Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Stealers of Dreams by Steve Lyons

Plot: On the planet 4378976.Delta Four dreams have been outlawed. It is a crime to tell stories, to lie, to hope…it is a crime to dream. Enter the Doctor, Rose and Jack Harkness who are ready to turn dreams into nightmares…

Northern Adventurer: Lyons captures the nastiness of the ninth Doctor really well. He insidiously works his way into this world and knowingly plays on people’s delusions. He quite harshly berates people for refusing to give in to their dreams and publicly exposes people to social ridicule. Not altogether a nice person to be around…but he gets the job done.

He attacks his food with the same gusto with which he tackles Autons and Slitheen. It has been a while since he was called eccentric. He has a relaxed attitude to stealing since he will probably be saving their planet shortly. He has inquisitive eyebrows and wide blue eyes that hold a gentle, mocking quality. He isn’t crazy, he’s a genius. He ably talks a gunman out of hurting anybody without batting an eyelid. He never likes to stick around for mopping up. He is a mass of energy and authority. He never pretends that he could save Rose from everything. You have got to love the ending of this book where a TV Show is created to chart the Doctor’s adventures, introducing new ideas to kids, letting them go to sleep happy that there is a monster at the foot of the bed.

Chavvy Chick: Oh Rose Tyler. People’s opinion of Rose is so weird. When she first introduced in the first Davies season we were all heralding her as the best companion ever, a genuinely likable working class gal with some attitude. Then when she had settled into the role and was shoved next to the equally glib tenth Doctor suddenly she was smug and jealous and annoying. Since Rose we have been introduced to the sexier Captain Jack, the smarter Martha Jones and the funnier and more mature Donna Noble. Poor Rose. Yet I don’t think we should ever forget what Billie Piper and Rose brought to the series, a sense of wonder, a contemporary edge, buckets of charm and an audience identification figure for the girls (a hugely important job). Here Lyons manages to take Rose and with just a few tweaks turns her into a twitchy, nervous, paranoid version of the normal Rose we see on the telly. She finds menace in every shadow and conjours a fake Doctor out of thin air to help solve her problems when she can’t do it herself. A frightened, incapable little girl who wants protection.

She finds this planet disappointingly mundane, office blocks and traffic. The Doctor made Rose see that the world isn’t black and white. She lets fiction energise but not control her. She is often torn when the Doctor insults human beings, feeling slighted at the insult to her species and flattered because he made her the exception. Rose doesn’t want the Doctor to pretend he can save her from everything.

Hot Homo: You couldn’t always believe a word Jack says. Brilliantly when a report is put out to warn the citizens of the intruders Jack is said to have lethal charisma! He wanted to be the big crook when he was younger, the romance, the glamour, the adventure…he got all that with the Doctor, but better. Jack was fated to die in a blaze of glory, at a time and place of his own choosing, when and where it really mattered. Jack w
as still getting used to the fact that he didn’t have to pull the rabbit out of his own hat every time now. Don’t feel bad for Jack only appearing in three Doctor Who books…he has had 16 Torchwood novels produced already.

Foreboding: Jack tells an amusing anecdote about the Face of Boe on page 75…this guy just doesn’t know when to stop tempting fate!

Blaidd Drwg: ‘We’ve got good reason to be afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.’

Twists: The prologue is fantastically creepy, Kimmi trying to convince herself that the monster under the bed isn’t real before it attacks her! A world of no imagination, no escapism, no lies and no fiction…absolutely terrifying. Fiction is all about possibilities, hopes and dreams. If you can’t conceive of anything bigger how can you build it? Fiction geeks are sociopaths who cannot engage with reality so they retreat even deeper into unhealthy fantasies (even reading comics!). During the hostage scene we get to see the danger of a repressed imagination, Inspector Waller experiences both the truth of her and the Doctor taking the gunman down and the fantasy of his blowing the building sky high. It is a nice narrative trick…the character uncertain which is the truth (and thus neither are we). There is a brilliant double twist, the more obvious twist that the tramp is Hal Gryden, the head of the revolution…and then the even better twist when Jack is taken to his secret studio where he makes is broadcasts which is just an empty warehouse! The tramp is just a fantasy crazy nutjob! Very well done. I loved the line: ‘You need to make the truth sound plausible?’ Waller makes a halfway convincing case for this society: ‘Look at what it cost them. Our ancestors flirted with madness. They let their criminals run rampant, accepted that their leaders would always lie to them, fought wars over things they couldn’t see. Billions of them have suffered and died to give us what we have now. A stable and workable society. A reality in which we can all live, in which we don’t have to dream anymore.’ Life on this planet is described as a way of getting from birth to death. The end of chapter 9 is really creepy…Rose’s note to Dominic ‘You see he is real’ about the Doctor, when he is the one reading the note. Chapter 11 is cleverly written to include the Doctor but only from Rose’s POV. The TARDIS is described as a fat, chunky cabinet, nestled between the trees. A rich, dark blue. There are a barrage of great twists at the end of the novel. Kimmi is revealed to be Inspector Waller. Hal Gryden never existed (‘You said you were watching Static. You were more right than you knew.’) Technically the Doctor is Hal Gryden; he broadcasts himself on TV (‘The best way to stop someone dreaming is to make their dreams come true.) Inspector Waller is revealed as a fraud, truly fantasy crazy: ‘Ironic isn’t it, ‘Inspector’ that you’ve spent so long denying other people their dreams and all the time you’ve been living yours!’

Funny: There are a number of hilarious moments Lyons works from his crazy premise…
· Mrs Helene Flanigan is the luckiest woman in Sector one-Beta this evening. Usually when the 31 year old schoolteacher drives home from work in her seven year old 1.5g injection Mark 14.B family vehicle, the journey takes her an average of forty-two and a half minutes. Tonight, though, she made it home in half that time. The reason? Every one of the traffic lights on her route home showed green. Earlier, we asked Mrs Flanigan what she did with the time she had saved. She spent it watching TV.
· A woman accused her young neighbour of playing unapproved music, but the girl had retaliated with the more serious charge that the complainant was imagining things, and both were now under medical observation.
· Jack cheekily suggests that the Doctor, Rose and he all share a bed!
· ‘No wonder there are no politicians. I bet they were the first up against the wall.’ In a world of no lies, the political system crumbled!
· When the hostage situation is over they realise the fantasy crazy nutter’s detonator was in fact a TV remote.
· She lingered on the live feed from a courtroom, where a woman was petitioning for divorce on the grounds that
he husband had destroyed her confidence with a campaign of malicious lies: ‘He specifically and repeatedly assured me that my bum did not look big in that dress, and yet when we arrived at the restaurant…’
· There is no security in the Big White House because nobody can imagine breaking out!
· The Doctor warns Dominic about the TARDIS: ‘And while you’re here have a good walk round, get used to the size of it. It’ll save you some time later on.’
· The real name of 4378976.DeltaFour is Arkannis Major. Which everyone agreed was a bit dull.

