Saturday, 11 December 2010

Bad Therapy by Matthew Jones

Plot: 1950’s London, prejudice is strife and a race of alien refugees is seeking existence in the arms of people who need comfort. The Doctor and Chris arrive still heartbroken for their loss of Roz and begin their healing…

Master Manipulator: Maybe it is because he has lost all of his cynical companions (and let’s face it they don’t come much more cynical than Ace, Bernice and Roz!) or maybe it is because he is still hurting over the loss of Forrester but the Doctor of Bad Therapy is a brand new sort of 7th Doctor. A warm, caring, comforting sort of figure, deeply protective of those around him and sensitive to their feelings. The use of Peri makes me wish this had been a Missing Adventures as we are denied the confrontation between her and the sixth Doctor but this is still a porridge-in-the-tummy portrayal of the Doctor that sits well with me. Frankly I had the impression that Jack was a Mary-Sue character and the Doctor was just how Matt Jones would like him to be if he travelled through time and space with him.

He was a 1000 year old toddler, constantly surprised and enchanted by the universe (surely not of late???). For once he isn’t on the lookout for adventure. The Doctor’s face never sat still as though it were expressing a flowing river of colourful thoughts and ideas. When he sneaks around the night time streets of 1950’s Soho, investigating murders, sipping coffee in street cafes it feels just right. He is a magician, a healer. I adored the whole sequence with the Doctor shoved under Jack’s bed whilst his blackmailer taunts him, it should be horribly seedy (it would have been just two books earlier!) but it is charming. I love the Doctor finding the fitness magazine and smiling at the innocence of the human race, I love his angry reaction to the extortion of keeping a quiet moment in the park between two men secret and I love how the Doctor sensitively tells Jack his boyfriend is dead. Jack and the Doctor make a fine pair together; they have far better than Chris and the Doctor: ‘You and I together are more than a match for all their bullying and wickedness.’ Somehow the impossible became possible when the Doctor was around. He and Jack are both different and knew that they didn’t belong at home. There is a great image of the Doctor sitting cross legged at the top of the station steps reading a battered paperback and chewing on an apple! He and Chris have been leaving notes on the console for each other, it was easier than talking. He looks at Scotch as though it might be poison. He is exasperated by the homophobia of the age, turning on Chief Inspector Harris: ‘What? What is it that you see, Chief Inspector?’ When he throws himself in front of a speeding car he thinks, sorry Roslyn. Thinking of Chris makes him think of Roz too and he is not ready to deal with those feelings yet. He just loves human beings, there’s no logic to our behaviour and yet we are so irresistible. It is wonderful to see the Doctor throwing a party for the Toys, to see him going for such a bloodless answer to the problem. Sometimes losing the people he loves hurts so much he can hardly bear it. There are always better ideas than fighting. Peri sees him as a gentler man now, softer, more human.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Maybe its because Bernice and Roz are no longer around to hog the limelight but Chris really, really works in this novel, simply because the cuddly teddy bear finally gets to emote something other than doe eyed wonder and lust! The whole book is geared to deal with his feelings about Roz and handles them with
a surprisingly light but poignant touch. I enjoyed spending time with Chris here because he felt like a human being. It took the death of his best friend to achieve that.

Everything had been numb since Roz’s death. Their friendship, the strongest Chris had ever known had been his anchor in the endless insecurity and change. Now there was only insecurity, that and the Doctor. It was hard to adjust to travelling alone together. Described as both Little Miss Cwej and Christopher Robin! He is less accustomed to but not necessarily uninterested in the attention of men. His grief unfolds as Patsy’ starts singing ‘I’m nothing without you.’ How is he supposed to go on with her? He only feels calm now when he is in danger, where he has procedure, control. During a tense moment he prepares for a manoeuvre he and Roz had worked out and his grief winds him. When it looks like Patsy is trying it on with him he flinches away from her, it is too soon. Eventually he seeks comfort in her arms, throwing off his clothes and getting into the bath with her. When he realises the truth, that Patsy has been feeding off his need for Roz and suddenly spots all the little touches of Roz in her character, his confrontation with the Doctor is fantastic. Who ever knew he had such balls? The Doctor is genuinely scared of his anger; Chris is hysterical, violent, threatening. For a second Chris understands what is like to be the Doctor, gambling with peoples lives. It was the most terrifying thing in the world. He cradles Patsy as she dies, losing Roz all over again. He and the Doctor link arms at the climax and agree save the universe together.

Busty Babe: Well there’s a turn up! She is Queen of Kron’Tep and its 7 systems, Governor of 7 worlds…and she wants a holiday. Her wedding to Ycarnos was steps towards a man she didn’t love and away from the man who had abandoned her. She realises she is not that interested in the history of Petruska…she is more interested in running away from her husband. Page 203 sums up Peri (or rather Gilliam) in a paragraph. The Doctor had abandoned Peri on an alien world without a word with a man she didn’t love…when she finally sees him again she slaps him so hard he tumbles to the floor. She recognises the Doctor straight away despite the change in his appearance…who else would be taking on a monster with just a brolly in his hand? 25 years he had stranded her and somehow he made her forgive him with a simple, boyish smile.

Twists: Eddy’s death with the TARDIS blocking the alley and his escape, a knife stabbed into his throat, is more upsetting and arresting than Roz’s the book before! Six murders have taken place, all people without a past. Tilda, Patsy and the Major are refugees from another world, a racial minority, a servile class. Damaged Goods and Bad Therapy both offer slants on homosexuality: one is all bitchiness, cottaging, aggression and cheap thrills and the other is community, warmth, stolen moments, shyness and bravery. The black taxi sucks the Doctor inside itself. There is a gorgeous moment between Peri and Ycarnos where he refuses to shout at her for running away and asks her to continue with her work. The Toys are genetically engineered therapy instruments. The Doctor cradling the dead girl whilst looking out at the sea of corpses before him is a great visual. Petruska looks like Tilda Jupp! J
ack and Mikey trying to save Dennis is really tense stuff, especially when Carl catches him and threatens him with his razor. Tilda has been planting ‘gifts’ throughout the city, Eddy, Dennis, to provide, to be what is most needed.

Funny Bits: Tilda, such a marvellously camp character: ‘Bring us something decent to drink immediately or I shall be forced to drink here all next week!’

Result: How nice to see the New Adventures jettison all the gore and nastiness and Empire juggling and get down to some simple, human drama. It has a worse reputation than the last two but I prefer it, it’s a better Doctor Who novel than Damaged Goods and a better novel than So Vile a Sin, its more responsible than the former and has more breathing space than the latter. Jack is the companion we never got to keep; whilst the author is probably a little too invested in him he is still beautifully sympathetic and likable and should have hopped into the TARDIS at the end. Matt Jones has written a fine follow up novel specifically designed to handle Roz’s death in a science fiction story. There are lots of seductive little moments, scenes that make you want to step into the book and be a part of it. It starts really well, thrusting us into a world of murder mystery and blackmail but after 100 pages it becomes a bit of a runaround before the shock introduction of Peri and the Doctor’s joyous attempt to throw a party for the Toys. The ending fizzles away…Patsy dies, Peri leaves and Moriah repents…it doesn’t have much of a kick. The writing is easy to read and comforting, like a friend putting their arms around you on a cold day. I enjoyed this book a lot but felt with just a few tweaks could have made it even better. Different: 8/10

The Monsters Inside written by Stephen Cole

Plot: Rose finally gets to visit an alien planet! Unfortunately it is very like Earth and she is soon banged up in prison with the big squeeze after her blood. The Doctor is put to work in on an antigravitational project, which is part of a larger masterplan that will see planets squeezed through apertures and consuming other solar systems. All the while the Slitheen and their rivals the Blathereen watch on…

Northern Adventurer: Of the first three novels it is Steve Cole who nails the ninth Doctor. Each of the three novels has their problems but they all get one thing very right – The Clockwise Man manages to transfer the TV series successfully into novels, Winner Takes All captures Rose and her family beautifully and The Monsters Inside has a fantastic portrayal of the short lived ninth Doctor. The dialogue is rough, clipped and full of northern attitude. If only all three novels could have got all things right…oh wait Only Human is next!

Up close there is an intensity to him that crackles through every moment, every look. The Doctor notices the torture and oppression of the humanoids in the prison and notes ‘they act human too’ of the warders. If anything happens to Rose he promises to show them a monster. I love the idea of the Doctor bunking up with a pair of Slitheen and their horrid sticky nests! They think he is as ugly as a human but his scent is rare and subtle. Described as brash and distracted and ever so slightly sad. A tough little morsel. The Doctor has an eye opening moment of scientific erotica with Nesshalop where they forget they are in a laboratory and work together to solve their problem in an intense and powerful exchange. Apparently geniuses never see the possibilities of their own work. Making ¤¤¤¤-ups at the right time is his skill. Taking risks, pushing his lucky are the usual for him. Is this the only novel where the Doctor encourages arson as a solution? We get a glimpse of that ‘no second chances’ Doctor when he turns Don Arco’s candles into balls of flame knowing that he needs them to breath. He feels no sense of triumph that his solution cost so many lives and leaves the tale slightly deflated.

