Thursday, 24 February 2011

Combat Rock by Mick Lewis

Plot: Ferocious cannibals, deadly swamps, hunting Dogs and tribal mummies await the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria on the island of Papul. Evil is stirring in the jungle and a long fought war between guerrilla tribesmen and colonial troops is about to come to a bloody conclusion…

Oh My Giddy Aunt: Of all the books to get Troughton spot in Combat Rock must come as close to his television portrayal. You can hear Troughton saying the lines, hopping about like a frightened flea, crying out with horror and acting with extreme embarrassment at the whole situation. His concern for Victoria has never felt so real. The Doctor’s face was lined and contoured by a life beyond strange, a facial map bursting with character and mystery. The eyes were dark, benevolent, childlike and slightly scary all at once. He can look comical with a disarming grin and childlike impish eyes. Whenever the Doctor got excited about something it invariably meant trouble. Was the Doctor really as simple as he liked everyone to think? There was something about him that generated respect. There was strength and compassion about him that was unlike anyone else. Keen intelligence and gravity too if the situation calls for it. The Doctor briefly wonders if the jungle is his purgatory, a place where he came to repent for his sins…and he had enough of those! The climax that sees the Doctor bravely face up to and outfox the revolting Krallik feels genuinely right for the second Doctor. Jungles (and the unknown) have always fascinated the him.

Who’s the Yahoo’s: Another superb piece of characterisation, Frazer Hines’ charm leaping from the page with real delight. Spurned on by Victoria’s beauty, Jamie is hornier than ever! However he only loves her like a sister. There is a very long action sequence all told from Jamie’s point of view that expertly sees the Highlander attempting to hold his in all the horror surrounding him. Much of the books humour comes from Jamie too, but head to Funny Bits for some great examples. Feeling helpless was the feeling he hated most in the world. He was always a man of resources, of instant action. He left the thinking to the Doctor whilst he took care of the practicalities.

Screaming Violet: Its another fabulous Victoria book. Combat Rock and Heart of TARDIS between them both present the best of Ms Waterfield and contain some very intelligent writing and using her background to enrich their respective tales. Victoria couldn’t help her straight-laced upbringing – she had been through much hardship. Her father had constantly reminded her she always had a bit of a wild streak and had a penchant for people and things that were out of the ordinary. Victoria feels ashamed of her closeted, imperialist upbringing. Childhood prejudices and impressions were hard to shake, even though she had made some monumental strides to do just that since entering the TARDIS for the first time. Then again she had never been one to adhere to the norm in the first place. Agus’ words remind her of a time of cosy security on her fathers lap beside the fire while he told tales of derring do and British integrity in barbaric climes. Victoria had never been obedient and rarely sensible but she could always be relied on to get herself in a mess. It was because she was brave and noble and did what she really shouldn’t do. Victoria thinks of the Doctor and Jamie bickering in an affectionate way – Jamie exasperated and headstrong – the Doctor daunted by events. She can see through the shallow philosophy of colonialism…what would her father think to hear her having such unfashionable, alien views? Maybe, secretly, he would approve…

Twists: The book opens with a child being shot through the head and snakes leaping from a Mumi and slaughtering a tourist group – a sign of things to come. Revoltingly, Pan shoots a hooker through the head when he’s finished with her. The Kill Crew: Pan, Pretty Boy, Saw, Grave and Clown are all thoroughly loathsome. The sequence where Father Pieter looks over Agat and sees beheaded men and dismembered wives he realises the jungle has reclaimed its children. The Doctor and company is captured by the OPG rebels, those who oppose the Indoni rule of Papal. The image of a reed bed of heads, rising above the water, shrouded in bloody pink mist, is horrible. In a book that is primarily grotesque the scene where Agus takes Victoria to the moonlit beach to show her the wreckage of the Earth/Indoni was is strangely beautiful and haunting. The first scene of cannibalism is stomach churning – Baccha and his wife smashing open a trader’s skull and spooling out grey matter. The Snatcher attacking the bridge is brilliantly tense. We feel every one of Budi’s multiple stab wounds to the neck. In a scene of such obscenity I had to stop reading and catch a breath – Julius questions Pieter’s faith in God and forces him to ‘Eat the flesh, drink the blood’ by working a hole in Thomas’ severed head with his axe and force feeding him brain matter. In a horrifying follow up scene we see Pieter, devastated: “I have eaten God.” Ussman roasting on a spit, one of the cannibals slicing away part of his belly is enough to turn your stomach. Santi is to be their chief’s tenth wife…and Jamie is to be killed and eaten to celebrate! The puppet Krallik is disgusting, head of a missionary, body of a merchant and hands of a prostitute. The Doctor figures the real Krallik is Kepennis, driven mad with revenge at the death of his family and friends at the hands of the Indoni. He set up the Mumi’s to spit out snakes, he set up the OPG and he set up the dissicated Krallik puppet to give his cause a symbol of hatred. Pleasingly, all of the Kill Crew suffer agonising deaths. Except Clown, who in the satisfying last scene kills the evil President Sabit.

Funny Bits: After a cat fight between two ladies over Jamie, Victoria notes: “Well Jamie it seems like you enjoyed a very busy little Highland Fling last night, doesn’t it?”
“Huh, women always get bum deal!” Santi exclaims, after the ladies in the tent are offered a slice of buttock. Oh come on, it is funny in a twisted way.
Jamie’s attempts to avoid being eaten: “I’ve got very tough thighs!”

Result: Wide Sargasso Sea meets Ravenous in this shocking, eviscerating piece of fiction. I thought at first this would be less to my tastes than Rags but Combat Rock is a horror novel that genuinely manages to horrify, a rare feat. This is an intelligently written novel with some excellent world building and complex things to say about colonialism. A book dripping with atmosphere thanks to Lewis’ sweaty, bloodthirsty prose, he manages to make writing about death both repulsive and artful. The plotting appears loose but the climax reveals some nicely hidden clues and twists. It is easily the sickest Doctor Who book ever written, Rags dealt with humans forced to commit terrible acts, the frightening things about Combat Rock is that it deals with genuinely sick people passionate about killing. Disturbingly in this viscera draped setting, the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria shine like never before: 8/10

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Third Zone Issue One Available Now!

