Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Eleventh Tiger by David A. McIntee

Plot: The TARDIS crew arrive in China, 1865, to find there is more to chaos than human violence and ambition. Legends of ancient vengeance are coming true. Long dead Emperor’s are being resurrected and an army of thousands lays dormant, waiting to be reborn and take over the world…

Hmm: Do the authors try harder when it is a first Doctor book? Many Doctor Who authors have done their best work when writing for the first Doctor. Its like the original Doctor raises everyone’s game because they don’t want to spoil the legend. This is certainly the best thing McIntee has written for BBC Books, beating his previous best The Face of the Enemy and Bullet Time. His treatment of the First Doctor is not as radical as it might seem (given he has a Yoda moment of martial arts) but he writes him perfectly to match Hartnell’s performance and captures his wisdom and magic beautifully. The setting, one of legends and scientific marvels in nature, is the perfect location for the astute first Doctor.

The Doctor, in his Edwardian frock coat and chequered trousers looked almost out of place in the futuristic TARDIS. He is always ready with an explanation and surprisingly youthful enthusiasm. The Doctor sees something of himself and Susan in Vicki. Everyone is important to the Doctor. He has exceptional eyesight for someone of his years. The Doctor being a healer and left in charge of Po Chi Lam just feels right. He can hold his gaze and judge a mans character. He gets very upset when people imply he is too old to do something. The Doctor is indomitable and shows iron in his backbone. He doesn’t belong to one place, he belongs everywhere. Is he searching for the truth? He could be pretty sprightly but always paid for it later. Susan had chosen to leave him already when he locked her out of the TARDIS but she just didn’t realise it so he made the decision for her. It was a far cry from the days when Ian and Barbara saw the Doctor as a cold-blooded kidnapper who abducted them for his granddaughter’s sake. What sort of person would not be capable of doing something stupid in a moment of panic to protect their family? It made the Doctor seem less cold hearted and alien than he otherwise would.

Schoolteachers in love: And never has that been more appropriate! For David’s Face of the Enemy to make sense this story had to happen sooner or later but I’m glad it was years in the making because it makes the developments surprising again. They are simply wonderful characters, a wonderful couple and superb for storytelling purposes. Rarely beaten in Doctor Who ‘companion’ history.

A couple of years ago Ian had thought teaching in Coal Hill and living in a small flat were normal. Now he thought his flat would feel dark and mysterious compared to the familiar sterility of the TARDIS. It felt so natural for Ian to be at Barbara’s side as though she had always been there. Barbara felt, with Ian unconscious, some part of herself had blacked out. Ian and Barbara are already married in their minds – they just don’t know it yet. Barbara had always loved watching the rain. It was such a fresh natural thing, bringing life to trees and flowers. Ian had never been particularly superstitious. Sweetly, Ian proposes he fights Jiang for the Doctor because he is disposable. Barbara’s earnestness surprised him; they had been travelling for two years and know each other pretty well but moments like this kept things fresh and surprising. Barbara admits that she loves Ian and kisses him. When asked if she and Ian are married Barbara replies, “No he’s not my husband. Not yet anyway.” Ian had killed during his time with the Doctor but he had never set out with that intention and had never done so when losing his own was the only alternative. Although he wasn’t particularly religious as an adult he still tried to hold one to the core values of the Ten Commandments he was taught as a kid. Ian and Barbara’s hearts had wed years ago – they were just waiting for their minds to catch up. Ian would kill and be killed for Barbara. At the stories close, after all the worry both has suffered over the other, their feelings bubble over and Barbara asks Ian to marry him when they get home to which he replies, “Yes.”

Space Orphan: Vicki finds this new form of travel exciting. Vicki did not dislike Ian and Barbara but they were so much a ‘couple’ she felt like an intruder when they were around. In a very sweet scene we see that Vicki is very attracted to Fei-Hung. She is pleased she didn’t have to dish out Bennett’s punishment because she doesn’t know if she would have the courage to see it through. She silently learns martial arts during Fei-Hung’s classes. Vicki might be from a more advanced time but she is still a child.

Foreboding: Ooh lots and lots for Ian and Barbara. Their relationship is in full swing and after this adventure they are set to leave the TARDIS more than ever before. Not only has the Doctor given them amazing adventures but he has also let them ‘find’ each other. So, happily, at the end of this book Barbara is making a dress for Vicki who is annoying everybody – the exact circumstances at the beginning of The Chase where Ian and Barbara depart the TARDIS.

Twists: I love the cover which has clearly been photo shopped but there is something wonderfully mythic about it. Cheng and his bunch of bandits stumbling across possessed monks is an atmospheric opening – McIntee writes action like no other writer. What has happened to his writing: “Then a silver arc appeared in the blackness, like the white of an eye appeared as the eyelid parted on waking. It was the moon, emerging from hiding.” How atmospheric! Even a burning town is described with a sense of beauty. Ian is recognised in a restaurant and beaten to bloody pulp. The abbot has Lei-Fang’s eyes and tongue removed for disagreeing with him. The Festival of the Hungry Ghost – the town bathed in dark light – this really is an evocative book. There is a lovely scene where Barbara and Vicki shelter from the rain in a haunted house. The book plays a clever trick on fans – making us think that Major Chesterton is our Ian Chesterton – even to the point of having the amnesiac Major remember making love to a dark haired woman in Italy, just like Ian and Barbara in Rome. The Doctor’s ‘duel’ with Jiang from the point of view of his companions – outwitting rather than fighting – is simply the best PDA scene in an age. Page 230 is beautiful, written with incredible sensitivity. Qin Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor, wanted to rule forever and found a way of having his mind and personality recorded on a ‘stone tape’ – via an intelligence who wants him to do his bidding. In a great race against time we realise that Major Chesterton is in fact Ian’s great-grandfather and what he thinks is suicide for Barbara’s sake is in fact murder – erasing himself from history. The 8,000 are a ready made army awaiting activation by the stone tap energy. The terracotta statues coming to life and being smashed to pieces mid-fight is a fantastic image.

Funny Bits: You have to admire how the Doctor offloads a load of troublesome children onto Ian and Barbara and chuckles as he runs away.
The Doctor – “You know I think this might be why I enjoy the company of you young fellows! You’re just the right people to see the simple solutions!”

Result: Atmospheric throughout, The Eleventh Tiger educates, amuses, emotes and surprises. David A. McIntee has written a real winner because he has taken a long enough break to refresh his writing and some passages in this book are astonishing in their simplicity and beauty. The pace is relaxed but this leaves time to consider all of the regulars and give them all a number of quiet moments that deepens their onscreen characterisation. The plot involving the First Emperor and stone tapes is intriguing enough to hold the interest and the guest cast are great too, a lot of work has been put into what makes this characters work. Even the setting has a character of its own; China comes alive with traditions, myths, rituals and sometimes just with striking descriptions. However this is Ian and Barbara’s book and they consummate their relationship with far more believability than would be thought possible. You just can’t help but wish them luck in the future: 9/10

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Emotional Chemistry by Simon A. Forward

Plot: Just what is it that links Russia in 1812, 2024 and 5000? The Doctor, Fitz and Trix become embroiled in a dangerous tale of time travel and the lengths two people will go to for love. With so many years between them, will Dusha and Kinzhal tear the world apart to find each other?

Top Doc: Frustratingly the Doctor appears in about five (short) scenes until halfway through the book and considering the wealth of characters involved he feels horribly like an extra in his own series. Once he bursts in on Kinzhal, it feels like he has finally entered the book. Once he does get involved however the characterisation is as good as we have see lately, with a shocking trip down memory lane as he meets up with three people (Aphrodite, Bugayev and Kinzhal) who have all met him before his amnesia. He is always bothering the authorities and having a gun pointed at him, despite the novelty, is a familiar scene for the Doctor. His thinking is rarely able to keep up with his feet. His life has been touched by remarkable people lately. He lights up people’s lives with his eye, mind and thoughts. His battle of wills against Garudin is great because it shows how strong willed he is compared to everyone else in the book. When learning that people already have a preconception of who he is, he grows increasingly childish, refusing to conform to other people’s perception of him. He feels it undermines his sense of self. The idea of him defiantly arguing the case for the Magellan and their wish to break the rules and have a child feels so right. Even if he had his memories, would he care to remember them? He considers the possibility that maybe he is an alien with the ability to change his appearance. It is strange to see him so emotional, affected as he is by the strength of two extremely powerful empaths. Fitz admits that the Doctor shares a sort of chemistry with everyone.

