Thursday, 25 March 2010

Head Games by Steve Lyons

Plot: Join Dr Who and Jason as they hunt down the most fiendishly villainous and evil gang of despots the universe has ever known: the Doctor, Chris, Roz, Benny, Ace and Mel. Yes I said Mel.

Master Manipulator: Oh. My. God. The seventh Doctor has finally lost his mind. I have heard people say that the eighth Doctor was dangerously close to losing his sanity during the latter half of the EDAs (a not unfair comment) but clearly those people have never read Head Games which sees the Doctor portrayed as a lonely, totally fucked up alien who has rather pathetically bought into his own mythology. I have been extremely vocal about my dislike at poking around inside the seventh Doctor’s head and exposing its ugly innards but thanks to my friends at Outpost Gallifrey I could see what the writers were trying to do. I didn’t like it, but at least I can understand it now. Showing a man conflicted with his place in the universe in Timewyrm: Revelation and watching him manipulate his companion in Love and War, realising the harm he has caused in Lucifer Rising. Losing Ace was the biggest step to him pulling himself together; he wants to be at peace with himself so he becomes human in Human Nature. Since then he has been fun, rounded and carefree…why on Earth would they drop us back in the middle of all this crap again? Was this learning curve for nothing? Here he’s back to being agonisingly angst ridden, pompously self important and callously inhuman. They call it development. Go figure.

The Doctor was trying to hold on to the good times but the bad memories were washing over the good ones until only misery and guilt remained. He is lying and manipulating his companions again. Ace had walked through his mind and seen his deepest, darkest fears and he had always felt vulnerable to her since then. On pages 44-45 the Doctor makes his adventures sound like a military manoeuvre. Dr Who and Jason are attempting to imprison the Doctor for his evil crimes (Blood Heat, The Pit). He is worried that the black and white days of the Dalek invasion might be the ‘good times’.

Mel makes a shock return to the series and the book seems far more concerned with her shocked reaction to the Doctor’s current lifestyle than actually enjoying its plot. Steve Lyons is obviously criticising something, but I don’t think even he knows what. The observations that Mel makes can be seen in two ways. Either the writer is heavily criticising the direction the series has taken and the way the Doctor is being portrayed (which is a strong possibility given how she storms out of his life disgusted at the end of the book, their friendship over) or a two fingered salute to those who do complain about these things (erm that includes me, actually) because the Doctor doesn’t apologise for his actions and Ace hugs him once Mel has left and says, ‘You might be a bastard, but you’re still our bastard.’ Some of Mel’s comments really strike home: ‘He wouldn’t let someone in the TARDIS like that, a gun toting killer!’ and ‘You’re not the Doctor I knew. You’re a liar and a user and quite possibly a murderer. I don’t wish to know you anymore.’ The contrast between the Doctor of, say Paradise Towers and the Doctor here is a world apart.

Head Games proudly touts the idea that the seventh Doctor killed the sixth Doctor and has buried him deep inside his mind where he rages and tries to break free. Final proof that the seventh Doctor has finally gone completely and utterly mad. Go and read his vicious mental battle with his former self, a horrifying case of schizophrenia if ever I saw one. I think he has made up the imprisonment of the sixth Doctor to punish himself because he hates what he has become and needs to justify it to himself. ‘You would have barged in a made things worse! I have this body now and I will do what’s right!’ In his ravings with his former self the seventh Doctor is constantly, desperately trying to defend his actions. He’s bought so much into his role as the master manipulator (or Time’s Champion) that he thinks he forced Mel out of the TARDIS to use her as a pawn at some future date (funny that we never discover what that purpose was). On page 205 he starts tying himself up in knots over his role in Time. He has lost his grip on his sanity, under the impression that he has such an important role to play (‘Fenric had sent Ace. I couldn’t avoid my responsibilities any longer. I had to take charge. You didn’t have a role in the mission.’) He’s utterly potty, so convinced he is all powerful that he thinks he killed himself to exist. He admits he hates his previous self, his past and his future. By thinking that he has imprisoned a murderously raging sixth Doctor he could justify its emergence and his becoming the Valeyard in a later regeneration. Whatever way you look at it this Doctor has become schizophrenic, bonkers and utterly messed up: ‘I had to exist. You know that. No manifestation before me could consider the consequences of what we must do. We were too young when we left Gallifrey. We created paradoxes, set time on one course but undermined that too. Someone had to tie the loose threads up. Someone had to become Ka Faraq Gatri. I had to take responsibility.’ What a nutter. You might love this incarnation, warts and all, but this truly is as close to psychotic that the Doctor ever got and its utterly chilling. His final statement, lying to his friends again, is ‘I’m sorry but my duty must take precedence over all.’ Oh fuck off. ‘I am Time’s Champion and guilt is something I can no longer afford!’

