Saturday, 29 August 2009

Tomb of Valdemar by Simon Messingham

Plot: There is a terrifying expedition out to find the God Valdemar, resting in his tomb beneath the acid skies of Ashkellia. The Doctor and Romana must pause in their quest for the Key to Time to try and stop a catastrophe that could see reality and dreams collide and the universe invaded by a being that could rip through its entire fabric…

Teeth and Curls: This is, without a doubt, the best characterisation of the fourth Doctor I have EVER read, especially for this period (admittedly there isn’t much competition). He is a man of great good, with insufferable manners. He travels everywhere, interfering, making a nuisance of himself and helping people to see what they needed to see. Like all interesting heroes there is a touch of the cartoon, the grotesque, the over the top about his manner. He is never more focused than when he appears distracted. Romana thinks he suffers from physiological cognitive dissonance and a fixated egocentric maturity deficiency – in other words he’s a big kid. To his annoyance, the Doctor always finds himself explaining himself. He remembers being centuries young but has better luck remembering events than his part in them. Despite their good humour and mirth, the Doctor’s eyes accuse. He cannot walk away from a situation, especially one of his won making. Occasionally the Doctor resents the White Guardian for the restraints he has put on him. He is funny, witty, sardonic and charming. He has made a living of getting high and mighty in the face of death. He is inevitably, infuriatingly right. If anyone had been chosen to represent life at its most energetic, it would be this manic bohemian. In quieter moments the Doctor would sometimes cheerfully wonder whether he had seen it all, whether there was anything left in the universe to surprise him. There was.

Universe Virgin: Once Romana had achieved her triple first she wondered what the purpose of it all was. The serenity and complacency of Gallifrey had become tiring…was she bored? Travelling with the Doctor was like the shock of cold water but she felt anticipation and excitement about further adventures. All Romana has ever done is study. Leisure time was given over to conscious development of mental and physical skills. She joined the Doctor to do things. Her speciality lies in technical disciplines and science, poetry definitely isn’t her thing. She can sympathise with a victim (Huvan) but cannot understand the perpetrator of agony (Neville). Romana remembers the Sontarans strutting through the Academy, no one daring to halt them in their atrocities. She feels as though she has entered a war where unimaginable realities must be sublimated, dealt with and taken for granted. The idea that she might become blasé sickens her. Grief over the Doctor’s ‘death’ paralyses Romana, she realises how small she is compared to the universe she inhabits.

Foreboding: In a wonderful, wonderful twist, the storyteller who we believe is Miranda Pelham turns out to be Romana, centuries after she travelled with the Doctor. She has returned to tell Ponch who he is and what his place is in the story. It is a beautiful turn of events, proving that Romana survived the destruction of Gallifrey (twice!) and is still out there, keeping her word, spreading ideas and wonder. I love it.

Twists: Stories within stories – the framing device that powers this story is brilliant, allowing the storyteller and her audience to comment on the action, make things up, move the plot on, even switch narrator…Simon Messingham has always loved playing with narrative and this is his best and most successful experiment (read page 183 to see why the narration of this book is so unusual and effective). Erik is transformed into a monster and grips onto the bathyscaphe as it ascends into the acid skies of Ashkellia, the flesh boiled away. In the Academy the Doctor and the Master lashed up a door to the Matrix and found out about Valdemar and when they emerged the Master was salivating with the thought of such power (the Doctor wondered what sort of person might gain pleasure from such a nightmare). Valdemar was a stain, blotting out stars and consuming planets. A million years ago the Old Ones breached the Higher Dimensions and one individual returned, able to shape reality: Valdemar. The planet Ashkellia is a giant particle accelerator to punch a hole into those dimensions, the tomb of Valdemar the gateway. Valdemar was thought, time and emotion…everything. Every life form it encountered experienced total perception. The Old Ones punched the hole in reality until it grew, spreading like a cancer, threatening to subsume the universe. Huvan, ugly and selfish and drowning in angst should be annoying but caught awkwardly between child and man he is just disturbing. He is genetically kept young so his body is in constant war with itself and thus the most powerful psychic force in the galaxy. In a moment of spine chilling horror Huvan rises from the ground, pustules bleeding and causes Tenniel to explode into sizzling pieces. Neville slaughters the nobles (the Doctor: “How many more Neville, how many more will you kill for your ridiculous delusion?”). The Doctor and Pelham are spat out of an airlock. The old woman storyteller dies and, brilliantly, Ponch (who has been touched inside by the power of the story) completes it himself. What a climax – Neville and Hopkins kicking bloody murder out of each other as the tomb of Valdemar opens to unleash doomsday. A creature filled with hate, half Neville, half Hopkins, constantly at war with itself, is a fitting end to these two bastards. Miranda Pelham decides to stay in the Higher Dimensions with Valdemar, an Old One who contained the forces by staying there.

Funny Bits: K.9: “Don’t trouble yourself with the metal dog. It never goes down very well. Its not in the story that much.”
Messingham cheekily addresses the audience: “If its not my plots that are too complicated, its my characters. Now they’ll have an excuse to attack my style too!”
“You will die for this intrusion!” “That seems a little harsh. A simple telling off would have been more than sufficient. Better still, how about a sign saying ‘Keep Out. Dead God Awakening’ Hmm?”
Between sickening emotional angst and scabby faced zombies, Romana chooses to rush back into Huvan’s bedroom. “You came back!” “I couldn’t stay away.”
“I know, I’ll drink some. If I drop dead its probably best not it use it.”
“Didn’t I warn you about boys? They’ll say anything to impress. I’m sure it was on my list of ‘a thousand and one universal constants to warn Romana about’.”

Embarrassing Bits: He would have got away with it too, yes, if it hadn’t been for the Doctor and those meddling kids.

Result: Yes! The powerhouse the PDAs have needed for sometime. The first ten showed so much promise but the range has been somewhat cruising along, happy to entertain but not amaze. Tomb of Valdemar has everything you might want from a Doctor Who book, it is hugely entertaining; it has a clever and involving plot, moments of genuine horror, lots of detail, experimental (and damn successful) narration techniques, great characterisation and an ending that takes your breath away. I must focus on the characterisation, of both the regulars and the guest cast, which is astonishingly good in both respects, the cast spring from the page with absolute conviction. Every page throws up fresh wonders, a plot twist, quality dialogue, moments of introspection…and I hate to sound like a broken record but the ending (which could so easily have been an anticlimax) is redeemed beautifully by a deceptive final twist. Simon Messingham is such an inconsistent author, for every Zeta Major there is a Infinity Race but with Tomb of Valdemar he has reached his zenith and produced a classic Doctor Who novel: 10/10

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Taking of Planet Five by Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham

Plot: When a strange artefact is discovered in an Antarctic base it opens up a whole can of worms. The Doctor is unsure why the Elder Things from fiction seemed to have sprung into existence and why a group of war hardened Time Lords have taken on their form…?

Top Doc: I should start out by saying that this is a book of ideas rather than decent characterisation and in the grand scheme of the book the characters are merely there to pilot the ideas. Saying that there are some clever observations made here.

The Doctor refuses to be beaten and is still trying to find a way back in to the Enclave. He has had enough of evil whatsits from the dawn of Time and thought he had dealt with them all in his last regeneration. I loved it when he is said to have children’s teatime sensibilities. He is described as a rogue element, a symbol of independence and wasteful initiative. His adventures have become lurid and speculative fiction that the future Time Lords read on the quiet (hmm…). Overall he really isn’t that involved in the narrative, he strikes a blow for the war TARDISes at the end but he is fighting the million other characters of page space most of the time.