Scruffy Git: Fitz falls in love again. Groan I hear you say but this time its different (like Book of the Still) because his desire for Aphrodite is reflected back at him and he is caught in the impossible situation of fighting his feelings for her sake (although technically this makes it failed romance number thirteen!). A very interesting take on the usual shagging he gets up to. He wonders at the end, when he makes his choice to free her if he has made a narrow escape or if he has thrown away the greatest opportunity for love in his life. For the Doctor’s assistant he is not very well informed and Bugayev compares him to Trix’s brilliant performance as Ms Atherton, thinking Fitz is a poor supporting actor, giving them both away immediately. He belongs backstage. It is surprising how a shapely figure can bring out his chivalrous side. A considers himself a selfish coward and admits temptation is far more likely to win him over than torture. He is not a space-time virgin and has unshakable loyalty for the Doctor. He isn’t sure if he counts Trix as a friend yet. Confronted with Garudin’s lustful thoughts he is ashamed of his own baser desires. There is a vulnerability about him that marks him as a protector and not a possessor. He has a soft heart and is genuinely charming. Impossible to think of as a man.

Identity Tricks: The best use of Trix yet as we actually get to share her thoughts. Like any good actress she uses her surroundings to imbue emotion in the part. During her cover story as Ms Atherton she includes details of a robbery, suggesting she was the victim when in fact she was the thief! Cool, with the slender and charismatic eye of a Hollywood starlet, a consummate actress. The person beneath her performance is engaging. It is the first sign that she uses her acting as a means to hide from pain; she tries to tell herself her character is reacting to men being shot to pieces around her. She gets jealously angry of Aphrodite trying to claim her loot. She fears she is losing her touch. She hates constructing personas on the hook without background information. Brilliantly she turns the tables on the Doctor when he accuses of her of obsession with possession, telling him she was after the locket for his need, forcing him to consider he has misjudged her.

Foreboding: The Doctor has the crystal and can get after Sabbath’s mysterious allies…

Twists: Despite being described after the event, the opening, with the Doctor being whisked off into the far future in flames, is arresting enough to grab the attention. The scenes of possession by Misl Vremya are genuinely creepy, leading to a horrific assault of Russia’s UNIT (Bullets raked across the window screen, punching craters in the driver, the lieutenant and the seat in front of him). Kinzhal’s own people are out to assassinate him, fearing his thirst for conquest once the war is over. Garudin is another loathsome bad guy (following up superbly from Basalt in Timeless), breaking Fitz’s fingers to torture information out of him and cracking his secretary’s head open with a hammer. The Misl Vremya is a great time travel idea, sending your mind back along the timeline of an object from the past until you inhabit the mind of somebody who had contact with it. The central idea, Kinzhal and Dusha, two halves of one being, punished for having a daughter (Aphrodite) is a genuinely interesting catalyst for events. Their punishment, heart and mind separated and imprisoned in separate time zones gives the story the excuse to be as epic and timeline spanning as it wants to be. Dusha’s solution, to touch Natasha with a kiss of protection and thus building a bridge through time to Kinzhal, passing her luck on to Tatyana (2003) and Angel (5000) is breathtakingly clever. There is the usual threat to the Earth but even that is subverted, this time from Kinzhal and Dusha whose reunion will set the world on fire. The Doctor’s solution, to transfer Dusha’s mind via the locket to Angel’s mind, is simple but satisfying, especially Kinzhal’s reaction to this new form of intimacy with his other half. The psionic weapon that Trix loses is probably the one, which caused all that bother in the past in Eater of Wasps (who said the EDAs don’t give explanations…like the Burning monsters in Time Zero it comes years later!!!!). Kinzhal is responsible for setting up the time agency who were pursuing Greel from Talons of Weng Chiang.

Embarrassing bits: Without the blurb the first fifty odd pages are terrifyingly confusing with the story hopping from one time zone to another. Justin Richards should be shot for placing Emotional Chemistry where he did, if there was ever two stories that should have followed each other up it is Timeless and Sometime Never… (the build up in Timeless is dissipated by the distance between them) and this leaves Emotional Chemistry feeling (undeservedly) like a distraction. It should have been placed just after Halflife where it would have received the attention it rightfully deserves. The Doctor’s absence in the first half is keenly felt.

Result: It pains me to punish an author for effort but there is far too much going on in Emotional Chemistry, with a flourish of characters, settings and events that command the readers attention and Forward (agonisingly) injects sumptuous detail into each of them. I just could not concentrate so hard on everything with equal vigour and lost myself in a few places. This is a fascinating experiment with many great, great moments and another excellent plot, which weaves brilliantly through (and justifies) its three time zones. The prose is extremely imaginative and thoughtful, so noticeably colourful that it adds an extra layer of polish to the book. The characterisation rocks and there isn’t one person who rings false (if only there weren’t so bloody many of them!) and the regulars all shine apart from each other, especially Trix who has the ability to convince in all three time periods. Thick with incident, this is a flawed but winning attempt at capturing the feel of Russian literature, unfairly placed between two arc novels and well worth taking your time with: 7/10

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Forever Autumn by Mark Morris

Plot: There’s a green pea souper closing in on Blackwood Falls and ancient evil buried beneath the town is about to make sport with their Halloween celebrations. The Hervoken are preparing to leave the Earth and they need human blood and terror to fuel their spaceship…

Mockney Dude: One of the best depictions of the tenth Doctor in print so far, his quirky English madness highlighted especially well against the family atmosphere of the Falls. Mark Morris nails David Tennant’s mannerism and speech patterns perfectly and it takes no effort to see this adventure taking place before your eyes with the Doctor running about like a spiky haired loon, frightening and cute in equal measure. He and Martha make a very effective unit in this story, the pair of them working together very well and understanding each other well enough not to push the other too far. I love how they squabble together like an old married couple at times and yet she trusts him to save her ad nauseum and he trusts her with the very important task of keeping the Necris safe.

He is all bony knees and elbows and spiky, tousled hair fizzing with energy. Martha finds him exhilarating and frustrating. Like a temperamental racehorse sometimes all you can do is hold on for dear life. We get to see the Doctor through the eyes of American kids and he comes across as a babbling lunatic! He still wants to know if the future him is ginger. The Doctor is so utterly naïve he thinks nothing of asking a 12-year-old boy to show him his bedroom. When told he is very forward the Doctor comments he is ‘forwards, backwards and sideways.’ He is genuinely horrified at the thought of quitting, he likes the challenge of the impossible as it sorts out the legends from the wanabees. The Doctor isn’t just smart, he sees everything. He has a dangerous aura about him. He cannot bear to be idle, mooching around, he always has to be doing something. An ideas man and a pockets well filled man! The Doctor gives the Hervoken ship indigestion by feeding it his blood. He will survive, he always does. The Doctor is somehow the most unsettling and reassuring man, a mixture of boyish charm and ancient wisdom. Martha forces the Doctor to stay behind at the end of the novel and make sure everybody is alright, he is still avoiding the consequences of his adventures. Martha wonders if he didn’t stick around because he couldn’t come to terms with the idea that wherever they go people always die. He was haunted by those he didn’t save. I love the remorseless tenth Doctor when he bares his teeth and after giving the Hervoken the chance to leave without murdering anybody and they don’t take it he reduces them to dust without remorse.

Magical Martha: The Doctor likes Martha because she uses her brain and she tries not to be flattered by such a lousy compliments. Martha gives Rick warm tingly feelings despite trying not to! Never stop asking questions, always have an enquiring mind, every day is a school day is what her mum always told her. Whenever the Doctor seemed to talk about Rose (every five minutes or so) she tried to steer him away. Martha had had enough witches to last her a lifetime. When asked if she is the Doctor’s floozy she answers, ‘I’m nobody’s floozy.’ She didn’t expect the Doctor to profess his undying love t her but a little chivalry wouldn’t go amiss. There is a sequence where Martha eats alone in an American diner that somehow drove home the possibilities of travel with the Doctor for me more than any alien world ever could. I love Martha’s ruminations on time travel, what if she phoned him and it was the future and something awful had happened or what if she phoned before she left and she was with whomever she was speaking to? She feels like the luckiest girl alive to get the chance to travel with the Doctor. Martha has to remind herself, whilst terrified, that she kept stepping back into the TARDIS precisely for reasons like this. Given all of the running, Martha wonders if any of the Doctor’s assistants have ever been fat. The Doctor tells the lads when Martha has had a few too many cappuccinos she runs around naked which she refutes but oddly enough they stick around her to find out! Life with the Doctor was meet people, share extraordinary times, move on. Even Martha, no matter how much she might want to, never looked back.