Result: ‘If is a dangerous word.’ The Stealers of Dreams will give you a lot to think about, whatever you think of its literary merits. It is classic Steve Lyons, taking one big, clever idea and milking it for all the imagination (oh the irony!), scares and chuckles. Whilst the subject matter deliberately makes the tone of the book clinical, it is constantly innovative and full of small, clever details that see this concept explored very well indeed in a short space of time. It is one of the few times I feel an NSA needed more breathing space, a few more characters and some more light relief would have made this a more rounded novel. There is a rushed feel to the book, with a limited word count the world had to be set up, explored and torn down in limited time. It is a valiant attempt to producing something more thought provoking than usual; a clever book which deserves more kudos than it receives. A well-plotted, twist-loaded book with a nightmare concept: 7/10

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole

Plot: The Doctor, Ben and Polly land on a planetoid containing the Empire’s most wanted terrorists. An elite unit of soldiers are on a training mission that is about to turn deadly. The ten corpses are vanishing and people start dying and soon the Doctor realise they are in the middle of a terrifying trap that spells trouble for the Earth’s Empire…

Hmmm: This is a very mature take on the first Doctor. It is tempting for many authors to highlight Billy Hartnell’s fluffs and goofs and giggles and hmm’s but Stephen Cole does not take this easy path. His first Doctor is authorative and burningly intelligent, observing all and cleverly thinking through their problems where others would smash through guns blazing. Considering the ten strong gang of bullies and thugs he has to endure this adventure with he manages to stand up to them and hold his ground with remarkable force. He’s a hell of a guy!

He is a black and white character, not just in his appearance but in the way he saw things – he suffers no fools and takes no prisoners. He’s like a granddad who has lost his marbles! He fiddles with the console the same way Ben’s dad did with the family car, fiddling with bits to see if it works! He struggles for worlds sometimes – like an actor drying up on stage. Nobody gives the Doctor answers; he seeks them out just as anyone can. For one moment in the book that Doctor doesn’t look like a brilliant academic but a bewildered, frightened old man. The Doctor’s mind is fresh but his body is old. He is holding back some sort of change. Soon he shall feel a new person.

Able Seaman: I love Ben. I feel he and Polly were given a bum deal on the telly and even though technically this adventure couldn’t have taken place I don’t give squit because it gives us more chances to enjoy this pair. Its odd that they spend most of their time with the 2nd Doctor but the only book they have successfully appeared with him is The Roundheads whereas matched with the 1st Doctor here they feel like they are right at home. There is something very innocent about this pair but naturally so and they are both charismatic and sexy as hell.

In the navy Ben had seen so much, been so many places and learnt how to handle himself. He wishes he could see his mum again, the daft cow. When he sees Polly again after a horrific ordeal he decides she is as beautiful and perfect as when he first met her, despite the fact she is filthy and tired. He continually proves his strength (physically and of character), taking on Kill Droid, thrusting himself up statues into the unknown and mucking in. Frankly he is exactly the sort you would want watching your back. He isn’t the brightest in class but he has plenty of guts.

Lovely Lashes: Polly likes to think she’s independent and can look after herself but Ben knows better. All Polly knows is parties, poncy nightclubs and finishing school! She had wanted to give something back to society and started working at a charity shop. But she had hated the squalor of the grey little store and quit after a week. Polly had always wanted to reach out and touch the stars. It’s a beautifully
ironic moment when Polly, who has pretty much been treated like a bimbo and useless, discovers the navigational crystals that saves all their lives. Go Pol!

Foreshadowing: There are some sneaky references to the Doctor’s upcoming regeneration without saying anything specific.

Twists: Straight away this is a world that comes to life vividly, the shard VR experiences, the E-Zine…they are imaginative ways to get the reader absorbed into this nasty, gritty world. Shade being shot before the entire military for criticising the equipment is way-cool. The Schirr complex is designed to break free of the asteroid for destinations unknown. The Schirr have infested the training area and subverted its functions to accommodate their own. Lindey being dragged off into the darkness lightning quick is a great shock. Ben takes on a Kill Droid in a really tense action sequence. Shel’s arm is blown away to reveal he is a cyborg. Did he set all this up or was he investigating the person who did? They discover the asteroid is heading for the Morphien Quadrant. The moment Ben climbs up one of the statues is well scary – one of statues twists around to look at him – blood from a human corpse bleeding from its hand. Is Frog turning into a Schirr? Pages 150-152, the flashback to the Schirr attack on Toronto is griping. You’ve gotta squirm at the scene where they discover where the missing troopers bodies have gone…as fuel for the rituals! Frog attempting to slice away her skin is really disgusting. So is the scene where Joiks is lifted into the air and both of his arms are torn off! We the statues that are roaming about killing everybody are made from the fleas that are irritating everybodies skin. The Neural Net section is a minor stroke of genius, again it is an unusual and fascinating device to keep peoples attention and make everything a bit different. And don’t attempt to skip it, those of you who have grown up because it contains some vital information. Haunt is revealed as the traitor who tricked them all into coming – I never saw that coming! The Schirr saved her life on Toronto and grew a malignant cyst so she would do their bidding. She justifies this by killing every
Schirr she meets with a passion and figuring that the ‘Spooks’ would be less of a threat if they did attack Earth and have bodies so they could genuinely fight back. The Schirr are working with a dissident group of Morphiens. The ten strong planned to magically turn Haunt’s troops into Schirr flesh and absorb them for strength. The Schirr want to claim victory over the humans and the Morphiens want to attack Earth so they can lay claim to bodies. We discover Shel is still alive, inside the neural net and he disrupts the ceremony and strips the dissident group of their protection and the Morphiens claim their criminal brethren. Roba sacrifices himself so the ceremony will not work, there will not be enough humans for each of the Schirr.