Scruffy Git: Thinking with his nob as usual, Fitz wonders if he’ll ever have Compassion but thinks this will only occur when she has a personality transplant and he gets drunk. He misses Sam, either Sam. It is interesting to hear that he has been worried for a while whether he will inherit his mother’s mental illness. It’s not really relevant to anything but Fitz is technically the first man to space walk. Pretty impressive.

Stroppy Redhead: This is Compassion’s book through and through and is described as being Remote in every sense of the word, independent, unpleasant, cynical and amoral. Somebody actually asks her if her name is ironic. It is a real eye opener when she communes with the War TARDISes and listens to their tales of rape and torture. Turns out she trusts the Doctor’s instincts and he thinks of her as a machine clothed in flesh. In a tense moment she chooses to do what the Doctor would do, protect the Earth. And when she dreams of the War TARDISes free of bondage, she smiles a rare smile. Lovely.

Foreboding: Homunculette and Marie discuss Compassion at the books climax. “You mean you don’t know who she is…?” asks Marie.

Twists: The Museum of Things that Don’t Exist is a great, I would have liked to have explored its exhibits more. The Helicopter crash is terrifying. When we realise that agents of Mictlan and future Time Lords involved with the War are around the importance of what is happening is stressed. I loved the UR boxes, signalling to the vortex that everything is normal in time whilst the Times Lords invade a period and make changes. The Celestis use record ships to monitor Mictlan, being creatures of pure thought they are terrified of change, so when a house goes missing they are understandably paranoid. I was gob smacked when it was revealed that the Time Lords are trying to control the Fendhal to use as a weapon against the Enemy. There are nine other Gallifreys, copies secreted in pocket universes so that if one falls in the War their legacy will survive. The War TARDISes are a fabulous concept, machines built to swallow moons and drain stars of energy. I adored the moment when you realise it was Compassion who was spat from the time machine in the future, finally the heavy plotting starts to make sense. Things get even scarier when we discover the Celestis pushed forward the evolution of the Fendhal, a device to eat all meaning. In the packed, terrifying climax, we realise that One wants to destroy his own home (Mictlan) as it is like pollen to bees called Swimmers who would destroy the entire universe. The Doctor uses the war TARDISes like scalpels, cutting away Mictlan (and the Fendhal Predator with it) and takes them to the furthest range of the TARDISes limits.

Embarrassing bits: Omega’s Orifice! is an exclamation used. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, Lawrence Miles’ concepts seem to abhor a plot. This has hundreds of clever notions swimming around but they really don’t cohere into a satisfying narrative. Splatter collage is one idea too far, digging out the contents of someone’s head and making pretty patterns with it. Compassion actually says “Nosy parkas in Parkhas!”
Funny bits: The Doctor is like a tornado in one of his energetic moods. When the Doctor and Compassion discuss the parallel canon, Fitz compares that to them comparing the merits of pointed sticks. The Doctor, Fitz and Compassion play guess who the Enemy is with hilarious results. The reason so many Time Lords are so narrow minded and dull witted is because the responsibility of infinite power is so great, they are trying to avoid becoming corrupt like the Master, etc. The Doctor’s assistants are described as bipedal sheep who follow him around and contribute nothing. Apparently the 1970’s is the peak years for alien invasions, a weekend could not pass by without some three headed bastard demanding the brains of Earth’s poodles.
Result: 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

Saturday, 22 August 2009

All Consuming Fire by Andy Lane (and Dr Watson and Bernice Summerfield)

Plot: Another case for the fearlessly intelligent Sherlock Holmes and his associate Dr Watson. Underneath the gleam and shine of London a plan is being hatched in its underbelly, a plan to expand the British Empire like never before. Travelling to the heat of India and the exoticism of another world, Holmes and Watson find their sanity stretched to the limit…

Master Manipulator: Like most of the book the Doctor is magnificently described. However I would have thought that the meeting of these two giants from literature would have seen them joining forces and working as a team. Instead the Doctor seems to delight in hanging on at the sidelines and winding Holmes up as much as possible. In places he is extremely patronising about the man and smug about his superior knowledge.

The Doctor’s ensemble looks as though it was selected in the dark from the Eastcheap markets. He is in search of universal peace, an end to strife, and unlimited custard for all. His style of debate is to adopt a superior attitude and scathing criticism. He is described as gazing owlishly over the curved handle of his umbrella which is just about the finest description I can think of for this Doctor. Unlike Holmes, the Doctor seemed to prompt from behind rather than lead from the front. He is extremely scathing of the human race, criticising their need to sleep and their pride at their innovations. He is described as being short and trouble. The Doctor has always had a soft spot for the 19th Century – there is a sense of infinite possibility, anything could evolve from the morass of science and superstition. It showcases the humanity at its best and its worst. Getting lost is what the Doctor is best at, but he always manages to turn up again like a bad penny. Sometimes the Doctor hankers for the days when all his companions did was scream and sprain their ankles. There is no safe hand to hold than the Doctor’s.
Boozy Babe: Bernice is written out into the second half of the book but the second she joins the story she reminds you of how brilliant she is. Finally some more extracts from her diary and they are every bit as incisive and entertaining as I imagined. She wonders if the Earth is her home anymore. She thinks that poverty and powerlessness are the real evils of the universe. Watson fancies the pants off her and not in a chasing skirt sort of way; he is shocked by her forwardness and her bravery. He finds her bluntness, vivacity and cynicism very refreshing. She thinks the buggerance factor of the universe tends towards maximum.

Oh Wicked: Easily the worst portrayal of Ace to date in the books. It’s as though the editor completely forgot to remind Andy Lane that we are dealing with New New Ace now rather than the bully New Ace of old. To be fair he does at least have the courage to write her out for practically the entire book, a popular quirk of the recent novels. She is a ridiculous joke here, violent to the point of psychosis and full of anger. Her quality dialogue reads like, “These days, what I don’t like, I stop. Violently” and “Well they’re not going to do crosswords on the train, are they dick-brain?” and “Listen Spunk brain!”…you get the idea. She always thinks people are enemies until they prove otherwise. She doesn’t feel comfortable in clothes that aren’t bullet proof and laser resistant. After her excellent showing in Theatre of War it has become clear that there will never be a consistent character for this woman and after this she needs to step out of the TARDIS as soon as possible.

Foreboding: Holmes spots a copy of Shakespeare’s lost play, Love Labour’s Wonne!
Twists: The first chapter alone is simply gorgeous; anyone who has read Doyle would instantly recognise the beautifully researched voice of Watson’s charming narration. Holmes and Watson, on the Orient Express are asked by the Pope to investigate the theft of holy text from the Library of St John the Beheaded. Holmes tells the Pope (who offers any price for him to investigate), “My fees are on a fixed scale.” Now that’s class. Mrs Hudson mothers Holmes and he, the great observer, never notices. The London sections are atmospheric and evocative and infused with rich detail. Kate Pendersly bursts into flames to the astonishment of Watson. The bulldog fight is a scene of human degradation and the punishment the gangs dish out on those they think have been bribed (slicing their hands off) is enough to make you lose your breakfast. The scenes at the Diogenes Club with Mycroft Holmes are intriguing, somebody even more skilled in the art of detection than Sherlock? Baron Maupertuis is revealed to have raised an army to invade an alien world in the name of colonial imperialism. The British Empire is based on oppression and slavery and they will be spreading death and destruction across the cosmos. Watson shoots a cobra in half whilst he is in the bath. O’Connor is revealed to be…Moriarty! The fiend! You’ve gotta love this Master like reveal. The Doctor, Bernice, Holmes, Watson and Moriarty taking on four rakashassha is brilliantly exciting. Holmes resorts to cocaine to alleviate borderm. The Old Ones are beings who jumped ship from the old universe as it took its dying breath to our universe as it was being conceived. Sherringford Holmes is revealed to be the master plotter behind it all! The plan isn’t to invade Ry’leh but Earth; Azazoth is posing as one of the Old Ones and needed Sherringford to bring the army through as a distraction to her jailer so she could escape. Shockingly, Holmes beats his brother to death to save Watson from his clutches. The Doctor changes the destination of the portal and Azazoth is deposited in the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Funny Bits: Watching the 7th Doctor wind up the 3rd with the answer to his crossword clue is hilarious.
“Knowing how much I get on Watson’s nerves, I occasionally wonder if my last sight on Earth will be of him standing at the foot of my bed with a syringe of cyanide in his hand!”
“Hide around the corner you damn fool!” – Bernice, initially going for the subtle approach figures Watson needs clearer directions!