Twists: I love that cover, simple but really effective. Autumn is the smell of dry leaves, wood smoke and mulchy Earth – such an evocative description of my favourite season. The whole sequence of Dr Clayton drunkenly stumbling into the graveyard and watching in horror as a creature with a misshapen clammy face and clicking twig like fingers tearing free of the Earth and drifting after him in the mist is really unnerving. The green mist affects your mind and worms its way into your insecurities and phobias and intensifies them. The creature delicately draws an x in the air and reshapes Clayton’s flesh so he has no mouth. Mini whirlwinds, dry leaves whipped into rough approximations that toss dry leaves through the air like discuses causing deep, slicing cuts. Green light flows from the book like mothers milk into the bellies of many children. The backstory of Glenn and Jim is lovely, a genuinely subtle gay romance…see it can be done! The cat attack is described as a bristling, screeching legion of vicious teeth, unsheathed claws and blazing green eyes. The creature looming out of the mist in the diner is really freaky. The Hervoken are described as fading away like an ‘aspirin dropped into water.’ The wall opens like a huge toothless mouth and Mr Everson disappears inside with a sickening crunch of bones. The Hervoken ship is a tenticular subterranean system with the town’s people living atop like tiny parasites on the back of a giant crab. The Necris is the starter mower of the spaceship and the famous Blackwood is the tip of the ships nose. The Witchy Wars saw the Hervoken take on the Carrionites before they were banished by the Eternals. The ship is powered by pain, terror, distress, contained within the raw matter of blood, bone, brain and sinew. There is a scene of horrendous claustrophobia as the rubber clown mask glues itself to Jim’s face and he becomes a murderous subject of the Hervoken, bursting through the shop window and pursuing Martha through the streets with scythe like claws. Chris lights a toilet roll with a cigarette lighter and sets the cardboard skeleton that has just smashed through their hiding place on fire. Points for saving the day but he is so busted by his mom for having a ciggie lighter. It is lovely to have an alien race that communicates only in gestures, somehow it makes them more menacing. They need the terror and blood so the Hervoken turn the children into their Halloween costumes and get them to murder their parents.

Funny Bits:
· The beginning of chapter five opens with the most terrifying sentence, constructed from as many long words as possible!
· ‘Tell you what Chrissy boy; lets skip all the teenage angsty stuff. Lets just take it as read that you’ve got issues, that no one understands you and that you’re confused about your sexuality.’
· The Doctor to a cat: ‘A word of advice. If you ever get invited to a fancy dress party, don’t go as a nun.’
· The Doctor tries to convince Martha that the Binks clan from Star Wars are real! That George Lucas was picking up a telepathic message from a far away planet and worked it into his story!

Result: I can completely understand why Forever Autumn won the Doctor Who Magazine poll. The writing style is highly engaging and the horror is genuinely frightening in places, Mark Morris feeds on all manner of terrors from not being able to cry out, nasties under the ground, children turning bad and every day items trying to kill you. The Doctor and Martha work very well in the US setting and the guest cast whilst never undergoing any real character development all feel very real in their own way, especially Rick, Etta and Jim. The Hervoken are a great monster and their war with the Carrionites adds depth to a television story and their particular brand of magic and communications makes them terrifyingly vivid. Forever Autumn is an extremely easy book to like and an even easier book to devour, ideal night time reading in the Autumn as I did. One of a few Doctor Who books to actually give me a nightmare: 8/10

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Empire of Death by David Bishop

Plot: Queen Victoria is inconsolable without her husband but a secret séance promises to connect her with him on the Other Side. Is there life after death and can it be reached by those still alive? The Doctor suspects not and heads to Scotland to investigate…

Fair Fellow: It’s frightening how much Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor is growing on me since the novels and audios have been released. Rather than the ineffectual moral coward we saw on the telly they have sought to flesh him out considerably. This is a good attempt by David Bishop to give the fifth Doctor (and Davison) a story he would enjoy with Nyssa as his sole companion.

The Doctor’s attitude towards the TARDIS is like a resident who has lived in the same house far too long – no longer noticing the cracks, the dust, the decline…all too often he is guilty of putting off something that should have been done long ago tomorrow. He is keeping Nyssa at arms length, as if scared to get close to his companions now Adric has died. He is Queen Victoria’s scientific advisor in this, a lovely touch. The Doctor cannot answer the big question as to whether there is life after death – but says when his time comes he would like his spirit to become at peace with nature. He has easy familiarity with Nyssa without with no sign of them being a couple. He has a room full of memento’s to his past companions. He loves kippers!

Alien Orphan: As for Nyssa however I don’t think there has been a PDA that has ever delved into the daughter of Traken this well. I have always been of the opinion that Nyssa was extremely underated, the most understated of the fifth Doctor’s companions and potentially the most interesting. Certainly this book gives us far more scope with Nyssa that Asylum did.

Nyssa has begun writing a journal to better understand her adventures beyond the purely scientific. She is lonely and misses Adric more than she ever thought possible because he was taken from them so abruptly. She finds it hard to relax in the Doctor’s company, at least not how she could with Tegan who was the elder sister Nyssa never had, a willing listener when she was troubled. Is she mature beyond her years? The Doctor reminds Nyssa of her father but the relationship is very different. Traken is as dead to her as her father. Having lost so many of her family and friends and home, Nyssa’s self control has become stronger. She builds walls around her hurt – but is she merely imprisoning herself with the pain? Nyssa has an air of self-assurance and upright posture that suggested regal stature. Plainly she had been raised amongst aristocracy, perhaps even possessed noble blood. When Tremas appears to Nyssa she feels even closer to him now he has gone. On Traken Nyssa had been amongst the brightest and most inquisitive minds of her generation. In a scene that should have been dealt with on the telly Nyssa finally breaks down over her father and Adric’s death. Unable to cope with so much loss she has become ill and withdrawn, pulling herself inwards to escape further hurt. She wants revenge against the Master, wishes she had died instead and blames the Doctor for not saving him. Nyssa meets her mother Lucina who claims that she died during childbirth to save Nyssa. Tellingly once she feels safe through the Rift with her mother and father on Traken Nyssa is quite happy to forget her ‘other’ life. She realises that you cannot save everyone and that death comes to us all.

Foreboding: Nyssa wonders if the Doctor knows her future…which he does if you follow the events of the fourth Doctor adventure Asylum.

Twists: I quite like the mock-Ambassadors of Death cover. The prologue is excellent, a gripping introduction to the story. James Lees falls into the Clyde and encounters a light and upon recovering can take on the personalities of the dead – shockingly exposing a Doctor who has performed abortions and even taking on the aborted personality of his sister who was killed in the womb. Queen Victoria is beautifully written, sensitive but very firm. During the séance Albert implores Victoria to send a convoy to Scotland to the ‘other side’. Bishop imbues his minor characters with a real history. The treatment of STDs for women was to swallow mercury! Others were suspended over baths of mercury so the vapours could burn out the infection. The ghosts who died in the Lock would gather around James in the dark. Every time James reaches out into the spirit world it is like forcing splinters of glass into his brain. Page 136 – see how much realism Bishop can inject into his characters in just one page. On the Other Side, the creature which has taken Tremas’ form admits that his people took images from Nyssa’s mind to shape her ideal afterlife; however, they have ceased trying to find a peaceful resolution to their problems with Earth. The rift first opened when a dead unborn child was cast through the membrane -- one of the aborted foetuses, which Kirkhope had been burying in the swamp -- and ever since, the physical laws of Earth’s Universe have been affecting the Other Side. They intend to invade the Earth before they invade them. The Doctor uses the TARDIS to seal of the rift from both sides.

Embarrassing Bits: There is one really awful scene where the Doctor and Nyssa head into the TARDIS and start spouting off awful technobabble just like they did on the telly. All that promise of ghosts contacting the living….squandered on an alien invasion story!

