Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Adventuress of Henrietta Street by Lawrence Miles

Plot: The Doctor has set up shop in a whorehouse. He is getting married. He is extremely sick and he is without Fitz, Anji or the TARDIS. Has the world gone entirely mad? Apparently so, as disgusting apes break through into the world and start tearing up people, it would appear that the Doctor’s actions destroying his home planet has had far more catastrophic consequences than anybody ever feared…

Top Doc: Another superb definition of everything that is the eighth Doctor, wrapped up in that wonderful Milesian desperation to make the Doctor a mythic figure. He has set himself up as the master of a house of prostitutes, writing thirteen letters to the great powers of the world to invite him to his wedding. He misunderstands human feelings. He is a byronesque, aristocratic, poetic type, who will probably end his days an outcast for unnatural acts. He has grown a goatee, a sign of how much he has changed. He judges people by their own standards and is described beautifully as an adventurer, escapologist, athlete, pugilist and amateur inventor. The Doctor’s intention to marry Juliette and thus bond himself to the Earth is hugely representational of the revisionist eighth Doctor adventures (the idea that her virginity could almost be used as a weapon, to give birth to an alien as humanity’s protector). The eighth Doctor began his adventures with the shock announcement that he is half human (on his mothers side) so this symbolic link to the Earth enhances the direction of the books, turning their back on Gallifrey (hurrah). ‘He wanted to give himself roots in a universe where he no longer truly belonged’ screams the narrative, the Doctor attempting to bring security to our troubled world in a universe without the Time Lords. He is a tragic figure, an elemental cast out from his own world and there is an uncomfortable sense that he is interfering in affairs that are no longer his concern. If there is one thing he cannot ignore, it is a monster. As the book continues he grows stroppy, prone to mood swings as his body starts to wither away. We realise, with some horror, that his second heart, which links him to Gallifrey, has become poison to him. Once it is removed and he is married to Scarlette, it is wonderful to see him step from the flames (as depicted on the glorious cover) and claim his place as the King of Earth’s Time.

Scruffy Git: Fitz is unsure about the decorum around a bordello at first and cast shy looks about at the ladies. Described as being likeable enough, but that you would expect more alertness from an elemental. He can still pull his 007 routine of with style and his starting to see just how fragile the world is. For all his faults, described as having a mind ahead of its time, Fitz proves surprisingly adept at investigating for the Doctor, and taking charge when he is very ill. His concern for his friend, as ever, is palpable and they enjoy a quiet, intimate stag do sharing champagne overlooking the sea.

Career Nazi: Clearly Miles despises Anji, and not just from what he has said in interviews. He sidetracks her as much as possible and when he does include her makes her snappy, rude and overbearing. Described as sarcastic, snappish, overbearing and impatient, more telling he describes her as a force of nature, a prophet and an Indian Oracle. Her and Lisa Beth are partners in aloof cynicism. An angry, exotic elemental.

Ham Fists: The Doctor’s new arch enemy, worthy of his own section because he is a frequent semi-regular. Described as having a keen mind and a talent for escaping tight corners. Powerful and witty with eyes that sparkle with intelligence. His purpose is to protect the Earth and wishes to travel beyond its limits to do so. He believes the Doctor’s people and their influence is outdated and wishes to step into the breach caused by their absence (“You were a Professional Doctor but your company has gone bankrupt.”). The Doctor admits that he knows more than Sabbath but Sabbath belongs more than he does. Whether he removes the Doctor’s heart out of compassion or for his own gain is unclear, they make uneasy allies but it is clear that Sabbath does have something of a grudging affection for the Doctor.

Foreboding: Being a Lawrence Miles book this sets up loads of stuff that will be returned to in later books. Primarily there is Sabbath, who will be back for subsequent revisits. But also worthy of mention are the fact that time is no longer stable, leading to a flurry of upcoming time travel stories, the fact that Juliette leaves the Earth with Sabbath (followed up in Sometime Never…), the black eye sun (explained in The Gallifrey Chronicles but seen a few more times after this), the disappearance of the Doctor’s second heart (and the fact there are mentions of surgery and Sabbath in regards to this organ) and of course the fact that the Time Lords no longer exist (which will come back to haunt the Doctor in his final novel…). The Master reveals there are only four of us left in the universe, but what he is talking about is maddeningly vague.