Chavvy Chick: Not so great for Rose if I’m honest, she has a few moments of intellect but she’s pretty much the generic Doctor Who companion otherwise. Finally stepping on another world Rose realises she is officially somewhere else. When travelling she gets a sense of belonging she’d never dreamt possible. A human bit of skirt? She’s handy in a bitch fight and causes a very messy food fight! Jackie always said it would be Mickey that would end up in prison. When she was 13 Rose dated a rubbish kisser but a genius food fighter! We all know she is in trouble when she has to convince that she is genius in order to be reunited with the Doctor! She manages to sell her intelligence by reeling off her mum’s telephone number and useless trivia about Eastenders! Rose wonders if the Doctor ever finds her annoying for asking so many questions. She realises she is starting to sound like the Doctor. When landing in the Doctor’s arms Rose still feels as though she is flying. She is remorseless at the Blathereen causalities, feeling that they did it to themselves. The Doctor’s final thought is a bit too Jerry Springer for Rose.

Blaidd Drwg: ‘The big Bad Wolf’s ready to blow our house down!’ - Hmm surely you could have thought of something a little subtler than this!

Twists: Justice Alpha is a designated prison planet. The entire solar system is a prison, a scientific labour camp. Justicia approached EarthGov and offered to handle their overspill of prisoners (and almost had their hands bitten off). Justicia develops pioneering strategies for law enforcement, punishment techniques and mental correction. The Globs are like enormous wads of chewing gum flexing in and out of shape as though invisible mouths are still chewing them! Norris is an undercover EarthGov
agent who has been deep undercover for 9 months and meets an untimely end when his neck is snapped with the sound of cracking eggshells. They are harnessing the energy of an entire solar system to create a cosmic centrifuge, which will open up shortcuts through space. Rose is stuck on a ship that ‘drops from the sky like a stone.’ Ugh, thick yellow pus drips from a punctured Blathereen’s eye! In a hilarious moment we realise that Ecktosca and Dram are hiding inside Globs – super compressed! Don Arco is the Blathereen big cheese, creating a giant super portal for the entire Justicia system to pass through. Their plan is astonishingly murderous, using a solar flare compressor (the biggest flame thrower in the universe) to incinerate worlds in another solar system before Justicia jumps through. The destroyed planets will create a stockpile of fissile material and with a bred labour force processing it the Blathereen will make an absolute fortune! Auntie Callis murdered Maggi and used her body to incite a riot and find her nephews. The New Washington system is 12 worlds, 4 inhabited and the first Blathereen target. Don Arco has his throat slit by his ambitious sister, her sharp claws ripping out his neck. The Blathereen mother ship is crushed to the size of a postage stamp. That Ecktosca…he’s a tricky one, he hid inside Don Arco’s corpse to escape! The Slitheen are back in business…

Embarrassing Bits: The first chapter is appallingly underwritten, a fatal error. The words ‘bitch’ and ‘slut’ are bandied about quite a bit considering these novels were supposed to be aimed at a younger market. There are some seriously underwritten characters, a fault that would plague the NSAs until they found their groove, sacrificed to the plot with only surface details known about them. Considering it is not packaged as a revelation in the book why aren’t the biggest selling point on the cover and in the title? It comes to a point in this story where everybody seems to be a Blathereen in disguise – it all starts to feel a bit Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

Funny Bits:

· The Slitheen have pictures on their cell wall of them peeking cheekily out of half shucked body suits of Meeps and Kraals!
· The Slitheen aren’t bad
company once they get used to not being able to kill you!
· The punishment for benefit cheats is to bang up their children! Are you listening Conservative Party?
· ‘We’ve done your planet so often we should get T-shirts made up.’
· The sickest knock knock joke ever – crushing and splintering the governor’s skull with two taps!
· ‘The Blathereen Patriarch. May plaque brown his belly.’
* ‘Oh come on, a dirty great solar system whizzing through space, hardly the most inconspicuous of getaway vehicle.’

Result: The weakest of the first three NSAs but still with plenty to recommend it. Steve Cole makes the deadliest of mistakes and underwrites his entire first half of the novel and for a long while it is nothing but standing around talking technobabble. The second half is much, much better, the Blathereen and Slitheen prove to be great fun once they join the plot properly, the Doctor is beautifully characterised and the sheer enormity of the plan to shove a solar system through space for profit makes up for a lot of underwhelming action earlier on. Cole keeps the dialogue light and fun but he only lightly characterises his cast so it is hard to give a damn about many of them. Some editing to tighten up the plot could sort out a lot of this books problems but for all my complaints I raced through the last half and enjoyed a fair amount of it: 6/10

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Amorality Tale by David Bishop

Plot: Gang war is breaking out in the East End. A fog is descending which is killing thousands of innocents. The Doctor and Sarah travel back to 1952 and realise with growing horror that there is nothing they can do to save them…

Good Grief: Why has nobody else thought to set a book in season eleven for the BBC? It is the least explored period of the third Doctor’s life and potentially the most fascinating. He is reaching the end of his life in this body, tired and frail and missing his old creature comforts of UNIT. It is a melancholic third Doctor, and an intriguing side to his flamboyant character.

You have got to love a book that opens with the Doctor having set up a watchmakers shop in the 1950’s being visited by the local gang offering ‘insurance’ and the Doctor kicking his butt and propelling him on to the street! Lately the Doctor’s mood has been bleaker, more introspective. He narrowly escaped death on Peladon and Sarah feels his brush with his own mortality was weighing heavily on his thoughts. He explodes when Sarah suggests they save the lives of the people they know will die: “Those people that die, must die. It’s history, its already happened and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it, Sarah.” He is scared – he doesn’t want to play God with peoples lives. He is not a buffoon despite the extravagant gestures and supercilious accent. He’s curious and caring; yet willing to be ruthless when the need arose. His eyes are rich and strange, as thought they had seen more than most. There was a sadness about them too, borne of deaths and disappointments and too many goodbyes. A significant opponent and a powerful ally. He gets a great speech on pages 258-259. At the story’s conclusion he hopes he never has to resort to such a terrible weapon again.

Who’s Best Friend: Isn’t it odd that Sarah travelled with the fourth Doctor for two and a half seasons and yet the two books published by the BBC feature her against the seventh and third Doctor’s? With characterisation as good as this, I’m not complaining.

Sarah never failed to be shocked by the level of sexism and male domination – and had to remind herself that women’s liberation was alien in this time and place. Brilliantly she holds Tommy Ramsey’s gaze, refusing to be intimidated by an East End gangster. She cannot hide her quiet terror but there is an implacability about her that is to be admired. No matter how many times she entered the TARDIS the first moment stepping over the threshold left her disorientated.
She didn’t need to know how it worked, just that it would get her to the destination safely. Tommy’s bashfulness around Sarah is lovely – the effect that she has on these men! All of Sarah’s life she had been a city dweller, moving in time with the metropolis. London 1952 is a massive culture shock for her. She missed television and good coffee and the sexism and racism is startling. It was as alien as Peladon and Exxilon. In a devastating sequence Sarah stays with neighbour Mary as her daughter dies and later she is shocked by Mrs Ramsey’s unchristian attitude to the woman. In another life Sarah could have been attracted to Tommy. I really liked the scene where Sarah admitted the truth about herself and the Doctor to Tommy; it is honest and thoughtful, like much of the book.

Foreboding: The Doctor’s weariness is a portent to his coming regeneration.

Twists: The Doctor shaking hands with a London gangster? – it is this photograph that kick starts the story and prompts them to head backwards in time. Pages 78-79 – Jack Cooper killed his mother, a great example of how David Bishop manages to carve out believable characters with convincing history with very few words. Tommy slashes off Callum’s arm only for him to transform into a Xhinn. They are a much-feared species that colonise other worlds. They strip planets of their natural resources and either subjugate or exterminate the native species all to fuel the colonisation and plunder of more worlds. The fog descends, triggered by the Xhinn; London poisoning itself and the grim task of collecting the dead and dying begins… In a tragic sequence Rose and Frank Kelly are hoarded into a space with the other evacuees and crushed to death – their impending deaths remind them of how much they love each other (and how they have forgotten). Brick’s reaction to his pigeon’s dying is similarly affecting. The bread Father Simmons has been making for his parishioners is revealed to be poisoned with a drug that makes people susceptible to hypnotic suggestion –
hence the police on the streets killing people. Simmons is revealed to be a Xhinn with implanted memories. Mary hides her daughter under the stairs – sacrificing her own life so they can live. Jack, dousing himself with petrol and burning himself alive, is horrific. The Doctor uses an outlawed chronometric device to accelerate time and murder the Xhinn. Hodge, devastated at the deaths he has caused at the hands of an alien influence, shoots himself.

