Saturday, 27 September 2014

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 13!

This post: treats from the eras of the Second, Third, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors.   
Due to the incredible lifetime type length of the School Summer Holidays, I was majorly impinged upon with my reading!  There was much more child talking,child painting, TV watching and picnicking, out and abouting...general gallivanting and intermittent merriment/tantrums...much more of that than of the seriously fun business of getting down to my Who Reada/Listena-thon.  So: there are NO Targets this time round, partially because I am still in the middle of some but not finished yet; and also partially because little hands really like them and kept nicking them off me: both pretending to read them but also making train tunnels of them (grrrrrrrr).  So there's one Big Finish play, three novels and a few short stories.  I've reviewed the short stories singly because I didn't buy the collection (only the one's I wanted) for the 50th Anniversary ones, and the other range, the Time Trips, just seem to pop up singly as and when.  So again, I just pick the ones I want. (When I'm back to the Decalogs or the Big Finish Short Trips short story collections I will be reviewing them as whole books, as that'll be how I'm reading them.)  So, sorry if any of you feel short changed this post by the lack of Targets, and the prevalence of single short stories - but thats how it panned out this Summer Holidays, with the lack of time.  More Targets and longer books, next post.  Meanwhile...
A note on order, for every post in this series.  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!!!!

  1. Doctor Who: Invasion of the Cat People, by Gary Russell (Virgin Missing Adventures)
    (2nd Doctor.  I really enjoyed this one.  I read some reviews on Amazon, after I’d finished, that said the plot was complicated or incoherent –I found it anything but.  Two groups of aliens on Earth, one here an awful long time, one called by the other as a means to escape…One are the race that sing things into existence [yes, the Aboriginal Dreamlines do feature strongly here], and the others are the Cat People of the title.  They aren’t the Cheetah People from Survival, but a relative.  The title is a bit inaccurate – they aren’t really the focus of the book. 

    The plot made perfect sense to me – one group of aliens will do anything to leave Earth; one group will try and save Earth as they like it here.  The Cat People simply want to take what they can, destroy what remains and leave – do what they always do.  Its up to the second Doctor, Polly and Ben to try and correct matters.  There’s some lovely writing and lovely concepts in this book, as well as some delicious stuff about hauntings and EX rooms [atmospherically sealed], but what I loved about it the most was that it bounced along, full of goodnatured energy – even when sinister things were happening [and there’s some nastiness], it doesn’t have that dreadful bleakness that scifi can sink into. 

    Also, Polly gets a starring role as the companion with most to do.  Not more than the Doctor, but she’s important – her part is an interesting one.  Don’t want to spoiler it all, so I’ll stop, but this was a great and fun read. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  2. Doctor Who: Last of the Gadarene, by Mark Gatiss (BBC Past Doctors series)
    (3rd Doctor.  I was really in 2 minds about this one.  It started off really well, a marvellous evocation of the 3rd Doctors self, period and place.  Not a hair wrong with the ventriloquism of the period, clearly loved by the author and thoroughly absorbed.  The set up of the story was wonderful: a small village, a Wing Commander, aged and yet still brave and gutsy – a character to love and root for in all difficulties.  The strange lorries bringing shiny coffin like metal caskets, ruining the grass.  The old aerodrome as a new airport, but bringing who and what to Earth?  It was a lovely set up, and I ate three quarters of the book in quick order before realising I was a bit uncomfortable.

    What I was uncomfortable with was the main villain woman and her stretched and hideous smile, constantly mentioned; her greasy hair.  I was also a bit intermittently uncomfortable with the way Mark Gatiss structures his sentences, but that’s purely a matter of personal opinion, and his are constructed with more regard to rules than mine, for sure, so I won’t press that.  No…it was that the story was pure old lovely classic Who.  And the villain lady was pure new Who: new Who seems to have spawned quite a lot of very oddly similar female villains – all a bit Miss Jones’-ish: glasses, fifties type suit with cinched in waist, court heels, hair in relentlessly coiffed up-do; and an amazing case of posh and superior sibilant Englishness.  I can think of several episodes where these sorts of women appear [e.g. Partners in Crime], right up to the latest series with Capaldi [Time Heist]…and here was another one in a very close mould.  When villains are at all clichéd or overly signalled [the way in an American series you can tell if someone has ‘gone bad’ because suddenly they start wearing a lot of black and if they are men they don’t shave so much – and either sex suddenly wears lots of leather]: I get bored.  The characterisation does nothing for me. 

