This post: treats from the eras of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors. This may feel a little Paul McGann heavy, as there is one book and 2 audios for him, but that’s just how it worked out this chunk.
A note on order. Target Originals are not read in order of publication (which was all over the place), but in order of each Doctor, and each Doctor is read in order of their stories broadcast on TV. However, I jump about in terms of which Doctor I read at any given time. The Virgin New Adventures for Sylvester will be read in order; as will the BBC 8th Doctor series (as though they had been on TV, see? I’m trying to get an arc flavour). The BBC Past Doctors series and the Virgin Missing Adventures are simply read in terms of which one I fancy next, as they are stand alone adventures slotting in-between the TV ones.
Oh, and in case you forgot, I’ve taken to recording which books I read that are actual paper copies, and which are Kindle or other electronic. I’m being social historical for my own benefit. I want to see how long it is before I just plug books straight into my brain, how many years before I’m a reading cyborg.
As always with these rambly reviews: OFTEN LARGE SPOILERS ON ALL BOOKS IMMINENT!!!!
- Doctor Who: Snakedance,
by Terrance Dicks
(5th Doctor. This is one of those now classic incidents – I am starting to see – where I find a story as it is presented on TV yawnworthy, then adore the book to bits! I think this was partly down to having completely forgotten the performances on TV, other than I thought Martin Clunes did a very good indeed ‘I am bored to death’ performance. So I was visualizing him as I read, but all the other characters other than Nyssa and the Doctor, I was creating for myself with the help of Terrance. Notice I didn’t say Tegan.
I *had* forgotten Tegan’s performance, but in my head I was still seeing her as creepy as she was as the Mara in Kinda. I made a mistake, which was that, I was SO enjoying the book, I thought – ‘how could I have forgotten this story, it must be brilliant’, so I re-watched it. And remembered promptly why I had forgotten it. The main problem [thought there were several], was that they - for whatever reason – didn’t let Janet Fielding do her incredibly creepy Mara-ness in the same way as before. They didn’t give her the red eyes and ill looking face or the same degree of clear malice in her voice and body language. Whereas, I *did* remember Kinda [a very good story], and so whilst I read the book, I had The Mara Mark 1 a la Kinda in my head, rather than the limper one from Snakedance. If you weren’t impressed with the TV version of Snakedance, then do try the book – with just a very few tweaks, Terrance Dicks makes it a very creepy story indeed, full of atmosphere – and Tegan’s Mara is again the truly chilling character she should be. Recommended. ACTUAL BOOK.)
- Doctor Who: Last Man Running,
by Chris Boucher (BBC Past Doctors series)
(Fourth Doctor. This was a lovely Leela focussed story, that managed the excellent juggling act of also having plenty of the Doctor. When they end up on a planet, that after much extrapolation, turns out to be a self realising, self refining weapons development and testing facility, the machine that runs the place – and the now psychotic human that has come into contact with it – become very interested in Leela and her warrior instincts. Cue several very nice set pieces showing Leela’s versatility in getting rid of weird alien creatures: her quick thinking, cunning and skill. This story runs alongside another where a hapless search and retrieval team think they are sent to the planet to pick up a criminal, a ‘runner’, and also fall victim to the tests. The Doctor thinks more calmly than the other humans, but less usefully than Leela in some ways in this story. The story starts with the Doctor irritated with Leela and her literality, her basic-ness, and ends with him having a new appreciation for what her skills are and how quickly she learns.
Its also peppered here and there with some great little speeches, both from the Doctor and Leela’s remembrance of her warrior training days: “Looking, always looking. Look for the opening. Look for your opponent’s fear. If you cannot find fear look for desire. Both are weaknesses that can be used against them”. I kept catching myself wanting to write down these little gems of clear thinking. The Doctor at one point, intones: “Useful, convenient or pleasureable behaviours become habits, habits become rituals, rituals become superstitions, superstitions become obsessive compulsive disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders become religions” – an interesting way of looking at it.
