Sunday, 28 February 2010

Bunker Soldiers by Martin Day

Plot: The Mongols are coming! Trapped in Kiev, stranded away from the TARDIS the Doctor, Steven and Dodo have to prepare themselves for the coming invasion. The Church have their own ideas of protection from the oncoming hordes, a deadly weapon hiding under the cathedral, an alien who is far, far away from home but still fighting a war…

Hmmm: The historicals always reveal the first Doctor in the best light. When trapped in the moral dilemma of holding back and watching people suffer or defying the Web of Time we see him at his weakest emotionally and paradoxically his strongest morally. Wrestling with his conscience, he comes more human than ever before.

For the Doctor the TARDIS was more than a means of conveyance, he seems to draw strength form its proximity. It afforded him limitless patience and determination. He cannot bear to be away from her and refuses to divulge her secrets. He is a scientist and takes nothing at face value and believes nothing until it is categorically proven. Steven once again questions his ability to stand back and watch history slaughter thousands of people to which he gets a considered and intelligent reply: “People die in agony all the time. Do we have the right to decide who shall live and who shall be saved? We owe it to the future to leave things well alone. Time is no respecter of good intentions. Human history is full of massacres, but no one has the authority to prevent them.” It is not that the Doctor has no time for religion; he has no time for hypocrisy. He reveals much in the pauses between his words and is the most incredible person Steven has ever met. He has seen many great and terrifying sights in his time but nothing like the advancing Mongol army. “My people are beyond even the influence of the Great Khan. My land could not be reached if you rode for a thousand years.” The scenes where the Doctor talks with Khan about the oncoming massacre are stunning, the Doctor’s diplomacy and restraint in the face of talking about slaughter so casually is astonishing. His life is a series of heart-rending decisions. Every word, every action, every desire to keep his companions safe was balanced against the unimaginable consequence of failure.

Macho Hero: Rivalling the Doctor for the position of ‘most interesting regular’ Steven narrates much of this story from the first person. It is a ideal method of getting inside the head of one of the most remarkable people the Doctor has ever travelled with. What I adore about Steven is his ability to stand up to the Doctor both intellectually and physically…when these two come to blows it really feels like a dangerous clash of wills.

If they had a way to leave Kiev, despite the oncoming Mongol Army, Steven wouldn’t have spared the City a second glance. He soon realises there is huge difference between examining another culture and living it – the novelty soon wore off. Later Steven wonders if this life actually suits him. A simple life with simple rules and customs, a clear sense of priority, where people where more important than things and where everything was respected. Compared to his old life, training and striving it had some advantages. He is described as a man of great character and resourcefulness. His belief in the Doctor burned in his chest like a flame. In a scene that proves how selflessly brave he is Steven gives himself up to the guards because he fears for Dodo’s life and wants to protect her. He cannot believe that the governor believes him so suddenly; people in his adventures are not usually so accepting. He heroically dashes into a burning building to save a friend. Steven is not sure that heaven exists because he has seen little evidence of it. After this adventure, the TARDIS has never felt more like home.

Dead as a…: You have to be impressed when a book manages to get one of the most boring companions ever spot on (as in you can see Jackie Lane saying the lines) and make her appealing. She proves to be an excellent manager and co-ordinator. She is scared that she will die but if she left she would feel as though she was leaving friends behind. Given her adventures she is used to danger but not used to waiting around for it. Yevhen calls her a ‘little whore’ and suggests it is better to have a single good son than a thousand sluts as daughters. Dodo’s friendship with Liesa is sweet and believable. Pages 148-151 use Dodo better than I have ever seen before – the dialogue is superb and her commentary on modern day even better. Because Dodo’s inadvertently puts the idea to catapult bodies over the walls in Dmitri’s head a chain of logic forms that leads her to believe she is responsible for the Black Death. It is dismissed but just goes to show how a tiny action in the past could lead to devastating consequences. Bravely, Dodo stands between the Mongols and Dmitri.

Twists: Yevhen desecrates the church to release ‘the spirit of God’ to protect Kiev only to release a creature in his tomb. Steven discovers a body and accused of murder and arrested, trapping the regulars in Kiev for the invasion. The Doctor heads out to speak with the Mongols to convince them not to attack. Taras returns from the dead, mouth full of needles and attacks his wife. Olexander (and Steven) are locked down in the catacombs with the creature to negotiate with it. Alas it rips out Olexanders throat. The Doctor’s party is led into a trap, his horse shot and his fellow Russians murdered. Steven’s rescue attempt in the burning house is written with urgency and drama. The description of the Mongol Army, thousands of soldiers on horseback, kicking up plumes of dust and vanishing into the horizon, is enough to make the Doctor gasp. The Doctor realises the Mongols are not invaders in the conventional sense. They are not interested in foisting their culture on others but in acquiring, learning and utilising all they have found. The invasions are bloody but life continues much as before afterwards. When Dmitri is offered a chance to surrender he declines and worse, he murders the ambassadors from the Mongol Army and starts catapulting disease victims over their walls at the approaching army. Vasil attempts to negotiate a peace between the Mongols and the Church. The book grips you with nerves as the Doctor pleads for the city, one man desperately trying to hold back history. After such build up the attack on Kiev is brutally executed, a truly terrifying scene of carnage. Yevhen’s head is sliced off. The alien in a ‘bunker soldier’ from a far off war accidentally crash-landed on Earth. The alien attacks in genetic groups and assuming he has been fired into enemy territory killed Taras and seeks out further Russians. He worked up the chain of command, finally attacking the governor with madness, hence Dmitri’s suicidal decisions. The Mongols storm into the TARDIS! The image of the Doctor, Dodo and Steven embracing and staring out over the dead city from the tower is very powerful. Liesa was pregnant, that was why the Bunker Soldier did not attack her.

Result: What an incredible book this is. I thought as I opened the first page what a shame it did not feature Ian, Barbara and Susan, dominators of exploring the historical genre and to my surprise both Steven and Dodo work better than the original line up ever could. The three regulars are written perfectly and have independent but equally gripping plot threads. Martin Day mixes history and science fiction with atmospheric results; the dramatic thrust of this book, the invasion, is keenly felt throughout and is paid off with brutal efficiency. The human element is never forgotten and the fact that we care about these people adds to the urgency and drama. What’s more the actual writing of the book is of an extremely high standard with scene after memorable scene that you want to tear out of the book and rub in a non fans face and say ‘This is what its all about!’ A book that demands that you see it through to the last page: 10/10

Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Turing Test by Paul Leonard

Plot: The Second World War is drawing to a close and mysterious message is being transmitted from Germany, one which will have devastating consequences for three very important men in the Doctor’s life, Alan Turing, Graham Greene and Joseph Heller. As time runs out for the ‘strangers’ will they be able to protect them from the mysterious bounty hunter on their tail…?

Top Doc: Perhaps the best ever interpretation of any Doctor in print, this is a masterful evocation of everything that is great about the Doctor, given even more depth and complexity because he is seen from the point of view of three very different people. Turing loves the Doctor as a man but know that he isn’t an angel. He thinks saying the Doctor is from Outer Space is a superfluous explanation. Described as more of a child than a man with a luminous, pleading face. The Doctor truly is ruthless these days; clearly he has great affection for Turing (indeed he snaps back at Greene when he insults Turing’s sexuality with, “He’s a person and with a greater sense of loyalty than you, I suspect”) but is still willing to exploit Turing’s desire for him to contact the aliens. The Doctor screams when he hears the message, saying he felt sorry for them. He knows he has an affinity with the aliens, understands their feeling of strangers in our world. He isn’t sure if he is human (and is described by a Priest as a ‘Devils Agent’). He doesn’t trust himself most of the time and is scared of losing control of his feelings and demonstrates this when he finally manages to open the TARDIS and screams when he discovers it empty (obviously hoping it contained the answers to his mysterious past). He is excited and interesting in everything and considers the human race to be ‘young’. When Turing tries to kiss him the Doctor backs away and later admits to Greene that his lack of libido is the one thing that is missing in his life. Described as a cat, stealthy and powerful and he still doesn’t like being locked up. He proves quite the master manipulator, managing to scheme the three men he requires to Dresden (with Turing he uses sexuality, with Greene he uses morality and with Heller he uses simple blackmail). Proving that he has returned to his old pacifist self he is perfectly willing to murder a man (one he isn’t even sure is guilty of a crime) to escape the Earth. His reaction at the climax is devastating, his horror and anger at being left behind after all he has done for the aliens and the sudden realisation of the horrors he has committed to get there. So it proves uplifting when he decides not to stand around brooding but to pull his socks up and whip his friends into a relief mission, to get out into the streets of war torn Dresden and save some lives.