Result: New Battlestar Galactica meets Alien meets Agatha Christie… and it proves to be a real intoxicating brew! Ten Little Aliens is one of the best PDAs I have read in a while, featuring a genuinely interesting plot, some lovely gory moments, a healthy number of plot twists and some terrific atmosphere. Cole manages to create a convincing dirty world of worn down troops, one that exists outside of this particular story. The characters evolve skilfully, it starts out a little shallow but as things get more tense we learn more about these people and by the climax they have all blossomed beautifully. Even the cover is memorable. It is probably the best thing Cole has written for the range. Superb: 9/10

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Book of the Still by Paul Ebbs

Plot: Landing on the planet Lebenswelt, the Doctor gets arrested after attempting to steal the legendary Book of the Still. Fitz meanwhile, is tricked into falling for the beautiful Carmodi who has sinister motives of her own. And somewhere in the depths of space a ruddy great spaceship carrying a race of aliens who are going to try and destroy everybody who has ever heard of them…

Top Doc: Some seminal eighth Doctor moments crop up here, mostly surrounding his relationship with fellow inmate Rhian. It is easily the closest he has ever come to having a physical relationship with anybody, forget Grace, this a truly sensitive relationship where he hugs her close when she is upset, wipes her eyes when she cries and embraces her in a exhilarating dance when he thinks they are going to die. He is described as a pretty boy who arrives like a shiver in your life, stepping into your lifeline like someone who needs to wipe his feet. He finds his skydiving experience extremely liberating. He pulls out the Venusian Karate again, to little effect. He realises he is so caught up in the machinery of time travel that he has forgotten the raw thrill of it. He’s been around the block a few times but still has a few gaps. Hilariously he thinks his clumsiness is a direct correlation of his high intelligence! Rhian calls him Doctor Shoot On Sight! He has the whole the universe behind his eyes, admitting he lived on Earth for 100 years but now gets impatient boiling an egg. He gets extremely frustrated at his inability to dance, bothered that there is something he cannot do. When asked why he didn’t let Rhian sleep through their imminent destruction he admits he didn’t want to die alone.

Scruffy Git: In a scene that made me eyes well up with tears Fitz admits, although he has been programmed to love Carmodi, with the Doctor it is the real thing. He admits he would walk over broken glass to the end of the Earth for him. Isn’t it wonderful to be focussing on Fitz again after such a long time and although this is another failed romance (number eleven!) it is nothing like his previous attempts, this one being forced upon him and his slow realisation that he has been used (Carmodi admits it was the Doctor’s second hand time particles swamping him that attracted her to him) is heartbreaking, especially when he is simultaneously angry and head over heels in love with her. He was born to land on the planet where the party never stops.
Anji compares him to that embarrassing Uncle who tries to dance ‘groovy’ at a party with his ‘cool’, ‘vibe’ and ‘man’ in every other sentence. He has had cards made up…Fitz Kreiner, freebooter and gigolo! He sees Anji as beautiful but a friend rather than a potential lover. He asks one of the universal questions here…why does love hurt so much? He hates being so transparent and admits you can’t take the Norrrff Laandan out of him.

Career Nazi: Oh Anji, let me count the ways I love thee! What a glorious bitch she is here, witty and spiteful and angry and hilarious! Whilst I prefer the more sensitive takes on Anji I have to admit this is one of the most entertaining! She’s just so scary…she’d smack down New Ace, Benny, Roz, Sam, Compassion and Trix with the attitude she dishes out here! She is no longer culture shocked (“What’s that? A new planet? Oh sorry. I’m washing my hair.”). Anji has perfected a way of ignoring Fitz’s more annoying tendencies by mentally smacking him over the head with a chair. Fitz describes her as a few Taj’s short of a Mahal! She doesn’t cry much, except when the bonuses in the office dip below £20,000. She admits she misses Fitz, warts and all. She doesn’t usually take an instant dislike to people (hah!); it usually takes at least five minutes. Rhian makes the homicidal error of taking the piss out of Anji’s job leading to Anji making unflattering comparison between her and Velma from Scooby Doo (DUMPYFOUREYES!). Hilariously she leads a War party to pick up the TARDIS, secretly enjoying the lawlessness of her mob. Much of Anji’s scenes are imbued with a sense of vindictive bitchiness that is hard not to love (oh come on…you can’t all be that square can you?) and laugh your head off at. I love her.

Twists: The Obligatory Spectacular Opening features the Doctor skydiving through the roof of the Museum of Locks and attempting to half inch the Book of the Still. Fitz is placed in a controlled dream sequence where the evil Doctori and his sinister assistant Anjilina are trying to steal Fitzgerald’s darling Carmodi. Cue much rapier wit, swordfights in dresses and rocket jet packs in a dizzyingly bizarre sequence. The Book of the Still is a book for stranded time travellers who write their names in it and get rescued from time travellers in the future and strictly speaking it should not exist. Given the chance to escape prison, the Doctor grabs Rhian with him, which earns him a good slap around the face for turning her into a fugitive without her permission! The scabrous black ship hanging in orbit over Lebenswelt is extremely ominous. When the Unnoticed drop their bomb on the planet, the Doctor wraps the TARDIS around it and it explodes. Carmodi is revealed to be an ex sensitive for the Unnoticed, addicted to time travellers. The masked ball sequence is a joy, the Doctor, Rhian, Fitz, Anji and the three goons all dancing within an arms reach of each other, a great mix of Bollywood music, awkward dance partners, scores to settle, books to steal, same sex flirtation and gate crashing aliens! A hair raising sequence sees the Doctor realising that Rhian has to escape the imminent destruction of Antimasque and sees him focuses his energies on that rather than saving the planet, forcing himself to watch its utter destruction as they glide to safety. The Doctor builds a paper cube out of the pages of the Book of the Still and flies it
into the heart of a Sun! Sock twist, the Doctor was planted with a mind bomb that sees him try to strangle Carmodi to death when they finally meet. Shock twist number two…the three goons are revealed to be the Unnoticed…their melding of bodies are thrown back in time and eventually evolve into the slimy, scabrous aliens! Carmodi’s bomb puts paid to the close circuit, which would have trapped the Doctor and friends in an ever-circling loop of time.

