Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Anachrophobia by Jonathan Morris

Plot: On a desolate, unnamed planet a war is raging. A war where time is being used as a weapon, where you can be aged to death in seconds or trapped in a moment for an eternity. Something else is about to emerge from the conflict, an alien force that offers a tempting choice to change the past and lose your identity forever…

Top Doc: Continuing his weakness from the previous book, the Doctor is having terrible trouble coping with the loss of his second heart, his single heart trying to do the work of two. Ever since London (Adventuress) a shadow has hung over him. He hasn’t just lost his heart but a part of what he was. He’s now quick to tire, prone to explosive bursts of anger and surprised at his own pain and exhaustion. He has become all too human, mortal and vulnerable. He admits he is the least plutocratic person anybody is likely to meet. He is an amateur showing a philanthropic interest. Fitz asks him why he is so insufferably cheerful? He says he can live with his conscience and refuses to change his past, refusing to throw his life away on a regret. All he has done (good and bad) is what has made him who he is today. Proving he is still the hero we know and love he provides two ingenious schemes to defeat the clock people (see Twists).

Scruffy Git: The perpetual student. Fitz thinks the Doctor needs protecting and suspects they are being manipulated (turns out he is right!). He feels his memories are clouding over, no doubt a mixture of his ‘remembering’ in Interference and his Mind fuck in Earthworld. He fears the Doctor asks him to throw light over the situation out a sense of cruelty and sarcasm. In his experience the impossible turns out to be the all too bloody likely! When the Doctor gets rattle (as he does here), Fitz gets scared. He tries to think of himself as Fitz-about-the-universe but there are far too many failed romances, which are starting to look like wasted opportunities.

Career Nazi: It’s another marvellous Anji story where she is showed to be brave and strong willed and tireless. She has to suffer a lot in this book and she still comes out fighting. She is extremely protective of the Doctor these days (and not just because he is the only one who can get her home). Described as a sentimental businesswoman. The Doctor tells her she is wonderful and that he wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of her in a business meeting. When they discuss the clock peoples tempting offer to allow you to reach into your past and change things,
the Doctor reminds Anji of her betrayal in Hope and she calls him a heartless bastard, clearly still sore from her mistake. She manages to figure out the whole pointlessness of the war from a financial point of view, Jonathan Morris using her previous career in an ingenious fashion.

Foreboding: Mistletoe (aka Sabbath) tells Anji that the Doctor’s heart is in the right place. The Doctor attempts to hide away a scruffy leather bound manuscript he picked up in 1938, a book that is soon to become an extremely important plot device. Sabbath’s revelation that his masters now control the time vortex is shocking…

Twists: The terrifying opening featuring two men ageing to death is a memorable sign of the terrors to come. The TARDIS is pulled to the planet by a terrifying force but is too tired to fight it and the Doctor has to switch off all her systems to stop her tearing herself apart. The war being raged as an extremely unusual one with accelerated and decelerated time zones. The timepiece airlock is ingenious. The first glimpse of the time capsule is vivid, a forbidding globe poised over a maw of a pit. The first time dive is skilfully executed, with events spiralling horribly out of control. 26 people are executed when they are found to have Anachrophobia but they were well within their budget!! When the Doctor and Fitz go on a time dive, the capsule clangs and rocks as something tries to get inside. Unbelievably, the officious Mistletoe orders Bishop thrown in with the infected to see how virulent Anachrophobia is and says, “You there, be a good fellow and move nearer the soldiers, will you?” In a truly horrific sequence Lane attempts to slash her wrists open only to find coils, springs, cogs and wheels nestling inside. The ‘regrets’ which turn the soldiers in clock people are all disturbing, Norton hitting his girlfriend, Bragg’s denial of his homosexuality, Lane slitting her wrists… The Doctor cuts open Bishop’s chest to reveal a pendulum swinging inside! The zombie clock people, gliding through the base tick tocking, are really eerie. Shaw shoots Lane in the (clock) face and it shatters, bloody pulp spilling out (that is horrible). The Doctor’s plan to kill the clock people with mustard gas is very clever but sickening, they keep trying to turn time back and avoid their deaths and end up repeating them over and over…skin blistering, faces shattering, blood and phlegm spitting out. Shaw is ousted as a defaulter agent, trying to get a victim of the disease to the enemy camp so they can use it as a weapon. Station One is an expressionistic nightmare, everybody going about their usual business, shopping, playing at school, working in factories but all silently with clock faces. The decision makes behind the war a revealed to be robots left here four centuries ago. The war has been deliberately prolonged, the actuaries controlling both sides and reaping the profits. Unfortunately they cannot remember what the purpose of prolonging the war to a point of exhaustion of all assets is and the time travel experiments were set up so that Hammond (an android) could go back in time and discover the truth of matters. Brilliantly, the Doctor is dragged back through his past few adventures (Hope, Mad Dogs…) until he is confronted with his heart surgery and offered to stop it ever happening. Ingeniously the Doctor stops the clock people by destroying their power source, travelling back to the past and setting an explosive to detonate in the present, thus not changing his own personal timeline. In a knife in the gut twist Sabbath is revealed to be Mistletoe and to have been using the Doctor all along. His associates have been in conflict with the clock people so Sabbath set up a situation where they would appear to be invading (when they were in fact evacuating) and the Doctor would have to destroy them. His masters now have full control of the time continuum.

Funny bits: Fitz walks from the TARDIS and finds himself in a snowy forest and declares they are in Narnia!