    Saying that, the creepy wide grin that she had, plus the way all the villagers started to get it too once infected by the baby forms of the parasites [the Gaderene of the title], was an incredibly scary image and idea.  It was as grotesque and in keeping with the era as the horrible gentlemen costumes and masks in Terror of the Autons.  I just didn’t quite like it.  There was something too childlike about it, despite its almost grown up horror feel.  The book had a foot in both camps and I wasn’t sure exactly where I was landing. 

    Nonetheless, those 2 weird points are my only concern:  I loved the portrayal of the Doctor and Jo; Benton and the Brigadier were lovingly done – though not enough of Yates!  The subsidiary characters, especially Noah, who was very resourceful, were a pleasure to read.  And getting the Doctor to fly a spitfire was inspired, as it’s just the sort of thing Pertwee’s Doctor would do!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  3. Doctor Who: The Ripple Effect, by Malorie Blackman (BBC 50th Anniversary e-Short Story Collection)
    (7th Doctor.  The Doctor and Ace are stuck in Temporal Plexus [don’t you love Who jargon?!]; marooned in a sort of time fog, for 8 days so far.  Surrounding them are the debris of many other wrecks, hundreds of other trapped ships whose inhabitants eventually died.  The Doctor gets the desperate and odd idea that blowing up the nearest star is the only way to generate enough energy to free them from the Plexus.  He does; it works.

    They appear to have landed on Skaro – where Timelords, other races and daleks live together peacefully.  But Skaro is destroyed, how can it be?  According to all computers and info sources that are not the TARDIS databanks, throughout the universe, daleks are loveable civilised peaceful beings: their planet a beacon of knowledge and study, just like Ancient Greece.

    While the Doctor and Ace were in the Plexus, a Ripple Effect happened, leaving them the only people in the universe who can remember the daleks previous behaviour and the genocides they have done.  Of course, the event was caused by the Doctor blowing up the star; so he has to retrace his footsteps and get them back into the Plexus before it has happened in order to reverse this.  But as Ace says – why? Isn’t it better that the daleks be as they are now, instead of murderous dictators?  The Doctor tries to argue about all the other things that occurred as well as the daleks heinous crimes, because of them, good things, in the original timeline. 

    But there are several problems with this.  Not only the obvious: that the Doctor himself has interfered so many times it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to tell what the original timeline would ever be anymore.  Also – I find it odd in any story where there is a possibility of a good dalek, that the Doctor is so against it, and so utterly forgetful of the Alpha and Omega daleks in Evil of the Daleks – the ones infected with the Human Factor, that so clearly could have gone on to have a moral system: they were childlike, playful proto moral beings – “why should we kill?”?  Why does every dalek story subsequent to Evil never reference the Human Factor daleks? That story did happen, and the Doctor did not have his memory wiped of it; just as in this story he did not have his memory wiped of the previous timeline where the daleks were monsters.

    Anyway…he does get them back into the Plexus, and then there’s a rather interesting cod science explanation as to how he’ll get them out again, which makes me think – well why couldn’t you have done something similar the first time and not blown up the star, but moving along…So he gets them out of the Plexus once again, back to the timeline where the daleks are horrible.  And the story ends very quickly and suddenly, with Ace feeling sad that she will never again see any of the friends she made on Skaro – and indeed, that they will never even exist, because their planet was destroyed a long time ago by the daleks…The Doctor expresses hope that maybe the daleks will one day be peaceful again, as now we’ve seen that they can, of their own choice (though it’s not been made clear how that would happen, not even a speculation).