Foreboding: The Doctor finally discovers the TARDIS key only to discover it is empty inside.

Twists: This book is so nuanced that most of the breathtaking moments don’t come through actual events but rather through the astonishing observations of the narrators. Brilliantly, during his Byronic fit the landlord think the Doctor and Turing are shagging! During his emotional relationship with the Doctor Turing realises that in matters of the human heart there are no reasonable solutions. The Doctor observes: “Some duties are so monstrous that no man can obey them an remain human.” Turing doesn’t know who to trust or what side he is on to which the Doctor notes, “Alan Turing, welcome to the real world.” Greene’s hatred towards Turing borders on psychotic (“I hope you can learn to be human sometime.”) When there is a risk of a fire, Turing would rather save his code sheets than his own life. The moment when Turing decides to break protocol and travel with the Doctor to Dresden, uncertain of what the future holds, is beautiful. At the climax Turing wants to go with the Doctor into Space.

Greene discovers the aliens in Africa and thinks they are burnt alive but it transpires they were German officers and the aliens escaped. Greene realises with great shock that he was duped by the Doctor and killed the woman he loved for him. He is even more shocked to find Germany, supposedly the black heart of the world, an idyllic, orderly place when he first arrives. The bombing in Dresden seen through Greene’s eyes is terrifying (The thud of explosions, the roar of engines, the distant screams, the sky boiling with smoke, the rain of ash…). Greene realises with some horror that he has been protecting the wrong person (Elgar), he was never to sure out of the aliens who was the pursuer and who was the pursued but when he hears Elgar’s reaction to death, a solution and not a tragedy, he considers taking his cyanide pill.

Heller thinks the Doctor is ageless and changeless and thus should justify his actions all the more. Brilliantly all of Heller’s notorious charges (including treason) are thrown at the Doctor in the courthouse before he steps aside and points the blame at Heller. To get into Dresden undetected they fly their plane through military airspace and get deliberately shot down!

The Doctor's anger at being left behind at the climax provokes very different reactions from the three men. Turing wants to comfort him, Greene scoffs the Doctor’s (and Turing's) God-complex and Heller feels betrayed by a man he thought was killing and scheming for a good reason.

Embarrassing bits: The Doctor says only twice in the last half century has felt the way he should feel (hmm, he’s clearly forgotten about the events in Wolfsbane then…or it least this must have been published beforehand!).

Funny bits: Turing panics when the Doctor offers to take him to his bedroom but dives up after him anyway! The Doctor suggests decking out the hotel in blue, brass and stone with a domed ceiling. Brilliantly, Greene criticises the book for its change in narrator. The Doctor’s chemistry with Heller is fabulous, especially when he can see through his madness and decipher every one of his Quickety-Quacks! When Heller refuses the Doctor’s wishes he orders his execution.

Result: Easily the best eighth Doctor book to this point and perhaps (in terms of literary achievement) the best Doctor Who novel of all time. It comes as a shock that something this good comes from the pen of Paul Leonard, not because he is a bad author (far from it) but because he is usually such a strong plot writer rather than a character man and the reason this book works so fantastically is because it examines its characters in such complex and probing ways. Leonard captures three distinct voices beautifully and the dialogue and observations they make take this book into a world of its own. The Doctor has never been more prominent or fascinating and his comeuppance at the climax is both poignant and rewarding. The plot starts off slow but builds to an incredibly memorable finish and the atmosphere of the second world war is captured more atmospherically than any other Doctor Who book I can remember. The eighth Doctor adventures have struck a pot of gold with the Caught on Earth Arc and this is the pinnacle of a five-book stretch of wonderful stories. Stark, brutal and unexpectedly emotional, I love this novel to pieces and ask myself what you are doing reading this silly thread when you could be immersed in its pages. In a way I’m very pleased Uncle Terry is up next because I’m running out of superlatives: 10/10

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Sky Pirates! By Dave Stone (or The Eyes of Schirron)

Plot: I’m still not certain and I’ve not long finished the book but here goes…The TARDIS crew are realty bomb exploded into the System, a Sloathe rampaging pocket universe. Whilst the Doctor and Benny join the mythical quest for the lost Eyes of Schirron, Roz and Chris are poisoned and imprisoned. As the nebulous, rampantly acquisitive Sloathes continue their attacks on various worlds, the Doctor discovers that the universe has been created by an old foe of the Time Lords and he must stop at nothing to defeat it…

Master Manipulator: It’s one of those books where the Doctor is just sort…there. Events wise he really doesn’t contribute a hell of a lot until the last 50 odd pages but where this book strikes out is in how other people perceive the Doctor. He is cleverly built up as a mythic, genuinely awe inspiring character through the eyes of the rest of the characters. It is an enjoyable presentation because with the important stuff (creator of worlds, destroyers of lives, master manipulator, etc, etc…) comes some wonderfully irreverent stuff as well (he sings, he cooks, he keeps cats…I mean human beings as pets…). As with most things in this book if it would just calm down a little bit it might have been the definitive peek at the multi-faceted seventh Doctor.

The Doctor seems more careworn of late. Benny, who had, at times, hated this coldly calculating, cruelly manipulative and fundamentally inhuman being was surprised at the depth of affection she felt for this small, lively and somewhat clownish man. The seventh Doctor says: “The fate of the universe can damn well look after itself for a change!” – brilliant! His companions wonder if he makes up what the controls on the console do. When the TARDIS is attacked it sends the Doctor into a schizophrenic frenzy. He has the ability to unobtrusively fade into the background. In is time he has come up against Daleks, Draconians and acid slugs down a coal mine. Cybermen have been known to break out in gold dust at the mere mention of his name. Time and again he has bested the Master in a battle of wits – which he fancies says not a little about his cognitive abilities, sartorial tastes and all round general spunkiness. Hoothi, Solarians, Greki, Sea Devils, Yeti, Silurians, Nazis, corporate arcologies, bogeymen, vampires, bodysnatchers and Bog-woppets from Altair XIV have variously known what it means to be his enemy or his friend. He does not believe in unnecessary violence and he doesn’t believe in killing anything if he can get out of it himself…when he can’t get someone to do it for him. No matter how incongruous on the surface, the Doctor and the TARDIS just happened to fit wherever they might be. Horrifically, the Doctor sings a song about everybody trusting each other in a particularly fraught moment. Described as an irritating little bugger that, like a dud penny, turns up everywhere. In the emotion filled conclusion the Doctor begs the Charon not to make him kill it.

Boozy Babe: Bernice features rather a lot in Sky Pirates (!) but she didn’t really register. We see a great many number of the exotic and insane landscapes through her eyes but I was spending so much time cutting through the impenetrable prose I didn’t really have enough time to enjoy her characterisation. I get the impression that Stone adores the character and I know he will have much more fun with her in the future. Benny again is not really there to participate in the plot but to observe in her wickedly funny and naughty way.

Bernice does not have the emotional toolkit for mindless bigotry. When Benny gets drunk the Doctor looks at her pointedly and makes her feel guilty until she stops. She cannot stand cats but understands that is really what she is to the Doctor…but being chosen by him probably put you head and shoulders above the rest of humanity.

Stroppy Copper and Puppy Dog Eyes: Poor Roz and Chris. One day into the TARDIS and they are forced into the weirdest adventure since the Land of Fiction invited the Celestial Toymaker to free the Tharil slaves from the gateway and they all went to the Psychic Circus via Paradise Towers for tea. Which all took place in a miniscope. Roz and Chris are mostly sidelined, like Bernice was in Transit, not the best idea but this book was probably already written before they were shoehorned in. The ex Adjudicators are therefore subjected to much humility, forced to scrub clean evil blobs, suspended from the cave ceilings in cages and injected with alien contaminants (or widdle blobs as they like to be called).

