Thursday, 24 September 2009

Jonathan Morris Q & A

Jonathan Morris burst onto the Doctor Who scene with his popular and wildly unpredictable novel Festival of Death. I say wildly unpredictable, that was the smartness of it…as he began that book at the end of the plot and worked his way backwards…so that his conclusion was the beginning of the story! Confused? You won’t be if you read the book, as it not only played with clever narrative tricks but also stuffed in some marvellous characters, a laugh per minute and a charming take on the season seventeen crew. Festival of Death was indicative of the joys that were to come. His follow up novel, Anachrophobia, jettisoned frivolity and went for the jugular with a gripping, claustrophobic slice of Who that combined Troughton base under siege with Sapphire and Steel to compelling effect. Constantly looking at new ways to tell a story his third crack at the whip was the poll topping The Tomorrow Windows, a huge breath of fresh air for the 8th Doctor range. Injected with more imagination, jokes and fantastic one liners than many series of books, this tale of selfish memes and Brian Blessed wannabes was a loving tribute to the work of Douglas Adams. He has also contributed a handful of short stories to various Big Finish anthologies, The Traitors, The Spartacus Syndrome, The Thief of Sherwood to name a few.

Along with the anthologies Jonathan has also written a number of Big Finish audio plays, once again stretching narrative bounds. Flip Flop, a 7th Doctor and Mel story, is a marvellous piece of writing told on two CDs but joyously can be enjoyed with either disc played first with both version of the story revealing different facets. Bloodtide saw the memorable return of the Silurians in an intelligent and atmospheric tale for the unfairly maligned sixth Doctor. Recently his Haunting of Thomas Brewster has impressed critics, giving the fifth Doctor a companion that he deserves as he dips into the childhood of Thomas Brewster. Hothouse sees the popular team of Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith take on the deadly Krynoids…

Hi Jonathan, you are clearly a very busy man. Thank you for taking part!

What are you working on at the moment? Can you tell us a little about it…
At the moment, as I type, I’ve just finished one Big Finish script and I’m waiting for the go-ahead to begin work on another. They keep me busy, bless them – you will hear no complaints about that from me. I can only try to do the best I can in return. I can’t go into details but I think, gradually, I’m improving, and the best is definitely yet to come.

Other projects I have on the go; I had a film script in development for a couple of years, but the credit crunch meant it got put on hold. My other thing is trying to get a sitcom off the ground. A few years ago I had a show piloted, which was commissioned for a series by ITV and then uncommissioned due to a change in executives. Since then, I’ve had a dozen or so scripts commissioned or optioned, getting as far as the ‘read through’ stage; it’s a slow process, but my plan is to stick at it until something gets through. I’d say that, although I put a lot of care and effort into making sure my Doctor Who things are as good as possible, my film and my sitcom scripts are, by a vast margin, the best things I have written.

How did you come to be involved with writing for Doctor Who? You entered the range as the editorship was passing hands didn’t you?
I’d fallen back into being a Doctor Who fan in the late nineties, through reading Gareth Roberts novels and – I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before – Seeing I by Jon Blum and Kate Orman. I’d sort-of started a submission way back in the early nineties but had lost enthusiasm for the books and had no confidence in my own writing. I thought I was terrible. With Festival Of Death, I was lucky to get lots of encouragement from other fans on an internet group called Who_Ink. It was my first submission, I think, and it got commissioned. = Beginner’s luck!

Although the editorship was changing, Justin had already taken over the ‘PDAs’ by that point so it didn’t affect me.
Your evocation of the season seventeen team in Festival of Death was spot on and your respect for Douglas Adams has been spoken of before. What is it about the much maligned season seventeen that attracts you? Could you tell us something about how you began plotting such an intricate narrative?
Much maligned? Much maligned? That was the season that made me a Doctor Who fan! It’s the season by which I judge all other Doctor Who seasons. What attracts me about it? The humour, the imagination, the unpredictability, the charisma of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward. But mainly, I think, the imagination.

It’s about ten years or so since I wrote the book, so I can’t remember a great deal about writing it. My main memory is of walking home, puzzling out problems in the plot logic. I’d say, though, that intricate narratives are not that difficult, so long as you have a big, simple idea at the centre of a story, and I was lucky that with Festival Of Death I had a big, simple idea that hadn’t been done before.

My other memory is of how difficult it was writing; it was my first book, so I was learning how write a book as I went along. And I was terrified, paranoid, that it would be received as the worst book ever, or it would be rejected and never be published. So I worked harder on that book than on almost anything else since (except my film and sitcom scripts). I had to. It was my one big chance.

Anachrophobia juggled up some traditional elements whilst telling the very up to date eighth Doctor adventures. Was it a conscious decision to remove the humour for this work and scare the readership to death? Time travel was something of a theme at the time; did you enjoy playing about with the concept? How did you find the regulars, in particular the amnesiac eighth Doctor? Was this always going to dovetail into the developing Sabbath arc or was it developed as the story took shape?
The conscious decision, as I recall, was to do something different from Festival Of Death. Something more straightforward. To get out of my comfort zone. And, pretentiously, to write a book which was a harder-hitting, not so eager-to-please. And as far as I’m concerned there are only three types of Doctor Who story; those that are funny, those that are scary, and those that are funny and scary.

The other thought was that Festival Of Death had been recreating Doctor Who as it was in 1979; Anachrophobia was an attempt to do Doctor Who as it might be done on television in 2002. How it would be done if I was King of Doctor Who.

Time travel was certainly a ‘theme’, though the idea was to do it in a different way; rather than having people travel physically from one time to another, to have them travelling back through their own life, their own internal time.

How did I find the regulars? I read all the books leading up to Anachrophobia and tried to keep them going, to retain the characterisations that other authors had created. The amnesiac eighth Doctor? I don’t think the amnesia was really a big issue in my story; I was just trying to write the same guy as in The Burning.

The Sabbath arc? Anachrophobia – or maybe the book that I pitched before it, I can’t remember – was originally pitched as the second-to-last in the original arc. The story would’ve finished with a scene with the Daleks going, ‘We are now the masters of time!’ which would’ve led into whatever the final book would’ve been about.

