Monday, 8 December 2014

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 14!

This post: treats from the eras of the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Doctors. 
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!!!!

1.   Doctor Who: The Sea Devils, by Malcolm Hulke (Target original)
(3rd Doctor.  This is one that I experienced as so Boys Own when I was watching it with Stanley ages ago, that I huddled up under his arm and went to sleep.  The book was a whole different matter!  I loved the book!  I experienced it as a very learning read.  I learned that the equivalent of privates, squaddies in the Navy are called ‘ratings’ [which kept making me think of reality TV shows, I kept expecting there to be a vote].  I learned how to turn a receiver into a transmitter [p.49]; and what exactly sonar is and how it works –I shall now understand ‘pings’ [p.96].  I really enjoy Who when it tells me things, little snippets, that I didn’t already know[and there’s so much I don’t know, or misunderstand, that this is always joyful].  ‘May Day’ is French for ‘aid me’: maid’ez.  I did not know that!

I enjoyed several of the secondary characters too - Jane Blythe, the W.R.N. helping Captain Hart [who was also a nice character], and her “suspicious mind” helps Hart work out that Trenchard is deceiving them about the Master, and that something is wrong at the prison.  They work nicely together.  Trenchard himself is an inept man – and a sad one, who died an inept death.  I thought it was very nicely done, when he had died and his body was discovered by the Doctor, that the Doctor surreptitiously removed the safety on his gun, so no one would know that even in attempting to do the right thing at the end, he had once again messed it up. He thoughtfully preserved Trenchard’s reputation.  Walker, the Man from the Ministry, with his two major qualities of gluttony and changeable cowardice, was also a nice addition.

Both the Silurians and the Sea Devils are quite tragic creations – the Silurians felt more fleshed out in their story [novelised as Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters], since the Sea Devils portrayal suffered from an excess of The Master injecting himself into almost every scene they are in.  I really sympathised with their feeling that the planet was theirs despite their long absence, and their warlike [and desperate] attempts to get it back.  [I know some will think this is a reading too far, but I kept thinking of the Middle East while I read this; alter the outcome at the end of The Silurians or The Sea Devils, and you have a similar situation, which would be reacted to in a similar way by the Earth inhabitants…anyway, that was just a thought that kept popping into my head while I read.]  They were very sympathetic creations, despite their arrogance.

The taking of the submarine read as a real action episode, and not remembering this bit at all [I must have been well asleep by then], it read as a real page turner. I was surprised when the incident wasn’t developed further.  Also, for some reason, this section vaguely reminded me of The Sea Wolves, with Roger Moore.

The Doctor reverses the polarity of the neutron flow TWICE in this book, which clearly makes the story a Total Classic!  Actually, the presentation of the Doctor here WAS archetypal Pertwee era: very much politeness on his part, an awful lot of saying, “oh my dear chap”, or “I’m a scientist”, or subverting equipment while he is fixing it, so that it helps his cause - much tinkering with technology.  Also, after he has blown up the base at the end, he is stoicly and sorrowfully silent when the Master accuses him of mass murder, because he knows it is true; and later, when the Navy try to thank him for his help, he is brief and subdued: “I did what I had to do to prevent a war. I don’t want your thanks.”  This is Pertwee; one moment so flamboyant and bossy; the next reflective and resentful at what he has had to do to save the Earth inhabitants; his lack of choices, the necessity of bad actions.  In this way, Who used to quietly teach the children of the 70s…grey morality.  20/10, totally recommended.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
2.  Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead, by Peter Grimwade (Target Original)
(5th Doctor. I always enjoy watching this one: partly because Turlough is a most interesting character - hostile yet vulnerable, and I do not quite understand his mind, yet I understand his opportunism.  Partly because the Brigadier is in it, not once but twice.  Partly because I really enjoy his interaction with Tegan, and I find the device of the landing in the same place in 2 different time zones very nice to watch.

The only problem I felt on reading, and Stanley disagreed with me, but I felt it counted, was that the story suffers from a Maguffin! The Blinovitch Limitation Effect – the reason the 2 Brigadiers must not meet up, is harped on a lot - something terrible will happen if they do. Then they…do, in the climax, and it actually fixes everything [allowing Mawdryn and his compatriots to die; whilst simultaneously generating enough energy to right Tegan and Nyssa’s ages].  So it was referred to a lot, and then did the opposite to what it was supposed to, and was all very convenient.  I agree I am mislabelling it in the sense that it did serve a purpose and appear in the story consistently [not discarded like the famous ‘Rosebud’ example from Citizen Kane] – but I really objected to its convenient fixing of everything. 

