Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Doctor Who books Read and Heard, Part 15!

 This post: treats from the eras of the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Doctors.  (And a mention of the Seventh.)
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: And the Ice Warriors, by Brian Hayles (Target Original)
(2nd Doctor.  This was an oddly mixed read for me. I enjoy watching this on TV whenever I see it.  But I found the book stilted and unsatisfying for most of the first half.  I read the first half in bits and bobs, as I read plenty other books; but I note I did read the second half all at once and it did seem to suddenly pick up loads and race off.  I can’t therefore tell if this is a book that reads best when you eat it all at once in a big binge; or whether it started very slow and improved all at once.

The problems I had were with the characters. It seemed that the books main protagonists were all like an actor of the era, often in Who: Philip Madoc – white angry late 50s/early 60s man.  I felt as if there were lots of characters not very different: all tunnel visioned, arguing their righteous points and being rather bulldoggish.  I got bored of Arden and his unwavering insistence on his excavation when their mission was more important; I got bored of Storr being pig ignorant about science, I got bored of Jan Garrett having utter faith in the computer like a robot [yes, I know she’s female but she came off very nondescript for the first section of the book]; and lastly, I got very bored indeed of Clent and his power struggling. Initially I was bored of Penley too, but I warmed up to him later when he actually put his issues to one side and began to try and help the situation; his interaction with Clent by the end of the book warmed me up to Clent as well - both ended up seeming more warm and human.  I was very irritated with the way the characters were so taken up with their own issues and power wrangling that they really weren’t paying attention to the plight of the Earth and the machine that so badly needed fixing, except from within their own narrow focus boxes.  I know this was probably exactly what was intended - to show people sick of each other from pressure of mission and close quarters, but it did make them seem quite stupid, plus I always find it’s lethal to make me, as reader or viewer, so sick of characters that I cease to care.

Hence I was very happy when the Doctor and his clowning about arrived; with Jamie and his down to Earth priorities, and Victoria, who for all her confusion was a plot developer here.  I particularly enjoyed her interactions with the Ice Warriors, who were the saving grace of the whole book.  Not monsters.  Creatures, with their own …issues, again [apologies for repeated use for that annoying word]. Yet their problems I understood entirely and therefore sympathised with: they were in extremis even more than the human characters: they needed fuel, they needed to escape, or they needed to conquer where they were for lack of a homeland, in order to feel secure again.  Their problems were about the totality of their civilisation’s survival. [Yes, so were the humans, but their petty treatment of each other made me root for the Ice Warriors instead.]

I enjoyed the way the book picked up in the second half, with the Doctor allowing himself to be taken prisoner, adapting the Ice Warriors sonic weapon to the deadly Level 7, the ill-starred negotiations.  Yes, maybe I should have read this book all in one go. As even the humans, once they started to work together, interested me again.  Anyway.  If I had to give this book an out of 10 rating, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. 

The Ice Warriors are very underused in the canon Who universe aren’t they?  I would have liked to see several more stories with the warlords. The Peladon story was an interesting sideways take, but more would have been good.  These creatures had more of a life span than they received, I reckon. [Better than cybermen…or daleks, she says hurriedly, while thumbing her nose, then hides behind an Ice Warrior, unafraid of backlash.])
  1. Doctor Who: Seeing I, By Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman (BBC Eighth Doctor Series)
    (Loved this instalment of the Eighth Doctor adventures.  So far I am finding this series stronger than the parallel Virgin New Adventures for Sylvester, much more readable.  This part was even better than the standard I am coming to expect.  It was structured beautifully, and very simply. 

