Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Dying in the Sun by Jon De Burgh Miller

Dying in the Sun by Jon De Burgh Miller

Plot: The Doctor is heading to Hollywood! The latest blockbuster Dying in the Sun is thrilling the preview audiences with its emotional storytelling and audacious special effects. The Doctor is the only person who seems to think there is something fishy going on…

Oh my Giddy Aunt: It’s a brave attempt to plant the 2nd Doctor in an environment that doesn’t really suit him and to his credit for stretches of Dying in the Sun, De Burgh Miller’s Doctor sounds authentic. What people need to remember is that this is set between Power of the Daleks and The Highlanders and Troughton was hardly the mischievous little pixie he would later become. No at this point he was uncertain, slightly callous and very energetic. That’s all here. There was no moment when I thought ‘ugh, that aint Troughton!’

He doesn’t care if he is being pinned for murder, he acts with all innocence. He had a vulnerability to his confident exterior. He is clearly a guy with eccentric tastes in clothes rather than a dirty tramp. There is weariness in his face and compassion in his eyes. The Doctor prefers to stick to books for entertainment, they are much more him. He thinks it’s always sad when guns are involved. When the Doctor asks somebody in authority a favour it is like a kid asking his parents. He hasn’t been to America for some time and originally met Harold in England in the 1920’s.

Able Seaman: In Ben’s time as a merchant seaman he had already seen much of the world but when he left that behind to travel with the Doctor it all took on a new meaning. It was like looking at the world for the first time.

Lovely Lashes: Polly had always wondered what it would be like to be famous. The fans, the lights, the money…she had always secretly dreamt of something like that happening to her. The prospect of auditioning for a film was ridiculous but strangely compelling. Polly is conflicted after she is hypnotised, she cannot believe that she has killed a man but she is not sorry that he is dead.

Twists: During a shootout in a restaurant, a film star is shot and sun blazes from his wounds. Chapter Four suits the story beautifully, the worst day of Robert Chate’s life comes when he shoots his gangland boss in the neck, wraps him in a bin bag and drags him back to his apartment, knocking out two coppers on the way and blowing up his house…so the police think he has committed suicide. The special effects for Dying in the Sun are far too good for the time. Polly almost shoots the Doctor but turns the gun on hot superstar Caleb instead. Pages 113-114 features a great bitch fight between the Doctor and Wallis. The idea of a film reel tainted with alien creatures that can affect your sensations and sights (therefore making one hell of a convincing movie) is very imaginative. The creatures contacted De Sande in Alaska and can inhabit the chemicals of the movie film. The reception scenes are great – with the mindless sheep of Los Angeles happily guzzling down aliens in liquid form! The Doctor’s solution to De Sande’s madness is also ingenious, well in keeping with the theme of the piece; projecting all kinds of horrific monsters onto the departing plane and causing it crash. The aliens disperse over Los Angeles in the crash, which supposedly explains why they are so damned excitable!

Result: Surprisingly merciful considering my reaction to the first thirty odd pages. First I must confess books set in America rarely interest me and second that Hollywood glitz and glamour doesn’t impress me in the slightest. Not a good start. Add to that a reasonable but not exceptional attempt to capture the regulars; some good but not great prose and a plot that only requires half the length of the book. However, it is full of imagination and some clever ideas and the odd moment, which really works (I loved the Doctor’s button pushing throughout). I am not going to condemn this to the bottom of the PDA polls, which is where it usually ends up because it is average rather than appalling (are there have been a fair few of those lately!). Dying in the Sun has great intentions, it meets some of them but I feel there is far more potential than is actually realised: 5/10

Friday, 24 September 2010

The City of the Dead by Lloyd Rose

Plot: Sinister dreams are haunting the Doctor and lead him to a peculiar murder mystery in New Orleans. In the land of death and decay he uncovers a nasty tale of murder, corruption and magic, a story, which had consequences unfolding around them. Will the Doctor finally discover the horrors that he has caused…?