I also found the Doctor’s behaviour; his fear at Mawdryn’s wanting to steal his lives odd.  I mean, if someone wanted to steal my life I would hate it; and Mawdryn did want to steal all the Doctor’s lives…but it seemed such a craven human base reaction, somehow out of character, coming from especially Davison’s Doctor – usually so calm.  I’m not criticising this bit of the writing, I just didn’t get it.  It felt forced.  His judging of them, that they should take the consequences of their actions…when he interferes himself all the time, and had stolen his own TARDIS: it was a bit…hypocritical…I didn’t truly understand his behaviour there, I was hoping the book might elucidate, but it made it no clearer than when I watch on TV.  Otherwise, an enjoyable read – and really typical story of the Davison era, I always felt. ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.  Doctor Who: The Two Doctors, by Robert Holmes (Target Original)
(6th and 2nd Doctor. Before I ever saw this one, I kept hearing about how people felt the Spanish location had been underused, that they could have been tromping about out in Devon in summer and it would have been the same.  I don’t really know. Devon couldn’t really look like the dryness that Spain has in certain regions.  I can tell they aren’t in England; and the story does have a feeling of difference, a sort of hot brooding sweaty intensity for this atmospheric change in location.  And I also think of the Spanish as a nation full of rich rich meaty juice-iful foods – so this is a good location for Shockeye, surely?

I am in two minds about this story and reading it has not changed that.  This is one of the ones that Fluffhead quite likes to watch, so I’m very familiar with it. I do think it’s very enjoyable; and I do think it’s very flawed!

Troughton’s Doctor seems to spend the whole time he’s on screen puffing and blowing through his cheeks, a sort of overtired petulant child.  There’s little of his more subtle qualities on show, this story. Which is a shame. I also don’t quite understand why he dislikes Colin Baker’s self so much.  Obviously, there’s a tradition of the Doctors riling each other when they meet [the amusing insultings of The Three Doctors always come to mind].  I didn’t like him turning into an Androgum, it was one of the less enjoyable times the Doctor has been taken over by something other; in that it was more disturbing watching him not care at all about violence and killing, and snooze through it, than for him to actually be made to do any.  Oddly.  I felt his scenes were a bit of a missed opportunity, and the book played it the same way.

The portrayals of Shockeye and Chessene I have always felt were troublesome too, and been unable to put my finger on why. I know it was felt that the vegetarianism that Robert Holmes was using Shockeye’s grossly sensual and basic character to promote was overdone, but the book made that somehow more smooth.  On screen, the endless detailing of bloodied meat juices, and the viewing of Peri as a ‘little jill’ and Jamie as a ‘jack’ getting his skin marbled and tenderised by torture [because it works better on a live animal, the tendering] was a cacophony of gluttony and meanness, but I get the odd impression that it didn’t put anyone off their pork chops for dinner.  This I think was because the makeup [eyebrows and the coarse features etc] chosen for the Qwancing Grig was possibly the wrong decision. In the book, Shockeye simply sounded like an obsessed chef – annoying, but that’s his thing: eating all meat. The thing about Shockeye that really leapt out in the book, but less so in the watching [due to the makeup and costuming decisions, I think] was his sheer strength, physique and his boorish implacable physicality.  THAT is what made him formidable and worrying, to read. His ruthlessness in the cause of Dinner…

With Chessene, she was simply too smug all the time. I disagreed with the 2nd Doctor at the beginning, when he said to Dastari that you “could augment an insect until it understood nuclear physics; it would still not be a very sensible thing to do”.  I thought that changing the brain capacity of any creature would OF COURSE change its nature, therefore Chessene would no longer be obsessed with food…yet it did seem very natural when she started to lick the doorstep at the end. What was more interesting, was her getting of the large devious streak out of nowhere. That seemed a plausible thing to pop out of a brain augmentation.  After all: if you can reason more, with more knowledge- you would start to strategise more, be more wily, wouldn’t you? I think I would. [Also, I was brought up on Blakes 7, and I kept expecting her to identify as Servalan any minute, which was distracting, as the 2 characters weren’t all that far apart.]

I learned from the book that the 6th Doctor made up Gumblejack, and it isn’t a real fish!  I’m pretty sure it’s been referred to as a real fish of the Who universe in subsequent stories [I think Sylvester mentioned it?], so this is a bit of retro-history that will quietly annoy continuity obsessives [of which I can be one when I take it into my head - enough to note this detail, anyway!]