Twists: The book grabs you from the first page and never lets go, a hypnotic, tantric sex encounter leading to the summoning of a bestial, bloody ape. It is revealed that now the Time Lords have gone there is nothing holding time together and that other people are trying to do the work they used to do. There are some teething problems when Fitz and Anji are summoned and they turn up stark bollock naked! Sabbath’s story of being pushed into the Thames, bound by thirteen chains, is great. The exploration of the Jonah is a gothic delight, a throbbing black machine manned by slavering apes shrieking their lust for carnage. The appearance of the Master in the book is a shock of delight, especially his glorious comments on the state of the Doctor’s adventures these days. We realise that the Doctor, through his destruction of Gallifrey, is responsible for the apes coming. Their appearance is due to the unstable nature of Time and the ability of others to explore its realms, the apes are the limits of human ignorance set upon those who would try and expand their knowledge in areas they should never have been allowed to approach. Sabbath has to watch, horrified, as Tula Lui is torn to pieces by the apes. Juliette’s traitorous act, turning against the Doctor and aiding Sabbath, is a complete surprise. Brilliantly, when tensions start to fray between the thirteen great powers, Scarlette hatches an ingenious scheme of hunting the apes, uniting the factions with a common sport. The Doctor’s wedding ceremony, surrounded by monster masks, held by a drunken priest, Scarlette the surrogate bride and the Doctor close to death is one of the most memorable scenes in Doctor Who fiction. The fact that apes storm the church and transport the guests to the Kingdom of Beasts rounds off a classy service. In the Kingdom of the Beasts there is a land which resembles Gallifrey, which the Doctor declares as “home.” In one of the most shocking scenes in Doctor Who fiction Sabbath plunges his hand into the Doctor’s chest and rips out his cancerous heart. There is a memorable climax, with the apes pouring into the house on Henrietta Street and the Doctor ruthlessly decapiting the King of the Apes, thus breaking the chains of human ignorance and proving that knowledge has no bounds. Sweetly, Scarlette fakes her own death so the Doctor feels no obligation to stay on Earth with his new wife.

Result: Terrifying (in terms of its content and in terms of its content) and unforgettable, this is the ultimate eighth Doctor experience. Defining the exciting, unpredictable new universe the Doctor has found himself in (delightful because Miles has clearly put some real thought into what horrors might lie in a universe without the Time Lords) like no other; this is the sort of book that has been crafted, not written. Packed with sickening images, detailed historical atmosphere, adult relationships and amazing developments, this is my favourite Doctor Who book. Bar none. This is Lawrence Miles’ true masterpiece and the highest level of sophistication the EDAs have ever reached. Challenging and intelligent, it doesn’t get much better than this: 10/10

And my review from DWRG...

An astonishing book, powered by symbolism and striking imagery and wrapped up in bold, experimental narration. Looking back over the eighth Doctor range as a whole there are few books that have this much impact or that break the rules with such verve and distinction. The best eighth Doctor book ever? Quite possibly...

One of the delights of this book is the amount of fascinating historical detail packed in, blurred into the fiction with invisible ease. The story of the Gordon Riots is really nasty and only one of the vivid mentions of eighteenth century horror. The sweeping events of the eighteenth century heavily influence this shocking chapter in the Doctor's life and their bonding stresses a feeling of transition. This is reflected politically (with the madness of the King and his dealings with America), culturally ("In the years to come there'd be blood and fire, war and renewal, the burning of coal and the burning of peace treaties, human workers redefined as machine parts while free thinkers made the most glorious of discoveries") and spiritually (with Scarlette, the last of the Hellfire mistresses). The gears of history are shifting and this story is but a cog in its wheel ("The old order, some might have argued, had ended with the siege of Henrietta Street").

Conjugal strength is a proven commodity in Adventuress and one used by the Doctor to fight his enemies. The Doctor's intention to marry Juliette and thus bond himself to the Earth is hugely representational of the revisionist eighth Doctor adventures (the idea that her virginity could almost be used as a weapon, to give birth to an alien as humanity's protector). The eighth Doctor began his adventures with the shock announcement that he is half-human (on his mother's side) so this symbolic link to the Earth enhances the direction of the books, turning their back on Gallifrey (hurrah). "He wanted to give himself roots in a universe where he no longer truly belonged" screams the narrative, the Doctor attempting to bring security to our troubled world in a universe without the Time Lords.