    Basically, the Doctor is looking for the annoying Sam, who has been separated from him for several stories now; and in looking for her he falls into this adventure - and into a prison he cannot escape from.  He, the Doctor- CANNOT escape.  Quite a premise.  It’s realistically set up too.  Sam in the meantime, is struggling with her feelings of shame at having run away from him and her crushingly large [and yet sort of boring] crush on the Doctor. [I blame my irritation here on new Who’s over usage of this device with female companions, when this crush here came first, so it’s unfair of me to be annoyed with it, really.]  While trying to make sense of herself she also has to try and get a life - she isn’t looking for the Doctor as he is for her.  She falls into a horrible humdrum life, on a very well realised planet, which manages to be very alien and very recognisably as dull as Earth can be when you do nothing but work, eat and sleep and feel you have no fun OR purpose.  Sam realises she needs to be who she can be, to do things that matter to her.  To get an identity away from her feelings about the Doctor, and confusion about her earlier life.

    By the wonderfully simple device of having a chapter for Sam, then a chapter for the Doctor, I actually failed to notice that they were separate for almost two thirds of the book – he imprisoned and forever, futile-y trying to escape and trying to work out why he can’t seem to; and she gradually becoming no longer an annoying girl, but a principled and strong woman.  Sam ceases to be afraid, starts to do things that matter, and moves on from the Doctor – whilst never failing to realise it was he who helped her become who she is now.

    Then she finds him…and she rescues him. Again, because of new Who overegging the companions involvement to the point of ‘this is the Companion Show highlighted by our reactions to the Doctor, an interesting alien’, when I first realised she was going to rescue him, I felt irritated.  Again, this was an unreasonable reaction – this book was first, and it weaves the story in such a way as you realise, yes, the Doctor may eventually have managed to free himself [he was imprisoned 3 years – this story takes place over a long drawn out time frame, permissible of course because of his relative immortality, and Sam’s need for growth at this point]…but it was fitting, by the time Sam became the woman able to save him, that she would do so.

    One of the tremendous strengths of this story was the growth both characters undergo whilst separated: Sam becomes likeable and I began to properly cheer her on, for the first time in this series; and the Doctor faced a set of circumstances that really did seem insurmountable; we watch, unbelieving but understanding, as he seems to slump into depression, to giving up.  And yet, this behaviour didn’t feel at all like any sort of a betrayal of the Doctor’s spirit [as it could have done] – it felt very real and scary for him.  It created page turning reading.

    Another strength of this story was the eye tech – it’s a chilling idea, taken to great lengths and I understood it all [rare for me - I tend to get lost and only carry the gist of any Who technobabble; but all the computer analogies were well described, both simply and in enough detail for me to get their complexity without getting lost].  I liked the data umphs, the IX Net; the scary idea of the implants - and the eventual reason why the Doctor could not escape.  And the way he makes friends with his later absconding computer program that learns and mimics him: DOCTOR.

    The only thing I had trouble visualizing in this whole book were the alien race, the ‘I’.  I just couldn’t feel for them - which may have been a plus and shows how alien they were, as I couldn’t empathize at all.  I felt a bit sorry for them in an abstract way, despite their original predatory angular nature, when they were reduced the ‘eeping’ at the end. Also it felt silly to have anyone reduced to ‘eeping’.

    Can’t really praise this one enough: very readable, flowing style, massively enjoyable, great subsidiary characters [Shoshona, all of Sam’s activist friends, Dr Akulu]; scary and thought provoking concepts – that don’t seem that far from actual reality when you think about it.  Recommended.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  2. Zeta Major, by Simon Messingham (BBC Past Doctors Adventures)
    (5th Doctor.  This book was good fun.  It’s based on the same world area as Planet of Evil with Tom Baker, with its anti matter and anti-men; except this story takes a remark made at the end of that story and then goes far ahead in time to see what happened as a result, which is where this story begins, for Davison, Tegan and Nyssa.  The world is run by Church clerics - a wonderfully anti-pious set of Mafioso dons who are ruthless, venal and potty-mouthed, a very amusing set of cunning villains. Opposing them are the Imperium science based faction- who seem to have rather little to do with science and more to do with being power hungry. The society is entirely based around building an energy tower, which is almost finished and has so far taken a thousand years.  It’s become clear to insiders on both sides of the warring factions that the tower will not work and never could have: so the entire drive of their society all this time has been pointless, and when the masses realise, a huge civil war will break out.  Yet, with the injection of anti-matter into the scenario, they are hoping to change the balance, for whoever ends up with the Tower, controls Morestran society.  It’s a very nifty set up, believable in its corruption, and funny as well as serious.

