Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Fear of the Dark by Trevor Baxendale

Plot: Terrifying happenings when the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa are lured to the barren moon of Akoshemon. A creature from beyond our universe is attempting to manifest itself in ours, making very good use of the fear of the dark…

Fair Fellow: Shudder! Gasp! Run to the hills…it’s the end of civilisation! It’s a fairly decent rendition of the character of the fifth Doctor as portrayed by Peter Davison! I would have thought it an impossibility. Had he genuinely been written for in this style in season 20 I would be over the moon and possibly find my feelings towards his incarnation swinging in a positive direction. As it is it took the Big Finish adventures before I would even accept that it was a good decision hiring him in the first place.

Sometimes it can be exhilarating riding on his coat tails and sometimes it can be infuriating. He is a strangely inspirational figure. Being with the Doctor means you are going to be scared. He doesn’t fear the Daleks, the Cybermen, etc…but he does fear the harm they intend and the fear and misery and destruction they cause. He also fears being out for a duck! This fifth Doctor has a bit of an edge to him that I like without losing any of his gentle politeness. You’ve got to love how he threatens to hold Oldeman’s medication – threatening the guy with brain damage to extract information from him…and when he cocks and points the gun at himself to prove how pointless it is! His worst fear is losing another companion like he did Adric. In a moment of total despair the Doctor prepares to kill himself and Stoker rather than letting it take over their minds. The Doctor doesn’t fight the future; he fights for the future and protects it from things that thrive in the unknown. Fear. Hostility. Cruelty. Injustice. Adric’s death was still the sharpest thorn in the Doctor’s memory; he could not bear the thought of having to suffer another loss again. Alone he could take necessary risks. Most importantly Fear of the Dark allows us to see the Doctor scared and it doesn’t diminish his character one iota.

Alien Orphan: Nyssa sometimes dreams of Traken but the dream always tipped over into a nightmare. When Traken had been destroyed it had left her the sole remaining survivor. She felt so very alone. She wonders what it must be like to be held very close. Nyssa is made to realise her instincts are every bit as important as her intelligence. Since Tegan has appeared on the scene again the Doctor has shown less interest in Nyssa. There had been a time when it had been a pleasure showing her the complicated control console – she could read star charts and plot a course.

Mouth on Legs: I have a confession to make. Tegan actually comes across (for me) much better in the books than she did on the telly. She is written in the same style but because we get to go beyond surface characterisation there is some motivation and justification for why she is so grumpy. It makes her much more appealing.

Soon after Tegan had blundered into the TARDIS she had despaired of ever seeing the 1980’s again. When she returned she had lost her job and suffered terrible nightmares and depression. The simple truth was when she was with the Doctor she had never felt more alive, she was a practically woman and she liked to help, she loved the chance to make a difference. She wanted to do something with her life. It was an uncomfortable thought that the Doctor and Nyssa were off having adventures without her. Tegan feels a trickle of envy. She realises with a pang of guilt that she has forgotten about Adric. The Doctor admits in a moment of weakness that Tegan has been a problem ever since she entered the TARDIS. It is seriously freaky when Tegan’s childhood fears come back to haunt her when she is trapped in the coffin like stasis chamber.

Foreboding: The Doctor talks of teaching the girls to read the star charts at the end of the book, which leads to their trip to Manussa in Snakedance.

Twists: Minimalist it might be but I actually quite like the cover; I love how the stars slip away into darkness…very in tune with the book. Captain Stoker’s cover story of being archaeologists backfires on them when they discover a lab buried in the moon with five bodies drained of blood. A scientists tried to combine Akoshemon material with human and a creature was born with an insatiable appetite for blood. Jim’s death at the hands of the Bloodhunter is very bloody. Pages 145-147 is a true cliffhanging moment, Bunny’s bloody death comes as a great shock just pages after the first attempt on his life. Stoker is quite surprising as a character, initially a walking clich├ę but as the book progresses and she loses everything she deepens. In the heart of the planet the Doctor and Nyssa discover a pit of darkness, the Bloodhunter stops at its edge and vomits up all the blood he has collected, feeding the darkness life itself. The Bloodhunter slits Oldeman’s throat and blood gushes into the pit, unleashing an unspeakable horror. The spreading darkness chasing them from the caves is a brilliant idea (and would be so easy to achieve on screen!) – the Doctor’s panic adding much tension. Caldwell wasn’t trying to resurrect the Dark; he was trying to destroy it! The Dark is all that remains of the Void that existed before the Big Bang, the cavity in Time and Space before those forces were first spawned. The Dark was shredded by the forces that created our universe but not destroyed. It managed to reform itself – coalesce amid primal matter that became the planet Akoshemon. Oldeman was influenced by the Dark’s mind and created the Bloodhunter to provide for its master. The Dark takes over Lawrence and as the Admantium takes off he fires his gun into the navigational systems and dramatically the ship crashes into the moon (‘The Admantium was torn wide open and the ships guts were hanging open, loose cabling and chunks of smouldering machinery, flames bleeding from the wound’). The Dark sensed the Doctor in the TARDIS, drew him to the planet and tore thought everything to get to him, his mere presence signing the death warrant of everybody on the moon. The Dark manifests itself with all the strengths and weaknesses of those whose blood it has taken, including Oldeman’s addiction to neuro-electrin. The Doctor pumps the remainder into the Bloodhunter and master and beast feed off each other. It weakens enough for Stoker to shoot it with a Dark Star gun.

Funny Bits: Jim Boyd is looking for a synthetic skin patch big enough to cover Tegan’s mouth!
After suffering a split lip at the hands of Caldwell’s fists the Doctor comments, “I’ve just been beaten up” in disbelief. That really tickled me.

Result: Underated, this is an exciting and well-paced novel. Admittedly it starts off waving the trad banner with a little too much enthusiasm but once the Bloodhunter is wheeled out things pick up immeasurably. Trevor Baxendale writes with such an unpretentious adventurous spirit I cannot bring myself to criticise, this reads like a Terrance Dicks novel with better descriptive prose. It helps that the regulars are characterised with some dignity, far more than they were getting during this televised period. It might be packed with clich├ęs (an evil from another dimension, a starship crew, mining rights, blood sucking creatures) but all of these features are pleasingly subverted (the Dark manifests in shadows, the ship crashes with spectacular results, the Bloodhunter manages to surprise its victim and the reader with regularity). Given its less than stellar reputation (admittedly it doesn’t match up to his superior EDAs…except possibly Coldheart) I was impressed and if this is the sort of novel that is considered a failure then we are in much better shape than the past twenty or so PDAs: 7/10

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