The book has, lastly, a very nice satisfying ending – all the characters are taken care of in suitable way, and almost a happy ending ensues – yet without seeming forced or overly jolly. That was an unexpected nice touch. So much of science fiction, and especially these Doctor novels, seem to revel in a downbeat ending. I’ve enjoyed the Chris Boucher books I’ve read so far and look forward to more, especially where Leela is concerned. He’s really managed to explore what was a brilliant character creation that annoyingly on screen was always distracted to the eye by her bikini type wear – in the books there’s none of this, you get to know her as a brain, a thinking reasoning creature, and so different, therefore a great foil for the Doctor. ACTUAL BOOK.)
- Doctor Who: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,
by Christopher Bulis (Virgin Missing Adventures Series)
(1st Doctor. I think its possible that I might be about to make you feel sick with the amount of praise I will be heaping on this book. It’s the best of the non TV adventure books that I’ve read yet. Unlike a lot of the others its not too clever, its just extremely well written and just about the best homage-fusion of 2 genres I’ve EVER read – those 2 genres being fantasy [epic fantasy] and science fiction. And it didn’t mock fantasy, as so many people do; it lovingly recreated its tropes, and wrote the story straight, with a million references to many famous fantasy epics, and fairy tales.
When the Doctor and Susan, Ian and Barbara turn up in a land with dragons and it just gets better from there, the interesting question the reader gets is of course: Is magic real? Or real here in this place? And it spends the rest of the book telling a story with exceptionally good pace, while having another story invade it [some spaceships from ‘the Empire’, and yes, it does make you think of that Empire a little bit] – people need the ‘energy source’ they detect on the planet. But the planet repels all advanced technology, so how do the Empire people get down to it. Meanwhile, Susan gets abducted and learns how to practice magic while reliving the Rapunzel fairytale with a Princess; Barbara meets and helps a witch and her cat before getting kidnapped by the faery folk and then left to the mercy of the forest; Ian and the Doctor go on a quest for Merlin’s Helm with a leprechaun and some Knights…and its way more serious and way more believable than I’m making it sound. And oh my god – it’s such Good Fun!
It also holds the ranking of being just about the only fantasy novel I’ve read, where I really believed in the evil magician – while he was wearing silly hat no less [and I used to be a MAJOR fantasy reader in my 20s and 30s, so I’ve read lots of this kind of thing]; and where I actually came to see the versatility and worrying nature of nanobots. And what happens to a society that has No Concept of God. [A very interesting sidebar to the plot, that was.]
And yes, the magic question gets answered. And no, the answer won’t disappoint you. This was 10/10, brilliant, I will read it again sometime! This has set a very high bar for this author for me, so I’m hoping his other books are this good. They don’t have to be this much fun [its RARE a book is this much fun in the scifi genre] – but they have to be this compulsively readable and believable…ACTUAL BOOK.)
- Doctor Who: Storm Warning,
by Alan Barnes (Big Finish Monthly audios, no.16)
(The first 8th Doctor Big Finish adventure. Gary Russell directed this. Which surprises me. This is another one that lots of people seem to like, and that more or less misses me completely. I really WANTED to like it – whilst the TV movie isn’t great, I thought Paul McGann had allsorts of interesting possibilities which he never got a chance to explore. I’ve been loving his portrayal based on the limited info they had, in the BBC 8th Doctor book series. But this one just did not work for me at all.
I don’t know what they were thinking with the remix of the Dr Who theme Paul McGann’s Doctor has. I see they couldn’t use the TV music, and I see he needs his own disparate variation of the theme – but this one sounds weak and faltering and I hope it grows on me, because it annoyed me every time I heard it. [It was a bit like the over bombastic new Who music being all OTT – this *underwhelms* almost to the exact same degree, for me.]