Embarrassing bits: A few terrible puns: ‘Chron’-ic disease, ‘second hand’ bodies…groan. Mistletoe is clearly Sabbath from the first line but it is such a macabre performance I can find it in me to be cross!

Result: The most ingenious use of time travel yet, this is a hugely imaginative and terrifying tale which recaptures all the shadowy horror of those Troughton base under siege stories with an extra dash of gore that makes all the more scary. The book is brilliantly written with a well thought out plot, some marvellously spine tingling moments and spot characterisation of the regulars. The shift of location at the climax is well placed and the Doctor’s final solution is excellent. It is a little hard going in places because the tone is unremittingly grim but I refuse to criticise a book on the grounds that it sticks to its guns (to frighten) and doesn’t try to add any superfluous ‘entertaining’ moments. The last two pages provide a final, electrifying shock and top a nourishing read, full of graphic imagery and a terrorizing atmosphere. It says something about Jonathan Morris' writing that this is the weakest of his three Doctor Who books and its still bloody excellent: 9/10

Sunday, 28 November 2010

So Vile a Sin by Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman

Plot: Roz Forrester is dead. N Forms are blossoming, Empresses are dying, Wars are brewing…this is the story of how she died.

Master Manipulator: In a way this is the ultimate exploration of the Doctor and in others it is an over dramatic slant on this already angst soaked incarnation. The Doctor is seen in many, many different lights as we experience a number of alternatives Doctor’s as the Nexus spits out its universe twisting tendrils. One died on Yemaya 4. One didn’t regenerate in Planet of the Spiders and lived through the 80’s and 90’s and saw the Earth through its negotiations with the Martians in 2010.

When the Doctor comes into contact with the Nexus he has to try and work his way through 2003 different timelines…he manages to whittle it down to 50, then 10, then 1. Whilst accomplishing this feat he looks as if he has lost substance. Astonishingly he kills the Empress of the Earth Empire, the old harpy. Both the Doctor and Roz left their homes and became something more. In the books best scene he threatens Roz that if she aids her sister to wage a war that will kill millions their friendship is over. It’s spine tingling because for once he is powerless to stop her making her own decisions. He suffers a near fatal heart attack at her funeral and is a wasted shell, confined to a wheelchair. There is no one for him to take his revenge on, nobody he can blame her death on. She made sure of that, that’s why he is dead inside.

Stroppy Copper: Roz’s last book. She had the potential to be the best seventh Doctor companion. Seriously, as much as I adored Bernice (and believe me she does take the number one position by some distance) Roz is actually far more interesting because she has so much potential. Her background has been scrupulously worked out and her vices (racism, stubbornness, general stroppiness) make her the most malleable of characters. A shame then that only four or five authors bothered to write her with any respect, if they remembered to write her in at all. Roz starred in less than twenty books but there is only seven or so where she makes any impact. It’s irritating because in those books she is just so good (Just War, The Also People, Christmas on a Rational Planet). So where does So Vile a Sin fall when it comes to Roz? Aside from one or two truly winding scenes in the last fifty pages it is another waste of her character – and in her swansong too! I mean come on…this books deals with Roz’s homecoming with such insouciant incompetence it’s a wonder why they bothered. She has been missing for years, presumed dead and she’s accepted back into the family as if she was never away. We are denied a confrontation between Roz and her mother (who I presume is dead…she doesn’t get a mention) who dictated so much of her beautiful characterisation in The Also People and her relationship with her sister lacks warmth or conflict. What’s more aside from the climax Roz is really an afterthought in the grand sweep of events that is taking place. She pops up throughout the book, an action scene here, a witty quip there but for what should have been a book that lived and breathed her character this is insignificant stuff compared to the Lance Parkin or Aaronovitch’s previous work with the character. What’s more the opening section of the book sees Roz as the Doctor’s employee rather than her friend, on another mission for her. Frustrating.

The Doctor says that Roz’s life has more possibilities than Chris. The Empire had changed. Or maybe it was her. How much of what she remembered had changed since she had been travelling with the Doctor? She still wears her engagement and thinks of George – a lovely touch. She felt there was a switch in her head called ‘That’s too Big’ which had flipped a few times in her travels with the Doctor. Roz is younger than Leabie but looks and feels older. She feels she has come home and brought the monsters with her. Leabie offers her the position of Head of the Order of Adjudicators and she accepts this as a position to help shape history.
The Doctor doesn’t want her to take and warns her if you see history coming, duck. The reason Leabie won’t be a tyrant like the Empress of Walid is because Roz will be watching over her. The Doctor threatens Roz that if she goes to war their friendship is over and in an astonishing moment she finally steps out of his shadow and stands up to him, telling him he owes her this decision for everything she has been through for him. She admits she won’t be able to look the Doctor in the eye if she throws her lot into this war and not get her hands dirty. After her death Chris’s eulogy states that heaven will be a fairer place when Roz is done with it and I can’t think of a lovelier way to think of her character. Roz wrote the last chapter on her life, which was always going to be how she left the Doctor.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Why do I bother? He snogs Roz again. And weeps a bit. He’s just rubbish. And now we’re stuck with him solo.