Result: David Bishop is a good writer but like so many others he gets rarely plays to his strengths. The best Doctor Who authors write the story they want to write and force the Doctor Who format to reshape. Others start writing a story and let the Doctor Who format confine them into a world of invasions and monsters. Empire of Death has a terrific first half, an intriguing mystery and some surprisingly adult period detail mixed with some lovely character development for Nyssa, which is long overdue. I kept wondering why people had such a problem with this book. Then I read the second half. Shapeless beings taking on the shape of the dead to invade our world and take over. Yaaaaaaawn. How very, very disappointing. This could have been a truly frightening ghost story with some shocking implications for the Doctor Who universe but instead everything gets wrapped up nice and cosily with the invasion foiled. What’s more the writing gets less atmospheric as the book continues, as though the writer felt he had set the scene enough and was just getting on with the plot. Queen Victoria’s presence aside, Empire of Death is a huge letdown: 5/10

Friday, 10 June 2011

Timeless by Stephen Cole

Plot: Timeless offers you the chance to kill with no consequences. After finally breaking back into the right reality the Doctor sets his friends investigating this bloodthirsty organisation. On the way he learns some shocking things about himself, Anji adopts a kid and Sabbath finally reveals his grand Masterplan…

Top Doc: This is a perfect of example of why I enjoy the eighth Doctor books at this point, the characterisation here is fantastic. He is a firework of emotions in this book, from depression to joy, from frustration to punch the air satisfaction. He starts the book hooded and withdrawn, moaning that his life has been too full of guesswork lately. He is doing his predictions party trick again. He works for life, not big on easy answers but the ones he usually comes up with are usually better than the ones you would come up with on your own. Described as crazy and polite, even if his hair is too long. He giggles when he is called a student. He really enjoys pretending to be a copper (“Assaulting an officer, I’ll have you for that!”) and doesn’t take any of the thugs’ pathetic threats seriously, laughing in their faces. He is testing Trix in this book, to see if she can be trusted. When Anji forces the issue that Chloe is from his home planet he tells her to be quiet, terrified of confronting his own past and his fate of her destroyed planet. He celebrates life, protects it, cherishes it, treasures it…but is scared that for all his championing of it, he is the ultimate betrayer of it. Brilliantly (and in a moment that hilariously has fanboys wetting their pants with anger) the Doctor lets his emotions overcome in the face of Daniel Basalt’s crimes and viciously boots him the guts, although he does have the humility to look ashamed afterwards. He holds back the tears at Anji’s party asks her what is he going to do without her.

Scruffy Git: Rather than double the amount of women salivating teaming Fitz up with the (pretty much) identical character Guy works a charm, the pair of them refusing to take everything seriously and adding a great deal of fun to the book. They get to talk laddishly (which isn’t as painful as it should be) and goof around madly in Anji’s car, punching the windscreen out, smashing through warehouse doors and shooting down Sabbath’s apes whilst singing the James Bond theme (Anji later notes her car isn’t covered by acts of total prat). Even better is his interaction with Trix, which is lively and flirtatious and bodes well for the future. I think Fitz is secretly Cole’s favourite regular but due to editorial requirements he gets the least amount to do.

Career Nazi: Pleasingly, Anji’s final appearance is one of her best. Her actual leaving scene is about two lines long because we have building up to this since Time Zero. Her bitchiness towards Trix is hilarious and it is shame she didn’t come out of hiding sooner (Anji thinks she is 100% fake and a dangerous, manipulative psychotic!). She has spent most of her life pushing away her ethnic background. She canot wait to move on, determined that now she had found her Earth she would never leave it again. The scenes between the Doctor and Anji are great, a real mutual respect between them a genuine feeling that she has finally grown out of needing him to protect her. She has given her parents enough reason to chase after her (and certain young men) with a machete! It is great to see her relax, flirt and laugh, she feels normal for a change and she realises that she isn’t used to it anymore, but it feels good. She feels a pang of jealousy of how close Fitz and Trix have grown and gets the urge to run into the TARDIS and slam it into Trix’s face. After snogging Guy at the party she realises there is world of possibilities out there for her. Wrapping up her story in a lovely, almost fairytale manner Trix arranges the adoption of Chloe for her and as we leave her she is introduced to a gorgeous hunk called Greg… I love this, Anji’s story has a definitive beginning, middle and end…and it has been a very satisfying journey. Clearly she has learnt a lot travelling with the Doctor and she is a completely different person to who she was in Escape Velocity. Very nicely done.

Identity Tricks: What a relief it is to see this woman explored in some depth. She has been using the TARDIS for business ventures and loves performing in all guises. She has never been caught before. She has a million and one sob stories at her fingertips to ensnare Fitz. He reckons she has nine lives like a cat. An escort rather than a friend, like somebody paid to respond in a professional way. The way she can make up a convincing history in seconds is really creepy. When she slips on a character she becomes that person so its annoying if you start to like that person. Trix knows people with access to all kinds of things (fake driving licence, passports), the Doctor knows she is illegally stepping into a dead persons shoes (stealing their identity) and trusts her to take care of things. Brilliantly, she sits there filing her nails as though nothing concerns her as the Doctor reveals all. The Doctor has been testing her patience; to see if she could last on a job does not please herself. To Anji’s annoyance, she succeeds. She sees travelling in the TARDIS as too good an opportunity to miss. Claims she is not one of the Doctor’s tame stooges.

Ham Fists: Finally we get to hear Sabbath’s plan and amazingly, after all the build, it isn’t a let down! Halfway through the book he storms in on bully Daniel Basalt, slaps him about a bit and takes over his organisation (what a guy!). The great puppet master, he boasts that the Doctor’s investigations into Timeless has manoeuvred everyone where he needs them (although the Doctor tells him he is a ‘lazy get’). In a moment of punch the air brilliance just as Sabbath’s plan is about to come into fruition, his business partner (the very creepy Kalicum) turns on him and tells him “ My people no longer need you!” We realise Sabbath was trying to seed the human inheritance in the entire universe, wanting to bring stability to a universe that he has been shown could descend into the horrors of raw time. He was shown how the human race could flourish and thus has been their willing pawn ever since, thinking his plotting and scheming would bring about humanity’s prosperity. Now he has been betrayed, he is pissed.

Foreboding: Where to start? Sabbath’s plan work and the crystals are seeded in the universe (Sometime Never). The Doctor is after one of those crystals for study (Emotional Chemistry). Trix and Anji strike up a bargain (The Deadstone Memorial, The Gallifrey Chronicles). Anji has met a nice bloke called Greg (The Gallifrey Chronicles).

Twists: The pre credits sequence is the most ridiculously entertaining sequence this range has produced since The Crooked World. Everyone kill Guy Adams Day is beautifully written. The TARDIS can find its way around the universe because it is a closed system, it has a precise beginning and end and thus the way back into our universe is to go back in time just after the Big Bang and if the TARDIS is ripped apart by the primal forces they know they are home (none of the other universes have a beginning, they have always been there, now and forever). “Hello reality you are cleared to land!”, the Doctor returns the journal to the bookshop in 1938 (Time Zero). I love the idea of the Doctor taking Fitz and Trix all around the world taking snapshots, just to make their cover story more convincing. Basalt really is vile, smacking a woman’s head into a glass frame and cracking them both. Chapter nineteen is lovely, all the plot threads dive into a coherent whole, after lots of clever investigation the plot is revealed…Timeless find a person (as the universes collapse, Chloe saves some of the more unfortunate people, Jamais sucks the soul out and breathes it into the version in our reality) in an alternate reality, brings them here and kill one version (Fitz and Trix’s contribution), the bodies are shipped out and dumped in the sea (the Doctor and Stacey) and the paperwork covering their arses is dealt with by Guy’s office (Anji and Guy). Sabbath’s sudden appearance ups the ante dramatically. Kalicum, Sabbaths employer has sharp, crystal like hands, which butcher Chongy. Stacey has some horrifying dreams about Basalt, her mind telling her that she is one of the Timeless clients, from another universe and he has killed her counterpart. Chloe is revealed to be one of the last surviving Time Lords, her world destroyed (by the Blessed Destroyer), her people rotten…she wandered eternity seeking others of her kind, trying to find the magic of the stellar engineers. The Wraith attacks him been attempts at communication, they are the last line of defence in the Vortex and it has been poisoned, a new presence manifesting itself in space/time…a presence as old as time itself (but it wasn’t there yesterday). Guy is revealed to be a descendant of D’Amantime, Sabbath has genetically altered him so he can prepped for his role in his plan in 2003. The diamonds are to be implanted in Guy’s body, the body placed in a casket, the casket placed before the universe began. When the universe ignites, the casket goes with it and whatever it contains becomes part of the fabric of the universe…the alien essence will be in everything and everyone. Alas Guy is spared but the plan still goes ahead, the diamonds planted in Chloe’s dolly instead. Oh and Sabbath is betrayed by his partners (hahaha).

