Saturday, 31 July 2010

Eater of Wasps by Trevor Baxendale

Plot: The quiet village of Marpling is about to be upheaved by terrible events. An alien artefact has appeared and infected a nest of wasps, giving them an intelligence to attack as a fighting force. A group of time travelling agents from the far future are there to stop it but as the Doctor is about to find out, their methods are somewhat explosive… 

Top Doc: I was surprised it was Trevor Baxendale who would get to portray the Doctor at his darkest and this is certainly the most alien and unpredictable he has been since The Burning, proving he hasn’t lost his ability to shock. He is behaviour is extremely erratic, at times he is like a kid, dashing off for mint humbugs, talking about robots and stun guns and revelling in driving a tractor through fields to save the day. And yet he is also extremely callous at points; he orders Fitz and Anji to kill Hilary Pink before he is infected, sets Hilary's body on fire rather than allow a spread of wasps to spew free of his guts and orders the infected Rigby to kill Liam to test that his true personality is still in control. Frankly it is hard not to take sides with Anji, who is frightened that he doesn’t actually care about the people he is saving, just dealing with the danger and then wanting to move on (although he grabs Kala and screams “Go out there and tell me the effect of the bomb on those people will be negligible!”). He is thrilled one minute, bored the next, acting like a man who has been given a chance to start afresh. He thinks everything is significant. He inspires confidence in people, especially Fitz, who is courageous and loyal in his presence. He was a sailor in 1933. Are his adventures just a distraction to stave off the borderm of prolonged life…Anji certainly seems to think so and he did admit as such to Compassion before losing his memories. Sweetly, he is devastated at the deaths of several wasps. Described as unreadable and slightly pathetic. I loved the moment where he rescued Anji and cups her face and tells her there is no need to be scared because he is there.

Scruffy Git: Miss Havers comes to the conclusion that the TARDIS crew are gypsies the second she sees Fitz! He is having trouble with his memories already (ala Earthworld). He no longer considers the Earth his home; he is now a Gentleman of the Universe. His lack of manners are commented on and is proven to be utterly loyal to the Doctor, even when he starts making some pretty callous decisions. At one point he does question the Doctor’s decision to kill Jode but gets his head bitten off with just how dangerous it would be to let her infected body survive.

Career Nazi: Coming back to Earth feels strange for her because (oddly enough) she doesn’t want to be there, she wants to travel the universe and see what it has to offer. Her eyes are described as giving off warning signs as though they are a bomb about to explode. She has ‘And That’s Final’ attitude, common of women the universe over (according to Fitz!). She is at her best when given something to do and hates waiting around whilst everyone else is being practical. She doesn’t think she will ever understand the Doctor, which leads her to not trusting him and giving up hope at the climax that he will come and rescue her. Anji thinks he doesn’t care about the repercussions of his adventures and genuinely feels he would have snapped Hilary’s neck at one point. However she soon snaps “No” when the Doctor suggests he tries to take her home, which suggests he has made quite an impact on her.

Foreboding: There is a group of time travelling agents who plague the Doctor in this story, in the employ of somebody who the Doctor will soon get to know very well. They call the Doctor a ‘rogue agent’ which is also an important item to remember.

Twists: The first sign this will be a teeth clenching read…the wasps pushing against the glass in Rigby’s shed, cracking it, chasing him into the house and filling his nose and mouth! Ugh! The juxtaposition of a group of time travelling agents in a sleepy 1930’s village is lovely. During their midnight search of his pitch-dark house, Fitz picks out a wasp infected Rigby with his torch beam. Wasps writhe around in Hilary’s Scotch smelling vomit. The autopsy is a top grisly moment, the bloody wasps spewing out of Hilary’s exposed intestines. Discovering Fatboy is a nuclear bomb is a great conceit and one that give his non-character surprising poignancy. We discover the artefact was a weapon, designed to go behind enemy lines and mutate them and only designed to work on humans…thus the wasps attempting to enter and take over people’s bodies. The train sequences are absolutely superb, I love scenes set on old-fashioned trains anyway but these are classic…the Doctor and a transforming Rigby have a rooftop fight on a speeding steam train as the idyllic countryside rolls by! When it grows dark on the train they realise the wasps are covering the windows and think the Doctor has gone stark raving mad when he starts smashing them in to let the buggers in! Anji is kidnapped by Rigby as appendages burst from his skin and membranous wings sprout from his back. Rigby tears open Jode with razor sharp appendages and lets the wasps into him. The defusion of the nuclear bomb is nail bitingly good, especially with thirty odd seconds to go the Doctor has a wasp land on what needs to be an extremely steady hand.

