Saturday, 11 December 2010

Bad Therapy by Matthew Jones

Plot: 1950’s London, prejudice is strife and a race of alien refugees is seeking existence in the arms of people who need comfort. The Doctor and Chris arrive still heartbroken for their loss of Roz and begin their healing…

Master Manipulator: Maybe it is because he has lost all of his cynical companions (and let’s face it they don’t come much more cynical than Ace, Bernice and Roz!) or maybe it is because he is still hurting over the loss of Forrester but the Doctor of Bad Therapy is a brand new sort of 7th Doctor. A warm, caring, comforting sort of figure, deeply protective of those around him and sensitive to their feelings. The use of Peri makes me wish this had been a Missing Adventures as we are denied the confrontation between her and the sixth Doctor but this is still a porridge-in-the-tummy portrayal of the Doctor that sits well with me. Frankly I had the impression that Jack was a Mary-Sue character and the Doctor was just how Matt Jones would like him to be if he travelled through time and space with him.

He was a 1000 year old toddler, constantly surprised and enchanted by the universe (surely not of late???). For once he isn’t on the lookout for adventure. The Doctor’s face never sat still as though it were expressing a flowing river of colourful thoughts and ideas. When he sneaks around the night time streets of 1950’s Soho, investigating murders, sipping coffee in street cafes it feels just right. He is a magician, a healer. I adored the whole sequence with the Doctor shoved under Jack’s bed whilst his blackmailer taunts him, it should be horribly seedy (it would have been just two books earlier!) but it is charming. I love the Doctor finding the fitness magazine and smiling at the innocence of the human race, I love his angry reaction to the extortion of keeping a quiet moment in the park between two men secret and I love how the Doctor sensitively tells Jack his boyfriend is dead. Jack and the Doctor make a fine pair together; they have far better than Chris and the Doctor: ‘You and I together are more than a match for all their bullying and wickedness.’ Somehow the impossible became possible when the Doctor was around. He and Jack are both different and knew that they didn’t belong at home. There is a great image of the Doctor sitting cross legged at the top of the station steps reading a battered paperback and chewing on an apple! He and Chris have been leaving notes on the console for each other, it was easier than talking. He looks at Scotch as though it might be poison. He is exasperated by the homophobia of the age, turning on Chief Inspector Harris: ‘What? What is it that you see, Chief Inspector?’ When he throws himself in front of a speeding car he thinks, sorry Roslyn. Thinking of Chris makes him think of Roz too and he is not ready to deal with those feelings yet. He just loves human beings, there’s no logic to our behaviour and yet we are so irresistible. It is wonderful to see the Doctor throwing a party for the Toys, to see him going for such a bloodless answer to the problem. Sometimes losing the people he loves hurts so much he can hardly bear it. There are always better ideas than fighting. Peri sees him as a gentler man now, softer, more human.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Maybe its because Bernice and Roz are no longer around to hog the limelight but Chris really, really works in this novel, simply because the cuddly teddy bear finally gets to emote something other than doe eyed wonder and lust! The whole book is geared to deal with his feelings about Roz and handles them with
a surprisingly light but poignant touch. I enjoyed spending time with Chris here because he felt like a human being. It took the death of his best friend to achieve that.

Everything had been numb since Roz’s death. Their friendship, the strongest Chris had ever known had been his anchor in the endless insecurity and change. Now there was only insecurity, that and the Doctor. It was hard to adjust to travelling alone together. Described as both Little Miss Cwej and Christopher Robin! He is less accustomed to but not necessarily uninterested in the attention of men. His grief unfolds as Patsy’ starts singing ‘I’m nothing without you.’ How is he supposed to go on with her? He only feels calm now when he is in danger, where he has procedure, control. During a tense moment he prepares for a manoeuvre he and Roz had worked out and his grief winds him. When it looks like Patsy is trying it on with him he flinches away from her, it is too soon. Eventually he seeks comfort in her arms, throwing off his clothes and getting into the bath with her. When he realises the truth, that Patsy has been feeding off his need for Roz and suddenly spots all the little touches of Roz in her character, his confrontation with the Doctor is fantastic. Who ever knew he had such balls? The Doctor is genuinely scared of his anger; Chris is hysterical, violent, threatening. For a second Chris understands what is like to be the Doctor, gambling with peoples lives. It was the most terrifying thing in the world. He cradles Patsy as she dies, losing Roz all over again. He and the Doctor link arms at the climax and agree save the universe together.