Result: A superb quick read. What could be more Doctor Who than dead policemen lurching from a toxic mist on the streets of London in the 1950’s? Whilst the aliens of the story are okay, it’s the humans that make it so vital. People moan about David Bishop’s economic prose (which is light on description) but the amount of pathos and genuine emotion he manages to conjour up with so few words I feel deserves credit. Both the characters and the setting are evoked beautifully, with lots of thoughtful and heartbreaking scenes. It is an unusual period and genre for Doctor Who to venture into, 1950’s East End gangland territory, but it provides an intriguing backdrop for what is a pretty familiar Doctor Who story. The choice of the third Doctor and Sarah is the cherry on the cake, a combination I have always been fond of but rarely seen written as well as here. A bit rushed in places, but otherwise a damn fine PDA: 8/10

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Anachrophobia by Jonathan Morris

Plot: On a desolate, unnamed planet a war is raging. A war where time is being used as a weapon, where you can be aged to death in seconds or trapped in a moment for an eternity. Something else is about to emerge from the conflict, an alien force that offers a tempting choice to change the past and lose your identity forever…

Top Doc: Continuing his weakness from the previous book, the Doctor is having terrible trouble coping with the loss of his second heart, his single heart trying to do the work of two. Ever since London (Adventuress) a shadow has hung over him. He hasn’t just lost his heart but a part of what he was. He’s now quick to tire, prone to explosive bursts of anger and surprised at his own pain and exhaustion. He has become all too human, mortal and vulnerable. He admits he is the least plutocratic person anybody is likely to meet. He is an amateur showing a philanthropic interest. Fitz asks him why he is so insufferably cheerful? He says he can live with his conscience and refuses to change his past, refusing to throw his life away on a regret. All he has done (good and bad) is what has made him who he is today. Proving he is still the hero we know and love he provides two ingenious schemes to defeat the clock people (see Twists).

Scruffy Git: The perpetual student. Fitz thinks the Doctor needs protecting and suspects they are being manipulated (turns out he is right!). He feels his memories are clouding over, no doubt a mixture of his ‘remembering’ in Interference and his Mind fuck in Earthworld. He fears the Doctor asks him to throw light over the situation out a sense of cruelty and sarcasm. In his experience the impossible turns out to be the all too bloody likely! When the Doctor gets rattle (as he does here), Fitz gets scared. He tries to think of himself as Fitz-about-the-universe but there are far too many failed romances, which are starting to look like wasted opportunities.

Career Nazi: It’s another marvellous Anji story where she is showed to be brave and strong willed and tireless. She has to suffer a lot in this book and she still comes out fighting. She is extremely protective of the Doctor these days (and not just because he is the only one who can get her home). Described as a sentimental businesswoman. The Doctor tells her she is wonderful and that he wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of her in a business meeting. When they discuss the clock peoples tempting offer to allow you to reach into your past and change things,
the Doctor reminds Anji of her betrayal in Hope and she calls him a heartless bastard, clearly still sore from her mistake. She manages to figure out the whole pointlessness of the war from a financial point of view, Jonathan Morris using her previous career in an ingenious fashion.

Foreboding: Mistletoe (aka Sabbath) tells Anji that the Doctor’s heart is in the right place. The Doctor attempts to hide away a scruffy leather bound manuscript he picked up in 1938, a book that is soon to become an extremely important plot device. Sabbath’s revelation that his masters now control the time vortex is shocking…

Twists: The terrifying opening featuring two men ageing to death is a memorable sign of the terrors to come. The TARDIS is pulled to the planet by a terrifying force but is too tired to fight it and the Doctor has to switch off all her systems to stop her tearing herself apart. The war being raged as an extremely unusual one with accelerated and decelerated time zones. The timepiece airlock is ingenious. The first glimpse of the time capsule is vivid, a forbidding globe poised over a maw of a pit. The first time dive is skilfully executed, with events spiralling horribly out of control. 26 people are executed when they are found to have Anachrophobia but they were well within their budget!! When the Doctor and Fitz go on a time dive, the capsule clangs and rocks as something tries to get inside. Unbelievably, the officious Mistletoe orders Bishop thrown in with the infected to see how virulent Anachrophobia is and says, “You there, be a good fellow and move nearer the soldiers, will you?” In a truly horrific sequence Lane attempts to slash her wrists open only to find coils, springs, cogs and wheels nestling inside. The ‘regrets’ which turn the soldiers in clock people are all disturbing, Norton hitting his girlfriend, Bragg’s denial of his homosexuality, Lane slitting her wrists… The Doctor cuts open Bishop’s chest to reveal a pendulum swinging inside! The zombie clock people, gliding through the base tick tocking, are really eerie. Shaw shoots Lane in the (clock) face and it shatters, bloody pulp spilling out (that is horrible). The Doctor’s plan to kill the clock people with mustard gas is very clever but sickening, they keep trying to turn time back and avoid their deaths and end up repeating them over and over…skin blistering, faces shattering, blood and phlegm spitting out. Shaw is ousted as a defaulter agent, trying to get a victim of the disease to the enemy camp so they can use it as a weapon. Station One is an expressionistic nightmare, everybody going about their usual business, shopping, playing at school, working in factories but all silently with clock faces. The decision makes behind the war a revealed to be robots left here four centuries ago. The war has been deliberately prolonged, the actuaries controlling both sides and reaping the profits. Unfortunately they cannot remember what the purpose of prolonging the war to a point of exhaustion of all assets is and the time travel experiments were set up so that Hammond (an android) could go back in time and discover the truth of matters. Brilliantly, the Doctor is dragged back through his past few adventures (Hope, Mad Dogs…) until he is confronted with his heart surgery and offered to stop it ever happening. Ingeniously the Doctor stops the clock people by destroying their power source, travelling back to the past and setting an explosive to detonate in the present, thus not changing his own personal timeline. In a knife in the gut twist Sabbath is revealed to be Mistletoe and to have been using the Doctor all along. His associates have been in conflict with the clock people so Sabbath set up a situation where they would appear to be invading (when they were in fact evacuating) and the Doctor would have to destroy them. His masters now have full control of the time continuum.

Funny bits: Fitz walks from the TARDIS and finds himself in a snowy forest and declares they are in Narnia!

Embarrassing bits: A few terrible puns: ‘Chron’-ic disease, ‘second hand’ bodies…groan. Mistletoe is clearly Sabbath from the first line but it is such a macabre performance I can find it in me to be cross!

Result: The most ingenious use of time travel yet, this is a hugely imaginative and terrifying tale which recaptures all the shadowy horror of those Troughton base under siege stories with an extra dash of gore that makes all the more scary. The book is brilliantly written with a well thought out plot, some marvellously spine tingling moments and spot characterisation of the regulars. The shift of location at the climax is well placed and the Doctor’s final solution is excellent. It is a little hard going in places because the tone is unremittingly grim but I refuse to criticise a book on the grounds that it sticks to its guns (to frighten) and doesn’t try to add any superfluous ‘entertaining’ moments. The last two pages provide a final, electrifying shock and top a nourishing read, full of graphic imagery and a terrorizing atmosphere. It says something about Jonathan Morris' writing that this is the weakest of his three Doctor Who books and its still bloody excellent: 9/10

Sunday, 28 November 2010

So Vile a Sin by Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman

Plot: Roz Forrester is dead. N Forms are blossoming, Empresses are dying, Wars are brewing…this is the story of how she died.

Master Manipulator: In a way this is the ultimate exploration of the Doctor and in others it is an over dramatic slant on this already angst soaked incarnation. The Doctor is seen in many, many different lights as we experience a number of alternatives Doctor’s as the Nexus spits out its universe twisting tendrils. One died on Yemaya 4. One didn’t regenerate in Planet of the Spiders and lived through the 80’s and 90’s and saw the Earth through its negotiations with the Martians in 2010.

When the Doctor comes into contact with the Nexus he has to try and work his way through 2003 different timelines…he manages to whittle it down to 50, then 10, then 1. Whilst accomplishing this feat he looks as if he has lost substance. Astonishingly he kills the Empress of the Earth Empire, the old harpy. Both the Doctor and Roz left their homes and became something more. In the books best scene he threatens Roz that if she aids her sister to wage a war that will kill millions their friendship is over. It’s spine tingling because for once he is powerless to stop her making her own decisions. He suffers a near fatal heart attack at her funeral and is a wasted shell, confined to a wheelchair. There is no one for him to take his revenge on, nobody he can blame her death on. She made sure of that, that’s why he is dead inside.

Stroppy Copper: Roz’s last book. She had the potential to be the best seventh Doctor companion. Seriously, as much as I adored Bernice (and believe me she does take the number one position by some distance) Roz is actually far more interesting because she has so much potential. Her background has been scrupulously worked out and her vices (racism, stubbornness, general stroppiness) make her the most malleable of characters. A shame then that only four or five authors bothered to write her with any respect, if they remembered to write her in at all. Roz starred in less than twenty books but there is only seven or so where she makes any impact. It’s irritating because in those books she is just so good (Just War, The Also People, Christmas on a Rational Planet). So where does So Vile a Sin fall when it comes to Roz? Aside from one or two truly winding scenes in the last fifty pages it is another waste of her character – and in her swansong too! I mean come on…this books deals with Roz’s homecoming with such insouciant incompetence it’s a wonder why they bothered. She has been missing for years, presumed dead and she’s accepted back into the family as if she was never away. We are denied a confrontation between Roz and her mother (who I presume is dead…she doesn’t get a mention) who dictated so much of her beautiful characterisation in The Also People and her relationship with her sister lacks warmth or conflict. What’s more aside from the climax Roz is really an afterthought in the grand sweep of events that is taking place. She pops up throughout the book, an action scene here, a witty quip there but for what should have been a book that lived and breathed her character this is insignificant stuff compared to the Lance Parkin or Aaronovitch’s previous work with the character. What’s more the opening section of the book sees Roz as the Doctor’s employee rather than her friend, on another mission for her. Frustrating.