Embarrassing Bits: Ace, which I have already covered. Get rid of her.
Andy Lane jumps through hoops to have Holmes and Watson exist in the Doctor Who universe and still have them be genuine literary creations. Basically his theory is that Holmes and Watson aren’t called Holmes and Watson, they are just aliases for Conan Doyle who has taken Watson’s (or whatever he’s called) experiences and essentially ghost written them for publication. I don’t buy it for a second…
I could have done without the scenes that flaunt paedophilia with such brazenness, quite out of place in a Holmes story and not necessary in a Doctor Who one either.
Litefoot, Fenn-Cooper, Challenger, Lestrade, Aberline, the 3rd and 1st Doctor…this book has its share of fanwank.
It gives me no pleasure to admit this but the whole of chapter 14 is boring beyond belief, astonishing considering how riveting the earlier sections are.

Result: The first 100 pages are out-and-out the best thing that has been produced by the New Adventures. As a Holmes pastiche it feels startlingly genuine and the prose is delightfully sensual and packed with interesting historical detail. I could have stayed in this depiction of London for an entire book series. Things become choppier in the next 100 pages but it maintains the interest, the India sections are again beautifully visual and Bernice’s sections help to keep things lively. The whole thing falls to pieces in the last 100 pages which dumps the detective story and opts for a more standard Doctor Who run-around on an alien planet. I have never known a book to take such a nose dive. However the prose is of a remarkable quality throughout, Andy Lane tops even Paul Cornell’s ability to depict a scene vividly and his characterisation of Holmes, Watson and Bernice remains very strong. Annoyingly the book jumps through revisionist hoops to justify Holmes and Watson appearing in the flesh rather than just letting them do their stuff, I could have accepted their inclusion as just a rather wonderful experiment. This is a strong read, that stunning first third is exceptional but my advice would be to get to the point where the team are about to step onto an alien world and shut the book. The ending you make up will be much better. Flawed, but written with real flair: 8/10

My favourite BBC Books covers

Black Sheeps BBC Doctor Who covers have been sorely underated - some of these were extremely atmospheric and good apetite whetters. Here are some of my absolute favourites, the ones that I remember grabbing from the shelves and being desperate to read!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Lance Parkin Q & A Part Two

Did you have a Doctor in mind when writing The Infinity Doctors? Every time I read it I see McGann but I wonder if that is because he was the current Doctor at the time. It does seem to fit almost perfectly in the slot after The Gallifrey Chronicles and before Rose, with the Doctor having rebuilt Gallifrey and comfortably settled there. Was this book supposed to celebrate the Doctor, the concept of him? You covered a lot of ground in this novel, Time Lord politics, the Sontaran and Rutan conflict, the Doctor’s romance, Omega’s return…can you tell us something about how this book evolved and what your aims were.
Obviously there was no plan in 1998 to set up some way of reconciling two destructions of Gallifrey that hadn’t happened yet! It does fit in that slot very nicely, though.

The Infinity Doctors is a book about canon and continuity, to a large extent. So the setting is part of that. It’s never good to sit and forensically explain a joke, but the central joke of The Infinity Doctors is that by including every single nugget of detail we knew then about Gallifrey (including, to paraphrase Ned Flanders, all the stuff that contradicted itself), by taking that ultra-inclusive line, it become utterly impossible to place the book in canon.

Originally the book started out as a very straightforwardish Tom and Romana novel – the synopsis for that appears in Time Unincorporated. Then it became the anniversary novel and I decided to go out and out and try to recreate Doctor Who from scratch, sort of. To reimagine a lot of it. I wanted it to be this big space opera thing – there was a big resurgence of that around at the time in ‘mainstream’ SF. And Gallifrey was the obvious way to do that. I wanted to do this big, operatic thing with the Doctor’s girlfriend in a floaty nightie and the Doctor stabbing her and all sorts of things like that. I was always a little worried that I’d stretch things too far, so at heart it was quite a traditional

You didn’t start writing for the eighth until after the dramatic reset which saw Gallifrey destroyed and the Doctor’s memory lost. Did you enjoy writing for the post-amnesiac eighth Doctor? Did you feel it was a second chance to try a new direction with the character?
Ha … well, there are two answers to that. In 2000, yes, all of those things. It was a great back to basics approach. The Doctor had been marginalised in the EDAs, become the victim of circumstance, and that’s the exact opposite of what he’s there for.

Ten years on, the new series did almost the same thing, but so much more elegantly, really managed to wring a lot more drama and emotion from it.

You managed to squeeze the eighties beautifully into Father Time. What events were you keen to highlight? Were you thrilled with the reception of this novel, especially Miranda, who many wanted to see return?
Father Time is my autobiography, give or take. It’s my take on the eighties, anyway. One of the things I was keen to point out was that for those of us growing up then, Blackadder was our Beatles. We didn’t really do music, we did comedy. The thing that strikes me is how much the Internet and the end of the Cold War changed the world. You look at perhaps The Most Eighties Thing Ever, which is The Dark Knight Returns and it’s set in the future, probably around the space year 2009, and it’s a future with the Soviet Union but no internet or mobile phones. It’s absolutely nothing like now. So a lot of Father Time is stuff about that sort of different eighties mentality.

I think it’s my most popular novel. It’s certainly one I really like, it’s got that big bold central idea that They’d Never Do On Telly (this was, of course, a while ago). The ending … yes, not quite as strong. That last third of the book is the weakest, but there’s still some great stuff in there. Allan Bednar, the artist of the comic and so Miranda’s co-creator, came up with a much better ending about six months after it came out – Miranda goes through to the future early on, the Doctor only gets to see her in hologram form from then on.

Miranda was hugely popular, and I did the comic, which ground to a halt for money reasons – it was the first product of a new company and sold shedloads, but every single thing that was done was a learning curve and I think it cost more to print an issue than it was being sold for, at which point selling shedloads is a problem, not a good thing. I was at the Bristol Comic Convention plugging it and a well known figure in the British comic industry said ‘we need to get more people to see this, how many first issues did you sell?’ and we told him and he said ‘but … that’s what 2000AD sells’.

I’ve always wanted to finish the story off, and I’ve been looking for a way to do it. I think there may be some news on that soon, we’ll see.

Trading Futures saw you take a departure from the epic; emotion fuelled dramas of the past and take a stab at something more fun and relaxed. Was this a deliberate attempt to try something new? What did you think of the companions at the time, Fitz and Anji? Were contractually obliged to slot in Sabbath or did you suggest this?
I saw the books that were coming out before mine, and they were all these huge, dark, involved books. Which are brilliant, don’t get me wrong, but I thought readers would be grateful for something a lot faster and more colourful.

