Monday, 16 March 2015

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 16!

This post: treats from the eras of the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh 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: State of Change, by Christopher Bulis (Virgin Missing Adventures)
(6th Doctor.  This was a good one but took a little while to warm up, for me. It did a rather clever separating of the Doctor and Peri very early on, but allowed them to continue to act separately though in tandem through a comm link, which on the one hand felt like a writing device, but on the other was a genuinely good and realistic idea. 

I liked the setting, that era of ancient Rome was ripe  - and still is – for novelisations of political intrigue. This with the Doctor added as a variable, makes everything much more complicated and also much funnier.  The 6th Doctor’s boisterousness and his ability in this book to slip in and out of the personality of the 3rd Doctor when necessary, for fighting off gladiators [yes indeed], was very nicely handled – it was well done and believable.

As was Peri having a Vengeance on Varos re-moment, and turning into a bird.  She handled it better, it became very useful, and was a very nice plot device. Peri is handled so much better in the books than she ever was on TV annoyingly.

It was also very nice to see someone making use of an underused villain – The Rani.  I liked her when she was first used on TV, and I’m surprised she doesn’t pop up more often in the books.  It would be possible to give her more depth while keeping her pleasingly simple [that isn’t a contradiction though I know it sounds like one!].  In this book she didn’t really get any extra, but it was good to see her again, and the situation merited her sort of obsessive attention and egotism.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
2.    Doctor Who: And the Planet of Evil, by Terrance Dicks (Target original)
(Fourth Doctor.  This was a perfectly good functional telling of a story that I’ve always thought of as odd and patchy anyway, on the edge of a classic era, but for me not in it entirely. The idea of the anti-matter man always seemed a bit preposterous to me, and I have no idea why that was a problem, since like Alice, I am usually very good with many impossible things before breakfast. 

Possibly it was the actor in the role, but I felt happier with the faceless book Professor Sorensen than the TV version.  I felt for him more and felt sad that he didn’t manage to overcome the anti-matter when he tried so hard to; and that his judgement was so biased toward his research that he missed the very obvious consequences for everyone around him. 

Doctor Who is probably where I scored my brains ENTIRE compartment labelled ‘mad scientist’…and for a programme that in many ways extols science, progress, humanism etc [at least in its original incarnation, not so much in new Who], I find it odd that at the same time, they were making me afraid of insane overzealous scientists every week?! Was this simply so the Doctor could keep expositionally dialoguing to me about what is good and what is bad science?  So I would learn the difference as a child?!  Stanley would say I am, as usual, reading too much into things, anything!  But I can’t help wondering at the contradiction.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.    Doctor Who: Cats Cradle - Warhead, by Andrew Cartmel (Virgin New Adventures)
(Seventh Doctor.  This book was very well written indeed, very memorable – bits and pieces keep coming back to me.  But I didn’t like it at all.  There was a future dystopian world on Earth.  I do get bored and fed up of horrible grey futures.  But I disliked this one because it seemed horribly real and plausible in almost every way, so well done Andrew Cartmel; he struck so many notes of possible reality with the way his world went, that I shied away from it even as I was reading it.  For example, an image that stuck with me from his nasty future world – a parent in a market place touting their child about; the child is made to look pretty with bits of foil plaited into her hair. If you looked closely, they were condom packets.  The child was a prostitute, pimped about by its own parents, who were caring for it by ensuring protection was used.  Yuck – and felt very real, no doubt happening somewhere in the world today…yes, this book felt a lot like watching the news, all at once, and being there, a few years ahead, especially all the eco doom. Really an achievement of a written immersive reality.

There were several very persuasive and sad scenes of people’s hallucinations on the moment of death; or people riding each other’s memories, that were very well done.  Massoud’s death for example.  I disliked his character, but felt sorry for him at his surprise and sad last vision at dying.  This was actually a problem – I disliked all the characters in the book [except a small child and I wasn’t sure whether he lived at the end or not], including the Doctor.  He behaved in a rather superior and judgemental way, which didn’t endear me to him at all. 

I felt Ace had a hard story. She was called upon to be doing many adult things.  I felt sorry for her, too.

The proliferation of very effective location detail [the scenes in Turkey, for example], coupled with lots of disturbing and adult images made for a very dark story. Not a children’s book; not a young adult’s book either I’d say – too grim.  This world was as detailed as Blade Runner, but much dirtier.  Cartmel really captures how debased humans can be, without overlabouring it.  Uncomfortable reading; bit like J.G. Ballard. 

