Monday, 27 April 2015

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 17!

This post: treats from the eras of the 1st, 2nd,4th , 5th, 6th,7th and 8th 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: And The Enemy Of The World, by Ian Marter (Target Original)
(2nd Dr.  This is a funny one, because of course it was only recently released on DVD after many years lost, so we’ve all repeatedly watched it quite recently.  And it has a very strong subsidiary cast: Astrid, Bruce, Kent, Fariah, Benik – all stand out and are properly different people [unlike my recent complaint in The Ice Warriors of everyone sounding more or less the same: angry early 1960s white male].  This has carried through to the book.  I particularly got a strong sense of Fariah, Astrid and Bruce – the latter moreso toward the end.  This helps an otherwise preposterous story no end.

The one thing that is sorely missing in the book, is the extremely strong screen presence of Troughton when he is being Salamander.  There was a huge physicality to him – I practically smelled his ruthless maleness and roughness when he was on screen [quite a triumph for Troughton making the two so different].  This does not, I feel, translate to the book.  You do get a sense of his ruthlessness from his speech and what he does, but the strong sense of presence just wasn’t conveyed and is a shame, because this performance, as well as the strong support cast, is what carries this story.

Some of the longer speeches from the underground people have been cut or removed here, which in one sense did enable the story to flow on a lot more cleanly [because there was a large amount of cringey Hampstead AmDram speechifying going on from a certain young man under the ground, in particular]…but in another, it stops the reader coming to feel they know the underground people as much as those above ground.  So that’s a problem.  Maybe there were word count issues?

Anyway, I think this is a good story and I enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed watching, slightly differently.  I noticed here, a slight lackage of Jamie and Victoria that I did not so much note while watching.  Different things coming to the fore.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
2.   Doctor Who: Cat’s Cradle, Witchmark, by Andrew Hunt (Virgin New Adventures)
(7th Dr. I am very pleased that this initial section of the New Adventures is coming to an end.  The Timewyrm and Cat’s Cradle themes seem to have simply tripped up the authors involved, who have had to crowbar the necessary ideas into each novel, with no real linkage and each theme doing very little for each story.  As of the next book, they will be standalone – which is fine, as each book is long enough as if it were a serial of its own anyway.  Good.

Sorry to say I didn’t enjoy this.  And can you imagine it – BlackberryJuniper NOT enjoying a book with unicorns in?  Centaurs?  Trolls?  Other myth and fantasy type creatures?  It started off well, the adventure beginning on Earth and then tracking to a mythical land of Tir Na Nog-like qualities.  Garbled versions of mythical creatures with different names are there.  I trotted along happily with this for a while then started to get bored, because the plot wasn’t really going anywhere and I wasn’t feeling identified with the characters.  Ace is showing her younger self, alarmingly – and not in reaction to this fantasy land of childhood; there is no explanation given for her sudden reversion almost as far back as her Dragonfire self.  As if the harrowing story that she was just in [Cat’s Cradle – Warhead, Andrew Cartmel’s hard hard story of degraded people] hadn’t occurred.  Or a couple of the one’s previous, where she had some harsh and life-changing experiences.  People really should pay attention to character development and continuity.  Especially when playing fast and loose with a character as good as Ace, whom I like very much.  The Doctor is his usual self, but just not getting to do a lot, other than leave Ace behind, and yet accumulate another companion for his leg of the journey instead [the incongruously named Bathsheba, Bats for short; much the same as a unicorn of similar name elsewhere in the story].

One of the oddest things about this story is the American Werewolf in London obvious steal.  The two backpackers David and Jack have a massively similar conversation and way of relating, syntax etc, and are almost walking across the moors when we first meet them.  They too are menaced, though later encounter a burned and tortured centaur, rather than becoming the victims of a werewolf.  Gradually through the story they start to serve their own purpose, though I’m not really clear what they added to the book – but I really want to know if the author realised he was nicking David and Jack from American Werewolf, almost whole???  Very odd.  Didn’t read as a homage because didn’t fit with the rest of the plot. 

