Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Relative Dementias by Mark Michalowski

Plot: Sinister happenings are taking placing the isolated Alzheimer’s clinic of Graystairs in Scotland. After receiving some disturbing post the Doctor and Ace rush to the scene. But why is the Doctor being so secretive? Who was he talking to in the console room behind Ace’s back? And why are the patients suddenly remembering disturbing events from an alien planet?

Master Manipulator: Another superb rendition of the seventh Doctor. It always pleases me to see my least favourite Doctors being well treated in print (that’s mostly docs 5 and 7) because it suggest other avenues that they might have been successful in and frankly it is one of the strengths of Doctor Who in the novel media that it can right wrongs from the TV show. In this case though Michalowski has managed to walk that fine line between the seventh Doctor on the telly (you know kinda fun and goofy but a bit scary too) and the seventh Doctor from the New Adventures (who was rarely fun and often dabbling in peoples lives and under the impression he is responsible for the entire universe running smoothly) and manages to hand pick the best of both worlds. He’s quirky and light here but is also seen in a much darker and interesting light. What’s more his chemistry with Ace is just as it should be, bouncy, mildly paternal and they work superbly together as a team. After what the New Adventures did to Ace its hard to remember that once she was the perfect foil for the seventh Doctor.

Ace imagined if the Doctor wasn’t a time traveller, a righter of wrongs and universal man of mystery, he could quite easily be that little odd man who ran the antiques shop on the corner – the shop no one ever seemed to go in and kids were scared stiff of. It would be a lot easier for her to accept time travel if the Doctor looked alien! He is not infallible, ten centuries of time travel gives you a nose for things but the Doctor doesn’t completely trust himself. He needs to keep the bigger picture in sight. He has had a lot of experience mucking about with time. Night is his favourite time, dark and predatory, full of anticipation, full of menace. The relationship between him and Joyce is very sweet – she thinks he is sharp and incisive, puckish ad poignant. The Doctor wouldn’t make a promise he couldn’t keep; he’d done that once before but never again. When Megan calls the Doctor a ‘dotty old duffer’ he declares her a nasty piece of work and compliments himself on his acting abilities! In one scene the Doctor is reminded that not everything in the universe is running up and down corridors and being chased by zombies and robots, people are capable of doing very kind acts. In the same scene he discovers Doris dead, having been smothered by a pillow and declares one of the most disturbing and pitiful deaths he has seen. There was something frighteningly intense in the Doctor’s eyes and at the same time something vague. Micheal calls him Doctor Death, the man responsible for hundreds of lives whilst he swans about saving the world with the top brass. There is a deep sadness wired into his very being. Its very poignant when (playing Ace’s Grandfather) he remembers what it was like to have a Granddaughter again.

Oh Wicked: Well, well, well…who would have thought that there was still some mileage left in Ace? Usually I want to put down every book that contains her name within so sick am I of this obsession with her character, which has been explored to death, inside and out in every way imaginable. So a big sloppy kiss to Michalowski who manages to make Ace sound plausible and in character (I know we all thought that was in impossibility) and great, great fun to be around. The Ace of Relative Dementias knocks spots of much of what we have seen in print of her before simply because she’s so approachable. Bravo.

The future, Ace decided, wasn’t what it used to be. She is scared if there are aliens in 2012 that she wont be able to tell them apart from the humans. She isn’t a country girl at heart. The scene in the pub where Ace bests the Doctor is hilarious, convincing Claire that he is mentally deranged and known for wandering about at night in his knickers. Ace cannot remember the smells of her home in Perivale but she knew if she ever smelled them again they would bring back a whole jumble of memories and none of them would be entirely comfortable. She is described as being sarcastic, crude and bossy! She didn’t seen enough of her dad but saw too much of her mum. She shivers of the thought of getting close enough to her mum for Alzheimer’s to affect her. At the story’s close the Doctor is both proud of Ace’s ingenuity and annoyed at her duplicity.

Twists: The whole sequence of the Doctor collecting his mail is lovely, imaginative and warmly written (and Countess Gallowglass was wonderful). Why did the TARDIS land and take off? Why is Ace locked from the console room? Who is the Doctor talking to in secret? John discovers a domed object on the seabed. In a moment of unexpected poignancy Harry’s treatment starts to work and he starts to remember the past. Ace discovers Joyce, Jessie and Connie plugged into a spaceship after she transmits from the Graystairs cellar on board. Ace escapes the insane Sooal by jumping into the airlock and being expelled into the sea. Pages 170-173 are shocking, emotional Who at its best as Joyce’s mother explodes in a fit of emotion and Joyce tells her she wished she had died. When Michael finally meets the Doctor he punches him full on in the face, his best friend was killed during one of the Doctor’s schemes to save the Earth. Sooal is revealed as a war criminal; four years ago the Tulkan Empire was on the point of making a decisive strike against the Protectorate. The Tulkan War Council were captured and sentenced to have their memories wiped and incarcerated on a penal world. Sooal hijacked the ship and hid them on Earth. He is attempting to restore their memories and when he succeeds he shoots them all dead! The Annarene are wearing bodies made from the flesh of local animals, seeking out Sooal so they can steal the weapons for themselves. At first the Doctor believes they are there to arrest Sooal but they are soon exposed as a renegade faction. Sooal has progenia; premature ageing…he never wanted the weapons as much as he wanted the codes so he could use the machinery to increase his lifespan. Turns out there are two Ace’s running around! The person the Doctor was hiding in the console room was Ace herself, an older Ace from later in the story…she sends the Doctor some post to rescue her from her desertion on the island. The Doctor plans to send her back to Muirbridge at the same time he picked her up but she plays with the console and returns to just before they originally (or are about to) arrive. Ive gone boss eyed. Basically it means whilst Ace is doing her investigating, two days older Ace manages to be at the right place at the right time to rescue people.

Result: Both the cover and the title are great, a good sign. Here is a first time author showing up all of the old timers around him. It is a poignant exploration of Alzheimer’s in the Doctor Who formula; portraying both the frustration of having the past beyond your grasp and dizzy joy of regaining your memories. It’s a book with a very satisfying plot with several unexpected and clever twists and a shockingly good use of the Doctor and Ace throughout. If the pace is a little slack in places it is made up for with the entertaining prose and profound moments that strike you right in the heart. The ideas are rather traditional but the author uses them expertly, displaying none of the usual embarrassing mistakes of a first time author. Great location too, thumbs up Mr Michalowski: 8.5/10

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