The Doctor says that Roz’s life has more possibilities than Chris. The Empire had changed. Or maybe it was her. How much of what she remembered had changed since she had been travelling with the Doctor? She still wears her engagement and thinks of George – a lovely touch. She felt there was a switch in her head called ‘That’s too Big’ which had flipped a few times in her travels with the Doctor. Roz is younger than Leabie but looks and feels older. She feels she has come home and brought the monsters with her. Leabie offers her the position of Head of the Order of Adjudicators and she accepts this as a position to help shape history.
The Doctor doesn’t want her to take and warns her if you see history coming, duck. The reason Leabie won’t be a tyrant like the Empress of Walid is because Roz will be watching over her. The Doctor threatens Roz that if she goes to war their friendship is over and in an astonishing moment she finally steps out of his shadow and stands up to him, telling him he owes her this decision for everything she has been through for him. She admits she won’t be able to look the Doctor in the eye if she throws her lot into this war and not get her hands dirty. After her death Chris’s eulogy states that heaven will be a fairer place when Roz is done with it and I can’t think of a lovelier way to think of her character. Roz wrote the last chapter on her life, which was always going to be how she left the Doctor.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Why do I bother? He snogs Roz again. And weeps a bit. He’s just rubbish. And now we’re stuck with him solo.

Twists: Mei-Feng has a multidimensional time bomb hiding in her head. The N Form explodes out of her head. Roz sets an explosive, which brings tons of dwarf star alloy down on the creature. An artefact is resting under Artemis Mons, a psychic signal is emanating from under Ipigenia, something very old and damaged, a bow ship carrier TARDIS, the same size on the inside as on the outside. The N Forms were built to attack the Great Vampires. This TARDIS was trapped in Agamemnon’s gravity and sending out an erratic call for help and automatically switching on the N Forms it comes into contact with (Damaged Goods). The Doctor sets it to self-destruct. The self sacrificing Ogrons is a lovely touch. The Joseph Conrad is a city ship – a touch of The Also People. Zatopek, an agent of the Brotherhood is suddenly an alternative of the Doctor as the Nexus stretches out, suffocating him. The Empress’ body is kept alive whilst her mind is slaved to Centcomp. The computer runs the Empire and she begs the Doctor to kill her, which he does. The Empire starts falling apart at the seams, all those possibilities spraying out of the Nexus. Thandiwe was cloned from Leabie to fill the gap in the Forrester line that Roz left. The Time Lords chose to make the universe rational, they were the first species to evolve in the universe and Rassilon made the decision to turn his back on magick and embrace science. Psi was the last magick to survive because it was the most like science and the psi lines became an early warning system of irrationality to be stamped out. The Nexus is where these lines converge and when the Doctor came into contact with it it released every potential possibility of his existence. The N Forms are typical Time Lord blunders, they don’t just detect psi, they actively attack it! Chris is offered a job as Leabie’s personal pilot so if things had ended less bloodily they both would have stayed behind in this adventure. Walid is (predictably) working with the Brotherhood – they want to bring all those with potential into fruition. The Doctor is tortured horribly, they flick through all the alternatives where he died to try and convince him to help. There’s a second Nexus in the solar system.

Embarrassing Bits: I want to be constructive about my criticism but part of me just wants to scream ‘WHY?’
because this should have been as good as everyone says it is but I feel people are rather blinded by the top drama surrounding Roz’s death and forget the wealth of flaws that stack up throughout this novel. It’s one of the few books where I want to criticise the ambition, a shocking admission but there is just too much squeezed into too little space. This book is 312 pages long but really the events should take place over a 600 page Interference style epic – or even over a series of books. The upcoming Gods arc in the Bernice New Adventures is no where near as dramatic or as twisting as the events in this book and they would have been much better off exploring these events in greater depth over four or five really meaty novels than stuffing all these developments into one biblical novel. My biggest of several problems is that the book skips over the most dramatic of events as though it were discussing a tea time snack simply because it doesn’t have the breathing space to execute it with any kind of panache or style. Events such as the Doctor killing the Empress of the Earth Empire, his trial, Roz’s homecoming, the final devastating War and her death…all rushed and most of it happening off the page and being recounted after, Adventuress style, but from the point of view of the characters so we know they survive these terrible events. So much of this book should have left me gasping for air and under the right circumstances would have. Instead it left me cold and disinterested. Unthinkable.

The prologue is a genuinely awful piece of writing, harshly written Transit style with lots of future slang and characters introduced that we don’t see again for 100’s of pages. It reeks of Aaronovitch so it makes me wonder if this would have actually been better if he had finished the book. It’s disjointed, nonsensical and stuffed with continuity.

Useless material gains focus whilst dramatic developments are practically ignored. Orman spends pages and pages handling stuff like the Doctor, Chris and Roz shopping but skips merrily over the house of Forrester being invaded! The alternative third Doctor and the Zatopek double Doctor should have been skipped altogether to allow moments such as the revelation about the Time Lords creating the N Forms to actually be worked into the plot dramatically rather than the Doctor info dumping this over breakfast with Roz. I mean come on…these books have been leading up to this revelation and it’s just chatted about casually! Argh!

Pages 273-299 sees an entire war take place, planets destroyed, alliances shifting, sacrifices made…25 pages are you having a laugh? Its just dull, dull, dull…spat out like a news story when we should be experiencing the horror and the scale of the fight. It was like somebody had squeezed a horrific conflict into the palm of their hand and bled away all the conflict. This should have been an entire novel.

This book is essentially two stories, strenuously linked together at the end. Part one ties up all the threads of the psi powers arc whilst part two deals with Roz’s homecoming. Or rather it doesn’t because there is no time left to explore it. So Vile a Sin is the Planet of Fire of the novels, it just has to end up doing too much and ends up doing nothing especially well.

Lack of answers: Why does the Brotherhood want to active all the latent psi powers? Why is Walid working with them beyond a petty thirst for power and when did that begin? Why did the Time Lords create such a ridiculous and destructive weapon to destroy the Great Vampires…for beings who can control Time this is remarkably unsubtle? Who set up the computer that runs the Empire? Why is there a second Nexus in the solar system and where did it come from? Why has Leabie been building an army on such an awesome scale and how has she managed to keep it a secret? Who the hell are Genevieve and Simon and why are they so important? Why? Why? Why? Rush, rush, rush…no time for explanations!

Oh and the Doctor is chatting away with Death again, he’s still completely mad.

Result: What a senseless waste. So Vile a Sin is the biggest casualty of the New Adventures wrap up. Gobbled up by Ben Aaronovitch’s computer never to see the light of day, Kate Orman steps into the breach and completes a novel that needed at least another 200 pages to come anywhere near dealing with this plot satisfactorily. The two writer’s styles are diametrically opposite; Aaronovitch is all world building, imagination and head fucks whilst Orman is the character queen, the lighter touch to the range. Occasionally their styles create some magic (the Doctor finding the bow ship carrier, Roz’s final confrontation with the Doctor) but more often this book feels as though an intruder is executing its grand ideas. And what ideas they are…a summary of So Vile a Sin sees an imaginative, sprawling epic the like of which we have never seen in Doctor Who before but a summary is all we get. So much of this book is disjointed, rushed or just plain ignored we are denied the pleasure of actually experiencing the imagination and emotions of such a twisted masterpiece. A TARDIS from the Great Time War spewing signals out and activating N Forms. The Doctor assassinating the Empress of the Earth Empire. Alternative realities spat into ours. A war that spans Empires. The death of a Companion. All skipped over rather than engaged, explored, dealt with. A book that desperately wanted to exist before the Virgin Doctor Who licence ran out and its lack of a logo is perhaps the most telling sign for such a disappointingly unclimatic novel. With the luxury of more time and more pages, this could have been the best Doctor Who book. For the ambition: 4/10

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Winner Takes All by Jacqueline Rayner

Plot: The Doctor returns Rose home to find her mother has won the lottery and a computer craze has hit the Powell Estate. Death to the Mantodeans is the latest hit and it’s free for lucky winners of scratch cards. However the fine print omits the part about being transported to an alien planet and used as a weapon in a deadly war…

Northern Adventurer: What a laugh! If Justin Richards had trouble capturing the intrepid duo Jac Rayner writes for them as though she has been doing so for years. Whatever plotting defects this book might have, the regulars glow from every page and make this a hugely enjoyable experience.