With regard to the Sabbath character, I remember taking great pains to read the character’s outline – which I recall was more of an essay on Why The Doctor Is Wrong – and searched through the Henrietta Street novel looking for character description or dialogue (because of the way that book was written, there wasn’t actually very much of either). I’d certainly argue that Sabbath’s devious plan in Anachrophobia follows on from the character outline and portrayal in Henrietta Street; he’s manipulating the Doctor by using his skewed morality against him.

You squeezed so much into The Tomorrow Windows it has led to some detractors commenting that it was undisciplined; would you agree with that assessment? Were you deliberately writing against the practices of the time, given the book is sprinkled with continuity, fun poking at alternative universes and a generally gleeful Doctor? Do you have some favourite moments from this story?
Who are these detractors? Give me their names! No, I suppose they have a point, though I don’t think undisciplined is quite the word. After all the complexity and obsessing-over-dramatic-structure of my first two books, I wanted to something more spontaneous, where I would be able to let my imagination run free.
Of course, that was a rod for my own back because it meant that about half-way through writing the novel – at the point where the aliens have gathered for the auction – I got totally stuck. I only managed to get un-stuck by doing all the silly ‘Vorshagg’s Story’ digressions. And by that point the book was so late I had no choice but to get on with it, which is the best cure for writer’s block there is.

The continuity thing was, yes, because I’d got wound up by the whole argument about how continuity references were a Bad Thing and would alienate readers or whatever. Because although I would happily concede those people had a point, I think you can take things too far, and so long as the original stuff outweighs the back-reference stuff I say go for it. You want to end up with a bigger and more interesting fictional universe at the end of the story, not a smaller, insular one.

Favourite moments is an odd one, because I haven’t read the book since I wrote it – I haven’t read any of them – so what I remember tends to be the scenes as I imagined when I wrote them rather than the words which ended up on paper. I did love the Ken Livingstone scene, and the planet of the cars, and when they’re flying over the city in a zeppelin or something and see the giant statues of Brian Blessed. Oh, and the guys dancing in the desert oasis. As I’m writing this, it’s slowly coming back to me – I remember a silly ‘2001’-style thing where a guy is urinating, and then we cut back to return to his life story forty-odd years later, and he’s still urinating.

Do you have a favourite novel you wrote for BBC Books? Which of the three would you have another go at in hindsight?
Anachrophobia, because it turned out the closest to what I intended when I first came up with the story, and because it took me out of my comfort zone. I’m very proud of all three, though, and I’m sure that even if I was given the chance to re-write any of them, they wouldn’t turn out any better.

Moving on to Big Finish was it a conscious decision to push the boundaries of the audio format with Flip Flop? How did you find the finished result?
I came up with Flip-Flop around 2001, I think; Big Finish had started out doing quite traditional stories, like Bloodtide, but after stories like The Holy Terror it was obvious there was the potential to be a bit more ambitious, which is why you got stuff like the musical episode, Creatures Of Beauty, Scherzo and so on.

I’m not keen on Flip-Flop, mainly because it reminds me of an unhappy time in my life. The ‘damned-if-you, damned-if-you-don’t’ thing was very much part of my mindset back then; if you’re spending a lot of time wishing you could go back in time and do things differently, it’s almost a comfort to think that even if you did, things would turn out equally badly. That’s not my mindset now, so I find it a bit pessimistic. But mostly it has nothing to do with the play itself, or the actors or the production, but with all the stuff that was going on in my life at the time.

Evelyn, Mel, Nyssa, Lucie…who has been your favourite companion to bring to life and why? Can you tell us something about the conception of Thomas Brewster? Was he always going to have such a short run of stories?
I suppose my favourite would be Thomas Brewster, just because he was my own creation, the one closest to my heart. All the companions are fun to write; I think Lucie works particularly well, because you can give her jokes without it seeming out of character.

With Thomas Brewster, if I remember correctly, it was always up in the air whether he might be just for a few stories or stick around for a bit longer. But after I’d written that first story it was decided he’d only be in three stories – which was nothing to do with the character as written or as acted – and I was very kindly invited to come back to do the episode where he was written out, Perfect World, one of my favourite, and most personal, Doctor Who things.

Is it more exciting writing for the current eighth Doctor range than the ‘past Doctor’ ranges? Which Doctor do you think translates best onto audio?
I suppose the main difference is that with the eighth Doctor stuff it’s more ‘now’ – doing 45-minute stories like the TV series – whereas the old stuff is more about trying to put a contemporary spin on characters from the past. That said, there’s not really much difference, is there? With, say, a Peter Davison story, it’s almost as though you’re writing as though he was playing the part now, because he’s too good an actor to ask just to do an impersonation of his 30-year-old self.

I’d say the 45-minute stories for Paul McGann work really well, they’re good to write in terms of discipline and economic, pacy storytelling, as a listener, I really enjoyed the approach they took on the Big Finish site where you’d download one episode a week, so you’d have to wait seven days after each episode cliff-hanger.

I haven’t done any Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy stories for a long time, but as a listener, I think with both of them we now have the situation where they’ve got this great run of stories on audio which almost overshadows what they were given to do on TV. Given the choice, I’d have Colin’s audio adventures over his television ones!

Which is harder to writer, the short stories or full length novels? Obviously time is a factor with the novels but is it difficult to make and impact with restricted page space?
Novels. I have a vague, not-properly-thought-through theory that you only have as many words in your head as you put in there through reading other books; so the more you write, the more you have to read to fill up. They’re a right old slog, but on the other hand, the end result is entirely your own creation, which means you can get it just right. But all that internal-monologue stuff does my head in.

When are you going to write us a New Series Adventure? Do you have a favourite short story that you have written?
I’m going to write a New Series Adventure when they ask me and I have the time to do one! I would be delighted and would do my damndest to make sure that my book was the best one ever. Let’s hope those words don’t come back to haunt me.