Roz is amazed at how humungously sodding big the TARDIS is. She had spent every moment for 40 years violently kicking against her place in the world but now she didn’t know anyone or the score. Chris has bought into the Doctor and his life already. Roz is still having difficulty breaking her dislike of the unlike. She is unsure if she is cut out for this lifestyle, she thinks she has to live in a world where things make sense to her. The Doctor compliments them on how well they coped, stating boldly that they survived events that would have killed Benny stone dead. At the stories conclusion we see the two of them at their best, Chris wide eyed with glee at everybody getting on so well and Roz standing back cynically wondering how long it will last. This book might not have explored the potential between the four travellers very well but there is clearly a nice dynamic building.

Twists: The crew of the TARDIS all see a different distress call and are duped into the path of a reality bomb that explodes and gives them a hefty shove into a pocket universe. There is a great visual metaphor for the TARDIS healing itself – the words Police Telefone slowly cohering, jumbling until they are finally in the right order. The Doctor and Benny join forces with Li Shao: the barbarous Buggering Butchering Buccaneer of a Billion Bloody Battles. Poor Bernice ends up working at Mama Roca’s Nookie Bang Bang Emporium. Chapter 12 is a hilarious piece of observation and debauchery. In a truly serious moment the Sloathes attack Reklon and Roz sees an ally shot down in cold blood. Prometheus desert wastes see petroleum powered slum stilt cities dancing over the surface belching smoke. The Snata is a deathly white bloated corpse that feeds upon secretions of a humanoid undergoing a specific blend of horror and revulsion. Exploding puff marsupial venom is smeared on little arrows with suction cups and makes you go boom-kasplat! The Abomination is a creature so utterly wrong the eye refused to accept it.

The Sloathe invasion is brought to light with spectacular lucidness in a novel that barely focuses throughout…
‘You decimated the people of this system and enslaved half of the rest, ripped off everything that wasn’t nailed down, and then prised up the nails and stole them as well and you say we shouldn’t be so hard on you?’
‘Well you people have killed a lot of us don’t forget. And don’t forget we need other things to give us shape. When we arrived everybody we met went: “Argh! Argh! Horrible slimy monsters! They’re going to murder us all in our beds! Argh! Argh!” How do you expect us to bloody act?’

Roz realises with some humility that the Sloathe atrocities are based on the peoples of the System’s expectations of them. The entire System is revealed to be a creation of the Charon, an ancient foe of the Time Lords. There is a defence mechanism inside all Time Lords when they are attacked by ancient enemies, when the Charon fires at the Doctor his body deflects the attacks offering a glimpse at his previous incarnations. The Charon chooses to die rather than live as the last of its kind, to the Doctor’s horror.

Funny Bits: A New Adventure with a sense of humour! Praise be!
• I love the ‘stories deeper, wider, etc’ on the back of the book…finally an author who is willing to take the piss out of the range.
• Earth is described as the planet Dirt!
• ‘You look like a likely lass. Why don’ you come and have a bite on big sausage?’ – oh Benny you meet all the nice guys!
• ‘Silence! Is not to use such a word! Is lower the lofty tone no enormously end, monkey hominids going shit sod bugger all the sodding time!’
• ‘This one not much use, eh? Sleep all the bleeding time and when it wake up it just go moan-moan!’

Embarrassing Bits: Who on Earth was editing these books? I am starting to think that Peter Darvill-Evans and Rebecca Levene were abstract concepts! Dave Stone has a million one ideas to offer and decides to put them all into a 337 page book…that’s his prerogative, he’s keen after all. You would think that somebody, somebody would have suggested there was a bit too much imagination and too little coherence. Sky Pirates reads like a terrifying first draft of a terrific Paul Magrs book, without the skill with English. It lacks discipline in every single department. The characterisation is so over the top it is smiling down at the top from the heavens. The ideas all jostle for attention (screaming “I’m cute!” “I’m scary!” “I’m thoughtful!”) so none of them stand out. The narrative jumps about like a flea on a griddle. Stone’s prose is either eclectically encyclopaedically schizophrenically gigglesome or an offence to the English language. It veers dangerously close to both, reciprocating wildly (and grossly and unashamedly abusing a thesaurus) whilst never managing to settle on being fantastic or just shit. I didn’t have a clue what was going on for great stretches of writing but I was kind of having fun all the same.

Result: A huge, bloated, over-ambitious and under-edited mythos of twisted imagination. Sky Pirates(!) shoots down the New Adventures touch of gold these last few books by single handedly managing to be shockingly imaginative and utterly incomprehensible at exactly the same time. Dave Stone is a welcome voice to the range, he brings with him some filthy humour and irreverence but boy does he need someone to tell him when to STOP. I have never read a book that it too too…too silly, too serious, too graphic, too deep, too clever, too long, too verbose, too nasty, too cute…it wants to be absolutely everything, do everything, say everything…and it ends up saying not a great deal. Underneath all the mad observations, crazy aliens, warped landscapes and twisted humour there is a nice plot about a lonely alien who has created a universe and wants to die. To reach this you have to delve into the furthest reaches of your sanity and plough to new depths with the English language…and god help what you become on the other side. Okay, so I exaggerate slightly, but at the end of the day Sky Pirates (!) could have been the breakout comedy the New Adventures were crying out for, instead it is a torturously complicated read dealing with some delicious ideas. Any book that I wish had started at chapter eight and had every sentence edited down to half its size cannot receive my full endorsement: 5/10

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Wolfsbane by Jacqueline Rayner

Plot: Is Harry Sullivan dead? Trapped in 1936 in the midst of a devilish adventure of sorcery with an amnesiac and a boy from Arthurian legends, it certainly looks as though his fate has been mapped out. Determined to discover what happened to him, Sarah and the Doctor seek out the only survivors to those terrible days…

Top Doc: (I am only concentrating on the eighth Doctor here, lest anyone forgets this is an eighth Doctor marathon!) He has an air of being…different. He has never heard of Skaro, UNIT or the TARDIS when questioned by Harry to test if this is the real Doctor. We learn that since Casualties of War he has been a sailor and marked as a man who invents things. He pauses when he calls England “home”. He lives in a nice little cottage in the countryside but wishes to see more of the world. In a touching scene we see he has tried his hand at writing fantasy stories (almost as if to make up for not experiencing them) but the editor writes to him telling him he needs to discipline his imagination (brilliantly he has concocted a story out of elements from The Mind Robber, The Tenth Planet, Meglos, City of Death and The Time Monster!). He looks up at the night’s sky wistfully, yearning almost. He is entirely sexless and sees no embarrassment in barging in on a lady in her underwear. Brilliantly we discover most of his possessions are either books or things to make tea! He has certainly regained his sense of adventure and is set to dive right in the thick of things at the climax which makes his attack from the Holy Grail all the more shocking (it can only be touched by somebody pure in thought and deed and after what he has done to Gallifrey he has clearly been marked…). In the uplifting climax the Doctor and Emmy cry for their lost pasts but decide to make up for it by rebuilding their lives with recent happy memories to replace those they have lost. Does he realise he
is an alien…? “Human lives are so short”

Right-o! : Jacqueline Rayner is clearly in love with the character and weaves a magical spell around him here. He is aware of his limitations, half in love with Sarah, intensely loyal and charming…how can anyone not love him? He remains bumbling throughout but good-humoured too and his gentlemanly behaviour never falters, even in the most trying of circumstances. He has a lot of trouble distancing science from magic; he would rather except that the events that take place are due to aliens rather than genuine magical occurrences. The scene where Harry is seduced by Emmy in her bedroom is deliciously funny; he tries to remain chivalrous and charming whilst trying desperately to escape her grasp. He comes to the conclusion that he when he returns home he will not step into the TARDIS again. He gets to play hero at the climax and take on the bad guys on his own, proving without a shadow of a doubt what a brave man he is.