I don’t think I was ‘obliged’ to include Sabbath, but I know how the readership works: there are always ‘do I need to read X to understand the ongoing story?’ threads running and I wasn’t keen on hearing a chorus of ‘no, you don’t have to read Trading Futures’. As I say, one of the things I’ve always tried to do with my books is think about the books around mine, fit them into the ongoing story. Readers read them like that anyway, and it rarely needs more than a few lines to fit things together.

Fitz and Anji … it’s fairly well known that I love Anji and hate Fitz, which is pretty much the diametric opposite of what most of the readers – and indeed authors – thought. I wrote for Fitz twice, and quite enjoyed doing so, but I don’t really identify with him.

Anji, on the other hand, I thought had so much dramatic potential … although people tended to latch onto the two least interesting things about her: The Dead Boyfriend and her ethnicity. The race stuff … there’s probably all sorts of mileage in that, but Doctor Who resists those sorts of stories – it’s hard to construct Anji as some sort of ‘other’ or ‘outsider’ like you’re meant to do in Postcolonial Fiction when she’s meeting three headed giant blue space clams. Lawrence had a book set at exactly the right point in history to explore a lot of things about Anji’s identity, but he had got it into his head that anyone like her who works in an office must be a Nazi, so missed that particular boat. I think there were ways of ‘exploring’ Anji’s ethnicity … at the same time, I don’t think ‘being of Indian origin’ is exactly weird in modern Britain. I joked at the time that she’d probably face more prejudice and teasing from her London colleagues for originally coming from Leeds than because her grandparents came from India.

The thing I found interesting was that she was a success and had a life, and travelling with the Doctor was disrupting that. Most companions tend to be orphans or slackers, or at the very least people who are stuck. But people like Anji – young, educated, driven, goal-focussed, analytical – are exactly the people who can adapt and find opportunities in a crisis.

I really like Trading Futures. I’m not blind to its flaws, but all the polls and reviews and stuff have it way down compared with my other books. I was experimenting with a few things there – there are no continuity references to speak of, for example. I was deliberately hacking the story around so that it moved really quickly (I love the TV show Alias, which started just after I finished writing the book and is very similar). As I say, I’d got a bit bored with the dark aesthetic and so I wanted to invert that. You read Henrietta Street, it’s actually a really conventional story with all sorts of baroque stuff bolted on to distract from that. Trading Futures is candy coated, with all sorts of nasty stuff just under the surface. It’s a lot like the new series, I think, in places. It was the one time I found myself really out of step with my readership, though.

There were so many kisses to the past, so many great explanations in The Gallifrey Chronicles; it was wonderful closure to the eighth Doctor novels. Was their checklist of things to be rounded up and explained? Some of the events, the seventh Doctor protecting the rose garden, the scratching on the wall in the TARDIS seemed to be set up already. Was this a collaboration with Justin Richards the editor or were you left to deal with all the explanations yourself? One huge criticism pointed at the range was that the Doctor, hiding from the past, was something of a coward. This was brilliantly addressed in the book, both why he couldn’t delve any deeper into the past and what he was protecting; his sacrifice to save the memories of the Time Lords made him the ultimate hero. Was this the intention, to address this issue and subvert it? Do you have any favourite moments in the novel?
The checklist sort of wrote itself. It was a hundred books, or whatever, and this was the last one. I had licence to do what the BBC Books had always been reluctant to do, which was to link it all up and play with all sorts of things from previous books. Sort of a Jasper Fforde novel which only used other EDAs. It’s a book with a theme, and that’s ‘story’, it’s about the sort of narratives we have about ourselves, how fiction impacts on real life, that kind of thing. Plus it was a huge celebration. It looks undisciplined, but … no. It’s the exact opposite. There’s all sorts of crazy stuff happening, but it’s all there, precisely placed, for a reason.

I set up the scratching on the wall in Trading Futures, and I think it was only referred to once more after that. The other things were a question of going back over the cool things that had happened in the EDAs – and books generally – and paying some of them off. A lot of authors say that when they write, they get into it and then suddenly all sorts of things just come along that are relevant: news stories, a new book, some piece of history, something a friend says or that you overhear, a documentary. I don’t think that’s magic or cosmic ordering or whatever – I think it’s just that you tune into your book and see the world through it. But I went back over the EDAs and there were tons of things I realised I could pick up on. I wanted the seventh Doctor to meet the eighth in a dream sequence … it turned out that Lloyd Rose had set that up for me, which was nice of her. There were all sorts of things like that, and I am quite proud that I was able to tie it all back to a typo in the very first New Adventure.

The memory thing was an idea I’d had a while back – there’s a reference to it in Father Time, in the mind probe sequence. I like making things fit, I like seeing five contradictory statements and working out how they might not be contradictory. Yes, the Doctor seemed to give up on Gallifrey too easily, yes he seemed to be pathologically avoiding addressing his amnesia, yes there seemed to be weird contradictions about whether he could fly the TARDIS or not and exactly what he knew, yes Compassion abandoning him on Earth was odd. So … how does all that fit together?

It’s very difficult to surprise people in an age when movie twists are spoilered online before the script’s even finished. The speculation about the Who books was always feverish, and I’m very proud that after thousands of people posting dozens of theories, not one person even came a little bit close to guessing, even though all the clues are there, it’s all laid out for you over plenty of books.

Is it right that this is your highest selling novel or has this now been superseded by The Eyeless?
They measure sales differently now, and the NSAs apparently sell much more steadily over time – the EDAs sold most of their copies in the first month. At the moment, though, The Gallifrey Chronicles is still my bestselling Who book.

How did you approach writing The Eyeless? There has been so much argument on various forums about the dumbing down of the range; do you have strong feelings about this? Was David Tennant’s Doctor easy to write for? Tell us something about the weapon in the novel; it was an ingeniously horrible device. The book has been very well received; do you think we might see another from you soon?
Strong feelings about the range? I don’t think there’s anything, at all, about the new format that limits them. Well, one thing: Phil Purser-Hallard has said that the length does prevent a huge, sprawling epic book, and that’s right. Although they could – and should, I think – release a batch of three books that’s actually one big epic book. And if you don’t like Russell T Davies or David Tennant or the new series then you’re in trouble … but frankly, you’d be so far into the wrong that I’m not sure there’s much that could help you. The tenth Doctor books are always going to be, to a large extent, ‘like’ the new TV series. But apart from that, the books are limited only by the ambition and ability of the people writing them.

David Tennant … it’s such a strong template to work from. It’s funny – I’ve just listened to the audiobook of The Eyeless, and I’ve got a few of the others, and you have all these other actors doing these spot on versions. Russell Tovey reads mine, and when he reads the Doctor’s lines, there’s this loving, really accurate version of Tennant’s mannerisms. The other side of that is that you get a little more leeway as a writer – you can write some dodgy dialogue and the reader can go ‘yes, I can imagine David Tennant would get that line to work’.

The weapon was one of those things that I really worked out while I was in the thick of writing the book. The synopsis said something like ‘the ultimate weapon’ and left it vague. Then it was just a big gun, then a universe-destroying bomb and I wasn’t happy. It’s … actually, I need to be careful with this … one reading of the book is that it’s a weapon from the Time War, but it’s left open whether it’s the Time War from the EDAs or the new TV series. So I needed an ultimate weapon that could take down the Enemy or the Daleks, and I got really bogged down in technobabble. Justin asked me early on how the weapon worked and I said pretty much what the Doctor says in the book, ‘er … quantum physics and vunktotechnology’ and it became obvious that this wasn’t a good answer, so I came up with a better one: ‘it kills your enemy and anyone who’s ever heard of them’ and in just about every circumstance but one, that would mean that firing it would destroy you.

I would love to write another new series book. I’d write them all, if they let me.