My favourite short story is a thing which has recently been re-published in The Best Of Short Trips called The Thief Of Sherwood, which is an historical about the first Doctor meeting Robin Hood, but told through Doctor Who Magazine articles, fanzine reviews and interviews. It was originally intended to be a whole novel – which might have been a bit too much – but it was a little labour of love, about growing up being a Doctor Who fan.

That said, if I can include other stories I’ve written which were short but which weren’t prose, I’d have to mention the comic strips ‘Death To The Doctor!’ and ‘Time Of My Life’, both of which I’m immensely proud, and a recent audio one-parter about Mary Shelley as part of ‘The Company Of Friends’ which turned out really well.

Coming out later this month there's the CD of a Paul McGann story I wrote, The Cannibalists, which was pretty off-the-wall, seeing how grisly and violent you can get away with if it's presented as a comedy. Then there's The Glorious Revolution, which is more-or-less a 'pure historical', with the second Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie, with Frazer Hines returning as Jamie whilst also giving his excellent recreation of Patrick Troughton's Doctor. I've got a feeling that, for that reason alone, the end product will be a little special, and the story is one of my stronger efforts. And after that, there's a four-part story set in Stockbridge with the Doctor, Nyssa and Maxwell Edison from the comic strips, as played by Mark Williams from the Fast Show and the Harry Potter films. I was at the recording for that one and, again, I think there's some brilliant performances in there which really lifted the script; it's quite a strange, nostalgic, emotional story, maybe not the sort of thing that people would normally expect me to write.

Jonathan, thank you so much for your time.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Parallel 59 by Natalie Dellaire and Stephen Cole

Plot: The Doctor and Compassion are trapped on Parallel 59, a militaristic base heading up a secret project with dramatic ramifications for Skale. Fitz, on the other hand, has landed in paradise, a utopia of easy work, an abundance of shaggable women and no hassles of any kind…

Top Doc: I’ve heard people slag off the Doctor’s characterisation in this book but reading these books in order it is probably he most vivid and unique he has been since Unnatural History. Compassion thinks of him as a likable idiot and he is certainly in a silly mood at the start of this tale (“I’ve discovered we’re spies! Isn’t that exciting! I had no idea!”), unconcerned about the fact that he and Compassion are stark bollock naked (phwoar!). Things become much darker later on, when he tries to get Compassion to open out to him, telling her he has been worried about her for some time. Compassion describes him as a function of the universe, and he certainly proves her right when he hands over his one advantage, his gun, to get Makkersvil to trust him and thus save lives. There are two fabulous moments where he proves his unpredictability, he tickle tortures Jessen for the information he requires and he scares the crap out Jedkah by leaping back from the dead just as he was about to dissect him. And just to make life interesting, the Doctor has to destroy a world to save the day. Nice.

Scruffy Git: Oh. My. God. If there was ever a case of taping up Fitz’s dick Parallel 59 would be the resting case! First he has it off with a married woman, then he cheats on her with a sweet bit of skirt he meets on the way home from work and then he cheats on her with some trussed up tart from the local bar! Anya, Fillipa and Denna, failed romances number (s) five, six and seven! It is beautiful watching Fitz sink deeper and deeper into trouble, as his women all converge as Mechta starts coming apart. Saying that there is some lovely development of Fitz here, he constantly feels like he is an Englishman abroad travelling with the Doctor and finds he misses his effect on people when trapped in Mechta. There are little details wrong in his personality and he fears the TARDIS has left some gaps, for example he cannot remember his dreams anymore whereas as the old Fitz (the real one) used to love pulling them apart in the mornings. It is sweet when he admits that he isn’t a brave man but that he can do brave things when the Doctor is around. He feels he has the ability to shag up (as in ruin) every place he visits. He thinks he is like dough, being re-modelled time and again (by the Red Army, the Remote, Faction Paradox, the TARDIS…). Who said there was no follow up on Interference's developments?

Stroppy Redhead: Described as touching the world at a distance, she feels she barely knows who she is anymore. She is terrified of the implications when she destroys the analysis machine in Parallel 59 and runs away from the Doctor when he tries to confront her about her changes. He admits he wants Compassion to start caring and when the adventure is over, after she has been immersed in the mind torture environment of the bastions, she clings onto the Doctor for support. She feels being close to the Doctor, doing the right thing, is liberating her. She hasn’t lost her sadistic streak though, she gets down and dirty with Tod to get him to help her rescue the Doctor and then barely shows an interest in his welfare for the rest of the book.

Foreboding: Compassion feels as though the Doctor is trying to turn her into an ‘old girl’ just like the TARDIS. D’you think she knows…?

Twists: God I wish I were Compassion, she gets to see the eighth Doctor starkers! The second Fitz realised he has landed in a utopian paradise I cringed…it had to all go horribly wrong. When Yve is caught in the explosion she is described as ‘glistening, as though she had been dipped in tar’. The Yve-Makkersvil-Jessen triangle is fascinating (Yve keeps Makkersvil a low level worker just so she can be close to him, Jessen tries to get Makkersvil killed during interrogation because she loves him…). Anya’s pathetic pleading with Fitz is heartbreaking and he comes across as a total bastard for pushing her away. Brilliantly, the Doctor pulls a ‘death’ to escape custody, adding to the already embarrassing statistics of Dam’s suspects. When you discover what the bastions are the book takes on a whole new meaning, revealing just how paranoid and desperate Parallel 59 is, threatening other Parallels who might beat them at the space race by dropping devastating bombs from space. The race against time to launch the mineship is page-turning stuff. “We’ve spent the last 30 years committing suicide,” admits Makkersvil when the voice Haltiel reveals itself, hiding like a predator behind the screen of their bastion network, waiting for one to break and pounce through and kill them.

Funny bits: The Doctor claims he and Compassion are time travelling naturalists. Apparently, ‘only’ planets (like Skale) grow up spoilt. Compassion admits that her name is a KODE name (geddit?). “This is the most ridiculous escape you’ve ever made!” cries Compassion at the Doctor, obviously never having seen The Chase. Embarrassing bits: It’s the second cover to feature McGann and again it is absolutely hideous. Who thought those dribbles of blood were a good idea? And why didn't they feature on the cover of Beltempest where they would be far more apropriate?
Result: 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

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Strange England by Simon Messingham

Plot: The Doctor, Benny and Ace materialise on an idyllic summer’s day. Soon people are being eaten by bushes, attacked by crab/spider monsters and tortured. What could possibly have introduced such terror into this beautiful scenery…?