Andy-Pandy Wannabee: Sarah heaves when she discovers Harry’s grave. Her desperation to prove he is alive is touching. Harry treats her as though she is made out of glass. Brilliantly she wonders if they leave behind a whole string of graves after they leave their adventures and that they just don’t hang around to see them. Her reaction to the bite by the wolf is terrifying, she almost goes mad with desperation to find out if she has been turned. I love how independent she is, digging up Harry’s grave, bargaining with the Dryad…this is one gal who never lost her sense of self when travelling with the Doctor. Most excellent of all is when she is gobbled up by the Dryad only to spat out again because of her incessant chatter a few minutes later.

Both Sarah and Harry are word for word perfect. You would swear Lis Sladen and Ian Marter are acting the book out for you!

Twists: Harry being left behind at the beginning and the discovery of his grave are an excellent way to hook the reader. It comes as something of a surprise when Harry teams up with a mysterious traveller known as ‘the Doctor’. Equally perplexing is the sudden appearance of Godric, a character from the King Arthur’s Court! We see Emmeline chained up, force fed raw meat and to mate with a wolf, just to try and get her to change. Sarah’s adventures in the graveyard are terrifying, her desperation to dig up Harry’s corpse and the heart stopping moment when the coffin traps her inside and mounds of earth pile on top, burying her alive. Chapter six is a mini masterpiece, a very human piece of writing concerning the capture, abuse and conscription of a
werewolf. It is soaked in feeling and atmosphere. In a shock moment Emmy sniffs out Lady Hester as the killer, which gives the book a strong Sleepy Hollow vibe. Emmeline’s transformation is frightening, the full moon runs through her veins and aches for fresh meat. The Doctor’s eyes fill with pain when he touches the Grail, punishment for his wrong deeds. The slaughter of six villagers is given more weight by the fact that we know about it already.

Funny bits: This is a riotously funny book in places. Basically any scene with either George or Harry will make you laugh at least once. George’s recounting of how the trees attacked him (“Hi! Hi!”) is hilarious. Harry thinks the Doctor’s thinking is a might fantastical until he remembers he was just attacked by root vegetables. George tells Sarah “I’ll have your head on a spike!” ad nauseum. Harry extracting information from George is blisteringly comical (“I say, your majesty, if you’re the reincarnation of this Mordred, does that mean your mum is the reincarnation of Morgan Le Fay?” “Of course she is” “Right-o”). The Dryad spitting Sarah out…the dialogue here is priceless (“I put up with a thousand years of chastity and purity, but there’s no way I’m putting up with another minute of that…”).

Embarrassing bits: The ending really, which made a lot of sense at the time (when it was smack bang in the middle of the alternative universe arc) but just sticks out like a sore thumb now. The numerous endings with Harry turning into a killer is nice. As is the fact that you get the choice of choosing your own. But shoehorning a scene in from Timeless just feels weird.

Result: One of the sparkling diamonds in the rough of an extremely inconsistent year for Doctor Who fiction (2003), this is one of those stories, which reminds you perfectly of why you fell in love with this silly show in the first place. It is blisteringly entertaining with lots well observed comedy moments but that never gets in the way of what is essentially a touching horror story about a lone werewolf. Some moments are astonishingly dark (especially when Sarah gets buried alive…) and Jacqueline Rayner’s descriptive prose is at its peak, immersed in nature and magic. The potentially catastrophic idea of pairing up the eighth Doctor with Harry is pulled off like a dream and they read like they were made for each other. The dual plotlines add suspense to the tale, Sarah discovering more and more horrors just ahead of us experiencing them! Top it all of with fantastic dialogue all around and you have a little gem which rightfully belongs in this (so far) astonishing Earth arc: 9/10

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Original Sin by Andy Lane

Plot: Adjudicators Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester are assigned to a murder case in the Undercity and their chief suspects are a pair of interlopers called the Doctor and Bernice Summerfield. Little do any of them know what this meeting will mean to their futures. Little does the Doctor know that an old, old enemy is lurking in the shadows, waiting to spring his trap…

Master Manipulator: I think we are here at last. In the last three New Adventures the writers have established a seventh Doctor that I just love spending time with. Andy Lane has always had a firm grasp on the character (certainly his joint handling of him in Lucifer Rising was masterful). These days he is quirky, silly, powerful and eccentric…gone is the self pity and loathing that characterised some of the earlier books, replaced with a Time Lord with a new lease of life. I think his stint as a human had a much more profound effect than anybody realised.

Human emotions aren’t the Doctor’s strongpoint. He was notoriously devious (I’ll say!), he has a propensity for sudden escapes and amazing reversals of fortune. Galactic crises, near death experiences, hair raising risks, all of these things Bernice had seen him shrug off with a smile and a merry quip. But take the TARDIS away and he went t pieces. It was as if he couldn’t function properly without it (This has been brought up several times recently…the Doctor’s dependency on the TARDIS is becoming something of a defining characteristic). He doesn’t like robots, at least Daleks and Cybermen (heehee) have emotions you can play on. One of many marvellous comic moments with the Doctor comes when he tries to rescue Bernice wearing a robot costume…and fails miserably! Sometimes the Doctor doesn’t know if he is serious or not. Brilliantly one scene sees the Doctor poking around in the exposed brains of a soldier with Chris throwing up to one side. He disapproves of all Empires that have taken it into their heads to treat others as though their opinions aren’t important. Go and read pages 141-143…this is the seventh Doctor as played by Patrick Troughton: “I’m going to need a tin opener to get out of this!” He has endured agony time and again rather than lie down and give up. Sometimes, in his darkest moments, he suspected that more people died because of his interference than lived. But still he struggled, still he fought. He is afraid of dying he realises, surprising himself. The Doctor admits that killing can be justified. He balances the eventual outcomes and decides that the death of one person or a handful of people was worth it to keep more people alive. His scenes with Pryce are superb, he really sweats under the murderer’s moral scrutiny. He likes planets at peace with themselves. The Doctor abhors evil, he fights on behalf of the innocent. He admits: ‘I am times champion, and it is my responsibility to protect history.’ He is tortured so much at the conclusion he feels the shadow of the eighth Doctor looming over him. In a moment of madness (or possibly clarity) the Doctor beheads Vaughn. He was better than any gun, not quite as impressive at a casual glance, but far more effective, and didn’t need reloading. Just shutting up occasionally. You get a glimpse of his relationship with the TARDIS at the end of the novel, it soothing him with temporal energy and the Doctor admitting to the ship it will be ‘just like the good old days’ to have a full ship again.

Boozy Babe: The Doctor/Benny relationship continues to impress…whilst I don’t think the series lends itself to have a one Doctor/one companion for any great length of time it has worked a charm for the last three books. Unless the New Adventures can continue this level of quality their relationship may see the range at its peak.

If there was one thing Bernice had learnt about in her time with the Doctor, it was death. Living with the Doctor was like living in a huge restaurant full of the finest food and wine in the universe. For a while it was fun but after a while you crave bacon and eggs and a cup of tea. She ponders her age…33. Wasn’t it time she did something with her life more than rushing around after the Doctor? Wow, that’s some real development. She had spent the formative years of her adolescence in a clapped out trader. Like her or loathe her, and Benny had done both in her time, she had left an Ace shaped hole that would take a long time to fill. To calm herself down during a tense moment she thinks of chocolate mousse, gentle lapping waters and birdsong. She had a period of moping after Ace left where she read poetry in the TARDIS.

Stroppy Copper: I was never one to pre-judge how something was going to work so when Chris and Roz were introduced to the range I was that bothered that they were a pair of coppers. What’s more both characters have a fine beginning here, laying out their strengths and weaknesses and proving great fun to read about. Of the two of them Roz is easily my favourite, simply because she is such a stroppy bitch and because she clearly has such strong feelings about things but doesn’t let them out quite as much as the naïve and goofy Chris.