A History (of the Universe) has become a bible for me, very useful when writing reviews and essays. Can I ask…where on Earth did you begin with writing this book? Can you enlighten us as to how such a mammoth project came to be?
When I was a kid, like I suspect a lot of young fans, I had a little notebook for Doctor Who Facts and this gradually became more and more elaborate. Once I got an electric typewriter with a memory it was possible to put all that in some sort of order and keep it updated. That turned into forty pages of notes. I ended up writing it up for Seventh Door fanzines as The Doctor Who Chronology. Virgin saw that, liked the idea, didn’t like the book. So we redid it as A History of the Universe. Ten years later, I revamped it for Mad Norwegian. That revamp took a while. It’s too big a thing for one person, now, so the new stuff is co-written by me and my if-you-mumble namesake Lars Pearson.

Was it appealing to write for the Time Hunter and Faction Paradox series, to not be shackled with the character of the Doctor?
Oh, the Doctor’s a great character. If it ever feels like he’s an encumbrance, you’re doing something wrong … the original synopsis for Warlords is in Time Unincorporated, and you can see that it wasn’t right for the range because the Doctor’s a marginal figure in it.

Doing the first regular Time Hunter was interesting – it’s a pretty short novella, it wasn’t a great chunk of my life to write it, and they also wanted a really straightforward introduction to the format for the running series. The original book by Daniel O’Mahony, Cabinet of Light, is brilliant.

Looking back over your prolific Doctor Who career, do you have a personal favourite of the books you have written? Is there any book you would like to have a stab at again in hindsight?
It’s pretty well known I don’t like Cold Fusion. I started out writing a high concept book about the civil war in Yugoslavia, and ended up with Terry and June fighting Adam and the Ants. Lots of crazy ideas and some quite good jokes, very little in the way of story and emotional connection.

I work very hard on the books, I want to be proud of them. There’s always something that could be done to improve them, but there’s nothing I’m ashamed of. I love Trading Futures, but it could probably have done to have me another pass over it to tune it up a bit. Just War’s a pretty good debut, but nearly fifteen years on I can see ways of making it better. I wish that Father Time ended as strongly as it starts. I’m very, very proud of The Eyeless, but I learned a lot while I was writing it, and were I to do another, I think I could make the overarching story more convoluted. The Infinity Doctors has sort of the opposite problem, with the same result – the complications end up disguising quite a simple story. The Gallifrey Chronicles and The Dying Days are sort of the same book, really. That’s deliberate, like Star Wars and Return of the Jedi are the same story. I’m very happy with The Gallifrey Chronicles, I think that’s the one that takes what the books were and runs with it. The Dying Days is probably the one I’d just hand to someone, though. That’s the closest I could get to Doctor Who that balances that archetypal ‘traditional’ stuff with a more up to date sensibility.

You have been involved with lots of editors over the course of your career, Peter Darvill-Evans, Rebbecca Levene, Stephen Cole, Justin Richards. They must have very different ways of bringing the best out of their authors. How would you sum up your experiences with them?

Oh god, this is an absolute poisonous question. There is no way, at all, that I can win if I answer that. Even if I only say that for my money out of everyone on that list Rebecca Levene had the nicest smile and the dirtiest laugh, I’d probably offend one or more of the others. Or Bex.

OK … here goes. I had very little day-to-day contact with Peter Darvill-Evans, but he took me out for lunch a couple of times and he was good company. He’s one of the people who laid the foundations for modern Doctor Who, and I think that contribution is often overlooked. Rebecca Levene commissioned my first novel, and I’ve since learned that all the guidance that she gave me wasn’t just what every editor did, it was well above the call of duty. She’s brilliant, and thinking about how brilliant reminds me that I’ve not been in touch with her for years, and I should drop her an email. She got the best work out of the best Doctor Who authors, and that’s not a coincidence. I only worked with Stephen Cole on The Infinity Doctors. The range was still finding its feet, the BBC as a whole had just had ten million people watching the McGann movie and knew there was this huge interest in Doctor Who, but not really why or from who. Justin’s in a weird role – Stephen was the Who Tsar, Justin’s a freelance consultant. So it’s great responsibility without great power. The books have always been vulnerable to someone else at the BBC’s idea of a brand strategy. He’s a long term, absolutely hardcore Doctor Who fan. One who is now a successful children’s author in his own right. He loves the books, he’s got the right instincts and he’s the right man for the job.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Last of the Gadrene by Mark Gatiss

Plot: Sinister happenings are going on in the quiet village of Culverton, the local aerodrome has been closed down and a new company has taken over, Legion International, who are planning set up a fully functioning airport. The Doctor soon realises something much sinister is going on, a last attempt at salvation for a dying alien race…
Good Grief: The Doctor is used to cutting something of a dash in his current incarnation. He likes slipping off into the mists of legend (good job really because he does it so well!). He finds the insistent hum and white of the console room inexpressibly comforting. Without the Doctor and the TARDIS, the UNIT laboratory takes on a sad, neglected feel. Jo asks the Doctor if the Brig, UNIT and herself mean anything to him and he falls deadly silent in contemplation. In possibly the most revealing piece of prose about the third Doctor we learn: (In the early days as UNIT’s scientific advisor the Doctor put on a good show of ignoring the Time Lord’s sentence but in truth he had found the route unbearable, stifling. The winter evenings were the worst, the black night pressing against the laboratory windows and for a while he had taken to wandering through the TARDIS as if they would lead him back to the wandering life he had known. But that was too painful, the paraphernalia of previous adventures bringing him sharply back down to Earth. After a time though something had changed inside him. He began to find the Brigadier less objectionable and more endearing. He secretly looked forward to each new problem. With the sun setting over this insignificant little planet…the Doctor began to feel…happy. When the Time Lords rescinded his exile he felt a twinge of something…excitement or fear? It was an uncomfortable fact to face but his first thought when he came back to Earth was that he was home.) The Doctor is described as falling like a giant bat, his cloak blossoming around him. The Doctor’s reaction to flying the spitfire is delightful. The Doctor and the Master had a falling out at the Academy because the Master went back on his word, revealing the Doctor was too trusting and unrealistic. In the poignant final sequence the Doctor seems quietly devastated that the Master might have been wiped out forever.

Dippy Agent: Jo likes sunbathing on the roof of UNIT HQ. She is proud of how the Doctor had come to accept her, first as a assistant, then as a colleague and finally as a friend. She wanted to move on soon but the thought of life after UNIT makes tears spring to her eyes. When she was younger, Jo was too scared to cross the pulsing darkness to her parent’s bedroom in fear of what might leap out at her. She is brave, confronting the unknown assailant at Whistlers house.

Foreboding: The Master’s apparent destruction at the end of this story could explain his emaciated state in The Deadly Assassin.

Twists: The opening is very nostalgic, a good taster of what is to come. Noah and Whistler investigate the strange goings on at the aerodrome, Whistler is kidnapped by the guards and Noah is scared witless by a creature in the marshes. The Chief of Staff is attacked in his bedroom by a glistening scuttling crab. There is a fantastic action sequence in chapter fifteen, climaxing in the Doctor’s assailant being sucked into the blades of a wind tunnel and blood raining down on gleaming white tiles. Graham Allinson being infected by his dad is pretty scary. When McGarrigle clutches the sides of his head, a creature like something between a crab and a worm is said to extracted itself like paste from a tube. The Master’s sudden appearance is delightful, just when you think it cannot get anymore traditional. Master’s eyes are said to burn like coals. The aeroplane simulator is a great deception, faking a crash and releasing the oxygen masks and the controlling crabs leap out and take their hosts. The attack on Bessie by the giant worm/crab is fabulous because you know exactly how this would look on screen with a season ten budget. In a classic Doctor Who sequence – coffins emerge from the swamp and the possessed villagers burst free – alien creatures filling their mouths as they shamble towards the village. Chapter 29 plays well with two Pertwee conventions; firstly you get see the Master hypnotise somebody from the victims POV and secondly you get to see a UNIT virgin experience his first taste of the Doctor, aliens and action. The Gadrene marked the Earth thirty years ago and recognised its potential as a fallback and now their world is dying they want to take over. The Master gets a great moment, taking down Bliss with the TCE. Whistler’s plane destroys the entire Gadrene race in the energy backlash when it crashes into the transmitter.