    The Doctor begins by being plagued by terrible hallucinations of black oppressive nothingness overwhelming all. The companions worry that since Adric has only just died, that the Doctor is having some kind of breakdown as a result.  Once they land, they are all separated, as usual, and then the story gets going.

    Tegan spends most of her time with Ferdinand, a science sympathiser who is going insane from his need to get revenge on the Church faction for what they did to his family. He is only just holding his mind together when Tegan comes, and she spends most of her interactions with him trying to understand the difference between just action, retribution, and revenge. He is a tortured character, and interesting.

    Nyssa ends up in a Church research centre, staggered at the backward society where intelligent females are regarded as an impossibility and a threat, excepting exceptions.  She ends up contaminated by a particularly cruel anti-matter experiment and becomes an anti-woman [which is worrying for a while but is sorted in a rather pat way at the end].

    The Doctor ends up going back and forth between Zeta Major and Minor, trying to find out why the anti-matter experiments are taking place and who is responsible.  The ultimate answer turns out to be the marvellous character creation, Kristyan Fall, the Zero Man, a sort of weirdly invincible anti James Bond character.  At the beginning he has been captured and held prisoner [and tortured] by Church officials for years, but they release him to do a mission.  Which was stupid, as he is clearly the sort of character who will only do exactly what he wants right from the start. I found him very amusing, rather worrying, and vivid. [I won’t spoiler you with his fate.]

    I really enjoyed the device of the Church meeting minutes, and other memos and telegrams from various characters, as ways of letting us know what’s happening offstage: succinct, funny, and ironic often.  The whole book felt very theatrical, actually. I enjoyed the going off sideways from the Planet of Evil basis to the story, though to me the whole book had more of a Masque of Mandragora feel, what with the labyrinthine factional politics etc. I enjoyed Tegan’s attempts to reclaim doomed Ferdinand from madness; I enjoyed the Doctor reasoning with Fall and the grudging untrusting respect they gain for one another; I enjoyed Nyssa’s reactions to the zealot opportunism of the factions she was exposed to – there were many subsidiary characters in the book, all feeling products of the twisted societal structure.  The anti-matter creature at the end was well realised.

    As I was coming to write this review, I forgot how to spell Kristyan [an ‘i’ or a ‘y’ at the beginning bit?] and so looked it up online, having already parted company with my copy of the book.  I was surprised to read this book getting bad reviews in many places: too many characters not well demarcated, inferior compared to Planet of Evil, Doctor being either dull or out of character etc.  Have to say none of these issues touched me at all.  I thought this book was well paced, the Doctor was busy being unwell but still did lots of things, in character [!], and I had no problem sorting the characters one from another - they were all similar, but that was the point: the society was hidebound, paranoid, medieval and dangerous – the people emerged from that mould ruthless, corrupt, and aggressive.  I saw no problems here at all, a good addition to the series; and the politics did keep making me laugh – ruthless people unchecked can be very funny… from a distance.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  3. Doctor Who: The Shadow in the Glass,by Justin Richards and Stephen Cole (BBC Past Doctors Adventures)
    (6th Doctor. This was the best Second World War ‘What If Hitler Was Still Alive?’ book I have ever read. Not that they number many, as I’m not one of those people really into the whole alternative end to WW2 and similar scenarios.  I remember my dad watching loads of WW2 documentaries as a child, and lots of ‘the last days of Hitler’ type programmes, so I think I must have absorbed a lot of this osmotically, as I was oddly over-familiar with the historical chain of events elaborated on in the novel - the events in the bunker in the last days, and various things still unexplained about it, whether Hitler had doubles, where was his body etc.  All this was woven carefully and wonderfully neatly into a Really Rather Cracking adventure for the 6th Doctor, the Brigadier, and a Sarah Jane type journalist called Claire, who has less morals but is nonetheless very likeable.