Funny bits: The Doctor’s torture of Tommo, slowly pulling out strands of his remaining hair, is great. Almost as good is sticking his pencil in another thugs ear and tossing him overboard! Taking the piss out of Sabbath (“Aha! Working as I am for unspecified higher powers, the nature of my misguided plans remains frustratingly obscure! Ha ha!”) is always funny.

Result: Just as the NAs worked when they concentrated on building their own version of the future, the EDAs do their best work on Earth in domestic settings (Vampire Science, Revolution Man The Banquo Legacy, The Burning, Casualties of War, The Turing Test, Father Time, City of the Dead, Advenuress, Camera Obscura, The Sleep of Reason, The Deadstone Memorial and The Gallifrey Chronicles are some the best this range has produced). The Doctor has a cast of wonderfully trendy twenty-somethings here backing him up (Anji, Fitz, Trix, Stacey and Guy work astonishingly well together) and the urban surroundings add a touch of reality to a range, which was slowly going SF crazy (or possibly just crazy). It is another richly plotted story, Timeless has lovely clues planted everywhere and plot threads dovetail together effortlessly. Finally this mighty eighth Doctor arc is building up to its conclusion and the second half of the book is one energetic twist after another (The Time Lords! Sabbath’s plan!). Add to this mix some sizzling dialogue, interesting characterisation (for her last story Anji gets to shine) and lots of moments that remind you how marvellous the central character can be (the Doctor on the boat), this is a confident and stylish piece of storytelling and about as far from the tired hackneyed range as is reputed: 9/10

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Wooden Heart by Martin Day

Plot: The Doctor and Martha land on a derelict prison hanging in a deserted area of space by pick up life signs on board. As they explore they discover a stretch of woodland and a village existing right at the heart of the ship…

Mockney Dude: For the NSAs it is nice to have a prologue that isn’t the Doctor and his companion dancing merrily around the console, for a change they are no where to be seen until the first chapter. Does the Doctor tell the truth or deliberately escalate the conversation into the realms of the absurd? He is a fount of useless information! He walks in big confident steps, steps that want to march into the future and see what’s there, used to living his life at great speed. He dresses in a subdued manner as if wishing to wear nothing that would detract from the expressive force of his personality. From time to time the Doctor needed a human compass to live by. Does the Doctor precipitate chaos or is he simply drawn to it? He matured late, like a fine wine. Even the Doctor has had more than enough of monsters during this adventure. He is more of a hands on teacher that shows you things and lets you make up your own mind. When he confronts the creature skulking about the ship it tugs at his past, into the things he has endured and the things he has had to do, desperate to have the darker side of him. He is infuriating and wonderful and frustrating all at the same time.

Marvellous Martha: Martha enjoys the moments without the Doctor as well, the pauses for breath and some time to take it all in. The events of her life since she had met him has threatened to wash her away completely and sometimes she wishes they could have the moments of beauty without the monsters all the time. Martha means ‘mistress of the house.’ Martha has been on a package holiday to Ibiza! I was very pleased to see Martha turn away from the Doctor and his unfeeling discussion of the people, reminding him of his responsibilities to save everybody. She knows her own mind and I like that that is brought to the fore. They might be archetypes but they have developed and evolved and are a community now. Martha’s need to relieve the suffering of those around even if they aren’t real is touching. Her great grandmother is a businesslike shrivelled old bean of a woman who knows her own mind.

Twists: The prologue straight away suggests that this is going to be deeper than your standard NSA with the awful realisation of losing a child and the haunting suggestion that they will stay forever young in your mind and never grow old. The Doctor makes the aspersion that it is easy to think of the cosmos full of planets and stars when so much of it is actually empty. The location is pleasingly grim and nasty, a prison in space but more like a mausoleum full of bodies now. A stretch of forest in the middle of the ship is a great idea, it might have been nabbed from Paul Finch’s Leviathan unmade tale and was also used in Flesh and Stone but regardless the mystery of why it is here is what generates much tension in this book and Day gives it its most polished outing. If it is an illusion it is a breathtaking one but there is no denying that when the Doctor and Martha landed on the spaceship there was no village, forest or mountains there. There’s a moment where the Doctor steps into a bear trap and it closes around his foot, leaking blood. Children are disappearing from the village and if they are return it is said the village will be destroyed. Day spends some time discussing the nature of reality, suggesting that we create our own personal universe by the evidence of our own eyes and when we sleep that universe blinks out of existence. Martha and Saul are attacked by a truly grotesque creature in a sequence that feels really fast paced and furious – not an easy feat to pull off in a novel. What if the land and the people are one? What if when all the people go to sleep everything else switches off and the whole world stops? If the Castor switches back to night mode whatever is maintaining this world will turn off until morning. There is also the suggestion that the Doctor and Martha go round and round in the forest because the next section of this world isn’t created yet. I thought the moment when Shiga stepped out of the mist to tell her that she lost him to drink long before she was lost to him really haunting. ‘You can change the world with a jolly good map!’ – very true. I remember the first time I read this book the fog shrouded village gave me nightmares, blank lifeless children stepping out of the mist. If there is only so much memory to this world perhaps the creatures are there to stop you venturing any further than actually exists. Thom returns and tells Petr that Saul is his real father in an unexpected twist that shocks Martha as much as the reader. The heart of the Castor contains its ultimate prisoner and its ultimate experiment. A creature that was captured and tortured, taking people of unspeakable evil (the prisoners) and taming them, sucking out all of their bad emotions. It tried to expel that evil and inadvertently created the shadow creature which tore through the facility and killed everybody. The creature created the village as a free place where it could explore, analyse and observe the humanity it had experienced. The children were vanishing because it was running out of energy to maintain the world and they were the greatest drain. The Dazai convincing the creature to live is akin to a subject giving hope to God.

Result: Extremely well written, this is one of the most elegant novels of later years. Martin Day starts with the premise of the village appearing in the ship and manages to maintain the mystery of how and why this ages old civilisation has suddenly come into being throughout. His prose is accessible but sensuous and there are some moments of action that prove to be page turning. For a cast of people who apparently aren’t real the characters from the village are some of the most defined and realistic in the range. Wooden Heart handles some weighty themes from losing a child, the nature of reality and whether the evil is a process of nature or nurture but it never feels like a lecture. This is the NSA I would recommend to readers of the NA/EDAs, a very pleasing mystery with lots of thoughtful moments: 8/10

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Deadly Reunion by Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts

Plot: Just after the Second World War Second Lieutenant Lethbridge-Stewart is confronted with the truth of the Greek gods and finds his heart stolen by Persephone. Years later when he is a Brigadier and head of UNIT the stage is set for a deadly reunion…

Stiff Upper Lip: This book is more about the Brigadier than it is the Doctor and whilst I would have preferred a taut military thriller rather than a travelogue and a Pertwee run-around discovering any information about Alistair Lethbridge Stewart is nice.

Alistair had committed himself to Fiona Campbell and after spotting the delicious Sephie he soon began to regret it. He has managed to scale the North East face of Ben Nevis. He lost his virginity to a girl called Vera the night he was commissioned second lieutenant. He is not sure if he believes in the soul but he definitely does not believe in the devil. Alistair has always had a healthy respect for ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night. He knows how to calm angry dogs. During his training to be an officer he slipped up and condemned a hundred imaginary men to their deaths. Just before he had passed out of Sandhurst he was given a look at his final report – for officer like qualities he received 93% (nobody had ever got 100%) and for leadership he got 90% He seems to think he is always right. Sephie deliberately leads him into the waters of forgetfulness so he will never remember his time in the Underworld. The Brigadier is still reluctant to formally admit the existence of extra terrestrials despite having met some particularly unpleasant specimens.

Good Grief: Could the Doctor be getting used to his exile? And worse – getting to like it, like some long-term institutionalised prisoner? Despite his frequent complaints and grumbles to the Brigadier (just to keep him on his toes) life as UNITs scientific adviser wasn’t bad. He’d always been restless, discontented, sceptical – it was an attitude that had taken him from a position of power and prestige on Gallifrey to become a hunted fugitive. Was he beginning to settle down? Was he tamed? Was he declining into a lovably eccentric boffin? The Doctor and Ernest Hemmingway ran bulls together in Pamplona in the thirties. You wouldn’t call it a friendship between the Doctor and the Master but they might once have been friends. There was something, a certain mutual regard – as if they both felt the universe would be a less interesting place without the other.