Funny Bits: “My dear Brigadier. Running errands is not my forte. If you want someone to pop around and see your old friends I suggest you try the women’s institute. I believe they make excellent jam.”
“Despite your best efforts Lethbridge Stewart, I have not yet succumbed to the level of petty bureaucracy in which you seem to revel. If there’s any toadying to be done I suggest you do it yourself!”
“Dear me, always the bridesmaid, never the bride. How does it feel to always be someone’s lackey?”
“As the Brigadier’s pet monkey, I should imagine you’re much better placed to answer that, my dear Doctor.”
Embarrassing Bits: “What’s up Doc?” – I suppose someone had to say it sooner or later.The Master’s motivation as ever is shallow; he wants revenge on the human race and the Doctor for always foiling his plans!

Result: A fine love letter to Jon Pertwee and Terrance Dicks, this wraps you up in a lovely warm glow of nostalgia throughout. The strength here is the sincerity of the writing, this is not somebody who wants to take the piss out of the conventions of the third Doctor’s era but revel in them. Mark Gatiss is a good writer and his prose glows with colour and descriptions that are within touching distance. The plot has all the right elements to make it work and the aliens are nasty but sympathetic. There’s a lovely thoughtful moment where we discover just how much the Doctor has grown accustomed to his life on Earth. Read in a threesome with Verdigris and Rags, they show very different but all enjoyable sides to the Pertwee era: 8/10

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Blue Angel by Paul Magrs and Jeremy Hoad

Plot: The evil tyrant Daedalus wants to stir up trouble in the Obverse, a pocket universe. Old ladies want to go shopping, the Doctor wants to save the day, Compassion wants to control the TARDIS and Iris Wildthyme just wants to have some fun. Looks like nobody is going to get their own way…

Top Doc: Looks like the authors have a much better hold on the eighth Doctor these days, as this is another stunning use of his naiveté. He has a wonderful melodramatic streak, at one point when he has nobody to moan at he flops on the bed and screams, “I’ve got no one to talk to! No one to mystify and perplex! What an existence!” He wants to tinker with Compassion’s earpiece to make sure she is definitely on his side. Following up from Interference his memory is a bit shaky, he isn’t sure if he went to battle with Giant Spiders or not. His reaction to Daedalus’ heartless destruction of the Glass City is great drama, he screams, “What can I do?” as the city shatters around him. Compassion thinks he is a fool for holding out hope for his friends, which makes their eventual reunion even more joyous. Daedalus thinks the Doctor treats the universe as his backyard, and foiled the plans of those who wanted to treat as their backyard. This is perhaps the most shocking adventure the Doctor has ever had as Iris takes him from the climax, leaving him with no sense of closure. He has lots of ideas for resolving the situation and turns really ugly when she refuses to let him back into the Obverse to interfere. He can’t stand the thought of Iris knowing the ending when he doesn’t, it is tough lesson he refuses to learn, and he threatens their friendship over it. We’ve never seen him so vicious and it says something very personal about how much he enjoys wrapping everything up himself.

Scruffy Git: Starts out the book trying to be sarcastic to prove he definitely is the real Fitz. He feels like the spare prick at the wedding wedged between the Doctor and Compassion. He does not get on with Compassion very well or think she is the ideal companion. We realise this really is Fitz when he ponders on whether to shack up with Iris just because she is a ‘fantastic bird’. Then, somewhat more worryingly, he considers the Doctor’s power and charm and wonders what it would be like to get laid by the pair of them (this could be seen as the beginning of the Doctor and Fitz’s unrequited romance, Fitz obsessed with the guy to the point of love but never able to express it because he’s not that way inclined…). He flirts like mad with Iris and gets a snog (with a bit of tongue) for his troubles.

Stroppy Redhead: Hints to her future development as Compassion looks on lavaciously as the Doctor operates the TARDIS. She feels queasy between the interior and exterior dimensions of the ship and feels strangely welcome as later in the story the vortex threatens to break in. Otherwise there is little development of her personality, which is as rude and uncaring as ever, but at least the Doctor tells her he thinks her manners are appalling and proves her wrong concerning the death of Fitz and Iris. Her education starts here…

(There is a bizarre, unexplained sub plot in The Blue Angel concerning the Doctor, Fitz and Compassion living together in a snowy village. The Doctor has friend called Sally who has written a book that turns out to be the exact events of The Scarlet Empress and The Blue Angel. Funnily enough, Compassion has just moved in, the Doctor feels as though he has lived several lives and he dreams of breaking free of his cosy existence and travelling. He might have used to have been Time’s Champion but in everything human he was still a virgin and he found himself craving they things they wanted, never having experienced the things that set their hearts thumping. He remembered Grace and an impulsive kiss. A woman named Iris Wildthyme lives in the basement floor of Sally’s flat. There are hints that the Doctor was secreted into this existence by Iris to protect him. His mother is a mermaid. His Doctor is a dandy who wears ruffled shirts (the third Doctor?) whose pills make him see terrifying adventures with Giant Spiders (hmm…). The Doctor realises he has been made safe in this environment and will have no more episodes, trapped as he is in an eternal title sequence. Sally’s dog tells Fitz that there are many different realities and asks him how he would feel if his reality was the less real one. Sally’s stories and the Doctor’s memories match, fascinating adventures on untold worlds, she says she made them all up but Iris tells her there is no such thing. What the hell this all means is beyond me but for amount of fascinating existential thinking going on, hints and peeks into the Doctor’s psyche and possibilities as to what the hell this whacko universe could be remaining unresolved, it is fascinating to read.)

Foreboding: Compassion’s intimacy with the TARDIS/Vortex. Iris tells the Doctor that the TARDIS keeps plonking itself in dimensional disturbances, knowing what’s going to happen, and is trying to fool itself. Sounds intriguing…

Twists: The Glass Men of Valcea are a gorgeous idea, and realised in prose with genuine beauty. When Daedalus manipulates the starship crew to fire on their gorgeous city you feel every second of their pain. You realise how evil the man is when he sends out corridors to planets of creatures such as Daleks and Cybermen to lure them to Valcea and create a major war between the regular universe and the Obverse. The Owl attacks are brilliant, especially as they smash their way into the bus and kidnap Fitz and Iris. A bunch of babies on stalks mark the Doctor’s leg, suggesting a link between our Doctor and the one in the sub plot. One horrible scene sees a tank stampede several dying Glass Men into shards. Belinda gets turned into a squid! The revelation that Garrett and Blandish were lovers seemed a bit pointless at the time but almost makes you want to go back and see what you missed between them. The climax is excellent, where all the creatures converge in the throne room and chaos lets loose. The fact that we share the Doctor’s frustration at not being able to tie up all these loose ends is brilliant, for once the reader right there in the heroes shoes, equally as impotent.

Embarrassing bits: Well the Star Trek parody is obviously a bad idea but in the light of that series’ death this has actually aged rather well. The Doctor barely acknowledging the Captain during first contact, the wet communications officer, the death wish built into every Captain, the fact that they have to budget every action they make…this is all well observed stuff. Bugger me.

