not afraid to show his intimacy with her in front of other people. There share an extremely tender moment where he tells her he loves her and she makes him promise that he will not let them use her against him when it comes to the fate of the universe or her daughter. Poignantly, the Doctor just holds her and cries. He grows homicidally angry when she is threatened (“Harm her in the slightest you’ll be the one screaming forever!”/ “If you harm her in the slightest I will surely kill you.”) and tries to deal with her death internally (considering there is so much going on…the death of history and all that) but cannot manage (“You killed my daughter…for nothing!”). His relationship with Sabbath is hilarious; especially now Sabbath is humbled and apologetic although the Doctor seems to have some genuine affection for him, trying to talk him out of killing himself. Even better is his chat with the Master at the story’s close, where he tiredly admits to saving the universe again but is sick of the cost involved.
Scruffy Git: Resident thicko whose talent for the stating the obvious borders on genius. It’s an annoying habit brought about by his inability to grasp the basic principles. After all this time, he still cannot predict the Doctor’s actions. A real pro, according to himself. Hilariously he attempts to gatecrash a party Trix has organised! When time freezes he invents his own time technology…a scrunched up hankie…which he throws ahead of himself to see if time is frozen there (you’ve gotta love him haven’t you?). He thrives on danger, he admits, whilst trying to duck out of joining the Doctor in entering the villain’s lair. He admits it was a mistake leaving the Doctor alone for a century and dreads to think what he got up to in that time (I’ll lend him the Caught on Earth arc!). Fitz is the proof that not everything alive has a purpose.
Identity Tricks: Once again Trix is extremely resourceful, successfully infiltrating the Middle Ages to discover the source of the emission. Her scenes with the Princes in the Tower are very necessary, not only because it is the first time we have seen Trix selflessly trying to make somebody feel better, but it winds up saving their lives in the climax when Octan attempts to arm them and tells them to kill her and the Doctor. Sweetly, she is honest with them and admits that happy ever after doesn’t exist and that their Uncle was killed. She admits in a quiet moment that she is concerned about her mother. During a particularly dangerous moment the Doctor has to bribe her to risk her life for others! Cruelly she gives Fleetward Anji’s name, as a friend for the boys he is adopting.
Ham Fists: What strikes me most about Sabbath’s final story is how much am going to miss him. He has become part of the furniture with the EDAs and there will be a noticeable absence with his departure. At his best (Adventuress, Anachrophobia, History 101, Camera Obscura, The Last Resort, Timeless…) he was a fascinaitng creation and a worthy foe of the Doctor’s.
He is described as the opposite to the Doctor, ultimately predictable. Every moment of his treachery is mapped out. He admits he doesn’t actually want to kill the Doctor. He has grown fond of the guy and had developed a respect for his abilities and talents and is prepared to tolerate his associates. To this end he shoots the Time Agent and saves their lives. He believed everything he has been doing has been for the best. He has been flattered and played to, lied and betrayed by the Council of Eight. He is self assured and confident in his own abilities. Octan tells him he has been gloriously irrelevant, just there to keep the Doctor on the sidelines. We soon realise this is to anger the chap and force him into a decision that could mean the end of all history. Its delightful that it all comes down to Sabbath, that his very survival is proof of his destiny (because, brilliantly, Octan only sends the Time Agent to save Sabbath from his initiation under the Thames at the end of Sometime Never…!) and that the fate of the universe is in his hands. Laughing at foxing their plans and negating their existence, Sabbath puts the gun to his head and blows his brains out. It’s a memorable end for a memorable character.
Foreboding: Miranda’s death has ramifications in the next book (Halflife). The Master is still stored in the TARDIS (The Gallifrey Chronicles). The Daleks are watching the Doctor’s adventures in the vortex (The Gallifrey Chronicles).
Twists: Lets start with the cover, which is excellent, one of the best the range has ever offered. The crystals that were spread throughout all time (in Timeless) were transmitters (thanks Fitz), transmitting to a structure within the Vortex (and again Fitz). Inside are the Council of Eight, a race made of crystal who mapping out every moment in history. They admit to have driven out the clock monsters from the Vortex (Anachrophobia). The clever plotting is immediately apparent with new emissions starting up and swamping all the other data (2004 being the exact sum of these emissions put together, building up over several years). Which turns out to be a parts of a skeleton, scattered over the world, which the Doctor and Professor Fleetward start assembling over years (and complete for display in 2004). The creature weighing the precise amount of snow to cause an avalanche (and kill Louis Vogues and his premature theories of evolution) is super cool. Crystal Devine does not exist (the Doctor tells Trix “It should be well within your capabilities”, a great clue but we don’t realise its her until much later!). A time agent plants an article of Patterson (which we later discover is Octan in disguise). Early in the book Sabbath’s hourglass (they are linked to peoples lives, the grains falling like heartbeats) is nearly empty, pre-empting his death. We discover the Council of Eight are simply trying to survive, and if they prediction events wrong they could very well cease to exist. The complete skeleton breaks from its case and lunges after them! The book astonishing grabs the PDAs surrounding and inserts them effortlessly into the story, the Council having cut out the Doctor’s tainted companions from time…Mel her life cut short early (Heritage), Harry killed by a warewolf (Wolfsbane), Sarah shot in Hong Kong (Bullet Time), Ace shot and dumped into a river (Loving the Alien), Sam Jones dying of an