Funny bits: The Doctor threatens to run Miss Havers over if she doesn’t move her bike! Rather then blacken his face up for their midnight raid; Hilary and Anji draw a huge handlebar moustache and bushy eyebrows on Fitz. The Doctor sets up a complicated web of lasers, Bunsen burners and rubber tubes to make a simple cup of tea and yet shoves the wasps under a simple microscope! I loved the exchange between the Doctor and the husband to one of the moaning women on the train:
“That’s my wife you’re talking to!” “My condolences. Have a mint humbug!”
Greaves reaction to the danger: “Can’t say I know what a New Clear bomb is!”
The Doctor has a choice…he can either treat the man who Kala has just stun gunned on drive a tractor…no contest!

Result: A thoroughly engaging read and packed full of grisly moments that make you go “eugh!” Probably the most traditional Doctor Who story the EDAs have offered up yet but it doesn’t suffer in the way others in this vain have because Trevor Baxendale has latched onto the two elements that make it work, a terrifying possession and an unpredictable Doctor. Lets face it the (guest) characterisation is pretty basic and the location is straight out of the Barry Letts book of Who but those things just don’t matter because the wasps are the star of this book and they are just plain terrifying. There is an abundance of sickly moments that made me squirm and the action never lets up, not for one moment, piling problem after problem. Trevor’s prose is much improved and Rigby’s horrific transformation is described in disgusting detail. The time travellers add another dimension to the book and offer tantalising glimpse into the future. Its so nice to have a book this unpretentious, one that isn’t trying to prove a point or make you go ‘ooh isn’t that clever’ symptomatic of so many EDAs, this is just a bloody good read from cover to cover. Enough said: 9/10

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Warchild by Andrew Cartmel

Plot: It’s Cartmel so the plot doesn’t really kick in until the conclusion but the first 250 feature a kid going to school, Roz fighting a bunch of dogs in London, the Doctor and Benny hanging around in Kent and Creed having a fling. Gripping stuff…

Master Manipulator: Cartmel does not want to write Doctor Who books. He wants to write about his own characters but unfortunately the only place that will publish is a Doctor Who range so he has to give the Doctor and his companions little cameos. Rarely has the Doctor’s role in a book been reduced to such a joke. He literally hangs out in house in Kent with Benny unthawing a character from a previous book. He exhibits little personality, does not connect with the action and lacks any presence at all. He’s just sort…there. Unthinkable.

Boozy Babe: See above, copy and paste. Benny listens to dogs howling. That’s it.

Stroppy Copper: Interestingly, Cartmel’s agenda is all the more obvious with Roz who does get quite a bit of page space. However she is a hollow, vacuous rendition of a terrific character, practically unrecognisable as the sensitive but ballsy copper from the future we are used to. Was Warchild written with Ace in mind? Because Roz here reads like New Ace in all the worst ways. She runs around deserted London with a gun, gunning down dogs. Her sections are the most boring of the entire book, tedious action sequences with no tension and no reason to invest any interest in the characters fighting. What is interesting is how much character Cartmel invests in his own creations, Creed, Justine, Vincent, Ricky…they are all three dimensional characters in their own right and yet Roz who gets more time to breathe in this book than some of these characters makes no impact at all. Lance Parkin worked magic with her character in the last book but I do not recognise this woman as the heartbroken Xhosa copper who left war torn London.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Are you having a laugh with me? Quite aside from the fact that Chris only shows up in three scenes in 300 pages, when he does he is unrecognisable. Hair shaven, robed up, spouting Buddhist philosophy, Chris gets quite an interesting monologue about the alpha male. With one problem, it doesn’t sound anything like him and I refuse to believe the ridiculously naïve blond we have been lumbered could suddenly become this intelligent. All four regulars are fudged. Not a good start.