The Doctor never saves anything smaller than a planet. He got a merit badge in time travel, Monsterithology, interfering in the destinies of planets and cookery. The Doctor has an expression where Rose is unsure if he wants to smack her or kiss her. If a Time Lord saved the world and when there was no one there to know it, was he still a hero? He throws a massive wobbler when he forced to use Rose the way he does. He is as damning on humanity as ever, condemning them for bringing this latest disaster on themselves for wanting a free lunch. Rose was never sure if the Doctor simply pretended not to care, it was a dry humour thing or if he really didn’t care.

Chavvy Chick: This is Rose’s book through and through…Rose’s family, Rose’s boyfriend, Rose’s home…so it’s fortunate that I am eating my words already from my condemnation of her character in print in The Clockwise Man. Jac Rayner always gets her regulars right but has simply worked wonders with the girls over the years. She gave us a hilarious and sympathetic Anji in Earthworld, a professional and desperate Sarah Jane in Wolfsbane and gave us the definitive Bernice Summerfield novel in The Glass Prison. She introduced the glorious Evelyn Smythe to Big Finish and would go on to write Martha Jones to perfection in The Last Dodo. Everything about Rose sings in this book…she is childish, witty, intelligent, frustrated, charismatic, flirtatious…a hugely flawed but ultimately lovable character. We see the real horrors of her world and can compare that with how much she has changed since she has left this environment. She gets to be the object of three men’s attention, to save the Doctor and kick the ¤¤¤¤ out of the bad guys. Rose rocks!

Rose has gotten used to the inside of the TARDIS and thinks it is funny how you can get used to even the most incredible of things. What was her home – with her mum or in the TARDIS? She thinks Mickey is quite a catch even if he doesn’t own a time machine.
She feels her relationship with him was her old life, she wasn’t that person anymore. Her mother is up for a freebie and has a reputation for being a bit of a slag. Rose can swallow her anger now and ignore bullies. If the Doctor and Rose are sharing a bedroom, Jackie doesn’t want to know about it! Rose is described as a slag who did her boyfriend in and a thoughtless cow. She is disgusted with the Doctor when he is annoyed that she visited her mum in hospital when there was work to be done. Rose feels conflicted when they receive a phone call from the boy who beat her mum up, he is dying, and she is forced into the frustrating situation of pitying somebody she hates. Just because it was the Doctor’s time machine that didn’t mean Rose had to play entirely by his rules. Rose is also described as totally beautiful, utterly cool and just, well, perfect. She wonders if she throws up but can’t open her mouth if she will choke to death on her won vomit. Does she as his companion, validate the Doctor? The TARDIS has taken a shine to Rose.

Blaidd Drwg: Bad Wolf is one of the games Mickey owns.

Twists: You’ve got to love it when Mickey gets a rather abrupt visit…from Percy the Porcupine! The Quevvils have infiltrated the Earth with the most powerful weapon…scratch cards! You can win a holiday and you are transported to the planet Toop and used as a soldier. Those that win a computer console, unbeknownst to them, are controlling the holiday winners. When it says ‘Game Over’ they have murdered a human being. The Mantodeans have a force field around their stronghold which kills Quevvils so they need humans to get through it. In a shocking development Jackie is beaten to a pulp and Rose thinks seeing her mum as a fragile human being instead of a superhero is the worst feeling in the world. Rose takes a phone call from a dying boy. The Doctor is astonished to discover people have discovered the secret of the scratch cards and are selling them on the internet as an easy way to have someone you hate murdered. Rose is transported to the Mantodean stronghold and the Doctor is in the unenviable position of having to control her like a puppet. The Quevvil quills penetrate and open out like Christmas trees. The Doctor makes some great modifications to the software that turns Rose into SuperRose…she kicks the crap out of the monsters, leaps over pits and travels faster than a speeding bullet! Rose coming face to face with Darren Pye as he fights his control to raise his gun to kill her is very tense. For his efforts the Mantodeans decapitate him!
The TARDIS sound is described as the most wonderful music ever, it was the greatest symphony ever written, performed by the best orchestra in the world.

Funny Bits: This is such a gigglesome book…I found myself chuckling throughout and here are some of my favourite moments:
· ‘So it’s aliens? Aliens taking over the planet via shopping?’ ‘Don’t have to be trying to take over the planet, just cos they’re aliens? I’m not trying to take over the planet. The Cookie Monster isn’t trying to take over the planet. Well, not the bits that don’t involve cookies.’ ‘Cookie Monster is a puppet. He’s got someone’s hand up him and some bloke does the voice!’ ‘You humans are so gullible.’
· ‘Cos it would be so awful if we got a bit embarrassed while we were trying to save the world.’
· Page 48 is a wonderful piss take of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!
· ‘Are there really alien bondage sites?’
* It raised its nose in the air like an ugly, spiny Bisto kid!
· Rose realises the difference between life and death is one pound and fifty pee!
· ‘500 quid. That’s how much death costs off the internet. Not much more than a widescreen telly.’
· ‘These aren’t porcupines! Porcupines don’t, contrary to popular belief, shoot their quills at you. They don’t walk upright. They don’t carry little laser guns. And they don’t, whatever David Attenborough might tell you, kidnap human beings and teleport them to an alien planet!’
· The TARDIS lurched violently like it had given ‘an enormous hiccup.’
· ‘He’s got something called a tarpit, or something.’
· Rose’s solution to the Quevvil/Mantodean war: ‘Have you ever thought of, you know, just trying to be friends? Or you could just put up curtains so they don’t spoil your view…’
· The Atallus’ are in their sixties. Practically dead. They hold hands, which was pretty disgusting for people of their age.
· I was laughing my head off as Rose, under the control of the Doctor, was pushing her nose closer and closer to a bloody corpse…
· I loved the phone call the Doctor makes to Mickey
using Rose’s voice…she can’t talk using her own voice and the Doctor can’t hear his answer!

Result: It’s more of a case of one step back and two steps forward. Whilst this is a book that is clearly aimed at children with a simple, clich├ęd plot where it scores is in its bright, breezy amiability and its energetic and fun approach to storytelling and characterisation. This book simply flies by with charismatic characterisation for the ninth Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie. There are enough edgy moments (Jackie’s bruises, Darren’s decapitation) to keep adults interested but what really worked for me was how it captured the glee of the child in me, games gone bad, scary porcupines and people being kidnapped on an alien world. Jac Rayner shows how you can simplify these books without taking away any of the enjoyment. Whilst some of you might reel in horror because this doesn’t juggle the fate of alternative universes, feature the Doctor suffering a schizophrenic crisis, have companions who have copious amounts of sex and deal with how much the Doctor screws things up on his travels…this is one of the most delightful Doctor Who reads and left me feeling happier than 90% of any of the other ranges output have. I feel no shame in giving this ray of sunshine: 8/10

Monday, 22 November 2010

Palace of the Red Sun by Christopher Bulis

Plot: The Doctor and Peri land on the idyllic garden planet of Esselven, unaware that the entire planet and its people are about to unfold around them as a mystery left buried for 500 years. The tyrannical Glavis Judd is also heading for the planet, to wipe out the royal line of a planet who has fled to Esselven…

Theatrical Traveller: My biggest issue with this book is its characterisation. The sixth Doctor and Peri sound shockingly familiar in this story…which is a shocking oversight because they couldn’t be more different! That is all part of their appeal! However making up for this is the Doctor’s scenes with Green-8 a gardening robot who has become sentient, who would make an ideal companion for the Doctor! Their scenes together, where Green-8 experiences all manner of emotions for the first time are very sweet (“A sun that moved of its own accord, that would be most wonderful to see.”)

The Doctor knows you cannot turn the clock back – well not to often anyway. He is obviously not a child (even though he is dressed as a jester or a clown). It has been a long time since he was a child. This incarnation of the Doctor is more rational and less sentimental. One thing Peri knew about the Doctor, for all his irritating ways, he would never stop looking for her. He isn’t logical but that means doing the right thing. There is a wonderful moment where the Doctor releases a bunch of slaves from robot control and one woman turns on him and quietly says. ‘thank you.’ At the same time he has allowed Green-8 to feel power, pride and hope for the first time. Lovely

Busty Babe: Peri does get to strike out on her own in this book and have a totally independent adventure from the Doctor (which is far rarer than you might think). She gets to chase a living teddy called Boots, fall down a hole (like Alice), befriend a scavenger, barely avoid becoming his wife, confront an old friend (Dynes) and discover much of the plot.

The Doctor says of her: “Peri is opinionated, annoying, impatient, quarrelsome and stridently American…and I would miss her dearly. Not that I’d admit that to her face.” She is resolutely brave but no great fighter; she is dealt a couple of serious blows in a catfight with Nerla. She preferred to talk her way out of a fight. Dexel Dynes calls her, “Perpiguilliam Brown…hostile news subject!” Peri Brown, appealingly photogenic and would have scored high viewer approval.