To begin with on the story, there’s an awful lot of very clumsy and clunky exposition said by Paul McGann – an awful lot of talking to himself at the beginning [as if the writer was afraid we had forgotten the sound of him], and it continues on here and there throughout the story: “Its becoming – oh no – an energy weapon,” some very obvious audience information transfer. The sound of him as a character IS interesting – he's bit sharper than the TV movie, a bit more cynical, a bit more sensual [and of course, he was the only Doctor at that stage to have anything approaching tender feelings for a human woman – so this is a part of his character it will be interesting to hear.]
Another voice performance that works well is Gareth Thomas as Tamworth, who sounds exactly like Colin Baker to my mind, which did confuse my brain through a lot of the proceedings; but his certain sort of 1930s fellow was spot on. [As was the character portrayal of a certain sort of petty ruthless power monger, in the character of Rathbone, he seemed to me written well.]
The big thing about this story other than its reintroduction of the 8th Doctor, is the introduction of a new companion at the same time [a stowaway who wants to be an adventuress, who should have died by the end of the adventure, so the Doctor takes her with him to remove her from history]. India Fisher as Charley Pollard doesn’t – so far – convince me at all. She sounds a little bit shrill at times, and sort of jolly hockeysticks schoolgirl often. I found listening to her made me wish someone else was speaking. Obviously, I hope this was just how she was written and directed in this particular adventure, and that she grows on me – as the companions are so important in the Who stories. She and McGann did seem to be bouncing off each other nicely, so maybe my ears just need time to settle into them as a pairing.
The story was coherent enough, like being on the Titanic before it sinks, but an airship instead. There are time vortex creatures outside, and a new alien race, the Triskeli, featuring heavily in the story. The ideas behind both creatures were interesting, but were presented so much in the form of simple exposition my brain seemed to wander off. That was the main thing I suppose. Some of these stories grab me instantly, and even if I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, there’s an immediacy and a curiosity that has me hooked and listening. This was one of the other kind of stories – I knew what was going on, but I was struggling to really care about any of it, or the characters dilemmas and choices. That’s never good. I hope the next 8th Doctor play is better, since there’s 4 off the bat with him in now…ON DOWNLOAD.)
- Doctor Who: Goth Opera,
by Paul Cornell (Virgin Missing Adventures)
(5th Doctor. This one started off rocky, for me. I’m coming to realise that as well as being chock full of imagination, Paul Cornell is also a very playful writer, and there’s something about the way he plays with the Dr Who universe that feels a little bit off to me. He’s incredibly readable – just as with his last book, I read this one in almost a day, I let other things go to read it, I provided very blah childcare during this book!…but every time I did pop my head up from it, I felt that something was not quite right, for all its addictive pull. The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are perfectly done, I could see and hear their every move; Romana II, Glitz, Captain Spandrell and other Gallifreyans were closely envisioned.
Maybe it was the supporting characters that weren’t quite doing it for me. I say the book started off rocky and it was because I didn’t like the 2 vampires portrayed, Madeleine and her boyfriend Jake. There seems to be a thing, a common thread in Dr Who books, of making vampires either laughably arrogant and pompous [Yarven in this case, and Ruath], or else so ordinary, yet wisecracky, that they still don’t feel quite real – that was how I felt Madeleine and Jake; though by the end of the book they’d grown on me and I was glad they had gotten away to start a new civilisation.
Also, there were a couple of missteps – at the beginning of the book, Tegan is annoyed that they have gone to Australia and are watching cricket, she’s bored to death. But in Black Orchid, well preceeding this story, she’s a cricket fan and happy to watch, while Nyssa and Adric are puzzled and bored by the game. So that was weird. I wasn’t quite sure in the time scheme of things how Roamana II ended up back on Gallifrey at that moment, as if this is after the E Space trilogy [which it was sposed to be, because of her vampire knowledge], then why wasn’t she still trapped willingly in E Space? Maybe I missed something.
