Sunday, 23 January 2011

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

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