Master Manipulator: What can I say? All three of the regulars are hideously mis-characterised and the Doctor fares the worst, smuggled away in the House, given nothing to do for long stretches of the book and desperately pondering the answers to their problems rather than actually doing anything. The Doctor himself seems utterly faceless in Messingham's hands, a parody of all of the worst facets of the Virgin Doctor (he broods and commands when the situation needs it) but doesn't seem to have any sort of character, no humour, no quirks, no purpose... he's just there reacting to stuff that is happening without passion. He expresses concern for the missing Benny and Ace but does nothing to try and help them. It’s really odd to see him quite this impotent.

The one certainty with life on the TARDIS was the Doctor’s unique ability to attract trouble on a galactic scale. Ace found him charming, rather than irritating. He is described as a pompous headmaster. The Doctor’s subconscious always has contact with his companions, like a telepathic itch. He always knows the answer, half the time he knows it before it has happened and the other half he’s started himself.

Boozy Babe: Messingham seems to think that she is some sort of upper class priss in archaeologist's clothes... the sort who goes "I say!" and would rather get her beauty sleep than investigate a problem. She hops from one ridiculous action sequence to another, rarely being effective and flapping about, shouting a lot but not doing anything constructive. There are even a couple of "Oh I need a drink!" mentions just because that is what Benny does. Lazy, lazy characterisation. You would think she was one of the one dimensional artificial constructs! She prided herself on being the outdoors type.

Oh Wicked: Will somebody please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, PLEASE, PLEASE WRITE THIS DAMN CHARACTER OUT! It has gone beyond a joke now; Ace really is beyond saving as any kind of enjoyable character. She’s just a collection of macho phrases and action with a pair of tits. In the case of books like Conundrum and All Consuming Fire she can literally drag a near masterpiece down in the dirt. If you squint you can see Sophie Aldred there, smearing shit over the pages. Sam Jones might be annoying, but New Ace is obscene. You think I’m overstating my case, then have read of some more of her abysmal dialogue: “You’re the cultured one, I just kill things”, “Must be tired, I let them live” , ‘On top of everything, two dickheads out for nasty fun.’ She’s just a one dimensional bully here to kick the nearest puppy.

Go and read pages 10-12 for some of the worst characterisation of all three of them. Brrr…

Twists: I managed to read this entire book from cover to cover without leaping out of the nearest window and plummeting to my death. That is a twist.

Embarrassing Bits: The entire book is embarrassing, I bet Simon Messingham looks back and cringes at these humblest of beginnings. This is the guy who wrote Zeta Major, Tomb of Valdemar, The Indestructible Man and The Doctor Trap…four terrific reads notable for their gripping, fractured prose style. The writing here is a universe away; nonsensical dialogue, rubbish descriptions and so many switches of point of view you might get dizzy.

His characters read like one-dimensional ciphers which could be excused by the fact that none of them are real but there could be at least some attempt to convince the reader that they are. They start to experience new concepts and ideas and rather than these being genuinely emotional revelations, they simply realise they haven't thought about those things before and move on. No attempt to explore these ideas and emotions they are feeling, not when the plot would rather throw mutant bushes and giant crab robots at them.
It fails to offer a rewarding climax after all of the nonsense. You stick with the book, hanging on despite the fact it is just one daft horror cliché after another, hoping that the climax will throw some light on the situation and make it all better. Okay so this is the sitch: Having used up all of her regenerations, the Time Lady Galah decided to link herself to the TARDIS and the energy released from her death transforms the TARDIS into her body. The House is a TARDIS with its architectural configuration programmed to resemble an English country house. She wanted to create a world of beauty and goodness. When they arrived it picked up the emotions of the Doctor, Ace and Benny and attempts to assimilate them into the House. Their negative emotions infect the environment and create evils for them to fight. Are you having a laugh? What a poor excuse for a book…so bad it would have even been rejected Justin Richards…and he commissioned Warmonger! In an attempt to create a happy ending of sorts Galah converts her last energies into making Charlotte real and she gets engaged to Richard. Bleaugh…

Result: One part The Happiness Patrol, two parts Time’s Crucible, this is a dismal novel from an author who I would go on to consider one of the breakout talents of the BBC range. The book reads as an excuse to inject some horror into the series and I got the impression Messingham hoped the overload of nastiness would overwhelm you into submission. Strange England fails to build up its mystery; his plot reads like it was made up as it goes along, with random horrible things happening every few pages or so just for shock effect. The answers, when they come (and you wait a long time for that), amount to the most excruciatingly embarrassing climaxes of any Doctor Who book. The writing itself is so bad it draws attention to itself and its melodramatic descriptions left me groaning with disapproval throughout (my other half wondered what my problem was!). This book felt as though it wanted to be as bizarre as Conundrum. And as scary as Nightshade. There is a great book to be had concerning one-dimensional characters coming of age but that book is called The Crooked World: 1/10

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Verdigris by Paul Magrs

Plot: Time travelling buses, train station sized spaceships, Children of Destiny, robot sheep, fake Brigadiers, fake Masters, holes the size of houses in cinemas, the Galactic Federation, a dilledante, a dizzy blond, an old hag and a queen…that just about sums it up!