Funny bits: Any scene with Anji or the Doctor is bound to have something hilarious in it. Paul Ebbs at his height had me clutching my stomach with laughter.

Embarrassing bits: The first half is pretty plotless. The ending is almost indecipherable, even the author admits as much! A shame Rhian and the Doctor had to part on such awkward terms, I would have loved to have seen how this developed.

Result: How can a book imbued with this much energy have such a quiet first half? The drug-induced prose guides you through effortlessly but it contains nothing but a number of protracted chase sequences! Once the Unnoticed arrives, so does the plot and the second half is excellent, filled with amazing scenes that will make you laugh, cry and tear your head out with the sheer madness of it! This feels like Dave Stone for a more accessible audience and has all the humour, imagination and mind boggling moments that made the former author so popular but connects to its audience with a real sense of heart too, which makes all the difference. Forget the confusing climax and get high on the wealth of memorable moments and hair raising writing style: 8/10

Eternity Weeps by Jim Mortimore

Plot: An expedition to Turkey to find evidence of Noah’s Ark leads the self-destructive marriage of Bernice Summerfield and Jason Kane dead. Mankind faces apocalypse as a dead race is reaching out to the Earth and infecting the population with a disease that is spreading like the plague. Who on Earth can put these things to rights?

Master Manipulator: We’ve lost the logo and the Doctor is seems, and I don’t just mean his not showing up until page 100 (of a 242 pages book!). I have read reviews on other sites that suggest that this is one of the more powerful evocations of the 7th Doctor. Bollocks to that. Just because Mortimore describes the character as a whirlwind three times in as many pages and just because he can turn up in the TARDIS and evacuate the few survivors doesn’t mean he has done anything especially clever or witty. I’ve lost track of which 7th Doctor I’m supposed to be reading about, the one who throws a party to bond Toys with the emotionally needy or the one who thinks that wiping out millions of people is practical solution. I cannot reconcile a Doctor who is hiding under the bed of a gay kid and standing up to blackmailers and one who thinks that wholesale slaughter is a viable option. This really is the most schizophrenic of Time Lords. What’s worse, what really got my teeth grinding was that there was a really simple solution (the damn antidote was locked in Chris’ mind) that is revealed just as the Doctor (or rather Jason, but it was entirely the Doctor’s scheme) casually condemns millions of humans and animals to an agonising death. This is a Doctor with no personality. No answers. No soul. Somebody who nobody really likes and doesn’t do much good at all. The last New Adventures have some work ahead of them if they are going to turn this around in two books.

The Doctor is orderly, calm and yet desperate, a sense of impending doom about his actions as if they will ultimately be futile. Have you noticed how much easier it is to be angry when he’s not around? How it is easier to ask questions and be yourself? The Doctor made use of people as though they were tools. Perhaps the combination of Liz and the Doctor’s thinking could have produced a solution…it always worked in the past. Failure sucked the life out of the Doctor.

Puppy Dog Eyes: The best ever description of Chris comes from this novel: ‘A big lunk who would do anything the Doctor said. He was like a big puppy dog trotting around after his master.’ Chris rather oddly spends his few appearances of this book calling everybody Roz and throwing major wobblers when asked to make tough choices, screaming out about how Roz was dead before he knew she was in danger. Wasn’t the whole point of Bad Therapy so Chris could heal from the effects of Roz’s death? When the Doctor and Chris walked away from that book, arm in arm, I hardly expected to have to cope with an ever nuttier, lovesick Cwej in this book. Was there a mix up in the schedule…was this supposed to be published before Bad Therapy?

Boozy Babe: Oh Bernice what has become of you? You can kind of understand people’s allergic reaction to this book as once again Bernice is portrayed as a shrieking emotional wreck. However I found this portrayal far more interesting than the soaped up violet from Return of the Living Dad. It does please me to think Benny will shortly be jettisoning all of this baggage and embarking on her own series of (fun) adventures. We haven’t seen the derring-do, thigh slapping, and acidicly witty adventuress for some time now (you know the one from Theatre of War or Human Nature) and I miss her. Can you blame her for being so disturbed here, surrounded by corpses, having to deal with her idiot husband and faced with a number really horrible choices (of the ‘Do this or so and so will die’ or ‘It’s millions of people or everyone’) of which Mortimore seems to love putting people in! This is the last we see of Benny in the Doctor Who New Adventures and look what they have made her, emotionally scarred and unable to love. Nice. Sums them up pretty well really.

They are the couple from hell, he is still hiding his feelings and she is still deeply insecure. Their relationship has turned sour. She has a tired brittleness creeping into her sense of humour. Jason wonders why all girls seem younger and more interesting than his wife. Sex with
Bernice was boring. Bernice heading back for Dilaver knowing that he is dead is a wonderfully humane act. Bernice’s astonishment at Jason’s stupidity is rather wonderful: ‘You can’t have made that just not have happened. And yet you still went back!’ The Doctor’s opinion of Jason: ‘You did it for yourself. You always do it for yourself. And I don’t hate you.’ The reason Bernice and Jason divorce…take your pick: Jason lied to me about loving me. I lied to him about my pregnancy. Because the Earth survived. Because the Cthalctose died. Because I wanted him to kill me. Because he was willing to do it.

Foreboding: Bernice is off to the future (well her time of the 30th Century) for some sprightly, Doctorless adventures. Hurrah!

Twists: Bernice bribes the President so the two rival expeditions searching for Noah’s Ark can embark. Major Raykal’s throat is slashed open. In a shocking, graphic sequence both Dot and Reefer are shot dead by an Iraqi soldier fearing he had been caught on their expedition video. He tries to murder Bernice but she stabs him in the eye with her paintbrush. Candy’s death in Jason’s arms is horrible. Both sides were trying to occupy each others territory and discover the uranium they believe is under the mountains…and the expeditions are caught in the middle. The prose is occasionally astonishing: ‘The blood red sun hoisted itself over the rocks. The black insect shape of a military helicopter hung before it.’ Pages 94-100 portrays a horrific gun battle with choking prose: Bernice on her knees with an injured boy in her arms and Samran’s gun to her head, the Doctor in the chopper weapon pods facing at point blank range. The four charges armed and ready to blow in the cavern is a really tense sequence. Bernice is suddenly transmatted to the Moon where she meets Liz Shaw! The Earth is being infected by a terraforming virus. Two three-megaton warheads are thrown at the moon to wipe out the ‘terrorists’ on the Moonbase. As the Earth is infected it is covered in patches of yellow. The few pages of Jason experiencing the 1000 years of destruction of the Cthalctose are mind blowing. In a truly haunting ending the Doctor liberates the singularities that power the Ark, orbits them through the Earth and sterilises the sites of infection, killing millions of people and the virus.
Imorkal planted the antidote in Chris’ 29th Century head.