Twists: Mei-Feng has a multidimensional time bomb hiding in her head. The N Form explodes out of her head. Roz sets an explosive, which brings tons of dwarf star alloy down on the creature. An artefact is resting under Artemis Mons, a psychic signal is emanating from under Ipigenia, something very old and damaged, a bow ship carrier TARDIS, the same size on the inside as on the outside. The N Forms were built to attack the Great Vampires. This TARDIS was trapped in Agamemnon’s gravity and sending out an erratic call for help and automatically switching on the N Forms it comes into contact with (Damaged Goods). The Doctor sets it to self-destruct. The self sacrificing Ogrons is a lovely touch. The Joseph Conrad is a city ship – a touch of The Also People. Zatopek, an agent of the Brotherhood is suddenly an alternative of the Doctor as the Nexus stretches out, suffocating him. The Empress’ body is kept alive whilst her mind is slaved to Centcomp. The computer runs the Empire and she begs the Doctor to kill her, which he does. The Empire starts falling apart at the seams, all those possibilities spraying out of the Nexus. Thandiwe was cloned from Leabie to fill the gap in the Forrester line that Roz left. The Time Lords chose to make the universe rational, they were the first species to evolve in the universe and Rassilon made the decision to turn his back on magick and embrace science. Psi was the last magick to survive because it was the most like science and the psi lines became an early warning system of irrationality to be stamped out. The Nexus is where these lines converge and when the Doctor came into contact with it it released every potential possibility of his existence. The N Forms are typical Time Lord blunders, they don’t just detect psi, they actively attack it! Chris is offered a job as Leabie’s personal pilot so if things had ended less bloodily they both would have stayed behind in this adventure. Walid is (predictably) working with the Brotherhood – they want to bring all those with potential into fruition. The Doctor is tortured horribly, they flick through all the alternatives where he died to try and convince him to help. There’s a second Nexus in the solar system.

Embarrassing Bits: I want to be constructive about my criticism but part of me just wants to scream ‘WHY?’
because this should have been as good as everyone says it is but I feel people are rather blinded by the top drama surrounding Roz’s death and forget the wealth of flaws that stack up throughout this novel. It’s one of the few books where I want to criticise the ambition, a shocking admission but there is just too much squeezed into too little space. This book is 312 pages long but really the events should take place over a 600 page Interference style epic – or even over a series of books. The upcoming Gods arc in the Bernice New Adventures is no where near as dramatic or as twisting as the events in this book and they would have been much better off exploring these events in greater depth over four or five really meaty novels than stuffing all these developments into one biblical novel. My biggest of several problems is that the book skips over the most dramatic of events as though it were discussing a tea time snack simply because it doesn’t have the breathing space to execute it with any kind of panache or style. Events such as the Doctor killing the Empress of the Earth Empire, his trial, Roz’s homecoming, the final devastating War and her death…all rushed and most of it happening off the page and being recounted after, Adventuress style, but from the point of view of the characters so we know they survive these terrible events. So much of this book should have left me gasping for air and under the right circumstances would have. Instead it left me cold and disinterested. Unthinkable.

The prologue is a genuinely awful piece of writing, harshly written Transit style with lots of future slang and characters introduced that we don’t see again for 100’s of pages. It reeks of Aaronovitch so it makes me wonder if this would have actually been better if he had finished the book. It’s disjointed, nonsensical and stuffed with continuity.

Useless material gains focus whilst dramatic developments are practically ignored. Orman spends pages and pages handling stuff like the Doctor, Chris and Roz shopping but skips merrily over the house of Forrester being invaded! The alternative third Doctor and the Zatopek double Doctor should have been skipped altogether to allow moments such as the revelation about the Time Lords creating the N Forms to actually be worked into the plot dramatically rather than the Doctor info dumping this over breakfast with Roz. I mean come on…these books have been leading up to this revelation and it’s just chatted about casually! Argh!

Pages 273-299 sees an entire war take place, planets destroyed, alliances shifting, sacrifices made…25 pages are you having a laugh? Its just dull, dull, dull…spat out like a news story when we should be experiencing the horror and the scale of the fight. It was like somebody had squeezed a horrific conflict into the palm of their hand and bled away all the conflict. This should have been an entire novel.

This book is essentially two stories, strenuously linked together at the end. Part one ties up all the threads of the psi powers arc whilst part two deals with Roz’s homecoming. Or rather it doesn’t because there is no time left to explore it. So Vile a Sin is the Planet of Fire of the novels, it just has to end up doing too much and ends up doing nothing especially well.

Lack of answers: Why does the Brotherhood want to active all the latent psi powers? Why is Walid working with them beyond a petty thirst for power and when did that begin? Why did the Time Lords create such a ridiculous and destructive weapon to destroy the Great Vampires…for beings who can control Time this is remarkably unsubtle? Who set up the computer that runs the Empire? Why is there a second Nexus in the solar system and where did it come from? Why has Leabie been building an army on such an awesome scale and how has she managed to keep it a secret? Who the hell are Genevieve and Simon and why are they so important? Why? Why? Why? Rush, rush, rush…no time for explanations!

Oh and the Doctor is chatting away with Death again, he’s still completely mad.