Good Grief: Paul Magrs has the special ability of being able to take the piss out of things without insulting the creators and actors and his brilliantly observed but knowingly exaggerated third Doctor is a beautiful example of this.
The Doctor’s people punished him and at this point in his life he’s living in disguise on Earth, albeit in rather comfortable and frequently exciting disgrace. When he smiled his face look weathered just as a man of his lifetimes of experience ought to. He knocks around with his flibbertigibbets to make himself look clever! His manners are suave and persuasive. He gets very upset when Iris accuses him of loving getting involved with the Brigadier and saving the planet. He is elegant and dashing and happiest when there was something intricate and practical to be getting on with. The Doctor and Brigadier get along with a surprising degree of heartiness and old school chumminess. They trust each other and both claim they are more resourceful than the other. They were constantly pleased when the other showed up on the scene. The Doctor is an iconoclast, a headstrong adventurer with a raffish line in flamboyant eveningwear! He calls everyone madam and it makes him sound obsequious. He thinks being stuck on Earth is ghastly, like a hamster on a wheel going round and round but not getting anywhere. He is one of the great rocks of the universe. When he draws himself to his full height Iris is thrilled by his gravitas. He likes visiting Sally at the corner shop because she reminds him of his mother (???). It is only when he is transfixed by the swirling patterns of the vortex through the windows of the vortex that he realises how much he misses being free. After he has dealt with the Omega affair, the various rather complicated codes he needed to pilot the ship slipped back into his head with exactly the same sensation as a dream coming back to you, the morning after you had dreamt it.

Dizzy Agent: Jo has had basic secret agent training but never got around to learning the more vigorous stuff. Jo often feels young and inexperienced in the situations she found herself in. She screams and complains and misses vitals clues. She is the most mind numbingly loyal assistant a sexist rake could desire.

Chap with the Wings: He is either a stoic and practical man, rarely seen out of his combats whose absolute faith in extraterrestrial phenomena makes him something of a loose canon in military circles or a barking old fool, utterly dependant on an extraterrestrial fop. You decide. Whatever, he runs his operation with unflinching common sense.

[Now there are some people that get upset about this sort of thing but Paul Magrs has a knack of pointing out some of the more hilarious faults of Doctor Who but in an incredibly fun and nostalgic way. Some call it postmodernism. Some call it brilliant. Some call it shite. Personally I love it, while it remains this entertaining…here is the best of Verdigris…
· Tom had endured a run of historical adventures, all of which had bored him

· Jo’s friend Tara (King, from The Avengers) is also a secret agent, an assistant to another rather eccentric freelance gentleman adventurer.

· The Doctor mutters something about being en route to Devil’s End but Iris thinks she has misheard!

· Mike Yates is turned into a two dimensional piece of cardboard! I laughed myself until I was sick about this one! Jo folds him up and puts him in her handbag.

· Jo is captured in telesnaps on the cameras, most of the UNIT visual material was junked in the 70’s.

· “UNIT itself was an illusion. All of them actors. Think about every alien artefact or creature you have ever seen. Weren’t they always surrounded by a crackling nimbus of blue light? Didn’t they sometimes look a little…unconvincing?”

· Magrs comments on his own book The Blue Angel: “Oh I never get to the end of books. Its much more fun making it up yourself!”

· Everybody in the 1970’s looks like someone out of Get Carter and Are You Being Served?

- The Children of Destiny are a poor mans Tomorrow People. Homo superior: “Isn’t that a bit fascistic?” The Galactic Federation: “Some kind of intergalactic EU.”

· The tabloid covers for the Doctor’s adventures read…The Guardian: “WHAT ROBOT ARMY IN THE SEWERS? WE DIDN’T PUT IT THERE?” The Daily Mail: THESE DAFFODILS CAN KILL! The Sun: MY YETI HELL!

· There is a fake Dalek rolled out: “If you look right down, you’ll see there are little pedals at the bottom, and a seat for the actor inside.”

· “As for those so called Sea Devils – I’ve seen more frightening kippers!”

· The Doctor, faker of alien invasions, has a Silurian hand under his bed!

· There is a great comment on the budget of your regular episode of The Tomorrow People: High Councillor Borges is a creature formed of fleshy coloured substance, a thick rotund body with eyes on hair like stalks – the most unlifelike creature Tom had ever seen.

· I love the fact that there is a lack of story placing on the back cover, obviously to get all those canonical freaks in a tizzy!

· Iris: “I adore the Net. Have you tried putting in your name?”The Doctor: “Certainly not!”Iris: “I did and the things they say about me!”

· K.9: an obnoxious piece of tat. The Doctor: What the Dickens would I want with a robot dog?”

· Jo is astonished to find that the villain of the piece ISN’T The Master because it is rare that a threat to humanity doesn’t involve the Master!

· Poor Old Ted…the gamekeeper or possibly a tramp, its not really important. He’s only in one scene and there to be killed off.

· The funniest moment in the entire book comes when the aliens invading Earth as fictional characters and have invented the words ‘post-modern’, ‘self referentiality’ and ‘metratextuality’ to cover up the fact that their plan was a bit ****e. The result of these excuses infects the Earth with a epistemological quandary that will leave humans perplexed for at least a century.]

Foreboding: Verdigris believes if he makes Omega in the anti matter world aware of the Doctor’s presence on Earth it may help get his exile lifted. The Master is off to do some deals on Skaro.
Twists: Tom had stumbled into Iris’ TARDIS after a particularly heavy night out and still believes he was kidnapped. A comment on the complicated nature of the eighth Doctor adventures comes early on, the 70’s is described as: timelines intact, causality unimpeached, a gentler time and a more innocent time. A train carriage materialises in a field full of comatose characters from Pride and Prejudice! The Doctor gets a kicking fro Miss Haversham. Jo claws at the Brig’s face to reveal…the Master! And he snogs her! Tom meets his mother before he was born; she is one of the Children of Destiny and told him when he was young that he would have a great destiny. The escape pod punches a hole the size of a house in the side of the cinema. The Master is revealed as…Verdigris! Iris’ handbag is a member of the Galactic Federation! Iris was a member of the Sisterhood of Karn (Sacred Flame! Sacred Fire!) and mad staring eyes Ohica (Death! Death! Death!) working with Morbius transported her and her previous selves to the Death Zone on Gallifrey to face such horrors as Voord, Zarbi and Mechanoids. The Galactic Federation is revealed as a sham…it is in fact a hollowed out mountain…in Wales! Verdigris fooled the Galactic Federation, he convinced the Meercocks to invade Earth, he tried to make UNIT look like bungling fools…all on Iris’ command! When she was drunk, she summoned him up and commanded him to end the Doctor’s exile, no matter what it takes. Discrediting UNIT and allowing an invasion to take place from aliens with the appropriate technology would enable the Doctor to escape.
Funny Bits: Iris is bundled around like a sack of old potatoes!
Sontarans parachuting over Wales?
The Doctor calls Iris an oafish and clodhopping harridan…hehehe.
Romana: all fur coat and no knickers!
The Master was at the UNIT Christmas party!
“He’s dying to get his hands on my bust…bus. Sorry.”