Top Doc: City of the Dead lives and breathes the eighth Doctor, his fears and doubts, his strengths and weaknesses. He has a beautiful, sunny and someways, meaningless smile. Anji doesn’t understand why he inspires such loyalty and Fitz explains its because he is good, bigger than them and more full of life. He doesn’t get evil, he’s an innocent and it just doesn’t make any sense to him. He has a sense of remoteness about him; purity gangrenous with sorrow, only a life lived could produce that sort of suffering and despair. Thanks to his terrifying dreams, he has become frightened of his bed. When Rust considers the Doctor might be a criminal the Doctor simply replies, “I don’t think there is anyone left to catch me.” He doesn’t understand why humans are trying to escape their pasts, how can their short lives become unbearable so quickly? He admits he has secrets so secret even he doesn’t know them. He considers what would happen when he dies, considering his super-human ability to regenerate wounds (and has a disturbing feeling he has died once already). His memory keeps throwing teasing hints and pursuing them always leads to a wall so now he has stopped bothering. The Doctor is inured to the randomness and chaos of his existence but his manipulation in this book is the first time it has confused him. He fears the Nothing managed to reach into the TARDIS because it sensed something identical in him. He is afraid he is not an agent for life and in the long run he has created more than he has destroyed…he is afraid he is a monster. He couldn’t watch anybody harm a child and when he wraps the child he saves from the flooded plantation in his coat he reminds him of Miranda as a child. Everytime he sets the TARDIS controls he feels as though he is surrendering himself to fate. The Doctor wonders what sort of a life he used to lead that makes waking up in absurd, embarrassing and dangerous situations so familiar! The reason Rust managed to find him so easily is because the Doctor is eaten up with darkness. He has lived far too long and been battered too much to scorn peace. At the books climax he is at peace with himself again, having resolved some of these difficulties that have been plaguing him of late. His spell with Mrs Flood allows him to rest and heal and he finishes the book in the comforting glow of his friends company.

Just read this paragraph…this is some shocking, wonderful insight into the Doctor. Never before has he come across quite so vividly. This is how to power your series with a thrilling protagonist.

Scruffy Git: Anji thinks Fitz is sharp and funny but more like an irritating kid brother than anything else. He wishes Anji smoked so when she discovers Rust’s defeat he could offer her a ciggie to comfort her. He is fiercely loyal to the Doctor, following him into danger even when specifically asked not to.

Career Nazi: It’s lovely to have so many women writing for the range because they capture Anji with so much more sensitivity and realism than the blokes. She is aware of how romantic the New Orleans setting would be with the right partner and goes out of her way to find one is Rust. It is wonderful to see her relaxing into a date with him, the pair of them dancing and making out with equal gusto (she hasn’t made quite this enthusiastically since Uni). On their second date she feels she is being too pushy and wonders if their relationship could expand if she decided to stay. She tries to shrug off her feelings when Rust turns out to be the villain of the piece but Fitz can see how upset she is. She grew up with religion. Coming back to Earth is like going back to an old room you’ve lived in and smelling the Earth reminds her of the past, of Dave. She feels kind of ‘oops not quite’ with the Doctor…meaning she is waiting until he hits bang on the right time and place before she disembarks the TARDIS for good. Her chemistry with Fitz is beautiful, as they cling to each other as the Doctor goes through this crisis alone, they are really becoming close now and it is heart-warming to witness. Anji doesn’t know why she feels safe in the Doctor’s arms at the climax, but she does.

Foreboding: In a dramatic sequence the Doctor dreams of a short man in a white suit lying in a field of flowers. As the Doctor tries to approach the man wakes up and screams in a Scottish accent, “Go away! And never come back!” Just what part of the Doctor’s mind is this man with the question mark umbrella protecting? And what the hell do the flowers represent?

Twists: The Doctor’s nightmares are genuinely terrifying (“Nothing can enter the TARDIS.” Then he realised Nothing had). The opening scenes with the Doctor aiding the investigation of a magic shop owner in New Orleans is so different to the usual gubbins we usually open with you can instantly tell this going to be something special. We share the Doctor’s disgust at Dupre’s brutal, pretentious and corny decorations (hanging baby foetuses, dismembered body parts and all…), witnessing it is the first time in years he has had to sit down and take deep breaths at the sheer inhumanity of it. In a powerfully adult scene Dupre stands erect ready to lower himself onto a naked girl in a spiked corset and the Doctor drags her away and commands that they stop the ridiculous sex magic. The Doctor’s tarot reading is interesting as his past lives are spelt out before him and he is none the wiser. When he is kidnapped the Doctor is mortified that after years of defeating terrifying enemies he is going to be killed by a fool like Dupre. After carving symbols into his chest to summon a demon, the Doctor breaks the protective circle and the demon consumes Dupre. The Doctor’s discussion with the Priest about the responsibility of evil is breathtaking. In a shocking moment Rust uses the Doctor to kill the man who has stolen the water charm leading the Doctor to confront him with blood on his hands (“All the perfumes in Arabia couldn’t clean that hand!” cries Rust, fully aware of the crime the Doctor has committed and caused his amnesia. “What is it?” begs the Doctor, “What did I do?”). The gripping climax sees Rust confront Thales, finally capturing a water spirit to harness its power but the Doctor lets the Void in and it consumes Rust utterly, the Doctor only protected as Thales embraces him.