Result: What a senseless waste. So Vile a Sin is the biggest casualty of the New Adventures wrap up. Gobbled up by Ben Aaronovitch’s computer never to see the light of day, Kate Orman steps into the breach and completes a novel that needed at least another 200 pages to come anywhere near dealing with this plot satisfactorily. The two writer’s styles are diametrically opposite; Aaronovitch is all world building, imagination and head fucks whilst Orman is the character queen, the lighter touch to the range. Occasionally their styles create some magic (the Doctor finding the bow ship carrier, Roz’s final confrontation with the Doctor) but more often this book feels as though an intruder is executing its grand ideas. And what ideas they are…a summary of So Vile a Sin sees an imaginative, sprawling epic the like of which we have never seen in Doctor Who before but a summary is all we get. So much of this book is disjointed, rushed or just plain ignored we are denied the pleasure of actually experiencing the imagination and emotions of such a twisted masterpiece. A TARDIS from the Great Time War spewing signals out and activating N Forms. The Doctor assassinating the Empress of the Earth Empire. Alternative realities spat into ours. A war that spans Empires. The death of a Companion. All skipped over rather than engaged, explored, dealt with. A book that desperately wanted to exist before the Virgin Doctor Who licence ran out and its lack of a logo is perhaps the most telling sign for such a disappointingly unclimatic novel. With the luxury of more time and more pages, this could have been the best Doctor Who book. For the ambition: 4/10

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Winner Takes All by Jacqueline Rayner

Plot: The Doctor returns Rose home to find her mother has won the lottery and a computer craze has hit the Powell Estate. Death to the Mantodeans is the latest hit and it’s free for lucky winners of scratch cards. However the fine print omits the part about being transported to an alien planet and used as a weapon in a deadly war…

Northern Adventurer: What a laugh! If Justin Richards had trouble capturing the intrepid duo Jac Rayner writes for them as though she has been doing so for years. Whatever plotting defects this book might have, the regulars glow from every page and make this a hugely enjoyable experience.

The Doctor never saves anything smaller than a planet. He got a merit badge in time travel, Monsterithology, interfering in the destinies of planets and cookery. The Doctor has an expression where Rose is unsure if he wants to smack her or kiss her. If a Time Lord saved the world and when there was no one there to know it, was he still a hero? He throws a massive wobbler when he forced to use Rose the way he does. He is as damning on humanity as ever, condemning them for bringing this latest disaster on themselves for wanting a free lunch. Rose was never sure if the Doctor simply pretended not to care, it was a dry humour thing or if he really didn’t care.

Chavvy Chick: This is Rose’s book through and through…Rose’s family, Rose’s boyfriend, Rose’s home…so it’s fortunate that I am eating my words already from my condemnation of her character in print in The Clockwise Man. Jac Rayner always gets her regulars right but has simply worked wonders with the girls over the years. She gave us a hilarious and sympathetic Anji in Earthworld, a professional and desperate Sarah Jane in Wolfsbane and gave us the definitive Bernice Summerfield novel in The Glass Prison. She introduced the glorious Evelyn Smythe to Big Finish and would go on to write Martha Jones to perfection in The Last Dodo. Everything about Rose sings in this book…she is childish, witty, intelligent, frustrated, charismatic, flirtatious…a hugely flawed but ultimately lovable character. We see the real horrors of her world and can compare that with how much she has changed since she has left this environment. She gets to be the object of three men’s attention, to save the Doctor and kick the ¤¤¤¤ out of the bad guys. Rose rocks!

Rose has gotten used to the inside of the TARDIS and thinks it is funny how you can get used to even the most incredible of things. What was her home – with her mum or in the TARDIS? She thinks Mickey is quite a catch even if he doesn’t own a time machine.
She feels her relationship with him was her old life, she wasn’t that person anymore. Her mother is up for a freebie and has a reputation for being a bit of a slag. Rose can swallow her anger now and ignore bullies. If the Doctor and Rose are sharing a bedroom, Jackie doesn’t want to know about it! Rose is described as a slag who did her boyfriend in and a thoughtless cow. She is disgusted with the Doctor when he is annoyed that she visited her mum in hospital when there was work to be done. Rose feels conflicted when they receive a phone call from the boy who beat her mum up, he is dying, and she is forced into the frustrating situation of pitying somebody she hates. Just because it was the Doctor’s time machine that didn’t mean Rose had to play entirely by his rules. Rose is also described as totally beautiful, utterly cool and just, well, perfect. She wonders if she throws up but can’t open her mouth if she will choke to death on her won vomit. Does she as his companion, validate the Doctor? The TARDIS has taken a shine to Rose.

Blaidd Drwg: Bad Wolf is one of the games Mickey owns.

Twists: You’ve got to love it when Mickey gets a rather abrupt visit…from Percy the Porcupine! The Quevvils have infiltrated the Earth with the most powerful weapon…scratch cards! You can win a holiday and you are transported to the planet Toop and used as a soldier. Those that win a computer console, unbeknownst to them, are controlling the holiday winners. When it says ‘Game Over’ they have murdered a human being. The Mantodeans have a force field around their stronghold which kills Quevvils so they need humans to get through it. In a shocking development Jackie is beaten to a pulp and Rose thinks seeing her mum as a fragile human being instead of a superhero is the worst feeling in the world. Rose takes a phone call from a dying boy. The Doctor is astonished to discover people have discovered the secret of the scratch cards and are selling them on the internet as an easy way to have someone you hate murdered. Rose is transported to the Mantodean stronghold and the Doctor is in the unenviable position of having to control her like a puppet. The Quevvil quills penetrate and open out like Christmas trees. The Doctor makes some great modifications to the software that turns Rose into SuperRose…she kicks the crap out of the monsters, leaps over pits and travels faster than a speeding bullet! Rose coming face to face with Darren Pye as he fights his control to raise his gun to kill her is very tense. For his efforts the Mantodeans decapitate him!
The TARDIS sound is described as the most wonderful music ever, it was the greatest symphony ever written, performed by the best orchestra in the world.