She is hot on fairness. When she realises Chris is to be a her new squire she admits he looks about as happy about this as she does. Roz’s hatred of aliens is interesting, first because this is subtly entered into the book as a sign of the times but then as you realise her memories have been changed to think that an alien killed her ex partner there is some hope that the Doctor can take her to exotic planets and bring her around. She feels a mild attraction to Chris (but we wont hold that against her). She was slightly claustrophobic from spending too many nights in shelters, her first taste of the real that her family’s riches had managed to shield her from for so many years. Proud of their pure bred African Xhosa heritage, they had refused to mix with ‘inferior’ humans. They had held themselves aloof, like Gods…until the Wars came along. Forced into the deep shelters, Roz had made friends with other children and suddenly realised how barren her life had been. She considering signing up with anyone…just to get away from home. In the end she had been put off by the calibre of people she had met. She signed up with the Adjudicators because they were intelligent people who cared about justice. She feels uncomfortable with effusive hospitality. We discover that Roz killed her ex partner when she followed him and realised he was a bent copper, he went to kill her first. A bounty is put on hers and Chris’ heads…so they agree to join the Doctor on his adventures.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Oh Chris, Chris Chris…whereas I fell for Roz straight away it took me a lot longer to fall for Chris’ charms. Or lack of. He’s just so wet…or should that be wet behind the ears? You can see what Andy lane was working towards…a naïve, eager to please, nice as pie muscle boy. Perfect for storytelling purposes because he is so appalled at the evils of the universe. In print I am with Roz, grudging acceptance. If I met him in real life I would probably be trying to get in his pants five days of the week.

He is described as blond, muscular and extremely naïve. For some bizarre reason he has a body bepple which gives him blond fur that makes him look like a teddy bear but fortunately a near death experience with severe burns pretty much fries it all away. Hurrah. He doesn’t drink on duty. Roz felt he played the wild eyed and innocent card too often. Described as a tall teddy bear. Once we meet his parents, very mothering and lovely…everything starts to make sense. His bedroom is full of model spaceships, bless him. He was an idealist.

Continuity: By the end of this book I couldn’t decide if the continuity overload was a good thing or a bad thing so I thought I would put in a section of its own! I usually hate it when writers crowbar continuity references into stories (McIntee, Russell and Hinton are the worst offenders, sorry guys) but in the case of Original Sin it almost works. Andy Lane has created a really vivid future Earth here and dragging in so many Doctor Who stories so it feels rooted in the series works rather well. I just wish there weren’t quite so many of them. Here goes:
Spearhead from Space (creepy), Colony in Space (well meaning), Revenge of the Cybermen (illogical), The Gunfighters (cuddlesome), Curse of Peladon (naïve), The Leisure Hive (clinical), The Sensorites (uneven), The Krotons (refreshingly short), The Power of Kroll (underrated), Keeper of Traken (poetic), Destiny of the Daleks (tired old tat), The Two Doctors (masterful scripting), The War Games (epic), The Three Doctors (underwhelming), Planet of the Spiders (moving), Brain of Morbius (atmospheric), Terror of the Zygons (chilling), Genesis of the Daleks (classic), Galaxy 4 (tedious), The Ribos Operation (charming), Frontier in Space (entertaining), The Sun Makers (darkly satirical), Death to the Daleks (fun), The Invasion (classy), The Ice Warriors (solid), The Android Invasion (trite), The Green Death (heart-warming), Robot (cartoonish), The Tenth Planet (creaky), The Moonbase (sterile), The Wheel in Space (characterful), The Chase (a laugh), Attack of the Cybermen (vicious), Invasion of the Dinosaurs (endearing).

I’m sure there are more and I know spotted lots of book references but they can slip by unnoticed. Andy Lane has turned continuity into a fine art, using it to define and shape his world. Bravo.

Twists: Hold on to your hats…Earth in the 30th Century is a planet divided: the population of the Earth live in the Overcities which has become the equivalent of the surface of the Earth. The Undercity (what you and I would call the surface of the planet now) is neglected by all except the underdwellers. Glebe has his head sliced off at a processing point. Purgatory is a planet split up into hexagonal environments. There is a lovely sequence where Michael van Looft destroys his ex boyfriends apartment block from orbit. The scene from the POV of a murderous and very horny Private Fazakerli where he cannot decide whether to rape Benny with a gun or simply murder her is certainly an eye opener. The Doctor compares the Earth Empire with the Daleks. The story of Zebulon Pryce lurking in the ventilation shaft and his roomful of skeletons is deliciously scary. A planet orbiting inside the photosphere of a sun…the Doctor is never surprised at mans singular ability in finding uncomfortable places to imprison other men. As soon as you realise the villain is somebody from the Doctor’s past my mind went reeling. The Landskneche found the Hith ship and wanted Pryce to discover its secrets but working with real Icaron technology drove him mad. This ship is now on Earth being dismantled which is why people are being driven insane. Body beppled human beings are especially vulnerable to icaron radiation. TARDISes live in the vortex and only emerge into reality under protest and with much encouragement. The radiation from the ship only escapes when the hyperspace portal is open which is why the attacks are intermittent. Pryce destroys the Nexus before they can turn off the radiation and is hot to death. When the towers of the Overcity start sinking below the atmosphere the shit has really hit the pan! The villain is revealed as…Tobias Vaughn…and his entrance is superbly handled. He has waited 1000 years to catch up with the Doctor, he has tried intercepting him on his various trips to Earth and failed. Vaughn had other bodies when he was shot by the Cybermen and he was transmitted to another shell in New York. ‘How thinly have you spread yourself Vaughn?’ his mind is in every single INITEC robot. He built BOSS and funded Professor Kettlewell’s robotic experiments. He considers himself the protector of the Earth. He wants the Doctor to take him back so he can obtain his old body and feel again. He is beheaded in spectacular fashion.

Funny: The Doctor thinks about the TARDIS: ‘If Tegan can do it, anyone can!’

Result: Another powerhouse, albeit not quite as good as the last two. Any book that I can write over four pages about must be packed with detail and much interest and the world building that Andy Lane achieves in this book is breathtaking. Earth in the 30th Century lives and breathes in this book. New companions Chris and Roz make an instant impression and the Doctor and Bernice continue their excellent chemistry established in the last two books. The book uses continuity abusively but somehow manages to work it into the story that enhances the setting rather than annoying the reader. The are some marvellous characters here and the dialogue is top notch throughout. In practically every way Lane has written a flawless SF novel. Except one. The Hithis. What a boring, underwhelming species. There are far too many long scenes with one of them moping about, bringing the fast pace of the book to a screaming halt. Frankly the ship could have belonged to any other, far more interesting, species and I could have given another book top marks. Still, with its epic narrative that explores several planets and its nail biting conclusion that sees the memorable return and dispatch of a Doctor Who villain, this is a book to savour. Especially for its little details: 9/10

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Quantum Archangel by Craig Hinton

Plot: The Master is wrecking havoc on the universe again in his desperate bid to save his life. His schemes lead to the creation of the Quantum Archangel, a being of devastating power with the power to rewrite history and turn things to her design…

[The Quantum Archangel is widely regarded as the ultimate expression in fanwank. Craig coined the term and feels perfectly at home applying it to his book (in fact editor Justin Richards was keen to push the idea to its very limits). Oddly enough it isn’t an issue in this book because unlike a standard Gary Russell book which name checks continuity for the hell of it the scale of The Quantum Archangel is ENORMOUS, it encompasses the entire universe (and beyond) and discusses massive universal dramas the way you and I would talk about going for the shopping! This book is trying to include absolutely everything; no exceptions and its concepts and playing field are so all encompassing a few quadrillion continuity references feel right at home. Lets have a look at the damage…
Eternals, Chronovores, Daleks, Gallifreyans, Guardians, Great Intelligence, Nestene Consciousness, Animus, Cybermen, Vervoids, Traken, Numismaten Gas, Sarn, Kronos, Dynatrope, Time Lords, Matrix, Sontarans, Rutans, DARDISes, osmic projectors, Cloister Bell, Quarks, Tremas, Blinovitch Limitation Effect, Peri, Titan 3, Hroth, Zero Room, CIA, Hyperion III, Sleepers from Andromeda, Skaro, Uxerius, Daemons, Spiridon, the Martian GodEngine, Stuart Hyde, Ruth Ingram, Professor Thascales, UNIT, TOMTIT, Anne Travers, Vvords, Jo Grant, page 44 (the entire Time Monster plot), the Deca, Minyos, C19, SeneNet, Ravalox, Magister, Keller, Estram, Ashley Chapel, micro-monolithic circuit, TARDIS ‘sniffer outer’, Type 40, Bocca Scale, the Rani, Mortimus, Drax, Bandrils, Power Room, Eye of Harmony, Castrovalva, Xeraphin, Ice Warriors, Osirans, Drornid, Planet 5, Jagaroth, Valeyard, Panopticon, Cheetah People, Marinus, God of the People, Xoanon, Emperor Dalek, Logopolis, WAR TARDIS, Metebelies, Eldrad, Kastria, Exxilon, Minister of Grace, Faction Paradox, Nimon, Omega, Key to Time, Project Inferno, Yeti, Andred, Pythia, Morbius, President Derring, Telos, Vampires.]