Twists: I adore the cover; it reminds me of one of the most enjoyable afternoons I have ever spent as the sun lazily set. You have to love the cuteness of a book that opens with chapters featuring Luci Longlocks, Boots the teddy bear, polite garden robots and Wild Woods. The Doctor is nearly turned into processed compost! With no movement of the sun there is no way of measuring time and thus they have no idea about the stars. Judd blasts a hole in the defensive shield and all hell breaks loose on the surface and Dynes flies through for his story. Under the palace the Doctor discovers a room full of desiccated corpses.
A computer system is running Esselven? I never would have thought that turning off a holographic program could be a dramatic scene but from the point of view of Oralissa, watching her friends and family collapse and then vanish herself. The entire Oralissa plot is revealed as a holographic programme, which was designed to entertain, so you can play parts in the storyline of The Princess of Aldemar. When trying to reinforce the planetary shield one of the generators went critical – causing the shield to distort time and space. It has been 500 years since Hathold came to Esselven. They evacuated the Summer Palace and took up residence in the Wild Woods – Kel and his primitive tribe are the descendants of the royal line! The Aldemar drama played on and one, resetting every ten days and the robots began to accept the characters as the real Lords. There is something quite delightful in a robot sympathising with a human who has discovered she is a hologram. The ending is fantastic, the Doctor sending both Judd and Dynes 500 years into the future, Dynes discovers the Protectorate has broken and the Esselven’s are back in power and Dynes is a relic!

Funny bits: The Doctor on Boots: “Perhaps we can bribe him with honey!”

Green-8 asking the Doctor if he would like a drink: “Do you require watering?”
During her attempted escape Kel lands on top of Peri and gets a boner!
“Well think of this as an adult game. Making a game out of something you’ve got to get done. A spoonful of sugar and all that sort of thing.” “I beg your pardon?” “Never mind.”
Kel’s smooth talking charm working on Peri: “You will bear my children. If you are lazy, I will beat you.”

Result: Cute. Can you imagine a story more boring than the Doctor and Peri walking through some gardens for 280 pages? Christopher Bulis pitches this story with a lightness of touch unusual in the novel line and fills the pages with warm sentiment which is unusual in his books. It is a bit like The DaVinci Code film, a well-constructed plot spoilt by bland execution but he gets away with by piling mystery on top of mystery until the reader has reached page 200 and is hungry for some answers. Green-8 and Oralissa are great characters, asking questions about themselves and giving the novel a deeper theme of identity. The conclusion ties everything up beautifully and any book that sees a bunch of primitives, a robot and a hologram heading off to liberate a planet cannot be looked upon with too big a frown. And the fate of the villains is ingenious. Much better than its reputation, a book that demands you finish it: 7/10

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Hope by Mark Clapham

Plot: The desolate, lawless town of Hope is home to a spree of monstrous beheadings, unconnected murders which the Doctor is called in to investigate. Meeting the real power behind the planet, Silver, the TARDIS crew is in danger of being torn apart forever as a dangerous bargain is made…

Top Doc: Much is made of the Doctor’s missing second heart and the effects it is starting to have on him. With it gone, he is starting to feel like just another man. He cannot metabolise tranquillisers or activate his respiratory bypass system any more which leads to some complicated situations. He prefers to think of the TARDIS as a friend rather than a machine. He has a passion for dangerous, unpredictable situations, which he seeks out the second he steps from the TARDIS in this book. He proves he doesn’t need a gun; his offensive capabilities are his physical and mental attributes. He tells Silver he is not for hire, by any one. He has a crack at some hammy tramp acting which is damn near hilarious! Described as being happy standing taller than worlds, growing acidic and imperious when he learns of Anji’s betrayal. A fallen angel with his wings clipped? He tells Silver that his missing heart isn’t what helped him defeat monsters like him, it was his character.

Scruffy Git: This is another highly enjoyable portrayal of Fitz who is fast becoming the easiest companion to write for with very, very few writers getting his voice wrong. He is a 20th Century everyman who embraces the extraordinary who is really down to Earth and recognisable, no matter how hard he tries to play the man of mystery (I think that sums him up beautifully!). Anji finds she can rely on his good nature and humanity. Although he never learns his lessons with the ladies, which is a part of his general Fitz-ness. He considers himself not cruel, cowardly or mean and a man of few beliefs. Sometimes Fitz wished the Doctor had a little less faith in him, so he wouldn’t always be chosen to go on all the dangerous missions. Hilariously he spends five minutes with a techno cult and in that time turns their entire belief system on its head! He is extremely proud of his ability to loaf around. His reaction to Anji’s betrayal of the Doctor is one of utter horror, attempting to shrink into the shadows.

Career Nazi: The finest Anji book yet and one of the defining moments in her tenure, Clapham captures her voice beautifully, managing to take her down a path that many would consider scandalous (betraying the Doctor) but without it seeming false or turning her into some arch (New Ace) villain. She feels as though the TARDIS is her home, it’s now become a place of familiarity and comfort for her. She feels guilt because she is used to waking up alone now. She is very soft with Fitz these days and calls him ‘tiger’. To Anji, the universe is young and fresh and old and dying colonies like Hope are not the sort places she wants to visit. Her decision to ask Silver to resurrect Dave is not because she wants her boyfriend back but because after dying in such a pointless way she wants to give him a second chance at life. Both the Doctor and Silver win her trust in separate ways, the Doctor she likes and respects and she is awe of Silver and looks up to him. But Dave is the main man in her life, the only one she chose to be with, a man who she shared affection, trust, warmth, hope and lust with. Ultimately, for Anji, that bond is more important to her than a haphazard adventuring spirit. She chokes with tears at not being able to tell ‘her’ Dave about the wonders of the universe she has seen.
When the Doctor discovers she has handed over the secrets of the TARDIS to bring her old love back to life he is furious but brilliantly Anji refused to be silenced and hits him with her motivation for doing it with all the passion she can muster. Appropriately her final scene with the new Dave is awkward but there is a wonderful sense of release for her, like she has closed the door on that particular part of her life.

Foreboding: The Doctor’s missing heart is causing all sorts of problems for him…

Twists: The exciting opening sees the TARDIS plonk down on a frozen sea of acid, which starts to break up as soon as the travellers emerge. Hope is an ingenious idea, vividly depicted in the story, a desolate town built of rubbish, raised on stilts to protect it from an acid sea. During a tense hostage situation Silver makes his first show stopping appearance, smashing one of cultist’s skull all over the room with his giant metal fist. Chapter seven is excellent, skilfully recounting Silver’s past, especially the marvellously disorienting moment when we experience Silver waking up for the first time from his POV. The price for resurrecting Dave is to hand over the secrets of the TARDIS, a delicious dilemma for Anji. The beheading monsters turns out to be just a man after all, one of a team of scientists living under the sea, protecting the last survivors of humanity. Silver is revealed to have set up the cult that loathes him all along, just to prove there is opposition to his rule. The Doctor boasts of humanities creativity and craving for knowledge before Stephen admits he cannot wait to cut him open. The scene where Silver lavishes a fresh storm over Hope is one of unexpected joy. Anji’s sneaking around the TARDIS behind the Doctor’s back is really uncomfortable. Silver’s plan, to convert the remaining dregs of humanity into an army of Silveratti and take over the universe would be embarrassing if all the elements hadn’t been so well set up in the book. The confrontation between the Doctor and Anji is electric and the high point of the book. Touchingly, proving he still has faith in her, the Doctor gives Anji the TARDIS key. Anji saves the Doctor for once, shooting Silver in his good eye and helping transport him to another, primitive world.

Embarrassing bits: The front cover is striking but when looked at from a certain angle resembles a very purple gay disco. Annoyingly the depiction of Hope on it doesn’t match anything described in the book either, except for the stilts. Anji says it has only been a few months since Dave died but at least a year passed in Adventuress! My own reaction to this book is a source of embarrassment for me, the first time I read it I enjoyed it, but about six months ago I re-read it and tore it to pieces in a particularly nasty review on DWRG, and now reading the books is order I can now see how so much of this works really well in context. What was I on in that second read?

Result: Clearly the work of an author trying to impress on his debut solo novel, there are loads of great ideas in here and the plot never stops developing. Hope itself is a beautifully well thought out Doctor Who location full of danger and atmosphere, a deadly setting for this tale of betrayal and conquest. It’s almost a shame that Silver has to become such a predictable villain in the end because he is such a memorable character and for once there is a character that matches the charisma and intelligence of the Doctor. The prose is a little choppy in places and the plot does hop about a bit but none of these matters because the character work is brilliant. Anji is finally treated to a novel that pushes her centre stage and she is every bit as compelling and thoughtful as I new she would be, Mark Clapham should be extremely proud of taking this much loathed character and making her seem more real and complex than any other writer. Her plot brought tears to my eyes at the end. All in all, a compelling read, not an absolute classic (there’s a bit too much going on and with an extended page count it could be explored more thoroughly) but a confident, intelligent read with plenty to admire and enjoy: 8/10

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Damaged Goods by Russell T Davies

Plot: Drugs are changing hands, kids are being sold, friendships falling apart, women being tortured by sick children, terrible ancient weapons coming to life and gay sex is being enjoyed. Just another day for the New Adventures.