Twists: Demeter, Sephie and Hermy are the Greek Gods but in reality, immortal humans (“Of course we’re not really Gods but it was quite fun for a while.”) Homo superior? The Players are the same breed but they use men’s lives as a chess game to while away the never-ending boredom. Sephie is kidnapped by Hades and taken to the Underworld. When Zeus ‘retired’ he handed Sephie his powers and that is why Hades wants her. Hades means to displace Zeus as the God of Gods and become the Supreme Being worshipped by the human race – he intends to start another war, countries tearing each other apart and then he will appear as their saviour. Barry Letts’ monsters are certainly memorable – ‘a giant spiderish thing with far too many legs, a proboscis so full of blood it flopped along the ground like a balloon full of water.’ Hades is Colonel Niclovic! Things become appropriately epic – Hades throws hurricanes at their escape ship and grows to mountainous proportions and is confronted by Poseidon, God of the Sea. Terrance Dicks’ first chapter is shockingly brutal, train crashes, parishioners being gunned down… A decapitated man stumbles towards Jo and the Doctor is confronted by a bull…all in a days work for UNIT! Hippies are spiking drugs with a slow reacting drug which is causing violent incidents up and down the country. A body in the library, the vicar is found with an oriental dagger jammed between his shoulder blades. Upon exploring the Abbey the Doctor discovers Sarg, a deadly alien drug, being grown – whole planets have been ruined by this substance, civilisations collapsing in an orgy of violence. Of course the Master is involved so this really doesn’t belong in this section…but I was so happy when he turned up here he is anyway!

Embarrassing Bits: Who on Earth taught Barry Letts to write?

Funny Bits: Yates looked more like a poet or an intellectual than a soldier.
“I’ll have you know Jo that in my younger days I played lead perigosto stick for the Gallifrey Academy Hot Five – until the faculty closed us down. The Master was on drums.”
The Doctor snapped, “How often do I have to tell people – I am not a pop star!”
“Look at him man, he’s skewered between the shoulder blades, practically pinned to the desk! What do you suppose happened? He got a nasty itch he couldn’t reach?” – I would LOVE to have head Pertwee say that!
“Trap One receiving. Kindly observe proper RT procedure Trap Two.” “Never mind that nonsense Brigadier! Listen to me!”
“My dear Doctor, if everyone in the world was evil I should scarcely stand out in a crowd!”

Result: Anniversary book? Pah! There have been far better PDAs and there will be far better PDAs…why couldn’t the schedules be jiggled up a bit so something worthwhile could have taken this spot? Deadly Reunion is passable fluff but it’s riddled with flaws. The Barry Letts section is the most interesting part but is written with such hilarious ineptness (the writing doesn’t flow, the descriptions are lousy, the guy wants to focus more on the operations of a ship than on, say, plot and character) I struggled through it for nearly a week. The Terrance Dicks section is as brisk and uncomplicated as ever but plays like the ‘Best of…’ of the Pertwee era with nothing new or challenging added. There are some lovely touches in this section but it’s a pure nostalgia rush and thus easy to get bored with when the dire plot attempts to take hold. I can see a violent, psychologically unbalancing wartime thriller starring the Brigadier which pushes his character to the limits and we see through and through why we love him so much. The best this pair could think up was him getting off with a Greek God: 3/10

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Last Resort by Paul Leonard

Plot: The Doctor is horrified to discover hotels cropping up in every major period of human history, the Good Times Inc offering package holidays and having absolutely no idea what damage they are doing to the fabric of reality. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji are going to have to die a million times over before reality can be saved…

Top Doc: Adding to the experimental nature of the novel the Doctor doesn’t appear until well into the second half. It works on two levels, one to add credence to Sabbath’s claims that the Doctor is dead and two because the second he does get involved (a fact that he was fully aware of) things get a whole lot worse. He is described as Fitz and Anji’s boss and even Anji suggests, now things have become so dangerous, he is more like a manager barking orders to subordinates than a friend. It is a frightening depiction of the Time Lord at the brink of insanity, trying desperately to save reality at whatever the cost. He has killed many times, murdered worlds and whole races of beings are gone because of him. Beyond caring about individual lives anymore. He promises everything, says he can do anything. Chaotic, absent-minded, shifty and totally absorbed, the kindness is fading from his eyes. He looks out at the shifting City as a problem to solved rather than a place full of living, breathing people. Sabbath tells Anji it was the Doctor’s (kind) nature that betrayed everything that is. He is willing to kill himself in order to prove that Good Times is buggering up Time. I don’t know if this is what Justin Richards had in mind when he created this far more unpredictable Doctor but WOW! What a frightening guy. He’s actually a step scarier than the seventh Doctor ever was because he isn’t frightened to get involved and yet he is so unpredictable.

Scruffy Git: No matter how many versions of him that we see here, there is a universal Fitz. The stakes have never been this high before and never has so much been asked of the Doctor’s companions…and here they prove themselves totally. Fitz gets the job at Good Times because they were desperate for staff. He has a childish lack of interest in anything routine, businesslike or tidy…Anji works with him at Good Times for six weeks and the resulting experience makes her respect and like him less. Professional adventurer or waster? He can’t keep his gob shut for five minutes and is humiliated at how much he relies on the Doctor. He feels giddy and sick for much of the second half of the book, scared that he isn’t the ‘real’ Fitz and he will be sacrificed in favour of the real one.

Career Nazi: She is used to wearing suits, smiling in the right places and taking bull. She is used to sudden arrivals and departures and the possibility of never seeing people ever again. Described as seeing people as a set of attributes to be fitted into a pattern. Not unkind. Fitz says of she was trapped in Egypt nothing less than running the Kingdom would satisfy her. One version of Anji figures she isn’t the real one because the Doctor hasn’t rescued her and he would never let her down. She realises it has never been this bad before and whatever they did events would roll over them all. Like an earthquake, events have taken over and her actions and thoughts are irrelevant. Totally impotent. She hasn’t felt at home in the TARDIS for some time now and when asked to sacrifice herself to save the day she accepts the role, albeit with bad grace. She reinforces her opinion from the last book that they are expendable resources in the Doctor’s quest to save reality. Tragically, when it comes down to saving one Anji out of millions, several cannot accept the situation and commit suicide.

Identity Tricks: Evasive, threatening and exasperating, Trix reveals herself to both Jack and Iyeeye. She is fully aware of what is happening outside the TARDIS and is smart enough to stay inside and not get caught up in the temporal buggery. Exaggerated, theatrical, she tries on several accents and hair colours saying she never knows what role she might be called to play. Despite her wily sneaking about, she is discovered by the Doctor at the climax.

Ham Fists: Amazing how much better Sabbath works when he is not under some pathetic alias and involved in the plot from the get go rather than turning up at the end having manipulated all! This is the first time since Camera Obscura that he has been treated as a genuine regular character in the series, one that doesn’t need a crap motive to be involved and guess what…its his best appearance since then too! Likeable, despite his strange accent and cold manner. Brilliantly, when time and space fall apart Sabbath is revealed to be the only person holding the universe together, probably because of his mysterious masters. His methods are clinical but he doesn’t kill without a good reason, although he does wish to murder Jack before he can create time travel and start this horrible mess. He actually seems to enjoy working with the Doctor and is reluctant to see harm come to him. He tells him, “If you travel through time without your so called laws to protect the world, then clearing up afterwards is a necessity, not a luxury.”

