Thursday, 12 July 2012

Night of the Humans written by David Llewellyn

Plot: The Doctor and Amy are trapped on the Gyre and fighting for their lives as a savage tribe of humans launch an all out attack on the Sittuun…

Nutty Professor: ‘He is a good man, better than any of us, and it broke his heart…’ Llewellyn is not interested in merely having the Doctor prance about making witty asides, popping about in his own timeline and breaking rules of time to tie up plots and generally acting like a bit of a smart mouth buffoon but instead wants to take him to a genuinely dark place where his efforts to save the day don’t always go rewarded. Steven Moffatt take note, this is how it is supposed to be done. The way that the 11th Doctor is pushed to the edge in a dramatic situation reminded me very strongly of the events of The Waters of Mars and there is that similar feeling of desperation. You get the feeling that the Doctor has totally bought into the myth surrounding him and that he can do anything. Boy is he about to be proven wrong. If there is a mystery behind the TARDIS door then the Doctor is bound to open no matter how much Amy objects. The Doctor has faced many dangers before, found himself in so many situations in which there seemed to be no way out. In his many lives he had fallen great heights and been shot. He had lost a hand and grown one back. Had seen the end of the universe and lived to tell the tale. But acid would rule out regeneration. Acid would be final. Its so unlike the Doctor to think defeatist thoughts like this I was completely gripped. The Doctor preparing himself for death makes this danger suddenly feel very real. The last time the Doctor saw Slipstream he was behind bars and he was the one that put him there. The book is vague about which Doctor watched him go down but it was ‘many regenerations ago’ so take your pick. The Doctor tries in vain to convince the humans to leave the Gyre but they are blinded by their ignorance and their faith. For once he simply cannot get through to them and many women and children are going to die as a result. Amy had never seen him like this – pale and drawn and so much older, his boyish charm nowhere to be seen. There are no last minute solutions this time. She can do nothing but reach out and hold his hand and he finds some small comfort in that. The Doctor has built himself up as a mythic figure that can do anything and he simply crumples when he fails. He is surprised, sad and deeply moved when Amy values his life more than her own. If leaving the humans to meet the fate they have chosen was a loss, then having Amy (the little girl with the monster in her wall) beside him took some of the pain out of losing. Getting back to the TARDIS has never felt like such an incredible relief. Slipstream describes the Doctor as ‘irritatingly astute.’ The Mymon Key is the last remnant of the Hexion Geldmonger civilisation and with it the Doctor could be invincible. He could bring his own species back. The key to the universe is too powerful for anyone to own and he tosses it into the acid swamp as so much rubbish. As the bomb explodes the Doctor watches a world being destroyed. Again. Two civilisations erased from history on the surface. For one who is so young he has the air of somebody who has seen the universe several times over. ‘You’re a good man, Doctor and you did everything you could’ are kind words but they barely impact.

Scots Tart: A truly responsible take on Amy Pond and one of her best showings in print, this is so much better than Justin Richards’ slight take on the character in Apollo 23 its actually a little embarrassing for the editor and it genuinely feels as though it takes place in the early run of season five where Amy is finding her feet in this time travelling lark. Llewellyn grasps hold of what little we know about Amy and wrings it for every drop of emotion that he can and whilst I maintain that she will never be one of the more riveting companions in print here is proof that she can at least be made to work if you push her to the limit. She doesn’t like being called Pond or Amelia. Fussy cow. Captured by the Sittuun on an alien planetoid, Amy is terrified for once rather than cocky. It makes her feel much more real. After hearing insults all of her life about redheads, Scots and women Amy never thought she would ever have to feel offended on behalf of her species. She struggled with the scale of how far away the Earth is in both miles and years. If there was one thing she has learnt about the future, it was that it was nothing like people said it was going to be. When she jumps to her possible death Amy thinks of home, the Doctor and the dress she will never wear. If Amy dies here everyone will think she’s run off to Thailand or something and she wont exists for her loved ones for another 250,000 years. How could her life have taken such a diversion that was leaping over a cavernous pit of monsters onto a spacecraft on an alien world in the distant future? Only when she is out of danger and can relax does Amy break down. She wants to rescue the Doctor because he is her friend but he is also her only way home. There’s a gorgeous relationship the builds between Amy and Charlie as she tries to understand him and the prejudice of his people against humans. Through her Charlie has an example that they aren’t all as racist as his father thinks. Drama was definitely Amy’s best subject at school, she was a natural. She teases the Doctor that she has rescued him for a change and that he is jealous of her friendship with Charlie. There was no way that Amy was leaving without the Doctor. Not after waiting 14 years for him to come back for her. Amy knows she has to go home sooner or later. She’s got a big day tomorrow and she can’t keep putting it off. After the events of this book Amy starts to wonder if all humanity if good for is being horrible to each other until Charlie plays her some music and reminds her of the beauty her species can create.