Master Manipulator: It’s only when you finish the book that you realise just how damn ineffectual the Doctor has been in this adventure. He stands up to the most evil and heinous creature that has ever walked upon the Earth in the climax but doesn’t manage to save a single soul. He’s utterly, utterly useless, not managing to bring a single moment of relief to any of the characters and failing to stop the deaths of over 11,000 people. To save the day he causes the woman trapped inside the Time Lord weapon to murder herself through her own desire for children. It’s just wrong. Whilst this remains one of the best written novels in the Doctor Who range, it is one the worst Doctor Who books because of what it says about our hero. He has lost his touch. Just horrible.

The Doctor had been wonderfully relaxed of late until he realised there was alien cocaine being spread and jumps into action. He has so many bad memories that if he started crying he would never stop. If he has a talent it is getting in the centre of things. The Doctor tries to remind himself that somewhere in the universe the tea is getting cold when things get bad. He can smell a lie a mile off and has a smile you can tumble into. He has never paid his supporting cast much attention. He has joined the ranks of the powerless and ignorant and he hated it. Sometimes he wished he could be blind, deaf and dumb, free of his talent because of the world of weeping he did understand.

Stroppy Copper: A waste, again. A few moments, but nothing special. Russell T Davies reserves all the good stuff for his original characters. The Roz of old sounded like Chris’ mother, she was glad to see her Squire having fun. Ironically she sees herself as an old woman, still a pawn of the Doctor’s machinations. Little does she know. There is a powerful honesty between the Doctor and Roz. She accepted the Doctor as their leader and had a hard logical core. She has violence in her eyes.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Poor old Chris, they’ve tried to make him a fluffy bunny (literally in his first book!), a Buddhist monk, a sex stud…and now a burgeoning gay guy in a desperate bid for him to find some sort of character. But he just isn’t interesting enough to work in any of these (wildly different) guises. Russell T Davies writes him here with far more street cred than we have seen before and with many delicious descriptions of his tight arse and exploding pecs but no matter how much David Daniels wants to get into knickers and how much Chris peels off his clothes on a street corner and lets him, he’s still the most vacuous and dull companion we have ever suffered. There’s just nothing underneath that muscle and speaking as a married gay man who’s met more than his fair share of Chris Cwej’s, he’s really not worth wasting your time with.

Foreboding: ‘Years gone by have been creeping into my head of late. It might be a sign of change to come. An assessment before the end.’ The signal to active the N Form has come from the future, which leads into So Vile a Sin.

Twists: Here’s my chance to say some very nice things about Damaged Goods because it is the supporting cast that make this one of the most memorable books readers are likely to read. The Capper setting himself on fire is a good hook into the story. Harry’s introduction is so painfully real, a married gay man who wife is best friends with a younger, more attractive gay guy. He cruises at night, desperate for male contact but ashamed and disgusted with himself. When he is stabbed by the bit of skirt he is trying to pull he thinks only of shame. The knife wound is described as a two inch flap between his breasts, a ragged misplaced mouth. In a few paragraphs Davies explores the pain of not travelling with the Doctor, as we see the entire life of Rita the waitress, dying of an overdose rather than exploring the universe. Everybody sees something different in Gabriel Tyler and everybody paid their respects to him, seeking reassurance in their mirror image. The story of Mrs Jericho’s shopping trips (snip snip snip) is utterly chilling. ‘Taste it and you’ll taste heaven…’ The Capper wants everybody, teachers, pupils, bankers to try his cocaine.
Harry confronting David (‘You’re filth. Queer filth’) is haunting because you just don’t know what he is capable of. The story of Sylvie’s death as she hunted for an inhaler as she had an asthma attack, Harry waiting outside, is horrible but riveting. The Doctor did not notice that the universe had gotten darker until it was too late. Tribophysics is the means of slipping between dimensions. The shocking twist that Winnie Tyler had twins and sold one of them for 30k is what powers the second half of the book. Gabriel has been drawing a noughts and crosses grid because his brother has been staring at a hospital ceiling for years. Like an isotope, Mrs Jericho has being sapping psi energies from her son. Pages 169-174 are the stories of Winnie and Eva, two women who have never met but their lives are so entwined. Winnie accepted the cash for Steven and lost her life as a result, Eva had phantom pains until the child she had bought was in her arms. Winnie paid of her debts but refused to spend any of the blood money on the rest of her children. Nobody told Eva she was buying one of a set of twins and now there is a perfectly good replacement on the rack and she was going shopping. How scary. In a scene that chilled my blood, Eva Jericho stabs Thomas three times and watches her husband die of food poison spasms…and you realise that she had also stuck the rat poison in her mashed potato but her madness had gripped her now and she was no longer willing to sacrifice herself. The Capper looming over his employees and cutting them to ribbons with his cheese wire tentacles is really nasty. His sinking into the sewers would make a striking visual. There is a piece of N Form in every gram of coke; it licks at the mind, creating an engram waiting to release half a ton of metal into the skull. These are dimensional vents through which the N Form can enter the physical world, better to use lots of small doors rather than one gaping hole. If the N Form decides the human race has a Vampire inheritance it will destroy the world and Gabriel and Steven’s link is similar to the Wasting. Although Rassilon forbade it, the N Forms were released and Vampire worlds died in seconds. The war is over and this surviving N Form is part of the debris, damaged, deranged machine robbed of its mind, clinging to a human corpse in desperation. Mrs Jericho calmly telling Winnie that she is an unfit mother and that she has come to swap sons is remarkably intense. Gabriel touches his brother and Steven dies.
The N Form becomes a mechanical daddy long legs clambering over the Baxter Estate and sprouting new appendages. 11,000 people die an awful death, tiny mouths in their brains vomiting metal into their skulls. Winnie had recently forced her son to take the coke he was hiding from her at home and as a result they both die. Mrs Jericho holds Gabriel and the N Form consumes them and she feels the people becoming dimensional breaches blossoming, as though she is having thousands of children. The shocking, disgusting, unforgettable ending sees Eva’s lithopaedian, the child lodged inside her (the Voice that has been speaking to her, enhanced by Steven’s psi powers) grow and burst from her body. The N Form is denied a host and pops out of our dimension.

Funny Bits: ‘Wicked?’ snorted Carl. ‘Where’ve you been grandad? No one says wicked anymore.’ ‘Really?’ said the Doctor, crestfallen. ‘In 1987? I could have sworn they did.’

Result as a novel: Russell T Davies explodes onto the scene with a book so breathlessly memorable and shocking it knocked me back to attention after my allergic reaction to the last two books. Graphic, and fuelled by a mixture of strong science fiction ideas and brutal, painful human drama, Damaged Goods will open your mind to some ugly imagery and stomach churning moments. Cracker style psychodrama and bloodthirsty homicide combine to create an unforgettable novel, featuring some really fantastic prose. Eva Jericho is the most frightening human monster the Doctor has ever encountered: 10/10

Result as a Doctor Who book: A book where the main characters are murderers, drug dealers, child sellers, cottagers and where it is hard to muster up any enthusiasm for the depressing lot of them. This isn’t a Doctor Who book; it wants to crowbar the most accomplished and imaginative science fiction series into a world of suicide, petrol bombs, teen angst, cocaine, mass murder and loveless sex, an unthinkable atrocity. This is a series where the Doctor has employees and he sends them off to explore to find him drugs, a world where he fails to make any impact on the terrible pain around him, where he murders a woman’s hopes to save the day. Thatcher’s Britain is revealed in all its ugly glory and the series rots and festers in its grip: 0/10

Overall: 5/10

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Drift by Simon A. Forward

Plot: The Stormcore, a device that can control the weather and open the dimensions has let a creature through. A creature with no form, no understanding, just pure emotion caught in the heart of a storm. Soon it is lashing out, menacing the town of New Hampshire…

Teeth and Curls: The Doctor can usually find his way home through any storm, like a racing pigeon. He had an air of being totally at home with the lost. Leela observes he wears the costume of a madman. The Doctor was very like the hero in the elder’s tale, charging on and ignoring the protests of his most loyal warriors (hah!). Given that the air had to escape over such a wall of teeth the power of the Doctor’s voice was phenomenal (I love this!). There was gravity too in his face and eyes that could stare down an owl. He works for UNIT part time these days and is a freelance, a traveller. He was the strangest of strangers, like a father seen through the eyes of a child. He had a brooding presence and poured heavy thoughts in to every corner. The Doctor watched everything from under his silly hat but didn’t often seem very interested. When he was bored he likes to let people know that he’s bored. He never panics, he expresses urgency. Nobody had ever worked him out past the 7th decimal place. The Doctor likes laboratories to makeshift, a home from home. He wields criticism and encouragement like twin prongs on a pitchfork. His eyes are described as looming over as twin moons, and an ill omen. He wasn’t so old that he couldn’t see through the eyes of child. Taking chances was something hr did naturally. The Doctor has the nerve to suggest that if he drives the TARDIS drunk he will have no idea where they end up!

It astonishes me that people think that Simon A. Forward hasn’t captured the season fourteen/fifteen Doctor. Go and read the above paragraph again.

Noble Savage: Leela thought the snow was the land at the end of the world. She thinks the wind has teeth and that there is a predatory beauty to coyotes. She is an excellent scout – capable of finding a needle in a snowstorm. Beautifully she describes the snow as: the heavens shedding their cold ashes. She faces a snowstorm and remembers that on any world nature crafted foes that could not be fought. And faced with enemies of natures making, honour is not an issue. She moved with an animals instincts, her knife emerged like a pumas claw. She is no alien to danger. She is described by (guess who?) a ‘young lady with limited social graces.’ She is a tough chick, agile and vicious.

