Monday, 25 July 2011

Halflife by Mark Michalowski

Plot: The Doctor’s lost his bloody memory again! He’s smoking, he’s drinking, he’s swearing and eyeing up the girls. Fitz on the other hand is acting all intelligent and casual, which is a sure sign that something is up. Cut loose from her friends Trix is tricked into surrendering herself to an alien control device, her desire for change resulting in her never being herself again…

Top Doc: Now this is what I’m talking about! There are some very interesting things being done with the Doctor, all of which work a charm (especially coming after the dangerous, doom and gloom Doctor of the alternative universe arc). Firstly his memory loss allows the series to finally dismiss all those folks who whinge on about when he’s going to get his memory back. He isn’t, and this would have been the perfect opportunity. What is explored is why he doesn’t want his memories back, even when they are offered to him on plate. He is happy with who he is and where his life is and he doesn’t want to get his old life back only to discover he is not a very nice person. He knows he’s done something bad, something big so it does make him seem like something of a coward but the way he explains himself, he makes his amnesia sound like blessing (something of a spring clean). He doesn’t want to be who he was, he wants to be who he is. Another fascinating experiment taken here is his mind swap with Fitz which allows the Doctor an intimate look at how uncertain and scared Fitz is in their adventures and he realises just how lucky he is to have loyal friends who stick by him no matter what he drags them into. This is all excellent, healthy development and long overdue. His status in this book as an offworlder endows him with all the charisma of a sewage worker coming off his shift. He and Fitz are boyishly enthusiastic together. Losing his memory here is a pleasure because it is the most relaxed and happy we have seen the Doctor in a long time. His Fitz like qualities, dying for a ciggie, eyeing up Camalee and swearing a lot (Too bloody right you’re not!”) are all hilarious. He is just a big child and he LOVES weird. After speaking to Madame Xing he starts to remember Miranda’s death and grips the table, desperate to escape the memory. We discover that after he death he brooded in the TARDIS for days. He waves a spell around his companions that makes them inconspicuous. There is a wonderful scene where he is all energy, stealing a pavement artists chalks and sketches away part of the plot. He has a lightness, a casual disregard for proprietary and formality. One minute he was the laid back bon viver, the next all dashing scientist and man of mystery…and the next he is just a nutter! The Doctor likes humans because of their hunger for what they don’t have, their potential. He gets to experience real fear and indecision and he doesn’t like it one bit. He acknowledges that he, Fitz and Trix are hardly a model family.

Scruffy Git: If they were to rely on his wits they were doomed. This book has been a long time coming, the one which reminds us just why Fitz has lasted so damn long and why he is such a special friend to the Doctor. There has been some animosity between Fitz and the Doctor of late and it was high time it was addressed; finally they start having fun together again! He is not a coward and can stand his ground. For various reasons (Interference, Earthworld), Fitz’s memory has become a bit vague about the huge details in his past but thanks to gaining some of the Doctor’s personality it here it pushes them to surface. He remembers the Doctor destroying Gallifrey and his own personal history where he was ‘remembered’. Such a revelation is this last one, he manages to use it to help create an ingenious scheme and save the day and although being remembered might have made him throw up in the past he is surprisingly comfortable with it now. At the end Fitz asks Tain to not give the Doctor the memory of back of him destroying Gallifrey, he decides it is his turn to carry around the heavy stuff and he wants to protect the Doctor from the truth. Fitz hopes Trix will warm to them soon.

Identity Tricks: Oh my God! It was quite surprising just how much why find out about Trix and this easily the best adventure with her yet, one which using her desire for changing identities to create some top drama. When he is not finding a use for her or telling her at the next stop she would have to leave, the Doctor pretty much ignores her. Fitz has taken to her in a puppyish way. She is not good with bodily injuries. She bathes and takes care of Fitz when he is found lying half dead out side the TARDIS. She hates feeling conspicuous and is just starting to feel at home in the TARDIS, although she is still awkward around the Doctor. She had never felt so coward, so ashamed and so shit than when they leave the night beast to be ripped apart by the xenophobic Esperons. She doesn’t ‘do’ kids, a parental role is not one she would like to take on permanently. She feels frustrated that on Espero she has no choice but to be herself, she knows she gets obsessed with role-playing but as long as she has got to Caucasian she might as well be Trix. The thought of Reo’s shape changing toy excites her. She has never been happy with her body feeling it is too mousey, too flat, too dull. Trix feels a longing for Fitz in this story. Taking (stealing) interesting things was somewhere between a hobby and an obsession with her. Trix was so desperate to be anyone other than herself, she realises that she will never be herself again as Reo starts to delete her personality. The thought of never having the option to be herself again terrifies her. There is a lovely dilemma at the climax which means if the bioship gets his wish to commit suicide, Trix will die as well and it is good to see the Doctor agonise over her potential death, we finally get to see the depth of feeling he has for Trix. She refuses to mourn the death of Joshua, she learnt a long time ago that that didn’t bring the dead back to life. She hopes that she has become a hard-nosed bitch. Shit happens, especially around the Doctor and she accepts that she is going to have to get used to the death if she was to keep travelling with him. If you did bad stuff you spend your whole life looking over your shoulder. Never, she thought, the past is never going to catch up with me.

