Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Gallifrey Chronicles by Lance Parkin

Plot: The Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey has been destroyed. The Time Lords are dead, their TARDISes annihilated. And the Doctor is about to find out why….

Top Doc: There is so many vital eighth Doctor scenes that if I was to compile a list of his best moments it would consist of much of this book. What you need to do is forget the blurb which promises and epic confrontation between the Doctor and the Time Lords and instead appreciate that this is all done on a remarkably small scale, the focus here on characterisation and stunning dialogue. The Gallifrey Chronicles is basically an exploration of the eighth Doctor, what he once was, what he has done and what he is going to do in the future.

The Doctor isn’t human and he lives in the now. He is an adventurer, a bookworm, a champion, a detective, an explorer, a father and grandfather, a historian, a iconoclast, a jackanapes, a know-it-all, a lord, a meddler, a nuisance, he was old, a physician and a quack, a renegade, a scientist, a traveller, a utopian, a violinist, a widower, a xoanon; he was youthful and a zealot. His history is one of temporal orbits, paradoxes, parallel timelines, re-iterations and divergences. And he has three ninth incarnations! He and Trix are both hiding something from their pasts. He didn’t cry for Miranda when she died, rather he remembered their time together and revelled in the fact he was now a Grandfather. He is accused of being a coward for not facing up to the terrible things in his past, Marnal sounding brilliantly like a few GB posters I know! It is wonderful to compare Marnal and the Doctor as the Doctor went out into the universe to discover himself and make a difference and Marnal stagnated in his dusty old house, writing his books and waiting for the answers to come to him. The Doctor has plenty of new memories now. He has felt unease when trying to remember back to before his amnesia. I love how he refuses to feel guilty even after he witnesses the fall of Gallifrey and his part in it, seeing for a fact that he has stopped the Faction menace spreading into the universe. The scene between the Doctor and Rachel is vital, where she admits that most humans live in misery and despair and the Doctor fights her argument at every turn, offering magic and wonder, excitement and imagination. Only the Doctor could break a promise before he has made it. He had always assumed that he was being protected from nasty old memories but it suddenly occurs to him that maybe the memories are being protected from nasty old him. Reading about Gallifrey, the Doctor nearly falls asleep…repetition, routine and ritual, he concludes it was no place to live your life. We finally discover why the Doctor has amnesia; he deleted his memories so he could store the entire contents of the Matrix in his mind. The reason he has been unwilling to explore his past is because revealing these memories will wipe them out and he has been left with an inbuilt aversion to probing to deeply. He sacrificed his identity in order to save the identity of his people, killing himself so their seed can survive and one-day flourish. This is so in tune with the eighth Doctor’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good and in one fail swoop turns the amnesiac Doctor from the ultimate coward to the ultimate hero and makes his amnesia not only satisfying but also necessary. Brilliant. On his first day on the job he brought the dead back to life and he does the same here with Fitz who sums him up beautifully: “You’re going to bring millions of people back from the dead. God, you’re cool.” One day he knows he will fall but that wont stop him fighting the monsters and the final shot of him leaping into the Vore nest, Fitz and Trix at his side, is the perfect way to end his fictional adventures.

Scruffy Git: This book is as much about Fitz as it is the Doctor, considering this is his 51st book! For such an unpromising character (a sleazy, cigarette chugging space bum) Fitz has developed in leaps and bounds and easily become my favourite novel companion. Like Jaime is perfectly suited to the 2nd Doctor, Fitz is ideally paired with the 8th and I am really going to miss reading their adventures together. Fitz was an incredibly flawed character; not too bright, not that charming and yet he had a heart of gold and was faithful and funny. He made some really terrible books bearable. And he made some really great books practically flawless.

When Trix’s life was in danger Fitz realised how much she means to him and how much he would miss her. To this end, once the regime has been toppled they head back to the TARDIS, drink a bottle of wine and make love. After fourteen failed romances this is Fitz’s successful romance number one! This confirms his earlier doubts about his life with the Doctor, realising he has finally grown out of him and that it is silly to keep following him around. He wants to settle down with Trix. In a scene that should have fans cheering he finally snaps at the Doctor when confronted with Sam Jones’ grave and doesn’t remember who she is. He accuses him of having two hearts and no balls, not willing to find out why he lost his memories. He is ashamed of the fact that he always stays the same although Anji says that is part of his charm. He is scared that he cannot adjust to a normal life. He feels as if everything is changing really fast but for the better. He thinks Trix is a beautiful person. After singing to a couple of dozen honest people in a pub and leaving with his beautiful girlfriend, Fitz doesn’t think he has ever been happier. He likes to think of his travels as adventures but so many people have died and he has known the Doctor longer than the Doctor has known himself. When they are attacked by the Vore Fitz proves himself selfless to the last, offering himself as bait so the woman he loves can escape. He asks her to tell him her name before he is slaughtered and he tells her he loves her. When Trix admits why she loved Fitz it reminds you of everything that was great about the guy…he was honest, what you see was what you got, she trusted him with her life so often it seemed like a natural thing, he didn’t play games, have hidden agendas or emotional baggage even after everything he had been through. When they are reunited he admits to the Doctor that he and Trix are moving forwards together and yet they both remain by his side, where they belong, whilst he fights of the latest threat.