Foreboding: Whilst the Doctor has solved the immediate problem of reality falling apart, the multiverse is still in tatters and needs to be resolved…

Twists: The first chapter is deliciously off beat…time travelling tourists in Ancient Egypt? Nike, cameras, McDonalds…what the hell is going on? Jack comes from a world where we have conquered Mars and you can create a time machine in your garage with $5! The repeated chapters (with slight differences) revealing the different universes are excellent. Some of the temporal anomalies, JCBs digging foundations for Pyramids, people having carnal relationships across time zones are very imaginative. The Doctor is revealed as being dead; a clever idea which is backed up by his absence…and ever better isn’t contradicted when the event actually takes place! The scenes from Iyeeye’s POV are a doubled edged sword as they are superbly written (almost Leela-esque) but they confuse an already complicated storyline. Iyeeye’s world turns out to be another alternate Earth, one which the Martian’s invaded when a Jack from the future visited Mars and told them how the Earth had conquered Mars and so they invaded the Earth first. Anji realises with some horror that there is a Jack with her and another with Fitz, both in the same reality. The stakes are raised when Fitz is found dead outside the TARDIS. The ghosts of a possible reality shimmer in the Egyptian sun. Every time you travel in time you are duplicated, cloned. Reality is tearing itself apart, there is a finite amount of energy in the universe and as more and more histories spring into existence the available energy will be spread amongst them until nothing exists any more. The TARDIS won’t travel away from Earth anymore as if the rest of the universe…the Doctor doesn’t finish the thought. The ship is in pain, being divided again and again and again. After setting up a double murder of Cheops to prove that Time is on the brink of collapse, one of the Doctor(s) submits himself to be murdered as definitive proof that copies are being created and killed. The altering history boardroom scenes are brilliant, buildings changing shape, faces and voices shifting, the desk changing material…terrifyingly time and space falls apart around them. As if that wasn’t cool enough we follow that up with millions of TARDISes, Doctor’s, Fitz’s and Anji’s from a million realities all-converging in Egypt, the one safe reality. Crushing, dying, it is an incredible image. The TARDISes encrust around the Other ship until they reach critical mass and explode into a new sun. The Martians are created from Jack’s stomach bacteria, millions of versions of him visited Mars and died in the poisonous atmosphere but his bacteria breed and evolved. To avert this catastrophe, the Doctor and Sabbath need to break all the casual links that lead to reality tearing apart…they kidnap Jack as a baby before he can create a time machine (and his Dad can create Good Times Inc with it) and take him to Ancient Egypt…a woman discovers the baby, cannot read the note and names him Akhenaton (all the bloody identity questions about Jack and Ak earlier and he was him all along!). Trix is finally caught in the act.

Funny bits: Fitz has the Beatles “Help!” as his mobile because only the Doctor and Anji are likely to call him!

Result: The trouble with The Last Resort is that it refuses to conform to standard narrative…you don’t follow characters along a linear storyline. What you have to acccept is that from one scene to the next you might not just be reading about the same character, but a different version of the same character. A fascinating device, confusing as hell, but brilliantly exploiting the alternative universe concept. What makes this book so special is what makes it so impenetrable, if you don’t dissect this hardcore puzzle book completely you’ll miss out on all the rewards. A wealth of brain bursting ideas, a satisfying fractured plot (of which the threads link together beautifully) and a genuine adrenaline rush of tragedy, sacrifice and hopelessness. The stakes have never been this high before and it is pleasing to see some real pay off from this misguided arc. The last third is my favourite, packed with imagination and shocking images. Breathtakingly experimental: 9/10

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Last Dodo by Jacqueline Rayner

Plot: The Museum of the Last Ones contains the last specimen of each extinct race and somebody is stealing them and selling them on to make a fortune. The Doctor and Martha have to face up to the responsibilities of being the last of each of their respective races…

Mockney Wanderer: Superb characterisation of the tenth Doctor courtesy of Jac Rayner. In one scene she has him tear from the TARDIS, save Martha, disarm Frank, fiddle with his gun, rearm him and mix up several sayings…all in a few seconds. She seems to understand how to get the balance between his dark intensity and his eccentric madness and you can hear Tennant bowling out each and every witty one liner she gives him. Not only that but we get some fascinating ruminations on his overwhelming responsibility as the last of the Time Lords plus some astonishing reflection on his exile to Earth way back when. This is a pretty impressive package overall.

The Doctor is a smiley sort of person; he loves everything, he gets excited at all sorts of things and what is brilliant is that he makes you see how exciting they are too. He doesn’t like zoos because the through of anything being caged hurts him. The Doctor cannot resist the pull of the mystery magnet. I love all the intelligent discussion between the Doctor and Martha about the museum – had this been the ninth Doctor and Rose it would have descended into a slagging off match about ‘different moralities’ but he seems to have learnt his lesson since he regenerated and he treats Martha like the mature adult that she is. The Doctor believes they are stuck in a living death, that humans have mocked nature by wiping out these creatures but the museum doesn’t apologise for it, it laughs at them even more. He doesn’t hate humans whatever he might say, he might dislike some individuals, intolerance, injustice and slaughter but he doesn’t hate people. It’s embarrassing but some of his best friends are people! The last time the Doctor was caged (his exile) it was by his own people and it really hurt. He paced a tiny space, helping people because he had no choice and the people treated him like he was a resource not understanding that their every desire tightened the chain that bound him. Now his people are gone and he is the only one left, he is free. He misses them terribly but he still can’t forgive them for what they did to him. He was a Time Lord in exile…or was he an animal in a zoo? The Doctor has had to do a lot of justifying to his conscience over the centuries. He reacts quickly as though it is programmed in. In a moment that takes your breath away the Doctor offers his freedom, willing to be a museum exhibit no matter how much it would pain him, to save the Earth. He has a grade A in Annoying.

Marvellous Martha: How much did Ms Rayner know about Martha when writing this book? Its actually her first book technically so I am willing to bet she had a few scripts a some rushes from Smith and Jones to go on…but she absolutely nails her. And what’s more this isn’t the generic Martha from some of the other books but an honest to God person with a life to go back to who is thoroughly enjoying this crazy life which has opened out before her. The first person scenes really allow Martha to shine and she narrates her scenes with some wonderful humour and thoughtful asides that make her feel so real. Just read this stuff and trust me…

The TARDIS being able to go anywhere is an enormous concept for Martha to get her head around and her brain wants to explode with the choice. She finds medical dramas laughable now she has worked in a hospital. Martha finds it hard to take in the enormity of a planet-sized museum with 300 billion extinct species that he friend wants to save. Can something be papered in non-paper is just one of a number of brilliant thoughts Martha has that are nothing to do with the plot! She finds it reassuring that there are still doughnuts in the future. Not being able to everything doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do anything, Martha cannot heal everybody in the world but that wont stop her being a Doctor. Martha was always a good runner but lately she had had a lot of practice. She is seeing things that nobody else from her time will see and she’s treating it like a school trip! Trouble is you are so busy running and hiding there’s little time for anything else. Martha thinks she knows the Doctor quite well but she still wouldn’t pick him as her specialist subject on Mastermind. In one awesome moment of guilt Martha Jones realises that it wasn’t plague or climate change that wiped out the dinosaurs, it was her. In a very telling moment Martha thinks about murdering the last of an extinct species, she knows that shouldn’t think that way but it is threatening her life…so easy to justify genocide when you are in the right frame of mind. She had pretty much figured that the Doctor ordered and you obeyed. Martha has no idea why the Doctor calls the last Dodo Dorothea. Martha was the only black girl in her class and she has a student loan that would cripple a small country. Her current idea of stability is to stay in the same time zone for half an hour. When Eve’s plan to destroy the Earth and keep Martha as the one specimen of the planet, Martha realises the awesome responsibility the Doctor holds for the Time Lords. Is she an anonymous spare part (if not why does everybody scream ‘Doctor!’ when they rush into a room rather than ‘Martha!’). Martha’s name emblazes the last page proudly as the first person to ever reach 900,000 points in the I Spyder Species Hunt.

Foreboding: ‘You never met Mickey, did you?’ – nope but she might one day and then wind up marrying him!

