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

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