Theatrical Traveller: If I am totally honest Craig’s sixth Doctor is as close to the TV version as we are likely to get in print. Here he is big, bold, proud, loud and full of boisterous charm. Despite some seriously overdone dialogue in places, he actually captures much of what I have always admired in the sixth, controversially my favourite of all of the Doctor’s because he is just so unconventional…

However human he looked, however human he acted, the Doctor was anything but. He makes mistakes, miscalculating the strength of the rebel force on Maradnias and wiping billions of people out. Mel thinks the Doctor wants the universe filled with evil, to justify his moral crusade. He surrenders to his emotions at one point and screams. Is the Doctor just an overgrown schoolboy with mood swings, a violent temper and an overgrown ego? After Mel leaves him all he wants is silence, to be on his own. Since his last regeneration he has a nagging call of solitude, begging him to understand how a lone Time Lord can make a difference. Since the nearly teetotal 5th Doctor, the Doctor now relishes the taste and effect of alcohol. It was highly enjoyable getting drunk and getting away from it all. He is a man of good with seeds of such unimaginable evil lurking within him. There is such doubt and fear in him, especially for a man who has saved the universe countless times over. He has always felt guilt and superiority about how he views the universe compared to his friends. He plays by the rules that he learnt many years ago but they often backfired on him. The TARDIS could be many things, wilful, temperamental, flirtatious…but after the attempted Time Ram she wilfully attacks the Doctor out of sheer terror!

Screaming Violet: Mel leaves the Doctor after the devastating events on Maradnias, terrified that she will go mad, consumed with the darkness of their adventures. She had a large circle of friends at university and she wants to find out what she might have become had she not hooked up with the Doctor (there are hints that she could have become Prime Minister).

Hehehe: The Master is central to this story and he gets a huge gulp of the action so he deserves a section to himself! He was recently double-crossed by the Krotons and seeks revenge when he is visited by the Chronovores and told they will hunt him down until he is dead. He is now an emaciated creature, any remnants of Tremas long rotted. He sneaks back to Gallifrey to steal the dark secrets of the Matrix. He seeks to achieve Godhood! Power and immortality so he can wipe the Chronovores out of the universe. Craig’s description of his TARDIS is excellent, all whispering corridors; oily and filthy power room and satanic library. Despite everything he has done it is clear that the Doctor still cares for him. When he achieves his goals the Deca will have to acknowledge him as their Master. He admires humanity for its ingenuity and inventiveness.

Foreboding: The Master thinks of visiting the Planet of the Cheetah People to help with his failing health.

Twists: The opening is arresting; in the dark spaces of the Time Vortex, Elektra and Prometheus, an Eternal and a Chronovore are punished for their relationship. His timeline is picked apart and her child is stolen. TITAN being activated is tantamount to sticking a pin into the balloon of reality to see what is inside. In the aftermath of Event Zero eleven dimensions fought for existence, five succeeded and six curled in on themselves to become the six-fold-universe, a place where the Transcendental Beings thrive. TITAN is a microscope into Calabi-Yau Space – where the Chronovores eat and feed and it will light a beacon that Chronovores will pounces upon. The Master wants to free the Chronovores into four-dimensional space, planning to cut them off from the Lux Aeterna, their food source and commit the greatest act of genocide the universe has seen. There is an amusing trap laid by the Master, a jigsaw of temporal boundaries. The Midnight Cathedral was built on the dark side of the moon 150,000,000 years ago by the Constructors who have now been wiped out and the Cathedral is their only work to survive. The Doctor nearly loses the TARDIS as the Master tricks it into Time Ram…with itself nanoseconds in the future! The Master pours the energy of the Lux Aeterna into Anjeliqua and redesigns her as a God = the Quantum Archangel. She wants to re-write creation and make things ‘better’ – exploring parallel universes that will give her friends what they want most in the world. Once she starts creation alternative realities for each of them we suddenly realise that the Chronovores are the gardeners of such parallel worlds and the Earth is host to thousands of them…and thanks to the Master they have access to them and start to feed. (The Constructors of Destiny reigned billions of years ago, seeding worlds with life. War broke out in heaven when they decided to make a calculating machine that could understand the universe. The operating system was engraved into the very fabric of the space-time continuum. Its memory could contain every possible event – the Mind of the Bophemeral would understand everything. It was utterly, utterly mad. Over a 1000 races united to build the greatest War Fleet for the Millennium War. Countless races were annihilated and galaxies were laid to waste but eventually the Mad Mind was defeated. The Guardian’s created the Key to Time and issued one command to the younger races that had triumphed – FORGET – and as a price for victory the Millennium War was forgotten). With a single command the Quantum Archangel shatters the chains that imprison the Mad Mind, they make love and become the most powerful being the universe has known, capable of understand AND changing everything. Pages 218-226 are incredible scene setters – a parallel world in which Gallifrey is at War with a mysterious Enemy, the Master having betrayed the secrets of Time Travel to them and the Doctor the President desperate to save the universe from total destruction. It is far more coherent and dramatic than the earlier Gallifreyan War in the 8th Doctor range and could easily be the genuine Time War which sparks off the New Series. In another parallel reality there is the terrifying image of the Doctor walking out of the TARDIS, half Cybertised – Locutus style. It is fascinating how Craig makes his parallel worlds darken and the situations get more desperate as the Chronovores feed on them. The Armageddon Sapphire is a device capable of tearing the universe apart, it will reform billions of years later but unrecognisable to what it is today. Paul rescues everybody from these timelines and reveals himself as Kronos – the bastard child from the opening chapter. It was Kronos who put the fear of God in the Master, so he would kill the Chronovores for him, a revenge plan executed because they wished him dead from birth. The Doctor has to become a God in order to fight a God and absorbs the power of the Lux Aeterna in order to square of with the Archangel, moons being thrown, supernovas flaring and black holes exploding in their struggle. Kronos attempts to repair the damage he has caused, dragging the Mad Mind into the far future and destroying both of them as the Great Attractor explodes. As a result for his courage the Doctor is afforded a second chance and Maradnias survives.

Embarrassing Bits: Right…what is it with all these exclamation marks in the prose!!!!!!!!!!! We get it! It’s dramatic!
Pages 101-104 are deeply silly, the time flow analogue scene was written into The Time Monster because the episode was under running. Why re-create such a stupid scene here? Was the book under running too?
The blatant thieving of dialogue from that show is horrid too (“Simmer down Stu!” “We’ve done it! We’ve done it! We’ve done it!”)
The Doctor and Master have a technobabble bitch fight which is as awful as it sounds!

