Friday, 29 August 2014

Alien Bodies by Lawrence Miles

Plot: The Doctor and Sam arrive on Earth in the East Indies in the future and stumble across an auction taking place, involving several of the biggest alien powers. Just what is the mysterious Relic that everybody is after and how does it connect to the Doctor? And what’s all this business about a War with the Time Lords?

Top Doc: There is a wonderful passage where Sam imagines the eighth Doctor is extremely frustrated to be trapped inside a young body (with a baby face and foppy curls) when he is the accumulation of so many lives. He's not afraid of anything in Miles' hands, happily playing chess whilst he knows his life is in the most terrible danger and jumping out of the window when trouble arrives. He has to face up to the terrible truth that he will die in the future, hardly a shocking revelation but to have it shoved under your nose in such a tawdry way really hits home that the universe will continue to tick along without him. When the Doctor discovers what is being auctioned off it is the first time since he regenerated that he has gotten really, REALLY angry and he even has a few homicidal thoughts (which he later attempts to brush off as another of the Shift’s personality manipulations but even he isn’t convinced…). During a thoughtful conversation with his corpse he is condemned for not thinking about the consequences of his actions anymore. Obviously the book has huge consequences for the Doctor, but not necessarily this Doctor, as his death is pre-ordained and his corpse is present within the pages of the book. However this is somewhat muddied by the events in Alien Bodies, which turns his body into a paradox. Nothing is ever simple with Doctor Who, is it? Who cares, this is out and out one of the best takes on the eighth Doctor until his revision later in the range. He’s dynamic, funny, magical, terrified and beautiful. 

Friend or foe: Sam actually seems quite fun with Miles’ steady prose to guide her. Certainly there is none of the boisterousness or bitchiness, which she has exhibited when at her worst. There is an excellent moment where Sam isn’t culture shocked by the Faction’s ‘interior’ TARDIS, whereas Kathleen is a gibbering wreck. In the hands of a lesser writer she would come across as an arrogant chump. But she doesn’t. He even manages to suggest there is more to Sam than meets the eye when she is scanned and revealed to have had two different sets of biodata, one who is a drugged up failure who never met the Doctor and the one we know. It is even suggested that the version we have been travelled with has been manipulated, her timeline was twisted by the Doctor himself (unconsciously) so she could be everything his hearts desire, the perfect companion. Oo-er missus…what could this all mean? Sam is inherently a faceless placard so thumbs up for making her bearable and interesting throughout. 

Foreboding: This is it chaps. This is where the eighth Doctor arc starts and astonishingly doesn’t finish until the very last novel, The Gallifrey Chronicles. That’s a long time to wait for some answers. This book introduces the future War that the Time Lords will fight, the voodoo cult Faction Paradox (who will turn up again to fox the Doctor) and the Celestis (conceptual entities who used to be Time Lords but saw that they would lose and turned themselves into ideas). Brilliantly, Miles includes a scene where the Time Lord Homunculette compares the Enemy’s attack on Gallifrey to the Daleks attack on Earth little knowing the eventual fate of the planet in the new TV series. There is a moving prologue where the Doctor lays to rest a space travelling dog; this equation of the third Doctor and death is an omen for the tragic events in Interference. Sam’s twin sets of biodata s followed up in Unnatural History. The Grandfather Paradox is brought up and will return to haunt the Doctor in The Ancestor Cell. 

Twists: Pretty much the inclusion of everything in the previous category. Unveiling the secret of the Relic has to be the best twist of the entire book range though, even given the ramifications of the Time Lord War, this series is all about the Doctor at the end of the day and the confirmation of his eventual death is probably the biggest, boldest shock in any of the book ranges. I would go as far to say the Doctor undereacts to the revelation. 

Funny bits: Loads. This is a genuinely funny book with most of jokes ground in Doctor Who history so totally inaccessible to a non fan but absolutely hilarious to the rest of us. Marie the sentient TARDIS hiccups every time she lands. The Doctor’s reactions to Qixotl’s attempts to reveal the future are hilarious. Page 148 features a reference to Karma and Flares: The Importance Of Fashion Sense To The Modern Zen Master which the Doctor has read to be at one with his pockets (explaining why he always happens to have the right thing to hand). The Doctor’s jaw actually drops when Qixotl has the nerve to offer him 40% of the profits from his own body (and even tells him he has to bid himself!). The thought of the Krotons managing to overpower the Daleks is funny enough but everybody else’s reactions to their cumbersome appearance is a delight too. The way E-Kolbot’s head revolves alarmingly every time he gets agitated is worth a chuckle. His overreaction to the Raston sex dancers (dismembering each one) is one of the highlights of the book. There is a farcical moment right out of a Woody Allen movie where all the bidders get into a huge scrap once the Doctor’s identity is revealed. When the Doctor realises who Qixotl is he punches him in the face. 

Embarrassing bits: There is a mention of Dalek sex. Let’s never go there again. An incredible Doctor Who book, full of unusual, fascinating, imaginative concepts…so it’s rather embarrassing that the writer forgot to include a plot.

Result: The book that turned the EDAs from a tidy book series to risk taking engine of storytelling. Alien Bodies is about as good as Doctor Who literature comes; it is shocking, daring and imaginative and features some of the best prose in any of the ranges. Any of the innovations this book flaunts would be enough to drive a novel but they continue to pile up: the creepy and unnerving Faction Paradox, the glimpses of a Time War, the humanoid TARDISes, Sam’s dual timeline, the diabolical Celestis, the existential Mr Shift and more importantly the Doctor’s death. The guest cast are amazing; the book traps them all in one claustrophobic location and unpeels them like Russian dolls until we saw who they really are inside. Lawrence Miles produces such an accomplished piece you don’t bat an eyelid that he has forgotten to include a narrative. A poll topper and with good reason, the inclusion of the Krotons is a work of genius. The ideas in this nove are so strong that Steven Moffat barefacedly nabbed them for his series seven finale, The Name of the Doctor, without apology. Spellbindingly good: 10/10