I was actually very surprised when the book went ahead and had a happy ending – especially for Justine and Vincent.  They were an interesting pairing.  It seems her anger makes her almost mad, but by the end it has broken down to be an aggressive acting out of a terrible grief stricken loneliness, which is cured by company.  Actually quite lovely.  I was unclear why the Justine and Vincent telekinetic anger bomb weapon was actually The Answer to the problems set up in the story.  But that’s probably explained somewhere and I missed it because I was unintentionally wallowing in all that unclean and painful detail of everything was being doled out.  Hmmm. Wouldn’t read it again, but it was very good!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
4.    Doctor Who: Bloodtide, by Jonathan Morris (Big Finish Monthly Audios,no.22)
(Sixth Doctor.  Just after I was almost for giving up on these because I had had a few duds, this one comes.  A very lively, pacey and thought provoking story about human evolution, via Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, the Galapagos Islands…and the Silurians. A very welcome return for a good creature that always make for complicated moral resonance whenever they are used.  This story being no different.

The setting was 1835, with the Beagle moored and the geologists walking about, is a treat visit for Evelyn from the Doctor, the story picking up quickly from the beginning.  It’s a lot of nicely explained actual and cod science, mixed, as Lyell and Darwin try to think past faith and grapple with the ideas of the descent of man, natural selection etc.  There’s a lot of talking and discussing, and I did see on some other reviews, that some people found this onerous, but I appreciated the simple and clear explanations, as well as the elaborations that that the writer added, which complicate this story: the idea that the Silurians bred us, there was no Missing Link - they created us in a test tube, to be cattle food, clever enough eventually, to rear and support ourselves before slaughter.  There’s a lovely little conversation about whether its ethical to eat humans, and how each species treats its ‘lesser’ relatives [Robert Holmes would have been quite pleased at how it had me thinking vegetarianism is the only answer to the dilemma].  There’s lots of meat to think on in this story [oh no, I did a bad pun again, sorry sorry].

The other nice thing about this story is that there’s an appearance by the Myrka, who cannot be mocked by anybody as of course we can’t see her!  She has a voice though, and we can hear her!  [Voiced by Rob Shearman, the Big Finish writer.]  Annoyingly, the Myrka ate a character I liked, but thus goes Who, people do keep dying.

The other nice bit was a Scanners like battle between 2 opposing Silurians, as some wish for a peaceful co-existence, even a handover of Earth, to the humans, whereas others want to exterminate or continue to farm the humans. 

This is a nice story, and I’m glad the Silurians are not over used as some Who creatures are.  I liked Colin Baker’s Doctor in this one in particular, he had a quiet reason about him which perfectly suited the tone of the piece.  Evelyn too, was back on form after I felt she had been slightly miswritten in her previous couple of outings after her magnificent first one.  ON DOWNLOAD.)
5.    Doctor Who: Scales of Injustice, by Gary Russell (Virgin Missing Adventures )
(3rd Doctor and Liz, and Mike Yates and Benton and the Brigadier.  This is an odd one.  It has illustrations akin to the very earlier Targets, and it places itself squarely in the milieu of classic Pertwee, shortly after The Silurians. It has a great feel of the era in the way it characterises, as well as giving many of the regulars a decent and continuous back story [that nerdy fans like myself adore to read].  Some of the subsidiary characters are just as wacky and child like as you would expect for the era – the Irish Twins, and the rather cybernetic Pale Man for example, they all fit right in with some of the oddness you get in, say, Terror of the Autons. 

And yet I didn’t like this one.  For all it rattled along, I found it a very workmanlike and efficient effort, but I wasn’t feeling it at all.  I didn’t really care for anyone, and even though there was a lot of the Brigadier and a lot of Liz Shaw in this book, not to mention Yates and Benton…I just wasn’t caring.  The Brigadier in particular, gets a thorough backstory, involving the breakdown of his first marriage and the preparing of the way for Doris, much later.  This isn’t handled too emotionally [as modern Who would have ladled it on], and it doesn’t feel out of place.

It’s just…the whole story somehow felt flat even though all the elements were there for a really cracking story: the Silurians, the Sea Devils, a hybrid breed between the two fighting for survival and performing questionable medical experiments on humans who they feel could be the key to their continued existence though they despise them; Liz deciding to leave UNIT, the Brigadier’s backstory, Yates getting fleshed out well, Benton saying more than he’s probably said in any other story…and yet.  I am puzzled.  Can’t think of a reason why I didn’t enjoy this.  Maybe it was the larger than life baddies, the more or less human ones; I do find baddies, especially if they talk too much and too arrogantly, bore me to death.  But here I was left cold by my usual favourites amongst the ‘goodies’ camp too.  Mystified.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
6.    Doctor Who: Time and Relative, by Kim Newman (Telos Dr Who Novellas)
(1st Doctor.  This is mostly told from Susan’s point of view, with the Doctor a looming background character till the last third of the novella.  This works well, as Susan is given more inner dialogue and an understanding of her position greater than we are ever given in the TV version.  Since this is set before the first ever episode of Doctor Who, it explains how the Doctor came to be the meddling person he becomes by the time we know and love him.  It’s clever, setting this before any prior action, and gives Susan more power as a Gallifreyan character than she sadly ever did on screen; the story shows her having a real effect on the rather cold enigma that Hartnell’s Doctor could be, especially at the beginning.