Foreboding: You have Fitz re-discovering about Gallifrey and himself, which sets him up for his confrontation with the Doctor in The Gallifrey Chronicles. Trix’s identity crisis continues to be explored in The Tomorrow Windows. Madame Xing’s offer would be brought up again in The Gallifrey Chronicles.

Twists: There is an intriguing first chapter where an alien is discovered, shot and his spaceship burnt. The Doctor’s explanation of what happened at the palace, “ There was something about the way they said ‘question me later’ that sounded like ‘beat me with sticks’ so I decided to leg it.” The Doctor has lost his memory…again! And Fitz! The set up on Espero is beautiful, with God giving them a second chance at Eden, the Ecumenical Council moving to the planet and taking their faith but not their history. The climate was too hot, the minerals too deep and the neighbouring planets shunned them and as such Espero withdrew into something racist and deeply religious. There is a lovely discussion between the Doctor and Father Roberto which is about the Esperons and their situation but is really discussing the current status of the Doctor in the range (“How can we get where we are going if we don’t know where we’ve been?” “We can’t live in the past forever.” “It would be nice if we could start living in the present.”). The ground starts to get covered in seething bubbling goo…the Gaian wave is well foreshadowed, breaking down everything and building it up again. When the Doctor meets with Madame Xing it is clear that she is Compassion (her voice was female but there was a mechanical edge to it) and she offers him all his memories back (which she would have…see The Gallifrey Chronicles). A night beast is casually ripped to pieces. Trix is cornered in an alley by three drunken Esperons who get off on beating up alien shit like her. The scenes where Trix is trapped within her own mind by Reo are genuinely suffocating. Sensimi has been training a night beast to associate food with the smell of her mother and brother. The Imperator has been offered immortality by Mr Trove. The scene with the maggots eating through the forest and the forest eating the maggots is very memorable. There are some lovely concepts here, none especially original but presented in a fresh way. Tain is a bioship that landed on Espero a year ago, fleeing a war between the Oon and the Makers. The Oon implanted a Trojan device in Tain to subvert his systems and turn him to their side and make soldiers for them and he has been fighting it ever since. He has fought 412 battles and created 95,000 soldiers. He has activated his Gain phase, which will turn the entire planet into a massive gestalt entity, the Oon and the Makers will either have to leave him or kill him, either way he won’t be their killing device anymore. The Doctor has to decide whether to let Tain die (thus killing Trix) or letting him become a slave of war again but Fitz comes up with the scheme to download Tain’s memory into Camalee’s mokey thus allowing them to mind rub the Trojan out of existence before downloading him back. The drawback is that Tain loses most of his memories, which in itself is a good thing because it allows him to have fresh start, unencumbered with the memories of the pain he has caused in the past.

Funny bits: This is a book full of sunshine and hard not to like. The guest cast are highly amusing, especially the Imperator, Tannalis. He gets all the best lines (“It was a beautiful day until you dragged your raddled out carcass in here!” and “I’m too old for all that jiggy jiggy business! Ask my wife, the shrivelled up old mare!”). The Doctor shouting, “Sod off!” is much funnier than it should be! There is a dream sequence where the Doctor and Fitz are standing naked in the TARDIS rubbing butt cheeks together which is so totally disturbing and yet hilarious at the same time I cannot find it in me to put it in the embarrassing bits column. The Doctor’s explanation for the TARDIS is, “Transcendental thingamajig. Pocket Universes. Plasmic Shells. Bibbybobblyboo.”

Embarrassing bits: Mark Michalowski goes to all the trouble of presenting us with a gorgeous planet and a great guest cast and oddly they all seem superfluous to the plot…the only reason the book is set here in the end is because Tain happened to land on this planet! The pacing is way off, with a nice relaxed pace throughout the first two thirds and than a mad rush to tie the plot up at the end. Oh and the line “Ya boo! to you Mr Trove!” which is by far the most cringe worthy thing I have ever read.

Result: A popular book and with good reason. It is great to see the EDAs letting their hair down again and the relaxed pace and character development are most welcome after the doom and gloom of the alternative universe arc. Michalowski’s command over the regulars is breathtaking, the Doctor and Fitz are captured perfectly and learn much from each other but it is Trix who is the standout here, it’s the first time I can see real potential in her character being explored and she is far more interesting than we have seen before. The prose is lovely, creating one of those planets that you would just love to visit. It’s a breezy read, thoroughly engaging and hints at great things for the future. Full of sunshine: 8/10

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