Twists: Creed now has three children by Justine who he departed Warlock with but their marriage has hit a rocky period. London is in a state of emergency and Roz is press ganged into service. At first it seems that the Doctor is growing somebody in his study like Dr Frankenstein. Jessica comes home and finds Roy mauled to death by the dog. Ricky finding out Creed isn’t his father made me catch a breath. Justine hurt because she was told Creed was seen with Amy so she told her son that he wasn’t her father – which drives Creed into Amy’s arms…this stuff reads really well. Creed’s observation that Amy’s body feels so different to his wives could explain so many affairs in a simple sentence. Ricky irritates, like an itch – kids become aware of him which turns into hostility. He can project his emotions. Amy turning up as the school counsellor raised and eyebrow. Pangbourne’s meeting with Francis Leemark is terrifyingly good, their religious debate got my blood boiling and the violence that erupts is raw and brutal. The Doctor is thawing out Jack and trying to return his mind to his body. Jack has inhabited the mind of the White King for two years and has turned to dogs aggressive to get the Doctor’s attention. He has been trying to warn him about Vincent – who is still mad as hell for Justine leaving him for Creed. Ricky is a potential weapon and Vincent has been studying him for years. He wants the pair of them to take over America. Amy shoots him dead and moves in with Creed.

Funny Bits: Roz and Bernice…lesbians or spies? Brilliantly Benny calls for champagne as her plane plummets to the ground.

Embarrassing Bits: The regulars. Where are they?
Vincent’s plan to get Leemark to the school to attempt to murder Chris so Ricky will react is ridiculously long winded.
The London sequences are just dull, dull, dull. I can’t think of a more snoozable way to write a state of emergency with slobbering, vicious dogs attacking in a giant pack.

Result: I am so torn by Warchild because I really liked all the Creed/Vincent/Justine stuff, domestic drama that bounces from the page with Cartmel’s trademark touches of human honesty. The book finishes off this trilogy of books with some lovely character twists and the last fifty pages fly by, using the first two books as building blocks to make the climax a powerful one. However the preceding 250 pages are mostly dull, with long stretches of nothing happening (another Cartmel trademark) and the barest amount of plot holding the novel together. Maybe because he is writing for adolescents but Cartmel’s prose is decidedly juveline in places and when the book strays from his core characters I lost interest. Again this isn’t a Doctor Who book, it might as well be called the ‘Creed Adventures’ for all the impact the Doctor makes over the 1000 odd pages of Warhead, Warlock and Warchild. I cannot believe the contempt the author treats the regulars with, especially Roz who only appeared in a limited number of books. A hugely flawed trilogy, touches of brilliance in a series of books that unproductively attempts to stretch the Doctor Who format to its limit and bleed in all manner of adult themes and imagery of which this an uneven conclusion. Patience stretching but ultimately worth reading: 5/10

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Superior Beings by Nick Walters

Plot: When Peri is kidnapped by a race of vicious hunters and locked in cold storage, the Doctor is on the hunt to find and save her. In doing so, they are marooned on a beautiful garden planet with a deadly secret…

Fair Fellow: Gosh almighty this is the first time I have read a PDA with decent characterisation for the fifth Doctor. He is involved in the action! He has an opinion! And he sounds exactly like Peter Davison in the part. I’d call that a minor miracle… The most interesting facet of his personality brought up is his burgeoning possible sexuality, which unfortunately is ignored in favour of the plot but opens up several intriguing possibilities for future stories.

He’s a charming guy and so easy to get along with. He had no idea how to treat an American girl in her late teens but his attempts are sweet. Interestingly he puts a protective arm around Peri but the rest of his body leans away from her. He can show her all of time and space but he can’t give Peri what a human being really wants. Especially one at her age. The Doctor is homely and innocent on the outside but isn’t quite what he seems…sometimes attentive and helpful and almost painfully considerate but when preoccupied he seems to relish making people nervous. He had never got on with soldiers. With his blond hair, youthful looks and bizarre outfit he looked like the ultimate draft-dodging beatnik. He generates an easygoing atmosphere of friendliness that wasn’t intimate and therefore non-threatening. The perfect plutonic relationship, perhaps the Doctor needed to live through Peri’s experiences. Did Time Lords know anything of love? With the Doctor around miracles happened, last chances popped out of the blue. Without him Peri was as good as dead. He prattles on like a battle veteran, especially when in danger. His sudden switch in moods seemed to suggest a deranged mind. Kikker figures the Doctor must be suffering from some kind of mental condition that prevents him from feeling fear.