The backstory behind this book is fascinating and leads to some quite unexpected and joyful twists. Basically the bone charm was used to summon the water spirit but the ritual went wrong and it consumes the magician and his family. His son survived and went to live an abusive foster family. The son faked his own death in order to kill his foster family and performed a ritual that has them ripped to shreds. As the Doctor, Fitz and Anji investigate they realise they have to discover the whereabouts of the son to stop him trying to summon the spirit again. Imagine their surprise when it turns out to be Rust, the copper the Doctor has been helping and Anji has been dating. Rust joined the homicide department so he could have access to dead bodies and steal things from them for his magic. Thales turns out to be involved too, the elderly man who runs a small magic shop. Under their noses the entire time, he turns out to be the boy the Doctor rescues from the plantation, a second water spirit who came through. These twists are woven expertly into the plot; I have rarely been so delighted by a books outcome.

Funny bits: The Doctor eyes up a saltshaker and comments there is something sinister there. His scenes with Dupre are a continual delight, as the Doctor scorns and mocks his melodramatic attempts to scare (“You’re not going to kill me wearing something that stupid looking are you?”).

Result: Easily one of the best eighth Doctor book to this point and strong contender for the best original Doctor Who book, this is everything you could want from a novel and more. Lloyd Rose’s prose is a revelation, intelligent, sensual, evocative and risky…she brings New Orleans to life with a real sense of beauty and detail, the city of the dead opens up around you within this books pages. She plants the Doctor at the centre of the novel and allows us closer to him than ever before, his characterisation is absolutely phenomenal throughout and it is clear that although he leaps over this particular hurdle there are still more horrors to come. The plotting is airtight; the characters (even the smaller ones like Flood, Thales and Pierre Bal) come alive in unexpected ways and the levels of emotion the book expresses is extremely potent. Half the time it doesn’t read like Doctor Who at all and that can only be a good thing, this is a stunning novel that restores absolute faith in the range after a couple of clunkers: 10/10

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Happy Endings by Paul Cornell

Plot: You are cordially invited to the wedding of Bernice Summerfield and Jason Kane. You and every other bugger. Expect much drink and sex, misunderstandings, infidelity, cloning, regeneration, end of the world stuff, religion, peace and a 30 page game of cricket. A New Adventures comedy…who would have thought it?

Master Manipulator: Paul Cornell and the 7th Doctor have made up, I see that now. His treatment of the character in Human Nature was just wonderful and he is similarly good here. It’s like Head Games never happened, he has shrugged off his angst and reputation and spend the whole book just trying to be the best friend Bernice could have.

He is giving Bernice away. He admits he hasn’t been on television in a long time. He smelt of growth as well as destruction, of the air that grew sweeter every day. Bernice his forbidden him to play chess unless he starts plotting so he is trying to relearn the rules of cricket. He wonders if he is the only one thinks that Benny and Jason are a good couple. The relaxation of this visit made the Doctor realise he was always alert for danger, jumping at shadows. Allen Road was his safe house but Cheldon Boniface was his English Village. When the Doctor wonders if he should interfere in Benny and Jason’s self destructive relationship he is told ‘humans will be humans and we shall outlast them and be puzzled by them all the while.’ The scene where the Doctor and Brigadier take a walk on the forest is understated and beautiful; the depth of feeling between the old friends is palpable. The Doctor loses the ability to speak when the Brigadier admits he will die shortly and he admits he is going to leave Chris and Roz behind at the end of this adventure, to put them somewhere safe. He tells Ruby no when she asks to come with him. Accelerating chaos, damage to the time stream, interstellar war…the Doctor cannot believe he is juggling so many factors for a wedding. He organises a cricket match instead of an invasion, to calm things down a bit between the alien visitors and the villagers. The Doctor looks giddily happy at the sight of Bernice in her wedding dress. He watches his companions at the reception; dancing, smiling, laughing, content. He walks out of their lives…only to be stopped by Bernice who tells him, ‘You aren’t meant to be alone.’ Considering how grim so many of these New Adventures are it is glorious to see the seventh Doctor spend his last night with Bernice dancing, talking with his friends and holding her hand.

Boozy Babe: Bernice is so real it hurts. She reminds me in the first year of my relationship with Simon, deeply insecure, full of lust and love, questioning myself during every conversation with him. She had never learnt to sleep with anyone. Brilliantly a whole passage explains that her rows with Jason always with end with one of the following: sulking, sobbing, violence, admissions of love or shagging like rabbits. Benny has serious doubts about the wedding. She doesn’t know how she is going to feel from one moment to the next and concludes she is definitely in love. She admits to Jason: ‘You’re afraid of getting hitched. So am I. And I’m also afraid every time you look at another woman. We’ve both been alone too long to trust any of this.’ In what appears to be a heartbreaking sequence Jason starts to pack his bags to leave Benny before you realise, hilariously, she has already packed hers and left him! During the cricket match Sgloomi Po picks up Bernice’s latent desires and Guy de Carnac walks onto the pitch, and she collapses. She manages to stop a bar fight with her vicious row with Jason. In a moment of true Benny she makes Benton continually drive around the village while she decides whether she will go through the wedding. She always hoped for one true love. The only ending that would have worked for such a magical companion, Bernice has found a love for all seasons and leaves the series blissfully happy.