While this story does skip along, it was sad that Oscar died, and in the book he is properly gutted – I am very surprised that Shockeye didn’t take him with him for cooking elsewhere, it seemed a waste knowing his character. Anita is never seen again after that scene, weird.  Peri and Jamie could have had much more of an interaction than they did, but for some reason they don’t- which is almost the most missed opportunity of the whole story.  And the Sontarans, well, tsk.  They don’t seem as clever or as menacing as I always remember them from the story where they kidnap and torture Sarah Jane.

Actually, unsure why I do like this story so much, there’s quite a bit wrong with it. But I do.  Colin Baker displays a lot of energy this story, and drives his scenes well, maybe that helps.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
4.  Doctor Who: Minuet in Hell, by Alan W. Lear (Big Finish Monthly releases, no.18)
(8th Doctor.  Another one of those stories that started well and then as it went on – despite the presence of the Brigadier, for who I did indeed perk up - I felt…languished a bit.

I wasn’t happy that Paul McGann spent so much of the story absent, it felt like almost a third all told, where he quietly sat, having lost his memory, all confused and looneybinned. While Charley started to figure out what was going on. That was ok, but what was going on involved an awful lot of very fake Southern accents, and a lot of one character, Becky, talking to her ‘granpappy’ about things at length. I’ve said in another Who review somewhere, that I think it’s always a big risk to start ventriloquizing other very close but not ours, cultures.  The Americans read lots of our books; we read lots of theirs; same with TV and film. They would be forgiven for thinking our entire reality is a cross between the new Who episode The Unicorn and the Wasp, where Agatha Christie 20’s it about in a flapper dress solving the crime where we all live in a country mansion….OR a hard and manly cockney based world where we Lock and Stock and Barrel it about, swearing loudly, with Vinnie Jones and Danny Dyer replicas nutting each other all the time.  Those are some very LOUD stereotypes I just evoked there.  But this story had some very loud stereotypes of a certain sort of US culture and historical point, too. And I know it’s just shorthand, code, but its tired, and old and I would like a hugely less clichéd way of seeing the South - even if it is an imaginary scifi South of the Good Old US of A.  So that impinged on my hearing this play.

I liked the way the demon wasn’t a demon, but just another life form, with his 21st century slang and his casualness to go with the hellfire voice.  That was amusing and annoying; but mostly amusing.

I liked the way the story skated close to the idea of Charley and the other girls being sold into prostitution in the HellFire Club - it managed to imply it vigorously without actually saying it at all, and it was quite horrifying.  Her reaction, an outraged ‘I’m British!’ in tone, was almost clever, in that it managed to take some of the horror off what was a quite nasty situation.

Not only is the Doctor not really the Doctor for much of the story, but someone else –having come too close to a device – DOES think he is the Doctor, and much of the 8th Doctor’s scenes in this play are trying to convince himself and others, notably Gideon Crane, the other Doctor, that he is himself.  This could have been a whole topic in itself: one of those madness episodes that all scifi progs seem to deal in after a while, and always effective in my viewing [both Charmed, Buffy and Star Trek Next Generation have pulled this one off nicely, the idea that you aren’t special at all, you just think you’re a special person with a mission, but really you’re a sad loser in a mental institution escaping your reality – and those were just the shows I thought of off the top of my head].  They choose not to go this route, fair enough-but it does leave the Doctor weak and ineffective through quite a chunk of the story, which I feel was a mistake.

Hmm, I can’t say much else. This had some interesting ideas: the US politics, the cerebral surgery, the technology of it; but it was not dealt with very well, I felt. Oh well. Onward…ON DOWNLOAD.)
  1. Doctor Who: The Roots of Evil, by Philip Reeve (BBC 50th Anniversary Short Stories, e-story)
    (4th Doctor. A very small and succinct self-contained story.  Satisfying, if brief.  The Doctor and Leela [yay, Leela!], go to visit a huge and beautiful tree world that has been subverted by one of the founders into an everlasting revenge scenario, awaiting the Doctor to return so its inhabitants can kill him [because of something he hasn’t done yet].  But he is too charming, too helpful, and too honest – when the planet’s spores attack, he helps them, and soon he fights with them.  The portrayals of Leela and The Doctor were spot on, and I felt this could have been expanded to a much larger old style story – it felt in keeping with the mores of Leela’s story period. ON KINDLE.)