Busty Babe: Well there’s a turn up! She is Queen of Kron’Tep and its 7 systems, Governor of 7 worlds…and she wants a holiday. Her wedding to Ycarnos was steps towards a man she didn’t love and away from the man who had abandoned her. She realises she is not that interested in the history of Petruska…she is more interested in running away from her husband. Page 203 sums up Peri (or rather Gilliam) in a paragraph. The Doctor had abandoned Peri on an alien world without a word with a man she didn’t love…when she finally sees him again she slaps him so hard he tumbles to the floor. She recognises the Doctor straight away despite the change in his appearance…who else would be taking on a monster with just a brolly in his hand? 25 years he had stranded her and somehow he made her forgive him with a simple, boyish smile.

Twists: Eddy’s death with the TARDIS blocking the alley and his escape, a knife stabbed into his throat, is more upsetting and arresting than Roz’s the book before! Six murders have taken place, all people without a past. Tilda, Patsy and the Major are refugees from another world, a racial minority, a servile class. Damaged Goods and Bad Therapy both offer slants on homosexuality: one is all bitchiness, cottaging, aggression and cheap thrills and the other is community, warmth, stolen moments, shyness and bravery. The black taxi sucks the Doctor inside itself. There is a gorgeous moment between Peri and Ycarnos where he refuses to shout at her for running away and asks her to continue with her work. The Toys are genetically engineered therapy instruments. The Doctor cradling the dead girl whilst looking out at the sea of corpses before him is a great visual. Petruska looks like Tilda Jupp! J
ack and Mikey trying to save Dennis is really tense stuff, especially when Carl catches him and threatens him with his razor. Tilda has been planting ‘gifts’ throughout the city, Eddy, Dennis, to provide, to be what is most needed.

Funny Bits: Tilda, such a marvellously camp character: ‘Bring us something decent to drink immediately or I shall be forced to drink here all next week!’

Result: How nice to see the New Adventures jettison all the gore and nastiness and Empire juggling and get down to some simple, human drama. It has a worse reputation than the last two but I prefer it, it’s a better Doctor Who novel than Damaged Goods and a better novel than So Vile a Sin, its more responsible than the former and has more breathing space than the latter. Jack is the companion we never got to keep; whilst the author is probably a little too invested in him he is still beautifully sympathetic and likable and should have hopped into the TARDIS at the end. Matt Jones has written a fine follow up novel specifically designed to handle Roz’s death in a science fiction story. There are lots of seductive little moments, scenes that make you want to step into the book and be a part of it. It starts really well, thrusting us into a world of murder mystery and blackmail but after 100 pages it becomes a bit of a runaround before the shock introduction of Peri and the Doctor’s joyous attempt to throw a party for the Toys. The ending fizzles away…Patsy dies, Peri leaves and Moriah repents…it doesn’t have much of a kick. The writing is easy to read and comforting, like a friend putting their arms around you on a cold day. I enjoyed this book a lot but felt with just a few tweaks could have made it even better. Different: 8/10

The Monsters Inside written by Stephen Cole

Plot: Rose finally gets to visit an alien planet! Unfortunately it is very like Earth and she is soon banged up in prison with the big squeeze after her blood. The Doctor is put to work in on an antigravitational project, which is part of a larger masterplan that will see planets squeezed through apertures and consuming other solar systems. All the while the Slitheen and their rivals the Blathereen watch on…

Northern Adventurer: Of the first three novels it is Steve Cole who nails the ninth Doctor. Each of the three novels has their problems but they all get one thing very right – The Clockwise Man manages to transfer the TV series successfully into novels, Winner Takes All captures Rose and her family beautifully and The Monsters Inside has a fantastic portrayal of the short lived ninth Doctor. The dialogue is rough, clipped and full of northern attitude. If only all three novels could have got all things right…oh wait Only Human is next!

Up close there is an intensity to him that crackles through every moment, every look. The Doctor notices the torture and oppression of the humanoids in the prison and notes ‘they act human too’ of the warders. If anything happens to Rose he promises to show them a monster. I love the idea of the Doctor bunking up with a pair of Slitheen and their horrid sticky nests! They think he is as ugly as a human but his scent is rare and subtle. Described as brash and distracted and ever so slightly sad. A tough little morsel. The Doctor has an eye opening moment of scientific erotica with Nesshalop where they forget they are in a laboratory and work together to solve their problem in an intense and powerful exchange. Apparently geniuses never see the possibilities of their own work. Making ¤¤¤¤-ups at the right time is his skill. Taking risks, pushing his lucky are the usual for him. Is this the only novel where the Doctor encourages arson as a solution? We get a glimpse of that ‘no second chances’ Doctor when he turns Don Arco’s candles into balls of flame knowing that he needs them to breath. He feels no sense of triumph that his solution cost so many lives and leaves the tale slightly deflated.