Twists: The prologue is wonderful, told from the point of view of the last Dodo as her species is wiped out and she is saved by two strangers. The I Spyder extracts are fun and informative, visually appealing and educational and eventually (the Time Lord extract) very funny. The Museum of the Last Ones is split into planets such as Earth, Mondas, Refusis II, Varos, Raxaxcorifallapatorius, Tara and Gift Shop (oops scrap that…it really is a gift shop). When there is only one specimen left a collection agent teleports to retrieve it. In the last thousand years it has been quite hard to keep up with every species that has been lost on the Earth. We get to meet the last black Rhino with its horn cruelly torn off and looking forlorn and feeble. Gallifrey winked out of existence leaving one lone survivor and Eve feels a desperate desire to obtain the last of the Time Lords for her museum. To possess what nobody else possesses, a Quagga skin jacket, that is what elevates one about mere style (the last of a species used as a coat! Argh! That’s sick!). A thing that can be had by anyone has no value at all. Eve’s fantasism is frightening; she literally beats up the Doctor in order to get him in her collection. Letting something live out its life knowing it is the only one of its kind is cruel fate. The Doctor is trapped in the cage with a shocked, angry expression and a gravity-defying pose. The last three striped turtle almost ended up as a soup! By releasing the Doctor Martha murders 300 billion species, way to go Ms Jones. Sequences with a sabre-toothed tiger prowling around a supermarket as Martha pushes a Dodo in a trolley are unforgettable. Cloning extinct creatures to be sold and killed is obscene, causing their extinction over and over again. Dodos are burying bombs all over the world in an attempt to destroy the planet and cut down on paperwork. Eve is planning on stopping all species from dying out by killing them all! Martha is almost the last human. It transpires that she is an android and the detonator is literally ‘close to hand.’ The Doctor manages to send the extinct creatures back to their natural habitat but years before they died out where there is an abundant number of their own kind. The last of the Cirrians came to this planet after his species was wiped out in interstellar war and built Eve to interact with. The people died of plague and he avowed to make it his life’s work to stop species dying out. Eve took this literally and suspended him as he wept a tear for the last of his people, twice over. Her whole purpose was to preserve the last of every species. Now he plans on rebuilding her and populating the planet with extinct animals.

Funny Bits: This is a screamingly funny book in places.
· The Doctor has a look as though you’ve kicked his puppy!
· ‘Back when the Dodo was as alive as…a Dodo!’ Dodo means ‘fat rear’ so if one asks you if its bum looks big it is best to tactfully fib.
· ‘I knew a lady who made gooseberry conserve. I don’t think there was much in it for the gooseberries.’ The Doctor condemns the museum’s curator, Eve.
· Take the Daleks for instance. They’d wink out of existence in the distant past and emerge again. Their mass extinction has been recorded so many times they have stopped trying to keep track!
· Martha tries not to laugh at the last of species called Quagga but like the words wibble and bibble it is impossible not to raise a smile!
· The whole sequence with ‘I most definitely am not Professor Dougal Dunnock who did not write that revolutionary treatise!’ is a riot. ‘It’s a missing link not the missing link…it didn’t go cod, cod, missing link, badger!’ Rather sweetly, after buying one of the links between sea and land animals Dougal manages to obtain him girlfriends, a goldfish and a hamster because ‘I didn’t know which side of the family he would incline towards.’
· The Doctor without his sonic screwdriver is like Jordan without her lip-gloss!
· The consequences of a dinosaur stepping on a pillar-box are manifold; bills remain unpaid, birthdays are left uncelebrated and a promising romance is broken off amid a storm of rows and allegations!
· The Doctor slips off a Meglasaurus’ back as though he is in the title sequence of the Flintstones!
· After trapping a sabre tooth tiger in tarmac and tackling a dinosaur it would be really embarrassing if the Doctor was mauled to death by a Dodo!
· Time Lords: Commonly found in Europe, especially the United Kingdom. It is now classed as an immigrant species!
· Humans: The only species to voluntarily clothe themselves. At the time of publication the human race is still abundant on Earth.

Embarrassing Bits: Dinosaurs and Dino’s Arent’s…ooh bad taste Doctor! Rhino humour – making ‘a point’ and ‘pointless’ is equally as tasteless.

Result: A fabulous book which has a really important theme that is tackled in a number of really fun and entertaining ways. Whilst she is making us howl with laughter Rayner never lets us forget the very important message and yet still manages to fill every page with sunshine. The Last Dodo packs as much of a punch as the New Adventure Warlock with similar themes of mistreating animals but manages to do so without any of the extremes of violence and still manages to offer you a good time. The Doctor and Martha both spring of the page with effortless zip, the former getting some truly thoughtful moments and the latter especially impressive given how little was known about her. The twist ending that explains how the museum came about puts the entire set up in a whole new light and provides a really poignant closure to proceedings. The I Spyder sections are informative and visually appealing and the last gag, the last line, listing how many certificates have been issued let me turn the last page with a huge grin on my face. I don’t care how much people dismiss these books, The Last Dodo is a cracking read; intelligent, educational and most of all I had a damn good time lost in its pages: 9/10

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Colony of Lies by Colin Brake

Plot: A colony on the point of extinction. Violent rebels raiding their supplies. Federation evacuees threatening to change their very ideals. Savage aliens waking up with revenge fantasies. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe must navigate this web of chaos and try and save as many lives as possible…

Oh My Giddy Aunt: The key to getting the Doctor to do what they want is make him think it was his idea in the first place. His voice is low and friendly, full of inexhaustible passion for new experiences. Described as Odd Socks. Always does the unexpected; it keeps people on their toes. He considers himself a connoisseur of secure cells. He is a lot more agile than he might first appear and has a wonderful knack of making you feel things are better than they actually are. Military personnel bring out a playful urge in the Doctor to tease them. He has some ideological differences with his own people. When speaking with his seventh self he asks, “Are they still on your tail?” Whilst we all groan at the Doctor pulling eccentric items from his pockets you know it will be something special with Troughton (a betamax cassette of Hancock’s Half Hour). Earth Gov considers the Doctor a Class A Interloper and there is a huge file on him dating back centuries. If it wasn’t for the erratic passage of his little craft they would have been able track him down long ago.

Who’s the Yahoos: Jamie hated being denied the chance to explore. He trusted the Doctor explicitly and had been travelling with him for what felt like forever. He loves riding horses and even though the Doctor had introduced him to all sorts of exotic creatures and strange machines nothing compared to the freedom of riding a horse. It seemed to Jamie that the further he travelled into the future weapons became more brutal, more destructive and more deadly.

Brainy Babe: Since leaving the Wheel all Zoe seemed to have done is run. She never found much pleasure in exercise, preferring instead to absorb data. She was beginning to tire of monsters. The thought of the TARDIS gave Zoe a warm glow, funny how something so strange and alien could become home. I love how Zoe memorises a manual and suddenly has the ability to fly a fighter. When Zoe gets hooked up to the colony ship and experiences its memories she soon wants to forget that she was ever human. She had little personal experience of passion but perhaps she would one day when she had had enough of travelling.

Twists: A broken colony trying to maintain its morals with rebels who refuse to deny technology and who have found an alien bunker under the soil with predators in suspended animation…how can this not work? No Earth colony is truly independent…after the Dalek Wars there are many refugees who need resettling. The Doctor is contacted by his naughty seventh self, breaking the laws of time to give him a nudge in the right direction. Zoe’s escape in a fighter is very exciting. The Tyrenian is cloaked in the lake…it is revealed that the Tyrenians were on the planet before the colony ship arrived and the reason they were shot down was because of the Tyrenian defensive satellites. The Federation forced Ransom to take a ten strong droid army with him. The Tyrenians are genetic failures from when the Federation was trying to create super soldiers but Ransom let them escape rather than wipe them out. Reluctantly Ransom agreed to take the droids to kill the Tyrenians, the Federation refusing to give him the go ahead for his Back to Basics colony unless he completes this side project first.

Funny Bits: The Tellurian Stain – I find it hilarious that Earth’s spread through history is considered as nothing more than a stain!
“What’s the point of crossing your own time stream if you’re just going to be cryptic?”
“Och” said Jamie, bemused “who let the dogs out?”
“What manner of man am I to become? Playing hop, skip and jump with the laws of Time?”
So sad that one day he was fated to regenerate into such a smug know-it-all!

Embarrassing Bits: The Doctor attempting to sound hip by taking in ‘cool technobabble’ is awful!

Result: Lacking in ambition but full of heart, do I condemn this book for its simplicity or praise it for meaning well? Why the seventh Doctor had to be included is beyond me except to perhaps make this seem more interesting than it actually is. The regulars are treated well and I could happily see this playing out in season six with no struggle with the special effects. Herein lies the problem; the second Doctor novels are a chance to break free of the formula of their era (look at the two Troughton PDAs either side…could you see Combat Rock or The Indestructible Man taking place in the 1960’s?) but this plays out as a 60’s morality tale with all the depth that goes with that. In its defence the writer attempts several layers of danger (above, below and on level with) and it is readable throughout with the occasional moment that makes you stop and think this much more clever than it really is. Brake is an excellent children’s writer but speaking as an adult Colony of Lies never stretched me and features one of the most hideous covers in the range: 5/10