Identity Tricks: How far has Trix come in 11 books? She has had much more development than Compassion did in the same amount of page space. She started out as a one-dimensional bag of tricks (hahaha) but has matured into life in the TARDIS, respecting the Doctor, falling for Fitz and getting wrapped up in the adventurous spirit. All this without ever filling us in on much detail of her past…

Admittedly Trix hasn’t carried a torch for Fitz long and only realises she wants to sleep with him when they uncork the wine. She admits to Fitz several times that she is hiding something nasty in her past but he is oblivious to this, so wrapped up in her. She was planning to stick around for a year or two and move her ‘career’ on. Trix and Anji cooked up a scheme between each other; she would send Anji information from the future and Anji would make investments based on that data. As a result Trix is now worth £150,000,000. She is described as a good catch and a beautiful person. Trix realises with sudden clarity that her relationship with Fitz is going to work. They know each other well, trusted each other with their lives, liked and respected each other and could talk to each other about everything and anything. We discover Trix murdered her father, her big secret she was hiding from and is on the run from the police, hence the disguises and the playacting to avoid her past. She weeps for the loss of Fitz when the whole world is falling to pieces around her. Her feelings for him snuck up on her but she really did love him. She occasionally forgets that things belong to other people. She begs the Doctor to bring him back for her and he obliges and proves at the climax that she has total faith in him, willing to leap into a nest of homicidal insects and help him save the day.

Foreboding: I could be talking complete nonsense but the Doctor’s willingness to try and re-build Gallifrey (probably via Remote technology if he can find it again!) could explain his presence on Gallifrey in The Infinity Doctors. It is obviously (to me) the eighth Doctor in that book and how he feels so content and at home on Gallifrey there would explain a hell of a lot. Ah well, its just a theory.

Twists: The first scene features Marnal regenerating and suddenly remembers the name of his home planet…Gallifrey! Marnal suffered amnesia and wrote down all his memories in a series of novels entitled The Gallifrey Chronicles. It is great for readers attracted to the books via the TV series to discover the fate of Gallifrey with Marnal. The flashback adventure with Miranda is positively charming and intelligently and wittily exploits the horror of mobile phones as an enemy a millions times better than the atrocious Stephen King novel Cell (and with far less pages). The Daleks are back, attempting to assassinate the Pope on his first visit to Mars! Sam is officially dead and if she hadn’t met the Doctor she would have lived to a ripe old age although the Doctor consoles himself with the knowledge that in periods of the future she would be alive again. Anji is now engaged and due to be married to Greg next year, she is now on the board of a multi national conglomerate bank and the fifth richest person in the country! We get to re-experience the destruction of Gallifrey and hilariously it is more atmospheric and dramatic written here than it was in The Ancestor Cell! The Doctor never was Grandfather Paradox, it just reflects back to emaciated form of whomever it is battling. The Doctor returns to the garden with the cunning man (the 7th Doctor) guarding the gate and is given a fabulous clue about the Matrix being in his head (there are 153,841 blossoms behind the gate minus 5). To the save population of London, the Doctor tosses a nuclear bomb in the TARDIS which rips through the ship and strips away everything until it is just a burnt out spaceship. The TARDIS can repair her structure but the contents are irreplaceable. The energy from the explosion is funnelled into the Eye of Harmony, which opens pinpricks and allows the Master (trapped there since the TV Movie!) to talk to the Doctor (he is the ghost in the machine, imprisoned with infinite power, condemned to godhood with no chance of parole). The Vore are attracted to Earth because of the pricks in the Eye of Harmony and their attack is genuinely apocalyptic, worldwide panic and a terrifying death count (shooting into a swarm is like shooting into a storm, no matter how many you kill there is always more). The set piece of Fitz and Trix clinging for dear life as the Vore attempt to bring their plane down is excellent, especially the end where Trix runs from the exploding engines that tear through the Vore. The Black Eye Sun is finally explained, it promises rule of the spaces between time to the five lost ghosts (remaining Time Lords). Brilliantly, K.9 is discovered hiding behind the back wall of the TARDIS (he was the one scratching in Trading Futures!) with orders from Romana to kill the Doctor! The Vore want to turn the human race into vomit, line their walls with it and plant their food spores (ugh). The Doctor’s stolen TARDIS was originally Marnal’s, it was with this that he originally attacked the Vore. Save the best twist for last, the Doctor’s revelation that he has saved the entire contents of the Matrix in his head, thus saving his people whilst wiping out the scourge that threatened to infect them.