Result: Considering it is such a short book and the prose is so light I was astonished at the amount of notes I took, a sure sign that this book has some fascinating content. Verdigris is utterly surreal and brimming with imagination, highlighting the strengths and the weaknesses of the Pertwee era. The humour is pitched a perfect level and every page throws a fresh gag in your face, most of them striking exactly the right note. Iris and the third Doctor are just made for each other and Jo and Tom go on a hell of a journey too. Everything is tied up beautifully at the end and the coda leaves the reader with real sense of joy. Frankly I cannot imagine anyone wouldn’t like this book, unless they find it hard to laugh at themselves and this amazing show that we have all come to love: 9/10

Your opinion - Chris Wing

Name: Chris Wing
Age: 32
Tell us a little about yourself: I work for local authority during the day and love writing. I'm currently writing an 'archaeological thriller' set in Oxford and had a Short story published in the Short Trips anthology "How the Doctor Changed My Life"
What Doctor Who book are you currently reading: Judgement of the Judoon (with an eye on Synthespians or Darksmiths bk 4)
What I love about Doctor Who books is: I used to love that, for me, the Virgins and EDAs were basically the main Who for most of the relative durations and could push the boat out and make the Doctor Who universe their own. I liked that, if you were a long term reader, the rewards seemed greater.
What frustrates about Doctor Who books is: That the NSAs don't/can't have that. I feel that the current run of NSAs *could* do this before 11th Doctor books come out, but they are still stand alone. What frustrates me the most is that I fully understand why this is so.
My favourite Doctor Who book is: The Dying Days or Lungbarrow (so many to choose from)
Because: The Dying Days brought the 8th Doctor to life and showed how he could be done - it was so fresh for a final novel. Lungbarrow is great because I love the extending of the mythology - There is so much in this book that you HAVE to re-read it a few times and it gratiously ties directly into the TV movie.
My least favourite Doctor Who book is: Winner TAkes AllBecause: It just came across as a kiddified caricature of Doctor Who. The 'monsters were did not suspend my disbelief, I'm afraid and any book which introduces a new 'craze', just comes across a bit 'Mary-Sue', if you see what I mean.
Favourite covers: Coldheart. Scarlett Empress. Eater of Wasps. Jon Sullivan NA covers (like Room with No Doors).
Least favourite covers: Any NA which is poorly drawn
My favourite Doctor Who author is: So many that I love! If I had to choose one... Trevor Baxendale.
Because: Just read Prisoner of the Daleks and Deadstone Memorial and you'll know what I mean. He writes books that grip me!
My least favourite Doctor Who author is: A bit of a contradiction, but Terence Dicks. Because: I think his was excellent in his niche of Targets (I even liked his Timewyrm book), but later books just did not so very much for me.
The funniest moment in Doctor Who fiction is: The Doctor and Fitz rubbing bottoms - I can't even remember why they were doing it (or which book it was in)! An abstract and baffling scene which you just had to laugh at - also showed the security of their friendship - Fitz is an all time great character/companion.
The scariest moment in Doctor Who fiction is: In Coldhear where Compassion dives of a cliff to catch a fallling character, does so and braces for impact, thinking she will cushion his fall. She succeeds but was incorrcet in her assumption. The character simply gets crushed by the impact and Compassion pretty much betrays her name b showing little.
How do you select which book you are going to read: WIth the NSAs, I read them as they come out. In the interim, I have set up a system whiere I have a rota of NA, EDA, MA, PDA and read each range in a rota, in resective order of release - don't know why! Just to mix it up, I suppose!
Where/when/how do you like to read: Sat in bed, at night, in the quiet. Or on the bus.
Best novel Doctor: 7th
Best novel companion: Fitz Kreiner
Worst novel Doctor: Maybe the fifth. They're all well represented,I just feel there are less memorable 5th Doctor ones.
Worst novel companion: I love ALL the novel only companions. I only feel there are more that are poorly represented (like Grant Markham and Cat Broome)
Most overated Doctor Who author and why: I'm sure I can answer this directly. I think that LAwrence Miles is great, but I find the 'Lawrence' who speaks when interviewed is sometimes 'too honest'. I keep away from his reviews of the New Series for this reason alone. I htink that Terence Dicks' reputation has allowed him to get away with some steamers - he can do so much better!
Most underated Doctor Who author and why: Many one time NA/EDA authors. I might have to say Simon Guerrier (not sycophancy, honest) as he had a great PDA at the end of it's run and I feel his Slitheen novel was better than it seems to have been received - and he's a really nice guy (the only DW author I have met so far, the standard has been set!)
Which Doctor Who book do you wish you had written and why: Perhaps Alien Bodies. The whole EDA range seem to have been influenced by this book - you'd be mad to, but it's a perfect point to jump on as this is where it all started.I think MArc Platt did a stupendous job with bringning the 7th Doctor's run in the NAs to a close. He really brought Gallifrey and the House of Lungbarrow to life - I wish I had that kind of scope.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Frontier Worlds by Peter Anghelides

Plot: Sinister experiments lurk beneath the exterior of Frontier Worlds glowing reputation and Fitz and Compassion are on the payroll to try and sniff them out and expose them. But where is the Doctor…and what’s all this panic about a ruddy great plant monster?