It’s the beginning...and the moment has been prepared for. For precisely a month – or at least that’s been the gestation period of issue 1! So here we are, our very first issue of The Third Zone and we have a wealth of wisdom to impart!

We have reviews both by myself and by my esteemed colleague Mr Joe Ford, covering all the latest releases in the worlds of DVD and audio.

We have ‘The Evelyn Escapades’, a look at the Big Finish audios in the manner of ‘The Time Team’, taking one character at a time. No prizes for guessing who’s first up!

There’s fiction in the form of The Shadow Makers, part 1 of a 3 part tale, this month featuring the First Doctor and written by yours truly.

‘A Matter of Perspective’ offers a new look at the world of Who in print, as I quiz Joe this month about Steve Lyons’ The Witch Hunters.

We have not one but two exclusive interviews this month with Big Finish producer David Richardson, and Bernice Summerfield actress and director of Big Finish audios Lisa Bowerman.

The Seventh Doctor’s era comes under the spotlight in our debate section this month, while ‘Who Online’ takes a look at ‘The History of the Doctor’.

There’s ‘Non-Who Opinion’, as both mine and Joe’s other half watch a Doctor Who story and share their thoughts. Be warned, there may be some colourful language!

Last, but by no means least, Joe has written an essay on the joys of the Hartnell historicals – and if that doesn’t convert you, nothing will!

We hope you enjoy reading issue 1 as much as we enjoyed putting it together. Any comments can be added on the site or be sent to, and we’ll post some next issue.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

History 101 by Mags L Halliday

Plot: Someone is interfering with the perception of history as the Doctor, Fitz and Anji discover, visiting Picasso’s Guernica and discovering it doesn’t horrify them the way it used to. The hop back to the Spanish Civil War and discover things aren’t as clear cut as they seemed, somebody is interfering with how we perceive historical events and several important moments are being seen from very different points of view…

Top Doc: Surprisingly muted for the most part but sensitively written nonetheless. It is painful when he falls to his feet howling at the loss of the TARDIS, the one thing that can truly reduce him to nothing. Seeing him become a shell of a man, mistakenly convincing himself that he can make the machine day after day for months is haunting, especially the thought of him taking a crowbar to the glassed of book sections, violently angry at being cut off from the secret knowledge of the TARDIS. It is only when he realises he has been looking at the problem the wrong way around that he solves it, nothing is wrong with the TARDIS it has just been trying to protect itself. I loved it when he finally stepped out of the shadows and set about restoring anarchy to history, his debate with Enrique is unique because it finally pins down what the Doctor is about, stopping any one person from making history exist from their point of view, he exists to make sure everyone can be heard, every view point satisfied. Once he discovers Sabbath’s involvement he is angry at his manipulation and wonders just how far his enemy is involved. Described as someone who can smile at you like you are the most important person in the entire world.

Scruffy Git: A scruffy, smug sod, according to Anji. Manages to get by despite being his own worst enemy. Described as an old penny who always turns up again. I like the idea of the Doctor sending Fitz off on an important mission and they way he achieves this, without the smugness or the intelligence or ability of, say Benny or Anji, but getting by on his wits and good humour, living rough, striking up a friendship with an agent of his enemy and wearing him down so he likes him. Fitz is all about personality and seeing how he achieves so much here just by being himself is beautifully done. His relationship with Anji has softened considerably too and now they bicker like brother and sister who love each other deeply. Seeing the horror of Guernica from Fitz’s POV is best way the book could have presented it, through his very human eyes the massacre is truly nightmarish.

Career Nazi: As is common with the last few books it is Anji who takes the plaudits and thanks to the talents of another female writer she is rounding off very nicely. She tries to stay outwardly collective when irritated and his militant debating skills. She is no longer the weary cynic that the 20th Century demanded. She admits history will have to deal with her gender and colour and goes insane when she is called a little black bitch. She seems to fit in wonderfully in Spain, this surprisingly cultured piece of history suiting her professional, sensual needs. Her cataloguing of all the unusual events is very nice, Anji practically taking over the Doctor’s role whilst he is obsessed with the TARDIS. She hates not being able to predict things and says that she is not girly girl despite running terrified from a horrid multi limbed monster. Sweetly, she is bothered by how much she misses Fitz and from her playful attitude with him it is clear she is deeply fond of him now. She feels nauseous at the thought of somebody invading her privacy, keeping track of her personal life. She realises she might not be as logical or as smart as she thinks.

Ham fists: Sabbath is concerned that matters are resolved to his satisfaction. Here he wishes to see the System, a data network that contains information about him (specifically how his shackles were released…), destroyed. He is still using agents to do his dirty work. He considers Fitz and Anji to be the Doctor’s agents rather than his friends and admits Jueves/Sasha was extremely impressed with their ability.

Foreboding: In a completely unrelated moment (to the plot, that is) the Doctor spots Fitz’s handwriting in his copy of the Age of Reason and turns de
athly pale as if realising something terrible. In truth he has a battered old journal from a doomed expedition to Siberia (also foreshadowed in Anachrophobia), which he now realises, was written by Fitz at some point in the future. From now on, Fitz is marked. Also Sabbath pulls the Doctor to one side at the climax and says, “There is another matter…” but we don’t hear any more. That black sun eyeball is once again watching over events…

Twists: The very first chapter sets out to trick you as Sabbath sends his agent out wipe some fellow travellers (given what we know of him my immediate reaction was the Doctor and his friends but he is talking of the Absolute). The Absolute is a marvellous idea, a servant of a data network and sent to a certain time period to record all events without bias (he could see everything, each person, at every age, every perspective, all overlapping but fitting together to create a full representation). To demonstrate the unobtrusiveness of her argument, Halliday features Durriti’s death and the bombing of Guernica several times, taken in completely different contexts depending on how they are perceived, it’s an extremely thoughtful approach to writing a historical novel and getting us to think about its importance. Miquel’s body is flipped inside out as the Absolute tries to bring him into the System. The Absolute sees the Doctor, Fitz and Anji flickering in and out of existence because they are and aren’t supposed to be there. Denied access to the Hub, the Absolute needs to find a way of dumping all the conflicting data (perceptions) and discovers a link to the TARDIS, a machine with acres of space. Enrique is furious when he tries to correlate perceptions of the same thing because each of them are vastly different (Selectively editing reality until it fitted in with what they wanted it to be). The destruction of Guernica is visually arresting. Fitz realises history is never tidy when he watches one version of the bombing take place, the bombers trying to take out the roads and the wind dragging them into Guernica. Anji and Elena being attacked in the moonlight park by a creature of many twisted limbs is great. The twist that Fitz’s friend Sahsa is also Anji’s friend Jueves is excellent, with Sasha asking Sabbath to take him back a few months so he can live them again as Jueves. The scene where Anji tracks down Blair to the telephone exchange and sees thousands of images of herself, the Doctor and Fitz hanging in the air is really trippy. Sasha uses the TARDIS to retroactively revert history back to normal. In the dramatic climax the Doctor forces Enrique to confront the proper version of the Guernica bombing, finally allowing it to reconcile its insanity of differing viewpoints.