    The 6th Doctor and the Brigadier were a marvellous pairing in this novel.  The sort of asides the Brigadier was delivering were so very apposite and perfectly judged, he was larger than life and even more dapper as an older man than he was as a younger.  The sense of the older but still very vigorous and able Brigadier was, again, perfectly judged.  I saw it all as I read, and not a false note anywhere.  The 6th Doctor boomed and made sarcastic comments and was generally excellent, at the top of his game as we so rarely saw him allowed to be on TV, what with the patchy writing his few TV stories suffered from. It’s a real shame these two couldn’t have had any adventures together, as this book shows what a great team they were.  And along with the journalist Claire, who wasn’t a third wheel at all, they made an excellent unit [no pun intended though there it is].

    Can’t praise this highly enough. It was scary at the beginning [red eyed horned imps glimpsed in glass and out of the corners of eyes], and I thought it was going to end up a horror; then morphed into an alien story with several twists.  Ended up as a Classic Who story, feeling almost lifted from the Pertwee era, but with Colin Baker having his stamp all over it instead.  Just excellent!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
5.    Doctor Who: And the Loch Ness Monster, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
(4th Doctor. This is going to be a rather bitty review, so bear with me.  I love this story on TV.  The book let it down considerably, which was a shame, as I usually find Terrance Dicks’ books very readable. There was, in the TV version, an awful lot of Tom bouncing off the companions, and being quirky and full of energy and life; the first thing I noticed on reading the book was the way a vast amount of banter and humour had been lifted straight out of the exchanges, leaving them purely informative and functional, plot developing, but more or less character-less.  The whole of the first scene when they land and come out of the TARDIS, for example. I know it’s a recovered scene, but even some of the later scenes have a lovely backward and forward feel with Tom and the others via dialogue, and in the book, this feeling is almost gone.  This leads to a great loss of atmosphere, as the humour and quirkiness are the balance to the otherwise fey and odd feel of the Scotland depicted, with its English fish out of water characters come to visit meddlesomely.  The book also misses the development of the scene in the Decompression Chamber when the Doctor and Sarah are trapped and after hypnotising her he does that wonderful unearthly wail before putting himself in a trance too.  The oddness of that and its sound, is part of the iconic moments of this odd story.  Again, just a functional scene in the book.  No wail.

The next thing to say, is that in the TV version, I find the Zygons to be, for me, the scariest of ALL Who creatures.  They are just so…squishy and organic and …remind me of the fact that Insides Are Better Left Inside.  They are bodily and nodular and have those circular suckery bits…oooooo <shivery meltdown>.  I think if I met one and touched it, I might throw up; and then it would look at me with those eyes, and I’d…throw up again in terror. There was no real physical sense of them given in the book: I was purely working on memory.  I feel this was also a mistake: they are horrendously PHYSICAL, it’s one of their great strengths as a menacing and revolting form of life! It’s annoying they are not portrayed with more oomph in the book.

This is the last story of UNIT proper.  And the swansong of Harry, one of my favourite companions [“thankyou, old girl,” he says to me in my head, with a smile].  So: Brigadier and Benton – yay!  Harry – yay!  This was actually one of the nicest exits of a companion, when you think about it – just deciding to stay home and take the train instead.  Hands in pockets, done a bit a travelling, stay home now, gentle smile – very nicely done.  It’s part of the way old Who was understated and didn’t have to constantly be squelching in the guts of the companions emotions all the time, squealing and throwing forth blood and viscera.  You wouldn’t catch Harry behaving that way, and I’m strangely reassured and comforted by that; adds to his solidity and strength.  For me, Harry has the same sort of reassuring quality that Jamie had, his loyalty; though obviously he was older and less headstrong, but both were beautifully capable to have about.  Harry has his marvellous evil-with-a-pitchfork scene in this story, where he really did chill my blood with his sudden change of character.  This again, is written blandly in the book. I think maybe you should miss this book, and watch the TV story. It has much more to offer in terms of atmosphere, character development and general look, sound. Then again, as usual, make up your own mind entirely. Yes, I disagree with myself- you go read it and see what you think.

