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

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