Embarrassing bits: I can understand folk who might not have patience giving up on this book early on, there are far too many characters (Alberto, Luiz, the Absolute, Sabbath, the agent, Duritti, McNair, Elena, Miquel, Pia, Blair…) and plotlines introduced. About two-thirds into the book the plot stalls whilst we have a riot in Barcelona which adds little to the plot and distracts from the main threads.

Result: A book which is not afraid of flaunting its intelligence and will leave those behind who wont put the right amount of effort. Saying that, the rewards a manifold; a complex and fascinating plot, some startling ideas, a brilliantly original way of going about exploring a historical event, another excellent use of the regulars… Following hot on the heels of a book that couldn’t be more different, this is an equally thoughtful book which prefers to contemplate rather than thrill and succeeds in intimately exploring the many viewpoints of the Spanish Civil War and continue the eighth Doctor arc plot with Sabbath proving as elusive and dangerous as ever. People say the book has a dry edge to it with documental rather than sensual prose but isn’t that rather the point? By allowing us to see history from so many viewpoints the plot does veer off in far too many directions but I doubt it would be as interesting without this unusual technique. It is a striking debut, layered with meaning and educational, I took my time with it and found it revealing experience: 8/10

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Lungbarrow by Marc Platt

Plot: The Doctor finally returns home to Gallifrey, summoned by Romana for some dark purpose. He finds himself back in his family home, the House of Lungbarrow but things are not how he left them. As it transpires as the Doctor has been adventuring through the cosmos his family have been suffering perpetual torment…

Master Manipulator: Wow, a completely different take on the seventh Doctor for his final New Adventure (surprise surprise). As you would imagine there are a cartload of revelations about his character, both new and old but what really surprised me was how weak and shy Marc Platt made this master manipulator without once diminishing the power of his character. I have gone on an incredible journey with the 7th Doctor throughout these New Adventures. His characterisation has been thoughtful, annoying, sublime, terrifying, schizophrenic, surprising and hilarious. All these things but rarely boring and always able to get a reaction out of me. I object to how depressing he was depicted during the first half of the New Adventures and how preposterously unbalanced his characterisation was in the second half but I have enjoyed his rediscovery of his character and his place in the universe. Not my favourite incarnation but certainly one of the best explored, even if things went a bit too far at times.

The Doctor was a naughty pupil who did not want to learn about Rassilon but go out and play. The House of Lungbarrow is missing…and it is the Doctor’s ancestral home. When the Doctor realises he has returned home he is elusive, snappy, angry, and distant. Described as President Fly by Night. It is revealed that after the Doctor was disinherited from the House, Cousin Owis was woven from the Loom as his replacement – this only usually happens when a Cousin dies. Did the first Doctor kill Quences? Was that why he left Gallifrey? Leela thinks the Doctor is a wise man, a shaman; there was an excitement and wonderment, a sense of danger that the thought of the Doctor always aroused. She had always accepted him, never questioned his identity. He firmly denies to Chris that he knows where they have materialised…but Chris tells him he knows. The Doctor is 653 years late for Quences Deathday. The poor old man refused to read his will until his favourite was here. The whole family has been kept waiting all that time, driven mad as the House isolated itself. It gives the Doctor’s travels a whole new perspective and all those subtle mentions of his family all the more poignant. The Doctor has been following his dream of travelling with little suspicion that his family are suffering because of his lifestyle. The 1st Doctor is in the painting of the cousins and he looked like the bad tempered relation that nobody wants to invite to the party but everyone is too scared to dare. The Doctor was cast out of his home for refusing to live up to his potential. The Doctor’s head is full so the TARDIS is sideshunting a few of his memories into the nearest available database…Chris. Badger was the Doctor’s friend and tutor. The Doctor never belonged to Lungbarrow’s Loom. He was driven out by Glospin, stole the TARDIS and aided in his escape by the Hand of Omega. He failed his Chapter certificate deliberately; he barely won a pass as he was scared of going to the Academy and losing himself to Gallifrey’s dusty old politics. He is called ‘wormhole’ and ‘snail’ because of his navel. Even after Quences threw him out, he still cared about the Doctor. The family bestowed on the Doctor the finest education it could offer, it was always hoped that he would achieve the rank of Cardinal. With the Doctor it is always action s and reactions, he often forgets to remember about consequences. The Doctor fled his Gallifrey to Ancient Gallifrey – one place where he knew nobody would look for him, almost to the Old Time itself. The Other gave his life essence to the original Loom and was reborn as a part of the Doctor’s genetic make up. The Doctor looks into Leela’s eyes as if recognising something of himself in her…and she asks him to call her child after him. Brilliantly as he heads of into the TV Movie the Doctor remembers he hasn’t been the Merlin of Battlefield!

‘I’d reckon you’re on 5 o
r 6 generations at least. You’ve been living to fast.’
‘Our family has hatched a serpent in its clutch.’
‘And when you give the dispatch to him, say Fred gave it you.’
‘What do you mean that’s enough? By the megastar any fool can be a doctor!’ ‘Not good enough for whom? Time I had lives of my own, don’t you think?’
‘Lungbarrow is the worst place in the universe. I vowed never to return.’
‘Perhaps I was glad to get away from this place! Perhaps I am a nasty alien with nasty progressive unGallifreyan ideas, infiltrating your terribly important family!’
‘You threw me out. Where did you expect me to go?’
‘I only wanted to be part of the family. I went through all the correct procedures, gene weaving, birth trauma, education, acne…’
‘You fulfilled none of the potential we expected. You are a failure and a disgrace to my name!’
‘He’s far more powerful than he let’s us see! He infiltrated our Family.’
The Doctor says it best though: ‘I like the tick of a clock and the sound of a flute. The song of a rinchin in the fields at harvest. Working things out for myself. I like other people’s ideas. Peace, tranquillity. And a nice cup of tea.’