Funny Bits: This is such a gigglesome book…I found myself chuckling throughout and here are some of my favourite moments:
· ‘So it’s aliens? Aliens taking over the planet via shopping?’ ‘Don’t have to be trying to take over the planet, just cos they’re aliens? I’m not trying to take over the planet. The Cookie Monster isn’t trying to take over the planet. Well, not the bits that don’t involve cookies.’ ‘Cookie Monster is a puppet. He’s got someone’s hand up him and some bloke does the voice!’ ‘You humans are so gullible.’
· ‘Cos it would be so awful if we got a bit embarrassed while we were trying to save the world.’
· Page 48 is a wonderful piss take of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!
· ‘Are there really alien bondage sites?’
* It raised its nose in the air like an ugly, spiny Bisto kid!
· Rose realises the difference between life and death is one pound and fifty pee!
· ‘500 quid. That’s how much death costs off the internet. Not much more than a widescreen telly.’
· ‘These aren’t porcupines! Porcupines don’t, contrary to popular belief, shoot their quills at you. They don’t walk upright. They don’t carry little laser guns. And they don’t, whatever David Attenborough might tell you, kidnap human beings and teleport them to an alien planet!’
· The TARDIS lurched violently like it had given ‘an enormous hiccup.’
· ‘He’s got something called a tarpit, or something.’
· Rose’s solution to the Quevvil/Mantodean war: ‘Have you ever thought of, you know, just trying to be friends? Or you could just put up curtains so they don’t spoil your view…’
· The Atallus’ are in their sixties. Practically dead. They hold hands, which was pretty disgusting for people of their age.
· I was laughing my head off as Rose, under the control of the Doctor, was pushing her nose closer and closer to a bloody corpse…
· I loved the phone call the Doctor makes to Mickey
using Rose’s voice…she can’t talk using her own voice and the Doctor can’t hear his answer!

Result: It’s more of a case of one step back and two steps forward. Whilst this is a book that is clearly aimed at children with a simple, clich├ęd plot where it scores is in its bright, breezy amiability and its energetic and fun approach to storytelling and characterisation. This book simply flies by with charismatic characterisation for the ninth Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie. There are enough edgy moments (Jackie’s bruises, Darren’s decapitation) to keep adults interested but what really worked for me was how it captured the glee of the child in me, games gone bad, scary porcupines and people being kidnapped on an alien world. Jac Rayner shows how you can simplify these books without taking away any of the enjoyment. Whilst some of you might reel in horror because this doesn’t juggle the fate of alternative universes, feature the Doctor suffering a schizophrenic crisis, have companions who have copious amounts of sex and deal with how much the Doctor screws things up on his travels…this is one of the most delightful Doctor Who reads and left me feeling happier than 90% of any of the other ranges output have. I feel no shame in giving this ray of sunshine: 8/10

Monday, 22 November 2010

Palace of the Red Sun by Christopher Bulis

Plot: The Doctor and Peri land on the idyllic garden planet of Esselven, unaware that the entire planet and its people are about to unfold around them as a mystery left buried for 500 years. The tyrannical Glavis Judd is also heading for the planet, to wipe out the royal line of a planet who has fled to Esselven…

Theatrical Traveller: My biggest issue with this book is its characterisation. The sixth Doctor and Peri sound shockingly familiar in this story…which is a shocking oversight because they couldn’t be more different! That is all part of their appeal! However making up for this is the Doctor’s scenes with Green-8 a gardening robot who has become sentient, who would make an ideal companion for the Doctor! Their scenes together, where Green-8 experiences all manner of emotions for the first time are very sweet (“A sun that moved of its own accord, that would be most wonderful to see.”)

The Doctor knows you cannot turn the clock back – well not to often anyway. He is obviously not a child (even though he is dressed as a jester or a clown). It has been a long time since he was a child. This incarnation of the Doctor is more rational and less sentimental. One thing Peri knew about the Doctor, for all his irritating ways, he would never stop looking for her. He isn’t logical but that means doing the right thing. There is a wonderful moment where the Doctor releases a bunch of slaves from robot control and one woman turns on him and quietly says. ‘thank you.’ At the same time he has allowed Green-8 to feel power, pride and hope for the first time. Lovely

Busty Babe: Peri does get to strike out on her own in this book and have a totally independent adventure from the Doctor (which is far rarer than you might think). She gets to chase a living teddy called Boots, fall down a hole (like Alice), befriend a scavenger, barely avoid becoming his wife, confront an old friend (Dynes) and discover much of the plot.

The Doctor says of her: “Peri is opinionated, annoying, impatient, quarrelsome and stridently American…and I would miss her dearly. Not that I’d admit that to her face.” She is resolutely brave but no great fighter; she is dealt a couple of serious blows in a catfight with Nerla. She preferred to talk her way out of a fight. Dexel Dynes calls her, “Perpiguilliam Brown…hostile news subject!” Peri Brown, appealingly photogenic and would have scored high viewer approval.