Funny bits: Oh please this is co-written by Paul Magrs; of course it has funny bits in it! Fitz thinks the hollow deck sound awful. The thought of Fitz at the controls of the TARDIS is too terrifying even for him to bear. The console comes up with the expression BRASS MONKEYS to describe the conditions outside. The Doctor’s device is said to stop a transmat blockage like a good laxative! Iris can feel the Doctor a million miles away; it’s a hormonal thing. To annoy her, Iris calls Compassion Contrition/Compliance. Apparently Dusty Springfield was once sent undercover by UNIT (I really want to see that story!). The Doctor thinks telepathic contact with another Time Lord feels like somebody rummaging through his sock draw!

Result: 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

Monday, 3 August 2009

Theatre of War by Justin Richards

Plot: Having left the Doctor for a few months whilst she indulges in her passion, Bernice travels to Menaxus to explore the ruins of an ancient theatre. The curtain is up, the audience is ready and a grand deception is about to see the return of a great work of art and the downfall of a civilisation…

Master Manipulator: The best portrayal of the Doctor since Conundrum, possibly Nightshade. Justin Richards nails the seventh Doctor perfectly, keeping the traditionalists happy by having him play a large role in the plot and using his keen intelligence and wit to investigate the mystery but also pleasing the NA crowd by suggesting more depths and plotting underneath his (supposedly) innocent actions. Ace is not sure the Doctor has ever been young. When the Doctor and Ace discuss why he left Gallifrey on an unnamed planet Ace comments, “I’m bored, shall we go?” and he admits that was why (he also states the planet was all theory and no practice). The Doctor has archaeologist written all over him. Page 102 sees the Doctor winning over a crowd of scared archaeologists by asking the right questions and listening – his ability to blend in is impressive. He outsmarts the Exec of Heletia who has just ordered the deaths of 2000 citizens on a whim – the Doctor is also sentenced to death by the insufferable boy and he asks the Exec to pull the trigger himself and suddenly the idea of killing makes him feel queasy. Clever sod. The image of the Doctor sitting cross legged, whistling, because the guards wouldn’t let him into the final act is priceless. The idea of the Doctor being outsmarted by Braxiatel tops off this near flawless examination of the seventh Doctor.

Boozy Babe: Bernice as a creation reminds me of Doctor Who itself. Initially a smart idea that would run its course but thanks to create writers evolving the character she has continued to thrill and surprise us. Bernice leapt from the Doctor Who novels to her own series of quality books but when the licence was up she marched on to Big Finish were she gained a whole new family and continues to produce imaginative and hilarious adventures. She’s unstoppable and the wealth of stories she has appeared in makes her the most prolific of companions. And it all started here. To be fair Bernice had turbulent beginnings (Transit, The Pit, Deceit, No Future to name a few) but throughout the latter half of the New Adventures Bernice was a triumphant character. Theatre of War is practically the pilot for her own series of adventures; she holds up the first 80 pages effortlessly and continues to explore the mystery on her own on the Braxiatel Collection. Bernice’s diary is open to interpretation, she writes her initial impression and then goes back and reads it later and sticks yellow sticky notes over the bits she doesn’t like – and then she reads both version and decides which she prefers! She has trouble relating to the military attitude. Gilmanuk’s relationship with Bernice is very sweet and ultimately poignant, when he before he sacrifices himself he has to know that she is safe. She was the person who made his life bearable, just for a few days, after his son’s death.

Oh Wicked: From one book to the next it is like a lottery with Ace, sometimes you have a writer who is sympathetic to her failings (Gareth Roberts sweated blood to make this New New Ace likable) but if they can’t be arsed she is just a ruthless bully with no redeeming features (Conundrum, No Future). Richards again comes up trumps by presenting us with a character who is clearly the post-Deceit Ace but with none of the machismo, idiotic brainlessness or violence. That old Ace that the Doctor was glad he had back in Legacy, this is her first appearance. The sunset/sunrise scene on the unnamed planet is the loveliest we have seen Ace in an age. She is described as having tenseness to her stance, moving with almost cat like movements. Ace’s reaction to the dictatorial ways of the Helletians, close to tears, reminds us that this woman is still human.

Foreboding: The Braxiatel Collection and Brax himself, both making and impressive first showing. It is no wonder both are still featuring in stories today.

Twists: The opening is fabulous; an unseen force wipes out a dig. The Braxiatel Collection is an awe inspiring location and its familiar (now) landscapes seem fresh and vibrant through Bernice’s eyes. The Heletians are a society that grew from a theatre troupe. The war heading for Menaxus puts the dig on a schedule which is always good for excitement. Pages 74-77 see Bernice exploring a secret passage but such is the confidence of the writing it is haunting. The Heletians believe that Shakespeare was a historian, not a playwright. The Doctor and Ace in a creepy rendition of Hamlet is almost hallucinatory with Ace’s near stab experience a great end of chapter. The statues are really scary, not just that they look like the Doctor and Ace but their method of killing, stuffing mud down your throat until you choke to death, is horrible. The Source Documents strengthen the theme of drama and add weight to the portrayal of this theatrical based culture. Brax’s opinion on the lost classic, The Good Soldiers: “I can’t deprive the universe of such a magnificent work of art, even if it never really existed” – he owns the only copy and won’t have it published because it is terrible. Ace walking across an asteroid and taking out a cruiser with a shot from a phason gun is about the coolest thing she has ever done. Inside the dream machine there is a whole universe captured, people who think they are real but are actually fiction saying pre-written lines without realising it. The execution of Ace is to be the fitting round off to the first performance of The Good Soldiers. Bernice shoots from her Delta Dart in an escape pod as the satellites tear it to pieces. Lannic’s husband was murdered by the Exec’s soldiers and her flirting with him was just so she could get close enough to hurt him.

The story ends on a brilliant double bluff – first we are told that the dream machine was built by the enemies of Menaxus – it was contrived so they found it and discovered the lost masterpiece, The Good Soldiers. They arranged a massive performance of the play but its characters leapt from the machine and destroyed the entirety of the civilisation. All very well and clever conclusion. Then it is revealed that the entire history of Menaxus is a lie, it was devised by Braxiatel just to get the Helletians to excavate and find the machine. Conditions on the dig were made deliberately uncomfortable so Lannic would withdraw with the machine as soon as possible. Brax wanted the court of Heletia in an uproar (the character bursting from the machine to murder the spectators) so the Ripperean fleet could press home their attack. The cunning devil, organising a coup to twist the political system to his agenda.

Funny Bits: The German translation of Hamlet, ‘To be or not – ay, there’s the rub’ had me in stitches.

Result: Everything I have been asking for. Not only an honest to God mystery with some brilliantly unpredictable twists but a strong narrative with a cast of memorable characters. The idea of Bernice going solo is pulled off with superb style; she is determined, likable and intelligent, but even more surprising is Ace who manages to stay in character and avoid annoying the hell out of me throughout. Justin Richards fights the idea that all first time authors are bound to produce horseshite, the writing is confident and atmospheric and packed with detail that makes the Helletian/Ripperean conflict believable. The Doctor Who universe is better for having been introduced to Braxiatel and his collection, these would become important staples of the series later on but make for fascinating innovations in their first outing. A superb puzzle book with a very satisfying ending: 9/10

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Divided Loyalties by Gary Russell

Plot: The Doctor and his companions play some games with the Celestial Toymaker. Tegan becomes a God. The 1st Doctor takes a joy ride in the TARDIS. Adric doesn’t wash. Just your everyday occurrences in season nineteen…


Before I go in any depth about the regulars I should point out that surely Gary has utter contempt for all four of them. They come across as a shallow, contemptible lot…as you might have already guessed he has captured them perfectly. The fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric were never used in a PDA again. Gosh what a shock.