But he also pulls together a number of "lost knowledge" holders to combat the evil that the apes represent. The hallucinogenic opening sequence of tantric intercourse raising a murderous, bestial ape almost seems to be a shock reminder of our baser, animal instincts. The book takes a far more disturbing route however, revealing that it was the knowledge Lisa-Beth possessed that brought forth the babewyn ("They (the apes) are our own ignorance given flesh. Should we reach the horizon we will find our own ignorance staring back at us in the shape of these bloody, murderous animals"). It is interesting to note how much more interesting the Time Lords are by their absence, their protection of humanity and other knowledge seekers gone ("Humanity's punishment on itself - whenever man or woman explored the darkness, the apes would be waiting there") they are now vulnerable to the possibility of time travel. It is almost as if unlicensed time travel is disturbing some force and they are sending the apes to slaughter whoever would dare to stamp their own mark on history (setting up events in Sometime Never... perfectly). The evil these beasts represent is disturbingly portrayed in graphic metaphors, a scene of the apes fondling the books in an "improper" manner (going as far as to wipe their backsides with it) suggests the rape of knowledge, a truly frightening concept.

This book would not exist in the pre-Ancestor Cell universe, that much has been made explicitly clear and even the Doctor makes his awareness of a lack of a power that keep the timelines in check known in his book, The Ruminations of a Foreign Traveller in his Element. The Mayaki (who have a special relationship with time) and Mother Dutt's teachings of Shaktyanda are a direct result of the Doctor's destruction of his homeworld, proving he has changed the shape of the universe in more ways than we ever knew.

Another strong theme is the use of blood in the book, dealing with time as a living, breathing, evolving thing. Striking reds are splashed about the book, Scarlette's clothes and furnishings, orchids and roses decorating the Doctor's wedding ceremony. The book goes even further with its blood theme; the synchronising women in the seraglios ("the house bleeding"), the bloody historical facts ("the skies of London turned to blood"), Juliette being marked by an ape's beastly blood and wearing red to be primed with the world around her. The narrative uses its theme of blood to maintain its existence, to keep the story alive.

It is worth commenting on Lawrence Miles' skill in narrative construction considering the method he chooses to write his book. Considering the device of recalling events that have already happened, (itself a sticky point with some readers, frustrated at the distance the book takes from its material. I found the writing style fascinating; the imaginative way Miles constructs the book out of written accounts. Would we be so easily able to accept scenes of tantric sex, torture and bestial terror so easily if the book had been written in the third person?), Miles manages to successfully disguise a great number of twists. Lisa Beth's hoax betrayal and Juliette's defection are triumphant moments in the book, especially when you consider the narrator knew about these events before he even started re-accounting the facts. Indeed the book does some very clever things with this omnipotent narration, slipping in information about future events (such as Scarlette's death and the Doctor's retrieval of the TARDIS) and then letting the ideas brew in our heads for a while before dealing with them several scenes later. Talk about whetting your audience's appetites.

Adventuress goes to extreme lengths to make the Doctor an extremely potent character again. To achieve this he gets married to a prostitute and has one of his hearts torn out... sounds a bit much doesn't it? No, these revisions work because they are tied to exactly what we perceive the Doctor to be. He has always been the protector of Earth so it's nice to see him married into the role (and anyone upset by the thought of the asexual Doctor marrying a woman... gasp! Scarlette's speech on page 207 should soothe your worries) and his rejection of Time Lord society and everything it represents is captured in the scene where his body heals thanks to the removal of his second heart (which ties him to Gallifrey) and he walks through the flames (the stunning cover image being one of the most powerful set pieces in the book) to confront the King of the Beasts. These changes in his lifestyle are foretold, a terrific early scene where he examines his beard in a mirror, not quite believing his reflection and emphasising his self-doubt at approaching events. Interesting to hear that the Doctor's sickness has been apparent for one hundred years (and twinges occurring in earlier books). And with his new status as an elemental is it really a coincidence that Scarlette is described as loving the Doctor like a God just pages before his act of saving a man from crucifixion?

Sabbath is given such an impressive build up that his entrance cannot help but be a memorable occasion ("A huge, all pervading shadow - who lurked in dark places, as if hiding in the belly of some monstrous leviathan which moved unseen below the surface of human affairs"). The exploration of his ship, the Jonah, is superbly menacing (with focus on strong words like darkness, canon teeth, corpses, classical, throbbing, idols and Gods to create a vivid, oppressive atmosphere) and leads to an equally wonderful confrontation between hero and villain. Once the pair are face to face, two charlatans ready to play the game, it is clear a new regular has arrived and one who will possibly rival the Doctor's importance.