Puppy Dog Eyes: The story avoids having to give Chris a personality by giving him the personality and memories of the Doctor for the most part. This makes him sharp, inquisitive, resourceful, emotional…all the things he should have been all along. Really we have just been waiting for the day that Chris Cwej – the ultimate companion non-entity (at least until Sam Jones comes along…actually that’s not fair as at least Sam Jones had a few bright spots where she showed genuine potential) – finally stepped out of the TARDIS. There is no great revelation about Chris; he simply decides to strike out on his own at the end. Romana is going to set him up with a Time Ring so I guess we might see him about again. Let’s hope it’s not too soon.

Oh Wicked: Ace, the 7th Doctor’s most important companion, returns to see him off. She is caught up in a Time Storm as she is shopping in M & S for her groceries. There is some marvellous acknowledgement of the mistakes made with Ace’s character when she comes face to face with her old space mercenary self and thinks she is a patronising bitch. She is scared that she is really like that, harmful and selfish. That’s what Time did to Ace but she’s still Dorothy too. The Doctor was going to enrol Ace on Gallifrey – she would have given the Time Lords something to think about – that’s what all those trips to the past were about, sorting her past out before she stepped into the future.

The Doctor tells her ‘Ace…I mean Dorothee. You are breathtaking. Just go on being Time’s Vigilante.’

Noble Savage: Making her Virgin debut – astonishingly so considering her lack of involvement in the MAs, Leela bursts from the page with colour and character. Andred is the new Castellan and Leela is his consort. They make a very sweet couple. She has been looking into his heritage. Sometimes she sleeps out in the forest behind the family estate and Andred joined her on one occasion and they lay together under the stars. Andred treated Leela with proud devotion while the other Time Lords smirked behind his back. In return she tried hard to behave i
n the way he said was proper and she thought was stupid. Leela has a wise innocence, like a Wild Earth Mother. Leela is expecting, the first child on Gallifrey in a millennia.

Intelligent Aristocrat: Romana is very much on the sidelines of this novel but her presence is often felt. It would appear that her election as President has not been an easy read and she is having political difficulties in attempting to make some sweeping reforms and reach out to the rest of the universe. The Time Lord traditionalists are trying to hold onto the old ways. It was Romana who summoned the Doctor to Gallifrey. She sent a message to the TARDIS saying please come home as the Ship was less likely to ignore it than the Doctor. Romana wants to send the Doctor to Skaro to pick up the Master’s remains but the mission predicts a 96% fatality rate.

Foreboding: The Doctor heads off to Skaro determined to beat the odds once again and we, as his closest friends, feel a real poignancy as we know this is one battle he will not walk away unscathed.

Twists: Pythia cursed Gallifrey, made it barren. When a cousin dies another is woven to replace them. The House of Lungbarrow is missing. Later regenerations tend to be shorter in their longevity. Innocet has been writing out classics texts of the Old Time from memory, using her blood to scratch the woods onto paper. Dorothee, Leela and Romana meeting in a Monet painting that has come to life is a seductive, beautiful idea. There are cousins because there are no children; they are all woven from the family womb. The scenes surrounding the Doctor murdering Quences and leaving Gallifrey are gripping. There is a lovely dinnertime scene where the Doctor has his friends on one side of the table and his family on the other. Redred, Andred’s ancestor has been stranded inside the House’s transmit booth for nearly 700 years. The House of Lungbarrow has exceeded its statutory Loom quota of 45 persons once Owis is woven. The TARDIS was stolen the day before Redred came to Lungbarrow. Pitiful, wasted, exhausted cousins who hate the Doctor and the torment he has inflicted upon them are being hidden from the House by Innocet. The flashbacks to the Doctor’s regenerations from his point of view is spine tingling. Susan is one of the last real children on Gallifrey (‘Dear child that is why you are so precious.’) The Other is her biological Grandfather but she sees the Other’s essence in the Doctor when he visits Ancient Gallifrey. Glospin made himself ill enough to die and used the Doctor’s DNA sample to regenerate into his image. Quences murder was predicted and he hid his will and his mind in Badger, the Doctor’s tutor because he knew the Doctor was the most important influence on Gallifrey’s future. Glospin murdered Quences in the Doctor’s form because he knew the Doctor would inherit everything.

Funny Bits: The ‘Previously on the New Adventures’ bit is hilarious, summing up the entire range in 183 words and in particular taking the piss out of Chris Cwej.
K.9: ‘Apologies Mistress, Master…please resume your canoodling.’
‘My Mistress is the Mistress,’ said Mark I ‘Not your Mistress.’
‘Run along now’’ said the Doctor ‘Chop, chop.’ That, thought Chris, was the last thing you say to anything made out of wood.

Embarrassing Bits: The Blue Peter badge continuity error – there is such a thing as being too self-aware.
Death visits the Doctor one last time: ‘Daily I feed on the death you cause. One day I shall feed on you too.’
Whilst it does make sense the lengths Platt has to go to to explain Susan calling the Doctor ‘Grandfather’ is a little extreme. Actually make that a lot extreme!

Result: Gallifrey is re-invented as a surreal gothic fantasy and it is an oddly beguiling stage for the seventh Doctor’s curtain call. Raining fish, wooden giants, oversized furniture, houses buried alive, orchid monsters, tree roots ensnaring the TARDIS, living paintings, ghosts, living memories…what a wonderful, twisted imagination Marc Platt has. Packed full of some of the best companions the Doctor has ever travelled with, stunning revelations, unforgettable imagery and poignant sense that something special is coming to a close this is one of the best novels the series presented. Pushing it from that top spot is a slight over reliance on weird imagery over intelligent plotting and a slight self-congratulatory feel in the last chapter. But then perhaps they deserve to pat themselves on the back, this is the culmination of an unforgettable series of novels and Lungbarrow exhibits the qualities of the best of them, it’s clever, beautifully written, challenging and it allows you to experience a new perspective on a show that you thought you knew inside out: 9/10

The Deviant Strain written by Justin Richards

Plot: Answering a distress call at a Soviet Naval Base, the Doctor, rose and Jack are caught up in an adventure that proves that staying young can really be a nightmare…

