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

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