Twists: I adore the cover; it reminds me of one of the most enjoyable afternoons I have ever spent as the sun lazily set. You have to love the cuteness of a book that opens with chapters featuring Luci Longlocks, Boots the teddy bear, polite garden robots and Wild Woods. The Doctor is nearly turned into processed compost! With no movement of the sun there is no way of measuring time and thus they have no idea about the stars. Judd blasts a hole in the defensive shield and all hell breaks loose on the surface and Dynes flies through for his story. Under the palace the Doctor discovers a room full of desiccated corpses.
A computer system is running Esselven? I never would have thought that turning off a holographic program could be a dramatic scene but from the point of view of Oralissa, watching her friends and family collapse and then vanish herself. The entire Oralissa plot is revealed as a holographic programme, which was designed to entertain, so you can play parts in the storyline of The Princess of Aldemar. When trying to reinforce the planetary shield one of the generators went critical – causing the shield to distort time and space. It has been 500 years since Hathold came to Esselven. They evacuated the Summer Palace and took up residence in the Wild Woods – Kel and his primitive tribe are the descendants of the royal line! The Aldemar drama played on and one, resetting every ten days and the robots began to accept the characters as the real Lords. There is something quite delightful in a robot sympathising with a human who has discovered she is a hologram. The ending is fantastic, the Doctor sending both Judd and Dynes 500 years into the future, Dynes discovers the Protectorate has broken and the Esselven’s are back in power and Dynes is a relic!

Funny bits: The Doctor on Boots: “Perhaps we can bribe him with honey!”

Green-8 asking the Doctor if he would like a drink: “Do you require watering?”
During her attempted escape Kel lands on top of Peri and gets a boner!
“Well think of this as an adult game. Making a game out of something you’ve got to get done. A spoonful of sugar and all that sort of thing.” “I beg your pardon?” “Never mind.”
Kel’s smooth talking charm working on Peri: “You will bear my children. If you are lazy, I will beat you.”

Result: Cute. Can you imagine a story more boring than the Doctor and Peri walking through some gardens for 280 pages? Christopher Bulis pitches this story with a lightness of touch unusual in the novel line and fills the pages with warm sentiment which is unusual in his books. It is a bit like The DaVinci Code film, a well-constructed plot spoilt by bland execution but he gets away with by piling mystery on top of mystery until the reader has reached page 200 and is hungry for some answers. Green-8 and Oralissa are great characters, asking questions about themselves and giving the novel a deeper theme of identity. The conclusion ties everything up beautifully and any book that sees a bunch of primitives, a robot and a hologram heading off to liberate a planet cannot be looked upon with too big a frown. And the fate of the villains is ingenious. Much better than its reputation, a book that demands you finish it: 7/10

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Hope by Mark Clapham

Plot: The desolate, lawless town of Hope is home to a spree of monstrous beheadings, unconnected murders which the Doctor is called in to investigate. Meeting the real power behind the planet, Silver, the TARDIS crew is in danger of being torn apart forever as a dangerous bargain is made…

Top Doc: Much is made of the Doctor’s missing second heart and the effects it is starting to have on him. With it gone, he is starting to feel like just another man. He cannot metabolise tranquillisers or activate his respiratory bypass system any more which leads to some complicated situations. He prefers to think of the TARDIS as a friend rather than a machine. He has a passion for dangerous, unpredictable situations, which he seeks out the second he steps from the TARDIS in this book. He proves he doesn’t need a gun; his offensive capabilities are his physical and mental attributes. He tells Silver he is not for hire, by any one. He has a crack at some hammy tramp acting which is damn near hilarious! Described as being happy standing taller than worlds, growing acidic and imperious when he learns of Anji’s betrayal. A fallen angel with his wings clipped? He tells Silver that his missing heart isn’t what helped him defeat monsters like him, it was his character.

Scruffy Git: This is another highly enjoyable portrayal of Fitz who is fast becoming the easiest companion to write for with very, very few writers getting his voice wrong. He is a 20th Century everyman who embraces the extraordinary who is really down to Earth and recognisable, no matter how hard he tries to play the man of mystery (I think that sums him up beautifully!). Anji finds she can rely on his good nature and humanity. Although he never learns his lessons with the ladies, which is a part of his general Fitz-ness. He considers himself not cruel, cowardly or mean and a man of few beliefs. Sometimes Fitz wished the Doctor had a little less faith in him, so he wouldn’t always be chosen to go on all the dangerous missions. Hilariously he spends five minutes with a techno cult and in that time turns their entire belief system on its head! He is extremely proud of his ability to loaf around. His reaction to Anji’s betrayal of the Doctor is one of utter horror, attempting to shrink into the shadows.

Career Nazi: The finest Anji book yet and one of the defining moments in her tenure, Clapham captures her voice beautifully, managing to take her down a path that many would consider scandalous (betraying the Doctor) but without it seeming false or turning her into some arch (New Ace) villain. She feels as though the TARDIS is her home, it’s now become a place of familiarity and comfort for her. She feels guilt because she is used to waking up alone now. She is very soft with Fitz these days and calls him ‘tiger’. To Anji, the universe is young and fresh and old and dying colonies like Hope are not the sort places she wants to visit. Her decision to ask Silver to resurrect Dave is not because she wants her boyfriend back but because after dying in such a pointless way she wants to give him a second chance at life. Both the Doctor and Silver win her trust in separate ways, the Doctor she likes and respects and she is awe of Silver and looks up to him. But Dave is the main man in her life, the only one she chose to be with, a man who she shared affection, trust, warmth, hope and lust with. Ultimately, for Anji, that bond is more important to her than a haphazard adventuring spirit. She chokes with tears at not being able to tell ‘her’ Dave about the wonders of the universe she has seen.
When the Doctor discovers she has handed over the secrets of the TARDIS to bring her old love back to life he is furious but brilliantly Anji refused to be silenced and hits him with her motivation for doing it with all the passion she can muster. Appropriately her final scene with the new Dave is awkward but there is a wonderful sense of release for her, like she has closed the door on that particular part of her life.

