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

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