Funny Bits: Lock up your sons and fossils, Professor Bernice Summerfield is here! The Summerfield combo is a two minute snog followed by a punch in the face!
‘Who in there right mind elects a rock star as president of a major world government anyway?’
The first sheep in space?
Typically, inevitably, it’s all Jason’s fault. As soon as he is blasted six billion years in the past this shocking gore fest becomes something much more interesting. Now we are in comedy/tragedy territory where we know somehow he is going to balls the whole thing up and cause the disaster in the first place but the way he merrily skips into action so convinced he is going to save the day had me chuckling and reading chapter 10 between my fingers! Jason and the Astronomer Royal discussing his performance that would lead to the destruction of humanity is hilarious (his performance lasts 190 years…and he is appalled that Jason already knows the ending!). Instead of
saving two species from extinction Jason was responsible for both.
‘But paradoxes are impossible.’ ‘I prefer to use the word embarrassing. They’re less threatening that way.’
When the Doctor unleashes his antivirus on the planet Bernice makes a rather marvellous point about the difference between TV and novel: ‘What was I looking for? A tasty CGI effect to indicate the infection was dead. The Earth saved? This was a planet. A whole planet.’
Ironically as soon as the Doctor’s awesomely murderous solution is unleashed a more humane answer is discovered. Somehow, it’s funny.

Embarrassing Bits: Fielding chokes up sprays of blood, bodies rain down, Samran bleeds acid and his jaw slides from his face, Liz is described as melting, her skin blistered, peeling, her eyes a milky fluid, Chris punches Samran and his hands goes right through his head…oh you get the idea.
The first half of the story set on Earth, lots of talk of nuclear power, the survival of a long dead race threatening the Earth, a climax which reveals a twist of the extinction of millions…this story is The Hand of Fear, with just a dash of The Silurians thrown in.

Result: A comedy so black it’s the colour of Davros’ heart. I took a complete 360 with this novel. If you had asked me what I thought about it at the page 150 mark I would have thrown it at you. A condensed, rushed gore fest with such a callous disregard of human life that I stopped trying to care about anybody because I knew they would be murdered in a few pages time. Mortimore is too clever for me; in the last sixty pages he twists the tale from the most violent tragedy into the blackest comedy with Jason Kane as the jester. Mortimore uses the breathless, panic stricken, corpse filled battlefield of destruction as a metaphor for marriage falling apart. He has never played by the rules and somehow he makes the event of Bernice splitting up with Jason more dramatic then worldwide slaughter. Operatic domestic drama then; big, bold and totally unlikable, engaging the intellect and diving into a world of unrelenting pain. I was thrilled and frustrated by this tragedy, if only we could surgically remove the Doctor and Chris it would get a higher mark: 7/10

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Only Human by Gareth Roberts

Plot: Time travel shenanigans gone awry leave Jack stuck in the 20th century trying to acclimatise a Neanderthal to a modern way of life and the Doctor and Rose in primevil dawn of history juggling emotionless humans, horny tribe’s people and some very nasty monsters. All in a days work…

Northern Adventurer: Wow, this is effortless characterisation of the ninth Doctor, he talks, acts and reacts just like the character from the telly. So much so you would swear you were watching him. Pretty good for a man who never got to write for him on TV. The doctor belongs everywhere and when he grins at you it feels like the sun emerging from behind black clouds. There is a fabulous sequence that sees the Doctor entering a young female nurse’s life and when he leaves as unexpectedly it feels like it is never going to be as exciting again. He has seen much bigger distractions than Jack’s penis. In a terrifying moment the Doctor has all of his emotions ripped away and he feels total apathy towards all of the events in his life. Odd that is scarier to hear the Doctor not caring about people dying than pretty much anything else the series has offered. He is such a kid but so funny with it, bitch slapping, goosing and wedging Quilley to make him feel something. Why does the Doctor hang out with humans? ‘You can be brilliant, terrible, generous and cruel. But you’re never boring.’

Chavvy Chick: Love Rose in this. Best novel companion ever in this. She used to work in a shop but then she found something better. Her tea making technique of whip it in, whip it out does not please the Doctor! She wonders why when you are stuck in the middle of mortal danger you still can’t stop yourself finding certain people gorgeous. She wonders if she will ever get used to the joy of travelling with the Doctor, if she would become a seasoned traveller and hard to impress (Tegan, basically). She saw the same glee on the Doctor’s face after 900 years of doing this and that made her so excited it made her what to scream it out. Rather brilliantly Rose brings the concepts of nail filing and queuing to primevil Earth…she has a lot to answer for! Her feminine wiles work a charm when she is selected to be the bride of an early human…a thought that appals her until she sees him and he is se on legs! Rose is inhuman because she cares and she believes in things, quite different from the humans from the future. She could be a nice smooth desert course after the hairy Neanderthals.

Hot Homo: Jack is used sparingly but his inclusion in this novel is what takes it from being great to being bloody brilliant! His penis is supposedly one of the biggest distractions you are ever likely to see especially when he is waving it about at a bunch of unsuspecting soldiers! Das the caveman thinks Jack is very kind and ha
s a smooth face that other people seem to like. The man who came to install the television kept grinning at him and so they went for a walk together. Jack thinks he knows everything but just because he knows more about 21st Century Earth it does not mean he understands life in general at all. He is very popular in New York. Jack is the master of telling and teaching about lies. He dresses too young. Oddly a Neanderthal feels more at home in the 21st than Jack. When Jack thinks a trip to Australia sound interesting he knows he has been stuck on Earth too long. He thinks that life with the Doctor and Rose is the best you’re gonna get. Superstition is a word Jack uses when he doesn’t understand something obvious.