Chavvy Chick: Not so great for Rose if I’m honest, she has a few moments of intellect but she’s pretty much the generic Doctor Who companion otherwise. Finally stepping on another world Rose realises she is officially somewhere else. When travelling she gets a sense of belonging she’d never dreamt possible. A human bit of skirt? She’s handy in a bitch fight and causes a very messy food fight! Jackie always said it would be Mickey that would end up in prison. When she was 13 Rose dated a rubbish kisser but a genius food fighter! We all know she is in trouble when she has to convince that she is genius in order to be reunited with the Doctor! She manages to sell her intelligence by reeling off her mum’s telephone number and useless trivia about Eastenders! Rose wonders if the Doctor ever finds her annoying for asking so many questions. She realises she is starting to sound like the Doctor. When landing in the Doctor’s arms Rose still feels as though she is flying. She is remorseless at the Blathereen causalities, feeling that they did it to themselves. The Doctor’s final thought is a bit too Jerry Springer for Rose.

Blaidd Drwg: ‘The big Bad Wolf’s ready to blow our house down!’ - Hmm surely you could have thought of something a little subtler than this!

Twists: Justice Alpha is a designated prison planet. The entire solar system is a prison, a scientific labour camp. Justicia approached EarthGov and offered to handle their overspill of prisoners (and almost had their hands bitten off). Justicia develops pioneering strategies for law enforcement, punishment techniques and mental correction. The Globs are like enormous wads of chewing gum flexing in and out of shape as though invisible mouths are still chewing them! Norris is an undercover EarthGov
agent who has been deep undercover for 9 months and meets an untimely end when his neck is snapped with the sound of cracking eggshells. They are harnessing the energy of an entire solar system to create a cosmic centrifuge, which will open up shortcuts through space. Rose is stuck on a ship that ‘drops from the sky like a stone.’ Ugh, thick yellow pus drips from a punctured Blathereen’s eye! In a hilarious moment we realise that Ecktosca and Dram are hiding inside Globs – super compressed! Don Arco is the Blathereen big cheese, creating a giant super portal for the entire Justicia system to pass through. Their plan is astonishingly murderous, using a solar flare compressor (the biggest flame thrower in the universe) to incinerate worlds in another solar system before Justicia jumps through. The destroyed planets will create a stockpile of fissile material and with a bred labour force processing it the Blathereen will make an absolute fortune! Auntie Callis murdered Maggi and used her body to incite a riot and find her nephews. The New Washington system is 12 worlds, 4 inhabited and the first Blathereen target. Don Arco has his throat slit by his ambitious sister, her sharp claws ripping out his neck. The Blathereen mother ship is crushed to the size of a postage stamp. That Ecktosca…he’s a tricky one, he hid inside Don Arco’s corpse to escape! The Slitheen are back in business…

Embarrassing Bits: The first chapter is appallingly underwritten, a fatal error. The words ‘bitch’ and ‘slut’ are bandied about quite a bit considering these novels were supposed to be aimed at a younger market. There are some seriously underwritten characters, a fault that would plague the NSAs until they found their groove, sacrificed to the plot with only surface details known about them. Considering it is not packaged as a revelation in the book why aren’t the biggest selling point on the cover and in the title? It comes to a point in this story where everybody seems to be a Blathereen in disguise – it all starts to feel a bit Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

Funny Bits:

· The Slitheen have pictures on their cell wall of them peeking cheekily out of half shucked body suits of Meeps and Kraals!
· The Slitheen aren’t bad
company once they get used to not being able to kill you!
· The punishment for benefit cheats is to bang up their children! Are you listening Conservative Party?
· ‘We’ve done your planet so often we should get T-shirts made up.’
· The sickest knock knock joke ever – crushing and splintering the governor’s skull with two taps!
· ‘The Blathereen Patriarch. May plaque brown his belly.’
* ‘Oh come on, a dirty great solar system whizzing through space, hardly the most inconspicuous of getaway vehicle.’

Result: The weakest of the first three NSAs but still with plenty to recommend it. Steve Cole makes the deadliest of mistakes and underwrites his entire first half of the novel and for a long while it is nothing but standing around talking technobabble. The second half is much, much better, the Blathereen and Slitheen prove to be great fun once they join the plot properly, the Doctor is beautifully characterised and the sheer enormity of the plan to shove a solar system through space for profit makes up for a lot of underwhelming action earlier on. Cole keeps the dialogue light and fun but he only lightly characterises his cast so it is hard to give a damn about many of them. Some editing to tighten up the plot could sort out a lot of this books problems but for all my complaints I raced through the last half and enjoyed a fair amount of it: 6/10

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Amorality Tale by David Bishop

Plot: Gang war is breaking out in the East End. A fog is descending which is killing thousands of innocents. The Doctor and Sarah travel back to 1952 and realise with growing horror that there is nothing they can do to save them…

Good Grief: Why has nobody else thought to set a book in season eleven for the BBC? It is the least explored period of the third Doctor’s life and potentially the most fascinating. He is reaching the end of his life in this body, tired and frail and missing his old creature comforts of UNIT. It is a melancholic third Doctor, and an intriguing side to his flamboyant character.