His treatment of Lang, the American evangelist with something to hide, and Christianity, was interesting – it could have been done in a hostile way and it wasn’t. It was handled kindly, if anything. That surprised me, as there is a sort of playful cruelty I pick up in parts of Paul Cornell’s writing: he’s not afraid to have any character suffer, and he could have made mincemeat of this one – he chose not to, which gave grace to the portrayal and the crimes of the character.
Anyway – this was a strange book – as I say, I ate it up very quickly even though I wasn’t sure if I was liking it – I’m starting to think maybe all my Paul Cornell reading experiences might be a bit like this! Maybe his books are like a fairground ride – I’m thrilled along, strapped in, can’t get out – but I’m relieved when it’s over, despite how vivid it undeniably was? In the Introduction, as this was the first Missing Adventure published, the Editor said these stories were going to be a lot less experimental and more traditional, than the earlier started series, the New Adventures [for Sylvester] – I found it odd, that being the case, they started with this book and this author: he’s definitely experimental in that his imagination is so rammed full and slightly nightmareish [think the Baby character here] and he’s more than a bit irreverent in his writing. Hmm. ACTUAL BOOK.)
Who: Sword of Orion, by Nicholas Briggs (Big Finish Monthly, no.17)
(8th Doctor. This one took a long time to interest me. Despite loving to listen to Paul McGann’s voice, and the Charley Pollard character starting to grow on me [getting used to that posh tomboy voice], I felt the story could have done with some editing. I’m noticing in general, that the Big Finish stories are starting to get longer and longer, from 1 ½ hours, to over 2 hours. Not only does this make it hard to listen to in the Fluffhead at nursery/primary school timeslots that I have, without splitting them up [which is annoying], but I don’t necessarily think that the stories have that much more in them for the extra length [so far]. I wonder if the stories are going to adapt to the extra length and use the time wisely, or whether they are going to continue just sort of …spinning their wheels and having lots of semi rehashed exchanges between small groups of characters??
Criticisms over, it was a good story, once it got going. Starting from Ramsey, their adaopted Vortizore, getting ill and needing to help him, and leading to Cybermen and an attempt to use them in a war between humans and androids [in the Orion system of the title], with a good double twist on one of the main characters right near the end, it did carry itself along. I got the feeling that had I been reading this as a novel rather than watching it as a play, I would have felt more involved – been quite happy with the slow exposition and pace. As it was, I was very conscious that the scenes with Charley and the Doctor discussing what was happening were much easier to listen to than the scenes with the largely Cockney crew of the scrap ship – even though it was fun to hear some old style Cockney accents – you rarely get to hear them anymore, since in our actual world, Estuary has almost taken over, along with an interesting ‘urban’ school dialect [that Fry and I have always adored to use in conversation because its so fun and has such brilliant shorthand words].
This was an odd story: it took a long time to play out and led to an abortive ending that felt a bit anticlimactic [I missed the emotion of a bit that I can see was meant to be poignant], however, this being only the second Paul McGann outing in this format, I was ok to listen to carry on acclimatizing myself to this new way of experiencing his Doctor, and as I say, India Fisher as Charley, am getting used to her too. I’m hoping these Paul McGann outings are going to drastically improve though, as they aren’t grabbing me by the throat and keeping me fascinated like some of the better Sylvester ones so far, for example. Also, the sound palette on this one didn’t feel very inspired. But quite happy to listen on – still early days. And I can feel the beginning of good chemistry between Charley and the Doctor, which is always a reason to listen/ watch/ read Doctor Who. ON DOWNLOAD.)
- Doctor Who: Dragonfire,
by Ian Briggs (Target Original)
(7th Doctor. Oh goodness…this is very very hard to write a review of. I loved the TV serial of this, and I loved the book. There’s something very spare and clean about this story, as spare and clean visually as the Iceworld sets. Its simple – a bit stupid, many say – and all its characters are underdeveloped…well, the book adds a few extra scenes that give us more of the backstory and thoughts for 2 or 3 characters, notably Belazs, but, really, it’s the same spare clean and odd story I liked when I saw it on TV. I like the little girl Stellar; she serves no real purpose except as a narrative linking device…yet I enjoy her, here as on the TV. I feel for the Dragon Creature, just as I did when I watched. I honestly am at a loss to explain or understand why I find this story as satisfying as I do.