Top Doc: It appears the Doctor is on a mission to domesticate Compassion, after indicating he would like her to interact with people more he sets her up with a life on Drebnar. He spends much of the book leaping between one exciting James Bond set piece to another with little chance for his personality to shine through. It’s another example of the eighth Doctor in generic Doctor mode, he is angry at the bad guys, outfoxes them at every turn, but there is little here to single him out as the eighth Doctor. Although when he kicks in Sempiter I was pleasantly surprised, its rare to see that sort of anger from the eighth Doctor, and his vicious temper when Fitz and Compassion start the fire in the crop field makes for good reading.

Scruffy Git: Finally we get a book where Fitz’s natural charm shines through. We are fortunate to get most of his scenes directly from Fitz’s POV which gets us very close and personal with the guy. For once, a failed romance of his devastating, especially with Alura’s death, which is directly Fitz's fault. His tentative relationship with Compassion is great too, you really feel for the guy as he is on the run with the Ice Queen from hell, not sure if she even likes him enough to tag along with him. With his guard down he reveals some saddening opinions, feeling the Doctor only keeps him around on sufferance and that he might have been remembered (by the TARDIS) wrong. Compassion recognises that he is valuable because he thinks of the most obvious thing first whereas she and the Doctor will go into more detail on these things. She later tells him he is the Doctor’s dog, one who sits up and begs on cue.

Stroppy Redhead: Yowza! Now we’re talking some real development. The Doctor thinks Compassion hates him because he wants her to care and she later admits that she wont be trained and that she will be charge of her own destiny. The Doctor thinks she is susceptible and vulnerable, but she shows little signs of that as she dominates the book, killing Ellis (twice) beating lots of people up and proving extremely adept at subterfuge. Her domestic bliss with Fitz is great to read, especially her disgust at him getting so involved with people around them.

Foreboding: The Doctor dreams of Compassion being swallowed by the Time Vortex and she admits at the climax that she actually dreams of it.

Twists: There is a great James Bond-esque opening sequence with Dewfurth splattered on the rocks and the Doctor falling down a sheer rock face and landing on top of a cable car. The fish in the lake are marvellous, burning the ice and claiming their victims. Sempiter’s change of flesh like shrugging off a jacket is disgusting. Finding Alura dead with the scissors in her neck is a harsh lesson for layabout Fitz. One of the most satisfying moments in ANY Doctor Who book comes when Compassion embeds an axe into the skull of smelly Ellis. Undeterred he returns to life and she proceeds to cleave him to pieces (she is just so cool!). The chase in the wheat fields with Fitz and Compassion being menaced by a combine harvester is the best piece of writing Anghelides has ever written, it is teeth grindingly gripping. The Doctor dropping in on Frontier Worlds by crashing flyer through the main entrance is one of his more spectacular entrances for a while.

Embarrassing bits: Anghelides obsession with poo returns (what’s that all about?). The Doctor admitting his pants are from M and S is something I never wanted to know. There were some terrible puns in there that made me cringe (the e-mail of the species is more deadlier than the mail…).

Funny bits: The staff of Frontier Worlds are terrifying, stinky Griz Ellis, bruiser Kuptyen, melodramatic Nadaly. The ‘Now that was funny’ gag is genuinely funny. The cheeky robot that mimic’s the Doctor’s eccentric behaviour is hilarious, one of the best characters in the book. Brilliantly, Compassion snogs Merdock to distract him and give Fitz a chance to escape. Compassion takes the piss after she smacks Ellis in the head with the axe by copying his irritating saying ‘Big mistake. Mega mistake.’

Result: 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

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Blood Harvest by Terrance Dicks

Plot: The Doctor and Ace have set up a dive selling illegal booze in 1929 Chicago, trying to keep the gang rivalry under control. Bernice has been dumped on a mysterious planet in the grip of vampirism, where she meets a beautiful woman who calls herself Romana…
Master Manipulator: Terrance Dicks understands the Doctor, any Doctor, better than any other writer and he knows, deep down what we want to read about. Which makes his decision to have the Doctor running an illegal boozer and rubbing shoulders with Al Capone all the more brilliant. It’s not as bold as all that but for Dicks, who likes sticking to the status quo, this is his first real step into the New Adventures. The Doctor knows he can leave his protection to Ace. He effortlessly gets close to Al Capone, just by being forthright with him. If he stays in Chicago too long he fear he will become the first Gallifreyan alcoholic. He is listed in the Gallifreyan files as a wandering fugitive, a suspected traitor, an assassin and Lord President!

Boozy Babe: Terrance had the choice of stranding Ace or Benny in the vampire planet plot, and of course he chose Benny. Again effortlessly holding her own, Terrance gets Bernice’s voice just right. She does booze it up a bit much but she is as inquisitive and perceptive as ever. She cannot resist the lure of an untouched burial ground. She is always telling Ace she has perfectly adequate military training but Ace never quite seems to believe her. She is described as an eccentric sort of pet for the Doctor.

Oh Wicked: The description of Ace in a slinky black number is extremely refreshing, indicative of this softer examination of her character. Okay so she is back in that hideous black combat suit by the end but the thought was nice. She is not a chorus line cutie and she has a good strong humorous face. She is described as a sleazy Chicago gun moll! Ace’s courtship ritual seemed to consist of her exchanging insults. By having Dekker fancy the pants off of Ace we get to see something of the teenager in her again. Meeting somebody as cynical and professional as herself, Ace is somewhat smitten, even if she would never admit the fact. In a very sweet coda, Ace and Dekker realise they are about to part company but admit they will ‘always have Chicago’.

Foreboding: The re-introduction of Romana to the series has serious implications for the range. Having her settle back on Gallifrey sees her in the prime position to climb the ladder and help and hinder the Doctor in future adventures. Is it foreboding or looking back if the events in this book lead into a book that is yet to be written but actually takes place in the Doctor’s past? Either way, Yarven is deposited on the Earth for the (fifth) Doctor to handle in the first of the Missing Adventures, Goth Opera.