Northern Adventurer: Considering this is what I consider to be the last ninth Doctor novel (only 6 novels, poor guy) it is a pretty underwhelming last hurrah. There is nothing wrong with his characterisation but it is pretty generic and it would have been nice to have had him driving the story rather than investigating on the sidelines. Oh well c’est la vie Mr Eccleston, welcome Mr Tennant! He grumpily admits he didn’t want to come to Russia, it was forced upon him but he is the best at what he does. The Doctor has seen more death than you can ever imagine and he’s a Doctor of philosophy as well. Its funny how much he enjoys a spot of grave robbing (‘Nothing dubious about! Completely illegal!’). Takes it as guaranteed that everybody likes him. Richards manages to capture that blunt northern confidence the ninth Doctor has in himself and his ability to convince people. Typically, the Doctor has all the answers figured out before they work it out for themselves, the smug get. If you are going to have your life threatened, he says, it might as well be fun! Next time he wants smaller ears (your wish is my command!). I loved his nutty escape plan, tossing bottles of liquor at the creatures and setting the pub ablaze!

Chavvy Chick: On the whole Rose doesn’t really work very well in the books – certainly not as well as Martha and Donna and whilst she gets to do plenty of running about, being chased by lunatics with serrated knives and ducking away from explosions there isn’t anything especially memorable about her characterisation here.

Hot Homo: Jack is flying the TARDIS these days and gets excited at the thought of a damsel in distress. He’s a captain born and bred. He used to think he was scared of facing death but what scares him now is the possibility that he might grow old, be tired and wasted and lose his memories. Oh Jack, if only you knew what was coming you old Boe Head. He is viciously protective of Valeria, which turns out to be quite sweet, saving her life even when her father has abandoned her.

Blaidd Drwg: ‘Its him I fear. The bad wolf.’

Twists: 24 missile have been decommissioned but not removed and their collective strength is that of half a million tons of TNT! You’ve got a great pre titles/prologue with the TARDIS landing atop an icy cliff top and huge military helicopter like a giant spider bearing down on them. The Docklands and the Organic Weapons Research Institute were abandoned at the end of the Cold War. The end of chapter two is very thoughtful, the kind of scenes that turned up in the best of the New Adventures. The location has a lost, melancholic feel to it, dirty dank submarines, rust flaking from the walls, water dripping – it s a fabulous Doctor Who location for monsters to stalk in. Zinoviev narrating Nikolais’ death is really tense and the lights going out is a great touch. They open a coffin to discover a puddle of pale, colourless jelly that used to be a person. The stones take anything that can nourish them, draining all the life energy and leaving an empty skin. Rose gets a great horror movie scene where she is talked through the fog, makes it back to the car and as she scrabbles desperately for the keys Sofia leaps on the bonnet and starts smashing the windscreen with the butt of her torch. Chedakin’s suicide is immediately suspect, how does a man shoot himself in the back of the head? Jack floods the torpedo bay
and swims to freedom, almost dying of hypothermia in the icy depths. The ship crash-landed and set up antennae, the stone circle, to draw energy and when jack answered the distress signal the ship prepared to leave. However someone has manipulated the technology to only draw life from humans and the blobs are remote drones draining energy from people and beaming it back. The ship is too damaged to take off but it doesn’t realise that and its probes will always seek out new energy sources – human beings. The ship reached out to the original whaling community, showing them how to keep themselves young whilst they kept the repairs going and Barinska has been using the life force to stay young ever since. She keeps going in a hail of bullets, he jaw hanging off (ugh!). Chedakin was the traitor all along and Minin shot him to stop him sending back information and just as we learn this about him he sacrifices himself to save the others (egg on your face to those who were mean to him!). A sealed laboratory is discovered, full of scientist husks who adapted the systems to keep them alive. They sacrifice somebody ever now and again to keep themselves fed and Jack saved Valeria’s life by answering the distress call and activating the ship.

Result: Nicely plotted and full of atmosphere, however The Deviant Strain is the book I have had the most trouble trying to read in the opening volley of New Series Adventures. I love how the story cuts to the chase with no padding and dives straight into the action but as a result the superb location and touches of Cold War realism are skipped over in favour of the usual monsters and chasing about. The first half manages to build up a tense and evocative sense of danger so its shame that it turns out to be nothing more than a spaceship that has malfunctioned. As ever with Richards the plotting is ruthlessly tight but there are few moments of charm and even at its reduced word count it outstays its welcome: 5/10

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Suns of Caresh by Paul Saint

Plot: Time fractures, a decaying TARDIS, a man living his life backwards, kids turning into stone, an alien trapped on Earth, the TARDIS destroying a car park, ravenous vortex creatures on the rampage, planets being nudged by neutron stars…just what madness have the Doctor and Jo stumbled across?

Good Grief: Another superb adventure for the third Doctor that sees him at his finest. There is a small amount of mickey taking here but its with the Doctor rather than at him and he gets the opportunity to do lots of cool things like fight with himself, play pool with planets and leap from trains in death defying action! Pertwee is a sorely neglected Doctor and it is books like The Suns of Caresh that remind you of how blasted entertaining he could be and how, with a little effort going into the writing, he can be the ultimate Doctor.

You’ve got to love the fact that after all their hair raising adventures on Earth, as soon as the Doctor gets the ability to travel through time again he takes Jo on several trips to the most beautiful and serene planets the universe has to offer. His single mindedness is legendary. Ordinarily he has no qualms about deploying physical force when circumstanced demanded it but he felt uneasy about initiating it. He is no expert as far as regeneration is concerned and only has vague memories of his own. He cannot help but draw attention to himself and has always wanted to drive a train.

Dippy Agent: Jo had never quite got used to the TARDIS or decided how she regarded it. She didn’t think of it as a vehicle but a futuristic castle with a magical gateway that opened onto different lands. Jo wonders if in the future she will be Jo Yates! She has picked up a degree of sensitivity to time disturbances in her travels. Jo remembers her first visit to another world and how her mind had fought to translate things in familiar terms. She has unconditional faith in the Doctor.