    This end to the story was oddly unsatisfying.  The story itself felt very rushed and as if it could actually have worked very well as a novella, allowed more scope and depth.  At its current length, the characterisations of the people and other races met on Skaro were oddly shallow – and this does matter since the story was about the change of character in the daleks and their way of relating to other people: so it was needful that both daleks and those they interacted with be clear and real feeling.  The character Tulana, for example – she came across as teenage and cross and self-righteous and that was about it; it was the bare bones of what her character needed to be to carry her part of the narrative; but she could have had a touch more nuance to round her out.  However, a good idea for a story –I wish at some point in the future, Ms Blackman would be allowed to write it a bit longer; I’d read it.  ON KINDLE.)
  4.  Doctor Who: The Spear of Destiny, by Marcus Sedgewick (BBC 50th Anniversary e-Short Story Collection)
    (3rd Doctor.  The Doctor and Jo go to a museum in Piccadilly to examine part of a Norse hoard.  The Brigadier has reason to believe a spear in the hoard is a PTN: a Physical Temporal Nexus. [Again – don’t you love Who jargon?!!]  PTN’s are ancient, alien and of unknown origin – few exist; and the Timelords consider them extremely dangerous. The Doctor plans to steal the spear from the museum and replace it with a UNIT crafted replica – but when he and Jo arrive to steal it, they are almost shot by security guards with machine guns, proving someone knows the danger and value of the spear. 

    So they go back to the spear’s other known location – its original discovery, before becoming a part of the private collection: 2nd century AD Sweden, just before the Vernal Equinox.  [I was reading this on the Vernal Equinox- I always adore when my reading locations or timelines suddenly coincide with the real world; I get a strange little ‘in the story’ thrill – like this fiction is actually out there, really happening somewhere, and I am in real time with it!].  When they arrive, the Doctor gets to try out his theory that the gods of the past are actually real historical people, mythologised –previous kings or warriors.  Thus, proving him correct, we meet Odin, King of all Sweden, his sons Thor and Baldur, and his people the Aesir.

    How Odin comes to have the Spear - Gungnir – is a mystery. It’s a very dangerous object, since as a PTN it can never miss its target once thrown – however impossible – because it selects the outcome the thrower wants from all possible outcomes in all possible universes: making the throwers wishes always come true…and wrecking each universes own timeline many times, each time it is used.  [It’s a Back to the Future space time continuum thing; just to bring in some outside references!]

    At this point, the Master turns up, as he does tend to, as one of the Vanir, his TARDIS disguised as a longship.  After gloating a bit and setting the Aesir and Vanir almost to war with one another, he announces the Doctor and Jo will be the sacrifices at this evening’s Equinox ceremony.  There then follows some traditional 3rd Doctor running about and escaping, recapturing and finally saving the day, along with switching the spear for the replica, getting away with the original, and stranding the Master in the past by damaging his ship, as they finally escape.

    Not sure why, but this short and rather silly story felt much more satisfying than the previous 7th Doctor one I read [back to back].  Despite being the same length, this one felt less slight and shorthanded; more complete and neat. Anyway, enjoyably rompish.  ON KINDLE.)
  5.  Doctor Who: A Handful of Stardust, by Jake Arnott (Time Trips e-Short Stories)
    (6th Doctor.  Doctor Dee’s Elizabethan time period; where he is given what he thinks is an incubus [but which is actually a pleasure parasite, that accentuates his cravings- in his case for knowledge] by a new pupil [guess who?].  He swallows it and forgets about it [a very neat little feature of the parasite].  Amidst his work with his acolyte Thomas Digges, a few days later, the Doctor and Peri are very surprised to be pulled off course to materialise in Dee’s study.

    Dee and the Doctor get on very well, falling immediately into discussion of the Hieroglyphic Monad, an arcane symbol that seems to have been able to send a distress call to the TARDIS and actively divert it to Dee.  The Doctor believes this is all something to do with a supernova in Cassiopeia in 1572, due to happen the next day.  He suspects “a massive interstellar transportation portal” is under construction on Cassiopeia [this barely counts as Who jargon, as it actually makes sense, but I am on a roll with noticing these lovely little expressions so…].

    Of course, there is something weird going on, and it’s the Master, again.  [!!!]  I don’t know why, but even though The Master is one of the most predictable and least convincing or successful of Who villains when you think about it, I am always cheering whenever he comes on and metaphorically twirls his moustache.  I am most fond of him.  After a grapple, he steals the Doctor’s TARDIS [as his own is broken], inadvertently kidnapping Peri and Thomas Digges.  Cue subplot about Digges really rather liking Peri, and her trying hard to be polite but not sharing his feelings. 