Stroppy Copper: Once Roz doesn’t really make much of an impact although Chris’ digging that she is desperate for an investigation amongst all this frivolity really hits home. Her scenes with Holmes are lovely. There’s a spin off in the making.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Not bad, actually. He is described as a good night out which I guess sums his character up pretty well. Once again he impregnates his girl without his knowledge…he’ll soon have to work triple shifts to pay all this maintenance around the galaxy! He seems to get into the spirit of the story well, drinking, shagging, having a laugh. I’m just not sure what the writers are going to do with him and Roz without Benny’s influence. Interesting times ahead.

Oh Wicked: Dorothy returns again and she is more a slapper than ever! However Cornell is in total control of her character, brilliantly easing her into the Doctor and Bernice’s life without any of the drama of previous years. As soon as she is on the scene she is flirting with Jason. Sorin has left her because she scared him to death, keep pulling her gun out all the time! In a glorious sequence she calls him Professor and he calls her Ace and they decide to take a spin in the TARDIS together. She admits time away from the Doctor allowed her to love him more. The way she understands time and its responsibilities picks up her story brilliantly from Set Piece. She shagged Glitz on the floor of the Nosterafu! She tests Jason by agreeing to sleep with him which backfires when he does! She felt he had a vulnerability that you wanted to share and comfort, giving in to her allowed her some healing after Sorin left her. She admits she doesn’t want t settle down because she will become like her mother which prompts Bernice to tell her to ring her. They have several telephone conversations and her mum shows up after the fireworks. Its easy to miss in a book with so much happening but the scene where Dorothy rushes up and hugs her mother is one of the most important novel scenes, especially for her character.

Twists: Romana is now President of Gallifrey and the Master has been caught and is being put on trial. The Land of Fiction is officially part of the Matrix. Like French farce every man and his dog turns up at the pub in time to see Jason locking tongues with another woman! The Brigadier is over 90 and is having memory lapses, he thinks he’s at the wedding because Jason used to be one of the Doctor’s companions. The 30 page cricket match is far more amusing than it has any right to be, the author juggling up so many characters and fun moments. Page 220 is a lovely sermon celebrating the New Adventures. The Master turns up, trying to create a new body for himself. Turns out the Jason Dorothy has been having it off with was a clone! Beautifully the book sees the Brigadier undergo a form of regeneration after he sacrifices his life for the sake of the alien visitors.

Vanessa Bishop’s poem is so funny it hurts, with more continuity than a bonding twixt Russell and McIntee.

Funny Bits: This is a comedy and unlike the nervous breakdown humour of Sky Pirates this book is loaded to the gills with in jokes and moments to make fans of the TV series and the New Adventures squeal with delight. For every gag that fails, there is another five that work. The book brilliantly pokes fun at so many of my major complaints about the series, leaving my crying with laughter…
· Once again Chris is utterly na├»ve to the Doctor’s manipulative ways but at least this time we have Benton around to take the piss.
· Benny has forbidden the Doctor to play chess unless he starts plotting!
· Page 25 takes the piss out of the word ‘cruk’
· Dorothy realised that carrying a gun around was a bit melodramatic!
· Mrs Higgins – Bed and Breakfast’s Champion!
However the book enjoys so many other laugh out loud moments:
· Chris’ ‘Biddly, biddly, biddly’ in the pre titles sequence is without a doubt one of the funniest things I have ever read. Just to think of it makes me giggle.
· The Loom of Rassilon’s Mouse has been stolen from Gallifrey! Whatever next?
· Page 46 has a terrific gag at the bottom involving a lurid description of sexual intercourse and a dream Jason was having about Dorothy.
· ‘Never before in the history of Kasinitz and Gjovaag have we confused an alien being with a member of the Royal Family!’
· The Doctor buying a pitcher of lime (for Kadiatu), a bitter (for the Brig) and a sherry (for Doris) before they have arrived at the pub is offhandedly one of the best examples of this sort of nonsense I have read.
· Watson and Bernice’s very differing accounts of the same scene between the Doctor and Holmes is glorious
· ‘Is it wise to send Professor Summerfield to confront a raging mob?’ ‘I should think that most of them will come out unscathed.’
· ‘There will be no rehearsals here!’ – I had to stop reading for a while on that one whilst I composed myself.
· ‘Do you think Jason’s coming?’ ‘I haven’t quite honed my suspicions to that level of accuracy!’
· The Brig pulls at Tasham’s beard, ‘Oh well, you never know.’
· The Master to the Doctor: ‘I merely required some time to finish my experiments. I didn’t anticipate the arrival of this maladjusted couple and their wedding plans. I have learnt to be only mildly surprised when you arrive to disrupt my work. But this time you bring with you a full platoon of UNIT troops, numerous armed aliens, an Ice Warrior battle craft, a couple of Time Lords and Sherlock Holmes! You have excelled yourself!’
· Bernice to the Master: ‘You can’t just wander in and disrupt my wedding like this you bearded git!’
· Benny thinks it is a pity that she can’t have both Jason’s, just for one night and spills her champagne when he seems to like the idea!
· Gilgamesh’s brief but unforgettable appearance at the reception almost makes Genesys worthwhile!