The story revolves around the weather, the Cold Knights [murderous snowmen entities – remember this is way before new Who did this, this is 2001], and how via Susan, the Doctor learns both to break the rules [having already broken most by running from Gallifrey, but almost brainwashed into keeping the most stringent one: to leave Timelines as they are, to just observe], and to become the champion of humankind he evolves into later.  His usual ruthlessness in this incarnation is here, his one track coldness, but she tempers him.

While the Cold Knights bring first Coal Hill School, then London, then the rest of England to a standstill, and grown-ups don’t cope at all well, Susan and her small group of random survivors [including the small boy Malcolm, lovingly portrayed, who thinks Susan is a “Princess from space”] battle to get to Totters Lane so the Doctor can help them.  Some wonderful secondary characters here, Dolly, Gillian, the Ton Up Gang, the religiously scary Haighs.  There’s a small non speaking part for Ian Chesterton, and Barbara is mentioned but not seen.  The story, for all its relative shortness feels perfectly fleshed out, and nicely paced and structured.  I really enjoyed the absurdity of scary snowmen, and the Doctor’s eventual peaceful removal of them to another planet.  I enjoyed the way the story was gently left ready for the series proper to begin.  Very nicely done!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
7.    Doctor Who: Terminus, by John Lydecker (Target Original)
(5th Doctor. I felt rather cheated by this one on TV.  I liked Nyssa a lot and felt she was one of those companions who remained an underused resource, who could have had a little more exploration and nuance.  I was always happy to see her do much of anything.  And then suddenly, it was her last story, and it was a terribly grim one, where she spent most of her time being very ill and getting iller, and losing what was otherwise a very nice outfit [I mention that as I felt she spent far too long in her initial get up, the weird maroon velvet thing; just as poor Tegan spent too long initially in her air stewardess clothes; these weren’t like the Sarah Jane or Jo days, when the Doctor kept the same clothes, but you got the impression everyone else had a bath and changed occasionally!]. 

Sorry,  I got a bit distracted there.  I found this as a read, less grim than watching.  I think this was helped by not being able to see the Garm, for example, who I had found a bit offputting, as his voice didn’t go with his wolfishness; whereas in the book, I had conveniently forgotten the voice and was substituting not only a slightly different appearance but a totally different voice on the creature.  He became a far more interesting character as a result.

I think I may have been doing this with large swathes of the book.  I deliberately didn’t go back and watch this story before reading, I just began, aware that this wasn’t one of the stories I was more familiar with because I had been disappointed with it when I had seen it before, a couple of times.  So I enjoyed the book far more, for being able to recast ALL of the subsidiary characters and make them look a little different also.  Olvir, Kari, all the Vanir – I rejigged them all in my mind, till I had an absolutely stellar imaginary cast – and then I found the story romped along, as much as any story can do when its main subject is a usually terminal illness. 

Which is a very tricky subject for any story, be it prose or TV, because by its nature it involves a lack of action, increasingly; and often a lowering of mental facility too. So it can very easily be not only outright depressing, or scary [and not good as escapist reading at all], but it can look very static on screen.  Splitting up the companions, with Tegan and Turlough going one way and Nyssa and the Doctor, or the Doctor and Kari etc in other directions, is one way to give movement to this strangely sad story.

It also allowed some nice byplay between Tegan and Turlough; she isn’t at all sure if she trusts Turlough or not.  And of course, he is being menaced by the Black Guardian at regular points too, so he is doing his best at manipulative moves to frustrate Tegan and get to the Doctor to hurt him.  Complicated by the fact he realises he quite respects and likes her as a person. 

Yes, there was a lot more here to get my teeth into than it felt like when I first watched it.  I wasn’t clear why the Vanir needed Hydromel though?  They didn’t have the Lazar disease – so was their medicine to prevent them from slowly succumbing simply to radiation sickness from the Terminus engines?  Did I miss that bit of exposition in a tired blink or somesuch??  Anyway – enjoyable, far more so than when watched!  ACTUAL BOOK.)

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