Result: I really, really, really enjoyed that. Is there something wrong with me? This book has two sides. There is the silly rip offs of The Time Monster, the overblown dialogue and the deluge of continuity that dribbles from every page. But then there is the other side, the amazing concepts, the mind-expanding canvas the story is told on and the fact that this is actually a fantastically plotted story. Frankly it is the best and the worst thing Craig has ever written, deeply embarrassing in one scene and astonishingly cool in another. The prose and characterisation are so melodramatic it is perfect for the sixth Doctor and Mel and frankly the universal implications of the plot demand that that characters reactions are suitably dramatic. I can understand why some fans think it is the nadir of Doctor Who fiction because it is damn near impenetrable in places but if you take your time (it took me two weeks to polish this one off) with it there is a wealth of clever ideas and the astonishing achievement of the universe genuinely, believably at the brink of total devastation: 8/10

Friday, 5 February 2010

Casualties of War by Steve Emmerson

Plot: It’s 1918 and the Doctor arrives in the small village of Hawswick under the pretense of being a Man from the Ministry. There he discovers horrors are roaming the simple countryside, dead man are walking, animals are being slaughtered and a lonely woman is crying out for some comfort in her life…

Top Doc: Continuing the outstanding portrayal from The Burning we get to see the Doctor begin to discover himself again and as Mary falls for his charms and mysteries we find we are too. He is described as an avid admirer of all things beautiful and Mary finds him a man of vast complexity; mysterious, handsome, unpredictable and dashing. A powerfully attractive man. At one point the Doctor stares into a mirror as though mystified by what he sees. He is keen and sharp, inspiring confidence and immediately recognised as an Important Bloke. The Doctor is clearly aware of Mary’s attraction and seems to encourage it for a while but when she confronts him he is more like a little boy who has captured the attentions of a young girl and isn’t sure to deal with such an adult concept. He is also intensely private man and Mary realises with some sadness that she will never unlock all his secrets. Is said to run on invisible fuel that never needs topping up. When asked why he isn’t fighting he replies “Perhaps I have fought my War already.” He has a few flashes of memory (Nitro Nine/The Terminator). Sweetly, the Doctor buys Mary snapdragons and sweetpeas when he leaves her, a touching reminder of their most intimate night together.

His journey through the 20th Century really feels like a journey for the character and it is fantastic that we have returned to the central mystery of the Doctor and his relationship with the people he meets. The eighth Doctor has never felt more Doctorish and compelling than he does at this point when he is cut off from everything that actually makes him the Doctor. Strange, isn’t it?

Foreboding: Mary discovers a note in the Doctor’s pocket…’Meet me in St Louis, February 2001. Fitz.’ More fascinating developments with the TARDIS…described as solid, immaculate and smug and draws the dead soldiers in with its power. Mary touches it and senses a great deal of pain, its recuperation obviously still in progress. Brilliantly, at the suggestion this might be a sentient creature the Doctor is genuinely surprised.

Twists: There is another sit up and notice opening, with two men exploring the cellar of the hospital only to be shot in the face. The First World War is captured with real pathos, described as a world gone mad. The second Mary meets the Doctor her world stops turning and they enjoy some playful banter. The scenes in the clay room are really disturbing, soldiers externalising their inner pain and creating creatures of infinite deformity. The hilltop picnic is beautiful. In a twisted moment a smitten Emma Braithwaite goes to ask out Corey on a date only to find him wrapped up in a blood soaked bed with a hole in his head. Skaggs discovers a tree full of dead things, slaughtered animals dangling in the breeze. He is surrounded by walking dead soldiers and puts a bullet through his brain. There is a flashback to Davies breakdown, which is truly harrowing to read, as his German friend is killed and he viciously beats a fellow officer. The scene on the landing is electrifying, Mary drunk as a skunk and desperate to drag the Doctor to her bed and for a second he seems to consider this before slumping off to his own bedroom. Cromby’s solution to his problems with his barn is super cool, he sets up his armchair and a cup of tea and sets the barn ablaze, waiting for the phantoms to attempt their escape and then blows them away with his rifle. The Doctor is tied to a clothes line shot several times. The final revelation, that Banham has been unleashing lashings of psychic energy when exorcising the evil trapped in the soldiers and creating harmful phantoms brings home the power and fear that the War can bring about in people. The Doctor, Mary and Briggs are transported into a nightmarish Neverworld at the climax and forced to fight their own private war with an eight-foot clay creature. The story ends on a high note, the Manor raised to the ground and the Dark forces pouring into the sky.

  Result: A debut novel to be proud of and a book which continues the Doctor’s 100 year exile with something very special. The story has a quartet of characters (Mary, Cromby, Briggs and Banham) who feel so real they bring the story alive with their thoughts and feelings. It’s a horror story with some real scares, potent moments that will leave you terrified to turn the light out and it isn’t afraid to examine the war with some psychological depth. The prose is gorgeous throughout and the setting comes alive in vivid detail. The real heart behind the book is the Doctor/Mary relationship which is in turns playful, awkward and heart-warming. It is a little light on plot but after some of the complex plotting of the Faction Paradox arc that comes as a most refreshing change. This is a novel about people and on that lever it is a total success: 9/10

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The King of Terror by Keith Topping

Plot: The Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and UNIT hit Hollywood! The Doctor gets to battle words with the CIA, Turlough gets tortured to within an inch of his life and Tegan gets to snog a sexist soldier. And around them a plot of two separate alien factions unfolds, featuring the destruction of the Earth as little more than an afterthought…

Fair Fellow: Why doesn’t the fifth Doctor ever get to DO anything? Does he like being this ineffectual? Seriously there are a myriad of plots and subplots going on in this book but he rarely bothers with any of them. Not when he can be chumming it up with Lethbridge-Stewart and pondering on the meaning of his existence.

He believes in good and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations he is a man of peace. To put it simply he is a hero and that hasn’t changed and it never will. There was something about him. Something eternal. He sometimes feels he is the only innocent in a universe of cynicism, a man out of time. He tries to be optimistic about the future but the things he has seen… While evil remains, he will fight it. Described as the vulnerable and a bit wet. He never carries guns because they keep going off and people get hurt.

Mouth on Legs: Tegan is proving one of the most wonderful things about the books. She is possibly my least favourite companion on the box but when she turns up in the range you are guaranteed a laugh and half and some seriously corny dialogue. She excels herself here, storming through the book like Ms Greer on acid, screaming at policemen, the Doctor, UNIT soldiers, aliens…just about anybody who will listen (willingly or unwillingly) to her feminist rantings. You’ve just gotta love her. She’s like Anji from the EDAs without the charm.

She is described as being as subtle as a sledgehammer. She was weird kid, always in trouble because she wasn’t smart enough to think up excuses. Her Dad had an affair and her Mum hated her and sent her to boarding school…which kind of explains a fair bit about her attitude. Tegan provides the Doctor a link to the realities of the universe. She is the soul of the TARDIS and he doesn’t know what he would do without her. In a cursory scene with Johnny Chester (that is Ian and Barbara’s rock star child) Tegan gets a ridiculous feeling that she has know him intimately for years – or at least somebody she would come to know. How had Tegan coped with the death of her Aunty Vanessa? By getting into a police box and being kidnapped, that was how! Tegan has seen death come in many shades, colours and flavours (???), on many worlds and in many times. She is a lot of things but Tegan Jovanka is not a nasty, spiteful girl despite her runaway mouth. She gets to snog a particularly rude UNIT top man (but go to funny bits to see the best and worst of their relationship!). If cynicism is what life requires then she can be the most cynical bitch the world has seen.

Oily Alien: Trying to read Turlough was like trying to read another language. There was always something shifty and furtive about him, even when he was trying to be supportive. He could have been the school bully or the school sneak. Los Angeles was like Trion before the revolution. Travelling with the Doctor made thinking everyone was out to kill you an occupational hazard. LA was hell, Turlough’s sort of town. He was a school genius and tried to run away from Brendon many times but they dragged him back and beaten. He thinks they are scared of him because he is different. Tegan doesn’t like him but he’s like a dog, you get used to having him around. To escape his captor, Turlough turns into a homicidal maniac (please have a look at embarrassing moments).

Chap with the Wings: In 2050 the Brigadier has returned from Avalon and his Celtic bride after having spent 20 years there. His is an utterly remarkable story in a time when such stories are commonplace. Age suits him; it has given him dignity and elegance. He has rejoined UNIT in an advisory capacity; his department is like UNIT’s X-Files.

Foreboding: Tegan’s reaction to the death of Milligan portents her eventual decision to leave because of the cruelty of the universe. And of course this story features her first meeting with her future husband.