Embarrassing Bits: However there were quite a few moments that didn’t sit well with me as well…
· ‘The games a foot!’ I nearly, nearly chucked the book out the window…
· Lisa Derane thinks she recognises Dorothy…
· The original TARDIS just turning up is just inconceivably odd.
· Once the travellers turned up I was starting to get a bored of old characters popping up and the handfasting sequence was really dull.
· Benny gets wedding messages from Gabriel and Tanith and the Cybercontroller…are you having a laugh with me?
· Audrey is living with Robin Yeadon. Argh…make it stop!
· The multi author chapter was a fine idea in theory but it gets a bit ridiculous as every single New Adventures character turns up at the reception.

Result: Happy Endings is a New Adventures comedy. Some might think that that is an oxymoron but this is a genuinely rib tickling experience. The first half is brilliant; hilarious, emotional, celebrational with so many great touches. Once the cricket match is over it all becomes a bit The Eight Doctors with several Doctors and Jason’s, villains popping up and just about every character from the New Adventures putting in an appearance. This is hardly an exercise in credulity but my patience was stretched in a few places. However throughout there is a giddy sense of things coming to a close and things moving on, the prose is mostly beautiful and the last few chapters leave you with a song in your heart. It’s bonkers, but it’s hard not to love. In her last novel as a regular Bernice gets to display all those qualities that made her so damn readable, her humanity, her recklessness and irritability, her wit and humour and most importantly her gorgeous relationship with the Doctor. So long lovey, you will be solely missed: 8/10

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Psi-ence Fiction by Chris Boucher

Teeth and Curls: Experience made Leela certain that the Doctor would have no idea what they would be facing once the doors were open. From time to time she heard him talking to the TARDIS as though it was an old friend but offering it insults and threatening it was MAD. The Doctor finds jelly babies a great comfort in times of stress. He made people nervous when he hovered over them. He always denied but he loved to show off and revel in his ‘magical’ powers. The Doctor always says what he thinks and tells you what he intends to do about things. When he took components from the TARDIS he could feel her resentment. It took time and effort for him and the old girl to get back to comfortable working relationship. During that period the TARDIS could be very unpredictable. He is not mad, just a little unfocussed. He is a loner and rarely understands how rules work.

Noble Savage: It was interesting how sensitive Leela was becoming to how the TARDIS functioned. She has left superstition and general unreason behind her and considers the Shaman’s story the religion of her tribe. The Doctor is still surprised by her quick intelligence. He was slightly ashamed to be reminded that a lack of knowledge is not the same as stupidity. Leela has no problems with temporal shift-lag. Leela is a warrior, trained by the best of her tribe to be the best of her tribe. She can read and is getting better all the time. She is as brave as anyone the Doctor has ever met and he considers her a completely reliable witness. Pages 91-102 are invaluable to read because they are told directly from Leela’s point of view in a time of crisis. Her memories, her instincts, her fears…Boucher proves he still has an excellent handle on this difficult but potentially fascinating companion the Doctor has ever travelled with. She is erratic rather than eccentric and is described as having come from a very primitive background.

Twists: The opening scene is bloody scary! It reads like the opening of a Stephen King novel (only it is good). Chloe is pursued through the woods by a malevolent force, screaming at her. The oiuji board scene is scary, especially when it starts spelling out U DED BICH! Chloe trapped in the sensory deprivation tank as it fills with blood is damn terrifying (She was covered in so much blood that she choked on its thick slimy slick). Things get even scarier when blood starts leaking from the tank and everybody falls unconscious in it. Joan Cox commits suicide…or does she? Is Josh reading Chloe’s mind? Leela chases Finer through the campus into the woods only when she confronts him he has the face of a demon. Josh’s involvement is obvious from page on but where his psychic powers were revealed (in Hitchin’s test) is actually quite well hidden and not obvious until the Doctor spells it out. Pages 229-240 are a great, hypnotic horror sequence…a walking corpse on campus, voices screaming out threats (U DED!), Chloe transported to a ghostly race track…all told grippingly from Leela’s POV. Finer is revealed as the culprit (which is actually something of a surprise) and has been funding both the bottled water that heightens psychic ability and the parapsychology unit. He has built a time machine in the basement and wants to go back in time and save his daughter, who six years ago he murdered during a row they were having. The uneasiness Leela felt in the woods is because that is where Finer dumped the body and the time machine is aligned in that direction. He wants the Doctor to go back in time and stop himself from killing Amelia. When he realises things have gone too far and the machine will de-stabilise the universe Finer attempts to destroy and Josh kills him instantly. He has some crazy God notion that he will survive the destruction of the Earth and be immortal. The TARDIS saves the day, materialises in Finer’s time machine and stabilises the reaction. Damage has occurred the localised timeline and a new history is developed, one where the events of this book never took place.