Embarrassing bits: It looks like Trix killed her father and its a shame that there is so much going on that we never get to explore this further. The Doctor’s line about a PC borrowing his PC and being very PC is crap. Fitz turning on the Doctor is very sudden considering how loyal he usually is (but frankly it needed to be said) and wasn’t Fitz himself who prevented the Doctor getting his memories back in Halflife???

Funny bits: There are lots of wonderful digs at the book series that made me chuckle heartily, its nice to see now the range is over they can take the piss out of their failings. Apparently a postmodern hero is on a journey of self-examination and self validation (just like the Doctor!). Every word of every novel is real, even if they contradict each other (cool that explains the dual explanation for why the Doctor’s heart turned black!). Marnal’s books had become an impenetrable jungle, alienating even the most loyal fans (just like the EDAs!). Whatever the books literary merits the covers were always a problem (hahahahaha). The trouble for the writer of a series books set on Gallifrey is that nothing much happened there (hehehehe). Parkin describes ideas from his old books as unreadable, senseless, risible tat! The Doctor criticises continuity, exclaiming who cares if Ace or Mel visited Paradise Towers? Why do we need it? The Doctor’s eyes slipped off the page before he got to the end of the first paragraph about Gallifrey, its that boring.  The scene at the Roman Orgy is hilarious, especially Trix’s attempts to pull the disguise of a perfectly normal person and then the Mule suddenly revealing himself as the disguised alien!

Result: Forget that blurb which seems to suggest an all out war between the Doctor and the remaining Time Lords and settle down to one of the best examinations of the Doctor in print. For a range that focuses too much on spectacle over examination and consequences it is fantastic to finally see so much pay off for outstanding plotlines and relationships. Fitz and Trix make a surprisingly believable couple and the fact that their relationship survives attempted arrests, diving planes and even death is wonderful. The Vore attack is really just a healthy reminder of what the Doctor is about, the real meat here is his examination of the past, finally discovering that he destroyed his planet. This revelation shifts the book amazingly when you realise what that Doctor managed to save from the destruction, shifting his character arc and the entire range from something that refuses to admit the truth and cowardly avoids the past into a justification of this satisfyingly necessary period of the Doctor’s life. He is the hero we always knew he was. The prose is simple but powerful and there are scores of gorgeous character scenes that you would expect from Parkin. Appropriately the Doctor’s past (Sam, Miranda, Anji) is recognised and his future is left wide open with possibilities (that gorgeous open ending that promises so much more…) and as a celebration of everything that this series did well it is about as perfect an ending as we could expect. A powerhouse novel, probably not the climatic ending you were expecting and yet all the better for it: 9/10

To The Slaughter by Stephen Cole

Plot: Shock horror! Celebrity decoriste Aristotle Halcyon is planning a spring clean of the solar system, demolishing scores of Jupiter’s moons in order to bring them down to an even twelve. But with eco terrorists plotting devious schemes, secret weapons being developed and millions of innocents set to the slaughter it isn’t going to be as simple as he feared…

Top Doc: What a forgettable fellow! Coming from Stephen Cole, the guy who knows how bland the eighth Doctor can be (hell he guided him through three years of total blandness!) and has delivered two excellent previous interpretations (Vanishing Point’s Doctor was merciless and Timeless’ was shockingly violent and funny). All out the window. This is the generic Doctor through and through, he reacts to the plot appropriately, tells a few gags, defeats the baddies…but there is little here to distinguish him from any of the others. It doesn’t help coming after The Deadstone Memorial which featured some definitive eighth Doctor characterisation. With some people it is football fixtures, with the Doctor it is moons. He is gallant, always trying to protect Trix (much to her chargin!). The first chapter sees him using an executive in a chair as a weapon! He cannot resist a mystery, although they are supposed to be getting the TARDIS back he gets embroiled into investigations into Falsh’s secret project. In an almost homoerotic moment the Doctor is reunited with Fitz and intimately kisses him on the hand. Brilliantly, it is the Doctor who sets of the charges for the demolition of the moons, causing a wave of devastation that snaps all the blood-crazed zombies out of their homicidal stupor.