You have got to love a book that opens with the Doctor having set up a watchmakers shop in the 1950’s being visited by the local gang offering ‘insurance’ and the Doctor kicking his butt and propelling him on to the street! Lately the Doctor’s mood has been bleaker, more introspective. He narrowly escaped death on Peladon and Sarah feels his brush with his own mortality was weighing heavily on his thoughts. He explodes when Sarah suggests they save the lives of the people they know will die: “Those people that die, must die. It’s history, its already happened and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it, Sarah.” He is scared – he doesn’t want to play God with peoples lives. He is not a buffoon despite the extravagant gestures and supercilious accent. He’s curious and caring; yet willing to be ruthless when the need arose. His eyes are rich and strange, as thought they had seen more than most. There was a sadness about them too, borne of deaths and disappointments and too many goodbyes. A significant opponent and a powerful ally. He gets a great speech on pages 258-259. At the story’s conclusion he hopes he never has to resort to such a terrible weapon again.

Who’s Best Friend: Isn’t it odd that Sarah travelled with the fourth Doctor for two and a half seasons and yet the two books published by the BBC feature her against the seventh and third Doctor’s? With characterisation as good as this, I’m not complaining.

Sarah never failed to be shocked by the level of sexism and male domination – and had to remind herself that women’s liberation was alien in this time and place. Brilliantly she holds Tommy Ramsey’s gaze, refusing to be intimidated by an East End gangster. She cannot hide her quiet terror but there is an implacability about her that is to be admired. No matter how many times she entered the TARDIS the first moment stepping over the threshold left her disorientated.
She didn’t need to know how it worked, just that it would get her to the destination safely. Tommy’s bashfulness around Sarah is lovely – the effect that she has on these men! All of Sarah’s life she had been a city dweller, moving in time with the metropolis. London 1952 is a massive culture shock for her. She missed television and good coffee and the sexism and racism is startling. It was as alien as Peladon and Exxilon. In a devastating sequence Sarah stays with neighbour Mary as her daughter dies and later she is shocked by Mrs Ramsey’s unchristian attitude to the woman. In another life Sarah could have been attracted to Tommy. I really liked the scene where Sarah admitted the truth about herself and the Doctor to Tommy; it is honest and thoughtful, like much of the book.

Foreboding: The Doctor’s weariness is a portent to his coming regeneration.

Twists: The Doctor shaking hands with a London gangster? – it is this photograph that kick starts the story and prompts them to head backwards in time. Pages 78-79 – Jack Cooper killed his mother, a great example of how David Bishop manages to carve out believable characters with convincing history with very few words. Tommy slashes off Callum’s arm only for him to transform into a Xhinn. They are a much-feared species that colonise other worlds. They strip planets of their natural resources and either subjugate or exterminate the native species all to fuel the colonisation and plunder of more worlds. The fog descends, triggered by the Xhinn; London poisoning itself and the grim task of collecting the dead and dying begins… In a tragic sequence Rose and Frank Kelly are hoarded into a space with the other evacuees and crushed to death – their impending deaths remind them of how much they love each other (and how they have forgotten). Brick’s reaction to his pigeon’s dying is similarly affecting. The bread Father Simmons has been making for his parishioners is revealed to be poisoned with a drug that makes people susceptible to hypnotic suggestion –
hence the police on the streets killing people. Simmons is revealed to be a Xhinn with implanted memories. Mary hides her daughter under the stairs – sacrificing her own life so they can live. Jack, dousing himself with petrol and burning himself alive, is horrific. The Doctor uses an outlawed chronometric device to accelerate time and murder the Xhinn. Hodge, devastated at the deaths he has caused at the hands of an alien influence, shoots himself.

Result: A superb quick read. What could be more Doctor Who than dead policemen lurching from a toxic mist on the streets of London in the 1950’s? Whilst the aliens of the story are okay, it’s the humans that make it so vital. People moan about David Bishop’s economic prose (which is light on description) but the amount of pathos and genuine emotion he manages to conjour up with so few words I feel deserves credit. Both the characters and the setting are evoked beautifully, with lots of thoughtful and heartbreaking scenes. It is an unusual period and genre for Doctor Who to venture into, 1950’s East End gangland territory, but it provides an intriguing backdrop for what is a pretty familiar Doctor Who story. The choice of the third Doctor and Sarah is the cherry on the cake, a combination I have always been fond of but rarely seen written as well as here. A bit rushed in places, but otherwise a damn fine PDA: 8/10