Is it the introduction of Ace, a not real teenager that I nevertheless enjoy greatly? I just see her as a sassy not yet grown up person, full of bluff and doubts and angry confusion. Someone older imagining how a teenager would be when they can’t quite remember. Is it how she interacts with Mel? Quite well, I thought, they were an interesting pair – one enthusiastic but calm and mature; the other impulsive and bolshey. How the Doctor is by turns comedic and serious, so that I’m never quite sure where his performance will go next? That definitely contributes. That cliffhanging scene just made me laugh – I thought it was a very cheesy and amusing visual gag; it didn’t make me as uptight as it seems to lots of others. I didn’t find it lazy; I found it quirky, as I find the whole story quirky. In a world of its own [along with Paradise Towers and The Happiness Patrol – they are all in some weird parallel universe].
The whole story in some ways is pointless and goes nowhere – it showcases Glitz [always a fun character to see], and introduces Ace…that’s it. But I like it. Just one of those things I can’t quite explain…ACTUAL BOOK.)
- Doctor Who: Dreamstone Moon,
by Paul Leonard (BBC Past Doctor Adventures)
(8th Doctor. I think I was expecting something epic here, because all his previous books I have read have been so: dealing with huge moral issues and how they impact races under threat of genocide through one means or other. In a way, this was the same, in that the dreamstones are sentient, parts of a larger creature, and to mine them is to maim them – to mine them large scale is to kill a race…But it wasn’t that sort of book. The focus was different.
This is the book where the 8th Doctor finally finds Sam again, after losing her a few books back. I had imagined [I mentioned last post], that when she found the Doctor again, she would be much changed due to her terrible experiences in The Longest Day. But, and I don’t know whether this was deliberate, due to her nearly starving on the Kusk ship, its as if the experiences in that book have been almost obliterated, she seems none the worse for wear. Even though that book was all about horrible choices, and she has some to make again in this book, which you would think would bring it all back to her…but no. Not sure what I make of this handling of her experiences. Maybe they’ll pop out and we’ll deal with them later; she was after all, very busy in this book, no time to reflect. For now, it was insufficient and felt wrong.
There are some memorable characters in this book though. Aloisse is a typical Paul Leonard character as I have come to expect them, he seems to have one of these per every book he writes: an alien creature of great nobility and morality, to whom bad things happen, yet they react with dignity and resourcefulness. This character will make your chin quiver with her bravery. She was good. And for once, she was also not killed or otherwise isolated by the end. Anton, the actual protagonist of the book was a very interesting if underdeveloped character. He drives the plot and is the one who realises, as the Doctor does, about the sentience of the stones and why they act as they do for some people. The Doctor also realises, before Anton does, that Anton can control the stones, and is projecting his own fear into them. There’s some sad lyricism: “Anton was dreaming. The Doctor rather suspected that Anton had always been dreaming, that there had always been only a slight, if significant, distance between what went on in the world and what went on in his head.” Anton dies, later. “After a while, The Doctor realised he’d just killed a man with the force of an argument. It wasn’t a very pleasant thought”.
The weird thing about this book is that the Doctor is in it often, rushing about, figuring things out as he does; but there’s no real feel of him – he’s at his most absent as a portrayal as I’ve felt him in any of these books. It’s all about the other characters. But that does work out ok, its not annoying. This story has room for everyone, as its very action oriented, and flows along at a very brisk pace. The world created is not as detailed as his other worlds, nor as portentous. But it’s still a satisfying read. This author is in trouble anyway: his previous books have been SO GOOD, that I have very high expectations! ACTUAL BOOK.)