Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Nightshade by Mark Gatiss

Plot: Something has been brewing under the sleepy village of Crook Marsham for a long, long time. A radio telescope has been built on the site of a haunted castle and has started feeling power under the ground, power that gives the force the strength to reach out and bring back old loved ones home, even though they are already dead…

Master Manipulator: Without a doubt the best interpretation of the seventh Doctor yet. Whilst he remains sullen and uncommunicative, the work done with the Doctor here is so vivid and believable I cannot bring myself to complain. He has grown irritable and sulky of late and was in need of a change. He snaps at Ace for simply being herself (“It’s the Doctor! How many times do I have to tell you, you stupid girl!”). He wonders if he has really done any good over the years and if he has the right to act as judge and jury to the whole universe (that makes a world of difference to some of the other NAs, here he is questioning his manipulation of others). He is tired and is starting to wonder if he should settle somewhere for a few centuries, away from all the death and destruction. He knows it is time he stopped shirking his responsibilities and went home to Gallifrey to sort out his problems there. Perhaps the revealing moment in this book comes when he admits to himself there is nobody for him to run away from anymore. Only himself. He tells Ace she is too important to die. He feels a genuine melancholy at the thought of losing a friend. Sweetly, when the enemy using the image of Susan against him he is overwhelmed with a tide of grief and regret. Not a day goes by when he doesn’t think of her. He has a profound loneliness and yearning to belong. He’s a scientist, an explorer, philanthropist and general do-gooder. In a moment when you realise just how desperate for company the Doctor is, he ignores Ace wish to leave him and tricks her into one last ride in the TARDIS with no intention of ever taking her back to Robin. You want to punch the guy in the face for controlling her so much but the effort Gatiss goes to to make you feel sorry for the guy. This is what he should have been all along, not a Time Lord who is at odds with himself but one who is at odds with the universe. Here he is carved as a flawed hero, a thoughtful man and it is utterly compelling.

Miss Attitude: I would like to bow down and kiss Mr Gatiss’ feet. He even manages to make Ace palatable, something I would have thought impossible after these last seven or so books. The way he does this is to remind us of her innocence, the one thing that made her so appealing on the television and her romance with Robin is very sweet and (almost) na├»ve. The scene where they are sleeping in the same room, listening to each other’s breathing but too tired to go to sleep is lovely. Ace is terrified of living forever, watching her loves ones die around her. When the Doctor insults her she feels as though she has been struck. Ace had grown up before the Doctor’s eyes, this funny misfit, changing from a little bundle of venom into a confident, maturing adult. She has zest, spontaneity and sparkle and that is why Robin is so attracted to her. She has to believe in the Doctor otherwise there is no point in going on. Ace tells the Doctor she is leaving, she realises she has missed being with somebody real, uncomplicated and human. Her reaction when she realises he has tricked her is palpable, sliding down the wall in tears of grief.

Twists: Jack is lured out onto the moor and killed by an image of younger, beautiful wife. Betty dreams of her brother’s death in a scene full of nightmarish images, Alf clawing his way from the bath as a putrefying corpse. Jackson’s fingers push straight through Crooke’s forehead as though through rotten fruit! Hawthorne’s casual racism (Dirty, unnatural and somehow less human, like a chimp at the zoo dressed in human clothes) is terrifying. Pages 92-3 could be the scariest bit of Doctor Who fiction ever. The thought of the tar baby hiding under Hawthorne’s bed is petrifying, but worse when the Black Hand grasps his ankle. Trevithick in the lift shaft with the creature from his old TV show is wickedly exciting; I love it when the monster starts punching through the floor of the ascending lift. The thought of the petrified, lifeless old people makes me queasy. The Doctor hits the floor with sickening force and Ace has to pop his shoulder back into place whilst he is screaming. The Sentience runs through space, growing and hungry and has been on Earth for a long time. The Doctor manages to trick the being into space, with the promise of the energy of a star that has gone nova but instead it is sucked into a black hole. Memorably, Holly has the life sucked out of her in front of Vijay. The Doctor and Ace both manage to confront their fears, Susan and Ace’s mum Audrey.

Result: Absolutely fantastic, I read this in one sitting and was unable to put it down. Gatiss’ prose is superb and he carves out believable characters with only a page or two of description. He manages to populate the village of Crook Marsham vividly in the first chapter. Small, sensual details make the overall experience much more realistic. The theme of nostalgia and the thought of the past coming back to haunt you is terrifying and explored in some considerable depth. Even the regulars are given a chance to shine; both the Doctor and Ace are fleshed out more believably than in all their previous books put together. Pacy, awash with genuine horror and with enough atmosphere to trick you into thinking this is happening around you, this is the first NA classic and a book that deserves all the praise that it gets: 10/10

1 comment:

  1. I'm picking up that you're not much of an Ace fan. :)

    I found that Gatiss makes the character seem much more "girly" than other authors, so that all of a sudden she's wanting to get married such. Which sort of comes out of nowhere and is not followed up on again.