Twists: Dekker is a fabulous character and seeing the Chicago sections from his point of view gives the clichéd events an authentic feel. Let’s face it, anyone who can melt Ace’s heart has got to be worth a dime or two. Doc’s Place is just a lovely idea, a 3 storey maison bar with a tinkle of jazz. On the Hydrax, Bernice finds the body of a young woman hanging upside down, throat slit. There are several shoot outs on the streets of Chicago – especially when bullets destroy the Hawthorne façade with the Doctor, Ace, Dekker and Capon under tables – that you just know Terrance adored writing. Bernice’s solution to the problems between the Lords and the Commoners is simple – the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Kalmar’s murder is shocking. The vampire attack breaking up the all out battle in the woods is bloodthirsty. The being behind all this chaos is Agonal, an elemental, who doesn’t course the conflicts in history but escalates them when they have been started. Capone smashing a head in with a baseball bat and turning on the Doctor proves quite tense. Zargo, Aukon and Camilla were regenerated as mindless killers. Just as the Doctor is about to trap Agonal…he is timescooped away! The Great Vampire rises from his grave and is vaporised by the sun. Borusa has had a lot of time to think over his misdeeds. Rassilon wakes up, but then goes back to sleep.

Funny Bits: Terrance is taking the mickey out of himself… “Wheezing and groaning…what kind of Eejit would make up a description like that?”
After a whole book of three mysterious characters repeating the same creed over and over again one of them has finally snapped: “Let’s disperse of the ritual chant for once, shall we? It’s beginning to get on my nerves.” Echoing the reader’s thoughts.
The Doctor’s reaction to the Gallifreyan torture device: “Oh no” he said wearily, “Not the Mind Probe!”

Embarrassing Bits: More shocking Ace dialogue: “Only breaking up bar room brawls is a bit of a come down for someone with my training. There’s bound to be a nice little war going on somewhere in the galaxy.”
Within two chapters Bernice goes to the village, talks to Ivo, goes to the Tower, discovers it’s a spaceship, is attacked by a Vampire, discovers it is Zargo and finds the remains of a Scout Ship stabbed into the ground…right that’s everybody caught up on State of Decay then!
Capone is great fun, but some would consider this portrayal (as a gentle Uncle) as an insult.
Agonal causes suffering…because it amuses him. Great motivation, that.
The last 30 pages see a deluge of continuity: The Five Doctors (Time Scoop), The Deadly Assassin (Spandrell), The Brain of Morbius (the Elixir), Carnival of Monsters (Drashig).

Result: Uncle Terry does not have the willpower to sustain a novel so writes two stories concurrently and fills out his page space. Not only that, the Chicago plot just about gets going and stops suddenly and the Doctor hops over to the E-Space plot and sorts out all the nonsense going on there in five pages. Then the whole story is wrapped up with a load of nonsense on Gallifrey. But none of this matters because Terrance Dicks is in the driving seat which means no matter how nonsensical the plot is the writing is deliciously fun and the whole thing rattles along with real charm and warmth. He’s pillaging his old stories again but who cares when you have the awesome notion Bernice and Romana joining forces. The Chicago sections were clearly his favourite; this plot contains some of his best prose I have ever read, full of sights, sounds, smells and tastes. It is all as thought provoking and deep as you can imagine but any New Adventure that ends with Ace off on a date, the Doctor playing the piano and Benny singing the blues gets my vote: 7/10

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Books - your opinion Eric Johnson

Name: Eric Johnson
Age: 19
Tell us a little about yourself: I like Doctor Who books and like to write. Hopefully, one day, those interests could be merged!What Doctor Who book are you currently reading: Campaign; took a little break to read a couple Sandman volumes, but now back into it!
What I love about Doctor Who books is: Their ability to go beyond what most tie-in fiction does, a truly exquisite blend of old and new, excellent stories that use the book medium to their full advantage and tell proper novels and at the same time, be damn interesting Doctor Who stories as well.
What frustrates about Doctor Who books is: How mediocre they can be at times; c'mon people, stretch the imagination at little!
My favourite Doctor Who book is: The Dying Days
Because: It is the pinnacle of everything that is Doctor Who. It's got frocks and guns. It's both trad and rad. It's both a fitting and loving finale for the New Adventures and an exciting and promising start to the Eighth Doctor's books. It's old and new; nostalgic and creating nostalgia. It's everything that works in Doctor Who, none of what doesn't. It's astounding.
My least favourite Doctor Who book is: Sting of the Zygons
Because: It's not really that bad, but it just bored me to sleep. I really haven't read that many overall BAD Doctor Who books (that I've finished), so this one takes the cake.
Favourite covers: Damaged Goods. Freaky and highly detailed.
Least favourite covers: The Highest Science. Who is this person and why are they wearing Sylvester McCoy's outfit?
My favourite Doctor Who author is: Lance Parkin
Because: Like Doc Oho, I love how rich and detailed each of his books are; they each feel totally unique yet still the same author.
My least favourite Doctor Who author is: John Peel
Because: I couldn't finish Genesys or Evolution.
The funniest moment in Doctor Who fiction is: An Ice Lord threatening Jesus Christ to a duel, weapons of his choosing.
The scariest moment in Doctor Who fiction is: In the Eyeless, where the lead Eyeless confronts a woman with the eyes of her daughter in his head.
How do you select which book you are going to read: Ones that have a good reputation, ones by authors I like.
Where/when/how do you like to read: Mostly in my room at my desk, sometimes in bed, but I can never decide on a way to hold the book!
Best novel Doctor: The Seventh and Eighth both got the most development in the novels, beyond just reproducing what's been on screen.
Best novel companion: Professor Bernice Summerfield. I mean, she's the icon, isn't she? She's the one who's spawned her own books and audios and comics.
Worst novel Doctor: The Second is very difficult to capture in print without Troughton's magic touch.
Worst novel companion: Yeah, New Ace was pretty embarrassing at times.
Most overrated Doctor Who author and why: Um... none that I can think of. Most of the ones with good reputations, I like. In fact, I like most Doctor Who authors!
Most underrated Doctor Who author and why: Mags L. Halliday.History 101 is fantastic, and Warring States is lovely as well. I hope she writes an Eleventh Doctor book!
Which Doctor Who book do you wish you had written and why: I would've loved to have written Dead Romance or the Gallifrey Chronicles or Human Nature.