Busty Babe: Peri has actually been quite sparsely used in the PDAs, an obvious choice to team up with the sixth Doctor but only being three times before this and held in favour of Mel, Frobisher and the Brigadier. Again to Nick Walters credit this is one the better interpretations of Peri I have read, not least because she actually reads like an American. Its not just the terminology that marks her as foreign, its her thoughts of her childhood, her cheery attitude and name dropping of several US locations. It all adds up quite successfully. It also helps that this is quite early in Peri’s time and she is finding her feet with this dishy Doctor that has whisked her away from her Earthly troubles. Grouchy Peri doesn’t exist yet, this is a bright eyed and bushy tailed young lady who wants to see want the universe has.

Travelling with the Doctor was forcing Peri to re-think almost everything she had come to accept as the norm back on Earth. Peri was terrified of hurricanes as a kid; she hid in the basement of her uncle’s farm as a typhoon scoured the landscape. Peri doesn’t believe in heaven and hell as actually places, only as metaphors. Being on the Doctor’s side was doing the ultimate good; just hanging out with him seemed to have some positive effect on the universe. Peri is a quick thinker, when attacked by the Valethske and the Garden in turn attacks them, Peri retrieves a gun and shoots the plants, trying to appeal to the single mindedness of the hunters united against a common foe. She knew the dream of cold sleep for a hundred years would haunt her nightmares for years. She weeps for the Garden planet as the Valethske bombard it with 100 missiles.

Twists: It’s a deceptively simple but eye catching and memorable cover. The Valethske are superb creations, terrifying as they advance en masse, tongues lapping, tails swishing…feasting on human flesh. They raid a planet, stock their larders with the inhabitants and sleep in suspended animation until they reach the next planet in their Great Mission. There is some excellent, atmospheric prose when the Doctor and Alien explore the waking alien ship, like being inside a living creature. They rescue Peri, escape in the pods but leave the TARDIS behind… Chapter Eight is superb, Veek waking up ravenous and slaughtering Seryn, slashing open her stomach and cooking her organs, then finding Flayoun and mating with him in the blood. With a time machine the Valethske could proliferate throughout the universe. When Peri picks some fruit from the Garden planet, the razor limbs Gardeners attack and the military turn them into sticky mulch, to the Doctor’s disgust. The Tree is an unusual idea, a cathedral sized space with phosphorescent moss lining the walls – Aline believes her previous ‘Encounter’ was inflicted on her to lead her to this planet and she is engulfed in alien mucus! In a moment of skull exploding horror, Lorney’s head is blown open! Using Peri and Athon, the Valethske want to set up a breeding programme so when they sleep between stops their prey will grow in numbers! The Gardeners evolve into hissing, crackling creatures of death…Melrose is slaughtered as they wrap their thorned tentacles around him. As Veek is so well written her alliance with the Doctor is made to feel like a BIG moment. The Great Mission is the search for the Valethske Gods, the Khorlthlocloi, who once decided their children were becoming too dominant so they smashed their war fleet and introduced a plague that all but wiped them out. Turns out the Khorlthlocloi began to evolve beyond the physical plane in to the mental…but they needed to keep their physical forms alive in case they wanted to return to them. They created the plants to feed and tend to them and their bodies, over many centuries, devolved into the giant insects. A threat in the universe of thought forced them to flee to their bodies but they were rejected, their autonomic systems had changed so much. Trapped between the material universe and that of the mind they were killed by the thing they were trying to escape. Veek and Flayoun fight to the death in an extremely bloody set piece. Aline sacrifices herself to kill the Valethske, releasing a devastating pulse of energy through the underground tunnels. The Garden planet the Doctor and Peri leave is an expanse of grey ash, an extremely poignant ending.

Embarrassing bits: After the deadly atmosphere on the Valethske ship, the scenes on the planet are such a jarring change of pace you could be mistaken for reading a different book!

Result: A book that is not as good as the sum of its parts. All the ingredients are there: the fifth Doctor and Peri are given their best characterisation to date, the Valethske are an extremely effective and chilling enemy, the Garden planet is intriguing and mysterious and the prose is full of moments that made me nod my head in appreciation. The pace does effect proceedings considerably, slow, fast, slow, fast, slow…and if im honest the book does promise more answers than it delivers. However the action sequences are superb and the characterisation subverts the norm, the guest cast is given a journey to take (especially Veek and Aline although you could say the same for Peri), which makes this a novel worth finishing. Nice bleak ending too: 7/10