Twists (I should call this section the realm of fabulous ideas): The prologue is intriguing, a planet in peril, vortex dwellers threatening to kill Lord Roche who wants to save it. Troy Game waking up on Earth leads to many magical scenes as an alien tries to make sense of our planet – emphasising the difference between her world and ours makes the Earth feel cold and barbaric. Simon Haldane is a brilliant character, naïve and nerdy and his initial scenes with Troy Game burst with warmth and humour. Troy’s sense of loss when the sea rejects and the moon (the pale, dead sun) is heartbreaking. The scenes with Troy Game’s perception of television are excellent. Time Lord Solenti asks the Doctor to investigate a time anomaly on Earth – starting in 1972 and ending in 1999 – Lord Roche lost in it. The romance angle is very sweet but you know when Simon comes home drunk and tries it on with Troy Game it will all end in pain, literally. There is the best TARDIS landing EVER as it is dragged through a field, a forest, several back gardens and a car park – leaving a fifteen mile path of devastation in its path! They realise the temporal fracture is running backwards, from 1999 to 1972. There is a hypnotic, dizzying sequence where Jo fights time and finds the last half an hour rewinding and playing out again but this time with subtle differences. The Doctor discovers Roche’s TARDIS on a riverbank, the river draining away through the doors. Wading around in lake water in a dark, dank petrified TARDIS, hunted by Furies (vortex dwellers that turn their prey into stone), Ezekiel Child becomes the time anomaly. Thanks to vortex energies he starts living his life backwards from 1999 to 1972. When Roche first fled to Earth his TARDIS took on the presence of an en suite shower in a hotel and (and this is the clever bit) his chameleon circuit created an entire room around the bathroom as camouflage. Roche lures the Furies into the TARDIS and traps them inside, sending them back in time 1300 years, thus the decayed TARDIS in 1999 and the homicidal creatures inside. There is a description of the TARDIS in flight on pages 198-199 that will take your breath away. In a blistering scene Solenti is shown the beauty of the Realm, mapped between Beacon and Ember (the two suns of the Caresh system).
Roche is planning a planetary manoeuvre that to save Caresh that will destroy the realm and that is why they sent the Furies after him. Leshe are giant locusts that attack the Doctor and party on Caresh. After an official visit to Caresh, Lord Roche became obsessed with the planet. He was planning on using a stellar manipulator and the powerful force of a neutron star to nudge Caresh into orbit of its warmer sun, so the hot climate will prevail. He wanted to save the planet that was due for 74 cold, deadly years. Unfortunately before he could finish his work he was attacked by the Furies and fled to Earth and the neutron star will now pass dangerously close to Caresh – close enough to strip off the atmosphere and rupture the planets crust! The Doctor saves the day (of course!) by realising it doesn’t matter which of the suns is used, as long as the planet is draw nearer to one of them. Nudging Caresh in orbit of Ember will save the planet and be no threat to the Realm.

Embarrassing bits: Killing Simon is a huge mistake. He is easily the best character of the book and such a dismissive ending feels insulting to the reader.

Funny bits: Jo’s reaction to the future, sensible cars and men holding hands in the street, is hilarious.
There is an entry for Blue Box in the A-Z of alien encounters.
The Doctor on Lord Roche taking on his identity: “I don’t know what you’re playing at, but whatever it is it’s not going to fool anyone. The voice is a complete travesty. And as for the nose, you haven’t got it right at all!” Jo later comments: “He’s even got the nose exactly right!
The Doctor is outraged at having to shave his hair off to meet Caresh standards but Troy Game concedes: “You can keep your earlobes.”

Result: Joyously inventive and imaginative, this book fizzles with great ideas and set pieces. The plotting is like a jigsaw; the narrative scattered about but satisfyingly assembled by the conclusion. The Suns of Caresh is Troy Game’s story and she forms some terrific double acts throughout, first with Simon Haldane, then Jo and finally the Doctor. Her scenes on Earth are a joy to read. The last 80 pages aren’t quite as gripping as the preceding 200 but the whole book is written with such energy and humour it is a genuine pleasure to read. It is a shame that the creative Paul Saint did not get to write for the range again: 8.5/10

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Crooked World by Steve Lyons

Plot: Everybody is happy in The Crooked World. Cats chase mice, pigs chase Watchamacallits, teen rock bands uncover fake ghosts and little Scrapper wants to biff everybody. But a malign influence is about to invade their idyllic existence…the Doctor, Fitz and Anji are about to arrive and when they do…that’s all folks!

Top Doc: Another book which recognises the seriousness of the Doctor’s missing heart, when he is shot by Streaky Bacon he overestimates his powers of recuperation and has to survive the wound with just the one pumping away. A dashing romantic with a childlike wonder he may be, but it is a far more contemplative Time Lord we are treated to here, sometimes Fitz looks into his eyes and can see every moment of experience, every piece of wisdom learnt and every fragile mortal friend he had ever loved. He thinks free will is a good thing, whether it brings pain or joy and it is marvellous to see how shocking his visit to a planet can be. He takes full responsibility for bringing ideas to The Crooked World and insists on sticking around to watch the inhabitants mature, not wishing to guide them, just help them to ask more questions. He exists to stop people who wish to use free will to cause harm. Described as canny and the sort of man who thinks like a villain. He doesn’t believe in a honourable villain. He twists nature around him; unravelling strands of reality and knitting them back together in his wake. Clearly a powerful force, his turn as Jasper’s attorney is one of the best ever eighth Doctor sequences, making people see that their desires can be exciting and dangerous. Tellingly, when he considers The Crooked World’s people ’grown up’ he tells Anji, “It’s time” and they leave.

Scruffy Git: Ugly and meaning looking? The big screen hero who has escaped his cold, grey world. Described as very interested in making babies but in turn absolutely horrified when the Baby Stork tries to deliver one to him, suggesting fatherhood would not agree with his lifestyle! He realises that pain is the price of being a hero. The two primary aspects of Fitz’s personality, his libido and his love of James Bond crop up here and rather than feeling like clichés they are re-invented brilliantly. His relationship with Angel Falls is very sweet as he tries to bed this virginal (in all ways) woman and his hints to the conglomerate of villains leads to them building a genuine underground volcano complex complete with a big rocket and laser gun!