Twists: The first time this book gave me any feeling of surprise was when the InterCom conglomerate bursting from their business suits and revealed themselves to be aliens. Barrington frying in the middle of the burning Pyre that was his car is a memorable image. Chapter 13 should be read in isolation to the rest of the book – it is really good! The Doctor and the Brigadier meet Control at CIA headquarters and talk politics. The Jex want Turlough’s DNA so they can change the atmospheric conditions of the Earth and still have a slave human population. The Jex were once a huge and powerful corporate Empire building race, if they get a foothold on Earth there will be the complete subjugation of the human race in six months. Assassins track Tegan and Paynter to Las Vegas and shoot Milligan dead. There are also 1000 Canavitichi craft full of 100,000 soldiers waiting to invade the planet. They have been holding back the Earth’s technological progress for an age. Without their interference we would have achieved interstellar travel by the 1850’s. The Jex are planning to explode plutonium bombs in the Earth’s atmosphere. The Canavitichi were conquered by the Jex but they overthrew them and now they destroy any planet they are on. Control joins forces with the Doctor and he creates a force field around the Earth, which protects it in the massacre as the Jex and the Canavitichi go at each other.

Embarrassing bits: Pages 13-19 are the best examples I have ever seen of how to not introduce new possibly recurring characters. What a load of sexist, racist shite. Do people really talk like that? “We’re the Force, son, and we aint had our breakfast!”
‘The Doctor possessed little of the flamboyant charisma of his predecessors, which made him, in the eyes of people obsesses with such athestics, bland and ordinary’ Hahahahahahahahahaha! That is hilarious! Keith Topping likes fandom but some fans don’t so he makes the point that he is right and we are wrong. What a nerve!
In the same scene you get these two priceless nuggets of dialogue: “He’s entitles to basic human rights and one of those is not to be beaten to a pulp by four Nazi storm troopers in drag!” and “So get the hell out of my way and let us put this shit where he belongs! And hey, have a nice day!”
No word of a lie, there is a scene where Turlough drinks 8 pints, compares a woman to Cybil Sheppard, discusses the advancements of lavatories and gets asked: “You want to have sex with me?” It was at this point I was thinking, “Why am I reading this junk?”
Turlough gets to wee and shit his pants in the same book!
The dialogue gets much better as the book progresses: “You kept on talking about your friend last night. The Doctor. So is he for real then, or just a load of science fiction bullshit to make me go to bed with you?”
To escape captivity Turlough chokes Eva with a chain. The he head butts her face. The he smacks her in the face until blood is everywhere. Then when she is dead he kicks her. And spits on her. And says, “Die you bitch die!” Don’t, whatever you do, get this kid MAD.
I cannot believe that Topping has the nerve to have Paynter admit in dialogue that his romance with Tegan is a comedy sub plot that is impressing no-one.
The Brigadier to the aliens: “Now listen here you men! We know who you are and what you are planning and you can jolly well put a stop to it right now.” Ooh I bet they’re quaking in their boots.

Funny bits: The relationship between Tegan and Paynter is so trashy it is the only thing that held my interesting. Paynter calls her a lesbian, a stupid bint and to top it all off, “Smoke my cornet, big arse!” He follows this up later with, “Tegan, do me a favour love. Shut your bleeding cakehole!” She later asks him if he really thinks her arse is big and he responds, “Sorry love, but its flaming enormous!” When she is tired he comments: “You’ve been on your mouth all day.” Naturally they have lots of snogs. After they are rescued from certain death Paynter admits: “I’d hate to take you down the pub and introduce to my mates, you’d probably end up knifing most of them!”

Result: Trash of the highest order! It’s fascinating to read The King of Terror and Bunker Soldiers in such close proximity because it becomes instantly clear where the talent lies. The plot here is barely worth commenting on, its been done a million times before and better and frankly is buried under a myriad of embarrassing subplots. Doctor Who in an Alias US style thriller is a fantastic idea but there is none of the restraint and style that is needed to pull it off. America is represented in about as stereotypical fashion as I can ever remember reading which is fine because the portrayal of English army lads is just as clichéd. The regulars work independently of the plot and each have some painfully discomforting moments, especially Turlough who really has become the PDA’s whipping boy. I cannot imagine why this book was commissioned, it serves no real purpose but to frustrate the reader: 4/10 (it should be 2/10 but the Tegan/Paynter stuff is just too hilarious to criticise!).

Independence Day by Peter Darvill-Evans

Plot: When the Doctor realises that a previous visit to the Mendeb system has left one of its colony worlds starved of technology development, he intends to return to the system and undo his interference. However he soon realises no matter how hard you try and make things right, sometimes fate has a way of cheating your plans…

Master Manipulator: Oh dear. This is the moody, manipulative, tedious Doctor that drove me away from the New Adventures. He is described as insufferably smug. He feels because he took away a communications system he must return to the Mendeb system and restore peaceful contact between the planets. Arrogant ****e. Who is to say that the two worlds wouldn’t have fought anyway? Or that Mendeb Two isn’t better off without technology? He is looked upon by Bep-Wor as the man who can save them all. In a sequence that is rather hilarious in its melodrama the Doctor tries to speak to a farmer whose entirely family is killed despite his protestations to the baying mob. Honestly the company he keeps. When he cannot rectify the situation at the end the Doctor considers the whole situation his fault. Why oh why does this incarnation think that the whole universe is his responsibility. People are responsible for their own actions…removing one piece of equipment might have left the planet in a bit of a pickle but the Doctor is NOT responsible for other peoples cruelty.

He is forced to eat a toxic worm but manages to heal his own organs once it is removed. Like the eighth Doctor in the TV Movie, he displays incredible strength (which would be hilarious to watch on the telly!).

Oh Wicked: It’s something of a problem when both of your regulars achieve little in the book they are supposed to be the main stars in. Gosh this really is taking me back to the NAs! This is the all shagging, all fighting Ace we knew in the New Adventures and has little chemistry with the Doctor (not that she spends that much time with him). Ace seems to exist to lusted after which is hardly plausible, unless you like ‘em young and explosive. Oddly for an innocent girl from Perivale she is a technology expert and can really hold up her end in a fight. When exactly were these skills learnt?

Twists: Ace discovers Kedin, the man she has shacked up with, is selling slaves to fund his uprising. She gets drugged just like the other slaves and is bought as a servant and protector. The book seems to shy away from its violence, implying torture and murder but not daring to go ahead and describe it in any detail. The biggest twist comes when the Doctor realises that the brain damage to the slaves is irreversible and his friend Bep-Wor guns himself and his wife down. It seriously disturbs me that beyond this there is little to shock, amuse, thrill or even care about.

Embarrassing Bits: The second Doctor tells Jamie to take something as a souvenir to remind him to return someday! Hahaha! And he takes the one thing that enslaves an entire population! There must be a better plot device than this to kick off the plot!

The Doctor discovers the ruined village and the one sole survivor! Just one left to tell him what has happened. That’s fortunate isn’t it?

Ace’s love life leads to some truly embarrassing scenes featuring dialogue to the standard of: “I have no desire to compromise you, lady.” And great prose like: He was even more kissable when he looked confused. And: “I think you better say a prayer to your deity, lady. You’re about to sin.”

Results: Possibly one of the most inept books I have ever struggled through. I’m going to be totally honest, I didn’t read all of this. I skimmed most of it and hardly took notice of what I DID concentrate on. Why should I care about a book set on a planet called Mendeb with characters called Bep-Wor, Tevan Roslod, Credig, Balon Ferud and Gonfalon? Does this sound like literature? It commits all of the sins I loathed with the early New Adventures; an unsympathetic and useless Doctor, a shagmeister Ace, bland prose, rubbish plots and nothing to suggest there is anything worth living for. What a shock that this was written by the editor of that range. Im not sure what editor Justin Richards was up to commissioning such a tedious novel so early in his editorship, perhaps repaying a debt for getting him a gig on the New Adventures and thus starting his Doctor Who career. Peter Darvill-Evans should be ashamed, this is pure and utter bollocks of the sort even Gary Russell would find hard to top: 1/10