    They land in Cassiopeia, where the Master has hoodwinked the blue-skinned locals into believing he can save them from the impending supernoval apocalypse.  In doing so, he has created a mockery of their peaceful culture, as only some of them will be saved – which leads to greed and an ugly fight for survival where only the high born and monied are winning, preparing to leave the poor and ill resourced to die.  The Master has offered them Earth to recolonize.  But The Master is foiled by one of the Cassiopeians with an increasing disgust at what the Master has done to her society, and a conscience about ecology of otherplanets; while the Doctor, elsewhere, breaks into the Master’s TARDIS and tampers with the settings, ensuring the Cassiopeians will be diverted away from Earth [we don’t find out where – all a bit Space 1999 in a way, they will wander].

    Dee and the Doctor have a fond farewell, finding similarities in their different lives, one a magician alchemist, almost a proto scientist; one an ever curious Timelord.  As they leave Dee and Digges behind, the Doctor shows Peri what an effect she had on Digges, who went on to map the stars and space in an entirely new and modern way- all due to having seen the supernova of Cassiopeia, and the birth of new stars.

    In many ways this story is quite lovely, its author clearly fascinated with Dee and his investigations, his time period, the way it was all so on the verge of being modern.  It’s a little short on plot – but it’s large on homage to the period; and more than a little a hymn in praise of science itself, astronomy, ecology, humanism.  And all by implication, except for some small quotes the Doctor makes at the very close of the story.  A very affectionate story, perfectly suited for the Sixth Doctor, and a very spirited turn for Peri, so often let down by her scriptwriting for the original TV episodes.  Very good!  ON KINDLE.)
  6. Doctor Who: Illegal Alien, by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry (BBC Past Doctors Series)
    (This was the first part of these 2 writers' imagined season 27 for Sylvester.  It does get off to a good start- this was a very strong cyberman story, with its WW2 background; and its American gumshoe secondary character doing some of the narration.  There’s death galore here, from the damaged cyberman as a serial killer operating during the blackouts: as the Limehouse Lurker; the cybermats shredding people; and most of the subsidiary characters dying either at the hands of the cybermen or picking each other off, or being victims of their own greed: Major Lazonby, Potter, Hartmann, and the interestingly Machiaveliian George Limb. 

    I really like the style of these 2 authors – I’ve never understood how you can write a book with another person [being highly territorial myself], do you take turns with chapters or sit there collaborating on each sentence? No clue.  However they did it, this novel shows they can do long forms just as well as the short story of theirs that I really enjoyed from Short Trips and Side Steps. They love language and playing about with the ideas they are using, hence Colonel Schott, lying on his bunk trying to drown out some bloodletting with Wagner: “The dignified, graceful mellifluous tones of German civilisation could no longer drown out the screams and roars of German barbarism.”  I liked that; very neat.  This book is also littered with some lovely examples of the otherwise self-righteous taking against wrongdoing speeches that if anyone said them but the Doctor, would come off a bit pretentious.  But in his hands, and especially imagining Sylvester in one of his more furrowed brow deliveries, sounds properly profound: “There is always evil to be fought. Evil thrives on neglect.  It thrives on ignorance, on apathy, on hypocrisy.  It thrives wherever we allow these things to grow unchallenged.  It thrives wherever we turn our face away from need.  Wherever we close our eyes, evil thrives.” Quite, I agree.  I also think it thrives when you give people lives of undeserved privilege so that they grow up to think there are natural stratifications in society and they are on an upper one just because they are, of course, better; or if you treat any people unfairly or badly and then don’t fix it or at the least apologise and back up your actions with better ones than before.  But I’m pretty sure that's another Doctor Who book; and the entire real world. 