Embarrassing bits: Sorry…where was the plot? There are numerous spooky happenings that occur for no apparent reason and then in the last 30 pages we find out there is a time machine plot under our noses the whole time! Talk about a book in denial about itself!

Plus Boucher’s scenes of the kids rowing amongst each actually read far better than they should given he is no longer a kid…but gee do they get repetitive!

And what about that ending? Universal collapse! Insane child with God complex! Very exciting stuff. Suddenly the TARDIS sweeps in, saves the Doctor and Leela and erases the entire timeline so everyone is alive, normal, no experiments took place and Finer hands himself into the police. Erm…what the hell? I still cannot find a rational explanation for any of this. You may find one in the TV Movie.

Funny bits: “If you trust people and they let you down then you are only unhappy once. Imagine the disappointment if you don’t trust people and then they don’t let you down? You have to be unhappy twice and that makes no sense!” – good old Doctor!

Result: How utterly bizarre. Some scenes in this book are so scary they will chill your blood and leave you hugging the duvet (and hopefully whoever is sleeping with you) for some comfort. However there is no sign of a plot of any kind for the first 250 pages, its just the Doctor and Leela wandering about pondering things and student getting up to paranormal mischief. Then from no-where this narrative materialises in the last 30 pages using elements set up earlier to rather good effect. And then the whole book vanishes up its own arse in a really annoying reset button. I don’t quite know what to think. I do know that Boucher is getting much better at setting a scene, his treatment of Leela is exceptional and that the cover of this book has sod all to with its contents (except a bizarre mind torture sequence near the end). Individual scenes are good but Boucher chooses to either run with pages and pages of dialogue or pages and pages of really long paragraph. It’s the oddest writing style I have ever seen but it seems to work in the horror sequences but less well in the dialogue ones. A truly unusual and mystifying book: 5/10

Friday, 17 September 2010

Dark Progeny by Steve Emmerson

Plot: Problems are plaguing the terrifying city machine churning up the soil of Ceres Alpha. Mothers are giving birth to alien children, power disruptions are causing havoc with the computer systems and an interfering Doctor from Earth is trying to gain access to an archaeological dig that will cause serious delays…

Top Doc: Appropriately he is afforded the most page space out of the three regulars and whilst not to the heights of Emmerson’s interpretation in Casualties of War he is still a pretty wild character, with moments of unexpected passion. In moments of extreme weakness he appears all too human and when it appears he cannot save Fitz he explodes with frustration. Described as a survival kit. A man who thrives of improvisations, it frustrates the Doctor that humans are capable of such care and yet so often are conceited and egotistical and downright thoughtless. He automatically sides with the underdog, when Foley storms Tyran’s office to kill Bains the Doctor grabs a gun and points it at Tyran in Bains’ defence. Suspected to be Anji’s lover the way he handles her with such care. His anger at the mistreatment of the alien children is extremely memorable (“You’re torturing sentient beings to test their telepathic abilities? And you call them creatures? You label them evil?”) and his protection of them proves touching, especially when one of them is killed and he weeps at the child’s funeral. His reaction to finding Fitz alive is one of pure, unadulterated joy.

Scruffy Git: Involved in a subplot of monumental unimportance, Fitz is basically sidetracked throughout the entire novel only to surface in the main plot at the very end and contribute absolutely nothing at all. Bit of a waste really. He considers himself to be a swashbuckling time gypsy. He considers if you want a fulfilling life, you get it full of all sorts of ****. Fitz would rather get old dying (ie having adventures, on the run for his life all the time) then get old dead (his old life at the garden centre). He has a real flair for pretense.

Career Nazi: Host to a blast of alien energy, emanating from the alien children in search for a mother. Unfortunately leads to her being laid out on her back for most of the book or acting under influences so we get to spend little time with her as the real Anji. When she first held her brother in her arms she felt a profound sense of love open up insider of her, that is the same need she feels for the alien children. She has never thought sensibly about motherhood - she wanted to make sure she was financially secure first. She has a strong dislike of rats but refuses to admit she has a phobia about anything.