  2. Doctor Who: The Rescue, by Ian Marter (Target original)
    (1st Doctor.  I had absolutely no memory of having ever seen this one, though I know I have.  So I watched it again, directly after I read it.  Which gives light to the realisation that Ian Marter greatly increased the story.  There is a whole section at the beginning of the book, where the rescue ship experiences strange difficulties trying to get to the Astra 9; and again at the end where the silver beings are unceremoniously killed by accident by the rescue team – and then the novel ends with an ironic Christmas wish – all out of nowhere.  In addition, there are many more references to the silver beings, they keep being seen around the place, notably by Vicki and Barbara.

    I felt the bit at the end where they are just…killed, was an oddly postmodern and bleak little addendum. Unnecessary, harsh and sad. I don’t know why Ian Marter decided to put it in – it’s completely absent from the TV presentation, and it changes the whole tone of the end of the story, from one of joy at finding a new companion and the excitement of another adventure beginning; to the crapness of humans and the lightness with which we take life on occasion.  To add the Christmas message onto that was loading some irony heavily. I wonder why he did that…

    The best scene in the book, for me, as well as the TV version, was the Doctor’s confronting Bennett in the Temple, and unmasking him, before Bennett tries to kill him. In the book this scene is much enlarged and made more of, to good effect, both in description and the dialogue.  The silver beings are stranger here, and they look morealien in the books description; more helpful of the Doctor, albeit silently, without explanation.

    There are enlarged scenes too, where Ian and Vicki struggle to get out of the various places they get trapped in- impossible scenes of her clinging onto his back as he tries to climb up a vertical tube, balanced by bracing his hands and knees to breaking point. There was something very modern about all this action, and it oddly fitted in perfectly with Ian and Vicki’s characters.  Barbara’s sadness at killing Sandy is also elaborated, as is the strength of Vicki’s reaction, the initial instability of her character.

    I got the impression Ian Marter really enjoyed having some room to play within such an otherwise short story; and apart from the sad epilogue, I loved what he did with this underrated story.)

Note, unrelated to Who but related to this blog - Christmas: This will probably be the last post of this year, unless I suddenly gain a swathe of time by pretending to be dead or somesuch.  Do you remember this post?

Well, I don't feel like that anymore, and haven't for a while.  Its become a time of year where people want me to do things to please them (and I don't mean my children).  Its become about pressure and expectations of others, instead of the lovely Christmases Stanley and I used to share, unbothered by others, with our ideas in tandem.  Its very odd, that this idea of the Christmas Spirit, and giving, and family time etc should have become such a time of overheated pressure to be jolly, pressure to happyhappyhappy, and pressure to be with others and do things their way - to not be alone if thats how you want it (and I know at least 3 people who would prefer that).  And before anyone corrects or disagrees with me - if you have the freedom to spend your Christmas how and with who you CHOOSE, then no wonder it goes well!  Mine used to, for that reason. Its not that way anymore, and the pressure and expectations of others seem to get worse with every year...As Fry would say: the bloody politics of it all, not the right emphasis for the season.

So, to get to the point, I'm having a bit of a seasonal descent into worry and anxiety and the feeling of pressure; not to mention school holidays soon, so I won't have blogging (or reading, where Who is concerned) time.  So I may well call hiatus till January 2015.

I may be back before then, but don't hold your breath. As I said to a good friend of mine, I am becoming Worf until next year. Seething and worrying about Duty and Honour Obligations and other such things. (I love Worf...)

Worf's extremely valid and important point, which in this case I apply to interminable 'fun'games of Scrabble or Cribbage or Monopoly played at Christmas with relatives who seem to think endless talking, togetherness and competitiveness, plus a complete lack of downtime or privacy (usually mixed with alcohol) is a good idea.

I hope you all have a Good Christmas - and you get to spend it where and with whom you want to be. See you on the other side.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice blog entry Wendy; your comments on Mawdryn Undead and The Rescue in particular are spot on, INMO. The climax of Mawdryn really was an enormous cop-out, and the doctor's fears for himself did seem oddly selfish. It's a pity the book didn't explore this very unusual set-up at all: what does this bizzare experience mean to the doctor? How does he really feel about the risks he runs? Can he be selfish? Would he really give his life for his companions if it came to it? Re the Rescue, I don't really like Ian Marter's novelisations in general - the Dominators seems very over-written to me and the extra material in the Rescue doesn't gel with Dr Who as it was in the 1960s.