Boozy Babe: Frankly Benny’s boasts about how the Doctor killed billions of people in the Althosian system is about as unlikable as she gets. Oh don’t worry, we gave him a hard time, she states very casually. She laughs until her sides hurt when Mel admits she thinks the Doctor regenerated because he banged his head on the console.

Stroppy Copper: Again we are reminded about her casual racism. Mel is appalled that a gun toting copper is the Doctor’s companion but Ace rather likes her. Whose opinion would you trust? She feels pangs when she thinks Chris is falling for a woman although she knows that is silly because their relationship has never worked like that. The bond between the two adjudicators was so much more than that.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Finally Chris gets some decent development! He plays a large, active role in Head Games, captured by the enemy, falling in love, betrayed by the Doctor. ‘I think I have been tricked into committing genocide’ – the Doctor sends him on a mission to destroy the crystal that is bleeding fictional energy into our reality, forgetting to mention that a planet is reliant on that energy to survive. Chris, na├»ve as ever, hops into action and realises what he has almost done like a bullet to the stomach. He confronts the Doctor about it but gets no apologies. He is not sorry to see the back of the poverty stricken Undertown and was not happy to be back. The place seems smaller now he has travelled the universe. Roz Forrester was the one constant in Chris’ life and the one thing that stops him giving up.

Oh Wicked: Brilliantly, the chapter that introduces Ace back to the series is called The Bitch Is Back. How apt. Jason takes one look at her and concludes: ‘This one obviously blows up worlds in her free time.’ Ace’s need for the Doctor, once so strong, was very much no in the past. Her confrontation with Mel is full of bitterness: ‘Now look what you have turned into? A hardened space bitch!’ ‘I hope you never have to find out what real life is like, “Doughnut”.’ When she asks how many people Ace has killed (423) Mel screams at her to get out. When Mel walks out of his life, Ace feels the need to comfort him when he is hurting and hugs him.

Screaming Violet: Oh my oh my, Melanie Bush. This book is a real eye opener for the computer programmer from Pease Pottage. I really like the back-story that Mel is given here, it is nice to know that not all of the Doctor’s companions have it easy once they leave him. She left Glitz and headed for Earth, aware of its decimated state in this time zone and on a mission to pull its populace together and rebuild. She was stranded on Avalone for two years with no way of escape and in the end contacts Glitz to help her. Typically he ignores her hails until she bypasses the security of the Galactic Bank and lures him in with promises of money. Surprise, surprise…he answers but whilst agreeing to rescue her he also half inches 2 million credits…leaving a trail to Mel’s computer. She is on the run from security when the Doctor picks her up and things just get worse for her from then on. Her complaints range from she cannot reconcile the current Doctor with lovable rogue she once knew, Ace has turned into a murdering villain (hmm), Benny is a sarcastic and heartless companion and everybody is walking around with guns. She does over state her case in a few cases but she does make some very succinct points. She walks out of the Doctor’s life for good…doing what I would probably have done if I was Bernice or Ace. A firm, dramatic statement.

Foreboding: Ace returns with a message from the Doctor’s future self to warn his previous self about Kadiatu. I thought we’d put that nonsense to rest as well but tit does lead into the next book.

Twists: I think I’ve covered this above. Bambera makes an appearance and she and Ancelyn have twins!

Embarrassing Bits: All of the scenes on Detrios are boring as the sin. Once again there is no consistency in the narrative, the first fifty pages are overstuffed and overwritten and largely incomprehensible until you figure out that fictional energy is bleeding into our reality. The only time we ever see this enraged sixth Doctor is when this energy is infecting our reality, making anxieties real proving that the seventh Doctor has lost the plot.

Funny Bits: ‘Look I agree that this place isn’t perfect. But Queen Elizabeth II is a respected historical figure where I come from. You can’t just barge in there and…and beat her up!’

Result: A chaotic, dramatic, overfilled fist shake at the New Adventures, Head Games sees Steve Lyons finally lose the plot to make some strong points about the range. It is an interesting work because he throws criticism in the air but doesn’t make any final judgements…leaving this up to the reader which consequently makes this one of the more thoughtful novels in the range. However the Detrios scenes are entirely skippable, making a third of this novel completely irrelevant. What does work is the Dr Who and Jason plot which becomes great fun after a while, storming Buckingham Palace, assassinating the Queen and generally having a gay old time with anarchy. Mixed in with the terrifying glimpses at the disturbed seventh Doctor and Mel’s striking return there is plenty to enjoy here. Being a work of fiction about fictional characters it is no where near as clever or funny as Conundrum but I think this book has rather more to say about current affairs than Lyons’ earlier book. A massive step up from the last three books, although I am disturbed that the series should continue with such a nut job at its heart: 8/10

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