Twists: Anji throws up violently at the beginning, her eyes filling with black like an oil slick. A dramatic pregnancy leads to a touching subplot about parents who were lied to about the death of their child, with the pair of them investigating the death and finally discovering that Veta actually gave birth to one of the aliens. The city machine is a ‘moving mountain, eating the planet’. Tyran mentally abuses Carly with images of vicious torture he is inflicted on her in the past. Pryce slices his wrists open when the Doctor shows him how innocent and childlike the aliens he has been experimenting on are. I loved it when the real Dr Domecq showed up, blowing the Doctor’s cover. And he turns out to be worse than the Doctor…and Tyran wishes he could take back the Doctor as Domecq! In a memorable the Doctor is tortured under the mind probe to discover an identity he doesn’t know. In a moment of marvellous optimism the alien child wakes up during his own funeral. The children reverse the guard’s blaster fire and their rifles explode in their faces. The planet is revealed to be a sentient entity rebuilding itself, trying to reject the human settlers and the dig disturbed the dormant psychic force of the original settlers and hijacks the female embryos to create hybrid creatures that could bridge the gap between the aliens and the new settlers. The children are in effect emissaries. In a heart stopping moment it appears Anji is dead. In a last minute Tyran is revealed to be Bains’ son. Domecq is skewered and the Doctor rushes in a race against time ending to save the alien children.

Embarrassing bits: Setting, characterisation, pace and content…unfortunately they are all a step down from Casualties of War.

Result: The two problems with Dark Progeny are that after the arresting opening chapter nothing happens until the climax AND it writes out its regulars for 2/3rds of the action, two huge errors that leave the middle sections of this book a real slog. A shame because the plot concerning the alien children is genuinely involving and the characterisation of the Doctor is once again fabulous. Emmerson’s guest characters hold up most of the book, especially Josef and Veta who get a sub plot that deserved much more attention. Some scenes are gorgeously written (such as the telepathic Anji hearing Fitz and the Doctor’s thoughts) which annoys because there is so little plot to get your teeth into but with some major tightening up this could have been superb. There are some wonderful concepts introduced at the end that could have done with exploring further too (the Gaia planet). All in all, a bit of struggle to enjoy because you can see clearly how it could be done so much better: 5/10

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Death and Diplomacy by Dave Stone

Plot: The Dakhaari, Czhans and Saloi have been at war so long the reason it begun has long been forgotten. The Hollow Gods have commanded them to settle their distances and appoint the Doctor as their arbitrator. Meanwhile Bernice meets sleazy space bum Jason Kane and her life suddenly takes an unexpected turn…

Master Manipulator: A joyful Doctor who delights at the conclusion that he managed to get through this story without manipulating anybody! Whilst there are some lovely descriptions of him (and the Time Lords) as higher powers, it is just lovely to see him portrayed as a negotiator, helping warring races to reconcile their differences. For this story you remember that the New Adventures Doctor is the Doctor, the one who tries to save as many lives as possible and has a blast doing it. When his companions are ripped from his life he suspects that he might have something to do with it. He is brilliantly described as a little man with snaggle teeth and beady eyes and stiletto-rocket-launch-away hair with patched and mis-matched clothes that made him look as though he has been assembled by spare parts and left overs. He freely admits he knows nothing about sexual relations and always fumbles when he tries to dabble in them. Thus seduction techniques fail to work on him. Talking claptrap was something the Doctor did with alarming frequency. He was never there when you looked for him but was always there when you least expected him. He is gleefully happy to see Bernice at the conclusion, telling her how much he has missed her. Oh dear.

Boozy Babe: I would say that was Benny was writer proof but considering how shoddily she was treated in her first handful of books it will have to be from a certain point in the New Adventures, say Sanctuary, she became writer proof (besides I still think Fitz is still the only writer proof companion). By this stage we have been travelling with Benny so long we know her moods and her reactions, just like the writers do. This is the beginning of the end of her travels with the Doctor and Dave Stone once again reminds us just how utterly delightful this character is, taking us on a trip round sitcom city as she meets her future husband and has all the misunderstandings, sweaty sex and delightful slagging matches that comes with true love. Geez, sections of this book read like the first year I spent with my husband!

At the beginning of the book she refuses to contemplate marriage with horrific images of biological clocks and puke spraying sprogs. Bernice is the first link with home Jason has seen in 15 years. When she first touches him she melts, she has that the feeling that their bodies fit, their thoughts are in tune. Jason is a cocky littler bleeder of the sort Bernice usually detests. Benny brilliantly lists every single bad point every man she has ever known, sexually or otherwise and accumulates them into Jason’s faults. His littleness and smallness came from inside because he was over 6ft tall and muscular. She tells Jason about the Dalek War to which he laughs, ‘Those total jokes killed my Mother. First my Father, then my Mother.’ Jason admits that his father beat the crap out of him, his mum and his sister. His description of his fathers ritualised abuse of his nice, middle class family (including breaking his daughters fingers at the same time each day) is numbingly brutal. Making love to Jason, the loss of identity, the fever heat, the sense of being mauled, the collapse of barriers, terrified Bernice. Jason desperately wanted her to give him some indication of friendship but she storms out of his life, repulsed at what they had done. Her horror as he lists the women and men and aliens he has slept with… ‘I’m probably crawling with human and alien STDs!’ Shug’s analysis of their feelings is not only screamingly funny but right on target, they are perfect for each other and fulfil a need the other needs and they are both contriving ways of avoiding that truth. Benny decides that Jason annoys and infuriates her but it all melts away when he runs his mouth all over her body. She still feels the same about the Doctor but he had ceased to be the touchstone in her life. Jason felt more important to her now and when introducing him to the Doctor she begs the Time Lord not to kill him. (This whole section sounds horribly domestic, doesn’t it. Don’t worry, Stone shoots all of this soap opera material full of humour, sex and glorious one liners. If you are going play Eastenders with Doctor Who, this is the way to do it.)