Twists: White Shadow burst in on a cultist shootout to find the house empty. White Shadow is a search and recovery team, seeking out alien artefacts. A plane went down over the mountain but the Stormcore was missing and they are attempting to recover it. The Curt/Amber/Mackenzie/Martha/Morgan relationships genuinely enrich the book. There is a lovely Blair Witch creepiness in the early scenes – Simon A. Forward scaring us with people’s reactions to an unknown enemy. When the ice creature manifests itself there is a truly horrific death – Bartelli rots away as he struggles, unravelling in a wire mesh vortex woven from ice. After escaping the house it is incinerated by a grenade launcher. The Stormcore was going to be used as a weapon against the enemy, directing storms to ground targets. Amber, trapped by coyotes in an abandoned house, is terrifying. The ice creature traps the town, causing Martha to swerve off the road onto an icy lake; mother and daughter cling to each other as the creature reaches out with talons of thorny ice… Amber can communicate with the creature. Theroux and Parker are revealed as aliens working for the government that imprisoned them by shooting their ship down, trying to find a way home using the Stormcore. The Doctor’s plan is typically insane…get blind drunk (the creatures are allergic alcohol) and drive into the heart of the storm! The creature had been pulled through a gap created by the Stormcore. It is raw emotion, crystallised and seeks out intelligent minds, craving intelligence to govern all the mixed emotions and make sense of the world around it. Its nucleus trapped in the Stormcore, the Doctor causing one hell of an avalanche that sends the device into the frozen lake and traps the creature. There is a beautiful coda, which leaves the reader on a cuddly note.

Result: Another PDA, another new writer and what is immediately obvious with the atmospheric Drift following on from Relative Dementias is how much the new boys are trying to impress. Not with continuity or shocking revelations but with a solid story, well told. It’s an underrated virtue, which is bleeding back into the range. Forward gets a lot of things right here, the chilly setting, the unspoken horror of the menace, characterisation which shines. His prose style occasionally tries too hard but for the majority it is breathtakingly good. I really liked his take on the fourth Doctor but Leela is underused, in favour of his carefully crafted guest cast whose relationships make what could be just another alien threat story count. Interestingly we enter the story about halfway through the plot but even that is handy because we only have to read the best bits. Those who say this is just a bunch of people wandering about in the snow are right, but they’ve missed the point completely: 8.5/10

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Clockwise Man by Justin Richards

Plot: Sinister happenings when Rose and the Doctor visit 1920’s London. Clockwork killers roam the foggy streets seeking a genocidal maniac, deposed Russian leaders are seeking to take back the throne from the revolutionaries and the Painted Lady has secrets of her own. Faceless killers close in on the Doctor as he realises that not everybody is who they seem to be…

Northern Adventurer: The poor ninth Doctor. When taking his TV, novel and comic strip tenure into consideration he has easily had the least amount of attention. Christopher Eccleston’s desire to leave the show so quickly has made his period of the show go from being the triumphant first series of the reboot to an anomaly. But what a season it was and hoping to capitalise and expand the ninth Doctor’s life we have six books that feature this most streetwise and biting of incarnations. Prolific Doctor Who author Justin Richards kicks off the range, a wise choice given his penchant for capturing the regulars with some degree of accuracy in the past and his overall knowledge of Doctor Who in print. This is a responsible take on the ninth Doctor, what I really liked was the moments when he was quite vicious (like smacking Repple’s head into the glass) but on the whole this is probably the most Doctorish (those characteristics that accompany every incarnation) of the first three books. I think both Steve Cole and Jac Rayner did a better job at capturing Eccleston’s voice.

You’ve got to love it when the Doctor barely reacts to the notion that the TARDIS has gone missing. Described as being of noble birth and dispossessed by conflict. The Great War. There is a lovely image of the Doctor staring out over the Thames on a cold winter’s morning, suggesting he has been there all night. A quiet rebel? ‘You know Doctor you should try running an Empire. I’ve a feeling you’d be rather good at it.’ He has been in too many wars. He likes people to think that he is thick – it gives him and advantage and makes his enemies careless and arrogant. I loved the Doctor’s quiet admission when talking about the 1919 flu killing more people than the World War that whatever humanity inflicts on itself, nature can always go one better. When the Painted Lady accuses the Doctor of being a genocidal killer you have to wonder if, for a moment, she knows anything about the Time War.

Chavvy Chick: Poor Rose, her first novel and she doesn’t really make much of an impact.
The trouble with translating TV characters into characters in a novel means you have to be fairly unusual to stand out in print. Look back over the history of Doctor Who and see which characters have come to life well in print, the 6th, 3rd and 1st Doctors, Mel, Leela…the most theatrical and instantly recognisable characters. The 8th Doctor only really worked when they threw away his TV persona and reworked him as a nasty hippy. The trouble with the New Series companions, especially Rose and Martha, is that they are just so damn normal, that’s what Russell T Davies was going for, regular girls that the TV audience could relate to. Just not particularly gripping to read about in print. Interestingly it was the three books that featured melodramatic and bolshie Donna Noble that felt most right. There are books coming up that do some lovely things with both Rose and Martha but I feel they are not the most spellbinding characters outside of their TV roles.

Rose and the Doctor are inseparable. She develops a nice relationship with Freddie here and the twist that he is a haemophiliac gives her a meaty role at the climax where she cradles his bleeding body and screams for help. Cheekily she suggests she can spell Doctor with an ‘F’. She finds the London of 1920’s more unusual for what was missing than what was there. Rose wears period clothes more for novelty and authenticity than comfort. She really kicks the shit out of some clockwork cats.

Blaidd Drwg: ‘You do keep turning up like a Bad Wolf.’

Twists: The TARDIS is stolen in the opening chapters. The Painted Lady is a lovely character, who never reveals her face and changes her mask to express her mood.
Freddie is the rightful Tsar of Russia as Anna is a cousin of Tsar Nicholas II but the Russian Revolution forced them to flee the country into the arms of the British government. Things get very confusing in chapter three when the Doctor and Rose talk to both Repple and Aske, Repple trying to convince them that he is a deposed ruler and Aske is keeping him hostage and Aske trying to tell them that Repple is mad and he is his Doctor! Then the book asks us to believe that Aske is the deluded one and Repple is just playing along! Beth the maid has her throat crushed. The Doctor and Rose walking around the British Exhibition is great, piling on lots of education. Richard plunders his previous novels, Terrance Dicks style, when the clockwork knights come to life (Dreams of Empire). The Painted Lady is hunting down the criminal Shade Vassily, a genocidal cleanser who was exiled to Earth by the Imperial Court with another Katuran as both jailer and bodyguard. Repple is unveiled as Vassily and Aske is his jailer, who is stabbed in the throat. The truth behind the Painted Lady is that she was relying on false information about the appearance of the indigenous population of Earth to have herself altered and her face is a grotesque parody of human features. The plot continues to reveal new layers…Repple is in fact a decoy, a clockwork construct sent to Earth to draw the attention of potential assassins. The Doctor riding the awesome power of the Thames to smash his way into Melissa Hart’s house is fabulous. The real jailer and bodyguard is…the cat that has been wandering about the proceedings! Wyse is Shade Vassily and he is planning on reactivating his ship by using the hydrogen in the Thames which is hooked up to a mechanism in Big Ben. Freddie bleeding to death is quite tense and leads to a hilarious bluff at the end when Richards convinces you he has died. The Doctor smashes through the clock face of Big Ben and hangs from the bottom of the clock face. Repple sticks his arm in between the biting teeth of the mechanism and it is torn off.

Funny Bits: ‘I like scrap yards. Never know what you might find.’
‘I don’t need to offer you a multiple choice of victims, do I?’
I laughed so hard at this exchange discussing the escape of Melissa Hart’s underground airlock:
‘And how do we do that?’ ‘Use your head’ and with that the Doctor rams Repple’s head into the glass and lets the Thames come crashing in.
Wyse hooked up the hydrogen extractor to Big Ben hoping that his escape from the Earth could be a grand moment at midnight…but the Doctor has found him early so he has to settle for 10 o’clock!

Result: ‘Being human isn’t only about flesh and blood’ Justin Richards writes a good debut novel for the New Series Adventures without ever stretching himself in the way his finest novels have. This is a book about identity and the theme shines all the way through the book, offering twists and turns about who these characters are and keeping the novel powered with a number of well timed and unexpected twists. I love Richards’ plots; they always tie up beautifully and leave you guessing most of the way. You can almost feel the gleeful irreverence of the New Series slowly leaking into the novels but we are not quite there yet, with very few modifications this could quite happily be an 8th Doctor book. Nice imagery and good characterisation makes this far superior to the debut novels of the NAs and the EDAs and the climax is fast paced action all the way. An entertaining hybrid of old and new, this layered introduction to the NSAs is far better than people will have you believe: 7/10