Foreboding: The Doctor’s missing heart is causing all sorts of problems for him…

Twists: The exciting opening sees the TARDIS plonk down on a frozen sea of acid, which starts to break up as soon as the travellers emerge. Hope is an ingenious idea, vividly depicted in the story, a desolate town built of rubbish, raised on stilts to protect it from an acid sea. During a tense hostage situation Silver makes his first show stopping appearance, smashing one of cultist’s skull all over the room with his giant metal fist. Chapter seven is excellent, skilfully recounting Silver’s past, especially the marvellously disorienting moment when we experience Silver waking up for the first time from his POV. The price for resurrecting Dave is to hand over the secrets of the TARDIS, a delicious dilemma for Anji. The beheading monsters turns out to be just a man after all, one of a team of scientists living under the sea, protecting the last survivors of humanity. Silver is revealed to have set up the cult that loathes him all along, just to prove there is opposition to his rule. The Doctor boasts of humanities creativity and craving for knowledge before Stephen admits he cannot wait to cut him open. The scene where Silver lavishes a fresh storm over Hope is one of unexpected joy. Anji’s sneaking around the TARDIS behind the Doctor’s back is really uncomfortable. Silver’s plan, to convert the remaining dregs of humanity into an army of Silveratti and take over the universe would be embarrassing if all the elements hadn’t been so well set up in the book. The confrontation between the Doctor and Anji is electric and the high point of the book. Touchingly, proving he still has faith in her, the Doctor gives Anji the TARDIS key. Anji saves the Doctor for once, shooting Silver in his good eye and helping transport him to another, primitive world.

Embarrassing bits: The front cover is striking but when looked at from a certain angle resembles a very purple gay disco. Annoyingly the depiction of Hope on it doesn’t match anything described in the book either, except for the stilts. Anji says it has only been a few months since Dave died but at least a year passed in Adventuress! My own reaction to this book is a source of embarrassment for me, the first time I read it I enjoyed it, but about six months ago I re-read it and tore it to pieces in a particularly nasty review on DWRG, and now reading the books is order I can now see how so much of this works really well in context. What was I on in that second read?

Result: Clearly the work of an author trying to impress on his debut solo novel, there are loads of great ideas in here and the plot never stops developing. Hope itself is a beautifully well thought out Doctor Who location full of danger and atmosphere, a deadly setting for this tale of betrayal and conquest. It’s almost a shame that Silver has to become such a predictable villain in the end because he is such a memorable character and for once there is a character that matches the charisma and intelligence of the Doctor. The prose is a little choppy in places and the plot does hop about a bit but none of these matters because the character work is brilliant. Anji is finally treated to a novel that pushes her centre stage and she is every bit as compelling and thoughtful as I new she would be, Mark Clapham should be extremely proud of taking this much loathed character and making her seem more real and complex than any other writer. Her plot brought tears to my eyes at the end. All in all, a compelling read, not an absolute classic (there’s a bit too much going on and with an extended page count it could be explored more thoroughly) but a confident, intelligent read with plenty to admire and enjoy: 8/10

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Damaged Goods by Russell T Davies

Plot: Drugs are changing hands, kids are being sold, friendships falling apart, women being tortured by sick children, terrible ancient weapons coming to life and gay sex is being enjoyed. Just another day for the New Adventures.

Master Manipulator: It’s only when you finish the book that you realise just how damn ineffectual the Doctor has been in this adventure. He stands up to the most evil and heinous creature that has ever walked upon the Earth in the climax but doesn’t manage to save a single soul. He’s utterly, utterly useless, not managing to bring a single moment of relief to any of the characters and failing to stop the deaths of over 11,000 people. To save the day he causes the woman trapped inside the Time Lord weapon to murder herself through her own desire for children. It’s just wrong. Whilst this remains one of the best written novels in the Doctor Who range, it is one the worst Doctor Who books because of what it says about our hero. He has lost his touch. Just horrible.

The Doctor had been wonderfully relaxed of late until he realised there was alien cocaine being spread and jumps into action. He has so many bad memories that if he started crying he would never stop. If he has a talent it is getting in the centre of things. The Doctor tries to remind himself that somewhere in the universe the tea is getting cold when things get bad. He can smell a lie a mile off and has a smile you can tumble into. He has never paid his supporting cast much attention. He has joined the ranks of the powerless and ignorant and he hated it. Sometimes he wished he could be blind, deaf and dumb, free of his talent because of the world of weeping he did understand.

Stroppy Copper: A waste, again. A few moments, but nothing special. Russell T Davies reserves all the good stuff for his original characters. The Roz of old sounded like Chris’ mother, she was glad to see her Squire having fun. Ironically she sees herself as an old woman, still a pawn of the Doctor’s machinations. Little does she know. There is a powerful honesty between the Doctor and Roz. She accepted the Doctor as their leader and had a hard logical core. She has violence in her eyes.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Poor old Chris, they’ve tried to make him a fluffy bunny (literally in his first book!), a Buddhist monk, a sex stud…and now a burgeoning gay guy in a desperate bid for him to find some sort of character. But he just isn’t interesting enough to work in any of these (wildly different) guises. Russell T Davies writes him here with far more street cred than we have seen before and with many delicious descriptions of his tight arse and exploding pecs but no matter how much David Daniels wants to get into knickers and how much Chris peels off his clothes on a street corner and lets him, he’s still the most vacuous and dull companion we have ever suffered. There’s just nothing underneath that muscle and speaking as a married gay man who’s met more than his fair share of Chris Cwej’s, he’s really not worth wasting your time with.