**Don’t read this paragraph if you don’t want to know the end of the book.**The solution to why this strange land exists, why it’s sun has vanished and why the inhabitants are falling into desperation and depravity is very pat and old once given – which I didn’t actually mind at all, as it fitted and was neat [it’s an experimental planet, populated with archetypes from Earth’s myths, to see how they work out, by a race of sociopath experimenters – a bit like lots of Rani’s, except slightly more helpful at the end when the experimenter agrees to give more fuel to the planet’s sun, so the planet may continue…].

I was excited at the idea of Scotland Yard having a Paranormal Department – oooo, I thought, maybe we can have a slightly X-Files-y, or Omega Factor-y element to some upcoming stories by the same author [or Talamasca, or Legacy element – you get my drift].  But then the only representative of this organisation, which was pretty much one man anyway [don’t think Mulder stuck in the basement, as that was a little bit cool, and this man is not at all cool], is rather gluttonous, inept, behind the plot and generally uninteresting.  Which was disappointing.

So…this was not very good, for me.  I have read other more glowing reviews, so know it hit the spot for some people.  Such is life.  On to the next one…ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.   Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars, by Terrance Dicks (Target original)
(4th Dr. I have very little to say about this one!  I love it on TV, I am one of the many who subscribe to the idea this is one of Tom Baker’s – and indeed Who’s – finest stories.  I love the gothic atmosphere, I love the mix up of scifi and fantasy; I love the dynamic between Sarah Jane and Tom here.  I love the extended outside filming and the lovely countryside – I am a big fan of stories containing lots of views of trees and grass from the 70s. 

This book was one of Terrance Dick’s better ones, in that he managed to keep hold of the atmosphere of a story not scripted by himself and different to one he would have done.  He kept the feel of the dialogue, the relationship between the brothers, the scaredness of the poacher, the strange mania of the Egyptian.  The whole overblown feeling of the entire story was preserved.  So it remained a very good read, just as it’s a very good watch.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
4.   Doctor Who: The Romans, by Donald Cotton (Target Original)
(1st Dr.  MAKES FACE OF ANNOYANCE.  I was not warned [due to my usual policy of not reading any other reviews before I write my own ramble, lest I pick up other ideas by accident], about this book.  I was not warned about the Carry On Up The Romans aspect.  The TV story is lighthearted and quite funny, but this treatment of it in the book?? 

I like the epistolary style, that’s always a nice touch in a book as you get so much direct speech and verbal mannerisms etc – I am the person who read the 1000s of pages of unabridged version of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa and really really liked it [and didn’t think it needed editing, amazingly]…but this…?  Ok, it was a bit funny, but it made the Doctor seem like nothing but a deluded pompous old fool.  It made Ian seem like an even more pompous and incredibly boring young fool.  Vicki seemed oddly perky and incongruous.  Barbara was resourceful as ever but simply a sidenote.  The other secondary characters were nothing but farce outlines. 

If I had been in the mood for this, it would have been fine – I love the actual Carry On films, despite their MASSIVE sexism [my inner feminist is more tolerant some days than others; some days she talks about history and things being of their time; other days she is just affronted by things and discouragedly fed up]; after all, I grew up with them…But I wasn’t expecting that deviation – taking Doctor Who into that world [and the Carry On universe *is* a universe, make no mistake, just as Who is].  Funny thing is, a Doctor Who-Carry On hybrid could almost work…

But for me, in this book, it didn’t.  It was like the ever remembered and ill-fated day Stanley proudly found me a porn tribute version of Charmed [my favourite go to prog to fix life in all the world].  I wasn’t amused AT ALL.  I was Really Incandescently Cross [and yeah, I did watch it – the dialogue was alarmingly accurate for round about Season 2, freaky; but it seriously had no plot].  Thus, I leave you here with my harsh and humourless judgement: an abomination, this book.  I hear the Myth Makers is likewise ruined.  Ah well, spose I’ll live through it.  Or read it on a day when I feel Carry On-ish and humorous.  ACTUAL – RUBBISH – BOOK.)
5.   Doctor Who: Placebo Effect, by Gary Russell (BBC 8th Doctor Adventures)
(8th Dr.  This was an odd one. It was the Foamasi vs. The Wirrn, with lots of other races too, before the galactic version of the Olympics, in the future.  Meshed up with a Church of The Way Forward, looking for a Goddess; and a human woman marrying an Ice Warrior [which is a main plot moving subplot].