Foreboding: Jack tells the Doctor ‘I don’t belong here’ when the Doctor dumps in the 21st Century. Hoooo boy.

Twists: The opening chapter is spine tingling, Chantal improving Rusty the cat because of the ‘wrong feelings’ he provokes. A caveman landing in a nightclub in Bromley is the sort of genius Doctor Who was made for. Go and read page 17 and see how beautifully Gareth Roberts can set up a scene. There is a lovely idea that Neanderthals could not develop because they were always thinking about food – had they a constant supply of food like us they could have developed a rudimentary intelligence by asking questions. Ad 436,000, a reef of magnetic energy, fallout from a devastating space war hits the Earth and wipes out all computers and recorded data. It causes plague, famine and war, a new Dark Age. The human race turned to analogue technology with an attitude of ‘that’ll do.’ Biology and chemistry became the big sciences and they learnt how to block out all sorts of unpleasant emotions, fear, sadness, etc. They have bred themselves into beauties, controlling all functions of the body; they can cure anything, even ageing. Tina shooting up and grinning whilst she is eaten alive is just horrible. Chantal, in one grisly moment, reveals she has sliced open the Doctor’s chest and removed a heart! A Hy-Bractor tears of Tim’s arm and munches away on it happily. Das manages to pull…the hairiest, fattest, big nosed girl on the planet. On her 17th birthday Chantal’s mother implanted an experimental patch to increase intelligence. She designed the Hy-Bractor, an upgrade of the human race. They are adaptable, intelligent and creative. She could see a time when horror, war and misery would assert themselves again, the self destructive gene of mankind. The Hy-Bractors are ruthless in their dispatch of inferior human competitors. Chantal plans to tape over centuries of history with her own barmy Utopia. She wants the TARDIS to spread he upgrade through all of time and space. The novel is finished by a glorious double wedding, Das and Anne-Marie and Quilley and Nan. A small part of the mad primevil world still exists in ours.

Funny Bits: Where to begin…
· ‘So it isn’t the whole universe in danger this time, just the whole of North Kent.’
· Das the caveman makes many fascinating observations about humanity of the future but he sums us up with one word on page 52 – lazy.
· ‘You’re mouths very big,’ Jacob said suddenly. Rose realised he was talking to her. ‘I don’t know what to say to that.’ ‘Where did you get it?’ asked Jacob. Rose looked to the Doctor for help. ‘Same place I got my ears,’ he said. ‘Hmm, they’re pretty huge as well. Were they a mistake?’
· ‘My dear girl, in the time I come from nobody’s been to ‘the loo’ in 1000 years!’
· Das bites into a bakewell tart…and faints!
· Das thinks television is a window to view other tribes and his favourite is Grace Brothers of UK Gold but he thinks the invisible laughing crowd are very cruel!
· ‘At least I have somebody else to feel!’ – Quilley you pervert.
· ‘Now that’s what I call a lock.’ ‘Ah, we call it that too,’
· ‘We’ll have no secrets in our marriage. When I carry on with another woman, Rose, I promise I will do it right in front of you.’
The Doctor straining to have an original idea is laugh out loud funny. When he finally manages to squeeze one out it turns out to be…leap on Chantal! Unfortunately he is restricted to one useful idea every 30 seconds so he spends a lot of time wandering about before getting his inspiration.
· Das discovers that you have to be very careful with beer because it brings you closer to the happiness of Gods and if you drink too much the Gods resent you and punish you with head pain.
· Das pulls Jackie Tyler…Jack has to intervene!
· In the future there is a pill that causes your urine to evaporate! Can somebody order me some?
· Jack has upset the mighty Caphalids who see in nine different dimensions simultaneously. Their lame multi-dimensional weapons kept firing at where he’d been and where he was going to be or where he might have decided to go in some kooky alternative universe rather than where he actually was!
· The Doctor discovers Rose under a bush with a handsome, half naked cave boy! Dirty mare!
· ‘Why disagree when you can party?’ There is actually an odd sort of logic there.
· The TARDIS translation circuit has a swear filter! ‘Who the blinking hell are you to order us about?’ ‘Did she really say blinking?’
· Cockney tribes people: ‘We’re the hardest tribe for miles around. No ones gonna try tangling with us!’ I bet Rose feels right at home!
· I adored the sequence where Rose has to marry cave boy in order to become a part of the family so she can warn them about the impeding danger! She gets slapped around the face with a wet fish and has a snog!
· Even better is where her head is lopped off her body and kept at opposing ends of a room and yet strangely enough her mouth is still as animated as ever!

Result: Glorious; a witty, creative and life affirming book which constantly innovates and surprises. It is simply written but don’t let that deceive you, there are more clever observations and witty asides here than a handful of other books. The ninth Doctor and Rose will never be written better than they are here, Roberts somehow captures their zest and energy beautifully and Jack and Das feature in some of warmest and funniest scenes of any Doctor Who book. They should have their own sitcom. The whole set up is beautifully absurd but then when is this crazy show not…but here we have Gareth Roberts let off his leash and producing something insanely imaginative and hilarious. Only Human features nudity, genitals, toilet jokes, sexual humour, cannibalism and psychological horror…but its all so fluffy you will barely notice! A rich novel, one to treasure: 9/10

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Warmonger by Terrance Dicks

Plot: We’re entering prequel and sequel territory when the Doctor becomes embroiled in the affairs of the planet Karn again. Before you know it he is the lead figure in an alliance of empires and Peri is a infamous rebel leader…engineering the downfall of galactic despot Morbius…considering the number of ‘parallel universe’ stories in the BBC line it still makes me heave that this is the one story that isn’t set in another reality!

Fair Fellow: That hardly describes the Doctor of this story. It is clear from his first appearance that this book was meant to feature the sixth Doctor and was changed to the fifth at the last minute. Unfortunately it would seem that Terrance Dicks did not see fit to change any of the characteristics of the Doctor he has written and as a result the Doctor comes across as impatient, threatening, angry, bitter, violent, arrogant, unsympathetic and bored. Having the Doctor skip forward an incarnation could solve 50% of this books problems. This feels like a horribly perverted version of the fifth Doctor but as the sixth it would work…just.

