Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Shadow in the Glass by Justin Richards and Stephen Cole

Plot: History and the future are whipped up when a spaceship is shot down during World War II. Thanks to some of its devices there is the incredible possibility that Hitler survived the War and is planning to blow the world apart with dark forces. For the Doctor and the Brigadier this proves to be one of their most emotional journeys…

Theatrical Traveller: I have not read a sixth Doctor PDA that has captured him as well. He is amazingly handled, from his childish excitement sticking his head out of a car window and about to leap from a plane over France, or his sudden temper. Don’t you love the way he just rushes into danger, head first and damned the consequences? He charges through the book, bright, troubled and boisterous. The sixth Doctor was an extremely thoughtful character underneath all that bluster and Cole and Richards take the time to give him some sensitive moments to balance out his arrogance elsewhere.

There has never been a magician like the Doctor. There was such spirit in his rounded face and in his glittering blue eyes, he looked the kind of man who had taken some knocks from the universe and was more than ready to give a few back in return. When asked if he is travelling alone his brash front slips [possibly this is where he said goodbye to Evelyn because at the end he thinks of going to the seaside which could tie in with his meeting of Mel]. Although garish to the extreme, the Doctor is as lithe as a cat. The mutant offspring of Joe Bugner and Ronald McDonald yet more of a grand theatrical than a cheap, gaudy showman. There is a sorrow about him, anyone so blatantly scorning conformity must secretly hope one day they would find somewhere to fit in. He is still good friends with Churchill (see Players). As he parachutes over wartime France, the days ahead filled with risk, danger and adventure, he cannot think of anywhere he would rather be. He thinks about the consequences if he broke the first law of Time and what his previous incarnations would say…the tall one with the teeth and the dark mass of curly hair would have been up for it but the ruffle shirted toff with the big nose would have had a fit at the nearest suggestion! He was more serious and pragmatic now; he would see how he felt at the time! At the books tragic conclusion the Doctor considers his life: “Oh yes, well done me. Always me. Whipping up a storm and waiting at its epicentre, watching as others are swept up around me… but only watching out for myself.” He wants to breathe clean air again.

Chap with the Wings: The very best of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart in one book. He still gets a thrill at the sight of the unknown, but this is soon followed by guilt and regret. He was retired, his days at UNIT long behind him. Without his wife Doris he feels empty. It irked the Brig to think it might be getting too much for him to keep up with the Doctor. Although more sombre than the Doctor in appearance and manner, there is a likable warmth to the Brig. He might not know much about computers but he knew how to get people to work for him. He was more than just a commanding officer – he had been a brother, father, mentor and friend to his men as well and in an organisation like UNIT that was an awesome combination. Intelligence and analytical skill were two of his surprising strengths. He firmly believes that Hitler is one of the most monstrous and evil men who ever lived. A few years ago it would have been him planning the heroics but his reactions and senses were older and slower now. His strength was reduced and his confidence in his abilities was perhaps tempered by the mitigation of those abilities and a sense of realism. And of morality. The Brigadier offers reassurance and understanding to his best friend at the climax: “Watching from here you have a choice of views. The dead past of one side. And one this side, the present. The living present that will lead to the future. Doctor, I know you’re compelled to walk between the two…always will be. But don’t ever forget the differences you make. Even if the battle seems lost…the war’s won.”

The Big Story: Shadow in the Glass features one-off companion Claire Aldwych who proves far more interesting than a single book should offer. She starts the book working for the Conspiracy Channel but wanted to work for the big shot channels. The way you could interpret the real world behind the camera was what interested. She’s waiting for the Big One, the story that will get her noticed. She is instantly drawn to both the Doctor and the Brig. She thinks that Sarah Jane Smith has done some amazing journalism over at Metropolitan. After her house is broken in to she cannot imagine ever feeling safe there again. When she learns she can actually travel back in time and meet Hitler she will no take no for an answer. She delays returning to the TARDIS to take some pictures for her story but realises she cannot betray the Brigadier – her friend – by abusing his trust. The image of the Doctor and the Brigadier staring down at her corpse, grief stricken, is astonishingly raw and emotional.

Foreboding: The final twist of Claire’s death is expertly teased into the plot with lots of lovely hints and STILL I didn’t realise. ‘Seems history is saving me for better things’ she says when she survives an attack. ‘The bodies were badly burnt. Eva Braun’s even more than Hitler’s…’ Page 209 sees her think this is the story that will see Claire Aldwych go down in history.

The Brigadier thinks it would be wonderful if you didn’t have to grow old – not aware of what the future holds for him!

Twists: Chapter two is an imaginative and entertaining way of relaying much information – the fact that so early in the book Claire is talking (unbeknownst to her) about her own body is a sign of how well written this is. The cover is amazing – we are all expecting Hitler to arrive and yet when he does appear in the Scrying Glass it is moment of dumbstruck horror. Goldman stabs himself in the throat rather than betray his friends and family. It is a Vvormak ship that has crashed landed and the red-eyed imps that are flicking in the shadows of every scene are extensions of themselves, attendants that exist on a different plane. The Doctor and the Brig get some great action; car chases, punch-ups and attempting to halt nuclear detonation! The Germans attacked the village in 1944 and half inched the longevity unit, meaning Hitler could be alive. Chapter 18 is excellent, a convincing explanation of how the Scrying Glass exchanged hands in the war and ended up Nazi property. Claire and the Brig doing historical research should be as dull as dishwater, instead it is fantastic. The Doctor was part of the raid on the village and realises it was Henderson who exerted all the life extending energies, not Hitler. In 15 minutes Claire thinks they are putting the kettle on, the Doctor and Brig nip back in time attend a ball and take a sample of Hitler and Eva Braun’s blood. There is some great mis-direction, Hitler really is dead and it was Eva Braun who had the double. She was pregnant, that why there were blood tests and why they got married and why there was the double…so she could escape with Hitler’s baby. Thus the man we have thought of as Hitler is in fact his son. The Scrying Glass has deceptively shown Young Hitler scenes that would get it reunited with its ship. The devil in the glass that Young Hitler thought was a reflection, not a portent. Confronted with his grown son in his final days of madness, Hitler draws his gun and shoots him through the forehead. Claire realises too late that the bomb crater she was expecting outside the bunker is imminent and is caught in the explosion and taken by Bormann, murdered and used as a dummy body for Eva Braun.

Result: Two underrated authors at the top of their game, Justin Richards aces plots and ideas and Stephen Cole knows his character and dialogue…together this book has everything. It is a superb conspiracy tale, well researched and tightly written. What I love is how beautifully everything falls together, the plot construction is meticulous and it climaxes on a devastating twist. Its full of memorable scenes; the Doctor’s punch up in the crater, the Brig coming face to face with Hitler, Claire’s disturbing realisation that she is about to blown to pieces and the characterisation of the regulars only serves to boost the effect of the novel. An intelligent, emotional read…one of the highlights of the range: 9/10

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