Stroppy Copper and Puppy Dog Eyes: Wasted. Again. Although they do have a hint of gold about them, as though they are gently lit from within.

Foreboding: Bernice is getting married. The only way this character could be written out.

Twists: The Dakhaari, Czhans and Saloi meeting in the ballroom is a nice start for the story, just jarring enough to work as a science fiction peace treaty in a Dave Stone book! You have to love the idea of Jaris (a moon) exploding and giving the sun the equivalent of skin cancer! The scenes of the Doctor visiting all the delegates in their different suites have some wonderful Stone-isms. Shug has all the bad characteristics of a cat with none of the playfulness.

Embarrassing Bits: ‘Um Roz, I don’t think that’s the knob you’re looking for!’
The Doctor discussing Peri and Mel naked in the bath…is just wrong.
Maybe the Plobs of Plobtown are a step too far into surrealism!
Death and Diplomacy is the point where several narrative repetitions made themselves clear and started to bug me. Most prominent is the misuse (or lack of use) of Chris and Roz. Okay not so much Chris but wasting a character as marvellous as Roz is criminal and Sky Pirates (!), Zamper, Head Games, Shakedown, Warchild and Sleepy are all guilty. It wouldn’t be so bad if she was to go on like Bernice and have hundreds of adventures but Roz was in a grand total of 18 New Adventures. The books that take the time to exploit her rich character (The Also People, Just War) are by far the best of the latest bunch.
Also I’m starting to wonder if we will ever have an adventure where the Doctor and his companions just happen to turn up and have an unplanned trip. So many books these days follow the same pattern of the regulars split up before the beginning of the novel in various time zones and locations carrying out parts of the same plan. Whilst it was original and interesting at first its starting to get a bit obvious now.

Funny Bits: Jason attempts to give Benny mouth to mouth when the ship depressurises but she mistakes this for more amorous actions and biffs him on the nose!
‘That could easily be a court martial for being a poof in the face of the enemy!’ I don’t know why but that really tickled me!
To Roz, the lush and verdant countryside of Moriel was sickly to the point of instant diabetes.
Rather than cheat at gambling Jason gets arrested and sells the big boys a new way of cheating and they pay him for it. Now useless, they mass develop it to sell to losers who want to change their luck!
Vim orders his troops to fire on the enemy only to find they are all enemy agents…and Chris and Roz!
Given Roz’s expertise with weapons if she shoots to miss she will probably end up killing the lot of them!
The Doctor on the TARDIS: ‘I advise against over-inquisitiveness. You might find something truly horrible.’ ‘ Ah hideous alien secrets of the Time Lords that such mere mortals as we dare not know of.’ ‘I was actually referring to a teenagers bedroom. The TARDIS has accumulated quite a number of them over the years.’
Shug, upon revealing he was not Jason’s pet but a living breathing fascist dictator all along: ‘Have you any idea how hard it’s been having to listen to your asinine grunting all these years and never being able to tell you to shut your stupid face? Have you? I thought I must simply have had the bad luck to pick the most brain-dead and idiotic human moron on the entire planet Earth.’ It turned its head to glare at Benny balefully. ‘I was wrong.’
The best joke in a book full of them sees the Skrak at the climax of the book all sitting around wondering what to do now their mad leader has been killed: ‘What do we always do – try and take over the universe!’

Result: I’ve only heard bad press about this book so naturally I thought it was rather wonderful. I cannot reconcile this with Dave Stone’s Sky Pirates(!), aside from irreverent humour the two books feel completely different in writing style and tone. Death and Diplomacy has lovely big font and short chapters that make the pages fly by (I gobbled it down in one evening) and it is shot through with racy humour and real emotions that make it a brisk and heartfelt read. Unlike Stone’s debut the prose does not overpower you with elongated words and sentences, the book is marvellously descriptive and has some hilarious and unobtrusive asides that could only come from the pen of this writer. Bernice’s romance with Jason is rightly celebrated, it is drop-the-book funny in places but what impressed me more were the moments of pathos between the two of them. The Doctor’s diplomatic nightmare was just as good though and the book climaxes on one of the most cheeky and yet still satisfying and cuddlesome endings in this series. Aside from dumping two of the regulars into obscurity, this is easily the most readable and accessible of Dave Stone’s novels: 8/10