Career Nazi: Completing another terrific spin on the three regulars is Anji, who once again provides some excellent moments. She likes to take pride in her appearance and describes herself as a caring professional. She has learnt to never judge by appearances but is horrified to find more talking dogs in the universe! Anji is rational even in the most trying of circumstances and sometimes, annoyingly, just cannot think quickly enough. Every time she has a hand on the universe something weirder comes along to prove her wrong (mind you, take a look at some of these books…The Slow Empire, Mad Dogs, The Book of the Still, The Crooked World…she has a point!). He reaction to The Crooked World is one of sheer horror, not being able to get her head around a society that creates money with no purpose and can change its physics at the drop of a hat, refusing to believe a world as silly as this could evolve naturally. Frustrated because her intellect and instincts are useless in a world this crooked. She likes the idea of moulding a civilisation along efficient, compassionate lines. She is Hindu but not very religious and doesn’t want proof of death because it would uproot her worldview. Her scenes with the Skeleton Crew are hilarious; as she points out the various illogical acts they perform…Steve Lyons manages to use her very serious personality to great comic effect.

Twists: The much criticized cover is glorious, another sign of the confidence of the range these days. The marvellous first chapter effortlessly introduces us to the wackiness of The Crooked World before bringing everything crashing down as Str
eaky shoots the Doctor. Anji has marvellous fun with the Watchamacallit, slipping on a banana skin, dodging a grand piano and holding tight as the TARDIS (with her inside) is shoved over a cliff! I loved it when the newsreader spoke directly to Fitz, telling him, “How very rude!” when he tried to turn it off! When Anji attempts to shade her eyes the Sun politely moves out of her way. Much of the joy of the book is experiencing the characters coming of age, discovering concepts such as death, sex, logic and free will. It is described as discovering a shocking truth, emotions waking up inside, a disease eating away at the fabric of society. Anji realises with some horror that it is their presence, which has instigating events and later Angel Falls demands, “Why couldn’t you have left us alone?” Streaky Bacon attempts to commit suicide when he cannot come to terms with killing the Doctor but tragically just ends up getting frazzled. Angel Falls realises, whilst strapped to a table with a buzz saw working its way up between her legs, how predictable her life has become. The villains team together and kidnap Fitz, torturing him via the dreaded feather duster! In a shocking sequence Jasper kills Squeak the mouse, realising with numb horror that his foe is never coming back because he has killed him in a way nobody has conceived before. Subverting expectations again, the supremely annoying Scrapper is killed in another moment of mute tragedy. The trial of Jasper is a phenomenal scene, the Doctor pointing out the illogical cycle of abuse that Jasper was being tortured with and proving, thanks to their new found desires, it could have been any one of them on trial. When Angel Falls catches up with her old guardian and one time foe she punches him in the face! The explanation of how The Crooked World exists is beautiful, a little girl crash landing on a planet of malleable reality and her desire and dreams starting to affect the formless people. The stories conclusion sees real character growth, Angel and Weasley getting married, Boss Dog a farmer, Streaky Bacon sheriff and Jasper delighted to be reunited with his ‘dead’ chum Squeak. The Doctor admits, “We gave them ambition but took away their innocence.”

Funny bits: The twitters, birds who fly around your head, attracted to pain. The Doctor gets picked up by an ambulance that says “Nee-naw, nee-naw!” Fits tries to come on to a cartoon character only to discover that she has no ‘equipment’, much to Anji’s amusement. “If you start to get these unnatural urges…go and have a nice lie down or something!” says Boss Dog about the mysterious plague of questions. Due to the increasing number of ideas, the light bulb supplies have been exhausted. Fitz is tortured, “The sooner you talk, the less it will tickle!” The Doctor starts using the crazy physics of The Crooked World against its villains, creating the custard pie gun which leads to the glorious line, “Unless you fancy a face full of dairy products, I think I will!” The Skeleton Crew discover their instruments in the frantic chase sequence because; “We always play the music in the chase scenes!” A beef burger vendor tells some protesting cows, “If you don’t want to be eaten you shouldn’t go around tasting so gorgeous all the time!” Boss Dog attempts to play God but gets caught out and curses the Skeleton Crew…”and I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t have been for you…total bastards!”

Embarrassing bits: Bit of an oversight, Anji was comparing Rhian to Velma in the last book and then comes face to face with the real thing here but doesn’t even think that a bit odd.

Result: The last time I reviewed a Steve Lyons book in the mighty eighth Doctor marathon I considered the worst Doctor Who book I had ever read so how odd that his next entry should be such an amazing piece of writing. Its one of the all time classic Doctor Who books, such a fantastic idea and pulled off with such incredible style. The writing is extremely adult without ever being patronising but still manages to thrill the child in you, with loads of laugh out loud hilarious scenes. The regulars are vital to the plot and each contribute much to the story and characterised (once again) with supreme confidence and the secondary characters all transcend their stereotypes to become living, breathing people who it is impossible not to fall in love with (even the villains). It shares some themes with the film Pleasantville and is just as touching and magical, coming of age never seemed so frightening and delightful. I am extremely pleased with the imagination and humour the range is displaying at the moment, this is another little masterpiece in a consistently excellent run of books: 10/10

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Room with No Doors written by Kate Orman

Plot: The Doctor can feel the shadow of his eighth self-hanging over him. Chris is still feeling the effects of the horrors of the last few months. A Victorian time traveller and a fanboy appear in 17th Century Japan. Together the four of them must stop a massacre as warring lord’s fight over alien technology that has fallen to Earth…

Master Manipulator: The seventh Doctor is a different person depending on the writer who is taking care of him. His portrayal by Orman here is so different to the mythological, to-be-feared God that Mortimore wrote in the last book it is hard to reconcile the two. Therapy was desperately needed for this character before he was taken down in a hail of bullets in the TV Movie and this book spends a luxurious amount of time getting close to the most evasive of Doctor’s. We see him through the latest crisis, which is just an excuse for him to come to terms with his past and move on to the future. I’ve spent too long reading these New Adventures to know that had they continued with the 7th Doctor at the helm we would have seen the return of the master manipulator after whatever resolutions he might come to here. We’ve seen it before in No Future and Human Nature. However at the end of his reign it is nice to see the most troubled Doctor coming to terms with himself.