Scruffy Git: Fitz too seems to be less than the sum of his parts, more an amalgamation of his most well known traits than an honest portrayal of everyone’s favourite space bum. We do discover he has a special link to the TARDIS since he was reconfigured in Interference, when he was remembered some bits were made up and some bits were improved. He falls for another bird, this time it is the astonishingly bland Sook, the innocent victim of society and perfect sob story material to drag old Kreiner down. What’s that…failed romance number fourteen? Sheesh give it a rest man! He is described as culturally illiterate and ignorant of everything. A mystery charmer? His relationship with Trix is interesting, as he admits he would never leave the TARDIS without her. Its nice to see his experiences with the Doctor helping him out and he uses designs from Parallel 59, The Fall of Yquatine and Sometime Never… to aid in his pretense as an art student!

Identity Tricks: Trix is given the best material here simply because we don’t know her all that well so seeing her lurch from one crisis to another is a joy. She has a famously low borderm threshold, petite and becoming. Even adrift in space, Trix has standards. She is described as being hard, devious, and manipulative and always trying it on…but at least you know where you are with her. Sweetly when she is reunited with Fitz she throws her arms around him and tells him she can rely on him whilst stepping on Falsh! She suggests that Fitz couldn’t live without her. She gets all the best lines, getting all bitchy with Tinya, pointing out the absurdities in the plot (“It’s a Trojan Slug!”) and actually has great chemistry with the Doctor. Astonishingly enough all her flitting around the universe she only felt she was in outer space when confronted with stunning vista of the Milky Way.

Foreboding: The intimacy between Fitz and Trix is about to blossom…

Twists: The opening thirty pages read like a Benny Hill sketch on acid (you can even hear the comic music!). It’s a load of running about, people being knocked unconscious with soup ladles, people hiding under desks misleading those in the meeting to think they are being felt up and Trix flirting outrageously with people to escape (to the pointing of offering herself as an all you can eat buffet!). There are loads of atmospheric descriptions of planetscapes which genuinely take your breath away (The glowing eyes of planets and moons stared in from the golden glass). Falsh’s attempts to destroy his weapons facility goes horribly wrong when the facility launches in space…the Doctor and Trix discover it and the piles of sickening corpses. The eco terrorists strike on the eve of the grand demolition…by suggesting a new life form exists on one of the moons…a space slug! Halcyonite, as the Doctor discovers, leaves you in a hypnotic state and open to suggestion. Fitz’s latest squeeze steals the TARDIS key and plans to duplicate and market the time machine…as the Endless Cupboard! Torvin turns out to be the evil scientist…Klimt! The revelation that Sook turned her parents over is quite a shock as is the fact that she is being manipulated because this information by Gaws and Mildred. I loved the stampede…the crowd of slavering, homicidal animals storming towards our heroes and ripping through the crowd! The slugs turn out to be the ultimate weapon…indestructible and inducing violence in all. Fitz’s murderous personality once under the influence of the slug is really nasty and has various bloody fights. It would appear we have a Kroton and a Sontaran at the alien auction but it is never specified. The last scene of the Doctor, Trix and Fitz hugging on the TARDIS, is lovely.

Embarrassing bits: Where do I start? Psychedelic paint that hypnotises people. Indestructible space slugs that turn people into homicidal maniacs. The blatant drug using. The fact that Fitz just happens to stumble across the rebels. The chiggocks! None of these ideas is especially embarrassing as such…just totally and utterly odd. Its like Cole doesn’t want you to like the book. This is a book that wants you to enjoy its fluffy atmosphere of escape/capture/flirt/threaten/steal and then accept a vicious bloody massacre with a hideous death count. The jokes are fine but match with the violence and things get…uncomfortable.

Funny bits: Pick a page. The books best asset is its humorous tone. The future’s bright. The future’s class C. The mental Chiggock attacking Trix. Fitz being killed by a glowing wall! The Doctor and Trix stepping in front of each other as neither of them wants to appear a coward in the face of the fish faced monster.

Result: Gah! Get rid of that editor! Whilst To The Slaughter is okay, it should NOT be the penultimate eighth Doctor adventure! Its about nothing in particular, contains nothing that indicates the series is winding down and subsequently becomes one of the most forgettable, inconsequential books in the entire range. It uncomfortably tries to mix violence and humour (which can work if the writer is clever enough) with a cast of nobodies (the background of most of the guest cast is all cliché). The regulars aren’t terrible especially Trix who is great fun in her scenes and their growing intimacy is lovely to witness. What saves the book is Cole’s bubbly prose which is effortlessly readable and fun and his eye for catchy dialogue. All in all though, after such a good run of books this is the only below average EDA since The Domino Effect and with its whacky ideas and pointlessness it belongs way back in Cole’s editorship. Oh the irony!: 4/10