    I liked this book a lot, and look forward to the rest of Tucker and Perry, or Perry and Tucker’s projected season 27.  It’s different to the New Adventures in that its preserving the somewhat playful nature of the Sylvester era alongside his darker and more strategizing moments, without becoming so epic and angry and traumatised as to lose the ability to be a fun read [which is why I am thus far having trouble proceeding with the latest New Adventure; though I am nothing if not tenacious, and will move along with that series - I’m just enjoying some of these other series’s so much more that it’s easier to move on to them next.  But I will go on.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  7. Doctor Who: The Stones of Venice, by Paul Magrs (Big Finish Dr Who audio plays monthlies, no.18)
    (The third 8th Doctor play in an initial run of 4 for him.  And finally!  One I really really enjoyed!  The Doctor and Charley land in Venice, but not during Renaissance times as they were after, but in the 23rd century, when Venice is finally about to sink into the sea and be lost forever.  This has led to a strange sequence of events and characters.  Many ‘revellers’ are there - monied partyers, who plan to pillage and loot and be drunk on the whole once in a lifetime spectacle; cynical old aristocrats refusing to leave; and the Gondoliers who are waiting for the city to be returned to them [and not just because they have boats and will survive the sinking; but because they are a different race, web-footed and able to live under the sea]. 

    The city itself has been under a curse these last hundred years, when the Duke Orsino’s now dead [?!!!] wife Estella cursed the people of the city to live unchanged all this time as she was outraged that he lost her in a game of cards, like a horse.  She then threw herself into the canal in her wedding dress, and apparently drowned.  There are death cults who worship her and her memory, convinced that if they can find a portrait of her or her body itself, that they could revive her and break the curse, bringing all to rights again.  [Getting a Great Expectations vibe?  Estella, wedding dress, things staying unchanged; there’s even an elderly character called Miss Lavish, who is as batty as Miss Havisham…and whom the Duke detests, demanding at one point, “will someone take this obstreperous old hag away??” which did set me giggling, because people don’t say ‘obstreperous’ or ‘hag’ as often as they used to, let alone together; indeed: the best use of the word ‘hag’ in modern times has been Simon Pegg in Hot Fuzz, but that’s by the by…The Miss Lavish/ Estella link is not tenuous and is infact massively important to the outcome of the plot.  Think Dickens, you’ll get it.]

    Initially the Doctor is very concerned about the plight of the city’s many artworks, and spends lots of time with the curator of the Duke’s collection, Churchwell; though when he discovers Charley has been kidnapped by Pietro, a gondolier, he rushes off to save her.  She meanwhile, has been expressing great sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden gondoliers, and is repaid by them drugging her and using her to impersonate Estella so as to fool the Duke, as the gondoliers WANT the curse to be fulfilled so that they can have the city back for themselves…

    The Doctor has many good lines here, lots of banter; as well as opportunities to express his indignation, “I don’t like nastiness and people getting away with it”.  He doesn’t believe in the curse, and is convinced something corrupt underlies the whole Duke Orsino and Estella situation, and is especially suspicious of the Cults [“I find cults too solemn for my tastes” he says in passing to Churchwell]. Without spoiler-ing it too much more, I can leave the plot there…

    Interestingly, this was apparently the first story that Paul McGann recorded for Big Finish, so long after the TV movie - and he is incredibly assured; I enjoyed his performance so much more than the other two so far [recorded after this one] – it just must go to show that it’s the quality of the material, scriptwise that he has to work with: well done Paul Magrs, this was great!  Atmospheric, fun and very pacey; didn’t droop at all - and all the characters were large and full fleshed.  Charley gets spirited here also, at one point yelling at Duke Orsino that the curse was entirely his fault, “caused by your greed and your disregard!”  After the surprise reveal near the end, there is a very climactic finale, as melodramatic as the subject matter and setting required.

    Special word for the sound palette in this one: it’s evocative and rich. This is a very visual script - so I’m dead impressed at how much the sounds helped me to visualize it all in my mind. Not only the omnipresent water, clink of revellers glasses, far off cries, but the synthy music cues and the general mood- it was all very well done indeed, wonderfully done.  Lovely use of clocks to suggest the countdown to the sinking of Venice. Lovely piano score by Russell Stone.

    It’s interesting, because this wasn’t the most dynamic of stories in many ways, but it’s one of the best Big Finish’s I’ve heard so far in some ways – it was full of life. It made very good use of the connotations of its setting- its long and dubious history; its incredible romance; its already decaying sense of nihilism.  I would recommend this one for a listen –it had the same overdone and FUN feel as some of the gothic era of Tom Baker…ON DOWNLOAD.)

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