The Doctor is 1003. The Doctor is humble, almost bashful in the Roshi’s presence. He wants to know the hour and place of his regeneration, he wants to choose, for it to be on his own terms. He wants it to mean something. He thinks there is something attractive about the prospect of being able to pass the baton, laying down his burdens. Time won’t have her Champion much longer. He would never have the patience to become a monk; his mind is in a hundred places at once. The Doctor didn’t fit in anywhere, not even with his own people. Time Lords never laugh, if emotion is in their hearts they are expected to silently quash it…no wonder they hated him so much and found him so distasteful. When the Doctor’s eyes caught yours you get a dizzying sense of age. Where others tumble on the brink of eternity, the Doctor goes bungee jumping. With a bit of luck he won’t be awake for the next one. He is so jittery and angry because he knows it is coming and he knows he is going to be helpless. After regeneration you suddenly see patterns that you never used to see.

There is a marvellous rewriting of Head Games in this book that sees the absurd notion that the Doctor trapped away the sixth Doctor so he could exist. I said at the time that it was the work of a deranged mind, his fears made real by the fictional energy warping reality and I was right. The Room with No Doors sees the Doctor reconcile this insanity, brushing aside the feeling that his previous incarnations are fighting him as individual units and accepting that they are part of him. The sixth Doctor refused to plan and anticipate because he was scared that he might become the Valeyard and so would not do what needed to be done. When the Doctor is buried alive by Chris his first thought is ‘we think we deserve this.’ It is all too easy to take the chain of metaphor literally. But we’re not separate: we’re a chain of cause and effect. I think I deserve this. I keep thinking as though I killed him (the sixth Doctor) but I didn’t. I’m not dead. I don’t have to die to be free of this. I can let go of my past without letting go of who I am. I free myself from the task of being perfect and handling everything. No more self-accusation. I don’t deserve it. No one does.

You get the impression that the seventh Doctor is so used to fighting he began fighting even himself. He realises that by being who he is, by fighting the good fight, he is all of his past selves. They aren’t fighting him, they’re helping him. They aren’t judging him, he is judging himself. And he has found himself a flawed but righteous person. He is at peace with himself.

Chris asks: ‘But if you get a different personality, isn’t that like dying? Where do you go?’

Puppy Dog Eyes: Can you think of any other companion who was treating to this amount of development in such a little time? Bad Therapy and The Room with No Doors have seen Chris come out of his shell and blossom into a fully-fledged character in his own right. All it took was the destruction of everything he cares about! Whilst I still don’t find Chris to be the most riveting of characters, he’s either gooey eyed wonder boy before Roz’s demise and soppy arsed no hoper after but at least he is displaying some kind of autonomy and character. 20 books after his introduction and 1 book before his departure Christopher Cwej displays some character. Hallelujah!

Chris would not be alive without Liz Shaw. He is trying to write a note to the Doctor to explain why he is leaving. Chris is 26. He wonders if he is the Doctor’s apprentice and wishes he could be more like him, no hesitations, no doubts…or at least very few. At one point Chris wants to get back under the covers and hide from the adventure, a far cry from the Chris of old. Is Chris enjoying the company of men again? He and Joel share a bed and Joel strokes and kneads his back when he is aching. Sometimes Chris wishes he was a traffic cop again. He wants to know why bad stuff keeps happening. He misses his parents terribly. Chris is having so many doubts about his ability to bring justice, to not screw things up. He spends a quiet moment in the dark talking to the Goddess. He had been 14 and playing basketball when Chris first thought about dying. It was weird knowing it was going to happen no matter what. Rather wonderfully this book brings up how Chris casually murdered two people in Just War, a criticism I made myself of that book. Chris asks the Doctor if he is training him, changing him. He doesn’t want to be like the Doctor. He can’t stop thinking about what will happen if he screws up, he’s scared of outliving everyone he knows. He’s found his limits and he’s not broad enough. He wants to be a hero again, he’s tired of watching good things, good people being destroyed. He has come to the conclusion that he is too nice for this dangerous and ambiguous life of the Doctors. Once he thinks the Doctor is dead Chris steps up to the plate and saves lives. He realises he has been manipulated into feeling this way but still realises that he managed without the Doctor. Maybe he was worth dying for.

Foreboding: The ultimate foreboding experience. The Doctor’s regeneration hangs over this novel like an evil spectre, waiting to pounce. When the Doctor takes an arrow through the chest you have to wonder if this is the time. Chris’ departure is given a lot of consideration too. It’s the first we see of Penelope but she would return for a cameo in The Gallifrey Chronicles where it is strongly hinted that she is the Doctor’s mother. If that was the case I would be overjoyed, she displays all the wit, the intelligence and the brazenness I would expect from the Doctor’s mother.

Twists: The prose describing Japan on pages 16-17 is beautiful. Regeneration is supposed to done in medical centres, slowly and with assistance. It was never meant to be an emergency measure. Penelope Gate is a Victorian time traveller travelling with Joel Mintz. Penelope’s clockwork time machine is a hansom cab, what a fabulous idea. The Doctor holding the little girl with the arrow piercing both of them is a delicious metaphor for his meddling, that sometimes he makes things worse.

Funny Bits: The Doctor on his previous regenerations goes as follows, 1st (‘Was unconscious’), 2nd (‘I don’t want to talk about it’), 3rd (‘unconscious’), 4th (‘Atypical’), 5th (‘like being shoved through a window’) and 6th (‘unconscious’).

Embarrassing Bits: Joel Mintz. Well, anything from Return of the Living Dad really. Joel is supposedly older and wiser but acts more like a kid in this than he did in the former novel. It feels as though he is just there because. He wants to introduce computers to the world of 16th Century Japan for no reason I can determine. He fondles about with Chris, has a few tantrums and is taken back to his right time. Odd.

Result: A wake before the Doctor’s death, The Room with No Doors explores regeneration better than any other story and provides much needed therapy for the 7th Doctor so the 8th can spring into life with no regrets. There is poignant, foreboding atmosphere to most of the book, a feeling that things are coming to a close. The setting is nice but I didn’t really care about the plot at all, it felt oddly muted compared to the intense character work that was being explored. It’s a subtle, sensual novel full of great dialogue and real sentiment but there is about 100 pages of plot and 100 pages of character which still leaves this short book feeling padded. I am so pleased Kate Orman wrote this before the New Adventures ended, after the underwhelming Sleepy, the abysmal Return of the Living Dad and the rushed So Vile a Sin I was starting to wonder if she was going to be a one hit wonder. This restores my faith in her writing completely, a charming piece and some much needed tidying up before the Doctor departs the Virgin series: 7/10