More is revealed about Sabbath than any of us realised at the time. He is confirmed as the protector of time ("I think we can safely say that history is our profession now"), an agent of whoever is watching over events (who he refers to as the true enemy) and a humorous (defying authority by dressing his apes up in naval uniforms) and very human character (his reaction to the death of Tula Lui is quite poignant, especially after the book has gone to such lengths to portray him as a monster). "Time is too precious an artefact to be pawned off by prostitutes", one of several suggestions that Sabbath is protecting the timeline for a purpose. Put all these together and the answers in Sometime Never... make perfect sense.

On hand, almost Benny-style, is the Master to comment on how different the universe is these days. He poignantly refers to the old days where his rivalry with the Doctor was all-important to the fate of the universe but now it is utterly insignificant and even worse, embarrassingly tame. "He went on to speculate that he might just go back to sleep, and only wake up when the universe was once more in a fit state for somebody of his calibre" ...far more important than his comment that there are only four Time Lords left in existence is his assessment at the state of current Doctor Who, frighteningly adult compared to its televised parent. Some would agree with his words, others (like me) would much rather read Adventuress than watch Terror of the Autons, but nevertheless Miles makes some thoughtful comments about the evolution of the programme.

The title of the book makes the suggestion that Scarlette will be the most important character in the book but I found she only became a powerful character during the last third, stepping from the Doctor's shadow and leading the Accidental Conclave on the great hunt. You can't help but cheer as she summons a babewyn, spears it through the heart and reveals that the apes (ie human ignorance) can be fought. Her drunken self-destructive streak and touching sacrifice (pretending to have died in the final battle to allow the Doctor to leave the Earth) in the latter passages of the book reveal what a great character she was, but during the first half of the book she remains quiet and somewhat faceless. Her mock funeral is the last magic trick of a theatrical manipulator.

Miles barely disguises his disgust for Anji (and listening to the terrible tortures he wanted to inflict on her during this book I think we got off lightly), making her rude, presumptuous and confrontational. These are aspects of her character that have turned up in other books but they are usually softened by her warmth and humanity. One character calls her an angry, exotic elemental.

When Miles wrote Adventuress he was under the impression that the Daleks would be revealed to be the villains at the climax of the arc, however difficulties ensued and things had to be changed. This is why the "black eye sun" that gazes over the Kingdom of the Beasts is never explained. Could it be Octan, as I suggested in my summing up review of the Council of Eight arc, watching over events? Re-reading this it is doubtful when descriptions like "the blazing black ball of the sun swung in his direction, an eye made out of pupils" are used to describe it. However Sometime Never... ends with a menacing black eye watching over events - perhaps they are still waiting to pounce - a PDA possibly, now the Daleks CAN be used by the BBC again? The equally compelling idea that these scenes were actually set on dead Gallifrey (which would tie into the book's themes perfectly), or a representation of what the lack of Gallifrey has done to the universe and the sun is the dead Eye of Harmony watching over the story is one to ponder on too.

The climax to the book is given suitable levity. The Doctor's wedding ceremony, surrounded by monster masks, held by a drunken priest, Scarlette the surrogate bride and the Doctor close to death is one of the most memorable scenes in Doctor Who fiction. The fact that apes storm the church and transport the guests to the Kingdom of Beasts rounds off a classy service.

Setting up the future with style, the book takes a turn for the macabre as Sabbath realises what is causing the Doctor's sickness and rips out his poisoned heart. Camera Obscura here we come as the Doctor discovered just what happened to his diseased organ.

The final set piece of the book, the siege, is appropriately given considerable coverage - all of the main contributors (Lisa-Beth, Scarlette, Rebecca) to the essay are present and the action is assembled in vivid detail. The image of the Doctor decapitating the King of the Beasts is intoxicating; our hero is breaking the chains of human ignorance and ensuring that knowledge has no bounds.

This is a book about detail and will frustrate readers who prefer traditional, adventure stories. Those in the know about the history of Doctor Who will realise that this book pushes the boundaries of the show considerably, taking the series in a mature new direction. People still say that the New Adventures took the most risks but Adventuress leaves their legacy in the nursery. It is bold and brilliant and reveals that there are still many areas the show has yet to explore.

I love it.

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