I couldn’t decide if I was really enjoying its impeccably described and set Micawber’s World scenes, complete with vast amounts of subsidiary characters [that I did not get mixed up, so well written] all with quirks and relevance.  Or whether I was finding it beside the point.  The point seemed to be The Wirrn invasion, but it took so long to play out and was overshadowed by the Foamasi characterisation – loved the voice synthesiser idea, especially the butler who sounded like Sir John Gielgud. 

I’m starting to get the impression with Gary Russell’s books, of what I was saying about lots of the earlier entries in the book series: that of a huge amount of ideas, all tossed together to make story salad.  Sometimes it works better than others.  In this case, the subsidiary characters were running the show, as they were funny and resourceful and involved in much intrigue – Russell seems to like his Who characters much larger than life: Green Fingers, the Duchess of Auckland, Reverend Lukas etc.  There was a particularly well written and marvellous section where the Reverend discusses evolution [the contentious ideas of micro and macro evolution] very eloquently with Sam.  I had to read it through a couple of times to follow it all, and it was the most involved I got during the whole book.

Because of the subsidiary character focus, the Doctor and Sam are involved, but…not irrelevant, but they don’t feel particularly pivotal, even though the Doctor does make some leaps of deduction.  I didn’t feel he was as lovingly done as in the other books of this particular series so far.  The whole thing felt light: a bon-bon of this series, rather than, umm…a gobstopper?  Ok, I’ll stop this unfortunate comparison in its tracks.  Readable, fun, some great ideas, not as involving as I’d like.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
6.   Doctor Who: Project Twilight, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright (Big Finish Monthly Audio Releases,no. 23)
(The 7th Dr and Evelyn.  This was a surprisingly non sensational and thoughtful look at vampires, and the Doctor’s inherent prejudice and suspicion of them and their motives.  He turns out to be partially wrong, which swings the plot, and is nicely done and worked up to.  The character of Amelia and her wonderfully hissy voice, played by actress Holly de Jong, is the stand out character for me in this one.  The pretend gangster Reggie was a good character too – silly but believable.  Cassie was a lovely noble creation, left in the wilderness at the end, to save her and others from harm.

This one felt like it had a slow start, but it picked up considerably as it went along.  It had one of those endings where the baddies survive, secretly at the last minute – suggesting a sequel.  Wait and see, I guess.  ON DOWNLOAD.)
7.   Doctor Who: The Eye of the Scorpion, by Ian McLaughlin (Big Finish Monthly Audio Releases, no.24)
(5th Dr and Peri.  Set in Egypt, 1400 BC.  Thebes.  The story centres around them arriving and seeing a female pharaoh about to be enthroned, except that history shows there never was one…so what’s happening?

The first thing to note here was a really lovely sound palette, very evocative, not intrusive, and highly atmospheric.  And equally fitting incidental music.  It stood out in its loveliness, whilst blending perfectly with its subject matter and backdrop.

Second is the nicely done character of the female non-Pharoah, Erimem.  Not annoying as she could have been played, not precocious, but simply a bit before her time and intelligent, curious…ripe to come away on some travels [which she does].  Her character is expounded nicely through episode 2, where Peter Davison is absent due to poisoning [bit of a hark back to the Hartnell/Troughton eras].  I thought I would find that irritating, but Peri and Erimem made such a nice combination together, off investigating mysterious deaths etc, that I didn’t really notice his absence and was fine with it.  Peri seemed very mature in this story, very happy to be travelling, and a lot more sure of herself than she often came across on TV, even at her happiest with Davison.

This is a very nice historical, very busy with many details: a parasitical hive mind creature [you can’t really go wrong with those], something fancy with a “telepathic inhibitor”, a plot to make an alternative Pharaoh involving a murder and a coup…which the Dr sorts at the last possible moment, after exposing Peri as an unintentional spy!  It’s all go and it was very enjoyable.  The historicals seem to work particularly well on radio/CD. 

Note: One of my brill friends has just pointed out to me there WAS a female Pharaoh, and at that period roughly -, the blurb was wrong! 

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