The Doctor becomes known as the Supremo, with a shaved head and a voice that orders with authority, he leads the alliance with an iron grip! The Doctor snaps the head of a giant bird and tosses it down a mountain…what would Paul Cornell say? The price of returning to Gallifrey would be high for the Doctor but he would risk it for Peri. He thinks of choking the truth out of Solon! ‘Who cares?’ is the Doctor’s bored reaction to Solon nearly getting away with killing Peri. The Doctor has unexpected resources according to Peri but no arrogance, strength and drive (is she featuring in the same book I am reading?). Page 211 pretty much sums up how the Doctor has gone temporarily insane in this book and just for a laugh I will recite it for you here…

’Do I like constant praise, adulation, almost worship? Absolute, unquestioned authority. Dozens of people breaking their necks to fulfil my every whim? People desperately trying to figure out what my next whim will be so I don’t even have to ask? As you Americans say, what’s not to like? There’s friendship Peri – the kind of friendship that closes the gap between species, friends who would be willing die for you and you for them. Above all there’s war! The greatest and most wonderful game of all, unbendingly complex and thrilling and unpredictable. Isn’t ours a good war? I do like being the Supremo – far too much!’

Busty Babe: Peri has also been changed beyond all recognition. How on Earth this Peri could go on to be the whinging, helpless companion of the sixth Doctor that we all know and love I have no idea! Can you imagine Ms Brown heading up a guerrilla unit, leading groups of people to their deaths? Even scarier is her instant arousal around the Doctor when he becomes the Supremo! This is the most arse achingly awful characterisation of either of them I have ever read and coming after their triumphant characterisation in Superior Beings that is something of a knock to both characters.

Peri is sick of killings, exhausted and sick of running and hiding. At the beginning of this adventure Peri is quite beautiful but lacking her warmth and vitality, restless and jangled after her recent adventure. Peri is a romantic and impressionable young girl. When kidnapped by Morbius and threatened with gang rape (!!) she briefly considers suicide.

Foreboding: ‘I met him once’ – the Doctor is talking about Napoleon, pre-empting Dick’s later (and far superior) World Game. Can’t I read that instead?

Twists: Morbius is deposed and exiled from Gallifrey – promising one day to return. Sontarans, Draconians, Cybermen and Ogrons all working together? The Doctor takes Peri to Solon on the planet Karn. The end of chapter six- Peri discovers Solon’s secret – dead body made up of butchers leftovers – and it springs to life! Peri is kidnapped by Morbius and he attacks the Sisterhood! The Doctor does return to Gallifrey to warn them and they elect him as their representative to unite the universe empires against Morbius. The Alliance, funded by the CIA and equipped with the latest design spaceships sets up a campaign of liberating planets Morbius has conquered hoping he will turn around and fight. Maren interferes with the battle on Karn and gives the Alliance the advantage.

Embarrassing Bits/Funny Bits (the two are not mutually exclusive in this novel):

· How to become a rebel leader in three easy steps. Step One: Overhear casual talk of attacking an arms convoy in a café. Stage Two: Suggest a better plan. Stage Three: Take over. Oh please!
· “Because I’ll wring your neck if you don’t you conceited little swine” is a thought of the fifth Doctor’s…before he has been corrupted by power!
· What is this? The Brain of Morbius II? The Doctor must retrieve the Elixir to save Peri’s life! Robin Bland should file for plagiarism!
· Is it the Doctor who has a sexist attitude towards women…or Terrance Dicks?
· You’ve gotta love Peri’s naive stupidity. The Doctor discovers Rombusi is assembling a council of war and warns her and she turns on him and tells him he is jealous of Rombusi’s feelings for her and that she is still going on a date with him.
· ‘Maybe he’ll pass her around when he’s done with her. He does that sometimes’ – one of many references to rape that lead you to believe this book was written by a pre-pubescent schoolboy. Well, wasn’t it?
· There’s nothing wrong with a bit of friendly rape! – There’s another!
· Rombusi turns out to be Morbius! Gosh what a shock! The fact that this was attempted to be hidden is shocking but even more hilarious is the fact that the Doctor is shocked when it is revealed! Has he forgotten his last adventure on Karn? And considering this is the Doctor who faced Sir Giles Estram and all those other anagrammically challenged villains you would have thought he would have his Scrabble Dictionary of Villainous Anagrams around!
· Morbius is supposedly an intellectual military genius and yet Peri manages to convince him that she is dying of some terrible disease by scraping her skin with some utensils. He cannot be that thick.
· He raised his goblet and drained the fiery contents. ‘Issalon Kwai!’ The Doctor did the same, echoing the toast. ‘Issalon Kwai!’ ‘A traditional Sontaran toast, Battle Marshall?” asked the Doctor politely. Skrug looked surprised. ‘No it is a war toast from old Earth. I thought you would know it.’ He raised his voice and croaked: ‘Issalon Kwai to Tipperary! Issalon Kwai to go!’ – when I read this I had to pause and read again, just in case I had imagined it. But no, it was there.
· The Cybermen join the cause! Oh come on!
· ‘There’s a saying on Earth Peri – try everything once except incest and pole dancing’ – Really? Can’t say I’ve ever heard that one before!
· ‘Bull¤¤¤¤!’ said Peri, ‘They used to call me the Scourge of Sylvanna! Somebody get me a hand blaster, a laser rifle…and a knife!’ – I can’t even type this without choking with laughter!
· Peri brushed against the Doctor and felt something hard and angular beneath the Doctor’s dusty tunic. “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just please to see me?” – Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
· Would anybody, anybody (!!) sit there eating roast boar when their planet is going to war???

And many, many more….but I can’t sit here all day and reprint the entire book.