Fair Fellow: The Doctor rarely needed sleep but when he did he slept deeply and well. He has an attractive face, designed to smile. He is an old and wise man trapped inside a young mans body. Adric preferred the old Doctor. He is a wonder and life itself. There is an intruiging suggestion thrown in the air…maybe the Doctor travels with such social misfits because they are flawed are more likely to accept him than his previous, more intelligent and focussed companions. Rallon tells him he needs to he needs to harden up if he is going to face the traumas ahead. His impossibly old eyes reflect the wisdom and experience of hundreds of battles, explorations and experiences. Of his friends at the Academy, he is the most content with his life, righting wrongs, lighting the dark and saving the oppressed.

Mouth on Legs: Oh Tegan, Tegan, Tegan…how much do you make me laugh! Whilst I enjoyed her portrayal in Deep Blue which highlighted her more human aspects her characterisation in Divided Loyalties is far more of what we saw of her on the telly. She is rude, bitchy, stupid, angry…a real nightmare to be around. She’s like Anji from the Eighth Doctor adventures on acid except not brilliant.

Her full name is Tegan Melissa Jovanka. She is frightened of her companions because they are all such basket cases. She acts oh so superior to everyone else. The Doctor describes her as a particularly fine example of humanity but he has always been known for his sense of humour. She gets furious when the Toymaker shows her a simulation of her fathers possible funeral, cross that she couldn’t be there to comfort her mother. One thing about me, Tegan thought, is that I’m so stubborn! If the TARDIS is to be her home for a while and these people her family, it was time to stop fighting them.

Alien Orphan: A real mixed bag with Nyssa, Gary seems to be suggesting that she is far cleverer than anyone gives her credit but then proceeds to have her act like a melodramatic wench, fooled by the Toymaker. She is always immaculately styled, like she had just come from a shop, how did she do that? She is like a young, female version of the Doctor. She is shown Traken before its destruction and is warned of an evil being known as the Doctor. She sees through this deception but falls for his aspersion that the Doctor knows how to separate her father from the Master. People are always underestimating her; she absorbs, notices and learns things. She has an inner strength and will adapt to losing her father and homeworld.

Smelly Armpits: Tegan hates Adric’s superiority and arrogance, especially from someone who thought that yellow and green pyjamas were the height of cool fashion. He is a king size brat and arrogant adolescent, he masters the art of sarcastic, is lazy, workshy and unfunny. He and the old Doctor had been a family, a team until the girls had come along. He knows he is often suckered into other people’s plans but he always has a plan himself, pretending to go along with people and ready to switch back to the Doctor when the time is right. Adric doesn’t dream thanks to Alzarian physiology and wakes up happy and bouncing, another thing that annoys Tegan and Nyssa. He needs to accept that his role has changed, when he joined the TARDIS he was child like, emotionally stunted and easily led but when the Doctor regenerated, so did he and he took on some real responsibilities. Tegan sums up his future: He’ll be alright.

Foreboding: This of course leads into The Nightmare Fair. Not only does the author fill his pages with enough continuity references to make the History of the Universe irrelevant but he also reveals the reason he write this book is…. to bridge the gap in continuity between The Celestial Toymaker and The Nightmare Fair. You see the Toymaker is a bit of a b*stard in the latter story, where he was quite a charmer in his debut. So now (and im sure you have all been dying to find out) we get the explanation for how this horrific personality transformation took place…

Twists: Sir Henry ends up playing snakes and ladders with his real family as the pieces! The Toymaker is the guardian of dreams and wants to bond with the Doctor. That’s a about it really. Oh the shift to the Doctor’s pre-Unearthly Child Academy days is a bit of a shock…but not more than when you read on…

Embarrassing Bits/Funny Bits: For this one time only I have decided to combine these two because much of the book fills this category and in the case of Divided Loyalties the two are never mutually exclusive. Here are my all time favourites…

· Tegan has a cat’s arse pout.
· The Doctor’s bedroom is somewhere we should never, ever visit.
· Adric never bathes. His pongy armpits are a constant shock and Tegan and Nyssa have tried to make the Doctor have a heart to heart with the lad but he keeps making excuses.
· ‘Whatever phantom zone she had found herself in she would conduct herself with all the strength of a true daughter of Hull’ Wha-at?
· “Tell me Doctor, d’you travel with these people out of friendship or have you committed a crime and they are the penance?”
· “Tegan has anyone told you lately how nice it is to have you around?” “Not recently, no.” “Hmmm, I wonder why that is?”
· On page 56 there is an almost homoerotic sequence involving the Toymaker and Adric which I found quite disturbing (He put his face very close, and Adric could feel his breath, smell how sweet and nice it was, feel tiny gusts of air on his nose every time the man breathed out as he spoke.)
· ‘Couldn’t this silly Oakwood man see what he was suggesting was by far the quickest solution to their problem’ This is apparently a thought directly from the Doctor’s head!
· Adric almost stamped in frustration. “Tegan’s always getting possessed. She just wants attention!”· On page 82 there is a great example of Adric trying to be nice which might explain why he is such a social retard. (He tried his best, really he did, but nobody really wanted him there. He tried being nice to the girls, telling them when they weren’t looking as nice as they had the day before, but they just said he was being rude which was so stupid. One day they would spend ages putting make up on their faces, getting it right. The next day they wouldn’t spend quite as much time and look a little different, but then not wanted this pointed out. “How do I look today?” Tegan would ask, and Adric would tell her.)
· The way to get back through the CVE…is to reverse the co-ordinates!
· Koschei pre-empts his days as the Master: “He speaks, he clicks his fingers, or whatever and we all follow. One day I must find out how to do that.”
· The Doctor’s wise old mentor appears to him when he is in a crisis just like Ben Kenobi in Star Wars and even says: “Your destiny is yours, my boy.”
· Nyssa’s hysterics just don’t ring true: “You pig!” she screams at the Doctor before slapping him around the face. “You’d rather have the Master out there justifying your oh-so-heroic place in the universe than actually doing some real good and rescuing father!”
· “That’s our Adric. A big, spoilt brat who thinks he’s grown up when he’s nothing more than a pathetic child. Oochy Koochy coo.”
· The Observer = the Toymaker’s Watcher!
· The entire Gallifrey 90210 sequence is worthy of a mention because it had the potential to be thoughtful and gripping but reads like childish trash. Its all in there…intellectual rivalry, TARDIS joyriding, Time Lord love, the Doctor expelled…are we are honestly meant to except that every single Time Lord villain the Doctor has encountered over the years was one of his closest friends at the Academy? This entire sequence is comic gold; I honestly haven’t laughed this much in ages.

Result: Well what can I say about Divided Loyalties that hasn’t been said already? I think this book redefines a saying, it’s that powerful…this isn’t so bad its good, it’s so bad its bloody fantastic! With absolute honesty it is appalling on every conceivable level, the plot is nonsensical and sprawling, the characterisation is so obvious it the prose actually tells you how the characters have changed at the end, the dialogue is frequently abysmal, the continuity is spewed over the text in great, unforgiving plumes, can you even call that prose? I mean there is nothing about this book that you cannot criticize. However, despite their genius, Gareth Roberts, Paul Margs and Jonathon Morris have still to come up with a book as hilarious as this, the belly laugh to page ratio is unrivalled in Doctor Who history, all of it unintentional. Because it kept finding ways to reach a new standard of cr*p, I loved every second of it and will pick it up again whenever I am feeling low: 0/10 or 10/10, depending what mood you are in.