overdose (Interference), Jo kidnapped from the Brazilian rainforest (The Green Death) and placing them in Schrondinger cells (they power the Vortex station, the potential lives of these people unfulfilled and the energy of those lives to be harnessed) to blackmail him. The Council of Eight wanted the multiverse collapsed into a single timeline so that a certain event that will ensure their survival is inescapable (Time Zero, The Infinity Race, The Domino Effect, Reckless Engineering, The Last Resort, Timeless). The Council kidnapped Miranda and her daughter to use against the Doctor but Zezanne drops out into time early because the Doctor miscalibrated and as he tries to open the portal to get rid of the time agent Miranda appears (clever, clever…). The eternity corridor is another fab idea, distance stretched out beyond infinity so no matter how far you run you wont get anywhere! As is the Vortex gun (hurled screaming forever in the Vortex, to be tortured for all eternity, aged and re-aged, never dying, never alive). The Council are deriving energy from predicting events throughout time, you harness the energy before the event takes place and if it doesn’t you have to pay it back (with interest). The Council think that the end of the universe is enough of a prediction to provide the energy they need to slip out of existence and set up shop in the Vortex but the universe ends with a whimper, not a bang. The real plan is to predict the death of history itself (Octan planning to use a star killer to ignite the Earth’s sun before man ever has a chance to evolve), the only event big enough to provide the energy for them to push them into the vortex. The fuel this prediction will bring is unimaginable and will be enough for them to bring all their people to the Vortex (“With that power we shall become the Lords of Time!”). The star killer is powered by Sabbath’s choice, kill the Doctor or Octan. Alas he kills himself and the star killer is never powered, thus causing the chain of causality to unravel and the Vortex stations begins to fall apart. They have brought about their own deaths, if only the multiverse was still active they would have survived somewhere, in some universe (hahahaha). There is a lovely image of the Doctor walking through the Vortex station, debris falling, destruction roaring and none of it touching him. Miranda is killed, sacrificing herself to save the Doctor from exceeding to blackmail. It turns out the crystal skeleton was Octan, trying to warn his younger self of the destruction of his people…he is blasted to pieces as his plan falls apart and tumbles into the vortex to be discovered and pieced together by the Doctor and Fleetward (at the beginning of the book…oh my ive gone cross eyed…isn’t this complicated and devilishly clever!!!). The Doctor gives Soul his structure and form to survive but he only takes his first identity, the image of the 1st Doctor (and earlier in the book, brilliantly pre-empting this development he says to the Council, “We spend our lives gathering information, observing and predicting but never actually doing or achieving!”). The hourglass of Soul (‘1’) and Zezanne falls into void as the palace is destroyed and they find themselves on the Jonah, ready to start their adventures together. He thinks his names is the Doctor and she is Susan, a beguilingly brilliant way of explaining how the Doctor can still survive in a Gallifrey-less universe (although to keep the fan boys from dropping dead of revisionist continuity…it is described as taking place in one of the many universe that have now sprung back into existence!). The Daleks are revealed at the end, watching the star killer (Remembrance of the Daleks). And the Master is revealed to be inside the TARDIS, although the Doctor has no clue who he is.
Funny bits: Taking the piss out of Fitz in the TARDIS is gigglesome, he’s so dense he doesn’t realise they are doing it. Fitz attempting to infiltrate the part as Horatio Sponge when he could just have said Fitz Kreiner is hilarious. Trix’s attempts to flirt and manipulative the stupid and burping Lord Scrote raised a laugh. Sam dies, what a pity, well I laughed…what’s more everyone else is returned to life here but The Gallifrey Chronicles reveals…Sam is still dead! Ha bloody ha! After Sabbath’s impassioned speech the Doctor turns on him and says, “That’s a very long winded way of saying you were right and I was wrong.”
Embarrassing bits: No it isn’t the Daleks who were behind everything and yes it is disappointing but thank the Nation Estate for that. The destruction of the Universe is depicted here and it is a shockingly anti climatic event (although that is supposed to be the point!). Just opening a door…not sure if that is an especially satisfying way of restoring the multiverse to life…not after all the hell we’ve been through with it already. But the idea of the Doctor (the first Doctor at that) restoring chaos to the universe is just amazing. Miranda’s appearance is striking but she is totally wasted (in every way!)
Result: Just because its written by Justin Richards that doesn’t make it a bad thing and whilst the grand baddies who have been plaguing the universe these few years or so are revealed to be a bunch of old crystal men who are hardly thrill a minute, that is perhaps the only major disappointment in this otherwise brilliantly climatic novel. It is perhaps the best-plotted Doctor Who book I have ever read, re-reading it proves how not a scene is wasted, every moment is vital to the overall story. The settings here might be small scale but the amount of Doctor Who fiction this encompasses is extraordinary, dragging in plot points from years back (and PDAs too) and turning the entire range into a cohesive whole. The ideas are mind blowing and the revelations in the last third reward the reader for being so patient with this arc and the range(s) in general. Sabbath gets the exit he fully deserves, the Doctor doesn’t escape scott free and there is a real surprise waiting in the last scene (which could potentially annoy but I found it charming). The prose and characterisation is not the best the EDAs can offer (both were better in Emotional Chemistry) but I am willing skip over them because this book got me so damn excited and involved. As a lover of deconstructing narrative, the way everything falls into place is quite, quite stunning: 9/10