Result: A great dumb cartoony cover for a great dumb cartoony book. The whole thing is utterly ridiculous from the word go and it just piles on more and more insults, characterisation, prose, plotting, dialogue. A mere mention of the name Terrance Dicks causes a warm glow in most of our hearts (only topped for me by Ready Brek and jam roly-poly) and I can only think that was what happened with Justin Richards when he commissioned this rubbish. When you were a spotty, horny teenager you might have written something like this with the Cybermen and Sontarans joining forces, lots of references to how shaggable Peri is and the Doctor turning into a violent raving nutter but coming from the Granddaddy of Doctor Who fiction it is simply unforgivable. After saying how great it was to see the PDAs trying again I have never been more prophetic, there are few books I have ever read that are as trying as this. So bad you could squeeze it into the opening volley of the New Adventures without anyone noticing. Abysmal: 0/10

Trading Futures by Lance Parkin

Plot: There is a time machine on the market and Baskerville, a time traveller from the future is willing to sell it to both the Eurozone and America, the two forces on the brink of war. Enter the Doctor, Fitz and Anji, one of whom must prevent several ‘natural’ disasters, one who must prevent the annihilation of the entire human and one who has to get to the bottom of this evil scheme…

Top Doc: Gosh, he’s such fun these days isn’t he? His chemistry with Anji in this book is priceless, especially when she takes on a Zoe-type superiority of intelligence and he bluffs his way through understanding everything she is saying. He is described as a rogue element and a time criminal! He is very much the man of action here, brilliant at escape plans, sabotage and surviving being hurtle out of a 23rd storey window! His control of the TARDIS is described as being a series of educated guesses. To save lives he stages a bank robbery and gets everyone bundled up in a safe! Brilliantly, he manages to shoot Cosgrove’s bullets out of the air. He is quite pleased to note at the stories climax that the entire worlds finances is flowing through his bank account. Note his offence when he realise the Onhirs have mistaken Fitz for him throughout the entire story! Written with real wit and panache, I was grinning my way through much of the Doctor’s contribution.

Scruffy Git: Lance Parkin has never made any secret that he doesn’t like Fitz’s character all that much so how hilarious that this is one of the all time best Fitz books ever. He tells the TARDIS, “You’re a police box but there aren’t any policemen left. There’s no law, no order, it’s just us now.” Described as being a little confused, generally. His attempts at being the Doctor are very funny, especially when he trips up, calling the Onhirs ‘mate’, describing their scheme as “destroying this entire tangent of the galaxy!” Bless him, he says the words, “At least things can’t get any worse…” so guess what happens? Again there is a real sense of wit and humour that makes Fitz such a joy to read about.

Career Nazi: But the real piece de resistance is Parkin’s treatment of Anji who comes across the most competent, intelligent and resourceful of the three, clearly well adjusted to this whole time travel lark and (gosh wow) enjoying herself. Bizarrely, for Anji being ‘normal’ feels strange for her. Described as professional,
focussed and organised. She admits she enjoys travelling with the Doctor and that she always intended to go backpacking for a year. She is worried about not contacting her folks or Dave’s folks and wonders if perhaps the police thought she killed Dave and did a runner! She admits she and Dave were drifting apart before he died but his death represented everything she left behind on Earth. She thinks they should have proper training to be companions of the Doctor and be supplied with a torch, first kit, etc. She has a point. When she hides from Baskerville she considers many men would pay good money to find a half naked Asian woman under their bed! She discovers about Miranda. The way she twists the Doctor around her finger is hilarious, especially when she tricks him into contacting the police whilst she investigates Baskerville. She considers time travelling coffee bizarre but then thinks back to rampaging dinosaurs, talking Tigers and Poodles with hands and it doesn’t seem quite as weird.

Foreboding: Fitz heads towards the TARDIS back wall and hears an ominous scratching sound behind it. Brilliant set up for one of the best twists in The Gallifrey Chronicles. The Doctor catches Anji stealing a page of the Financial Times and putting it in her purse…watch this space. Control (last seen in Escape Velocity) is back and will return in a few books time…

Twists: The cover is wonderfully Bond-esque. The Doctor parachutes onto a cruise ship, overpowers the crew with a bouncy ball and a glass of water, steals a briefcase and uses the ejector seat to escape before it explodes! The setting is brilliantly realised with lots of little facts making it seem all the more real (Nicopills, Ecstasy on the desert menu, Real War robots, Eurozone and America at War, ‘every syllable uttered is stored and logged’). Baskerville’s confidence trick is excellent, using a drug in coffee to cause people to hallucinate that they are travelling back in time (with Baskerville prodding their minds in the right direction) and thus creating a demand for his ‘time machine’, which doesn’t exist. Anji’s time travel to Brussels is expertly staged to fool her and the reader. Anji gets the Doctor ejected from the building, head first through a 23rd storey window! The third prophecy, the tidal wave over Athens, is powerfully destructive. The sudden appearance of space Rhinos and Time Agents (employed by Sabbath) are unexpected. Baskerville’s motivation for provoking a war between the EZ and America is excellent, to create a bloodthirsty demand fro RealWar, interactive slaughter from the comfort of your own home. The reunion between the Doctor, Fitz and Anji is joyous, one gut burstingly funny line after another. The Doctor tosses the time machine over a cliff and Cosgrove jumps after it, getting splattered over the rocks.

Funny bits: The Doctor leaves the TARDIS in a long-term airport car park. The Doctor scoffs Cosgrove’s first name and Malady points out his first name is ‘The’! (“The human race have nuclear weapons!” “We will not allow them to destroy themselves!”) Roja screams “I exist” as he shot in the back of the head, I shouldn’t laugh…
Poor Baskerville, he has the President of America and the head of the British Secret Service eating out of his hands during negotiations for the time machine and bunch of space fairing Rhinos gate crash the party and start killing people! When the bomb in Toronto stubbornly refuses to have a digital countdown the Doctor counts down from ten himself just to add a bit fo tension, and even congratulates himself for halting the thing with one minute to spare!

Embarrassing bits: Anji’s personal timeline is all over the place, she apparently a year younger here than she was in her first story! Whilst Parkin explores her feelings sensitively, I thought the whole Dave thing was wrapped up in Hope. Sabbath’s time travelling recruits are a bit rubbish.

Result: About as deep as a very tiny puddle, this is the perfect holiday Who novel. There is a fast paced, easily digestible plot, marvellous switches of location, witty lines and some damn good world building. I skipped through it in less than a day, at a loss at how wonderful the team of the Doctor, Fitz and Anji are these days. One thing niggled me, I’m not the greatest Bond fan (which this book is heavily based on) but that is a matter of personal preference rather than a comment on the books quality. Lots of action for those who enjoy it, some cool hardware on display and a great world encompassing war being brewed…its pleasing to note this is one Bond story with a bit of brains, with Anji dissecting the conflict and the players motivations. Enjoyable and funny, although the space Rhino’s were perhaps one joke too many: 7/10