Great Ideas: I always applaud the books when they try something visually interesting and the emergency log of the crashed ship gets us off on an intriguing footing. The idea of the TARDIS bouncing off of speed bumps in space really made me smile as did the distress beacon that travels in time so that a rescue mission can be organised before the crash has taken place! The Gyre is such a fantastic location and it is described in exquisite detail. Its an endless scrapyard as far as the eye can see with a flaming comet filling the sky and heading towards the planetoid. Shipwrecks and refuse are brought together by the gravitational force of the five nearest stars. If Schuler Khan hits the Gyre it will send chunks of debris the size of cities spinning off towards the twelve inhabited worlds of the system. The Sittuun want to detonate a nanobomb in the upper atmosphere and neutralise the comets threat, literally eating away the Gyre so it can pass harmlessly through. Within seconds the Gyre will be a mist of atoms. There’s a great lake of acid with a giant rusted exhaust pipe as a bridge. The Sollogs live in the acid; fat slimy slugs with long spindly legs and gaping maws that attack anybody that tries to pass over. Its nice to see the books trying to pull off something this disgusting that a TV budget could never pull off. There is a brilliant role reversal where you think the Doctor has been saved by the humans from the aliens but they in fact turn out to be the aggressors. The human settlement is built from refuse; towers, shelters and huts all lit up by burning torches. Ancient, run down and rusted; stinking of smoke and rotting food. Ancient adverts for sportswear and soft drinks looking weathered an otherworldly, as Egyptian hieroglyphs and Roman mosaics. Whilst there are shades of The Face of Evil with the human settlement being constructed around the remains of the crashed human ship many generations ago this is a much more fulsomely realised, insidious location. The humans are described as ‘superstitious, unpredictable and violent…scared of absolutely everything.’ There’s definitely something in that. Dirk Slipstream’s rocket ship lands and is described as a glittering diamond in a mound of coal. I think Llewellyn is playing games with his audience because Dirk Slipstream screams of Zap Brannigan from Futurama down to his look (in fact with Gobocorp being a delivery company there is more than a touch of a dark, skewered version of Futurama here) and diction and yet I think this deliberate so we think he is going to be as inept and as cuddly as the cartoony character. Instead he is completely amoral, murderous and lacking any kind of moral sense. And he hides it all behind a perfect smile. There’s a great action set piece when the pipe breaks in two and Achmed falls to his death and Amy hangs onto the vines for her life and Slipstream simply waves goodbye to her grisly fate in the pit of Sollogs. The relationship with Heeva and Jamal is nicely handled and is all the more impressive because it isn’t necessary to tell this story but makes for a poignant background detail that gives these character and extra touch of realism. They clutched hold of each other in this situation of crisis but now Jamal is going home to his wife and Heeva has to pretend nothing ever happened. Slipstream was responsible for the Belaform diamond heist where he crashed a passenger ship into the diamond depository and killed 600 people. He was sentenced to 70,000 years imprisonment. Tying up one little mystery, Slipstream was the one that sent the distress signal that attracted the Doctor to the Gyre. Wars have been fought over the Mymon Key; it is an unlimited energy source, drawing its power from gravitational force. It can drive a ship through a black hole and be used to tear the fabric of the universe apart. Slipstream is quite mad, planning on using the Mymon Key to turn the sun into a black hole unless he gets 10% of the all the profits from the industries on Sol 1. ‘The humans are coming…’ – what a genuinely ominous threat humanity is in this book. The dark mass of humans caked in clown make up tearing across the desert of glass on a murderous journey is an unforgettable image. The Sittuun under attack by laughing, insane humans and the destructive comet fragments reveals a level of terror that is rare in the books these days. The whole Gobo/clown/western religion is so ridiculous but because the humans (and the author) take it so seriously it transcends that and becomes something very dark and malignant. With the burning fragments raining from the sky and causing such devastating earthquakes and craters it feels like Armageddon has arrived. Slipstream’s greed is what gets him killed and the Doctor doesn’t show a flicker of remorse.

Result: After The Taking of Chelsea 426 (a fun but unremarkable book) I would have never thought that there was a novel quite this gripping to come from David Llewellyn but he has defied all expectations with this nourishing read. The Gyre is a superbly thought through and vivid location that comes across as very alien and packed with dangerous detail. Llewellyn stacks up the dangers for the Doctor and Amy (both superbly written for) to face from the nest of dark hearted humans, the disgustingly realised Sollogs, Slipstream and his absence of morality to the comet that is screaming through space towards the Gyre and the bomb that will destroy it. Despite the fact that this is a tie in novel by the end of the book the location is so oppressive you might wonder if our heroes are going to escape with their lives. The prose is visual, dynamic and conveys a real sense of jeopardy. At first Dirk Slipstream comes across as a superfluous element but before the book is over he has become the most vivid of characters and the most dangerously unpredictable one. Night of the Humans isn’t trying to be too clever or cute, its simply a gripping piece of writing that wants to captivate you from beginning to end and it succeeds admirably. The ending is particularly memorable, with the Doctor tragically failing to save lives but with a hint of optimism in the poignant coda. Powerful and unexpected: 9/10

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