Just to say what I did like and felt was done right in the book: I like the way this story is based on a real mystery, and does its best to explain the Loch Ness legend with the Skarasen [the poor Skarasen, almost as maligned as the Myrka -  another lovely noble critter that I didn’t mind at all!].   I like that the story has a eco-theme, the dig at the beginning about our “planet’s dependence on a mineral slime”, as relevant today as ever due to much delayed and woefully lacking investment in renewable energy.  I liked the Duke of Fothergill and his snobbiness [though he seemed a much more alarming and articulate character before we knew he was a zygon imposter]. I liked the Nurse, that scary nurse who is supposed to be helping you and isn’t really – while I was reading I was seeing Billie Whitelaw in my head for this character.  I liked the Doctor commenting that the Brigadier “has a touching faith in high explosives as a universal solution”, one of his more laconic comments.  And yes - I really like the Skarasen, scary faced thing!  ACTUAL BOOK.)

I’m stopping here with this post, for 2 reasons.  Firstly, I seem to have waffled very long about the 5 books I have mentioned.  And secondly, I wanted to add a note about the Big Finish audios. I’ve listened to nos. 20 and 21 and was going to add those to the end of this review as items 6 and 7. But I won’t because I don’t have much to say about them. No 20: Loups Garoux, by Marc Platt, was a werewolf story with the Fifth Doctor and Turlough. Though I could see it had much to recommend it in some ways (a good exploration of the idea of werewolves, an interesting rainforest setting and Eleanor Bron voicing one of the main characters), it didn’t grab me at all, and my attention drifted mercilessly, even though I wasn’t doing anything else while listening to it.  It was great to hear Mark Strickson (as Turlough again, being one of my favourite and one of the most underused companions – and he was given some character depth in this story).  But I just wasn’t enjoying it.  The same went for no.21, Dust Breeding, by Mike Tucker, a writer I usually enjoy very much.  This was a Seventh Doctor and Ace story - all the reason for me to enjoy it more…but what I heard was a lot of very bad accents that put me off right from the start.  I thought the initial idea was very interesting, but it sounded as though Sylvester and Sophie Aldred themselves weren’t that enthused.  Again, my attention wandered all over the place, I just did not feel involved.

As I came to the end of these two, I realised I have been hopefully making lots of comments about how these plays will pick up as they go along, but so far, more of them I am NOT enjoying than I am, by far. So I think, whilst I am going to carry on listening, in future I’ll only review those I enjoy - or else otherwise really have something to say about. They may well pick up, but in the meantime, I don’t get any pleasure out of writing reviews consistently saying why I didn’t like something.  I like those to be the exception, not the rule.  So the Big Finish audios you’ll see reviewed here in future are the ones that grabbed me, for whatever reason. The books I will carry on as usual, as I am finding only the very occasional one I’m not liking there, so no need to change.

1 comment:

  1. Another great set of reviews - thanks Wendy. I agree with your comments on the two that I have read, "Ice Warriors" and "Loch Ness Monster" The first plays fast and loose with the TV version which, on the whole, is to its advantage. When this is done by the original script writer, as it is here, it's usually a good approach. It still doesn't manage to be a great book though - I think, as on the tV version, there is just too much human stuff and not enough alien stuff. "Loch Ness Monster" exemplifies to me the worst things about Terrance Dicks as a novelist - as you say, lots of the subtlety is lost and nothing is added in exchange. Seeing I and Zeta Major sound interesting. Like you, I find the audio dramas on the whole to be nothing special - but when they do work, as (I think) in Five Companions or The Light at the End, they can be brilliant.