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

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