Foreboding: ‘Years gone by have been creeping into my head of late. It might be a sign of change to come. An assessment before the end.’ The signal to active the N Form has come from the future, which leads into So Vile a Sin.

Twists: Here’s my chance to say some very nice things about Damaged Goods because it is the supporting cast that make this one of the most memorable books readers are likely to read. The Capper setting himself on fire is a good hook into the story. Harry’s introduction is so painfully real, a married gay man who wife is best friends with a younger, more attractive gay guy. He cruises at night, desperate for male contact but ashamed and disgusted with himself. When he is stabbed by the bit of skirt he is trying to pull he thinks only of shame. The knife wound is described as a two inch flap between his breasts, a ragged misplaced mouth. In a few paragraphs Davies explores the pain of not travelling with the Doctor, as we see the entire life of Rita the waitress, dying of an overdose rather than exploring the universe. Everybody sees something different in Gabriel Tyler and everybody paid their respects to him, seeking reassurance in their mirror image. The story of Mrs Jericho’s shopping trips (snip snip snip) is utterly chilling. ‘Taste it and you’ll taste heaven…’ The Capper wants everybody, teachers, pupils, bankers to try his cocaine.
Harry confronting David (‘You’re filth. Queer filth’) is haunting because you just don’t know what he is capable of. The story of Sylvie’s death as she hunted for an inhaler as she had an asthma attack, Harry waiting outside, is horrible but riveting. The Doctor did not notice that the universe had gotten darker until it was too late. Tribophysics is the means of slipping between dimensions. The shocking twist that Winnie Tyler had twins and sold one of them for 30k is what powers the second half of the book. Gabriel has been drawing a noughts and crosses grid because his brother has been staring at a hospital ceiling for years. Like an isotope, Mrs Jericho has being sapping psi energies from her son. Pages 169-174 are the stories of Winnie and Eva, two women who have never met but their lives are so entwined. Winnie accepted the cash for Steven and lost her life as a result, Eva had phantom pains until the child she had bought was in her arms. Winnie paid of her debts but refused to spend any of the blood money on the rest of her children. Nobody told Eva she was buying one of a set of twins and now there is a perfectly good replacement on the rack and she was going shopping. How scary. In a scene that chilled my blood, Eva Jericho stabs Thomas three times and watches her husband die of food poison spasms…and you realise that she had also stuck the rat poison in her mashed potato but her madness had gripped her now and she was no longer willing to sacrifice herself. The Capper looming over his employees and cutting them to ribbons with his cheese wire tentacles is really nasty. His sinking into the sewers would make a striking visual. There is a piece of N Form in every gram of coke; it licks at the mind, creating an engram waiting to release half a ton of metal into the skull. These are dimensional vents through which the N Form can enter the physical world, better to use lots of small doors rather than one gaping hole. If the N Form decides the human race has a Vampire inheritance it will destroy the world and Gabriel and Steven’s link is similar to the Wasting. Although Rassilon forbade it, the N Forms were released and Vampire worlds died in seconds. The war is over and this surviving N Form is part of the debris, damaged, deranged machine robbed of its mind, clinging to a human corpse in desperation. Mrs Jericho calmly telling Winnie that she is an unfit mother and that she has come to swap sons is remarkably intense. Gabriel touches his brother and Steven dies.
The N Form becomes a mechanical daddy long legs clambering over the Baxter Estate and sprouting new appendages. 11,000 people die an awful death, tiny mouths in their brains vomiting metal into their skulls. Winnie had recently forced her son to take the coke he was hiding from her at home and as a result they both die. Mrs Jericho holds Gabriel and the N Form consumes them and she feels the people becoming dimensional breaches blossoming, as though she is having thousands of children. The shocking, disgusting, unforgettable ending sees Eva’s lithopaedian, the child lodged inside her (the Voice that has been speaking to her, enhanced by Steven’s psi powers) grow and burst from her body. The N Form is denied a host and pops out of our dimension.

Funny Bits: ‘Wicked?’ snorted Carl. ‘Where’ve you been grandad? No one says wicked anymore.’ ‘Really?’ said the Doctor, crestfallen. ‘In 1987? I could have sworn they did.’

Result as a novel: Russell T Davies explodes onto the scene with a book so breathlessly memorable and shocking it knocked me back to attention after my allergic reaction to the last two books. Graphic, and fuelled by a mixture of strong science fiction ideas and brutal, painful human drama, Damaged Goods will open your mind to some ugly imagery and stomach churning moments. Cracker style psychodrama and bloodthirsty homicide combine to create an unforgettable novel, featuring some really fantastic prose. Eva Jericho is the most frightening human monster the Doctor has ever encountered: 10/10

Result as a Doctor Who book: A book where the main characters are murderers, drug dealers, child sellers, cottagers and where it is hard to muster up any enthusiasm for the depressing lot of them. This isn’t a Doctor Who book; it wants to crowbar the most accomplished and imaginative science fiction series into a world of suicide, petrol bombs, teen angst, cocaine, mass murder and loveless sex, an unthinkable atrocity. This is a series where the Doctor has employees and he sends them off to explore to find him drugs, a world where he fails to make any impact on the terrible pain around him, where he murders a woman’s hopes to save the day. Thatcher’s Britain is revealed in all its ugly glory and the series rots and festers in its grip: 0/10

Overall: 5/10